By David Keil
The Obama administration recently accused the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad of launching a chemical weapons attack on civilians in suburbs of Damascus, Syria, and proposed a U.S. missile attack on Syria as a response. Only public revulsion against yet another illegal U.S. war prevented war from being launched this month. The Socialist Party and other groups have promoted protests throughout the U.S. to stop the attack on Syria. That’s an essential responsibility of socialists and other advocates of democratic rights in the U.S.
The President and Secretary of State John Kerry made claims based on secret “intelligence” documents to support their proposal for war on Syria. Left groups have debated the possibility that the Assad government — known to have bombed whole neighborhoods all over Syria with conventional weapons — also used sarin gas.
A socialist response to questions about Syria might well be guided by ideas expressed in the Statement of Principles of the Socialist Party of the USA, such as the following: “Democratic revolutions are needed to dissolve the power now exercised by the few who control great wealth and the government…. The building of socialism requires widespread understanding and participation, and will not be achieved by an elite working ‘on behalf of’ the people.” The statement goes on to advocate “full freedom of speech, assembly, press, and religion, and … a multi-party system.” These principles apply in the U.S. and in all countries.
Part of the left in the U.S. has defends the Syrian government; another part has acted on the knowledge that the decades-old Assad family dictatorship has committed crimes against Syrians, including Syrians who have protested for democratic rights in the spirit of the Egyptian and other uprisings.
Is it believable that a regime targeted by the imperialist U.S. military is guilty of some of the crimes attributed to it? That’s a factual question but also one with political implications.
The United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) issued a statement September 12 stating, “With nothing but circumstantial evidence that the chemical sarin gas attack was used by the Syrian government, Obama’s speech assumed this as fact and the basis for attacking Syria.” The U.S. record is replete with similar false allegations to justify war, from the Vietnam era Tonkin Bay ‘incident’ that proved to be fabricated by U.S. spy agencies, to Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that were ‘proved’ to exist by the Bush administration.” UNAC was expressing skepticism about the claims that the Syrian armed forces used chemical weapons.
One part of UNAC, the International Action Center went further, claiming that the dictatorship was a “legitimate government” and implying that opposition to it was only a creation of imperialist intervention. IAC publicized a statement of the International Anti-imperialist Coordinating Committee on August 25, 2013, which stated that imperialist powers “hatched a conspiracy to instigate some anti-Government forces to start an armed conflict against the legitimate Government led by President Assad. They overtly and covertly helped these forces by providing military aids, and at the same time launched a propaganda war to discredit President Assad and bolster the opposition forces. This was combined with intense diplomatic pressure to remove President Assad. But these tactics failed to bring the Government down. Now their latest salvo in the propaganda war is the allegation against the Assad Government of using chemical weapons on its enemies, an allegation which has been stoutly denied by the Government. We all know that propagating lies with vigor is a standard tactic of the fascists and imperialists in their wars against the “enemies.”
On the other hand, an article in Socialist Worker by Eric Ruder states that the International Socialist Organization (ISO) “is one among many groups that have supported the two-and-a-half-year-old mass uprising against Assad and his regime. We see this struggle as part of the Arab Spring — a tide of revolt that has swept North Africa and the Middle East, challenging political tyranny, economic injustice and the dominance of Western imperialism. We stand against intervention by the U.S. and its allies in Syria, but at the same time, we continue to defend the revolution against the regime’s barbaric violence and repression.”
The Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) replied to ISO, similarly to the IACC. The exchange between the ISO and FRSO indicates that questions about the Syrian government are in hot debate among leftists in the U.S.
On September 18, The New York Times reported data, assembled by U.N. weapons inspectors, that appears to point clearly to the origin of sarin-bearing rockets on Mt. Qasioun in Damascus, well known as a major Syrian-government military installation and the locale of the presidential palace.
Al Jazeera reported, “Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said on Wednesday that his country was disappointed with the UN report published this week, saying it was selective and had ignored other episodes.”
Some of those who will mobilize against U.S. acts of war against Syria will take the same approach as the Russian spokesman and may continue to speak of the possibility that rebels somehow launched the missiles that delivered the poison gas, or delivered it some other way. Others will consider the Syrian government guilty of war crimes with high probability, opposing a U.S. war because it would violate international law and would have a negative effect. If the Assad government has used nerve gas, then despite any denials it has contributed to legitimizing a method of warfare used by imperialist and occupying nations like the U.S. and Israel.
But the main responsibility of left groups in the U.S. is to work effectively to organize opposition to the war being prepared by our own government. Hands off Syria! No war!
For the Socialist Party USA’s official statement on Syria, click here.