The enormity, complexity and fall-out of the Syrian war calls for urgent attention. Current events in Aleppo bring to the fore the unreliability of information and dichotomous political positions that contribute to obstruction and paralysis in the antiwar movement. Conflicting reports make unclear the number of civilians and fighters who have been evacuated, their condition, their political beliefs, their situation as refugees in Idlib, the civilian toll perpetrated by all sides. Instead of verifiable facts and pertinent history, much that is said about Aleppo is speculation about the future, about whether the re-taking of rebel areas of Aleppo will consolidate Bashar al-Assad's hold or whether it will engender even worse violence. There is much second guessing of the imperial and geopolitical aims of international players.
Perhaps one significant difference as of December 20th is that Russia and China have not vetoed UN Security Council Resolution 2328 (2016) “Demanding immediate, unhindered access for observation of monitoring civilian evacuations from Aleppo.” Since the onset of the war, Russia vetoed six and China vetoed five Security Council resolutions. Also, Iran, Russia, and Turkey have just agreed to guarantee Syrian peace talks but have been unwilling to include other parties in their planning.
In October, Bassam Haddad wrote in The Nation, “The Debate Over Syria Has Reached a Dead End,” that “two warring narratives now dominate discussions – and neither is sufficient.” Haddad argued that “the heart-wrenching news from Syria have [has] been saturated with data, analysis, information, and misinformation on developments” and that both sides have adopted hypocritical stances regarding intervention.
The binary positions leave out the effects of recent history, especially the impunity accorded to nation states acting in violation of international law: the UN Iraq sanctions that starved a half million Iraqi children, the sieges of Fallujah and Gaza, the uses of unconventional weapons, the Saudi, U.S., Israeli, Syrian attacks on health facilities and on civilians, and the atrocities perpetrated against civilians and their essential infrastructure by most modern states. Gilbert Achcar writes of this same hypocrisy and narrowness in Arab political opinion with no third side condemning bombing in itself as criminal. One side condemns the Syrian/Russian bombing of Syrian cities but keeps silent about the Saudi bombing of Yemeni cities and rural areas, and vice versa. He writes that both these powers and their allies aim to crush the revolutionary process.
There is much division on the Left. At one pole is the U.S.-based United National Antiwar Coalition's (UNAC) full support of the Assad regime. Richard Fidler summarizes and critiques a range of other positions of the Western Left noting a division regarding Syria on (1) whether to focus on an antiwar movement targeting all factions or only to fight against “your own government's drive to war,” or (2) whether to support the Syrian people against the forces of imperialism and authoritarianism. Fidler disagrees with this dichotomizing in that “building mass antiwar movements is precisely the clearest and most direct way to express solidarity with the victims of imperialist war and the democratic and revolutionary forces on a global scale.”
The current French antiwar movement, for example, is at least actively demanding an immediate end to the bombing in Syria, departure of foreign militias and occupation armies, international prosecution of war criminals, French government assurance of protection of Syrian people who do not have “the necessary means to defend themselves against the air bombing,” access to the besieged and starving populations in coordination with elected local councils, and the freeing of all political prisoners. However, these demands leave out some of the crucial details that beleaguer effectiveness: what are the “necessary means” of defense against bombing, and what will the French actually offer to the besieged population?
From Samer Abboud's Syria (Polity, 2016), often neglected points about the political economy and recent history can be summarized.
Phyllis Bennis calls for stopping the Global War on Terror. In her October, 2016 article in The Nation, “The War in Syrian Can Not Be Won. But It Can Be Ended,” Bennis contended that “the left is profoundly divided over the [Syrian] conflict, but we should at least agree on a set of principles to end it.” She proposed:
The U.S. military industrial complex extends to over one thousand overseas bases; U.S. arms flow directly or through proxies throughout the Middle East. Any effective action to end the Syrian war, must also take on U.S. involvement and its military. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's figure for overall 2016 military spending is over $1.2-trillion. The Institute for Economics and Peace's Global Peace Index more comprehensive estimate of the economic impact of violence was $13.6-trillion in 2015. The arms trade also includes the black market with its ties to offshore banking, arms captured from government supplies or left over by the U.S. in Iraq and Libya, and arms provided particularly by Saudi Arabia. Andrew Feinstein, in his The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade (2011), researched the constant flux of arms networks in which the ready availability of small arms and mobile weapons systems “is undoubtedly a consequence of some of this violence, it is also a precipitating cause” (p. 435).
The Vietnam antiwar movement differed significantly in its breadth and persistence from current antiwar efforts. It followed the repressive McCarthy era and the Cuban missile crisis. Eventually the movement reached a wider public and military personnel, and it linked together opposition to war, racism, poverty, and nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. A massive education and research component exposed colluding corporations, universities, and at times – humanitarian aid. Not known then was the extent of government deception which led to millions of deaths.
In contrast to war spending are the dramatic reductions from member states to UN aid programs. Total donations from member states to the UN World Food Program fell by 96 per cent in 2014. Donations in 2016 were approximately $5-billion. At present, there are seventy walled borders worldwide and 65.3 million refugees. Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey have taken in millions of refugees while liberal democracies incarcerate refugees in detention centers and send them back to violent regimes.
Neoliberal democracies including the United States, Canada, and Israel, use “lawfare” to rationalize illegal military and policing interventions. Principles like the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ and ‘Least Possible Evil’ are used by authoritarian leaders and elite national security bureaucrats to perpetrate illegal interventions and war crimes.
Canada participates with a hypocritical veneer of peacekeeping and liberalism. In reality, Canada is now the 2nd largest arms exporter to the Middle East, having just sold $15-billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. Canada is the 6th largest arms exporter worldwide. The Trudeau government has further weakened arms export regulations to countries with gross human rights violations. Canada was one of the only non-nuclear weapons states this last October to vote against a UN resolution to eliminate nuclear weapons and has secretly contributed to U.S. missile defense. The Trudeau government is upping military deployment in questionable and provocative NATO missions encircling Russia. Canadian pension funds invest heavily in Canadian, American, and Israeli weapons. Like other western neoliberal democracies, military spending increases, the extractive industries expand, while social programmes suffer big cuts.
Syria is still treated as a distant reality. Psychotically, Syria will likely not disrupt holiday cheer, while ominous dark clouds loom over the new year. The global war against the people (as Jeff Halper refers to militarized neoliberalism) is being fought with political impunity and with increasingly horrific technology. It demands an antiwar movement in Canada and the U.S. that is unrelenting in its opposition to the global arms trade, to militarization and austerity regimes, to resurgent racialized nationalism and closed borders, and to ineffectual international institutions. •
Judith Deutsch is a columnist for Canadian Dimension Magazine, former president of Science for Peace, and a psychoanalyst by profession.Add a comment