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Syria: The moral imperative to act

Some left-wing writers and spokespeople look to Syria and see Vietnam. They are terribly wrong. The moral and historic duty of any progressive person is to stand by the Syrian people’s struggle for freedom and help them topple the genocidal Assad regime.

By Assaf Adiv (translated from Hebrew by Ann Lavi)

Illustrative photo of a militant (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

The U.S.-Russian Geneva agreement on disarming Syria of chemical weapons, signed in mid-September, has postponed the showdown with the Assad regime. As the world watches how this new collaboration between Putin and Obama works out, the real question for the Syrian people remains as before: how to end the killing. In this respect, there is still relevance to the debate that erupted on the eve of what everyone thought would be a decision by Obama to attack Assad.

The voices opposing Obama’s tough stance came from both right and left. From the right there was an article published by Professor Moshe Arens in (Haaretz September 3, 2013) claiming that when evil fights evil, it’s best to stay away: “The sad truth is that both sides in the conflict are forces of darkness.” A similar position was taken by Edward N. Luttwak, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a respected author, who posted an op-ed in the New York Times suggesting that the American administration should let both sides in Syria shed their blood, making sure neither is strong enough to win.

The left-wingers who opposed “war on Syria” did not seem to notice Assad’s ongoing war that has been tearing Syria and the Syrian people apart. These leftists find themselves today, unintentionally, providing excuses and justifications for the crimes of Assad’s regime. Tariq Ali, for instance, is a prominent figure of the British Left who has persistently supported the struggle for colonial liberation since the Vietnam War. He sees Syria in terms of Vietnam. Accordingly, he does not notice the difference in time and social forces. At the end of August, just after the chemical attack, Tariq Ali explained in an interview to the American radio show, Democracy Now, why there is no solid basis to hold Assad’s regime responsible for the attack. The real cause for the planned American intervention, he said, is not the nature of the Assad regime and its crimes but the intention of America and Israel to punish Hezbollah and Iran for their anti-western position.

Israeli Knesset member Dov Khenin from Hadash (Communist Party Front) has joined his voice to the leftists who are waging the last war, instead of seeing the genocide in Syria and taking a position on it. In his Facebook page MK Khenin wrote after the massacre: “There has been a terrible civil war in Syria. More than two years ago, Syrian citizens went to demonstrations for the sake of the democratic change. Yet today those citizens find themselves trapped between the regime and Islamic extremist organizations.” This position stands in embarrassing resemblance to that of Moshe Arens mentioned earlier.

Changing the rules of the game

The rationale of left and right may be different. The outcome, though, is the same — they allow Assad to go on massacring his people This outcome could have continued for many months longer if the chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs had not changed the rules of the game.

On August 21, at the dawn of black Wednesday, social networks and information agencies began posting terrible images of children who had suffocated to death from the gas attack in Guta, a suburb of the capital Damascus. This appalling act, which killed more than 1,400 defenseless citizens, was possible only because of the passivity and forgiveness demonstrated up to now by the West towards Assad. Assisted by the Russians and Iranians, Assad activated his destructive arsenal against his own people, while the rebels who are still standing have almost no means.

Since the outbreak of civil war in Syria, America and the other western countries have allowed themselves to ignore events there and to hope that the problem would just disappear. Western public opinion, and particularly the American one, perceives Arabs, and especially Muslims, as mortal enemies — an attitude that can be dated at least to September 11, 2001. While American troops are licking their wounds from the Iraqi and Afghanistan interventions, and while the whole country is in state of financial crisis and deep political division, the mere idea of an additional intervention in a Muslim country’s war evokes resistance.

The US could have provided massive support to the opposition already two years ago. It could have provided a safe corridor for the refugees, as the opposition demanded. It could have sent sophisticated armaments to the military wing of the civil opposition, the “Free Syrian Army.” Acting in this way could have helped shorten the civil war, ending the bloodshed before it became genocide. But all this has not happened. That is why, when the deadly chemical attack occurred, it was such an embarrassment for Obama.

An authentic national movement

The use of Sarin gas against the citizens of Syria joins Assad’s methodical use of napalm, fragmentation bombs and the targeting of people in line at bakeries or crowded funerals in the rebel-dominated areas. The regime’s speakers attempt to justify this military repression by claiming that the rebel forces are largely from al-Qaida, which they warn will be the only alternative to Assad.

But this rational is baseless. Those on the left who adopt it and tend to legitimate the Syrian regime are destroying the image of the Left in the view of public opinion. To imply that the people of Syria are passive and impotent, and that therefore the rebellion against Assad must be an imperialist scheme or the work of Islamic extremists, you negate the basic tenet of the Left that the people is the creator of history.

