Chemical blame game over Syria disguises the real issues
In the aftermath of parliament’s rebuff to prime minister Cameron’s proposed attack on Syria, Barack Obama has been forced to acknowledge the mass opposition to military action.
The legacy of recent debacles in Iraq, Afghanistan and the intervention in Libya continue to haunt large numbers of people, including top military brass.
It is evident that externally-backed regime change in these countries has achieved no benefits, either for their populations or for ordinary citizens in the United States or Britain.
Obama's hesitation about striking Syria is as much to do with popular distaste for war after more than a decade of body bags from Iraq and Afghanistan as it is to do with the timing of G20 summit that takes place in Moscow later this week.
Of course, Cameron and Obama hope to give their tarnished democratic credentials a polish by subordinating themselves to the decisions of elected bodies – parliament and the US Congress.
But meanwhile, the pro-attack faction in parliament – including the vociferous former Lib-Dem leader, Lord Paddy Ashdown – is marshalling forces for a possible second vote. US secretary of state John Kerry is declaring that Obama has the authority to act without Congressional approval.
Much energy is being spent trying to pin down responsibility for the chemical attack in Damascus. Shocking images are published and the US claims to have proof that the regime is responsible.
But the issue of chemical weapons – the “red line that must not be crossed” as Obama put it – is actually a secondary issue to the fundamental question: do the major powers have the “right” to attack Syria?
The debate over who is using the chemical weapons – the Assad regime or those fighting against it – begs the real question: is military intervention a solution to the misery of the Syrian people? And is it justified in any case?
And does opposition to bombing Assad’s military installations imply support for him?
Absolutely not in response to every question!
The all-important distinction is between the Assad regime and the Syrian people who have courageously opposed his noxious regime for decades, even while the US, Britain et al were wheeler dealing with Damascus in their power games.
What about the all-important right to self-determination of the Syrian people themselves? It is as if they don’t exist except as victims whom we must pity.
But a large part of the disposessed and poor Syrian people rose up against Assad in the Arab spring of 2011, which undermined autocratic regimes, from Tunisia to Egypt. (How many people know, for example, that in July 2011, the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page had over 218,000 followers?)
Of course, their hope that the Assad regime would fall quickly was mistaken. It is backed by Russia (which has a naval base in the country). Moscow has been supplying arms to Syria for decades.
Although Tehran would seem to have little in common with the secular Syrian regime, it too has supported Assad, sending him money to pay for Russian hardware, because his opponents are predominantly Sunni Muslims by contrast with the Shia Muslims in Iran.
Underneath the conflict in Syria is a class division in which the state oppresses its people. These divisions are now masked over by the sectarian religious divide, spurred on and armed by Saudi Arabia, the US and Britain and elements of Al Qaeda on the one side, with Iran and Russia on the other.
The democratic and social aspirations of Syrians, whatever their religious or non-religious allegiances, like those of Egyptians are totally ignored by most media and commentators.
In the meantime, we say an unconditional “No” to any attacks on Syria. This does not mean giving succour to the Assad regime. As Irfan Ahmad has pointed out, in the Arab states, as elsewhere, the urgent need is to encourage and develop a democratic secular alternative.
A World to Win secretary
2 September 2013