Do not be misled by this almost "harmless" American bombardment, of which the Russians and thus Assad himself were fully prepared in advance. This show of strength is to justify, not only the continuation of the war, but its future extension. For the moment they have avoided the conditions for direct confrontation. However, there will always be time and opportunity to trigger them, regardless of whether the premises are true or false.
1. The missile and bombing attack started at 3 am on April 14, 2018. Trump's threats appear to have materialised. The "animal" Assad has been punished. His chemical weapons which killed the people of Douma were destroyed. Mission accomplished, with precision, and in good time, with practically no civilian victims, according to Pentagon reports.
2. The attack started without the agreement of the UN, NATO or any other body of international law. Above all, it was launched before international experts arrived in Douma to see if chemical weapons were used and, more importantly, by whom. This question remains controversial. The Russian version is that there was no use of chemical weapons and that the whole thing is a put-up job by the West to justify the attacks. Other observers admit the possibility that chemical weapons were used, but it might be by the Assad regime or any of the other actors on the tragic stage of the Syrian war. The fact is that the American missiles arrived before the international technicians got there, thus ending any hope of resolving the matter in the "normal" way.
3. Trump's quick reaction is as suspicious as President Bush's attack on Iraq in 2003. The accusation then was that Saddam Hussein still held, and had not destroyed, an entire arsenal of chemical weapons which made the military option necessary. Then too, the two UN experts sent to verify whether these weapons existed, Hans Blix and Mohammed el Baradei, were still in Iraq under threat of US bombing, and were drafting reports that contradicted the suspicions of the White House.
4. The sermon preached from the White House pulpit comes with a lot of military punishment. We have no interest in defending a dictator like Assad, nor are we interested in discussing whether he has used chemical or other weapons of mass destruction or not. His character as a dictator and his fierce determination to remain in power has led him to such criminal acts, but not to his international exposure. It has thus been very easy to pillory him as a butcher in the media, but being a dictator does not mean you have to be a political idiot. Thus Russia, Assad's staunchest ally certainly would not have advised him to do this at this stage when his regime’s survival is assured. On the other hand, since the Second World War Assad’s accusers have been the major producers of weapons of mass destruction; extensively used, from napalm in the Vietnam War, to the white phosphorus in Fallujah by Saddam Hussein.
5. Before the attack was announced to the whole world Russia had already been informed before anyone else, with the explicit declaration that none of Moscow’s military, civil and technical-strategic installations would be touched. It was a sort of open-skies mission decided by the US itself but without risking a backlash from a long-time opponent. It was thus a strong warning to Assad, Russia and their allies, including Iran, which went something like this: "Here we are. You thought you had won the Syrian "campaign", but it is not so simple, you’ll have to settle the accounts with American imperialism sooner or later".
6. After the spectre of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has been exorcised the excuse to continue the war rests on the vague hypothesis of Assad's use of chemical weapons. The American attack, announced with so much clamour but carried out on tiptoe without too much disturbance, is a thunderous warning and nothing more. A war which is not a war, a threat to disturb but not too much, the proceedings traced by the conferences of Sochi and Astana?1
The Only Conclusion
We have already said that the dealings in Sochi were abandoned and with them the idea of partitioning Syria by the US and Russia and their allies into zones of influence. After Sochi, the situation has alarmed Trump as the alliance between Russia, Iran and Turkey consolidates. It is no accident that on 8 January this year the US broke the ice of its fragile agreements by bombarding Assad's military depots at the gates of Damascus. A few days later an Israeli air strike, with the obvious agreement of Washington, did the same. Meanwhile Turkish troops crossed the Syrian border to try to get hold of those Kurdish-Syrian areas that neither the wrangling of the various interested parties, nor the shaky Astana deal, gave to Turkey. Whether it was fighting against Isis or afterwards, Turkey oscillated easily between one front and the other, certainly the result of a foreign policy weighed up by Erdogan day by day. But this oscillation was also the consequence of choices that Turkish imperialism has to make according to the evolution of the balance of power between the great imperialisms on the Syrian battlefield.
These manoeuvres explain why this has been an all-out war since it began in 2011.2 All the vested interests have a military presence and continue to pursue their own imperialist objectives. Russia will not give up Assad for a moment because its operations in the Mediterranean are vital. It dare not think of losing the commercial and military ports of Latakia and Tartus. It cannot allow the US to have the Mediterranean at its disposal. The US is in the war in Syria for the very opposite reason. They would like to confine Russia’s fleet to the Black Sea, without a port in the Mediterranean. They also don’t want Russia to play a role in North Africa, Egypt, Libya and to continue an alliance, even if, perhaps, only short-term, with a country like Turkey. Meanwhile Trump is overturning Obama's policy since he is worried about the imperialist repercussions on the Caspian chessboard. He does not want a defeat in Syria to allow the Shiite chain to link up Iran and Iraq with Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Whatever the truth about chemical weapons, the American attack reinforces this scenario. Behind an unresolved economic crisis there are oil interests to be acquired, defended or prevented from falling into the hands of an adversary. But there is also a financial aspect at stake, a struggle for the supremacy of one's own revenue flow. The US wants to continue to keep the dollar as the currency of international trade. China wants to start imposing the yuan as a means of paying for oil. Russia would like to do the same with the rouble, both for the payment of its gas and for gold and all its raw materials.
In the middle are millions of desperate people who suffer the consequences. They are being used either as cannon fodder in a continuous massacre on both sides so that one or other imperialism can conquer areas of strategic and economic importance; victims (“collateral damage”) of the barbarous wars that are not only continuing in various strategic places, but which are becoming more numerous and increasingly international with miles of refugees who cannot even find a place to die in peace. Do not be misled by this almost "harmless" American bombardment, of which the Russians and thus Assad himself were fully prepared in advance. This show of strength is to justify, not only the continuation of the war, but its future extension. For the moment they have avoided the conditions for direct confrontation. However, there will always be time and opportunity to trigger them, regardless of whether the premises are true or false.
Horrendous scenarios are appearing on the horizon for a humanity increasingly squeezed by the contradictions of an anachronistic system of production and distribution of wealth. The rich become richer and richer, while the poor become more and more poor and more numerous. Capitalism’s contradictions are deepening. The development of the productive forces only creates more exploitation for those who work, and misery for those expelled from the system of production, instead of satisfying social needs.
And that’s at the best of times. When things go wrong it turns to war, devastation and barbarism. It is time to realise that this system requires blood and death to guarantee its survival. It has to destroy both human beings and things to create the conditions for a "real" economic recovery. It is time to stand up against capital, its crises, its devastating wars, its lies, and its populist and nationalist ideologies. Only the international proletariat, when it escapes from the reigning bourgeois ideology which still suffocates it, can – with its revolutionary party – provide the critical mass that will give the final push to overthrow an increasingly barbarous and aggressive decadent economic system.
April 14, 2018 (Translated from the Italian article Siria - L'attacco americano è arrivato puntuale con il solito appoggio di Francia ed Inghilterra, 16 April 2018)
- 1In Astana (Kazakhstan) Russian-sponsored talks between the Assad regime and some of its opponents gave resulted in summits in Sochi. Turkey, and Iran have also participated and the UN has been trying to straddle the Astana-Sochi process and the talks which began in Geneva in 2012. Save to say that nothing has really been achieved except that the various parties have staked out the ground on which they wish to pursue their own interests. Trump’s original view that the US was only in Syria to oppose IS seems to be a thing of the past with James Mattis, US Defence Secretary now announcing that US troops will not be withdrawn from Syria.
- 2For more on Syria see our website. The two most recent are at leftcom.org and leftcom.org but there are many more.