As siege of Aleppo ends, painful lessons must be learned
THE SIEGE of Aleppo has entered its final hours. Doubtless evidence will merge of the cold blooded and methodical massacres carried out by the Syrian regime and its Russian, Iranian and Lebanese allies. After 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 have taken 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, others to an unknown fate. 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. The intention of this forced expulsion of whole communities opposed to Assad’s continued rule should be considered ethnic cleansing. Its similarity to the Zionists’ driving out of the Palestinians is striking, as is the creation of a Syrian Diaspora. in refugee camps in surrounding sates and further afield.
Despite the words of US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power -“Is there literally nothing that will shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin?” coming from a power which, over the last decade and a half has slaughtered many times more civilians, including children, than Russia and its allies combined, such words themselves are shameless.
In fact, Western governments are entirely complicit in in the horrible suffering of the Syrian people, for all President Barack Obama and his Secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry's, many denunciations of Assad and Putin for their violations of human rights.
Although, since 2011, they have pursued a policy aimed at ousting Assad and robbing Russia of its staunchest ally and only base in the region, when it became clear the price would be the destruction of the totalitarian Baathist apparatus of repression, either by revolution or war, they were not willing to pay it. They would rather tolerate Assad’s brutality, whilst using it to boost their own democratic credentials. They feared, above all else, a repetition of the disastrous situation that followed from the US interventions in Iraq and Libya - of which the rise of ISIS is the living proof.
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, it became clear that direct US involvement would threaten a clash between the two nuclear powers. So, 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 major part of the rebel forces. US attempts to create a “moderate” or secular force also failed miserably.
What little US 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 mission was to fight the Islamic State, not the Assad regime. Elsewhere, the collapse of the resistance 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 US and its regional 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.
If, after the fall of Aleppo, the Assad forces push westwards to Idlib, surviving Syrian rebel forces will likely be forced into a largely rural guerrilla war, rather than the hopeless task of defending densely populated urban neighbourhoods from starvation sieges and mass murder from the sky.
Aleppo, originally with a large urban working class and vibrant civil society organisations, acted for a while 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. This will further change the social base of that struggle and, with this, its political character.
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. Indeed, once the great powers and regional allies have finished their bloody business and settled accounts with ISIS (always hitherto their second priority) they will undoubtedly turn on their Kurdish allies. The lack of mutual support shown one another over the last five years by both Syrian and Kurdish revolutionaries, motivated by narrow nationalism, will prove to have been one of the greatest weaknesses of their struggles.
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. This will inevitably change the social base of that struggle still further and, with this, its political character. Sectarian islamist forces will become even more dominant with dire consequences for what remains of the progressive forces within Syria.
Military defeat for the remnants of the revolutionary forces is now looming. 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 relations between Trump and Putin are far from clear. But what must be clear for those trying to rebuild forces for a future revolution against Assad, Erdogan, the Saudi and Gulf royal families, el-Sisi, is that none of the imperialist powers represent a force for democracy and progress of any sort. Also, the promises given to the rebels from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar proved empty.
The lessons for revolutionaries across the Middle East are never to rely on these broken reeds, whatever their promise of either democratic or Islamic solidarity. The task of revolutionary socialists in the West is neither to call for, nor support, their own governments’ “interventions” under the pretext of humanitarian aid, nor to “accept” the victory of Assad, Russia and Iran as a lesser evil than a Western intervention. 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.
We must also mercilessly expose the brutality and cruelty of Russian imperialism; just as we did that of the US and Britain, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Indeed, Britain and the US are presently covering up for the devastating Saudi bombing in Yemen, using aircraft and munitions they supplied.
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 and revolutions across the entire Middle East. However harsh the present winter, a new spring will surely come.