Thursday, 24 October 2013

The issue in Syria is Assad’s regime

Hamid Taqvaee

In a CNN interview on the issue of military attack against Syria, the question was put: Does getting rid of Assad's chemical weapons solve the problem of the Syrian people? The speaker gave a vague reply, and in effect dodged the issue. However, this simple question betrays the hypocrisy behind the recent fanfare over the destruction of Assad regime’s chemical weapons as a ‘solution’ to the Syrian crisis. By reducing the Syrian question to the use of chemical weapons, the fact is covered up that the overwhelming proportion of that regime’s carnage is carried out using conventional weapons, and that the problem of the Syrian people is the regime itself and not just its use of chemical weapons. Just like the issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons, which is highlighted so as to cover up the main issue for the Iranian people, namely the Islamic Republic itself.

In the case of Syria, however, this sort of reduction of the issue of the regime in the analysis of the Syrian crisis is not limited to Western governments; a large section of the anti-American left and anti-war activists do the same. In their analyses too, which present the Russian-American confrontation or the conflict amongst the Islamic forces as the main issues in the Syrian question, the issue of the Assad regime is willy-nilly sidelined.

From the viewpoint of the Syrian people and their heroic revolution, a revolution which was drowned in blood, the very existence of the Assad regime is at the heart of what is called the Syrian crisis. This crisis is the result of the response of the Syrian regime and the various reactionary forces in the region and around the world to a revolution which the Syrian people started two and a half years ago. These forces are now aligned around the Russian and American blocs. However, the cause of the current situation is not the rivalry between these two blocs. Furthermore, the Syrian crisis is not the result of the West’s war with political Islam, what our party called the “war of terrorists”. Such analyses belong to the past, to the time of the Cold War, to the world after 9/11, and not the world after the Tunisian revolution. A political conclusion of such analyses is to equate the Assad regime to the other reactionary forces, to see it as just another terrorist among terrorists, thus to make a travesty of the central issue of the revolution: the overthrow of the regime. It should be noted, above all, that unlike the time of the war of terrorists, the American military threat against Syria is not a means for the USA of reasserting its supremacy following the end of the Cold War. It is, rather, a response to conditions which essentially the uprising of the people of Syria against Assad, and, on a more basic and strategic level, the revolutions in the Middle East have brought about. The war on Iraq (at the time of both Bushes) and the war in Afghanistan followed and served an aggressive and domineering policy, aiming to bring the forces of the Western bloc once again under American leadership. The pretext for this aggressive militarism, especially after 9/11, was the war on Islamic terrorism. With the political failures of the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, and, later, with the collapse of Wall Street in the winter of 2008 and the onset of the world capitalist crisis, the neo-conservative militarism which had led the West in the war of terrorists, was marginalised. Obama came into office with a platform to end the wars and ‘to extend a hand’ to those ‘willing to unclench [their] fist’. However, from a social and political viewpoint and on a wider and deeper level, what put an end to that era was the Tunisian revolution and, following that, the revolutions known as the Arab Spring. People who had been crushed under those reactionary wars raised themselves up and overthrew long-standing dictators allied to and supported by the West. Thus, there began a period whose identifying feature was no longer the war of the two terrorist camps, the unbridled domination of political Islam and neo-conservative militarism, but the confrontation of revolution and counter-revolution: on one side, the revolutionary people fighting for bread, freedom and human dignity; on the other, the whole array of reactionary, bourgeois forces, i.e. Islamists, the regimes in the region and the Western governments. This situation can no longer be explained by such concepts as ‘the war of terrorists’, ‘the New World Order’, ‘the Dark Scenario’, etc. The latter are the political concepts of a bygone time. Thus, they do not provide a correct approach to the current situation.

