Almost ten years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it’s déjà vu all over again.
Last week, the U.S., France and a host of other imperialist governments once again threatened the Syrian Arab Republic with military intervention. Echoing the rhetoric of the Bush administration in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at a press conference in Brussels to drum up fear that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would use chemical weapons to end the 21-month-old unrest. Similarly, President Barack Obama ominously spoke of “consequences” for the Assad government if chemical weapons were used. France and Britain have also joined the U.S. in scare-mongering rhetoric designed to build quick and panicked consensus for military intervention in Syria.
Put simply, these attempts to demonize the Syrian government are based on outright lies. The Syrian government does not publicly admit to having chemical weapons and the U.S. has yet to offer any concrete evidence to the contrary. If indeed the Syrian government does possess chemical weapons, however, the Syrian Foreign Minister reiterated on Dec. 3 that they “would not use chemical weapons, if it had them, against its own people under any circumstances.”
Ironically, the Syrian government expressed fears of the foreign-backed rebellion unleashing chemical weapons recently in a letter to the United Nations. The Foreign Ministry wrote, “What raises concerns regarding this news circulated by the media is our serious fear that some of the countries backing terrorism and terrorists might provide the armed terrorist groups with chemical weapons and claim that it was the Syrian government that use the weapons.”
Since the beginning of the unrest in March 2011, the U.S. and other imperialist countries have materially supported the violent rebellion seeking to topple Assad’s government. France is now purchasing arms and ammunition for the foreign-backed rebels through Turkey and the U.S. has supplied lethal aid for the rebels through puppet governments like Saudi Arabia. This summer, they wanted to launch a NATO-led bombing campaign, like the assault on Libya last year, but the proposed no-fly zone was blocked by China and Russia.
This dangerous rhetoric from the U.S. reflects Washington’s growing frustration with the disorganized Syrian opposition, who suffered strategic defeats at the battle of Aleppo earlier this fall. The so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), the insurgent rebel force against the Syrian government, has alienated large ethnic and religious groups in Syria through its attacks on civilian targets and its open calls for Western military intervention. Additionally, massive anti-war demonstrations by people in Turkey have limited the ability of the Turkish government to intervene militarily on behalf of the FSA.
For instance, the FSA’s latest offensive to take the international airport in Damascus appears to have halted, according to a Dec. 7 article by Xinhua, the Chinese news service. However, the Western media – CNN, Fox News, BBC, MSNBC, etc. – continue to report that the regime’s collapse is imminent. Distortions like this allow the U.S. government to paint Assad as increasingly desperate and willing to use chemical weapons, which fuels their call for more military intervention. In reality, a majority of Syrians support Assad’s government, according to a 2012 poll funded by the Qatar Foundation.
The U.S. and Western European governments have portrayed the rebellion in Syria as a pro-democracy movement, like the genuine liberation struggles in Tunisia and Egypt, from its beginning. While they claim that the rebellion started as series of peaceful protests, even Reuters and Arutz Sheva – a pro-Israel, anti-Syria news network – admitted that armed protesters were killing Syrian security forces and burning government buildings within a week of the initial protests.
In actuality, the rebellion in Syria has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with Washington toppling a government that resists U.S. hegemony in the Middle East. During the Cold War, the Syrian government was closely aligned with the Soviet Union, and the government controlled many of the country’s industries and resources. That the U.S. and Western Europe couldn’t care less about democratic rights is evidenced by their support for the crackdown on protesters in Bahrain, where members of the royal family personally take part in the torture of democratic opponents. The real motive for the West supporting the rebellion is to gain access to Syrian labor, markets, natural resources, and to gain control of the Middle East.
The Syrian government’s support for anti-imperialist movements in the region has made it a target of Washington. President Bashar al-Assad has staunchly supported Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian national liberation struggle, making him an opponent of the U.S. hegemony in the Middle East. More pressing for Washington, though, Syria and Iran have closely supported one another and upheld each other’s right to self-determination. The U.S. and Western Europe see the unrest as an opportunity to remove a key barrier to war with Iran and hope to install a puppet regime that will favor their pro-war policies.
Ten years ago, the Bush administration was hysterically beating the war drum against Iraq under the pretense that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. While restricting the rights of dissidents at home through the Patriot Act and domestic surveillance, they spoke of bringing ‘democracy’ to Iraq via tanks and cruse missiles.
Today, people in the U.S. find themselves in a disturbingly similar political climate with the Obama administration. The Syrian government is demonized as “brutal” and “tyrannical,” despite Assad’s continued push for a political solution by Syrians themselves. And now the war drum beats louder than ever over false claims that the Syrian military might use chemical weapons on the rebellion.
The invasion of Iraq and the assault on Libya prove that there is no such thing as a “humanitarian intervention.” Whenever the U.S. invades another country, it never brings more freedoms for people and always leaves thousands, if not millions, dead. Anti-war activists and organizers in the U.S. must demand, “Hands off Syria.”