Syria: Obomber loses the public debate

The war juggernaut has halted for the time being, but those who oppose the war must redouble their efforts to counter anti-Syrian propaganda and mobilise solidarity if it is to be averted altogether.

Having failed miserably in its attempts to overthrow the Syrian government through its jihadist terrorist mercenaries, US imperialism was, this August, in the final stages of preparing a direct military onslaught against the people of Syria and their lawful and popular government.

By a concerted campaign, orchestrated by its political and ideological representatives, and duly assisted by its gigantic propaganda machine – a veritable host of TV and radio stations and thousands of newspapers – which spews out non-stop lies about its intended victim, the most hawkish section of the US ruling class had built up what it presumed would be an unstoppable momentum for yet another unlawful, unjust, bloody and predatory war.

This all-out attack was planned to commence on the weekend of 31 August and 1 September. Britain and France were to join in the criminal enterprise under the leadership of the United States. Prompted by US president Barack Obama, and in a headlong rush to deliver ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’, ‘human rights’ and ‘rule of law’ by cruise missiles and other deadly weapons, British prime minister Cameron hurriedly recalled parliament.

An unexpected rebuff

Things did not go to plan, however. After a lengthy debate on 29 August, parliament not only refused to sanction military assault on Syria, but refused even to agree to the principle of military action, leaving David Cameron and his supporters absolutely stunned. After the vote, a hysterical Michael Gove, education secretary and a fervent supporter of the war against Syria, was reduced to shouting “you are a disgrace” at Tory dissenters.

The surprise voting in the House of Commons reflects, in addition to the opposition of the masses to the war, deep divisions within the ruling class as to the advisability of launching yet another murderous predatory war so soon after the catastrophic Iraq and Afghan wars, which have claimed the lives of nearly 2 million innocent Iraqis and Afghans as well as thousands of soldiers from the imperialist countries, and have inflicted devastation and destruction on a colossal scale, while bleeding the imperialist treasuries dry.

The scale of the opposition to the war against Syria may be judged from the voting figures on the government side. Ten members of the government missed the crucial commons vote on Syria – including two who were busy gossiping nearby. A total of 31 Conservative MPs and 14 LibDems voted against the motion, while another 30 Tories stayed away from the chamber.

Despite being dubbed ‘traitors’, Tory rebels remained unrepentant. Tory MP Sarah Wollaston told Radio 4’s Today programme that humanitarian aid to Syria should not “come in the form of cruise missiles”, adding “I think this was a good day for Parliament because this was Parliament reflecting the view, very widely held across the country, that we should not be drawn into yet another middle-eastern conflict.”

Crispin Blunt, a former justice minister, said that it was unnecessary to “put our hand on the dagger politically” alongside the US, adding that a country the size of Britain should not attempt to be “involved in every conceivable conflict that is going on”. He felt “delighted that the UK relieve ourselves of this imperial pretention”.

Senior Conservative David Davis said that the result of the commons vote was a setback for the prime minister because he failed to make the right argument about why you needed to “kill people”, adding: “The truth of the matter is when it’s a life and death issue, people must vote on their consciences.”

John Burton, a leading opponent of the war against Syria stated: “The bottom line is that sending cruise missiles into an already volatile situation stood the real risk of escalating violence, causing more suffering and indeed spreading the conflict beyond Syria’s borders.”

Richard Bacon, another senior Tory MP, said that he had voted against the government because “I was not persuaded of the case for military action and feared it would make things worse.”

Although Alan Duncan, International Development Minister, has since given barely plausible excuses for missing the commons vote, he is widely known to have been going round saying that attacking Syria would be “bonkers”.

Even John Redwood, a prominent Tory right-winger, when approached through an intermediary to visit the office of foreign secretary William Hague so as to be persuaded to vote for the resolution, pointedly told the interlocutory: “Tell him [Hague] he is wasting his time.”

Ruling class divided

The deep divisions within the British ruling class, as clearly evidenced in the commons vote, find their echo among the ideological and intellectual representatives of imperialism. This can be seen by looking at three articles from the corporate media, which represent opposing views on the question, two of which appeared in the Mail on Sunday of 1 September 2013, and one the day before in the Daily Mail.

