The veto by Russia and China of a chapter 6 resolution at the United Nations calling for Syrian President Bashar Assad to stand down has produced a loud ghashing of teeth by Hillary Clinton, William Hague and all kinds of other luminaries of the West. Syria seems to be heading for civil war. In fact arguably the civil war has already started with the formation of a rebel army from defectors from the official army and its engaging in sporadic armed conflict with the regime’s forces.
The fact that parts of the capital, Damascus, are also in a state of rebellion and mass popular protest, as well as the provinces, means the regime, which once was one of the most secure in the Middle East, now looks very vulnerable. Though it is not clear in what way the Syrian revolution is likely to reach its conclusion, it is now inconcievable that the Assad regime will be able to get the lid back on the situation. If it did not have the internal strength to prevent this situation from emerging in the first place, it is difficult to imagine where it is going to get the strength to overcome this protest movement and now (partially) armed revolt, with splits in the army as well, now that the genie is out of the bottle.
Just like Qadaafi in Libya, in fact, thus far. And this is why above all socialists and supporter of democraric revolutionary change must oppose imperialist attempts to intervene in ‘support’ of the Syrian opposition. And indeed, why socialists should breathe a sign of relief that Clinton, Hague and co, with their friendly Arab dictatorships like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have not got been able to get their resolution through the UN. Not that, in formal terms, the chapter 6 resolution that was on the table in itself could provide any kind of legal cover for military action under the UN flag. Only a Chapter 7 resolution can do that.
But because it is part of a campaign to build momentum for an imperialist intervention at the next stage. If the resolution had been passed, with the Russians and Chinese acquiescing in it or even supporting it, once it was ignored, as of course it would be, there would be pressure to back the ‘fine words’ in the resolution with a resolution to enforce its demands, etc. And having signed up to the demands, these powers would face more pressure if they then were seen to veto the enforcement of such demands through Chapter 7. A Libya-style war would then be on the cards.
So why should partisans of democracy and revolution in the Arab world welcome the veto of a United Nations resolution condemning Assad by Assad’s putative allies, Putin/Medvedev and the Chinese Communist Party regime in Beijing? Because the most dangerous enemies of the revolution in the Arab countries are not to be found in Moscow and Beijing, that is why. Their favoured regime is doomed in any case. The most dangerous enemies of genuine democratic and social change in the Arab world are to be found in Washington, London, Paris and not least Tel Aviv.
Their aim in intervening selectively in the turmoil in the Middle East over the past year has not been to help the Arab revolutions. It is no accident that the only two states that the imperialists have actively condemned throughout all these upheavals have been … the regimes in Libya and Syria. Which just happen to be the two Arab regimes that, for many years prior to the outbreak of the Arab revolutions, the Western powers had real antipathy towards and were in fact considered as enemies even in periods when for pragmatic reasons some sort of ‘detente’ was engaged in.
There was no comparable pressure against Ben Ali in Tunisia, for instance. Ok, you might say, this took them by surprise at the beginning of 2011. But then with Mubarak, Western pressure on him was non-existent, but there was much wringing of hands that his departure would allow the Muslim Brotherhood and other demonised forces who were believed to oppose Western and Israeli domination would gain the opportunity to get power through democratic means. Where was the Western outcry against the continued abuses of the Military Council in Cairo and its continued abuses of protesters and democrats, and its attempts to sow sectarianism, which continue to this day even though preliminary elections to a consitutional assembly have now happened in Egypt? Where were the demands for sanctions, and the threats then?
Where was the outcry, the threat of sanctions and military pressure against Yemen, or Bahrain, when repeated killings and torture were used against democracy protesters in those countries? Where was the military pressure on Saudi Arabia, the West’s best friend in the Arab world – and the most barbaric regime by far, which far surpasses Assad and Qadaafi in its medieval barbarism? Where was the proposed UN resolution when Saudi troops intervened in Bahrain to prop up the corrupt royal family who were thus able to stay in power utterly contrary to the wishes of the majority of the population? Where was the Security Council resolution when medical staff who dared to treat wounded protesters in Bahrain were themselves tortured and then put on trial as traitors for daring to give medical treatment to opponents of the royal dictatorship?
Answer: of course there were not any. These are the regimes the Western powers support. They want the revolution to go away, they want to restore ‘stability’ to the Arab world, and in particular to restabilise those regimes that they see as defenders of Western interests. The most they would countenance is a bit more ‘democratic’ window-dressing, in order make corrupt, repressive pro-Western regimes a bit more palatable.
So why did they go after Qadaafi, and why are they now going after Assad? For a number of linked reasons. For a start, they wanted to use the opportunity of the upheaval to deal with regime they considered recalcitrant. Qadaafi, despite some recent moves towards detente, was top of the list. Assad is next, and indeed probably the only hard Arab regime that the West has traditionally considered an opponent remaining, now that Qadaafi is gone and of course Saddam Hussein was disposed of in different, pre-revolutionary circumstances in the early part of this decade.
The Western strategy is that if they can use the upheavals to get rid of the regimes they do not like, they can hopefully acquire a little bit of political credit that they can use with the population of the countries whose regimes they do fundamentally support to help give those regimes something of a facelift and thus help to re-stabilise pro-imperialist regimes there also.
Relatedly, because being seen to play a role in helping to overthrow these regimes, even if it does not give them a direct military hold over their successors, it means that they acquire some credit, a political debt, which can later be cashed in. Thus in that way, though the usual technique of patronage, bribery, flattery and all the other manifold imperialist techniques, they can once again build client regimes out of the insurgent movements and acquire the means to discipline the populations once again to acquiesce in imperialist strategy.
This is something that would be seriously disrupted by an outright, successful popular revolution in an Arab country. Particularly if it came about by means of an insurrection as looks increasingly on the cards in Syria. Such an event would push the Arab revolution to new heights, it would overshadow the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia in terms of the ‘hard’ nature of the regime it had overthrown.
It would endanger the stability of the neighbouring royal dictatorship in Jordan, and from there of the West’s most important Arab ally, Saudi Arabia. The revolution would be creeping ever close to Saudi, which of course is the big daddy of all the oil sheikdoms the West relies on to exploit the natural resources – centrally oil – of Arabia and the Gulf while excluding the population from the enormous wealth that this generates.
The imperialist strategy to preserve the status quo involves a tactical gambit to get rid of Assad and thereby hijack the Syrian revolution (as they did, with partial success) in Libya, and thereby stymie the wider Arab revolution. Socialists in the West should be opposing this attempted heist, not echoing the deceptive propaganda of our own ruling class in seeking to promote their ‘democratic’ credentials. Hands off the Syrian Revolution, and the Arab revolution as a whole!