Syria - British government forced back from open war by ruling class splits

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In his anxiety to speed up the military attack on Syria, Prime Minister Cameron shot himself and British imperialism in the foot. The House of Commons vote on 29 August was lost 285 to 272, with the British Parliament rejecting increased and overt military intervention in Syria. Many of Cameron's own party voted against the government's motion. Britain will now be unable openly to take part in military action without a further vote – something the humiliated Coalition government is unlikely to rush into again. The British state will continue to wage covert war.

The alleged chemical weapons attacks in Ghouta, Damascus, on 21 August 2013, were the pretext the war-mongering Coalition government needed to push for air-strikes against Syria. The balance of forces in Syria's war was tipping in favour of the Syrian government and imperialism wants to tip it back. The dash to open war exposed big splits in the British ruling class, and both motions for intervention were defeated – the Coalition's and Labour's. This will not mean an end to the covert war the British state has been fighting against Syria for more than two years. Imperialism cannot tolerate a strong, independent state at the heart of the Middle East. US and French imperialism are preparing for a direct attack. The dangers of the conflict engulfing the Middle East and beyond remain. Already 100,000 people have died in this imperialist-orchestrated 'civil war'. Almost two million people have been made refugees. However, the bottom line will always be its financial and strategic objectives – never the ‘humanitarian’ concerns it claims to have. The war on Syria must be opposed.

Syrian opposition forces have used rumours of chemical weapons on previous occasions to encourage imperialist intervention and increase their supply of heavy weapons. These rumours have met with scepticism; UN official Carla del Ponte even stated on 6 May 2013 that there were 'strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof' that the weapons were used by rebel forces. Over a year ago US President Obama set use of chemical weapons as a 'red-line' for US intervention in Syria. The US used rumours of previous chemical weapons use to begin openly arming opposition forces in June 2013. The alleged Ghouta attack was quickly accepted as the responsibility of Assad's government by all those gearing for intervention. The Syrian opposition rapidly circulated extensive footage of hundreds of people having trouble breathing and suffering convulsions, claiming 1,300 fatalities. Medecin sans Frontieres reported treating 3,600 Syrians suffering from symptoms consistent with the use of chemical weapons with 355 fatalities (24 August, MSF). UN weapons inspectors were given a mandate to determine if there had been an attack, and what agent was used. However, determining blame was never within the UN remit – this was always going to be a political decision, where evidence was secondary. Cameron explained in Parliament on 29 August that he had made a 'judgement' that the Syrian government was responsible, but he could not be '100% certain'. This was enough for him to push for war.

The concern simulated by imperialist leaders about the use of chemical weapons is sickening hypocrisy. Where was this outrage when the US used white phosphorus and depleted uranium against the people of Fallujah in 2004, or Agent Orange throughout South-East Asia in the 1960s? The US and British governments expressed no concern when the Israeli state used white phosphorus and other banned weapons against the densely populated Gaza Strip in 2009? There was no US and British government outrage at the gassing to death of over 5,000 Kurds at Halabja by Iraq in 1988. The US, Britain and others supplied the gas with which Iraq killed tens of thousands of Iranian soldiers in the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war.

NATO powers justified the war in Iraq in 2003 with 'evidence' of the state's possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Several years later there were over one million Iraqis dead, and no WMD. The imperialist destruction of Libya, led by Britain and France, was justified with assertions of an imminent massacre in Benghazi. This was another fabrication – the only massacre was the 50,000 dead from NATO bombs. We cannot trust their 'evidence' for war, or anything else they tell us. The British ruling class and its allies are willing to do whatever it takes to defend their financial and strategic interests.

In the motion that his government put to Parliament, David Cameron was asking too much of the British ruling class. They are divided over deeper military involvement in the Syrian war and conflict in the Middle East. The Labour Party’s caution expresses a section of the ruling class’s apprehensions – it is no principled stand against imperialist war. Only a minority of the US and British people support the proposal that their states’ attack Syria. Germany, a major imperialist power, with an election approaching, has made clear it will not take part in military action.

Interviewed by the Russian newspaper Izvestia, President Assad warned that if Syria is attacked, the US will face 'failure' as it has in 'every war since Vietnam' (26 August 2013). We must oppose any imperialist attack on Syria and all covert warfare against that country. All US, British and French forces should withdraw from the Middle East. The same imperialist system which attacks Syria is driving down living conditions in Britain, France and the US. Fighting against this system must be based on opposition to the ruling class at home and abroad. The 29 August parliamentary vote may have gone against the open escalation of war, but the British state will resort to more covert forms of warfare against Syria. The imperialists’ actions are likely to spark a major conflict, the extent and repercussions of which are uncertain. The stakes are huge for both the imperialists and the resistance. There is no room in the struggle for the apologists of imperialism in the Labour Party, the left or elsewhere. We must resolutely oppose all British intervention in Syria and that of any other imperialist power. Hands off Syria! All imperialist forces out of the Middle East!

Revolutionary Communist Group

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