Syria is now the frontline in a struggle between western powers intent on a unipolar world, and a Russian and Chinese-led multipolar alternative in which sovereignty is not a gift of Washington and its allies but the inviolable right of all nation states.
With the Obama administration’s declaration that the US is to arm the rebels in Syria – though stressing they intend arming the ‘good’ rebels as opposed to the ‘bad’ rebels – any pretence of being interested in anything other than the continuation of the imperialist assault it has led in the region, using the Arab Spring as a smokescreen, has been dropped by the US and its allies.
The timing of the announcement in Washington could not have been more significant, coming quick on the heels of the retaking of the strategically important town of Qusayr on Syria’s eastern border with Lebanon by the Syrian army in conjunction with fighters from Hezbollah.
It is also interesting to speculate that with a growing domestic political firestorm currently engulfing his administration over the wiretapping revelations from NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, appearing resolute and decisive when it comes to Syria is being seen as a way for the president to deflect from his domestic woes. It also suggests that hawks in Washington, led by John McCain, are now in the driving seat when it comes to forging US policy vis-à-vis the Syrian conflict.
There is a strong element of déjà vu when it comes to US claims of evidence that Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons. The fact these claims were made without any independent UN investigation is not without precedent, given the consistency with which Washington has undermined the UN since 9/11. It is also prudent to inquire what happened to the claim made at the beginning of May by Carla Del Ponte, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry into the Syrian conflict, to the effect that there was a ‘strong possibility’ that rebel forces had in fact used chemical weapons – specifically sarin nerve gas. Her claim, made in an interview with Swiss television, was based on the testimony of victims of the conflict, she claimed, while at the same time stressing that she did not rule out the possibility that the Syrian government had also used chemical weapons. Interestingly, the UN commission later issued an official statement in response to Del Ponte’s interview, stating that it had “not reached conclusive findings” as to the use of chemical weapons by any parties. “As a result,” the statement added, “the commission is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time.”
The tactic deployed by the Obama administration appears designed to place pressure on the UN to confirm their claims, rather than dispute them. Here we could be forgiven for thinking we’ve been transported back in time to 2002-03, complete with Colin Powell reprising his infamous appearance at the UN security council, when the former US secretary of state held up a tiny vial of what he claimed was anthrax as the Bush administration sought to press the case for unleashing war on Iraq – in the process dragging his political credibility through the mud.
Adding to the bizarre nature of this unfolding crisis is the reappearance of Tony Blair urging British military intervention. Clearly the mountain of bodies erected in Iraq as a direct result of his messianic fervour for ‘war-war’ rather than ‘jaw-jaw’ has not been enough to satiate the appetite of the former prime minister for ‘blowing shit up’ like a latter day Dr Strangelove on steroids. Like the recurrence of a bad nightmare, we’re seeing some of the same ghouls responsible for Iraq resurfacing to remind us why Karl Marx was right when he wrote, ‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce’.
With hundreds of disparate armed groups comprising an opposition that includes in its ranks religious obscurantists and atavistic savages with a predilection for beheading prisoners and/or cutting open the chest of dead Syrian soldiers and removing their internal organs, the notion that progress for the Syrian people at this point involves the toppling of the current government can only be the product of either gross mendacity or a convenient loss of memory. The disasters to befall the Iraqi and Libyan people as a direct result of western military intervention, leading to an explosion of sectarian blood letting, cannot be swept aside so easily.
During their recent joint press conference in London, after an hour of fruitless private discussion over Syria between David Cameron and Vladimir Putin, it was impossible not to detect the antipathy between both leaders. In response to a question from a journalist over Russia’s continued support for the Syrian government, Putin replied:
“One does not need to support people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras. Are these the people you want to support? Is it them you want to supply with weapons? Then this probably has little relation to humanitarian values that have been preached in Europe for hundreds of years.”
Fortunately, if sanity over Syria seems lost in Downing Street, it has not yet been completely abandoned within Tory ranks and even in the cabinet altogether, given the level of opposition being voiced by various prominent figures both within and without the government to the arming of the rebels.
Writing in the Telegraph, London mayor Boris Johnson said that arming the Syrian rebels would be disastrous because Britain would be “pressing weapons into the hands of maniacs”.
The G8 meeting in Lough Erne in the North of Ireland this week promises to be an animated affair, with Syria top of the agenda. Ramping up the stakes over the prospect of a region-wide sectarian war is the announcement by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of a cessation of diplomatic ties between Egypt and Syria, while reports have confirmed that Jordan has been hosting military exercises involving thousands of US troops this past week and has deployed Patriot Missile batteries along its Syrian border.
Meanwhile, in Syria itself government forces along with Hezbollah units are massing for a military offensive to take back control of Aleppo, located 20 miles from the border with Turkey and key to the ability of the rebels to operate freely across the border. With Sunni militants flocking to the city to bolster rebel numbers defending it after the fall of Qusayr, there are growing historic parallels between the Syrian conflict and the conflict over Spain in the 1930s. As with Spain, the Syrian conflict has become internationalised – part of a wider geopolitical struggle between rival global power blocs. And as with Spain the outcome of the conflict in Syria will have consequences that extend beyond its borders to engulf the entire region for years to come.