From the new September-October 2013 issue of News & Letters:
World in View
by Gerry Emmett
Did humanity shudder? At 3 AM on Aug. 21, the genocidal regime of Bashar al-Assad attacked the Damascus suburbs with deadly chemical weapons. Over 1,300 people, mainly women and children, died.
Most of the victims had been asleep. This is why so many of the dead children were in their pajamas, the babies in their one-pieces.
The scenes of horror were captured by cameras, by cell phones, and broadcast to the world. One little girl in a hospital, Younma, terrified and traumatized by her parents’ deaths, could only repeat “I’m alive! I’m alive!” As if she too might be swept into darkness, like the dozens, and then hundreds, of children laid out side by side in makeshift morgues.
This coldly calculated atrocity took place in a number of places simultaneously. The chemical attacks were followed by intense shelling. Initial casualty figures provided by the Local Coordinating Councils included: 400 dead in Zamalka, 300 in Hamouriya, 150 in Douma, 150 in Kafr Batna, 75 in Ein Tarma, 105 in Mouadamiyeh and Daraa, 69 in Saqba, 63 in Erbin, 16 in Jisreen, 5 in Harasta.
‘RED LINES’ THAT OBSCURE GENOCIDE
It wasn’t the first time Assad has used these outlawed weapons. But this was the most deadly chemical attack since Saddam Hussein’s genocidal massacre of thousands of Iraqi Kurds at Halabja in 1988. (The U.S. government then claimed there was no proof of Saddam’s guilt, as Russia and Iran claim today with Assad.)
Assad was emboldened to do this now for a number of reasons. First, despite some recent reporting to the contrary, he continues to lose ground to the opposition. While he tries to carve out a territory between Damascus, the capital, and Latakia on the coast, the greater territory of Syria will never again be his to rule. He can destroy people and buildings from above, but will never again control the liberated countryside. So his regime believes it has nothing to lose.
Second, the lack of response by the U.S. or other powers to the Egyptian military’s massacre of Muslim Brotherhood protestors served as a green light to Assad.
From the beginning, the Obama administration’s “red line” on chemical weapons has been a smokescreen for continuing genocide. Why would victims of chemical weapons be qualitatively different to the U.S. government than the tens of thousands who died during the months of peaceful protest, or the 100,000-plus who have died since the Syrian Revolution began?
Finally, the presence of UN inspectors sent the message that the UN–with Assad’s patron, Russia, holding Security Council veto power–would do nothing to support the Syrian people. Inspectors were mere miles from the site of the chemical attacks, confined to their hotels. In fact, their mandate to investigate anything has been extremely limited.
RHETORIC, REALITY AND REVOLUTION
The sheer depravity of the Assad regime’s actions will compel at least a rhetorical response from the U.S. administration, the EU, and the Arab League, among others. Putin’s Russia, Iran, and others will respond, and for many reality will disappear in the face of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” like so many discussions of Syria.
The idiocy and futility of this is revealed by those Western Leftists now being promoted by the Iranian regime’s PressTV, from George Galloway (“Israel and al-Qaeda did these attacks”) to neo-Stalinists of the Workers World Party. Such discredited spokesmen only show the weakness of the Iranian rulers’ position.
But the Syrian Revolution has revealed the real structure of our world. In Syria, the world-historic freedom movement of the Arab Spring confronts directly the entire oppressive state-capitalist order. From Moscow to Tehran, Riyadh to Washington, Beijing to Brussels, there has been the keenest interest–but no real aid to the revolution.
THE NATURE OF IMPERIALISM
All capitalist powers share an interest in controlling labor at the point of production. This is why contending imperialisms can find common interests. Assad’s violence is an intensified version of the strikebreakers’ clubs, the prison yard’s rifle tower, and the armored police assault clearing the streets.
The mass murders in Damascus are meant to declare that this world of injustice and oppression is humanity’s permanent state–to instill despair. But it was the rejection of despair, the assertion of human dignity, that began the Arab Spring in 2010, and opened a path to grasping revolution in permanence as the needed goal. If we seem to have arrived back at the beginning, in this sense, we also know our tasks much better.