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With the people of Syria, against the American aggression

13. November 2005

by Lars Akerhaug, Damascus

Syria today is beleaguered in all senses of the world, by US pressure trough Lebanon and Iraq, by Israel, by Lebanese political factions and by the Syrian political leadership’s problems in dealing with their new difficulties.

However, in Syria this autumn the situation has seemed less than boiling. Or as an immigrant friend of mine to a European country stated recently visiting his family, largely consisting of intellectuals and educated “in Europe we all talk about the situation. Here nobody does.” Another young student just recently explained, spelling out his frustrations with the general situation that “life is hard here. We have enough troubles to take care of by ourselves.”

But Friday 11th of November was a day of climate change. The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stated in his speech to the nation that Syria is going to defend herself against the American aggression. In an allegory about how a weaker that is being bullied by a stronger always will try to run away, he stated that if finally the bully did not give up, the weaker will have to face him and fight back. Further in Al-Safir 12th of November the President was quoted saying that “Syria is now in a state of War”. The strong Syrian response probably reflects that the political leadership believes the Americans are determined about “regime change” and that a hard response is the only way to be able to counter it. momtaaz, “perfect”, was a word I heard many times Saturday, people expressing their joy over the strong and courageous statement of their President. Many would have expected Syria to back down. They did the opposite.

The wolf and the lamb

Everybody asks the same question: “what are the interests of the US to destabilize Syria, what are their goals?” Any attack on Syria is doomed to escalate the problems the Americans are already facing in Syria, and the rationality behind the policy towards Syria is hard to fetch.

Today US policy towards Syria follows a combined strategy of strong diplomatic pressure – through the Security Council and threats of using military force. At this point of time it is not clear what the US is pursuing or even if regime change is the goal of the current US administration. Before George Bush II the Pentagon and White House have most commonly seen Syria as a stabilizing, if burdensome factor. However, after September 11 and the “war on terrorism”, this policy seems to have changed. One factor was Christian Lebanese lobby groups, but more important was probably the Syrian inability to cope with the new situation. Through the anti-terror co-operation provided by Basher al-Assad’s regime immediately after September 11 (through intelligence de facto supporting the war on Afghanistan) the Syrians first demonstrated their weakness. Then secondly, their failure, in American eyes, to confront the “smuggling” of resistance fighters into Iraq, made clear the weakness of the regime.

In other words, the change of foreign policy towards Syria is probably less political and more pragmatic. The historical need for Syria is no longer there. Rather, the US seems to have decided to slaughter the lamb, through a pro-US state in Lebanon and a subdued or regime-changed Syria. So much is clear, what remains is to see how this will be performed.

The Mehlis report

In the Arab world as well as among the international left many have questioned the Syrian rationale for killing Rafiq al-hariri, former Lebanese prime minister. There are good reasons for these questions, for obviously the killing has not at all relieved the pressure on Syria neither internally, in the Arab world or on the international level, but on the opposite increased its problems to unforeseen heights. One can certainly say, as President Bashar al-Assad has monotonously repeated, that Syrian interests are opposite of the killing of the former Lebanese President. Indeed, the Syrian regime was at times on quite good term with the Saudi-backed Emir, Rafiq al-Hariri.

It is not possible to determine with certainty who were behind the killing of Hariri. One of the more obvious things Mehlis did manage to point out in his otherwise less than clear report was the sheer size of the operation killing Hariri – hardly an amateur job. Another point that is often pointed out is the decreasing spirit of Assad’s rhetoric from an absolute state of denial until an agreement that anyone responsible of the killing of Hariri would be pursued.

Lebanon: Harvest time

Had the Syrians withdrawn their forces one year or half a year before the slaying of Hariri, the regime could have received blessings from “the international society”. As it did not, it is hard to draw other conclusions than that the Syrians wanted to stay. The withdrawal under verbal fire exemplified Syrian weakness. The defeat is of course linked to the UN Resolution, which is the framework of what US, and Europe wants for Lebanon, as well as a strong international consensus of which it is difficult for any state to oppose without losing its credibility. This also Al-Assad admitted, stating in his speech that he would “play their game”.

With the Syrian withdrawal they left behind the Lebanese Resistance, the Palestinian militias of the Lebanese RCs and the military bases of PFLP General Command (Ahmed Jibril). In today’s Lebanon, this is a situation set to explode. There is a huge divide in the Lebanese public opinion; opening room for a confrontation we already have seen the frames of in the clash between the Lebanese Army and Jibril’s forces. With Hizbollah, it is clear that it is an immediate aim of the US to wipe out their military pressure. This will, however, most probably not take place as a direct confrontation with the group but rather in an attempt to integrate their forces under Lebanese command. In such a situation, the Palestinian Resistance in Lebanon will be even more vulnerable.

At the same time the confrontation in Lebanon is growing to unprecedented levels. As a Lebanese left-winger just told me “if you want someone killed now is the time”. He pointed out the killing of George Hawi as an example, that from his village there always existed a clan feud between two families. This serve as an example that what might appear as Syrian interventions does not need to be. The basics is that the door to civil conflict, and maybe war, is opened again, and will not be easy to lock, although a full-blown war is unlikely.

Stand with the people of Syria

As we said above the danger of further American aggression is evident. In the 70s, as the Americans started to realize that they lost their war in Vietnam, the attacks on Laos and Cambodia commenced. Today, the Americans, unable to create any “political process” in Iraq are starting to face the same kind of problems. In the same way the American wolf is cornered, it is bleeding, but it is still able to bite. And from the White House and Condolezza Rice the howl has for a long time been that the Syrians are responsible for the stream of Resistance fighters and mujahedin flowing into Iraq. For the Americans it seems difficult to back down the pressure.

It is evident that in this situation the majority of Syrians will defend their country and stand with the leadership. The political survival of the Syrian leadership is based on their ability to show strength. At the same time it will have to, as the President also stated in his speech, work hard efforts to reconcile rifts with both the patriotic opposition and oppressed or disenfranchised groups, like the Kurds of the Qamishle region. It remains to be seen if the leadership is really able to carry out these reforms. It will, however, be essential for the Syrian capabilities of facing the US aggression. If the regime did in fact fall, or a pro-American coup was performed, the fear of ordinary Syrians is that it would not develop a more democratic state but rather a civil war. There have been several incidents both involving clashes between Kurds and Arabs, Ismaelis and Alawites as well as clashes between Syrian armed forces and Salafi Islamists from “Jund al-Sham”. Seculars also fear that the Muslim Brotherhood in the absence of the Al-Assad state would go for power. However, it is worth to question whether this is true or rather a result of regime scare mongering. From the side of the regime, there have recently been some releases of prisoners and although the Muslim Brotherhood is still illegal the repression of it seems less severe than some years ago.

Anti-imperialists should now rally for all kinds of actions to defeat the American aggression. In the focus is still the resistance facing the Americans in Iraq. It is essential that the anti-war movement adopt a position in support of the legitimacy of the Iraqi resistance. But further we have to in general mobilize support for the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon and Syria, and especially the Lebanese and Palestinian Resistance, which constitute the most progressive and advanced sectors in these areas.

US – hands of the Syria and Lebanon!
Support the Lebanese Resistance!
Freedom and independence for the people of Syria!