Trying to Clear Up Confusion About Syria

It’s no secret that there is a lot of disagreement in the US Progressive movement over the question of Syria.

For many on the progressive Left outside Syria the main emphasis has been to center and condemn the authoritarian government of Bashar al-Assad. Much of this criticism is well-founded. We at MAPA have no illusions as to the democratic character of the long-standing Baath regime in Syria. Surely, the people of Syria deserve a better government than the one they have. But at the same time, as events have confirmed, they do not want or deserve something worse. This is the “alternative” future promised by the largely sectarian/jihadi military opposition and their foreign patrons in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey – together with the US with its NATO allies.

Instead of focusing on the obvious shortcomings of the Syrian government, our motivation at Massachusetts Peace Action, as Americans, is to concentrate on the role of our own country in its effort to destroy Syria.  In this, we take inspiration in the words of Martin Luther King in his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, when he responded to demands that he strongly condemn the “crimes” committed by African-Americans in resistance to racist repression in the US:

I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.

We apply this principle not only to Syria, but to all the alleged “bad actors” around the world. In the Middle East, for example, we deplore the crimes of the un-democratic governments of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, and Iran, as well as Syria. However, we do not advocate that the US or its allies pursue violent regime-change interventions against any of them. Instead, we demand the US stop supportingmany of those bad actors with USD billions in annual aid and arms sales.

In our MAPA statement on Syria we say:

The beginnings of the war go back to legitimate protests against a dictatorial government, lack of human rights, corruption, and economic hardship caused by severe drought and the imposition of free market economic policies. But these original demands for reform were soon displaced by armed groups funded by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Qatar, and other Gulf monarchies. The rebels were dominated by extremist sectarian groups like Al Qaeda and other jihadist militias, including Sunni jihadist fighters from numerous countries, with weapons supplied externally… Much of the military arsenal that the U.S. supplied fell into the hands of Al Qaeda and other sectarian militias. This was not considered a problem because the U.S. and its allies were fixated on regime change in Syria.

And:

Facing the unlawful interventions into Syrian territory… the Assad government… asserted its right to self-defense under the UN charter and sought Iranian and Russian help in fighting both ISIS and the opposition armies. Meanwhile, U.S. troops dispatched to Syria to destroy ISIS did so without agreement of the Syrian government… Western media and official statements ignored the role of the Syrian, Iranian, and Russian governments in combating ISIS, amplifying instead the role of the US and its Kurdish allies.

(For more information on the historical background and situation in Syria today, please take the time to watch the educational webinars sponsored by MAPA: Destroying Syria and Syria Today: Facing Coronavirus in the Midst of War and Sanctions (including Syrian voices from Aleppo), as well as my own articles here, here, here and here.)

The elections held in Syria in 2014 and last month should not be considered to express the fully-democratic will of the Syrian people. But it cannot be denied that the government and its President Bashar al-Assad enjoy considerable support within the country and even among many of the millions of Syrian refugees.

Before the war broke out, there were an estimated 2 million Baath Party members in Syria. Even if we assume that many of them joined the Baath Party in response to social pressure or career opportunism, they and their families still represented a substantial social base for the regime.

This history is all but erased in the mainstream narrative outside Syria. Likewise, well-intentioned outsiders are rarely allowed to view the massive outpourings in support of the government at the start of the conflict in 2011, nor the widespread celebrations all over Syria following the recent election. Instead, we are allowed to hear only one narrow segment of well-financed Syrian voices, exclusively from opposition circles.

Our statement continues:

Today Syrians are deeply divided in their opinions. Any group outside Syria claiming to speak for “the Syrian People” is dissembling. The Syrian government has the support, whether active or passive, of a significant number of Syrians – including Christians, Druze, Alawites, and liberal Sunni urbanites. The jihadist groups now gathered in Idlib province command the allegiance of a minority of Syrians.

The complexity of the Syrian internationalized civil society is obscured by the massive and effective propaganda campaign that gives voice only to representatives of the opposition and portrays US intervention as “humanitarian”.  The reality is that the voices of millions living in Syria are erased to justify continued U.S. intervention, occupation of Syrian territory, and economic strangulation of the country.

These days, there are probably more vocal supporters of a supposedly “Democratic Syrian Revolution” in New York and Washington, often employed in various US government funded organizations, than in Syria itself. And many of them covertly support the prospect of an Islamist, rather than a secular and democratic future for Syria. In any case, it was always delusional to imagine that democracy would be brought to Syria by the bombs and $billions from the US and its allies.

We at MAPA vehemently oppose the on-going occupation of Syrian territory by US and other foreign states – especially the oil and wheat-producing eastern part of the country ruled by the US and its local proxies. This deprives millions of Syrians of bread and fuel.

We also condemn the imposition of brutal sanctions against Syria applied by the US especially, as punishing the Syrian people for their failure to overthrow a government opposed by the US ruling elite and its allies. The demand for more bombing and more sanctions against Syria by well-funded Syrian organizations outside the country is unconscionable.

MAPA’s statement concludes:

Our hope is for the realization of the Syrian people’s aspirations for a more democratic and transparent government that promotes a multi-ethnic and secular social order. But, as we learned in Iraq after 2003 and Libya after 2011, the expectation that “freedom” and “democracy” can be attained through outside military intervention and support for armed rebels is entirely delusional. We demand an end to US military involvement in Syria, recognition of Syria’s territorial sovereignty, respect for international law, and assistance in the country’s reconstruction.

Jeff Klein is a writer and speaker on Middle East issues who travels frequently to the region.  An earlier version of this piece, with illustrations, can be found in his occasional blog: “At a Slight Angle to the Universe.” He can be reached at jjk123@comcast.net.

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