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The Internationalist
  April 2018

Drive the Imperialists Out of the Middle East!

U.S./NATO: Get Your
Bloody Claws Off Syria!

Internationalist demonstrators immediately protested U.S. missile attack on Syria outside Trump Tower in NYC.   “Defend Syria, Defeat U.S. Imperialism!” (Internationalist Group/AP)

APRIL 15 – At around 4 a.m. on Saturday, April 14 Middle Eastern time (Friday evening in the U.S.), the United States, Britain and France carried out a missile attack on Syria. The Internationalist Group, U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International, immediately responded, and within two hours from the announcement of the bombing, members of the IG and the Revolutionary Internationalist Youth were protesting outside Trump Tower in Manhattan, the home base of U.S. president Donald Trump. Our signs proclaimed, “Defend Syria, Defeat U.S. Imperialism!” “U.S./NATO Imperialists, Get Your Bloody Claws Off Syria!” and “Trump & Clinton, Imperialist Warmongers – Drive U.S./NATO Out of Syria!”

Subsequently, antiwar demonstrations have raised demands such as “U.S. Hands Off Syria,” “No War in Syria” and similar slogans which avoid taking sides in the battle. These are liberal and reformist appeals for a more “peace-loving” U.S. imperialist foreign policy, in contrast to the revolutionary call to defend Syria and defeat the Western imperialists. Ever since the first imperialist world war, it has been a fundamental principle for revolutionary Marxists, following the lead of V.I. Lenin’s Russian Bolsheviks, to stand together with a colonial or semi-colonial country under attack, and to fight to smash the imperialist aggressors. Any blow struck against the U.S./NATO imperialists and their allies in Syria is in the interests of the world’s workers.

After a week of bellicose tweets from the White House, the actual attack seemed to many to be an anticlimax. It was in many ways a repeat of the April 2017 U.S. missile attack on a Syrian air base, even down to the timing, only this time with roughly double the number of Tomahawk cruise missiles. Last year the U.S. managed to damage one hangar, but within a day Syrian jets were flying out of the same base. Result: 0. This time they hit two empty warehouses and Syria’s Pharmaceutical and Chemical Industries Research Institute, which specializes in producing cancer drugs (in short supply because of imperialist sanctions). Result: 2 x 0 = 0. But the danger that this attack and the imperialist onslaught against Syria represents is far greater.

Syrian surface-to-air missiles respond to imperialist attack, April 14. Russian military reported that of 103 cruise missiles fired by U.S., France and Britain, 71 were shot down by Syrian air defenses. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

The attack was also in part a diversion from Trump’s domestic difficulties, from the FBI investigation of putative Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. elections, to the investigation (leading to a pre-dawn FBI raid on the office of his personal lawyer) of election campaign payoffs to women who said they had affairs with Trump. It recalled to many people the 1997 movie Wag the Dog, in which a media spin-doctor fabricates a war in order to cover up a presidential sex scandal. The very next year, Democratic president Bill Clinton bombed Serbia in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky impeachment drive. This time, Trump’s missile attack comes amid controversy over his relation with adult film actress Stormy Daniels, leading one comic to dub it “Operation Desert Stormy.”

But whatever the personal factors influencing the notoriously erratic U.S. imperialist commander in chief, the imperialist attack exacerbates the already extremely tense situation in Syria, where multiple antagonistic powers have their military forces in close proximity. One misstep (or a deliberate provocation) could lead to a far wider conflagration. The Middle East is already on the brink of a regional war, with Israel, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia (along with other Gulf oildoms) lined up against Syria, Iran and Russia. Meanwhile, NATO member Turkey has invaded northern Syria. United Nations secretary general António Guterres warned just hours before Saturday’s attack, “The cold war is back with a vengeance and a difference.”

A huge difference with the situation today is that the Cold War that began after World War II, and which for almost half a century dominated world geopolitics, was a united imperialist front against the Soviet Union. Revolutionary Marxists (Trotskyists) and class-conscious workers stood for unconditional defense of the bureaucratically degenerated Soviet workers state. Today, following the 1989-92 counterrevolution in the Soviet bloc, capitalist Russia, a regional power, is facing a far from united imperialist-led front. U.N. chief Guterres remarked, “The mechanisms and safeguards that existed to prevent escalation in the past no longer seem to be present.” And the military confrontation today is hot, and threatening to become much hotter.

