Proxy Warfare in Syria

Making sense out of the cacophony of empire forces

Having just passed the first hurdle (The Senate Foreign Relations Committee) towards military action in Syria and awaiting congressional approval; I can help but be reminded of Smedley Butler’s stance on the justifications for actions by military apparatus: “I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else.

In the modern context of nation states, if diplomacy was the predominating factor, we would face a considerably different geopolitical landscape. The military rational would adopt a non interventionist approach. Few are those who argue, from an ethics perspective, that self-defense is unjustified, but empires old and new pervade this sense of better than thou. In the quest for hegemony, veiled by false pretense and ‘American exceptionalism’ branded nationalism, comes the misconception of the United-States as “moral world police”. Nobody granted them their mandate, it is a mandate seized by power without any sort of scruple.

Of the hundreds of wars and covert military operation the U.S. have been involved in, how many where in retaliation to a direct action against them (e.g., boots on the ground on American soil)? Yes there where tense moments like the Cuban missile crisis where there was significant threat, but when it comes to the thick of things it’s safe to say the U.S.’s general strategy is aggressive, arguably preemptive, but not defensive by any stretch of the imagination. Neocolonialism exemplifies itself through subjugating other countries (i.e. economic sanctions, embargoes, or worst invasion and occupation). Countless are the ways to advance the cause. “There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its ‘finger men’ to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.” Major General Butler’s analysis is quite accurate. In this corporatized age, corporate media serves its inherently subservient position, complicit in the machinations with its countless pundits parroting the national security state’s rhetoric. The amount of military expenditure on behalf of the ‘’world police’’ is unjustifiable, it spends more on its military than the next 13 nations combined. Then you have government officials, political puppets like Chuck Hagel and John Kerry defending the party line. The narrative reaches laughable grounds when Kerry lumps together Assad with Saddam Hussein. I can’t help but note the irony of the comparison. The juxtaposition with Hussein seems somewhat logical (each has quite the despotic record), unless we forget his gassing of the Kurds and the logistical support offered by the U.S. which facilitated the achievement. Not the most adroit comparison when considering Foreign Policy’s recent article confirming the matter by way of released CIA documents.

I don’t need to expand on the United-States prerogative, I’m afraid it’s quite evident. The precedent is unequivocal. Wars of aggression in the Middle East have become the norm with grave consequences for the people. A military strike on Syria would only exasperate the situation. Farfetched dreams of social change in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Libya, based on military aggression bear a testament to the fallacy of war in the quest for peace or liberation. Current conditions in those three countries demonstrate the failings of violent interventionism, without even mentioning the unfathomable amount of civilian casualties and the grim implications of most of their infrastructure being decimated.

Already 100,000 dead in Syria, several million displaced both internally and externally with a million of those refugees being children. A sea of young kids trying to make due in tent-city style relocation camps, such is an upbringing that leads to its fair share of scares. Some experience the often time awful ostracization of the expat. I recently saw this news piece by a locally well known French Canadian journalist in which these two young Syrians in Lebanon where selling balloons and trinkets on the strip to support their family. In reaction, some Lebanese where denouncing the arrival of refugees en mass. I couldn’t help but empathize wholeheartedly with the plight of these poor boys, their most primordial need of security stripped from them, their innocence forever tainted. Such is the byproduct of war, turpitude and the depletion of our moral fiber.

If social Darwinism was a religion, the military industrial complex would be its messiah, with its core mission of justifying and glorifying the notion of survival of the strongest and mightiest within the parameters of the struggle for existence. Distorting this manufactured notion without scientific basis and morphing it into thriving for more armament, weapons proliferation for the hegemonic power as well as its allies and lust for control on the world stage. Who cares about collateral damage, they’re just (drone-speak) bugsplats, who cares about civilian casualties, they’re “unpeople” anyways. Peace efforts are nonexistent. Closing embassies is the new normal. Diplomacy is de facto out of reach and taking for example; peacekeepers (blue berets/helmets) in the case of Canada, are but a minute fraction of what they once were.

With the war mongering intensifying in the media sphere, saber rattling from elected officials comes together in a concerto of sorts. In regards to chemical warfare, the red line narrative gained some credence through the 3 year conflict. Not based on fact, but based on superficial/inconclusive evidence and the perseverance of the propaganda from the establishment. Suspicions have been raised in both sides using chemical agents. Believe you me; if something could demonstrate without question the use of Sarin gas by Assad’s regime, it would have already been plastered on the news. But it isn’t, it doesn’t seem to stick, why then is it considered an almost certainty? Allegations by unofficial correspondents and “confirmation” by secret Intel just won’t cut it. Doesn’t this all sound like Iraq and W.M.D’s? Manufacturing the requirements for engagement? Although we can’t deny chemical agents were used, we can’t seem to confidently pin it on the suspect. In contrast to establishment analysts pointing the finger at Assad, there are strong allegations of chemical use by the rebels.

