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How do we stop war on Syria?

Paul Stevenson

September 25, 2013

The anti-war movement in Canada and around the world dealt a blow to the interests of US imperialism by, at the very least, postponing the planned US attack on Syria.
This is no small feat. When the initial reports of a chemical weapons attack came out on August 21, it appeared that a new coalition of the willing was about to lay siege to the people of Syria. US warships armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles began assembling in the eastern Mediterranean, waiting for the call to fire.
Victory to the anti-war movements
It was the brilliant demonstrations in the UK that caused the British Parliament to rebuff the calls from Prime Minister David Cameron to be part of an attack. The legacy of the Iraq war made British parliamentarians wary of getting into another debacle based on flimsy evidence.
That pushback was historic and it put US president Barack Obama in a difficult position. He couldn't secure a resolution for war from the UN and now his closest imperial ally pulled out. He decided that he needed some official body to legitimize the attack and so he went to the US congress. Americans, sick of more than a decade of war, are overwhelmingly opposed to an attack and began pressuring congress to say no to war.
The deal to secure Syrian chemical weapons, brokered by the Russians, offered a way out. And since Obama was close to losing the vote, he decided to climb back from the precipice.
This was a victory for the anti-war movement. The networks that were built before the attack on Iraq were able to mobilize very quickly. Even in Canada, where the Harper government had already stated that it would not be part of an attack, there were more than a dozen demonstrations across the country on two consecutive weekends.
Potential attack
The potential for an attack still remains. The imperial powers are spending their time now trying to build a stronger case for war, and the US is working to ensure the world that a military strike is still “on the table.”
What the Syria situation shows is that there is a huge debate within the US ruling class about how to project its power globally. They would like to see Assad removed, which would be a boost to plans for a potential attack on Iran, but they are unable to decide how to accomplish this task. They are also debating this question from a position of some weakness.
The relative decline of the US has been developing for decades. After the Second World War, the US was by far the dominant economic and military power in the world. The USSR was also powerful militarily but it wasn't able to project that power the way the US was. Over the decades, other economic rivals began to develop, thus reducing America's dominance on the global stage.
Since the end of the cold war, the US has been desperate to use its advantageous position to keep potential rivals at bay. It hasn't been completely successful. The emerging BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) have been growing and have formed a series of alliances aimed at limiting US influence globally. The military attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan have been failures for the US. Despite spending almost 4 trillion dollars on those wars, they haven't been able to secure the kind of control they wanted.
The US desperately needs to show that it can still project that power internationally. Syria has become a test case, and the possibility of an attack is still real. The anti-war movement will need to continue to discuss, debate and mobilize.
Debates and the United Front
There are a series of debates within the movements against the war that have come up about the approach to the resistance and the government of Bashar Al-Assad. There are sections of the movement that are arguing that we need to support the opposition to the government as part of the call against war, and others that argue the movements should be firmly in support of Assad as an anti-imperialist fighter.
Both approaches are a problem for the anti-war movement. The situation in Syria is incredibly complex, with many different sections of the opposition espousing very different politics. Some sections of the opposition are, in fact, in favour of a US attack. On the other hand, those who support Assad often do so not because he is seen as a freedom fighter but because he is now in opposition to the US.
What this has created is a very divisive debate among the left, and within the Syrian and broader Arab community. For the anti-war movement to have any chance of success we need all those people to participate. Any call to action that supports one side over the other simply sets an artificial barrier to that participation. The best way socialists in the West can help Syrian revolutionaries is by stopping our own government's war drive.
The tactic of the united front aims to build a broad campaign, with socialists working side-by-side with larger progressive groups such as unions, faith groups and students. Each of those organizations will have their own position on an issue like Syria. The job of the united front is to bring them all to the table to focus on the central question; in this case, it's NATO/US/Canadian military intervention.
Many larger organizations that support the peace movement are loath to enter into the complex debate but are quite clear in their opposition to an attack. To make it a requirement that these groups must sign on to support for the opposition or the government would effectively end their participation in the movement.
The central question for the anti-war movement in Canada is how to stop our government from participating in an attack—not to decide the future of Syria. On that there is a broad consensus and that must be maintained. There is too much at stake, particularly in Canada, where the Harper government is pursuing rapid militarization and where anti-war groups need all the help they can get in pushing back against that agenda.
Join the discussion "Syria, imperialism and the Arab Spring" this sunday, September 29 in Toronto.

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