The claims of the self-proclaimed leftist spokespersons, according to which Assad is the lesser of two evils, reveal a total blindness as to what is happening in Syria, namely, the struggle of the Syrian people against dictatorship. The conspiracy theory does not align with the facts. First of all, Syria is neither Afghanistan nor Somalia. It has a more developed economic and cultural infrastructure. It has a tradition of struggle for independence where Christians and Druze leaders played major roles. It has a solid class of intelligentsia and professionals that could be the basis for building a democratic society. The brave and sustainable mass resistance to Assad that started in March 2011 was a direct continuation of the Arab Spring and it showed that the Syrian people is waging a genuine popular struggle for democracy and social justice.

The people of Syria became sick and tired of the dictatorship of Assad’s family. They turned to nonviolent demonstrations throughout Syria, in which hundreds of thousands took part. In September 2011, the Syrian National Council was established as the major oppositional coalition, which was supposed to lead the revolution and replace the existing government. Among the partners of the National Council were those who six years earlier had initiated the Damascus Declaration, which called for the democratization of Syria and for social justice. The Council included leading left and secular parties, intellectuals, and the strong Muslim Brotherhood movement in Syria. This all inclusive coalition for democracy, which is the negation of the Jihadist extremists, appealed to the world for recognition and support to achieve its demands.

Verbal support only

No practical support came from the West. Assad, on the other hand, enjoyed support in weaponry, funding, and military staff from Russia and Iran, while Russia and China prevented any decision in the UN Security Council. Moreover, since November 2012, the U.S. has acted to impose on the opposition its own trustees, who would dictate arrangements that would preserve Assad’s government. The intrusion into the tactics and the leadership of the opposition severely damaged the prestige and position of revolutionary organizations, while the promised assistance never arrived. Not surprisingly, the result was a strengthening of the Jihadi forces at the expense of the secular ones.

Assad was quick to grasp the Western hesitation to support the opposition. But contrary to his claims, his regime is not the answer to the growing role of the Jihadists. In fact, Assad’s genocidal barbarism is the main factor lending them a sheen of legitimacy. His regime is the main beneficiary of their existence. As the prominent Syrian revolutionary author Yasin Haj Saleh explained in an op-ed in the New York Times, “Jihadist groups emerged roughly 10 months after the revolution started. Today, these groups are a burden on the revolution and the country, but not on the regime. On the contrary, their presence has enabled the regime to preserve its local base, and served to bolster its cause among international audiences. It is misguided to presume that Assad’s downfall would mean a jihadist triumph, but unfortunately this is the basis for the West’s position. A more accurate interpretation is that if Assad survives, then jihadism is sure to thrive.”

Assad should go

What the Syrian people need is reliable and consistent aid in the quest for democracy, economic justice, and stability. This aim can only be achieved by ousting the Assad regime and building a viable democratic system. Whether the chemical disarmament agreement will form a prelude to such a political solution remains to be seen. Without the guarantee that the killing will stop, this agreement will have no value. As Nicholas Kristof mentioned in the New York Times on September 4: “A decade ago, I was aghast that so many liberals were backing the Iraq war. Today, I’m dismayed that so many liberals, disillusioned by Iraq, seem willing to let an average of 165 Syrians be killed daily.” It is high time for those who want to be part of progressive humanity to ditch old dogmas and support the forces of a new Syria, letting them win.

Assaf Adiv is the founder and executive nmanager of WAC-MAAN – The Workers Advice Center. This article was first published in Challenge Magazine, a publication affiliated with the Daam workers party.

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    1. The Trespasser

      Yet another article written for 30 shekels.

      p.s. At least Assad troops are not cannibals.

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      Sending advanced weapons to any party in an armed conflict isn’t a good way to stop bloodshed, it’s the way to increase it. That’s what weapons do, they shed blood.

      Just like Obama’s bright idea of bombing Syria wouldn’t have stopped Assad from killing, it would have just added to the killing.

      Declaring a moral imperative to act requires that there first has to be an achievable moral outcome. IFF you can save lives, you have an obligation to act.

      Assisting refugees will save lives. Armed intervention probably will only make the situation worse.

      Reply to Comment
    3. “On August 21, at the dawn of black Wednesday, social networks and information agencies began posting terrible images of children who had suffocated to death from the gas attack in Guta, a suburb of the capital Damascus. This appalling act, which killed more than 1,400 defenseless citizens, was possible only because of the passivity and forgiveness demonstrated up to now by the West towards Assad.”
      You wrote this article before august 21, didn’t you?

