Saturday, April 21, 2018


A few days back, Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” interviewed Syrian-American activist Ramah Kudaimi (member of the National Committee of the War Resisters League) on the recent U.S.,  
 British and French airstrikes against targets in Syria. Kudaimi emphasized more the atrocities committed by the Assad regime than the military intervention on the part of the host of governments that support rebel groups. Underlying her observations was the assertion that the Syrian people rose up against the Assad regime in 2011 and their will is being ignored by all sides in the conflict. At one point, it almost seemed as if her argument was a cover for support for greater U.S. intervention in order to topple the reviled Assad regime. Her basic point was that one-shot airstrikes are not enough. That is also the implication of the criticism of many Democratic Party congress people who accuse Trump of not having a viable plan for resolving the Syrian crisis. Furthermore, Washington – both Obama and Trump – is criticized for directing the fight in Syria exclusively against the ISIS enemy, while leaving the Assad regime intact.   

Kudaimi and others on the left who favor regime change in Syria always stress the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, but the fact of the matter is that the major actors who are now fighting against Assad are almost all surrogates of one foreign government or another. The commercial media, and much of the alternative media as well, fail to provide information about the rebel groups, who they represent, and what their goals are. Since the bad guys are the Assad regime and the ISIS terrorists, it almost seems that, ipso facto, the good guys are the non-ISIS rebels. Very little mention is made of the fact that these rebel groups are so divided among themselves that they have engaged in deadly infighting; that they have committed war crimes against their enemies and the civilian population; that the foreign powers who support them are no more democratic than Iran or Russia (ie, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, the Emirates, etc.), and that some of the rebel groups receiving support from outside powers have been themselves allied with terrorists, specifically the Al-Qaeda local affiliate. Indeed, when fighting centered on Aleppo in the north a few months back, the media made little mention that a major force among the rebels was Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front. 

An example is the recent fighting in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The main rebel group whose base of support is located in the Ghouta region is the Islamic Front, backed and armed by Saudi Arabia. Typical of the disarray of the anti-Assad forces, the Islamic Front has spurned ties with other rebel organizations grouped in the Syrian National Coalition. Furthermore, the trajectory of the Islamic Front is characterized by extreme factionalism. In addition, Islamic Front leaders have articulated Sunni extremism and abhorrence for Shiites (who they call “Zoroastrians”!) and opposition to democracy. The commercial media tends to gloss over these details.  

In my opinion, solidarity in favor of the Syrian people cannot take the form of demands, slogans and banners for regime change. The call for regime change just exacerbates the conflict and deepens and extends the civil war. Furthermore, a distinction has to be made between Russian support for an established government, as repressive as it may be, and military involvement on the part of the U.S., France, Great Britain, Israel, and Turkey in favor of rebel groups that have no chance at all of reaching power and putting an end to the violence and instability.    

I don’t doubt at all the nefariousness of the actions of the Assad government both in terms of internal repression and military atrocities. The international movement of solidarity obviously should not demonstrate support for the Assad government in any way, or for Russian military involvement. Its position needs to be diametrically opposed to that of much of the anti-war movement in the 60s which considered Ho Chi Minh somewhat of a hero.  

Given the reprehensible actions of the Assad government, recognizing it as the established government may seem like the abandonment of the moral high ground. But the alternative is to contribute to the continuation of the civil war with no end in sight. Realism must prevail because the alternative is ongoing violence and chaos. 

Furthermore, the demand for withdrawal of all foreign powers from Syria (even though its achievement would be a major step in favor of peace), actually encourages those nations that are aiding the rebels. After all, Washington’s position is: as long as the Russians are in Syria, we have the right to do the same. But the fact of the matter is that the only hope for some sort of stability at this point is government consolidation. One may ask, what is the difference between Russian military support for Assad and U.S. military involvement in Vietnam in the 60s? But there are important differences:  

1. The Viet Minh was a unified force and ended up taking power once the U.S. withdrew. The situation in Syria is dissimilar because if the Russians were to withdraw today, the rebels would most likely continue fighting against Assad and among themselves.

2. The Viet Minh had a legitimate goal which was the unification of Vietnam. The rebels do not have any all-encompassing demand other than getting rid of Assad.

3. The Assad regime is fighting the major terrorist groups including ISIS and the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front. The South Vietnam government had no such redeeming feature.    

I am in agreement with two propositions defended by those on the left who are calling for regime change in Syria. First, the international solidarity movement has to raise the banner of the goal of democracy in Syria, which at least indirectly represents a criticism of Assad. And second, in the long run the solution to Syria’s problems will come from the mass popular movement in that nation, and not super-power agreements at the negotiation table. 


At April 29, 2018 at 4:55 AM , Blogger US Peace Council said...

Steve, I wrote one comment and when I tried to preview it, it disappeared. Happened again.

At April 29, 2018 at 5:21 AM , Blogger Steve Ellner said...

U.S. Peace Council: I would love to receive your comment. Perhaps try again without previewing.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home