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Syria, Capitalism and War

Syria: Death, Destruction and Violence

A peaceful uprising backed by the West in Syria in 2011 against President Bashar al-Assad, turned rapidly into a full-scale civil war. The conflict has left more than 400,000 people dead, devastated cities and drawn in other countries like Russia, Iran, Israel, France, the US and the UK to either protect or further their own interests in the region. The civil war has been particularly violent with the use of chemical weapons, whole-sale destruction of cities and relentless violence towards civilians.

In April 2018 the US and its allies used missiles and rockets against Assad’s chemical facilities under the pretext of “moral outrage” for the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian air force against civilians in Douma. The attacks were largely symbolic because there was no “regime change” nor did they force Assad to the negotiation table with the various anti-Assad groups many backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States. In fact, the attacks have only strengthened ties between Russia, Iran and Syria.

The geo-political problem in the region that faces the West is that President Assad, with the help of his Russian and Iranian backers, is about to win the Syrian civil war. Also, by the West provoking Russia and Iran, it could have unintended consequences and further add to the conflict in the region. In March of this year the chief of the Russian general staff Valery Gerasimov said Russia would “take retaliatory measures” if its forces were put at risk (INDEPENDENT, 10th April 2018).

Whatever intervention takes place there is now no feasible military opposition on the ground for the West to support. Assad’s victory is the West’s loss for backing the wrong side even though the civil war has left much of the country in rubble, killed tens of thousands people and forced millions to emigrate to adjoining countries and Europe. As of February 2018, more than 5.5 million Syrians have fled the country and 6.1 million people are displaced internally.

Western military intervention in response to Assad’s alleged use of toxic gas in rebel-held Douma will not change the balance of power. Russia has secured its naval base at Tartus giving access to the Mediterranean, created a buffer zone against Iraq and consolidated access to mineral resources in the region including the major gas pipelines crossing Syria and carrying fuel to Europe. Iran also has a power base in the region.

The spoils of War

According to the FINANCIAL TIMES, Russian capitalism will be first in line for spoils of the Syrian War. The Russian chamber of commerce has already visited Syria to offer power station engineering and services to shipping. Between $200 and $500bn is thought to be required for the reconstruction of the Syrian economy once the war ends (FINANCIAL TIMES 2nd March 2018).

Iran, another of Assad’s backers, has established a military presence in Syria backed up by the terrorist group known as Hezbollah. This has so alarmed the Israeli government that it is thought to be behind the attack against the Tiyas airbase at Homs on the 8th April 2018 whose deaths included Shia Militia personnel. In the north of Syria, Turkey is fighting the Kurds who had been recently supported by the US against Isis. It has long been a central tenet of Turkey’s politicians that Kurds are a threat to the state, as ‘terrorists’. For Erdogan, as a strong arm dictator, an external enemy helps to distract attention away from the failures of his regime.

However, Assad’s gains are partial in as much as the region is unstable and will remain unstable for decades. Tensions have increased between Iran and the West, Israel and Saudi Arabia, the US will want to claw back influence in the region while the refugee crisis places a strain on adjoining countries and is a source of growing racism in Europe.

Do not believe “moral outrage” as an excuse for war

Trump’s military adventurism drew attention temporality away from his domestic problems. Consider the timing. These air strikes against Syria came at the end of a week when, after the FBI had seized many files and records from his personal lawyer, the egregious Michael Cohen –Trump’s long term ‘fixer’ and keeper of his secrets, the media had been having a field day with endless discussion of the various crimes and scandals that could be exposed. In addition a book by Comey, the FBI chief sacked by trump, was about to be printed, and leaks showed this would be both damaging and hurtful to Trump.

So, by acting at the start of the weekend, Trump hijacked the news media and controlled what would be discussed. On CNN, the usual studio discussions by lawyers and politicians were replaced by reports from the Pentagon and comments from military experts, some in uniform. The WASHINGTON POST and CNN, just days earlier fierce opponents of Trump, were effectively neutralised. The President, metaphorically, wrapping himself in the flag, had played a trump card – patriotism, the “last refuge of a scoundrel”. The military strikes – expensive, but only attacking just three targets, and carefully choreographed and signalled to the Russians – were actually only a token gesture, symbolic rather than having a significant effect on Assad’s forces. Their impact on the internal politics of the US was expected to be rather greater.

Why did Macron and May follow the unhinged, bullying and incompetent President Trump in attacking Assad’s chemical facilities?

Theresa May also had domestic political problems. With local elections due in less than a month, she must have dreaded a humiliating repeat of the 2017 General Election which had lost the Tories their once sure majority in Parliament and left her dependent on the “goodwill” of a group of doctrinaire Ulster Unionists to carry any votes. After the Salisbury, almost lethal, nerve gas attack on a Russian ex-spy / double agent, and his daughter, just weeks before, May had asserted this was an attack by the Russian state. The evidence – as with Tony Blair’s assertions about Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction – was secret, something the public had – for security reasons - to take on trust. But after Blair and Bush had bounced people into supporting the Iraq War on a “false prospectus”, i.e. by lies, and with such terrible consequences, it is clear that on both sides of the Atlantic politicians nowadays cannot expect automatic support for new wars.

May politically embarrassed herself by wanting to fly on Trump’s tail coats rather than to debate the issue of air strikes against Syrian chemical facilities in Parliament where she might have lost the vote. Outside of Parliament a majority have shown little enthusiasm for the strikes against Syrian chemical plants with over 40 per cent being against the air strikes. However, Theresa May will now be able to now ask Trump for concessions for the British Steel industry in the implementation of his protectionist policy while, post-Brexit, the Tory government will be able to strike special trade deals with the Trump administration. Or so they think.

In France, Macron is discovering how hard it is to attack workers and trade unions. His pledge to ‘reform’ labour rights and agreements has meant a series of crippling 2-day rail strikes, which will damage his poll rating. So for him this diversion meant he could wrap himself in the flag of patriotism and shield himself against criticism of his autocratic government and unpopular policies. Macron has now hitched his own wagon to the Saudis against Iranian “expansionism” – and no doubt looks forward to arms sales to the Saudi Arabia have something to do with it.

Whatever their reasons for the attacks against Syria they were not ordered for “humanitarian” reasons. Wars are fought for the interests of capitalism not the plight of civilians.

To End War you first have to end capitalism

In the bitter and acrimonious conflicts between nation states socialists advise workers not to take sides. Do not believe what governments tell you. No side tells the truth and they all lie to suit their own interests which they very rarely make explicit or transparent.

Wars are caused by several factors; by securing resources, protecting trade routes and establishing spheres of strategic influence, however ‘humanitarianism’ as a cause for war is not one of them. For all the rhetoric about civilians and children in Syria, precious little sympathy is shown by EU countries and the US to the plight of Syrian refugees trying to escape the Civil War.

If you want to test the humanitarianism of Western governments and the United States look at fortress Europe with EU countries erecting barbed wire fences to keep Syrian refugees out and Trumps policy of refusing Syrian refugees entrance to the US.

Socialists call on the working class to recognize that mere protest is not enough. To end wars, now and in the future, we need to end the capitalist system of production for profit which is the cause of war.

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