If Sarin gas is the red line, then what to make of beheadings, mass assassinations by shooting squads, killing of Christian minorities or partaking in “heart eating” by the opposition?

Albeit we are stuck in a narrow paradigm of good vs. evil, black and white without nuance; if ever there was no side to pick in a conflict, this is the conflict. The Assad regime is but a despotic hold on power, a dictatorship relegated from father to son, though it is important to mention that Assad has quasi-majority support. As far as the opposition goes, it consists of rebel factions which are compromising some legitimate Syrian insurrectionary forces, what I mean by that is that I don’t question that there are some with a genuine social-revolutionary agenda. The conflict did start out as a genuine revolution but it was in my estimation quickly high jacked by different well armed and well prepared actors vying for positioning, without necessarily the best intentions, and most likely financed by Saudi sheikhs with deep pockets filled with petro-dollars. I don’t question that there are many good willed seculars, liberals, socialists and anarchist striving for alternative frameworks, fighting against the Assad/official opposition binary; at the same time maybe there is not enough revolutionary fervor amongst the people. In making a comparison with another civil war, in Spain there was a strong libertarian and communist sentiment long before the war but it still wasn’t enough.

The official opposition consists of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) which is made up mostly of Syrian Armed Forces deserters. What requires most worries is that one of the main protagonists: Al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda affiliate) is gaining momentum amongst the lot. There’s seems to be a flagrant conflict of ideals and logistics amongst the different factions, the sectarianism is undeniable. Infighting seems to be an integral part of the rebel factions which seems to predict potential chaos in the ensuing result of the power vacuum that would be generated by a toppled regime, a refrain that rings true to recent western foreign policy. Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan… Syria, Iran… And the beat goes on. As Tariq Ali recently stated: “The idea that Saudia, Qatar, Turkey backed by  NATO are going to create a revolutionary democratic or even a democrat set-up is challenged by  what is happening elsewhere in the Arab world.”

We the people, including the Syrians don’t need a dictator ousted and replaced by another; we need to change the regime, we need to change the institution. But alas, this regional proxy war is far from the best grounds for revolutionary struggle, social and political change seems a long way off.

The cluster fuck becomes a massive shit storm when we truly acknowledge the adversaries squaring off: we have a Saudi, Turkish, Qatari and the Western alliance backing the opposition, against a coalition consisting of Iran-Hezbollah-Syria and to a smaller extent, Iraq. By extension we need to also include Russia which funds Assad regime’s armament, and China which also has a lot at play in this regional war.

Added to the underlying antecedent of long time conflict between Sunni and Shia sects, there are the obvious entailments regarding Israel; hoping for destabilization of Hezbollah, it stands to gain significantly from the conflict. Finally let’s consider once again the jihady element at play, it is a dead giveaway of the present and future extremism entailed, the atrocious acts committed by some components of the opposition are completely appalling. To put it bluntly, in a war with no side warranting defense, the west (U.S., Britain, Canada) are siding with the same side as the Jihadists. Canada sending $50 millions for propaganda measures, the U.S. sending countless arms, of course Putin feeding Assad’s regime with armament is just as despicable. But let me concentrate on the fact that as a Canadian taxpayer I’m funding extremist groups. Religious fundamentalism is not something I’m too comfortable financing, and in this paradigm of parliamentarism, where representative governance is our main limiting parameter; we the populace, have to pursue the only means with the possibility to enact change.

World record social mobilization against the Iraq war failed but we need to build from that. No more sitting idle, this conflict as gone on too long, without any glimmer of hope in sight. There’s an antiwar movement building, hundreds of years in the making. Foundations have been laid previously by generations of work consisting in struggle and solidarity. Anarchists have been opposed to imperialism and the machinations of war for centuries and regardless of irreconcilable differences, proprietarians (“libertarians“/an-caps) agree in unison.

Examples have been set forth like the opposition to the Vietnam War, but the left definitely needs reinvigorating and a reassessment of tactics. Whether withholding taxes a’ la Thoreau our taking part in a general strike, we need to step it up a notch to prevent further escalation. International workers solidarity is imperative. To counter the scale of this current calamity, we must unite our voices and announce clearly the will of the people. The assaults against our collective welfare will no longer be tolerated. To oppose a force of this magnitude we must channel our strength in number, but the only true way to enact change is to strike a blow at the essence of instigation, the one common denominator: the state.