      Reply to Comment
    4. sh

      When the Syrian revolution began, Libya was in the middle of a civil war in which the west did intervene despite Obama’s professed wish to reduce US involvement in conflicts abroad. The problem with Syria is that mayhem is coming at the population from so many different directions that no-one from the outside knows how to intervene.
      While criticism is justified, what’s missing from this article is a remedy. What form must your intervention take? Until that becomes clear, the left should be militating for much more to be done by “the west” to take in the massive number of refugees fleeing the country, some of whom will soon be spending their third winter in tents.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Philos

      More liberal and progressive bullshit. I wish these people would stop associating themselves with the Left. What kind of Leftist would be in favour of state military intervention? This is nought more than another essay authored by the guilty conscience of a middle-class person who feels “something must be done” to assuage his guilt.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >What kind of Leftist would be in favour of state military intervention?


        Damned leftists had killed tens and hundreds millions of people.

        Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, to name a few leftist butchers.

        Reply to Comment
        • Philos

          Name a Leftist thinker, other than Eric Hobsbawm, that has ever condoned any of those tyrants? Should I also tarnish rightists with Hitler, Mussolini and Franco? Grow the F-word up

          Reply to Comment
    6. Philos

      I should add that contrary to the claims in the essay there is no proof whatsoever that the uprising was as popular as claimed in the Western press. If it was nearly as popular as has been claimed then Assad would have been swept away by now. Rather, what we have, like in Egypt, was some young people (funded from the West) got some protests going and then the thing was hijacked by Islamic brotherhood. The author, and all the other rebel boosters, can’t turn away from the realpolitik that’s going in that country. Luttwak isn’t making a suggestion; he’s describing the policy!

      The Israeli left is clueless. Mostly because it doesn’t realize it isn’t very left wing

      Reply to Comment
        • Philos

          Asaf, you can’t be seriously quoting the NYT in support of your argument? This is the liberal warmongers paper of choice. Their declared editorial line is military intervention against Syria! That’s like quoting Netenyahu’s speeches to prove the Israeli government wants a peaceful partition of the land into two-states. Stop drinking from the NYT Kool-aid and try reading Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, Al-Jazeera op-eds (even though it’s mostly pro-war) and websites like Media Lens to get a fuller picture.

          Reply to Comment
          • assaf adiv

            the best source on Syria is the left and progressive Syrian writers some of them like Riad Turk Faik Mir and Yasin Haj Saleh are working in the underground since the beginning of the revolution in March 2011. another promiment member of the Syrian Democratic People Party is Georgw Sabra the chairperson of the Syrian National Council – these people spent years on Assad family mafia regime’s prisons since the 70’s – they are left and secular and i trust them as the reliable source on the events in Syria – Yasin Haj Saleh was interviewed by LeMonde after the Chemical attack in Guta and he reported that he stayed in Guta for weeks just before the Massacre and his wife and many activists there are in personal contact with him and they told him what happened there and who is responsible. If and when the NYTimes brings a story of the children of Dara’a you cannot just ignore it because you do not like the line of the paper

            Reply to Comment
          • Philos

            So your source of information are rebels and Syrian political exiles? I’m sure they provide a well balanced, realistic and unbiased perspective on Syria.
            Look anyone that’s in favour of war doesn’t have the Syrians best interests at heart. And that can include Syrians. I understand men like Salim Idriss. He defected and now he’s in a corner. To lose means death and many other Syrians are in the same situation, including soldiers and officers of the regime. So the best thing that can happen is a ceasefire, armistice and peace talks without ANY preconditions. That’s what the overwhelming majority of Syrians want; peace. If you support sending weapons or military intervention then you’re just part of the problem. Worse, you’re an awful bloody hypocrit because you have no stake in it whatsoever. No one you hold dear is going to die if the mutual slaughter continues.

            Here read this and get some perspective


            Reply to Comment
    7. USA’s moral imperative:

      “Our American partners are starting to blackmail us: ‘If Russia does not support a resolution under Chapter 7, then we will withdraw our support for Syria’s entry into the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). This is a complete departure from what I agreed with Secretary of State John Kerry’,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Channel 1’s Sunday Time programme.

      Chapter 7 of the UN charter would allow for potential military intervention in Syria.

      Reply to Comment
    8. eduardo

      I’ve never read an article with so many nonsense!!!

      Reply to Comment
    9. assaf adiv

      as fighting broke between the Qaida supported ISIS in the northern part of Syria and the FSA (the central command of the Opposition military wing)
      it becomes clear that what you have in Syria is not just two forces but three – the genocidal regime and lost all legitimacy with its killing and destroying the country to save itself and fostering sectarian conflict to serve its aims, the opposition with hundreds of LCC groups of activists led by the Coalition and the FSA (recognized by the Arabs and West as the legitimate force that can replace Assad) and the Jihadist groups who have a project of destruction in order for them to build the new Khilafa kingdom- it is up to all who support peace and reconstruction in Syria to make sure that the democratic opposition is strong enough to overcome the two other destructive options

      Reply to Comment
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