By Marcus Halaby
THE SIEGE of Aleppo has entered its final hours. A cold-blooded and methodical massacre awaits the defenders and civilians who could not or would not escape. With the fall of Aleppo, a similar fate is being prepared for the remaining areas of the country not yet subjugated by the regime’s militias.
Moscow and Damascus are using Donald Trump’s election as a green light to wipe out what remains of the resistance to the rule of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
An unremitting final offensive was immediately launched on the remaining rebel-held eastern portion of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. Leaflets dropped from the air warned besieged inhabitants that the world had “abandoned them”, and that they faced “slaughter” if they remained in their homes. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed this on 6 December, saying, “If somebody refuses to leave on good terms, he will be eliminated.”
Refugees from eastern Aleppo have been placed in internment camps, with men between the ages of 18 and 40 separated from their families, some of them forcibly conscripted into the regime’s fighting forces. Most of these refugees will not be allowed to return to their homes, just as the refugees from Darayya and Moadamiyeh in the Damascus suburbs will not.
Around half of Syria’s population have now been driven from their homes, while pro-regime sectarian militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Lebanon and Pakistan are being encouraged to settle their families in strategically-located neighbourhoods. This forced expulsion of whole communities opposed to Assad’s continued rule should be considered ethnic cleansing, if not genocidal in its intention. Its similarity to the Zionists’ driving out of the Palestinians is striking.
However loud their hypocritical protests at Assad’s and Putins’ onslaught or their claims to desire a transition to “democracy” in Syria, Western governments are entirely complicit in this outcome. Of course, US President Barack Obama and his Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have been loud in their denunciations of Assad and Putin for their violations of human rights.
While they have pursued a policy 2011 aimed at ousting Assad and depriving Russia of its staunchest ally (and of its only base in the region), if the price was destruction of the totalitarian Baathist apparatus of repression, either by revolution or war, then they were not willing to pay it. They would rather tolerate Assad’s brutality, while using it to boost their own democratic credentials. They feared above all else a repetition of the lesson they had learned from the US interventions in Iraq and Libya.
True, Obama did come close to bombing Assad when his “red line” was crossed in August 2013 by Assad’s use of chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb, with the death of 1,500 civilians including 400 children. He drew back then, because military intervention would have threatened the nuclear deal with Iran. Instead he accepted a face saving Russian mediation to secure the UN-monitored removal of the regime’s chemical weapons.
Then, on 30 September 2015, when Russian warplanes intervened massively to prop up the retreating and shaken Assad forces, direct US involvement could have turned into a clash between the two nuclear powers. But Obama became ever more determined not to arm the rebels with the anti-aircraft missiles that could bring down Putin’s warplanes, especially as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former Nusra Front, had become an integral part of the rebel forces. US attempts to create a “moderate” or secular force also failed miserably.
What little aid has reached opposition factions has generally gone to forces like the Kurdish YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces or the US-created New Syrian Army, whose exclusive mission is to fight the Islamic State, not the Assad regime. Elsewhere, the collapse of the resistance to Assad in the south of the country is partly a result of US attempts to divert the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army away from an attempted relief of the rebel-held Damascus suburbs and towards fighting the Nusra Front.
The USA and its allies have engaged in a complex and unstable game of alternating cooperation and rivalry with Assad’s Russian protectors. Their real priorities have been their oil interests in Iraq and the USA’s developing rapprochement with Iran. This has gone alongside an effective partition of the country, with the USA posing as a “protector” of Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria, while turning a blind eye to its NATO ally Turkey’s repression of its own Kurdish minority.
The Communist Party of Britain’s Morning Star hailed the bloody massacres underway in Aleppo as a “liberation”. Those in the Stop the War Coalition who put their alliance with these Stalinists before political principle thereby ensured that Stop the War effectively became an obstacle to building a genuine labour movement campaign of solidarity with the Syrian revolution, and indeed any effective opposition to the actual imperialist interventions that were taking place.
If after the fall of Aleppo the Assad forces push westwards to Idlib, surviving Syrian rebel forces may turn towards a purely rural guerrilla war rather than the hopeless task of defending densely populated urban neighbourhoods from starvation sieges and mass murder from the sky. This will inevitably mean a change in the social base of that struggle and, with that, its political character.
Aleppo, originally with a large urban working class and vibrant civil society organisations, acted as a source of restraint on forces like the Nusra Front, with mass protests occasionally forcing a climbdown on unpopular measures and preventing them from being able to exercise exclusive control in the “liberated zones”.
Its loss will exacerbate the already visible trend of some of the armed factions towards unaccountability and a reactionary domination by “extreme” Islamist factions over the civil society that they claim to protect. These factions will still be able to access resources from the native and Syrian expatriate business communities in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
It will also increase Turkey’s influence over that wing of the opposition that is friendly to it, in turn allowing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to divert his rebel protégés away from fighting Assad and towards an ethnic chauvinist turf war with the Kurdish YPG militia, the Turkish state’s real enemy in Syria.
And like the Palestinian refugees in the 1950s and 1960s, many of Syria’s refugees will want to pursue a struggle to return to their homes and lands, under the protection of an armed force recruited from amongst their ranks.
Military defeat for the remnants of the revolutionary forces is now looming, even if it is still premature to say that there is nothing left to defend of the popular uprising that began so heroically almost six years ago. However, Assad has wrecked his own country and his regime rests on foreign armed forces. The social and political contradictions within the regions he rules are likely to burst forth the moment they withdraw.
The empty promises given to the Syrian rebels came not only from the USA and its NATO allies, but also from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The lessons for revolutionaries across the Middle East are never to rely on these broken reeds, whatever their promises, whether of “democratic” or of “Islamic” solidarity.
The task of socialists in the West is neither to encourage or support their own governments’ interventions nor to “accept” the victory of Assad, Russia and Iran as a lesser evil. Rather, we must expose and oppose the actions of all of the imperialist powers and their regional allies engaged in this conflict, first and foremost our own. Britain and the USA are presently covering up for the devastating Saudi bombing in Yemen, using aircraft and munitions supplied by them. We must also mercilessly expose the brutality and cruelty of Russian imperialism as we did that of the USA and Britain in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
Our support must go instead to Syrian socialist and democratic forces, many driven into exile in Europe or neighbouring countries, helping them to find safety and encouraging them to rebuild a working class political organisation that can prepare the resurrection of the Syrian revolution.
The original print version of this article can be read here.