First, the warmongering camp’s point of view. A certain Andrew Roberts, allegedly a ‘top historian’, wrote in the Mail on Sunday that by “refusing to punish a foreign dictator for his despicable use of poison gas on unarmed civilians, we have deliberately relinquished our once-cherished role as one of the world’s foremost policemen, and joined the ranks of global spectators, merely tut-tutting from the sidelines rather than taking part in defending decency.

He moaned at the emergence of a new Britain, characterised by its hideous, amoral selfishness, guilty of a “gross display of Little Englandism” in glaring contrast to “centuries of traditionally supporting the victims of monstrous oppression. And, he added, “nothing qualifies as worse oppression than having at least 1,429 innocents slaughtered – 400 of them children – with a weapon so obscene” that the world outlawed it in 1925. He went on to lament that Britain has been afflicted since the first Gulf war with a malaise that he described as the “progressive Scandinavianisation”of the country.

All this, he opined, is the result of our “forebears” being portrayed as “racist sadists”, instead of being painted, as they should be in his view, as “upstanding, incorruptible brave and patriotic people who, at enormous personal sacrifice, brought peace and good governance to the largest empire in history.

Welcome to the most morally vacuous, pusillanimous and self-indulgent generation for half a millennium,” he concluded.

It would take little mental exertion but a very large article to refute the ignorant historian’s vacuous and immoral arguments. But since neither space nor time will allow such an indulgence, we shall confine ourselves to a few brief observations.

First, Roberts’ claim regarding Britain’s historic role as the ‘moral policeman’ and ‘defender of decency’ that brought ‘peace and good governance’ to its large empire sits uneasily with the reality of the brutal oppression, grinding poverty and thorough exploitation that was inflicted by the British ruling class on hundreds upon hundreds of millions of colonial peoples.

Ask the people of India, Ireland, China, and dozens of other countries from the Caribbean to the Middle East. No other ruling class in the world can claim the dubious distinction of being so bloodthirsty, cruel and grasping. Millions of Africans transported to the new world as slaves, millions of Indian weavers whose bones bleached the territory of Bengal soon after the establishment of British rule, millions of Irish people forced to flee their country through yet more man-made famine (but enough!) bear eloquent testimony to the benevolence of British rule.

Using chemical weapons

As to the claim that “nothing qualifies as worse oppression than having at least 1,429 innocent civilians slaughtered”by an ‘obscene’ weapon, our ignorant mercenary of imperialism (learned historian, if you please) is obviously suffering from a gross loss of memory or from feeble-mindedness.

Surely he cannot be so ignorant as not to know that between 1965 and 1975 his beloved US, which he regards as the tireless enforcer of standards of minimum decency in the world, in its dirty war against Vietnam, dropped millions of tons of incendiary napalm to the defoliate dense forests that were used as cover by the Vietnamese national-liberation fighters? The jelly-like substance ignited and stuck to the skin, burning through muscle and bone to cause horrific injuries and, usually, a hideous death.

The US also dropped 50 million tons of Agent Orange, a super-strength chemical herbicide, to destroy all plants. But poisonous dioxins seeped into the soil and water supply, entering the food chain and leading to severe health problems and disabilities for generations.

According to Ian Drury, defence correspondent of the Daily Mail, the death toll from Agent Orange in Vietnam was more than a million, and 400,000 Vietnamese children were born with birth defects as a result of their mothers’ exposure to this horrible poison. His article, entitled ‘An appalling gas attack but not the worst in history’, appeared on 31 August 2013, just one day before Roberts’ own piece was printed in the same newspaper. It is just a shame our lover of history didn’t see fit to take even a cursory glance at Drury’s information.

Moreover, during ‘Operation Menu’ the US dropped 530,000 tonnes of bombs on Cambodia – three times the amount dropped on Japan in the second world war, killing nearly a million people. Between 1969-73, rice production in Cambodia fell by 70 percent as a result of US a bombing campaign that killed 75 percent of Cambodia’s animals, destroyed much of its industrial sector and made its road network unusable.

