Simon Assaf writes for Socialist Aotearoa.
Take, for example, a widely circulated interview with Tariq Ali, where he claims that the struggle in Syria is part of “a new process of recolonisation”. Although I have great respect and affection for Tariq, I think this is nonsense.
Undoubtedly, the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 did lead to the country’s temporary recolonisation, under a “Coalition Provisional Authority” headed by a Washington-appointed neoconservative.
But the resistance to the occupation meant this project badly rebounded on its authors. The new regime created by US military power ultimately forced it to withdraw its forces from Iraq.
The idea that Syria is being “recolonised” implies that it is a long-standing Western priority to remove the Assad regime. But there is no evidence of this. Under Bashar’s father Hafez, the Syrian state established itself as a brutal but reliable capitalist manager.
Undoubtedly the outbreak of the Syrian revolution has encouraged the regime’s regional opponents to seize on the opportunity to replace it with something more congenial.
This is particularly true of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose Sunni Muslim rulers dislike the Assads’ roots in what they regard as the heretical Alawi sect and Syria’s alliance with Shia Iran.
There is plenty of evidence that the Gulf states have been supplying arms to some of the forces fighting the regime. And the West has stepped in to call for Assad’s removal.
But the chances that the US and Britain will follow this up by sending troops to Syria, or even providing air cover to the rebels as they did in Libya, are remote.
This is partly because they are scared of repeating the Iraq debacle. But it is also because of the support Russia is giving the Assad regime, its last ally in the Middle East.
Elsewhere in the interview Tariq says that the Syrian people want neither the Western-backed Syrian National Council nor the Assad regime. I think this is probably true, at least of the majority.
But where is this majority? There is considerable evidence that very large numbers of people are demonstrating against the regime, and sometimes fighting it, but don’t call for Western intervention.
In recent weeks the revolution has spread to the two biggest cities, Aleppo and Damascus. Rebel fighters have tried unsuccessfully to seize the centres of both cities.
Are Tariq and those who agree with him sure that these are all puppets of the US and the Gulf reactionaries? If so, they are being betrayed by their masters, since the regime's forces have been able to beat them back because they lack tanks and heavy weapons.
Nevertheless, the evidence is that the regime is now taking heavy casualties—and not just thanks to spectaculars such as last week’s bomb that took out several of Assad’s top cronies.
The fighting bears all the hallmarks of an improvised and desperate armed rising. We can argue over whether it was wise politically for the rebels to militarise their struggle so quickly. We may regret the absence of the independent working class action that has been so important in the Egyptian revolution.
But the way that its Syrian counterpart has so rapidly developed into a civil war doesn’t alter the fact that its roots lie in popular revolt.
One thing the Arab revolutions have revealed is that much of the left in the region is politically dead. The best evidence is provided by those elements in the Egyptian Communist Party who backed the military candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, in the recent presidential elections.
Those in the Western left who allow a reflexive and unthinking “anti-imperialism” to set them against the Syrian revolution are simply confessing their own bankruptcy.
A devastating bomb attack on Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle has exposed deep fractures and a crisis of confidence inside his regime.
The bomb, which wiped out senior military and intelligence commanders, triggered a number of defections, among them senior officers and conscripts.
The battle over Damascus spurred the West, as well as the Arab League, to propose another exit deal for Assad that would keep the regime in place.
And fears over the breakup of Syria have spread panic among Western powers and their Arab allies.
After the blast, rebels launched an uprising in Damascus. Small groups of lightly armed fighters went on the offensive in the capital. The uprising spread to the Palestinian refugee camp and the working class neighbourhoods.
A counter attack by the much-feared Shabiha militia and elite units drove out the rebels. But the offensive struck a severe political blow to the regime.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is now challenging for control of many of the key roads linking major cities.
The battle was ongoing as this article was written. To lose Aleppo, the country’s commercial and industrial centre, would spell doom for the regime.
In the beginning, Assad wanted to derail the revolution with mass arrests and military strikes on rebel strongholds combined with an attempt to re-launch limited reforms.
These reforms failed. The few voices that could be considered a “loyal opposition”, along with those who called for peaceful change, were silenced by the regime early in the revolution.
The repression transformed this movement into an armed uprising. The regime has transformed key cities to rubble. The rebels have no answer to this overwhelming force.
Even arming a small group of rebels becomes prohibitive. This makes them vulnerable—on the battlefield and in maintaining the revolution’s independence.
So far the vast majority of funds have come from inside the revolution. Foreign funding to the Western-friendly exile group the Syrian National Council (SNC) has gone astray amid accusations of corruption.
But this could change if Western powers lose faith in a “transition plan” and begin to pour in weapons—and look for allies.
The Syrian regime is vulnerable and weak. This is giving the revolt an opportunity for victory, but there are many dangers.
The popular leadership has maintained its influence over the masses, and remains trusted. And they have been coordinating closely with the rebel military leadership.
But the longer the fighting continues, the bigger the danger will be of foreign powers stepping in to hijack the revolution. For the revolution to succeed, there must be no Western internvention.
Kurds and the revoltKurdish insurgents have taken over most government positions in the north east of Syria and are challenging for control over the regional capital Qamishli.
The Kurds, who make up a sizable ethnic minority, have faced decades of repression. At the outbreak of the revolution these regions quickly moved to assert their independence— raising the Kurdish flag alongside that of the revolt.
But after Kurdish parties were frozen out of the “official” opposition formations, suspicions grew of the SNC.
Both Turkey and Kurdish Iraq want influence in the area but the liberated remain with the revolution. But the Kurdish authorities in Iraq are threatening to send in a “stabilisation” force, ignoring the revolution’s demand that they stay out of Syria.