Srebrenica, Halabja and Syria today?

I feel very concerned about what is considered to be the ‘lefts’ view, or the ‘anti-war’ view on Syria.

The Stop the War movement, in particular, was stained with its association with people such as Galloway, who was a friend of Saddam and who still proclaims his friendship with Assad. In spite of my reservations about the leadership of the Stop the War campaign, I was very active in opposition to the invasion of Iraq. But what is happening in Syria is not a simple repetition of Iraq.

After the shameful invasion of Iraq in particular, but on every occasion, it is right that we are sceptical, even cynical, about what we are told by those who advocate war. And we should be aware of the undemocratic nature of all armies – their records of atrocities, secrecy, dishonesty and lack of democratic accountability.

However, I feel a lot of the ‘Hands Off Syria’ agitation is, however, motivated by narrow nationalist considerations. There is little mention of Assad’s war on his own people and what could or should be done about it. Socialists cannot allow themselves to be seen as only concerned about British interests as the ‘anti-war’ UKIP are. The more that we argue, as we should, that imperialist oil interests and arms manufacturers should get their ‘Hands Off’ Syria, the stronger we should also call for the international workers and socialist movement to put their ‘Hands On’ – in support of the Syrian people.

In Beeston North Labour Party next week, we will be discussing the situation in Syria. This is my contribution to that debate based on a somewhat long earlier Facebook ‘status update’


How many of us remember Srebrenica – when Mladic commanding the Bosnian Serb militias massacred 8,000 in a concentration camp in 1995, while a UN Dutch ‘peace-keeping’ force watched and did nothing? I can’t help feeling as we watch what is happening in Syria that this could be another Srebenica moment.

It could be a Halabja moment as well, when a similar act of mass murder using chemical weapons was committed on over 3,000 Iraqi Kurds. That act was pretty much ignored by the West because it was carried out by someone who was considered to be an ally at that time, Saddam Hussain.

The UK are doing nothing in response to the gas attack in Syria. We don’t know what the US will do. We have to be aware of the history of US interventions – in Iraq, Vietnam, and many, many other countries. We can have no trust or confidence that the material interests of the oil companies and other imperialist considerations won’t determine the nature of their intervention – particularly if military action is sustained and less in the public eye. There have been many examples in previous interventions that show the inherent brutality and racism of the US army: atrocities in Vietnam like Mi Lai; in Iraq at Falujah and Abu Graib.

It is crazy that there appears to be no military force on Earth that can be trusted to go to the assistance of the people of Syria. It is crazy but true.

The UN is a coalition of capitalist powers and – in the Security Council particularly – of opposing imperialist powers. As long as a tyrant keeps just one of the US, UK, France, Russia or China onside, they can veto any UN intervention. Consequently the UN, whilst often useful in gathering information on tyrannical regimes, is usually paralysed when required to act against them.

The main enemy of the Syrian people and any hopes of a Syrian democracy is overwhelmingly Assad. Anyone who denies that should be ashamed when they watch footage of the brutalities committed by Assad. Any organised opposition to US or UK intervention has to say clearly that Assad is the perpetrator of a war on his own people. Significant elements of those now fighting Assad have Islamist sectarian agendas and undemocratic ambitions. We should have no illusions in them. But to claim that the evidence against Assad is just another ‘dodgy dossier’ looks less credible as time goes on.

But how should we respond? Of course, we need to overturn capitalism, democratise and purge the military of their high command. The army high commands of the US and the UK are an integral part of the class that materially benefits from imperialist domination and the propping up, when it suits them, of compliant dictatorships throughout the world. They are an integral part of the capitalist class that oppress us. In the 70s, parts of this UK senior officer class considered carrying out a military coup in the UK against an incoming Labour government they feared would operate in the interests of trade unions. From that point of view, in both the US and the UK, the main enemy of the working class is at home. But the overthrow of capitalism isn’t going to happen any time soon. It would be preposterous to argue that the Syrian people have to wait until then before they can ask or receive military assistance.

In the meantime we are unfortunately largely spectators – we can express our dissent but we cannot pretend that there are military agencies that we can ‘send in’ or trust.

We don’t know what Obama will instruct the US military to do. We cannot say ‘go ahead, do as you like, you have our support’. Many say that a US intervention is likely to lead to a catastrophe. I agree with that. ‘Likely’ but not inevitable. It is the interests of the Syrian people which should be paramount with any socialist or internationalist. It is, of course, very difficult to know who can speak for the Syrian people and too easy for those from outside to claim they are acting on their behalf when they are not. But from many reports I have read, Syrians amongst the 2 million refugees are desperate for some military support even though many of them have a long-standing and justifiable suspicion about the US and its interests in the Middle East. It is possible that a limited US intervention may be valued by the Syrian people.

It is possible that Obama thinks that an intervention of that nature may give the US credibility with a future post-Assad regime and its people. So to condemn in advance any form of US military intervention would be foolish in my view. But I don’t trust them and never will.

Modified slightly at 13:48, Saturday, 31st Aug, 2013

Correction of typo re date of Srebenica, 1995 not 1985, corrected, 08:19, Sunday, 1st Sept

Correction made 07:55, Monday, 2nd Aug, see comment


4 thoughts on “Srebrenica, Halabja and Syria today?

  1. Pingback: Damascene Conversions? | Beestonia's Blog

  2. Robert

    I may be wrong, but wasn’t it Dutch (and not Danish) troops who stood by at Srebrenica while the massacre was committed?

    1. Pete Radcliff Post author

      You’re absolutely right Robert. I will correct it so no-one copies the error. Thanks for the correction.

  3. Chris

    We have made the correct decision to stay out of military intervention. We have a terrible track record of Middle East intervention over the past hundred years and one we should learn from. No matter how much we try to ignore it, throwing bombs in for the best of intentions or to “save lives” inevitably leads to further chaos, enhances the civil war, risks further gas attack, promotes the uncontrolled groups operating in region and strengthens the resolve of Russia and Iran. Combine any intervention as a joint mission with the US or France and its suddenly riddled with politic which kills of any chance of the original objectives being achieved. Our record as a military coalition with France in Syria is a joke.
    Syria is the centre piece in the political minefield of the Middle East and one I fear is too complex for anyone to resolve through missiles or the supply of weapons, this applies to all countries including Saudi, Iran and Russia who have already chosen to take this approach.
    If you need a simple reason of why we should not intervene Blair said Yes. What better reason do you need to say no.


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