Syria is now the frontline in a global struggle

Obama-Putin1_2592981bSyria 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.

Chemical weapons

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.

Tony Blair

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.

36 comments on “Syria is now the frontline in a global struggle

  1. Good article John.

    There will be no peace without some political settlement; but the Anglo-French (and now American) position seems to be to arm the losing rebels, to prolong the war as long as possible; to demand preconditions for talks which prejudge their outcome; and to indulge in wishful thinking about the forces they are promoting.

    The least worst outcome is for the rebels to accept that they cannot acheive military victory against the Syrian state, and to seek some accomodation to end the war. Of course this is further complicated by the fact that the rebels are themselves disunited, and indeed hostile to one another

    One thing is clear, that the Assad government – however awful it may be in many ways – has shown remarkable resilience, and has drawn upon levels of popular support to survive. With Moscow and Tehran, and Hezbollah also supporting Assad, then the survival of the government is highly likely.

  2. john e on said:

    This from Global Research and RT reported also( 30/5/13)
    According to a report in Turkey’s state media agency Zaman, agents from the Turkish General Directorate of Security (Emniyet Genel Müdürlüğü) ceased 2 kg of sarin gas in the city of Adana in the early hours of yesterday morning. The chemical weapons were in the possession of Al Nusra terrorists believed to have been heading for Syria.

  3. Baton Rouge on said:

    So because you say Syria is the frontline of some mythical global struggle we are all supposed to quit supporting the Syrian Rebellion and takes sides with you, Assad and Putin? No thanks. The Syrian people are bravely fighting on despite the West’s vicious arms embargo, Hagues efforts to force Assad to the table by lifting the embargo but not actually supplying arms and Cameron’s cynical efforts to get his own plans vetoed by the idiot Putin so Russia can take the blame for the slaughter of tens of thousands. You and this site have no right to take your place in the human race as someone once said.

  4. Baton Rouge: we are all supposed to quit supporting the Syrian Rebellion

    Just for clarity, which bits of the Syrian rebellion do you support?

    The Islamists now led by Al Qaeda of Iraq, who are killing 14 year old boys in front of their mothers for mentioning Mohammed’s name flippantly?

    The Sunni sectarians engaged in a house by house pogrom murdering Christians, Alawites and Shia?

    Of the Free Syrian Army, canibalistically eating the organs of dead opponents?

  5. John Grimshaw on said:

    Baton Rouge,

    Time for a song.

    Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train
    And I’s feeling nearly as faded as my jeans.
    Bobby thumbed a diesel down just before it rained,
    It rode us all the way to New Orleans.

    I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna,
    I was playing soft while Bobby sang the blues.
    Windshield wipers slapping time, I was holding Bobby’s hand in mine,
    We sang every song that driver knew.

    Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,
    Nothing don’t mean nothing honey if it ain’t free, now now.
    And feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues,
    You know feeling good was good enough for me,
    Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.

  6. John Grimshaw on said:

    “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.”

    Neither Washington or Moscow, anybody! 🙂

  7. jim mclean on said:

    Baton Rouge: we are all supposed to quit supporting the Syrian Rebellion

    Never has been a Syrian Rebellion if you are inferring that we are witnessing a popular uprising. Also I am even more cynical than John as to the reasons for support being given to the insurgents. The West are not initiating a regime change, What we are observing is the initiating of policies leading to the desabalisation of governments in the area with little intention in replacing those governments. Pakistan and Iran may be next on the list with CIA interfering in Balochostan and Kurdish Iran.

  8. jack ford on said:

    The Iranians have sent in Pasdaran Guard troops into Syria and it looks as if the Russians may be giving Iran their full support.

    The body language between Putin and Obama at the G8 says it all. Apparently Putin thanked Obama for a full and fank exchange of views which is diplomatic speak for a verbal fist fight.

    Bottom line NATO can impose a no fly zone and blitz Syria from the air but they’re not going to send ground troops into Syria which means the regime change is very unlikely to happen. The best case scenario would be for the West to admit reality and come up with some face saving formula at the Geneva talks but the neocons aren’t going to admit defeat easily and I fear a lot more Syrians will die before this thing is finished.

    The Empire’s military strength lies in sea power and air power but its ability to conduct ground warfare is a lot less impressive.

    Paddy Ashdown is dead against arming the rebels and the Lib Dems will almost certainly vote against it so Cameron would be well advised to back off.

