On 14 April the USA, Britain, and France made air-strikes which, so the US says, disabled some of the Syrian government’s chemical-weapons sites.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis described the operation as a “one-off”, and in fact further substantial military action by the USA and its allies seems unlikely in the near future in Syria, where Russia, Iran, the Assad government which Russia and Iran support, and Turkey in some areas, control most of the territory (bit.ly/syria-t).
The Russian government, which vehemently condemned the air-strikes, made no charges about civilian casualties from them (bit.ly/putin-s).
From a socialist point of view, it cannot but be a good thing if Assad’s chemical-weapons capacity has been diminished.
That does not imply that we endorsed, or should have endorsed, the military action by the USA and its allies, let alone that we endorse Britain taking part without the Government consulting Parliament.
We have no confidence in the USA, or the British state, as world police. They have sought to act as world police for many decades. They do so in a way conditioned by the world-wide profit-grabbing, social-resistance-suppressing interests of the USA’s and the UK’s big capitalist corporations.
Frequently “peace-keeping” has been a pretext for war, or for intervention to help whatever local faction best suits the US or British rulers.
One particular operation going “well” — if it did — is not such a prize as to disqualify radical distrust. In this case, the air-strikes leave Assad and his allies in control and with ample military capacities to kill and to oppress.
To have an attitude of radical distrust of and intransigent independence from the big powers’ actions is, however, a different matter from presenting the Russia-Iran-Assad axis as a lesser evil.
According to the World Health Organisation, on 7 April in the Islamist-rebel-held city of Douma, in the eastern Ghouta area on the outskirts of Syria’s capital, Damascus, “an estimated 500 patients presented to health facilities exhibiting signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals. In particular, there were signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems of those exposed.
“More than 70 people sheltering in basements have reportedly died, with 43 of those deaths related to symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals”.
Syrian exile organisations have collated more detailed reports (bit.ly/sohr-d), and charged the Assad regime with using chemical weapons against civilians. Assad has a history of using chemical weapons and of murderous reprisals against civilians even before the 2011 uprising.
The attack was followed by the Islamist rebel group which had controlled eastern Ghouta fleeing, and the Assad government taking control of the area.
Investigators from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons were able to get into the now Assad-controlled area only on 21 April. A UN reconnaissance group working with the OPCW was forced to withdraw by small-arms fire on an earlier attempt, on 18 April.
Yet the Morning Star reported no details of the casualties on 7 April. It was indignant only against the reports that the Syrian government carried out the attack (bit.ly/ms-douma), arguing alternately either that Islamist rebels had carried out the attack, or that there had been no casualties at all.
For the following two weeks it agitated as if war in Syria were not a reality of many years, but only a threat which might be opened by US military action.
The Stop the War campaign, now run by Counterfire, chimed in, with the Morning Star website carrying an audio interview with Stop the War convenor Lindsey German (24 April).
Socialist Worker and The Socialist were more willing to think that Assad might have carried out attacks, but still saw the US-led strikes on military targets as a much worse thing than the civilian casualties on 7 April.
After conceding on 10 April that the 7 April attacks were real and “likely carried out by Syrian regime forces”, Socialist Worker on 17 April stressed that “details of the reported attack had not been confirmed”. In any case, its 10 April report started with condemnation not of the attacks, but of what SW saw as the greater evil: “the bluster and grandstanding of Western leaders”.
The Socialist, while assuring readers it gave no support to Assad, focused on exculpating him. “Why would the Syrian army launch a chemical attack now? ... this recent attack might have been initiated by ‘rebel’ jihadist forces...”
The left needs to break from presenting the most reactionary forces as lesser evils simply on the grounds that they are in conflict with the USA.