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Obama, Syria and the Arrogance of Imperialism


Imperialists are not just arrogant, they are stupid.  Pretending that they might get a different result than previous US administrations have obtained before, the Obama administration is planning to send lethal arms to Syrian rebels.  According to the Washington Post, Obama and his advisors have been “edging” toward this decision for months.  Their rationale for jumping in now is because they believe it will give Washington more control over which rebel factions actually end up with the weaponry.  The expressed hope is that such arms would stay with the Free Syrian Army headed by Syrian Army defector General Salim Idriss.  Of course, as any student of war knows, once unleashed the demons that operate during such endeavors have a life of their own.  In other words, once the weaponry is in Syria, there is no telling who will end up with it.  The Syrians themselves are incapable of determining how their civil war will end.  Does Washington seriously think it can?Sinners front for web

Examples with many similarities to the Syrian situation exist, especially in the recent history of the Middle East.  A strong man and his nationalist party running a country incorporating economic principles of state-owned industry and government provided services.  Politically, the national government attempts to integrate various tribal, religious and ethnic differences into a single nation.  Naturally, this requires a certain amount of repression of dissident groups and is usually accompanied by a certain favoritism towards the leadership’s tribal, political and religious allegiances.  Held together by this combination, there are occasional outbreaks of protest that is often put down with state violence.  Usually, this violence is excused or ignored by the international community, since all governments understand that they must maintain the franchise on political violence or risk losing power and control.

The nation I am describing in the previous paragraph is Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party rule.  While there are particular differences between that nation and the Assad’s rule of Syria, I believe the similarities are enough to make a justifiable comparison.  If one adds the influence of the neoliberal economy of the last several decades, the similarity between the two nations’ histories supersedes any particular differences.

Like much of the Middle East, The growth of neoliberalism in Syria created a situation that saw the selling off of state-owned industry to private corporations, the reduction in services and basic subsidies and a drastic decrease in income for many of its people. Of course, that income decrease is directly related to the neoliberal economic model that insures the gross accumulation of wealth in northern banking centers with a similar reduction in individual buying power for most of the world’s population.  Just like in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt (among other nations around the world), the indigenous individuals and groups that tend to profit from the neoliberal privatization and loan scheme are those already part of the authoritarian regimes in power.

The transfer of industry and services from state to private hands usually results in the powerful adding profit to the power they already maintain.  In other words, the centralization of state power morphs into a centralization of political power and private wealth, usually at a greater rate than before.  The complement to this transformation is the further impoverishment of the working class and peasantry along with a growing impoverishment of the non-politically connected middle classes.  It is this economic factor which has pushed every population responsible for the “Arab Spring” to rebellion.  When combined with the long-running desire for political freedoms, the result has been, to say the least, incendiary and world-changing.

That is how Syria’s civil war began—as a massive protest for political freedoms and against neoliberalism.  It seems to have morphed into something quite different over the past several months.  As various Islamist factions of varying tendencies have taken up arms against Assad and his allies, the nature of the conflict has become incredibly violent and looks more and more like the sectarian civil war that ripped apart occupied Iraq in the middle year of that last decade.  If one looks at that period in Iraq for instruction, there is plenty to fear.  As antiwar journalists and activists made clear then, the United States was actively involved in arming various factions in this civil war and was also training death squads whose role was to kill potential threats to US designs.  In addition, various regional governments had their own forces operating in the country.

A similar scenario is playing out in Syria, albeit with the players assuming slightly different roles.  One can assume, however, that the intent is the same: a desire to determine the future according to their wishes.

It is this desire which is being cited by Washington for its growing intervention.  Despite whatever the politicians and generals might be saying, let me be clear.  Washington is an imperial nation.  It does not have the best intentions of the Syrian people at heart.  Indeed, when it comes to policy, it could care less about the Syrian people, just like it cared less about the Iraqis.  If it cared, the support it has shown for the Assads over the years would have been much more conditioned on respecting the civil and human rights of the Syrian people.  Instead, Washington’s real regard for those rights can best be summed up with the observation that until the Arab Spring began, Syria’s torture chambers were a favorite of the US rendition program.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at:

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