On October 30, Barack Obama ordered 50 U.S. troops into Syria. To listen to the news and politicians in America you would think the only problem with Obama’s move is that it puts 50 Americans “in harm’s way.” Here’s a reality check and a morality check: American lives are not more important than other people’s lives. Obama’s move will intensify the living hell for millions of people in Syria and beyond, and ratchet up a whole set of deadly and dangerous conflicts.
The current multi-sided war in Syria has killed over 200,000 people in four years, and—as of 2014—driven over 11 million people from their homes. Seven and a half million are refugees within Syria. Another four million have been forced out of the country. This year the situation has gotten worse—Syrians make up the single greatest source of humanity risking their lives to cross vast expanses of land and sea to seek refuge on the cruel, unwelcoming shores of Europe, or risk ending up dead at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. And the most defining factor in the whole complex set of forces that created this horror is the United States.
How Did We Get Here?
In March of 2011, in the midst of “Arab Spring” uprisings in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, protests broke out in Syria against the Assad regime. The U.S. rulers saw this as a moment to make a move against a regime that has been aligned with rival powers—Russia and Iran—it sees as a threat to its “turf” in a strategic part of the world. And so the U.S.—that self-proclaimed “champion of freedom and democracy”—enlisted, unleashed, or set loose a murderous collection of reactionary Islamic fundamentalist, anti-Assad military forces in Syria—including affiliates of Al Qaeda. These reactionary forces quickly pushed any other opposition to Assad out of the way. The military forces fighting Assad today have different agendas and regional backers—including Saudi Arabia—with sometimes violently conflicting interests. But none of them are any good. And none of them are too thuggish, or too dark-ages reactionary, or even too tightly aligned with Al Qaeda, that the U.S. won’t declare them part of the “moderate opposition” when and to the extent it serves their interests.
In 2013, when the tide of the war seemed to be turning in favor of Assad and his backers, the U.S. threatened to massively escalate direct military involvement. Those threats came in the midst of accusations that the Syrian government was using chemical weapons. The accusations might have been true, and the Assad regime has committed massive war crimes. But according to human rights agencies, all sides in the conflict, including the forces backed by the U.S., have been carrying out kidnapping, torture, and summary assassinations of their opponents and civilians. Human Rights Watch reports that “non-state armed groups opposing the government also carried out serious abuses including deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, use of child soldiers, kidnapping, and torture in detention.” Many of those non-state armed groups are backed by the U.S.
The devastation, chaos and power-vacuum that war created are fueling the growth of more and more virulent jihadists, and ISIS has been able to take advantage of the situation to seize power in large sections of the country. Meantime, the U.S. has not been able to cobble together anything close to a force on the ground it can count on to serve its agenda. The U.S. and other powers have found themselves in a situation where every move they make ratchets up the conflicts they face, increasing the suffering of the people, and increasing the danger of a whole other range of conflict and war.
In late July of this year the U.S. and Turkey made an agreement where Turkey, a reactionary regional power and U.S. ally, would cooperate more with the U.S. in exchange for a U.S. okay for Turkey to bomb Kurdish forces in Syria and Turkey—even as the U.S. is enlisting many of these same Kurdish forces to fight in its interests in Syria. That set off a devastating Turkish bombing campaign against the Kurds in Syria and ferocious violent repression against Kurdish people in Turkey.
At the end of September, in response to the increasing vulnerability of the Assad regime, Russia launched air strikes against forces fighting Assad. And Russia and Iran have stepped up their on-the-ground role in the fighting. Obama’s action to send in U.S. troops “sees” Russia’s move and ups the ante, increasing the potential for a direct clash between the U.S. and Russia, or an escalation in the role of other regional powers including Israel and Saudi Arabia. And Obama’s injection of U.S. troops directly into Syria—accompanies new negotiations over who will emerge in the best position to carry out more and worse crimes in Syria and in the region and beyond.
Needed: ANOTHER WAY
All of the forces fighting on the ground in Syria are reactionary and fighting to entrench or expand the interests of global or regional exploiters and oppressors. But nobody in this conflict is more responsible for the horrors than the United States and its allies. One way or another this new escalation of U.S. involvement is bound to make things worse.
How to break out of this hellish cycle? The situation—where there is not visible and determined opposition to the crimes of “our government”—MUST CHANGE. The more a movement of opposition to the crimes of “our government” isin the streets of the United States, the more basis there is for the world to see that the real interests of humanity lie completely outside capitalist-imperialist powers or Islamic fundamentalist Jihad. And to bring forward another way—a real and liberating alternative to these horrors.