Syria: imperialism is playing with fire

nfzAs the occupation of East Aleppo by predominantly al-Nusra Islamists comes under increasing pressure from the liberating forces, threatening to strike a decisive blow against the whole imperialist strategy of proxy war, the western media have gone into overdrive, blaming the Syrian Arab Army and Russian airpower for the multiple civilian casualties for which imperialism alone must be held accountable. It is imperialism which, by funding and cultivating the jihadi gangs which aim to overthrow the legitimate government, has dictated the conditions under which the war of liberation must be fought and won. Threats of a ‘no fly zone’ over Aleppo are aimed at preserving al-Nusra, not alleviating civilian suffering.

Washington lets al-Nusra shelter behind ‘moderate’ terrorists

Whether by incapacity or design, Washington has failed to make good on its repeated pledges to persuade the ‘moderate armed groups’ it openly supports to separate themselves from the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra groups which (in theory) even the US regards as fully paid-up terrorists. Instead close cooperation remains between ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ terror gangs, with the guns continuing to gravitate towards the most active and ruthless of the zealots.

In occupied East Aleppo, according to UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, there are 8,000 jihadis, including about 1,000 avowed al-Nusra thugs. Mr de Mistura has offered personally to accompany them out of the city, complete with their weapons, in order to spare the civilian population further suffering. On a recent visit to Istanbul, Vladimir Putin announced that “together with the Turkish president we agreed to do everything to support de Mistura’s initiative on the withdrawal of military units, which refuse to lay down their arms, from Aleppo in order to end violence.”

However the jihadis remain obdurate, preferring to expose the population of Aleppo, both East and West, to further suffering. Their attitude became abundantly clear when the ceasefire appeared to raise the possibility of humanitarian aid coming in on the Castello Road. Al-Nusra angrily spurned the offer, organising a demonstration against what they termed the “convoy of humiliation” (see video embedded in an article by Raf Sanchez, ‘UN says armed Syrian groups blocking Aleppo aid for “political gain”’, The Telegraph, 14 September 2016). As it turned out, the offending convoy suffered a devastating attack on 19 September, almost certainly at the hands of terrorists (though naturally blamed on airstrikes from Moscow or Damascus, in clear contradiction with video evidence pointing to an attack by terrorist forces on the ground). This interruption of aid served to bolster the al-Nusra tyranny over a starving and desperate populace in East Aleppo. Meanwhile al-Nusra and their kindred spirits continue lobbing mortars and gas-cylinder bombs into government-held West Aleppo, a dirty war against the majority population of the city which attracts no visits from the PR-hungry White Helmets and nil coverage from the Western media.

Deir Ezzor: a convenient ‘mistake’

The ‘false flag’ attack on the convoy also served as a timely propaganda tool to demonise the liberation forces and direct attention away from the cold-blooded massacre two days previously (17 September) of 62 Syrian Arab Army soldiers by US-led coalition air strikes, assisted by a British Reaper drone. This mass-murder, shrugged off by Washington as a ‘mistake’, was by President Assad’s account a deliberate and prolonged attack. “It was not an accident by one airplane; it was four airplanes which kept attacking the position of the Syrian troops for nearly one hour or maybe a little bit more than one hour… The IS troops attacked at the very same time as the American strike. How could they know that America was going to attack that position in order to gather their militants right away and attack it one hour after the strike? It was definitely inten-tional” (‘US airstrikes on Syrian troops were “intentional”’, RT, 22 September 2016).

The position of the Syrian troops was long-established and well known, guarding the hills which served as a protective shield for the city of Deir Ezzor, a strategic government enclave which has long held out right in the heart of bandit country. Here is the illuminating account given by Paul Wood in the Spectator: “Deir Ezzor is vital for Isis, sitting in the centre of its self-declared ‘Caliphate’. Losing here would leave their ‘capital’ Raqqa almost encircled, and cut off the retreat from Mosul to the east, which is about to be assaulted by the Iraqi army. So in Deir Ezzor, President Assad is doing the Americans’ work” – or at least he would be, were the Americans genuinely interested in the extirpation of IS!

Explains Wood: “Deir Ezzor held out: 100,000 people cut off and existing on the brink of starvation, sustained by airdrops from the regime, the Russians and the UN. Deir Ezzor survived for so long as the only government-held town in Syria’s east because the regime sent its elite Republican Guard to defend it. The bloody stalemate went on until last weekend, when there was a development so unlikely that Isis might have considered it a miracle. It was an intervention not by God but by the ‘Crusader air force’: two American F-16s, two A-10 ‘tankbusters’, a British RAF Reaper drone and some unspecified Australian warplanes. They were sent on a mission against Isis but somehow attacked the Syrian army instead. The F-16s drop 500lb laser-guided bombs, the Reaper drones have Hellfire missiles and the A-10s fire 50 rounds a second from a seven-barrel Gatling gun capable of punching through tank armour. Some 80 Syrian soldiers — perhaps more — were killed. Isis fighters surged forward and the Syrian army lost the strategic mountain overlooking the airbase that stands between Deir Ezzor and the jihadis” (Paul Wood, ‘In Syria we’re not sure who we’re backing, or who we’re bombing’, The Spectator, 24 September 2016).

