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The Debate on the Imperialist Violence in Syria

The Imperialist Violence in Syria, Part 1 of 7

By Kim Petersen and B. J. Sabri


"I cannot help asking those who have forced that situation: Do you realize what you have done?"

— Russian President Vladimir Putin pointing to the US policy in the Middle East, address to the United Nations General Assembly, 2015, excerpts on CNBC

"Americans Have Constantly Destroyed Others."
French actor Gerard Depardieu

January 06, 2015 "Information Clearing House" - Is it best for the world to remain on the sidelines or engage in nugatory “peace” negotiations while the United States, Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Israel, and their terrorist groups destroy Syria with fire and violence? How would the entry of Russia at the side of the legitimate Syrian government affect the situation?1 Would it add to the death and destruction or end them?

Now that Russia is committed to eliminating all armed opposition groups (except the so-called Free Syrian Army for political calculations), while knowing that civilians will die in the process, does it make sense to ask it to stop its violence—though legal and legitimate under the U.N. Charter—because it might take out “a few innocent kids along the way”? Aside from calls to stop the carnage, we believe that the wider debate should focus on one major aspect of the conflict: why and who planned the violence and made it a daily scene of Syrian life for over four and half years?

A great number of progressive analysts have written about Syria. Recently, Joshua Frank, the managing editor of Counterpunch, asked, "Are we to ignore the geopolitical situation and just back Russia’s bombings because IS is so damn evil, even if Russia takes out a few innocent Syrian kids along the way?”2 In a rebuttal to Franks' position, T.P. Wilkinson published an article where he expressed criticism of Frank’s views.3 Whether the news of a few innocent Syrian kids killed by the Russians is true or false, the fact remains Syrians are being killed every day. We are not suggesting that Russia's air strikes are not causing civilian deaths. Even if Russia hits only armed groups' infrastructures and compounds, civilians nearby at the time might die. What we want to emphasize though is that the Syrian people will continue to die in great numbers unless someone stops the violence. More importantly, because the United States is conducting its war against Syria through proxies, Russia is the only other world power that can effectively defeat these proxies, stop the killing, and impose a political solution. U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254—despite shortcomings—passed on December 18, 2015 adduces our point. (To evaluate media news reporting on victims killed by Russia's airstrikes, read, “Information Warfare? Russia accused of killing civilians in Syria”).

Frank's statement begs the question of whether or not saving the lives of the many deserves consideration over the possible deaths of “the few,” albeit innocent kids. Let us debate this point without equivocation: if a Russian military intervention could save tens-of-thousands of Syrian lives while also taking the lives of a “few innocent Syrian kids,” would it have been better to be a non-interventionist anti-war dissident and allow thousands to be killed—including, likeliest, some innocent kids—at the hands of rebels and mercenaries?

Frank wraps up his article with this thought: “Those are a few of the questions we should be asking while we oppose all international military involvement in Syria as well as Assad’s murderous human rights violations. It’s time to demand the impossible. It’s time to demand the U.S. and Russia get out of Syria. If the anti-imperialist Left doesn’t do it, who will?”

Although some of Frank's conclusions needs to be fully debated, his take on the topic of war casualties—regardless of who is causing them—is forceful. However, any meaningful discussions on Syria must take into account the history of plans and motivations that shaped and caused the ongoing tragedy.

For starters, Frank asks, "If the anti-imperialist Left doesn’t do it, who will?" This comes across with conviction. He urges the Left to take action due to its stance as the prominent front concerned with war and peace issues. There is a problem though. First, we need to define what the Left is. Second, a cohesive, organized anti-imperialist Left does not exist. Therefore, a unifying Leftist political platform advocating universal issues—such as stopping wars or violence—does not exist either. As a consolation, there are countless anti-imperialist writers and thinkers—although not all of them can be ascribed to the traditional Left in Marxist context or even in its diluted version of social democracy. Third, the qualifier Left is no magic potion leading to mass mobilization of antiwar activists capable of stopping aggressions or reversing injustices.

In situations like Syria, there is a need to see things in depth before proceeding any further. Also, considering the scale of sheer violence, nightmarish devastation, and colossal displacement of population that has been taking place in over four years of a catastrophic upheaval designed and fueled by Western and regional interventions, calls to end the slaughter of the Syrian people are a matter of elementary human decency.

Is it not odd that since the start of conflict (including 14 months of US, Emirati, and Turkish bombardment of Syrian territory under the pretext of fighting the so-called Islamic State), we rarely heard voices calling for the United States to quit Syria? Yet, not even a day after Russia started hitting terrorist groups supported and armed by the US via client states, the gates of indignation exploded and everyone on the side of US imperialism wants Russia to quit that bleeding country.

Consequently, when antiwar activists call on both the US and Russia to get out of Syria, we understand that in an ideal situation this should be the right option. Is it? The answer is no for one important reason: the US plan for Syria is at such an advanced stage of completion that only Russia can stop it, and may even reverse it. There is no doubt that calls for foreign powers to leave Syria have serious merit. Nonetheless, such merit instantly expires considering the evolving realities of the conflict and the actors involved. What we see in Syria today goes beyond the fortunes of a legitimate government fighting armed groups financed and trained by the West and Arab lackeys. To describe it properly, it is a violent power struggle between a mad neocon superpower wanting to overthrow a sovereign government and destroy the country, and all those who resist its onslaught.

