As the G20 summit in Russia ended, the capitalist powers internationally were divided into two opposing camps on whether to launch a military attack on Syria. Meanwhile, Obama’s quest for an attack was meeting significant opposition from within the two main political parties in the US.
Members of the US Senate and House of Representatives came under strong public pressure against an attack, making it uncertain whether Obama would get the endorsement he was seeking.
Republican party leaders are divided between the hold-back “cautious realism” of the likes of Senator Rand Paul and the aggressive interventionism of John McCain.
Democrats want to avoid damaging Obama’s standing by voting no, but many fear the consequences of voting yes. Losing the votes would be an almighty blow to Obama’s prestige, as it was for Cameron when he was defeated in the UK parliament. This explains moves in the US government to draw out the decision-making, citing possible negotiations over control of the stocks of chemical weapons.
Facing a congressional defeat, it seems that Obama has been offered an unexpected political lifeline from his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Putin has proposed that the Syrian regime of Assad hands over its chemical weapons to United Nations oversight to avert US-led air strikes on Syria’s military bases.
But an assault is not yet definitely off their agenda whether soon or later and depending on events it is not precluded that Cameron could try again to give British back-up, through securing support from wavering British Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband. So anti-war campaigning by trade unionists, socialists and other activists must be maintained, saying no to any imperialist intervention in Syria.
In trying to win support in the US for an attack, Obama’s propaganda machine was cranked up, promoting videos put together by the Syrian opposition and the CIA of gas attack victims. The footage is horrific, but the jury is still out on the perpetrator – whether it was Assad, military commanders without his approval (as reported in a German newspaper), or opposition forces.
In any case, the possibility of missiles from the West is not fundamentally about chemical weapons. Tory Lord Lamont blurted this out in a letter to the Times (5 September) in which he recalled that in 1988 the west turned a “blind eye” when Saddam Hussein used mustard gas and sarin against Iranian troops, killing 20,000. He added: “A recent article in the US magazine Foreign Policy claimed that US officials who gave Iraq intelligence about Iranian troop movements knew that chemical weapons would be used against them.”
US missiles will not prevent chemical weapons being used again, or stop them falling into terrorist hands, or remove the hidden stocks. A US-led onslaught would be a blood-soaked ‘gesture’ to uphold US ruling class prestige in the US and globally and protect its interests in the Middle East, after Obama rashly promised that use of chemical weapons would be a ’red line’.
Other repercussions would be inevitable - with the possibilities including attacks on US bases in the region, rockets hitting Israel, terrorist attacks in the US and its allied countries, and disruption to oil supply routes.
US missiles would also increase the prospect of escalation of the Syrian civil war and its further spread into neighbouring countries. There would be more refugees, already numbering a phenomenal six million inside and outside Syria.
Ironically, the Syrian population could be more at risk from chemical weapons if the US strikes. Evidence from US air strikes on Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons plants in the 1991 Gulf war showed that instead of vaporising the deadly sarin gas, the strikes actually spread it over military bases 600 kilometres away.
Masses see through government plans
The leaning of the US and UK governments on ’humanitarianism’ to drum up public support for intervention has been seen through by a majority of people in those countries. Not forgotten is the staunch support of Western imperialists for repressive and dictatorial Arab elites; their mass slaughter of Iraqi civilians; their support for onslaughts by the Israeli regime on Gaza; the murder of civilians by US drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen; their acceptance of the renewed repression by the military in Egypt and much other backing for brutality when it’s suited them.
To avoid US losses and becoming immersed in a prolonged intervention, US strikes would most likely be missiles fired from a distance rather than overhead bombing. They would inevitably damage Assad’s armed forces, but Russia can resupply him, so his military superiority over the Syrian opposition could be maintained. And Assad would gain in ‘victim status’, especially among his Syrian support base and in Russia, Iran and China.
The war in Syria has developed a gruesome momentum, with regular atrocities from both sides. Left to Assad’s rump vicious regime and the opposition aspiring capitalists - fuelling 50 shades of division and sectarianism - the war is likely to continue until both sides achieve as much as they can by military means.
Many foreign capitalist powers are meddling in the country, with all their ‘solutions’ showing their bankruptcy in offering an end to the nightmare for ordinary Syrians.
Only the building of non-sectarian, democratically run workers’ organisations at grassroots level, linking up with each other, can point the way forward to an altogether different scenario. They would need to build mass armed resistance to Assad’s forces and all the militias led by right-wingers who are motivated by personal gain, religious or ethnic division, or revenge.
Workers’ unity can be developed through the attraction of a socialist programme posing public ownership of the key industries and resources, with an economic plan to wipe out exploitation and poverty.