An eerie and disconcerting feeling of deja vu has swept over the world in the past week as the drums of war have been beating ever more loudly.
Last night, the worst fears of progressive people in the west were realized when the United States, Britain and France risked the possibility of descent into a major global war, launching over 100 missile strikes against targets of the Syrian government.
War Propaganda Takes Us Back to 2003
In the aftermath of an alleged chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus last Saturday, the western powers and their media partners went into overdrive in pushing war propaganda. The goal was simple: the renewed painting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a ‘gas killing animal’ (as Donald Trump tweeted).
This propaganda has hardly been contained to the right-wing press in Britain, France, and the United States (In fact, in deep irony, it was the incredibly reactionary FOX News Network that seemed to question that push toward a global conflagration more than ‘liberal’ mouthpieces such as CNN).
The Guardian, Britain’s liberal paper that is often quoted for being apparently ‘progressive’, ran an editorial on Monday, April 9th by Simon Tisdall called ‘After Douma, the West’s Response to Syria’s Regime Must Be Military’. The opinion piece recycles many of the tired and age-old ‘moral’ arguments for western intervention, ones which seem especially difficult to take seriously in the post-Iraq War age.
That’s where we enter the newest chapter in political déjà vu. The adage that history repeats itself seems particularly apt at this moment. Digging through the archives of The Guardian, one can find an article from January 19, 2003 entitled ‘Iraq: The Case for Decisive Action’. The sub-heading is ‘Military intervention in the Middle East holds many dangers. But if we want a lasting peace it may be the only option’.
The cruel irony that fifteen years later, not only Iraq but its Syrian neighbour is ground zero for what seems to be endless war, cannot be obscured here.
The Pretext: We’ve Seen This Too Many Times
What ties the current barrage of missile strikes in Syria to the 2003 war drive by the administration of George W. Bush -- in league with Britain’s Tony Blair -- is more than just the ‘humanitarian intervention’ pretext.
As was the case with the launching of the Iraq war in March of that year, the conscience of the world has once again been asking for evidence of the crime. At that time, the ‘crime’ of the Saddam Hussein government was the Iraqi government’s alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) program. Of course, we now know that those WMDs were never found, and that Bush and Blair were simply looking for a rationale to take Baghdad.
This time around, the chemical attack that was alleged to have taken place in Douma on Saturday, April 7, has been used as the pretext for launching ‘limited’ missile strikes at Syrian government targets.
If we recall what looked like an inevitable rush to war by the Obama administration against Syria in September 2013, we can see countless similarities.
At that time, Secretary of State John Kerry actually used videos from YouTube as ‘evidence’ of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. The entire ‘humanitarian’ intervention spiel of the western countries was also undermined by the prospect that such a military intervention would be most beneficial for Salafist organizations such as the so-called Islamic State, which as of then were hardly spoken of as viable threats.
This time around, the evidence thus far appears even shakier. U.S. Secretary of Defence James Mattis said at a hearing just two days ago, "I believe there was a chemical attack. We're looking for the actual evidence. The OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) is the organization for the chemical weapons convention -- we're trying to get those inspectors in probably within the week.”
But the U.S, Britain and France have pre-emptively struck before these investigators could begin their work. As was the case in 2003, the truth of who is responsible for what appears to be an appalling attack on helpless civilians is deemed irrelevant to Trump, Emmanuel Macron, and Theresa May.
Turkey Aligns Itself with Washington-Paris-London
As the missiles were raining down on Syria in the early hours of today, the Turkish government stepped forward to offer its full support to the Trump-Macron-May axis. Given that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has had increasingly strained relations with the west in recent years, this is particularly illuminating.
Despite Turkey’s loose-knit working alliance with Russia and Turkey vis-à-vis the Astana talks, as well as the fact that Russia opened up Syrian airspace to allow Turkey to bomb and eventually occupy Afrin, Erdogan and his fascistic government are still on a very different wavelength than Moscow or Tehran in terms of Bashar al-Assad’s future. Erdogan is hardly ready to see ‘enemy Bashar’ as ‘brother Bashar’ once again. On this fundamental point, the Turkish government is aligned with their western NATO partners.
Turkey’s military operation in Afrin and invasion of Syrian territory underscores the hypocrisy of the British, French and U.S. governments in their action against the Damascus government.
In mid-February, Kurdish doctors in Afrin accused Turkish forces of using chemical weapons against civilians, saying that several civilians were treated for symptoms of poison gas. The story was hardly reported in the western mainstream media, let alone was there a dash to pry into the possibility of alleged war crimes by Turkey’s occupation forces.