At the end of the second world war, and out of no military necessity, the US dropped two atom bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing several hundred thousand Japanese people, along with thousands of Korean workers who had been brought there as slave labour.

Five years later, the US used chemical weapons on an extensive scale during the Korean war. More recently it has used white phosphorus and depleted uranium all over Iraq, most notably during the intense battle for Fallujah. The US’s Israeli stooges have been guilty of using similar weapons in their wars against the Palestinian and Lebanese people.

We could give many more examples of the use of these horrible weapons by the US, Britain, Japan, Germany and Italy, among others. But yet, such is our historian’s concern for upholding standards of decency that he fails to notice the elephant in the room – that it is the US which is the biggest culprit in this context. We will leave it to our readers to judge who is really guilty of being ‘morally vacuous’ and ‘pusillanimous’.

Anti-war sentiments in the corporate media

The opposing argument was put forward by Peter Hitchens, a journalist whose bourgeois credentials are as impeccable as those of Roberts. Hitchens castigated “those who seem to think that you can show mercy and pity by lobbing cruise missiles into a war zone” and those who judge our moral worthiness “by our noisy ability to bomb people for their own good”, adding that the “moral bomber is one of the scourges of our age”.

It is important to reiterate at this point that it is not lack of intelligence that stops other commentators and politicians from grasping the truth of such statements, but the dictates of whichever section of the ruling class they happen to be affiliated to.

During the preparations for the Yugoslav and Libyan wars, when Britain’s rulers were of one mind, it was only a very few progressives who had the temerity to stand up against the warmongering propaganda and point out that the wars were not being fought for humanitarian reasons but for imperial ones. Their perfectly sane and reasonable arguments got no coverage in the corporate media.

In the case of Syria, over which the ruling class is now thoroughly divided, many of the former spokespeople for war are suddenly able to see the logic of truths that they previously would have been working overtime to conceal – and many more anti-war voices are allowed to be heard in the imperialist press.

Be that as it may, Hitchens’ article and others like it are exceptionally useful, since they present the case against war in places where no communist would be invited and bring it to a mass audience. As Lenin long ago pointed out, every split between the imperialists creates an opportunity for communists!

Hitchens confronted head-on the response of the ‘moral bombers’, with their twaddle about ‘appeasement’, piffle about damage to our world status (don’t these people, he asked, know what the rest of the world thinks about us since the Iraq war?), their tripe about damage to our non-existent ‘special relationship’ with the US, and their foul-mouthed and snivelling attempts to portray dissent as “disloyalty, cowardice or giving comfort to the enemy.

To those who assert that we can’t stand idly by, he asked: “What is wrong with ‘standing idly by’, if the only alternative is to do something stupid?

He even had the temerity to expose the shocking behaviour of the BBC, which, he said, had “promoted atrocity propaganda, parting with all norms of objectivity”, and hadtreated opponents of the war with a sneering contempt. “In fact, most of the media were braying for an attack, weeping loud tears for the dead of Damascus (whose killers have yet to be identified).” Hitchens reserved especial disgust for the “Warmongers Gazette, formerly known as The Times”.

As to Cameron’s arguments for the war, these were “not fit for an Eton junior debating society”, wrote Mr Hitchens, adding that “as he has been bursting to intervene in Syria for months, how can he claim that his passion is solely to do with the use of chemical weapons?

As for Cameron’s ‘intelligence’ document, I could have written it myself. It came off the internet.

Truly, he is heir to Blair. But having had one Blair already, we are at last learning the folly of indulging such fantasists.

Desperately seeking cover

Meanwhile, Max Hastings, a hard-headed defender of British imperialist interests, wrote that the commons vote was no disaster, for “it is high time Britain stopped being Uncle Sam’s poodle. What our people like,”he wrote, “are easy victories which happen quickly and cheaply, and serve our national interest.” He added: “What we have experienced instead is a succession of wars and military interventions which … have more often involved the nation in expense, sacrifice and failure.