  9. The Palestinians don’t agree with you John:

    You are right about only one thing: it is like Spain in 1936 in that one side is fascist and the other democratic. Siding with Assad’s fascist regime in a war against the entire population because they are “anti-imperialist”/aligned with imperialist Russia is as bad as it gets. That there are reactionary forces on the right of this struggle — Al Qaeda, Saudis, Qatar — should be no surprise to anyone who knows anything about history. Zionists fought side-by-side with socialists in Warsaw Ghetto uprising and Ho Chi Minh worked hand in glove with the CIA’s predecessor, the OSS, to defeat the Japanese. If the Free Syrian Army can obtain heavy weapons despite the U.S. embargo from reactionary powers, that is a good thing. If you don’t agree with me, I have some free and fair elections in Libya after Ghadafi’s defeat for you to study.

  10. John on said:

    Binh: one side is fascist and the other democratic.

    Which side is democratic?

    I must have missed the vote taken in support of savages killing 14 year olds for ‘apostasy’, cutting oopen dead bodies and removing the internal organs to eat them; slaughtering minorities or people who happen to disagree that medievalism and religious obscurantism are the way ahead for the Syrian people.

    Binh: If the Free Syrian Army can obtain heavy weapons despite the U.S. embargo from reactionary powers, that is a good thing. If you don’t agree with me, I have some free and fair elections in Libya after Ghadafi’s defeat for you to study.

    NATO agrees with you on this. I don’t.

  11. Binh: The Palestinians don’t agree

    Sadly, such incidents reveal little more than the sectarian fuel which is being used to inflame the conflict in Syria, and thereby promote a wider regional agenda of divide & conquer.

  12. redhand on said:


    Maybe, although raising the banner of Hussein over al-Qusayr, and the constant shelling of Yarmouk refugee camp doesnt exactly help either. Meanwhile, “a leading progressive voice in the Muslim world” has called for jihad against the regime and its allies:

    No more hagiographies for him on Socialist Unity, presumably?

    For anyone who is interested, here’s a 22min video on the al-Bayda and Banias massacres . Warning, no cannibalism:

  13. Vanya on said:

    #12 The use of the term “the Palestinians” is suspect in itself, and raises the question, which Palestinians?

    Note that the incident you referred to appears to have been targeted at one of the traditional components of the Palestinian resistance itself, the DFLP as much as at Hezbollah.

    (Does anyone know how Hawatmeh is doing since he was injured in Damascus btw?)

    I also note that the Al Aqsa Brigades (affiliated to Fatah, traditionally at loggerheads with the Syrian Ba-ath regime) have recently called for dialogue in Syria, and are maintaining contact with Hezbollah.

  14. jock mctrousers on said:

    Binh: Siding with Assad’s fascist regime in a war against the entire population

    That’s beneath contempt. But nothing new for this creature who promotes itself as a Marxist and adviser to the Occupy movement – one of Louis Proyect’s sidekicks, which explains a lot. By the by, those of you who know about Louis Proyect please email Counterpunch to object to him being featured there. I hope that’s not a sign of a radical deterioration setting in with the passing of Alexander Cockburn.

    The ENTIRE population? Of Syria against Assad? Not even John McCain would claim that. Cameron or Blair might, right enough…

    Binh: I have some free and fair elections in Libya after Ghadafi’s defeat for you to study

    Yes, that was a great success I’m sure. No water, health care, electricity, education, and every few blocks you’ve got to pay a toll to a different gang, if they just don’t kill you for fun.

    I’m less worried about ‘them’ exporting this mayhem to Baluchistan (they’ve been at it there for years) than to Europe. The global elites won’t be satisfied now till they’ve wiped out every last vestige of civilised social structure everywhere.

  15. Vanya on said:

    #18 Has already been posted by Binh, which is why I was responding to it.

    #17 Yes, you can provide evidence that shows that sections of the Palestinians are opposed to Assad. Hardly new given the checked role of the regime, a point that has been ably made by Galloway amongst others.

    The Palestinians have been divided on the question of the Syrian regime for decades.

    It hardly proves a point one way or the other.

  16. John Grimshaw on said:

    Noah: Binh: “Zionists fought side-by-side with socialists in Warsaw Ghetto uprising”

    Binh keeps banging out this example as if it justifies his point of view, when in fact it does very little. First of all he conflates the heroic Ghetto uprising with the much more complicated situation in Syria. Jews in middle Europe were not some faction in a bloody civil war, they were a pogrammised people very much on their own and had no choice but to fight. Its a shame more didn’t. Sadly as I have pointed out to him before there were few examples in the Europe in the 1940s of Zionists working with socialist Jews as the Zionists often refused to do so. Secondly, I know the point he is trying to make. That you can’t blame the good guys for getting help from where ever in the fight against a greater evil, where Assad, in this case, is the greatest evil and the USA are the lesser. Putting aside the Faustian morality of getting help from where ever i.e. homicidal religious extremists, and putting aside his complete capitulation on the question of Imperialism, why can he not understand that bringing more hardware into a country that has gone up in flames, and a region that is going up in flames will not stop the killings?