As the London Guardian (15 April) observed, “American troops are already a grenade’s toss away from Russians and Iranians in Syria, and this weekend, missiles and planes from the US, UK and France flew at the Syrian regime.” Compared to Cold War crises of the past, the Guardian added, “There is less communication between Washington and Moscow and there are no longer just two players in the game, but a jostling scrum of major powers in decline and middling powers on the rise. Pursuing national agendas on such a crowded battlefield without colliding with others is increasingly hard.” Now with purges in the Trump regime, superhawks such as the new National Security Advisor John Bolton, appear to have the whip hand.

Many comparisons have been made to the Balkan Wars in southeastern Europe on the eve of World War I, where major imperialist powers were mucking around and the 1914 killing of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo set off the carnage that cost an estimated 17 million lives. Often the claim is made that WWI came about “by accident.” In reality, all the major powers were preparing for war, but thought they had a strategy to make it short and decisive. Germany’s Schlieffen Plan called for lightning strikes, the French relied on their Maginot Line of forts. Today, war planners in Washington seem to figure they can strike in Korea or the Middle East with impunity. North Korea’s nukes make that a more dangerous theater for a trial run. So Trump strikes first in Syria.

Trotskyists call for defense of Syria against the imperialist attacks, while giving no political support to the Assad regime. Proletarian revolutionaries are also for defense of the North Korean deformed workers state against the rapacious U.S. imperialists who laid waste to that country in the Korean War that began in 1950 and never officially ended. In particular, we support North Korea’s right to develop and possess nuclear weapons, which are a key deterrent to a new imperialist attack.

Chemical Weapons Pretext for Attack Is an Imperialist Lie

Yesterday’s U.S./British/French attack on Syria was billed as retaliation for an alleged April 7 chemical weapons attack against the population of a Damascus suburb, which is blamed on the Syrian government. This is an imperialist lie, and quite likely an orchestrated provocation from the start. The day before the missile attack, U.S. defense (i.e., war) secretary Mattis had said that the U.S. was still looking for evidence of whether chemical weapons were used, and if so by whom. But then the White House and U.S. representative to the U.N. Nikki Haley claimed they had undisclosed evidence, and the missiles were launched. In fact, the regime of Bashar al Assad, as heavy-handed as it is, did not use chemical arms against civilians in Douma.

In the first place, there has been no evidence forthcoming that deaths were caused by chemical weapons, although that may have occurred. Photographs provided by the White Helmets (a supposed civil defense group funded by the British and U.S. governments and linked to Al Qaeda jihadists) purport to show symptoms (foaming at the mouth) inconsistent with the claimed chemical agent (chlorine). Then the White Helmets released a video showing a rocket with a supposed chemical warhead (unexploded) on a bed. Since it allegedly crashed through the ceiling (hole shown) how can it just be lying (horizonally) on the undamaged bed? This was clearly fabricated.

Two days after the reported attack, military chemical experts of the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria visited the site of the alleged attack in Douma and found no traces of chlorine or other toxic chemicals. Subsequently, the Russian military showed a video of medics from the Douma hospital who denied that any patients on April 7 had signs of chemical poisoning, and who showed how a widely circulated video was staged by provocateurs who burst into the hospital, creating panic.

Secondly, Assad (whom Trump refers to as an “animal”) had no interest in launching a chemical attack, which would with 100% certainty produce demands for imperialist intervention. The Syrian government was winning the war in the Damascus suburbs, having already cleaned out three-quarters of the area held by Islamist gangs; it had already evacuated thousands of people from Douma to Idlib; and the day before the incident it had reached a preliminary agreement with elements of Jaish Islam (the Army of Islam) which dominated the area for a ceasefire and evacuation of those who remained. Hard-line jihadists who wanted to scuttle that prospect had every interest in trying to provoke Western intervention, which they had been demanding for days.

Moreover, the Russian military had reported on several occasions (February 26, March 3, March 13) on the discovery of chemical weapons laboratories found in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs recently retaken from the Islamist gangs, warning that a provocation was in the works. Unsurprisingly, the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons did not act. The OPCW is an instrument of the imperialists. The head of the OPCW is a Turkish official who was formerly Turkey’s ambassador to Israel and its representative in NATO. In turn, the chief U.N. “investigator” for chemical weapons in Syria is Edmond Mulet, who lied about and covered up the bringing of cholera to Haiti by U.N. soldiers when he was the head of the occupation force there. “Cholera Mulet” is no one to be trusted in judging who used chemical weapons in Syria.