Citing a British former chief of staff during the 2003 Iraq war, he continued: “The Americans don’t need our troops or planes to do the fighting … They value us only to provide political cover.” (‘A disaster? No’, Daily Mail, 31 August 2013)

And, having been deprived of this political cover, Obama was left thrashing around for options. On 31 August, two days after the commons vote, without consulting John Kerry or Chuck Hagel (the secretaries of state and defence), and feeling totally isolated, Obomber asked the US congress for support for the war. But Congress was not due to meet after recess until 9 September, while Obama had to leave on 10 September for St Petersburg to attend the G20 meeting (which turned out to be far from a happy encounter for Obama or Cameron).

While the desperate president went off to try and garner what support he could at the G20, the US anti-war movement was busy using the recess to put pressure on congress. Across the country the story was the same: representatives were being inundated with calls, and the majority opposed to war was as much as 499 to 1.

Such are the divisions amongst the US ruling class over the question that while former anti-war activist John Kerry has shamelessly transformed himself into a rampant warmonger, many right-wing Republicans have come out against the war, leading to the strange phenomenon of neo-liberal Tea Party activists joining progressive anti-war demonstrations in many US cities!

Moreover, the air time and press space given to anti-war arguments, combined with the direct experience of ‘liberation’ through genocidal warfare, has led many serving soldiers and sailors to mount their own protest. Pictures have been posted on Facebook and elsewhere by US service personnel holding up signs that read: “I didn’t join the army to fight for al-Qaeda in Syria” and, even more tellingly, “I didn’t sign up to kill the poor for the rich. No war with Syria!

Meanwhile, although the leaders of Britain, France and Turkey expressed their support, Obama failed at to enlist any real help in St Petersburg. European Council president Herman Van Rompuy declared that there was “no military solution to the Syria conflict, there can only be a political solution … through the UN process”. Germany and Italy refused to participate in the war, and Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary general, expressed a similar point of view.

President Putin of Russia strongly emphasised that any military action that was not in self-defence or sanctioned by a Security Council resolution was illegal, even if it was sanctioned by the US congress. Even Pope Francis appealed to Putin and Obama “to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution”.

Public opinion worldwide – including in the US, Britain and France – is overwhelmingly opposed to the war against Syria. The EU and even Nato do not back it. China and Russia oppose it. Iraq says that it will not allow its airspace or territory to be used for any attack, the Egyptian government is opposed, and there is overwhelming opposition amongst the Turkish masses.

In an attempt to get some desperately-needed backing, Obama made contradictory statements to win over members of Congress. To convince the congressional hawks, he promised more than limited strikes against Syria, while to win over not-so warmongering members of the legislature, he promised only token action – a “shot across the bows” of the Syrian government.

While Kerry promised that a war would bring “downstream collateral benefit”, “degrading Syrian military capacity” and thus tilting the battlefield advantage in favour of the Syrian and foreign jihadi terrorists, Obama flatly denied any such intentions, claiming that there would be no American boots on the ground and that the attack would be extremely limited and last only a couple of days. He even felt the need to pretend that no regime change or tilt of the balance of forces in Syria in favour of the rebels was intended!

Having a sinking feeling that he would lose the vote in Congress, Obama claimed that he could use his presidential prerogative to launch a war whatever the result might be. In tandem, he claimed that he might act without a Security Council resolution. This blatant attempt to flout both Congress and international law had the effect of leaving him looking totally isolated and foolish.

Face-saving reprieve

Thus finding himself cornered, Obama leapt at the Russian proposal to remove the stock of chemical weapons from Syria under international supervision, and get Syria to become a signatory to the convention banning these weapons.

Shelving the contentious Congress vote, Obama sent Secretary Kerry to meet with the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva to hammer out an agreement to that effect, with Lavrov insisting on compliance with international law by the US and opposing any use of force in defiance of it.

And this is where matters stand as we go to print. We cannot be certain whether the war against Syria has been finally averted or merely delayed. The latter is the most likely scenario. Not being able to get its way in the court of world public opinion, in the US Congress or at the Security Council, US imperialism, unless it beats a humiliating retreat from Syria, is more likely to dredge up some flimsy excuse to strike illegally and wage a devastating predatory war against this beautiful country and its dignified and cultured people.

