On May 25, 108Syrian civilians were murdered in the Houla area of towns and villages, including 34 women and 49 children. Some were killed by artillery shells, some at close hand by guns or knives.
Not surprisingly, the regime and the opposition blamed each other. It’s most likely that responsibility for the carnage lies with President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces and his sectarian Shabiha armed gangs. True, it is certainly not beyond the power or immorality of imperialism to have orchestrated the massacre through local agents. But no one except the most benighted sycophants of the pseudo-anti-imperialist Assad can deny the thousands of murders that had already been committed by the regime before the Houla massacre.
Naturally, imperialist governments, institutions, and media used the massacre to demand tougher sanctions and greater arming of the opposition, and to step up threats of direct military intervention. On May 29, new French President François Hollande said on France 2 television, “I want what happened in Libya to be perceived as proof that foreign intervention is possible in Syria. Homs today is Benghazi yesterday.” Several Western countries expelled Syrian diplomats in the following days.
It is still not clear if Houla will be the turning point for what has been up to now a Western approach longer on rhetoric than action against Assad. After all, Assad, for all his crimes, was a useful tool for Washington, from its acquiescence to Israel’s conquests (even of Syria’s own territory), to its collaboration in war against Saddam Hussein, as well as cooperation in the “rendition” and torture policies of the “war on terror.”
What’s more, the geography, demographics, and infrastructure of the country would make direct intervention far more difficult than the relative walkover in Libya. As a result, to this point the U.S. has relied primarily on arms and soldiers funneled by Saudi Arabia and Qatar into the country, and on special operations forces of as yet unconfirmed Western origin.
Even after Houla, The New York Times on May 30 reported that “Obama now shows no signs of intervening with force, an option his White House sees leading only to ‘greater chaos, greater carnage.’… If the president considered Libya a model of humanitarian intervention, Syria increasingly looks like Mr. Obama’s Bosnia.” But that is hardly a reassuring parallel if one remembers how in the end his fellow Democrat Bill Clinton was more than happy to launch a murderous bombing campaign in the former Yugoslavia, using a similarly fraudulent humanitarian rationale.
Despite their armed intervention into the former Yugoslavia, Clinton and U.S. imperialism never intended to give real support to the struggle of the Bosnians, Kosovars, and other oppressed nationalities for self-determination. In Yugoslavia and in Syria today — indeed, throughout U.S. imperialism’s history — the right of oppressed people for freedom and self-determination has never been on the agenda.
In any case, Washington will no doubt find more ways, however indirect, to intervene in what U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice declared after Houla would most likely “develop into a regional sectarian war … a proxy conflict with arms flowing in from all sides.”
Some progressive supporters of the uprising against Assad latched on to Houla to call for direct imperialist military intervention now. Such action, however, will do nothing to free the Syrian people from tyranny. It could in fact bolster Assad’s hold on power as he rallies disaffected elites back to his side. And on the other hand, if Western intervention pushes Assad out, it could lead to a puppet regime even more beholden to the neoliberal economic policies begun by Assad, and to a switch from silent acquiescence in Zionist crimes to outright support for them. If Assad goes, of course, we can be sure that a regime as repressive as his will be needed eventually to crush Syrian worker, peasant, and youth dissent against these policies.
In the last few months, the mass movement against Assad—which originally mobilized constant and often huge demonstrations, spreading ever further across the country—has been subverted by the pro-imperialist leaderships of the Syrian National Council and Free Syrian Army. The latter group’s military activities, divorced from a mass base, have been neither effective in military terms nor a rallying point for the mass movement. To the contrary, they have increasingly pushed aside that movement, and left less and less room for the neighborhood and town/city-based committees to organize ordinary Syrians. The militarization of the conflict has also opened space for more sectarian reactionary forces.
This militarization of the opposition and the growing dependence of its self-appointed “leaders” on imperialism is orchestrated by a segment of Syria’s ruling class that supports Assad’s neoliberal economic policies but wants to be the ones to implement them “efficiently” and “democratically” (and in the process to enjoy a greater share of the profits).
And not coincidentally, the SNC and FSA’s policies have actually hindered the one military policy that could defeat Assad—a major split in his army’s ranks. The last thing the bourgeois leadership of the SNC/FSA wants is a successful revolution against Assad carried out by armed workers, peasants, and youth. But it is only a grassroots-based mass movement that could achieve such a split by organizing the families, coworkers, and neighbors of the military to appeal to rank-and-file soldiers and junior officers to come over to the revolution arms in hand.
Imperialist intervention in Syria has nothing to do with saving the rights or even the lives of Syrians, but is solely designed to maintain Western dominance of the Middle East and Northern Africa. It aims to shore up the Gulf Cooperation Council-led counterrevolution, intended to derail the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions and turn back the growing movements in Bahrain, Yemen, Morocco, and elsewhere in the region.
Those misguided progressive activists who cry out that only imperialist arms can stop civilian massacres forget the lessons learned from past interventions in Libya, the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, etc.—which only increased the civilian death toll and the destruction of the infrastructure of those countries.
No imperialist intervention! Victory for the workers, peasants and youth of Syria against Assad’s dictatorship!
> The article above was written by Andrew Pollack, and is reprinted from the June 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.