The Syrian government also did not use chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhum in April 2017, the pretext for Trump’s previous missile attack on Syria (see “Defend Syria! Drive U.S. Imperialism Out of the Middle East!” The Internationalist No. 47, March-April 2017). Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist and specialist in chemical weapons research Theodore Postol showed conclusively that whatever chemicals were used there were released on the ground not from a bomb dropped by Syrian planes. The “crater” where the supposed bomb hit was no bigger than an average pothole on a Queens street. The photos provided by the White Helmets show “rescue workers” with no protective gear at all hosing down bodies. If those were victims of sarin, the workers would be dead.

Nor was the Syrian government responsible for the August 2013 chemical weapons attack in Damascus, for which it was blamed by the Western imperialists who threatened to bomb Syria then, but only pulled back at the last moment. The Assad regime would have been crazy to mount such an attack right at the moment when U.N. experts arrived in Damascus to investigate charges of chemical weapons use. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh revealed that the Turkish secret police (MIT) had furnished the chemicals to manufacture sarin gas to Syrian jihadists. Russian president Vladimir Putin gave a succinct explanation of the claims of Syrian government chemical weapons attacks, saying that they are, in technical terms, “a crock of shit.”

Imperialists Threaten to Set Off Regional War, Or More

Various left groups claim to support a “Syrian Revolution” embodied in supposed “civil society” groups that rose up in 2011. There is no such revolution under way. The March 2011 revolt against the Assad regime quickly turned into an Islamist insurgency. Today there are several wars going on simultaneously in Syria, one layered over the other, which accounts for the shifting allegiances and creates a complex situation, especially for the Syrian population, which has suffered several hundred thousand deaths mostly of government supporters killed by the jihadists.

There is above all an imperialist assault on Syria, originally focused on the Islamic State (I.S.). Since the I.S. was decimated (but not totally defeated) last year, the U.S. has increasingly turned its weapons against the Syrian government. The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International have called throughout for the defeat of the U.S.-led imperialists. We also say that any military blow landed against U.S. imperialism, including by reactionary Islamists like the I.S., is in the interests of the world’s working people. The IG/LFI seeks to drive the U.S./NATO imperialists out of the Middle East, including by workers action in the imperialist heartland (workers strikes against the war, “hot-cargoing” war materiel), as we fought for from the beginning against the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.1

There is simultaneously a sectarian/communal civil war in which Sunni Islamists have attacked various of the numerous religious and ethnic minorities in Syria, centrally the Alawites, who dominate the Syrian government of President Bashar al Assad, but also Kurds, Druzes, Ismaili Shiites and Twelver Shiites, Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Armenian and Syriac Christians, Yazidis and others. The Assad regime has been able to hold on because it has strong support not only from the Alawites (and key sectors of the Sunni Arab bourgeoisie, as well as many urban Sunni Muslims who do not want to live under Islamist rule) but also from many of the other ethnic/religious minorities, who rightly fear that they would be massacred should the Sunni Islamists win the civil war, as in Libya.

We are for the defeat of all sides in the inter-communal civil war in Syria, since the victory of any side would likely lead to a pogrom against the others, or else massive forced population transfers. At the same time we defend the right to communal self-defense for all religious and ethnic communities facing an existential threat.

In addition, there is the Kurdish struggle to secure a Kurdish autonomous region (Rojava). But after this was achieved in early 2015, the Kurdish YPG militias in alliance with the U.S. imperialists fighting the Islamic State have expanded that area to include largely Arab regions. The IG/LFI defends the Kurds’ right to self-determination and their struggle to for a homeland, as we call for a socialist republic of united Kurdistan. However, when the YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that it dominates act as foot soldiers for the U.S. imperialists in conquering predominantly Arab regions, we are for their defeat, and have called to defend those areas (notably Raqqa, the former “capital” of the Islamic State) against the imperialist/Kurdish attack. 2

With the Islamist gangs (and all of the Syrian armed “rebels” are Islamist, in one form or another), it is a war to the death: they would slaughter communists as they did in Afghanistan (where, as in Syria, they were also backed by U.S. imperialism). These gangs pose a mortal threat to secularism and any kind of democratic rights. A proletarian revolution would smash them not only militarily but also through class struggle that can win over the urban and rural poor who are often attracted to the Islamists.

