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Imperialism and War: Syria and the Middle East

By Joe Iosbaker

Fight Back News Service is circulating the following speech given by Joe Iosbaker to the Sept. 29 Chicago conference against drone warfare. Iosbaker, a member of the Chicago Anti-War Committee, was one of the main organizers of the massive march on the NATO Summit. He is also one of the anti-war and international solidarity activist raided by the FBI in 2010. Introduction

At the start of this month, the whole world was tense as the U.S. proclaimed it was going to start missile strikes against Syria. It seemed likely that the U.S. wouldn’t stop after a few days of war, but would continue to attack Syria and cause as many deaths as the puppet FSA [Free Syrian Army] had caused in two and a half years.

Then Russia proposed a diplomatic solution to take Syria’s chemical weapons and, to the surprise of all, President Obama accepted it.

But then John Kerry said that the U.S. would only go along with putting Syrian’s weapons under international control if there was the threat of force in a UN resolution. Then this Friday, the U.S. had to back down on that in the United Nations Security Council resolution on eliminating Syrian chemical weapons. They had to drop the threat of force if Syria doesn’t comply.

Stepping back, we can see that for two and a half years, the U.S. has funded and directed forces to intervene, with the Gulf Cooperation Council, NATO and Israel playing roles; on the other hand, the U.S. has refused direct military action [such as]bombing, invasion.

What explains this contradiction? Why couldn’t the U.S., the most powerful military might on earth, carry out war on this small nation?

There other developments about the U.S. intervention in Syria that seem contradictory:

The U.S. has spent two and a half years funding and helping to direct an armed attack on the Syria’s government and the people of Syria. They intervened during the Arab Spring, the moment there was a mass protest movement there against unpopular policies of opening the economy to investment and then the resulting austerity measures.

They armed the only forces they found, including forces aligned with the Salafist movement, Al Nusra Front and other Al Qaeda linked groups.

On Sept. 26, we learned that the most significant of the ‘moderate’ armies fighting the Syrian government have quit the U.S. puppet FSA and joined forces with Al Nusra. They have called for an Islamic front, instead.

But in the Sept. 26 issue of Foreign Policy magazine, the most influential publication on the topic in D.C., they put out that they think Assad will go and be replaced by former Defense Minister, Ali Habib. The article reflects thinking in the White House about how to resolve the Syrian conflict, as well as the worries in Washington and Israel that the sectarian, foreign-led and dominated armies aligned with Al Qaeda would come to power if the U.S./Israel succeed in forcing out Assad.

How come the U.S. says that its main mission on earth is to fight Al Qaeda, but then it arms Al Qaeda against countries that have never attacked the U.S. Isn’t this a contradiction, too?

Let’s answer that by looking at some general questions: What is the status of U.S. power in the world today? What factors is the U.S. dealing with? And what determines U.S. policy in a particular country?

U.S. is weaker and there’s a rising trend toward independence from their control

The world has changed since the days after 9/11. The camp of resistance is growing and U.S. influence is in decline.

The economic crisis gets part of the credit for that. Although the capitalists don’t suffer like we do when there’s a crisis, it has weakened the power and prestige of the rich countries and the corporations.

But even before that, Bush’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the Cheney/Rumsfeld plan to go after “Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan” had all been an effort by the U.S. to turn back the hands of time, to put the U.S. back on top of the world they had ruled in the 1950s and 1960s.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ended in defeat and stalemate. One clear consequence: the U.S. can’t use the method of massive invasions any more.

And the role of Russia in the struggle over Syria shows that the U.S. has to deal with rising powers, like the BRIC nations. Russia and China made it clear the U.S. wouldn’t get a United Nations Security Council vote for this war.

The people of the U.S., Britain and the other members of the NATO are sick of war and they’re sick of being lied to. When the U.S. upped the ante on Syria, things came to a head. President Obama found himself isolated on the world stage and domestically.

So the sudden changes in U.S. plans around Syria are a result of contradictions: first, the U.S. puppet army is losing to Syria’s army and militia; second, there’s a contradiction between the U.S. and Russia, which is no longer standing aside while the U.S. wages war; and third there’s a contradiction between the U.S. and it’s NATO allied governments and the peoples of those countries.

U.S. objectives remain

Of course, the changes in military form haven’t changed the underlying content of U.S. objectives: this place is an empire. The rulers want cheap labor and control of natural resources in other lands. They are like vampires – they have to have it.

On the one hand, the U.S. is weaker and unable to get what they want; on the other hand, they are compelled to keep trying. Rumsfeld’s vision of invading Syria is gone, at least for now.

But the arming of Al Qaeda armies is not a contradiction. U.S. imperialism will back whoever and whatever serves its interests. In one country, Al Qaeda linked is the worst threat to humanity; in the next country, they are recipients of arms and intelligence to fight a government that the U.S. has determined must go.

New focus on Iran

These losses have made the U.S. focus more on Iran. A new president in Iran doesn’t change that. The U.S. has adopted the stand toward Iran that they won’t accept an independent power in the Middle East. Syria is aligned with Iran, and so the fate of the two countries is tied together in the view of the empire.

The Arab Spring: A threat, then an opportunity

But right now the U.S. can’t handle a war of a similar or greater scale than Iraq. That’s why the U.S. was both anxious and excited by the Arab Spring. They used the dissatisfaction throughout the region, which was aimed squarely at U.S. puppets in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain, to go after governments with a history of independence from the U.S.: Libya and Syria. The U.S. maneuvered to take control of the situation and develop contradictions in their favor in Libya. With the success of their operation there, they felt they were in a much better position step up their attempts to topple the government of Syria.

As in Libya, they offered support to the Islamists, even though supporting them in Libya resulted in ‘blowback,’ in the attacks on Western oil installation in Algeria and the U.S. embassy.


The U.S. seems to be acting in a contradictory way in Syria, but something unites their decisions in every action they take: is it in the interests of U.S. imperialism?

They want to go to war with Syria and Iran, but they don’t have the support or the resources for an invasion.

They want to bomb Syria, but they can’t get support at home or in Britain and more countries are standing up to them.

They are willing to back any force against Assad, even though they worry about Israel, for example,being attacked by the mercenary armies they have created.

New Tactics

Invasions aren’t popular, and the U.S. can’t rely on an Arab Spring to emerge everywhere.

If you can’t invade, how does an empire achieve its objectives of punishing independent people or rebellious populations? The answers: proxy armies, drone warfare and special operations. Proxy armies are being used in Syria and before that Libya. Drone warfare first emerged in use against Pakistan, because the Pashtun people that have been the main base of the national resistance live on both sides of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. The Obama administration then has taken the technology to Yemen, Somalia, Mali and Iran. We know that they intend to use it even more in the future because one growth area in the Pentagon’s otherwise shrinking budget is the budget for drones.


In our work against U.S. wars, we have to stand against threats to arm puppet armies; to assassinate or back coups; to carry out bombing and missile attacks; and we have to oppose drone warfare, as it is the most popular form of their undeclared wars.

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