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‘No-fly zone’ is no solution for Syria

January 4, 2017

The Syrian government assault on Aleppo resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe. The offensive was accompanied by the same brutality we have seen far too often since the Syrian revolution rose in 2011.  Estimates of casualties are notoriously difficult to verify but civilian deaths always peak when an offensive squeezes civilians into smaller and smaller areas.

The western media described the carnage in great detail – a courtesy never afforded to the people of Fallujah or Tripoli or Sana. That sort of hypocrisy is all too common. When describing the evils of far away and unaligned regimes, the gloves are off while the war crimes of the western powers themselves are glossed over.

Nevertheless, the brutality of the assault caused people across the world to call for the west to “do something” to end the brutality. It is an understandable sentiment but one that carries many risks when being implemented. That’s why we have and remain opposed to any western intervention.

Imperial intervention

US led NATO powers are not benign humanitarian states who have simply made some mistakes over the past few dozen wars. They are aggressive imperial powers whose ultimate goal remains control of resources, markets and strategic areas for the benefit of domestic capitol.  The Middle East is in chaos, not because there has not been enough western intervention but because there has been far too much.

The illegal and brutal invasion of Iraq, which killed a million people, facilitated the rise of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and ISIS in the first place. Prior to that, decades of western manipulation - from sanctions to regime change to outright war - attempted to control every country in the region. US sponsorship of the Israeli state and of the dictatorships in the region has created the powder keg that blew up with the arrival of the Arab Spring in 2011.

The sheer scale of US led military interventions over the decades has caused some to see the intervention of Russia on the side of the Syrian government as some sort of counter balance to the untrammelled imperialism of the US.  This misses a crucial point about the nature of imperialism and allows for the crimes of the Russian and Syrian state to go unchallenged. It is also a negation of any discussion of class, which is crucial for our understanding of how the world works.

The ruling classes in Russia and Syria are the enemies of working people as much as the rulers of the NATO forces are. Their ascendancy will not mean liberation for the people of Syria or anywhere else in the region. Russian control simply shifts the burden of imperial proxy occupation from one set of ruling stooges to another.

And we also need to be clear that the US wants no part in supporting a true Syrian revolution from below. The history of US interventions from Latin America to the Middle East to East Asia has always been led by the destruction of any democratic forces that would seek independence from US domination.

If a US “No-Fly Zone” were implemented it would only ever be used to serve the interests of the US empire, not the interests of the people in revolt. In Libya, an uprising under threat became a call for NATO intervention that left the country in ruins, killed 30,000 people and left the people, revolutionary or not, beholden to anti-democratic forces that are making deals with the west.

In the case of Syria, a western no fly zone also has the added complication of requiring direct military confrontation with Russia. The consequences of that potential inter-imperial conflict would be enormous and would lead us to a world of conflict that would dramatically shrink the spaces open for an internationalist left globally.


At the Cairo anti-war conferences in the mid 2000’s the phrase, “The road to Jerusalem goes through Cairo” was heard again and again. The phrase came to man that the liberation of the people of Palestine and of the whole Middle East cannot be achieved unless the Arab dictatorships are overthrown by revolutionary forces on the ground.

At that time, the destruction of the Iraqi state by the US was proof that western invasions, while they may topple dictators, will not bring freedom to the people.  Similarly, the Syrian state was included in the list of dictatorships that needed to be eliminated to allow for true liberation to occur.

The only solution must come from the people. As Afghan revolutionary Malalai Joya said, “No nation can donate liberation to another nation. These values must be fought for and won by the people themselves. They can only grow and flourish when they are planted by the people in their own soil and watered by their own blood and tears.”

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