  17. Dr Paul: Some interesting information about the Syrian opposition here.

    Blimey, that gave me an enormous sense fo deja vu, exactly like being taken back in time to Afghanistan in the 1980s

  18. jim mclean on said:

    Andy Newman,

    And the announced peace talks with the Taliban takes me back to the 70’s and the Paris Peace Talks. You cannot win this type of war without a total commitment that the West lacks. The US military loses more soldiers through suicide than warfare and while Cameron talks of arming whoever is the current front runner in Syria he is sending out redundancy notices to frontline soldiers.

  19. jack ford on said:

    Full text of the Northern Ireland G8 communique

    The section that all the G8 states agreed to on Syria actually corresponds to the Russian position and not to the US/UK position: it calls for the convening of the conference in Geneva without suggesting in any way that Assad should resign or be prevented from attending through his representatives and without presuming its outcome, it calls for the exclusion from Syria of Al Qaeda and other extremist elements (which as we all know actually amount to the bulk of the rebel army) and calls for a UN investigation of the chemical warfare allegations, putting in doubt the conclusions the US has made on the point.

    In fact the communique is such a resounding diplomatic victory for Putin and the Russians on the Syrian question that I cannot help but think that far from being isolated in the G8 over Syria he must have found allies amongst some of the other G8 states who quietly agree with him: Germany almost certainly and probably Italy too.

  20. P Spence on said:

    Russia and China made a fatal mistake in allowing UNSCR 1973 to pass thereby imposing a no fly zone on Libya in 2011. Result: a bombing war and distruction of a soveriegn North African state by NATO.

    They won’t make the same error with Syria. Thank God.

  21. John Grimshaw on said:


    Vanya its a map of Syria from the Independent with accompanying text. It basically shows you who controls what where, and then textually gives their view on which group of rebels is led by who and what they stand for. Its the sort of thing the press in this country like to do, although its not as bad as the times who like to give you “cute” line drawings of whichever hardware is being used. Any way if you wanted to be a rebel in Syria according to the Indy the range is from rightwing secular nationalist through various permutations to very unpleasant Salafist. You pays your money you…

  22. Dr Paul on said:

    Vanya: I can’t see what Dr Paul is referring to. There’s no link on my page

    I’ve just clicked on the link — where it says ‘here’ — and it worked; straight through to the Independent‘s article.

  23. redhand on said:


    Sister Agnes-Mariam de la Croix is a well-known apologist for the Regime, criticised by many of her own colleagues within the Church of Rome for disseminating Ba’athist propaganda to willing recipients across the globe:

    Her other fans include, not least, the execrable Lyndon LaRouche:

    It is instructive, nevertheless, the extent to which you are willing to be believe both her, and indeed the Daily Mail.

  24. Khaled on said:

    Out of the Syrian people fighting the oppressive Assad regime so far found amongst the dead opposition are 689 Saudi Arabians (who obviously feel their own oppressive regime which subjugates 50% of its population is far less in need of overthrowing until they have helped out a neighbour in need), over 600 Kurdish Mujahadeen (recently classified as terrorists until the US suddenly declassified them in an sweet act of good faith), 489 Egyptians (obviously good lads who listen well to their Imam), over 600 Libyan Nato-armed left-overs from the over-throw of Ghadaffi (we all know what it’s like to be out of work so who can blame them), and of course the Chechen (guess Putin’s never really been a fave of theirs for highly valid reason) – and the list goes on and on. How sweet that all these foreigners feel such a burning desire to help the people of Syria overthrow a pluralist regime despite having their own problems at home. Ahhh, makes me have faith in humanity again

  25. Binh: now that the U.S. has stopped intervening to block heavy weapons to the Free Syrian Army

    Oh really?


    Despite the talk of arming the opposition as being a new thing, there’s actually been one significant operation to arm the opposition in recent months. At the start of 2013 Syrian opposition fighters in the Daraa governorate in the south of Syria began to receive arms smuggled in from Jordan. These arms had been sold from government stockpiles by the Croatian government to Saudi Arabia, working hand-in-hand with the US, who then had them flown to Jordan and moved across the border. The weapons included:

    M79 Osa Rocket Launcher – Manufactured in the former-Yugoslavia.
    M60 Recoilless Gun – Lightweight mobile artillery from the former-Yugoslavia.
    RPG-22 Rocket Launcher – A Soviet/Russian one-shot disposable rocket launcher.
    RBG-6 Grenade Launcher – A Croatian copy of a South African 40mm grenade launcher.

    The weapons were later joined by the RAK-12 multiple rocket launcher system.