The pretext given by the warmongers is sure to be the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against its own people – a charge that cannot withstand the slightest scrutiny.

Why would the Syrian government use chemical weapons when its forces are inflicting decisive defeats on the bloodthirsty brutes unleashed by imperialism? Why would they use them just when a UN team is in the country investigating the use of these weapons, and that too in an area where the Syrian army is present in large numbers? Even WND (a right-wing, zionist website based in the US) expressed the view that the chemical attack was the work of the jihadis.

All the evidence points in the direction of the imperialists staging a provocation, with their proxies using sarin and other nerve gases in order to provide an excuse for going to war. If they don’t launch a war, they have little hope of saving the skin of their surrogates, who are on the verge of a complete rout, despite all the money, training and armaments that their masters have supplied them with.

Faced with this murderous war effort, British workers need to know the unvarnished truth and not be palmed off with plausible lies.

The facts

• The war presently being waged by imperialism and its stooges against the Syrian people did not simply and spontaneously erupt in March 2011, but has actually been in preparation for at least a decade.

• This war has nothing to do with humanitarianism, rule of law or democracy, which are merely catchwords that imperialism uses to hide its real aims … it is a war for domination, for booty, plunder and brigandage.

• In an effort to subvert the revolutionary movements of the people of the Middle East and the Maghreb, the combined imperialist powers of Nato first targeted Libya and overthrew its government, murdering its undisputed leader Muammar Gaddafi, and are now intent on repeating their ‘humanitarian’ blitzkrieg against Syria.

• Syria has become the target of imperialist subversion and aggression because it had the cheek to pursue independent economic and foreign policies – it opposed the war in Libya, it supported for the Iraqi resistance, it supported the liberation of Palestine and stood up to zionism, and in the pursuit of these aims it formed an anti-imperialist alliance with Iran and the Lebanese resistance movement, Hizbollah. In short, Syria is being targeted because of its position in the axis of resistance that today stands in opposition to the zionist-imperialist axis of evil.

• In the long run, this war is directed against China and Russia – the two countries which stand in the way of the total imperialist domination of the world.

The proletariat must therefore condemn imperialism and its stooges in the most resolute terms and give its wholehearted support to the Syrian people and their leadership, who are bravely defending the independence, sovereignty, honour and dignity of their country against imperialist brigandage.

Those who claim to be socialist must take to the working masses the message of non-cooperation with imperialism’s predatory and criminal wars by refusing to play any part in moving materials, making munitions, pointing guns or broadcasting imperialism’s warmongering propaganda lies.

From the very beginning of the counter-revolutionary rebellion in Syria, inspired, funded and aided by imperialism, we in the CPGB-ML have consistently called for the defeat of imperialism and the victory of the Syrian people led by President Assad, for we are firmly convinced that: “The revolutionary movement in the advanced countries would actually be a sheer fraud if, in their struggle against capital, the workers of Europe and America were not closely and completely united with hundreds upon hundreds of millions of ‘colonial’ slaves who are oppressed by capital.” (Lenin, The Second Congress of the Communist International, 1920)

We make a last-ditch appeal to our opponents in the working-class and ‘anti-war’ movement, especially those in the Stop the War Coalition (StW), to join us in explaining these facts to the people and in mobilising a mass campaign of non-cooperation. So far, StW’s leaders have deployed one shameful excuse and dishonest pretext after another to undermine British solidarity with the anti-imperialist Syrian government, just as they did in the case of Libya.

If they do not want their hands to be dripping with the blood of the Syrian people, this needs to change. Failure to join firmly with the axis of resistance, whatever their intentions, objectively puts them in the camp of imperialism.

No cooperation with imperialism’s wars!

Victory to the Syrian people led by the Ba’ath party and its progressive allies!

Death to imperialism and its zionist and Arab stooges!

:: Defeat the murderous imperialist predatory war against the Syrian people, CPGB-ML statement 29 August 2013

:: Syria – Qusayr victory puts imperialism on the spot, Lalkar July 2013