Those mountains have since been taken back under Syrian control and Deir Ezzor stands firm against IS – no thanks to the USAF and the RAF. This means in turn that the IS last-ditch hold on Raqqa is now more vulnerable to attack. But rather than coordinate with Damascus and Moscow over the liberation of Raqqa, the US prefers to play games, one moment backing Kurdish separatists, the next backing the mythical ‘moderate Arab opposition’. US Defence Secretary Ash Carter and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “we have a plan” to arm the Kurdish militia in Syria, despite Turkish objections, as a way of advancing on Raqqa. Then, having used Kurdish national aspirations to their own ends, the flat-footed Machiavellis in the Pentagon plan to dump the Kurds and secure an “Arab force” – i.e. some more acceptable brand of jihadis – to hold Raqqa. (In choosing which gang of cutthroats to favour, they might want to bear in mind the recent incident when US-backed fighters insulted US Special Forces and hooted them out of Al-Rai.) With a peevish note, Dunford said that the “plan” has not yet been “resourced”, revealing a degree of irritation at the Obama administration’s perceived caution over Syria. Indeed, tensions between the State Department and the Defence Department have been boiling to the surface of late (‘No-fly zone would “require war with Syria and Russia”’, RT, 22 September 2016).

Splits in US imperialism

Reacting to the Deir Ezzor massacre, Russia’s UN representative Vitaly Churkin posed a very blunt question, telling a news conference: “The big question that has to be asked is ‘Who is in charge in Washington? Is it the White House or the Pentagon?‘” After all, the ceasefire deal endorsed by John Kerry for the White House was de facto buried just days later by the Pentagon. Churkin held that the Deir Ezzor attack was deliberately timed to sabotage the implementation of that part of the ceasefire agreement which required the commencement of US/Russian operational coordination on 19 September, just two days after the attack. “It was quite significant, and I would suggest not accidental that this happened just two days before the Russian-American arrangements were supposed to come into [force]…. The purpose of the joint implementation group, is to enable expanded coordination between the US and Russia. The participants are to work together to defeat al Nusra and Daesh within the context of strengthening the cessation of hostilities and in support of the political transition process outlined in UNSC 2254.  These were very important arrangements which–in our view–could really be a game changer and greatly assist our efforts to defeat al Nusra and ISIL while also creating better conditions for the political process… The implementation day was set for the Sept 19, so if the US wanted to attack ISIS or al Nusra, they could have waited two days and coordinated those attacks together and been sure they were striking the right people…One can only conclude that the airstrike was conducted in order to derail the operation of the Joint Implementation Group and actually prevent it from being set in motion” (Mike Whitney,’ Rogue mission: Did the Pentagon bomb Syrian army to kill ceasefire deal?’, Counterpunch, 20 September 2016).

The question arises: who is all the Pentagon sabre rattling intended to frighten: Moscow or the White House? Four days before the attack, the New York Times was already reporting on a split between Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Ash Carter over the Joint Implementation Group. And asked whether the Defence Department would go ahead with plans to begin information-sharing with Moscow on IS targets on 19 September, Lt.Gen. Jeffrey L Harrigian, commander of the USAF Central Command was decidedly cagy, muttering “I’m not saying yes or no. It would be premature to say that we’re going to jump right into it.” And by 22 September, with the date for the Joint Implementation Group come and gone, General Dunford barely bothered to hide the Pentagon’s contempt for Kerry’s prized agreement, telling the Senate committee that it had “no intention” of sharing intelligence with Russia, pretending that the Joint Implementation Group did not require the sharing of intelligence, just the vague “coordination of efforts” – and anyway it was a “moot point” since the ceasefire was dead (Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger, ‘Details of Syria pact widen rift between John Kerry and Pentagon’, New York Times, 13 September 2016).

How far the split should be read as a neat contradiction between State Department and Pentagon is not clear; there are no doubt some around the White House who are quite happy to have their mendacious diplomatic efforts complemented by a bit of bellicose sabre rattling. But with the proxy war flagging and open imperialist intervention in Syria approaching ever closer to direct conflict with Russia, splits within imperialism can only become the more pronounced. It is one thing for US top brass to sound off about the US facing threats from modern states “acting aggressively in militarised competition”, adding coyly “Who does that sound like? Russia?” (Samuel Osborne, ‘Future war with Russia or China would be “extremely lethal and fast”, US generals warn’, The Independent, 6 October 2016). It is quite another for the crisis-stricken, market-hungry, overproducing USA to nerve itself up to actually go to war with Russia. Such a shift from rhetoric to cold practice can be expected to put maximum strain on existing fault lines within ruling circles.