In the last two years there has been a major Russian intervention which has successfully turned the tide of the civil war in favor of the Assad government. We do not call for Russians out, as this would be objectively aiding the U.S./NATO imperialists and the jihadist groups they support (as well as those they oppose, i.e., the I.S.). If the U.S. and its NATO allies directly attack Russian forces in Syria, we are for defense of the those forces against imperialism. But we do not support the actions of the Russian forces, which today prop up the Assad regime in the ethnic/communal civil war and tomorrow could try to impose a coalition government with some “moderate” Islamist gangs. Moreover Russian president Vladimir Putin has repeatedly offered to be part of a coalition with the U.S. in the imperialists’ “war on terror” that is terrorizing the region.3

On top of this, since the beginning of 2018 there has been a Turkish invasion in the North. We are for the defense of the Kurdish areas (such as Afrin) against attack by Turkey, which is part of the NATO imperialist alliance, but in areas where Kurdish forces dominate Arab populations (as in Mambij or along the east bank of the Euphrates), the YPG can only hang on due to its alliance with the U.S. military. There Trotskyists are for defeatism on both sides in a clash between the YPG/SDF and their U.S. allies, on the one hand, and Turkish forces allied with Syrian Islamists on the other.

While the battlefields of Syria are many-sided and complex, the IG/LFI fights in all cases for the program of permanent revolution put forward by Leon Trotsky and embodied in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. We call for workers revolution throughout the region. With the Syrian working class largely destroyed by the civil war, the key force to carry forward such a revolutionary program is the Egyptian and especially the Turkish proletariat. We defend the Palestinians against the Zionist oppressor state, demanding an end to the murderous siege of Gaza, where the Israeli military has recently massacred dozens of peaceful demonstrators. And we call for an Arab/Hebrew Palestinian workers state, through joint struggle of Hebrew-speaking and Arab workers against their bourgeois rulers, as part of a socialist federation of the Near East.

Fight against U.S. imperialist war abroad includes struggle against racist repression “at home.” Defend Muslims, Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants! Build a Revolutionary Workers Party! (Erik McGregor/Pacific Press)
(click on image for larger size)

The U.S./NATO assault against the Syrian regime is part of an imperialist offensive that seeks to demonize the Syrian government in order to topple it. A major reason for this is that Syria has historically been part of a “resistance front” opposed to Israel, and in particular is allied with Iran, which the Zionists target as their main enemy (as do the Saudis). With Republican Trump threatening to undo the nuclear accord with Iran negotiated by Democrat Obama, a clash could easily take place in Syria – such as another criminal Israeli bomb attack – that would lead to an imperialist/Zionist/Arab monarchist attack on Iran. The IG and LFI defend Iran’s right to have nuclear weapons, of which Israel has hundreds and the U.S. has thousands.

Meanwhile, all sides are aware that an attack by the imperialists and their regional flunkeys on Russian forces supporting the Assad regime could trigger a far wider war, possibly on a world scale – extending to Ukraine, the Baltics, Norway and Korea. Yet that prospect may not deter the Zionist madmen, and imperialist hotheads in Washington (whether the America Firsters around Trump or the “multilateralists” around the Democrats and the Pentagon). They all share a dangerously deranged belief in their own unlimited power and “right” to world domination. Those warmongers include the Democratic standard-bearer in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, who last year called for bombing Syrian airfields, exactly the program being pushed for by hardliners in the Trump regime today.

The U.S. is playing a dangerous game in Syria and the Middle East that could threaten the future of humanity. The only way to put a stop to this is by fighting to smash imperialism through international socialist revolution. That is why the crucial response to Trump’s latest deadly Syria adventure is to break with Democrats, Republicans and all capitalist parties, and to build revolutionary workers parties, fighting on the program of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks, in the U.S. and around the world. ■

  1. 1. See "For Workers Action to Defeat Barack Obama's Iraq/Syria War" The Internationalist No. 38, October-November 2015.
  2. 2. See “Defend Raqqa – Drive U.S./NATO Imperialists Out of Syria and Iraq!,” The Internationalist No. 43, May-June 2016.
  3. 3. See “Flashpoint Syria: Russian Intervention and Imperialist Aggression” (30 October 2015), published in The Internationalist No. 42. January-February 2016.