As we reject US claims of moral legitimacy to intervene in Syria, we might want to ask if the United States (an imperialist aggressor state guilty of serial war crimes), its absolutist partners (Gulf states) chauvinist Turkey, and the Zionist occupation regime) have any mandate under the international law to decide the fate of a sovereign nation. Because no world authority (e.g., the United Nations) has ever conferred such a mandate, one might think that the lack of authorization would make it easy for the emerging anti-imperialist front to demand a stop to the senseless mass killing and destruction of Syria. Would that be the logical thing to demand?

Theoretically, the answer should be yes. But calls to stop the wars of imperialism and violence are one thing, bringing an end to the warring is another. We know in advance that all non-Syrian entities operating in Syria have stakes in the mayhem. Given that, is it possible that the Left or mass protests could stop the carnage? Are those who foment the violence willing to lift their hands off Syria? Will Obama, Al Saud following, Qatar, and Erdogan stop recruiting, training, and paying for killers and mercenaries? (Note on the diction: Al Saud. Al means clan in Arabic. In this series, we occasionally refer to the House of Saud as Al Saud, meaning, the Al Saud clan or the Saud ruling family. This diction is widely used in the Arab world to denote the tyrannical rule and corruption of the House of Saud.)

As a reminder, did the international protests against the looming invasion of Iraq in 2003 succeed in stopping the United States from invading it? After he ordered the invasion of Iraq, and in response to calls for the US to withdraw from it, war criminal George W. Bush told Bob Woodward, “I will not withdraw, even if Laura and Barney [his dog] are the only ones supporting me.”4

Incidentally, to whom should we address our stop-the-killing appeal? To the US, Britain, France, or Germany who are busy overseeing the execution of the plan to remake the Middle East to meet Western and Israeli hegemonic criteria? Would despotic Turkey (despite ostentatious democracy), Jordan, Saudi Arabia, or Qatar be receptive or amenable to such an appeal? Or maybe we can discuss the matter with the American-controlled United Nations? Better yet, maybe we can talk with the American-made ISIS or the Saudi al-Nusra Front (widely considered as "al-Qaeda") and sister groups. Could the Syrian government (desperately engaged in the defense of the country, as well as of itself) help us realize our appeal? More importantly, would the United States, which is promoting and directing the vicious mercenaries and volunteers, listen to any anti-violence plea?

Who then has the ability to stop the violence?

Could it be the world at large? Can we, for example, take our appeal to all nations and ask them to rise against a nightmare called regime change in Syria at any cost? This is romanticism. Do we not all realize that in a world permeated by insouciance, fear, psychological subjugation, and consumed by the daily struggle against the crises of capitalism, corporate globalization, and escalating poverty, that too few might protest? If facts matter, the world today is not the world of the 1950-1980s, and it is not the world of Nasser, Gandhi, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, and el Che. Do we not all know that after the collapse of Communism and the emergence of the United States as a globally unchallenged hegemon, that a great majority of nations—even Viet Nam—succumbed to American diktat, and in the process revolutionary fervor and anti-establishment discontent entered into a deep hibernation?

Is it possible to stop the violence in Syria at this stage of the conflict without first militarily defeating the international armada of Saudi- and Qatari-armed groups? Thus far, realistically, the answer is no based on continuing anti-Bashar pronouncements by Saudis, Turks, Qataris, and by a duplicitous United States that continues to play all of her regional pawns according to predetermined schemes.

We are told that the House of Saud and the United States want to see Assad and his regime gone before they decide to stop the violence. We are also told that Russia must target ISIS but spare all other Islamist factions that the US, Turkey, and Gulf states support. This is nonsense. In practical terms, it means a cruel game with a clear purpose: continue with the violence regardless of human cost until regime change is achieved. Russia's entry into the war foiled this objective.

Regarding the issue of Assad leaving, we have a question: why should the leader of a recognized sovereign nation, his political entourage, and government leave in obedience to foreign diktat? Is this not a matter to be decided by the Syrian people and the Syrian people alone? Why demand the departure of one person as a condition to halt the mass killing and destruction of an entire country by foreign governments, outsiders, and mercenaries? Another question to ponder: Which is the greater evil, engaging in mass killing and creating a mass exodus of refugees to carry out the illegal act of imposing a change of government on a sovereign state by foreign powers, or leaving the fate of Bashar al Assad and his government to the Syrian people to decide? These writers submit that this should be self-evident to everyone. So why then are western state/corporate media focused on the demand for carrying out an illegal act rather than preventing it?

