That poison gas was used appears undeniable. But who did so, remains unclear. We do not have the forensic means to establish the facts and it is unlikely that it will become possible in the future either – too high are the political stakes from both sides. Nor do we want to add another piece of futile conspiracy theory. The only applicable criteria for us is the political logic behind the event – and this remains difficult to understand.
Is it plausible that the regime wanted to deliberately provoke foreign intervention? Does it want to gain anti-imperialist credentials, given the limited military gains the use of combat gas could yield? Are they that much under pressure to resort to such means? Or did the chain of command get out of hands and unleash the nihilistic drive of a civil war?
On the other side, is it imaginable that elements of the insurgency commit such heinous crimes against their own constituencies? This is less a morale than a political question. Such things tend to diffuse into public all the more if it is perpetrated by militia-type people (see al Qaeda in Iraq). According to the reports lethal gas was used at several places at the very same time which presupposes a certain level of centralised and elaborated politico-military leadership which the rebel groups in greater Damascus barely have. In Ghouta the forces under control seem to have grown more from the civil rebellion while Jihadis, foreign fighters and extreme Salafis are reported to be weaker there. Maybe their ideology provides enough cynicism for such a crime? Actually, Jihadism is less favourable to foreign intervention than the western-aligned forces around the FSA and the SNC as it would cost Nusra & Co their protagonist role. US fighter jet and cruise missiles as substitute for Jihad and martyrdom?
The third possibility is western or regional intelligence agencies:
Most aggressive are the old colonial powers France and Britain. Under the well-known guise of the “responsibility to protect” they want to see blood making good on their lost status but are at the same time too weak to launch war on their own. They completely depend on their big brother across the Atlantic. The same hold for Turkey and the Gulf monarchies who all want to hide behind Washington.
The Obama government, however, has been so far the most reluctant to a direct military involvement. They were elected into office also because of the fiasco in Afghanistan and Iraq produced by the war wages by the neo-cons under G.W. Bush. They embarked on a more cautious line indicating the decline of US predominance. Thus they had been attempting to ward off the neo-con forces who still remain deeply entrenched in the US regime’s state apparatus and are longing for revenge.1
The US is faced with contradictory momentums in the last instance reflecting their decaying political hegemony. Even the use of their superior military machine might not change that as their political prospectives for a favourable solution are bleak:
On the first, most visible level the US displays to be compelled to act upon the “red line” they sat themselves. To maintain their credibility as the superior world power they need to enforce their rules. In the logic of this thread they are threatening the Assad regime with a limited punitive strike.
But on a deeper level the consequences are huge or even tremendously affecting the regional and global order. Limited bombardments will have little military impact on the ground. If Assad and his regime remain intact they will come out as victors like David against Goliath regardless of the corporate media’s attempts. It is difficult to imagine that Washington can and will allow that.
If they once start the military option they will probably be compelled to follow its logic. They need to continue their air assaults until they can achieve some presentable military and ultimately also political results. If they cannot kill the president (which they will try as they did in Libya) maybe they will force upon Assad and his allies their conditions on the negotiation table. So far Assad was unwilling to make any concessions with regard to power sharing. It will probably take the US time and massive engagement to reach to that point given the intransigent record of the regime and the transformation into a sectarian war in which rallies his Allawi constituencies strongly behind Assad. So the point of concessions might be far from capitulation or collapse.
But the US does not have reliable significant proxies at hand. If they bring the regime close to collapse why the armed rebels in general and its most powerful faction, the Jihadis, should stop short there? Why they should go to the negotiation table? The majority will try to benefit from the unique opportunity to seize power on their own. So does the US want to bomb the Jihadis to power who hold a large share of the control on the ground? This seems no plausible option either.
The war in Syria got a superimposed regional and global proxy conflict (as we see right now), but remains based on an internal conflict, which has been transformed by foreign intervention on both sides, but did not vanish. Any tilt of the current strategic stalemate by direct foreign military intervention against Assad, given the advanced stage of sectarianism, risks to further strengthen Jihadism. To avoid this, the US will need to massively prop up their direct proxy forces or even help with their own ground forces. So far their partners around the National Council and Coalition have failed.
But direct US support might not even always be helpful for their proxies as anti-Americanism is a powerful popular current across the warring camps far beyond the Syrian borders – let alone the inflaming impact across the entire region first of all in Lebanon, but also in Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and maybe even reaching to crucial Egypt. A possible Israeli involvement on top would make the outcome even less calculable. All this might also backfire for the US.
In this sense a negotiated settlement with a weakened regime preserving the state apparatus might be more convenient for the US. Whether they can reach by a military aggression is at least doubtful.
As anti-imperialists we hope for and support the defeat of the US, the leading imperialist powers and its proxies. But the Assad regime is the political gravedigger of any popular anti-imperialist resistance. His regime is the main responsible for destroying the revolutionary democratic momentum of the popular masses. He refused any democratic reform and set in motion the spiral of militarization, sectarianism and civil war facilitating regional and global foreign intervention. The regime’s way to defend its autocracy against the democratic and in nuce anti-imperialist popular revolt created a springboard for Jihadism eventually bringing in imperialism and is regional allies.
Therefore we will not take side in the self-destructive sectarian civil war but remain with the original democratic demands and all those who stick to them maintaining their independence from imperialism. The only possibility to come out from this quagmire is a political settlement between significant elements of both sides endorsed by their international backers. It is in no way given that such an agreement opens the door for a democratic transformation, given that the global, regional and local wolves are all involved and want their share. The revolutionary democratic forces must fight for the fulfillment of their demands which, however, presupposes stopping the sectarian civil war. If the popular democratic movement can regain ground it will help to develop a sustainable anti-imperialist momentum.
Down with the US world order!
- 1. See the statement of Joshua Landis, a US pandit on Syria, on the poison gas event. He opposes military strikes and calls for a political solution: Should the Use of Chemical Weapons Prompt a US Attack in Syria?