It is clear that the end of the war of terrorists does not mean that the American and other Western states have given up on war and military attacks, or that the Islamists have given up on terrorism and killing people. It means that the actions of these forces, including their military operations against each other – and today, at times, alongside each other – are essentially in reaction to revolutions, so as to hijack and defeat them and to contain the situation after the fall of the dictators. In Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and today in Syria we have been witnessing precisely this sort of military and political interventions by the forces of the two blocs, which previously stood against each other. The Syrian experience, which is the subject of this discussion, clearly exhibits this new alignment of the forces in the camps of revolution and counter-revolution. (We have previously talked at length about the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan experiences and the actions of the Western governments and Islamists against those revolutions; so the interested reader can refer to those texts.) There is no ongoing revolution in Syria today; however, the issue, which the revolution has raised and put on the agenda, i.e. the overthrow of the Assad regime, remains the key issue of the Syrian crisis. The reactionary forces involved in the civil war in Syria, i.e. Russia, the Iranian regime and the Lebanese Hezbollah (in the bloc supporting Assad), and the Western governments, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the Islamists allied to them (in the bloc opposing Assad) have all come out in reaction to a revolution which started two and a half years ago and which, like every other revolution, turned the question of the state into the main question of society. The Islamic regime of Iran rightly sees the Syrian revolution and the fall of Assad as the run-up to its own downfall. For Russia, the revolutionary overthrow of Assad means losing a sphere of influence it has traditionally held in the Middle East. What motivates Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates is the fear of the spread of the revolution into their territories and especially the formation of a secular state after Assad. Just like the regime in Iran, they too ultimately want to control the situation in Syria, but by going past Assad; after his downfall. The Western governments, as we saw in the other revolutions in the region, follow the policy of management of the crisis with a minimal harm to their interests and objectives. Clearly, all these players have their own internal strife and conflicts; the key point, however, is that the issue of Syria, unlike the period of the clash of the two terrorist camps, is not the outcome of such confrontations. The Syrian crisis has not come about by the Salafi-Alawite war. The carnage and the devastation are not the products of ethnic or religious cleansing in a ‘dark-scenario’ type situation. Unlike the Cold War, the Syrian crisis is not the result of a Soviet-American clash, as, for example, in the Bay of Pigs invasion. The Syrian crisis, and the massacre and devastation wrought on the people, are above all, and fundamentally, a product of the systematic and brutal suppression of the Syrian revolution and the revolutionary people of Syria by the Assad regime. The Islamic regime of Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Russia are all directly and actively involved in this suppression, and are accessories to the crimes of the Assad regime. It was with the direct support of these forces that the Assad regime from day one opened fire on the people, from ground and air, with snipers, missiles, tanks and helicopters. It was inevitable that in the face of such a savage attack, the revolution would take up arms. A section of the army, as in most revolutions, mutinied and went over to the side of the people. However, essentially due to the absence of an organised revolutionary left force able to organise and lead the revolutionary war of the people against the regime, ultra-reactionary Islamist forces, backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, stepped in and got the upper hand. In the meantime, the US and Western bloc followed their general policy towards the revolutions in the region, namely dealing with the crisis with minimal changes. However, mainly due to the Russian factor, i.e. the historical alignment of Syria to the Soviet camp, prior to its alignment to political Islam, the West did not possess the leverage for the direct management of the crisis in its own favour. Here the USA needed to come to terms with Russia. And today, following the American threat of military strike, it seems the chemical disarmament of the Assad regime could be the point of compromise between the two.

All these reactionary forces make up the various elements of the Syria crisis. They are fighting with each other, but against the revolution. There is no ongoing revolution in Syria today; however, the “danger” of the resurgence of the revolution, and the problem which the revolution has put on the table of all these forces, i.e. the very existence of the Assad regime, is still alive. The “threat of revolution” has become a main concern for all these reactionary forces, not just as a result of the mass movement that started in Syria two and a half years ago, but as a result of the revolutionary period ushered in by the Tunisian revolution. Their problem is not just the revolution in Syria, but the spectre of revolution engulfing the whole of the Middle East. In particular, for all the Islamists, from the Islamic regime in Iran to those in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, to the Hezbollah and the Salafis and Alawites, “the spectre of renouncing Islam that is haunting the Middle East and North Africa” is seen as a mortal and imminent danger. (See Mina Ahadi’s statement on the start-up of Ex-Muslim societies in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco). Today the Islamists in the region are agitated, not over the “great Satan” and their share of political power – which was the issue for Islamic terrorism at the time of the war of terrorists – but over revolution, in particular revolutions that threaten the very existence of Islam and political Islam. The war of terrorists, with its specific issue and alignment of forces, has been consigned to history. However, the forces remaining from that time have taken to the scene again, this time in direct war against revolutions and revolutionary people. This is neither a ‘dark scenario’, nor a collection of different wars between different forces. This is a novel way of suppressing the revolution, in the manner of the new period, using, however, the tools, material and the residual forces of the previous one. The Salafis, Alawites, the Islamic regime of Iran, the USA, Hezbollah and Russia have all entered the fray; however, they have taken on new roles, which the new times, the time of revolutions, have assigned to them. They have all lined up against the revolution; are reacting to the revolutionary times.

Against all these forces, we must above all insist that the issue of Syria is still the issue of state power, and that the solution likewise is the overthrow of the Assad regime by the power of people’s revolution. We must mobilise a global movement around this perspective.

[Originally published in International, the Farsi-language weekly of the Worker-communist Party of Iran, issue 522, September 13, 2013. Translation: Bahram Soroush]