A logical alternative to this imperialist coercion to end the war exists. We can ask the United States (and its lackeys) to stop interfering in Syria, cut off financing and weapon supplies to their mercenaries thus allowing them to return to where they came from. As a result, the Syrian people will be able to decide their own fate, form of government, and future. After the US destroyed Iraq and Libya (and now Yemen via Saudi Arabia and the UAE), does anyone think that it would tip its hat, show remorse, and put an end to the imperialistic violence it unleashed on Syria? As we stated, before the Russian intervention, the game to smash and partition Syria was approaching completion. It is certain that notwithstanding this intervention, the US and vassals would continue with their plan for some time before they would capitulate to the objective reality on the ground.

Short of an overwhelming mass mobilization of the world's citizenry demanding all non-Syrian state actors desist from interference in Syrian affairs, we cannot advise on solutions (solutions that require immediacy in implementation) to stop the violence in Syria. But at this stage, we can predict this: based on developments in the conflict, and seeing that the US is persisting with its ISIS and al-Nusra-linked strategies to destroy Syria and remove its legitimate government, it seems—paradoxically—that only violence with a purpose can end US imperialist violence. Like it or not, Russia's decisive entry into the conflict to eradicate all forms of terrorism against the Syrian people and its government fits this purpose despite the fact that more people would die.

This sounds perhaps cynical and heartless. Are we suggesting that some Syrian civilians should accept their death as a price to save what remains of their country? Are we borrowing from the American imperialist notion of "collateral damage" or proposing sustained war by Syria and its legitimate allies to end this war regardless of human costs? No, but considering the forces involved and their declared aims to bring about a new regime at any cost, this appears to be the least bad immediate (the clock will not stop for the killing) solution with the minimal casualties, and the entry of Russia has become the decisive factor in this direction. Will Russia succeed at imposing a political solution with its intervention? Based on the conferences and events of the last two months, this seems possible.

Why is Russia intervening anyway?

The Russian president used soft exaggeration to depict the reach of "Islamist terrorism." He said, "What we are trying to achieve is to contribute to the fight against terrorism, which is a threat to both the United States to Russia to European countries and the whole world."5 His prime minister was forthcoming. He spoke in terms taken directly from the American interventionist lexicon, “We are not fighting for specific leaders, we are defending our national interests.”6

We do not have to speculate that Putin and Medvedev have indeed told us something that went beyond the appearance of words. This is how we interpret Medvedev's notion of Russia's national interests: contrary to circulating western insinuations, Russia is not that intimated by the return of Islamist militants to the Russian Federation. For instance, Bandar Bin Sultan, a member of the Saudi ruling family and former Saudi intelligence chief with strong ties to Washington, tried to buy Putin by asking him to abandon support for Syria in exchange for Saudi (and American, of course) manipulation of oil prices. Most important, he implicitly threatened Putin. He said, “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”7 With this statement, Bin Sultan unequivocally confirmed that Saudi Arabia finances and directs the international movements of Islamist militants in the pursuit of a policy conceived by the US and Israel but implemented by his government. Did Bandar's bribe or blackmail work? No, which means Russian leaders are not overly concerned about Islamist fighters being mobilized against their territory. Russian motives for intervening in Syria are much deeper. So, why is Russia concerned about US-promoted violence Syria?

Part 2 of 7 will be posted January 07, 2015

Kim Petersen is a former editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at kimohp@inbox.com

B. J. Sabri is an observer of the politics of modern colonialism, imperialism, Zionism, and of contemporary Arab issues. He can be reached at b.j.sabri@aol.com


  1. Tons of philosophical, political, and jurisprudential studies have been made on the concept of legitimacy and legitimate government. Being of elusive nature and speculative interpretations that depends on who is defining it and in what context, we think, for the purpose of this work, that a dictionary meaning would suffice. Dictionary.com has compiled a succinct definition for "Legitimate government.” It defines it as, A government generally acknowledged as being in control of a nation and deserving formal recognition, which is symbolized by the exchange of diplomats between that government and the governments of other countries. By dint of this pragmatic definition, the Syrian government satisfies this condition. (It is brazen hypocrisy that Obama keeps blaring that Bashar Assad lost his legitimacy, yet he still maintains an embassy in Damascus.)

  2. Joshua Frank, “The Need to Oppose All Foreign Intervention in Syria,” Counterpunch, 2 October 2015.

  3. T.P. Wilkinson, “Saving Private al-Baghdadi,” Dissident Voice, 4 October 2015 Note: while the authors agree with the brunt of the logic in Wilkerson’s essay, they would submit it was overly critical toward Frank and bordered on ad hominem. Some criticism is weak; e.g., Wilkerson chides Frank: “Needless to say the ‘Free World’ has been extinct since 1989 but Frank hasn’t noticed.” However, the fact that Frank used quotation marks around free world indicates he regards the term scathingly.

  4. CBS 60 Minutes, Bob Woodward, "Bush Says . . .," 28 March 2015.

  5. Russia Today, “ISIS calls on ‘Islamic youth’ to ignite holy war against Russians& Americans,” 14 October 2015.

  6. The Tribune, “Russia: Defending national interests in Syria, not Assad,” 18 October 2015

  7. Geoffrey Ingersoll, “REPORT: The Saudis Offered Mafia-Style 'Protection' Against Terrorist Attacks At Sochi Olympics,” 27 August 2015


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