Endless Hypocrisy from Trump: Chemical Weapons & Palestine
There is no lack of hypocrisy emanating from the western axis at this moment, but perhaps most significant is the fact that the attack on Syria comes at the very moment that the people of Gaza are rising against the Israeli occupation.
For a third consecutive Friday, Palestinians have protested peacefully on the border with Israel for the right of return. Two weeks ago, 17 Palestinian civilians were gunned down in cold blood by the Israeli Defense Forces. At least nine perished again after being shot by Israeli forces a week ago.
Not only was there no condemnation of the Israeli actions by the Trump administration, but the United States has actually blocked United Nations motions into investigating the deaths. This hypocrisy reveals much about the Trump administration’s mentality. Investigations simply don’t matter, whether in Palestine or Syria. The truth is irrelevant.
This is what makes his tweets on the Douma incident so disgustingly contradictory. On April 8, he wrote “Many dead, including women and children, in a mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad.”
“Animal Assad”? Perhaps. But the facts are not in on Douma. The facts on Gaza have appeared on live television, however. “Animal Netanyahu?” Never in Trump’s view. Any semblance of humanitarian speech coming from the lips of a fascistically minded president is utterly revolting.
Trump’s U-Turn: Now He Is ‘Presidential’
When Donald Trump took office as President in January of last year, the establishment went into a state of panic. This was a man who was deemed to be anything but ‘presidential’, someone who would embarrass the United States on a world scale. It wasn’t only his shoot-from-the-hip style of speaking or his overt xenophobia and bigotry.
Most importantly, it was that he didn’t toe the Republican-Democratic line of aggression and hostility toward Russia. He was also viewed as a possible ‘non-interventionist’ for the fact that he questioned whether getting involved in a war with the Syrian government was sensible, whereas the political establishment’s preferred candidate Hillary Clinton asserted that she would make regime change in Damascus a priority.
In 2013, as the Obama administration was on the verge of bombing Syrian government targets, Trump tweeted: “The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!’
How ironic it is that less than five years later, Trump has done exactly that – not for the first time, but for a second. Just over one year ago, he took the unprecedented step of intervening against Ba’athist forces in Syria when he ordered 59 cruise missiles to strike a base near Homs.
Another twist of irony is that despite Obama’s support for Syrian ‘rebel’ factions and often aggressive rhetoric toward Syria, his administration never authorized such an attack. Now Trump has doubled down on his intervention in Syria, despite his call just weeks ago that he would seek swift U.S. withdrawal from the country altogether.
For the two-party establishment that may appear divided on any number of domestic issues, war and especially ‘humanitarian intervention’ is always a crucial unifying factor. The much-loathed Trump is back in their good books at the moment. Has he been so eager to prove himself not to be a puppet of Vladimir Putin and the Russian state that he has risked a third world war in order to appear once more ‘presidential’?
Not a Re-Run of the Iraq War: The Russia Factor
The Russia factor is what makes the current juncture so risky, not only for the people of Syria, but all of humanity.
When the Bush-Blair axis invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003, the Russian state was still reeling from the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was the destruction of that global equilibrium which made the war possible. Western power was unchecked, and the ‘winners’ of the Cold War felt they could act as they wished. Impunity for the pursuit of global hegemony by any means was the name of the game.
However, the current Russian bourgeois-nationalist state of Putin is hardly the weak and vulnerable appendage of western policy that it was fifteen years ago. Today’s Russia aims to assert itself in a new multi-polar playing field. In the context of Syria’s often confusing and multi-layered 7-year war, this has made the country of theatre for proxy battles. In a sense, what we have been witnessing in Syria has been a mini world war. Trump’s latest attack in tandem with his allies risks turning what has been a cold war with Russia into a hot one.
Where Are the Voices of Reason?
The Trump-Macron-May axis has said that the missile attacks on Syria are ‘limited’ and a one-off. However, even if that is the case, they have acted with utter contempt toward the people of their own countries and seriously jeopardized the prospect of peace in Syria and globally.
In Britain, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – who was a vehement opponent of his own party’s drive to war in 2003 – has questioned why Theresa May wouldn’t allow a parliamentary debate on the issue. Corbyn said that May was ‘trailing behind Donald Trump’ rather than having a democratic debate on the issue in the House of Commons.
As was the case in 2003, Corbyn appears to be the voice of reason in British politics at the moment, saying “Bombs won’t save lives or bring about peace. This legally questionable action risks escalating further, as US defence secretary James Mattis has admitted, an already devastating conflict and therefore makes real accountability for war crimes and use of chemical weapons less, not more likely.”
Of course, chemical weapons aren’t really the issue here for our western leaders. Their humanitarian veneer is easily seen through. It’s regime change they are interested in, as was the case in Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011, and countless other cases throughout history. The imperialist leopard will never change its spots.