By Jane West
As the imperialist intervention in Libya moves into its endgame with the NATO pounding of Sirte, the West’s attention is moving more decisively towards the situation in Syria.
So far the imperialists have drawn back from openly threatening military intervention. This is not because it is not on their agenda, but because a number of factors have temporarily stayed their hand.
A military intervention in Syria is a much more substantial task than Libya – Syria’s population of 21m compared to Libya’s 6m is one measure of that. At the same time, the indications are that the state military and other armed forces remain overwhelmingly loyal to the regime. While there have been reports of some desertions, there has been no suggestion of whole units or sections going over to the side of the opposition. This is unlike Libya where in the East of the country the entire state apparatus essentially went over to the opposition.
This means an imperialist intervention would face a stronger military response, and a militarily weaker opposition supporting its intervention. Air-strikes alone in such a situation are unlikely to be sufficient. If it has to deploy ground troops this is likely to lead to big opposition at home. But trying to persuade Turkey or other neighbours to bear the weight of a military intervention has problems of its own, including whether imperialism wants Turkey to play such a leading role.
These concerns are not sufficient to prevent an intervention – nor, given its global supremacy in firepower, does imperialism fear that it would not win. But they are enough to provoke caution and more detailed thinking than in Libya before embarking on military action.
Imperialism’s immediate next steps are to weaken the Syrian regime through strengthened sanctions and to bolster the internal opposition forces.
The campaign to tighten sanctions also serves the purpose of softening international opinion in preparation for armed intervention. Initially imperialism has been restrained by the veto of Russia and China in the Security Council, which blocked an early October UN motion condemning human rights abuses in Syria. The motion, drafted by France, Germany, Portugal and the UK, was supported by the United States, but four significant countries abstained: Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa.
However, while this veto has stayed imperialism’s hand for the moment, it has not changed its course. Moreover, there are indications that Russia’s stance is already weak and might quite easily be shifted to support a motion if it had some appropriate meaningless ‘concessions’ to its concerns. And China’s record – indicating its concern not to become internationally isolated – is that it will not maintain a veto alone without the support of at least one other permanent member.
At the same time imperialism has brokered the establishment of the Syrian National Council. The SNC was established by a meeting held in Istanbul allegedly representing Syria’s opposition groups, led by Bourhan Ghalioun, a Paris-based academic. It claims to represent the local coordination committees within Syria, but given the difficulties of traveling to and from Syria, and the fragmented and local character of the opposition, the legitimacy of the SNC’s claim to be representative is at least questionable.
The Istanbul meeting, which was mainly composed of exiled groups and individuals with unclear support in the country, announced it had established a council of 140, of whom 40% were not based inside Syria.
The purpose of establishing the SNC is clear. Primarily, it provides imperialism and its allies with a ‘government in exile’, whose endorsement can be claimed as conferring legitimacy on any action imperialism may take against Syria. Secondly, it provides a core for the compliant and grateful replacement government it would impose on Syria after any overthrow of Assad.
No doubt the SNC will be ‘benefitting’ from Western ‘advisors’ and other types of ‘support’ to help it ‘prepare for government’ in Syria – including advice on which Western companies should be preferentially brought in to run its significant oil, gas and mineral industry and take over its nationalised banks and other companies!
It is perhaps no surprise that the similarly unelected NATO-sponsored Libyan National Transition Council should be the first to recognise the SNC as the legitimate government of Syria. However, the EU and US are more realistic about the level of support for the SNC and have so far confined themselves to ‘welcoming’ its establishment.
Some sections of the Syrian opposition have already begun to call openly for a ‘no fly zone’ or other intervention in the country against Assad.
While imperialism prepares to take action in Syria, Fidel Castro, who was prescient on the intervention in Libya, agitating that NATO was preparing an intervention before anyone else had even realised this might be on the agenda, has warned of imperialist plans for Syria and the likelihood of a new intervention. Following the UN Security Council’s August failure to adopt a formal resolution condemning Syria, Cuba’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcos Rodriguez said ‘We reject any attempt to undermine the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.’
Hugo Chavez also took the opportunity of a statement to the UN on 21 September to point out: ‘It is intolerable that the powerful of this world intend to claim for themselves the right to order legitimate and sovereign governments to step down. This was the case in Libya, and they want to do the same in Syria.’
Opposition in Latin America to further imperialist adventures in the Middle East runs very deep. On Sunday 9th October a delegation from the eight member ALBA block of Latin American countries visited Damascus to express their opposition to any intervention. The delegation included representatives from Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia, and is led by Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro. Maduro described the aims of the delegations as to ‘reject invasion and political destabilisation attempts of the country by the United States and its allies’. He has also said that ‘the Syrians are the only one who should find solutions to their problems… The Syrian people are an original people who have a great and ancient civilisation and who are capable of solving their problems by themselves.’
Imperialism has been emboldened by the apparent success of its intervention in Libya. Gaddafi is overthrown and a new pliant government is virtually in place. The momentum of the Arab Spring appears to have been stalled for the moment by a combination of political confusion on the role of imperialist intervention, the agency of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and the fomenting of sectarianism in Egypt. While imperialism has in no sense recovered its position, it is seeking to drive home an advantage and turn the current confused situation of the struggle to its advantage through bringing a client regime to power in Syria.
Imperialism cannot achieve this without the use of military intervention and economic coercion. The entire progressive movement world-wide should unite against any form of imperialist intervention in Syria, however it is presented and whatever form it takes.