‘No fly’?

Some of these fault lines were visible, albeit on the level of political vaudeville, in the televised debates between the rival presidential candidates, in which Hillary Clinton repeatedly stuck by her mantra, promising a ‘no fly zone’ over Aleppo. This she did despite the fact that a malicious resolution to the same effect sponsored by France at the UN Security Council had been vetoed, thus depriving such an aggressive move of any pretence of legitimacy under international law. (Just to be clear, the ‘no fly’ injunction would not apply to aircraft from the US, Britain, Australia etc. which displayed their respect for international law at Deir Ezzor. ‘No fly’ only applies to Damascus and Moscow, i.e., the aircraft of the lawful government of Syria and the Russian aircraft requested by that government. This reversal of roles between aggressor and victim is the Big Lie on which all the war propaganda over Syria turns.)

The demand for a ‘no fly zone’ in Syria, echoed in Westminster by former Tory minister Andrew Mitchell, at once recalls the identical demand over Libya back in 2011 which, when passed by the UNSC without veto, paved the way for NATO bombers to go in and reverse four decades of social progress and transform a thriving civilisation into a nest of Islamist vipers.

A leaked transcript of Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s paid speeches to the monopoly capitalists of Goldman Sachs demonstrates that she remembers very well the bloody implications of imposing ‘no fly’ zones in somebody else’s country. She told it straight to one well-heeled crowd: “To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of their air defences, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk – you’re going to kill a lot of civilians.” So it is full knowledge of what ‘no fly’ really means that Clinton now goes on the electoral stump demanding this stride deeper into a war which, if persisted in, can only develop in the direction of war with Russia (‘Did Hillary call for “killing a lot of civilians” in Syria during the debate?’, Sputnik News, 10 October 2016).

The Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, by contrast, was much less keen on starting a war with Russia. Whilst Clinton was busy accusing Moscow of not paying “any attention to ISIS”, Trump jeered that Clinton “talks rebels, but she doesn’t know who the rebels are”. Like the small boy in the fable of the Emperor’s new clothes, Trump simply points straight ahead and blabs out what he sees, namely: “Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. Iran is killing ISIS” – in short, “I think it would be great if we got along with Russia. We could fight ISIS together” (‘“Russia is killing ISIS”: Trump at odds with VP pick over Syria’, RT, 10 October 2016). It is Trump’s propensity for going disastrously off-message over this issue which is truly at the root of the fear and loathing he inspires in the political establishment, and not his racism, misogyny and tax dodging (all of which are par for the course for bourgeois politicians, though seldom so candidly admitted).

British imperialism

British ministers have been talking a good fight with Russia, but how far British imperialism is willing to court direct conflict with Russia is dubious. When Britain’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson tried to raise a mob to storm the Russian Embassy in London, one lone Buddhist showed up, a result that suggests there is a lot of groundwork to be done in convincing the public that warmongering against Russia is a smart idea. Lying about a supposed Russian policy of bombing civilians is the preferred method of building up Russophobia, and that’s the approach adopted by Britain’s Minister of Defence Michael Fallon. The response to Fallon’s wild and vague slanders was sharp and to the point. Speaking for the Russian Defence Ministry, Major General Igor Konashenkov suggested that “Before launching into incoherent conjecture about Russia’s supposed responsibility for the situation in Aleppo in particular, and Syria in general, it is necessary to think – what has the UK contributed to this poor country? Where was the UK when ISIS nearly reached the Mediterranean coast, almost turning Syria into a terrorist caliphate, like Libya. After all, it was you who controlled the skies at the time.” Pointing out that Russia has delivered “over 1000 liberated settlements, thousands of tons of humanitarian aid, and thousands of square kilometres freed from ISIS’ hold, to which peaceful life has returned,” Konashenkov challenged Fallon to reveal “How many settlements have been liberated, how much humanitarian aid delivered, and how many square feet have been cleared of ISIS by the UK?” Konashenkov completed this salutary lesson in recent British history by suggesting that maybe it was Britain that “should be held responsible for the birth and nurture of ISIS, and Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, which is now being effectively subdued by the Russian air forces” (‘Where was Britain when ISIS conquered Syria?’, RT, 10 October 2016).

This is a history lesson well worth heeding by the British working class. It is social democracy that has held workers back from their own emancipation by encouraging them to identify their own interests with those of their warmongering imperialist masters. The foul part British imperialism has had to play in Syria as second fiddle to Washington is getting harder to hide, precisely because imperialism is proving incapable of winning the wars it starts. All it can hope to do in Syria is try to prolong the agony, angling to preserve the anti-Syrian forces of al-Nusra by way of compensation for the dwindling strength of IS. But with imperialism on the back foot, workers can get wise to these tricks. By standing in solidarity with those who resist against the violence exported by our own ruling class, workers can learn to shake off the mind-forged manacles that bind them and advance to their own liberation.


Victory to the President, Government, Army and People of Syria!

Death to imperialism!