With states come conflict, with states come war. A single clog or one measly monkey wrench won’t put a stop to the momentum of the gears of war. We need to put to a stop the current functioning of things, stop this societal cancer that won’t end till it’s rid of us all. Fictional boundaries need to come down, for the only action that I can see that would make the current order falter, would be global general strikes and/or a soldiers strike (abstaining from service/hanging up their boots). Everything brought to a standstill. War has retarded progress long enough. Our indignation must grow louder, bringing the “national security state” to its knees. No force will ever capable to contend with its military strength. So we must attack it with reason.

I don’t know exactly what we need to do, but actions needs to materialize now, it’s already too late. If we need to occupy the stoop of every American embassy now until we get justice, so be it. Sending a delegation of peace activists from throughout the world, directly to war torn Syria to dissuade a U.S. strike, is an initiative presently considered. The human shields initiative strikes me as a warrantable tactic to pursue, but it would only achieve the desired results with significant numbers participating.

Proxy wars are a known tool for the U.S. in their quest for hegemony. I believe you’ll find it hard to disagree with that. Whether it is funding Pashtun “radicals”, contras or one of the more recent instances, the U.S. only looks at short term, often time shallow strategic goals. Only to see it backfire in most instances. The problem with backing military juntas and the like, as well as propping up horrendous regimes, is that for the military-industrial complex there is no ethic standard for qualifying an ally.

We are just pumping taxpayer dollars, giving arms to extremist groups. With the U.S.’s recent diplomatic record, alongside its intrusive interventionist foreign policy, in contrast to what polls show as far as what the American populace wants, it’s a travesty. A strike on Syria is against the will of the people and Obama acknowledges that, with only 10 to 20 some odd percent support from the constituency, how does this constitute democracy?

We all know the U.S. is the bully on the block when it comes to Geo-politics and has been for hundreds of wars spanning about a hundred years. The question is do Americans and their allies’ populace, do we continue sitting idle and let the trend go uninterrupted? This trend which has been the well known byproduct of the nation state alongside colonialism/neo-colonialism, do we let petty jingoism, unabashed nationalism blind our view? Good old Smedley butler said it best about a hundred years ago: war is a racket.

We have to all look at it from a pragmatic international/global perceptive. We have to forgo the usual political parameters taken in matters of war. We need to try harder, keep agitating and raise awareness… and more. We need to emphasize the social implications of war.

Because when all is said and done, your privilege of not living in a war torn country is geographical luck of the draw. I think we should encourage public discourse, failing to do so and failing to make a change in the course of history will sadly lead us to our demise. Blind fate, in regards to the state, poisons the aspirations of the people.

I repeat myself there is no side to root for. What’s before us is a powder keg to diffuse. It’s long gone from a social revolution or a civil war. It’s a regional imperial proxy war in the quest for claiming economic and political capital, with quite a few different actors involved.

The autocratic Malawi regime in place is ruthlessly belligerent in regards to human rights. Then, there are the equally unappealing Russian and Shia allies. In contrast, there is the equally or even more totalitarian opposition made up of Sunni Muslims from inland, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the like, as well as radical groups like Al-Qaeda funneling from Afghanistan and Pakistan. All of these lovely people jockeying for power.

All the while the west is vying for its interest as usual, funding extremists, funding their armament. Funding proxies like it knows best. Same as when it helped create Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to combat Soviet invasion. The irrationality of backing them one day, then the next using them and boasting them as the biggest threat to national security.

The Syrian people are suffering incredibly for this, and are paying the most significant price. Their lives destroyed and in shambles, unfathomable amount of civilian casualties, and for what? Geopolitical interests, religious feuding, imperialism, fattening the military-industrial complex’s pockets.

Let’s denounce these wars; castigate these players involved for thinking Syrian’s homes are just a playground for wanton killing and willy-nilly bloodshed, they need to be held accountable. The responsibility rests on our shoulders, we might not agree with the direction of our western “representative democracies”, but it’s our responsibility to deviate the indented actions, failing to do so results in our culpability in the matter.

Claude Coulomb is an independent journalist from Montreal, Quebec. He is also the interim administrator for the Quebec chapter of the International Organization for a Participatory Society (IOPS). He can be reached at . Read other articles by Claude, or visit Claude's website.