On the morning of April 4, 2017, the genocidal Bashar al-Assad regime attacked the Free Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, in Idlib, with deadly and illegal sarin gas. At least 89 people died, including 33 children. All were civilians, many still asleep in the early hour. Whole families were decimated, with anguished survivors stripped of a lifetime in a few cruel minutes.
To add to the horror, Assad’s Russian allies bombed local hospitals where victims had been taken for treatment. These attacks were meant to amplify the leaflets the regime drops to terrify and demoralize people in revolutionary areas: You have been abandoned by the world; Surrender or die. Clearly this inhuman regime must be utterly destroyed.
Only a few days before, March 30, both U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and UN ambassador Nikki Haley had announced that U.S. policy in Syria was, in Haley’s words, “no longer to focus on getting Assad out.” These statements from the Trump administration were taken as a green light for the attack.
SOCIETY CAN’T LIVE ON LIES
This act of naked genocide confronted the world with the lie it had been living since August 2013. Then, rather than face any serious consequences for a sarin attack that killed over 1,400 people in East Ghouta, Assad was allowed to “turn over” his chemical weapons as part of a deal between the U.S. and Russia. Since then Assad and his Iranian sponsors, joined by Russia in 2015, have murdered and displaced countless thousands of Syrian civilians. They have done it with every brutal means, including hundreds of chlorine gas attacks, short of sarin. Until now.
It was never credible to think that a deal between counter-revolutionary imperialist powers would be taken seriously as long as there is a revolution to be crushed. Rulers hold all murderous means in reserve for that purpose. But so far, the Syrian Revolution has managed to survive and continue to fight for freedom and dignity against Assad, Iran, Russia, ISIS, and al-Qaeda. It is the people’s struggle that must form the ground for approaching recent developments, including Trump’s attack on the Syrian military base from which the sarin attack was launched.
Trump has been careful to limit his response. Assad had been warned of the attack by the Russians, who were informed through a formal U.S./Russia “deconfliction” agreement. A few days after, the air strip was back to 10% function, renewing its murder flights.
WHAT FORCED TRUMP TO ACT?
Trump may or, more likely, may not have been sincere in his concerns over the children who died in Khan Sheikhoun. We know that he was so unmoved by the hundreds of children who have drowned escaping from Assad’s state terrorism that attacks on refugees became a central point in his campaign. Nor was he moved by the children slaughtered by bombing in Yemen, Iraq and Syria by his administration and coalition forces.
His sincerity isn’t the issue. Trump’s hand was forced by the impact of unprecedented mass demonstrations of women and others who oppose his misogynist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, robber baron agenda. These mass outpourings have lent some spine to those elements of the ruling class that oppose Trump. These bourgeois elements have, in turn, focused their opposition more narrowly on Trump’s and his closest advisors’ ties to Russian president Putin. Revelations in this regard have been serious enough to possibly threaten his presidency.
So in attacking Assad, Trump was distancing himself from both Putin and the hardcore “alt-right” that is militant in its support of Assad and Putin. Trump fans like the KKK’s David Duke have been reduced to hailing the hypocritical Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard as their best friend with state power. The removal of Stephen Bannon from the National Security Council has also aggrieved the Right. It remains to be seen whether it represents a demotion of his ideology.
If he is distancing himself from the fascist alt-right, out of a desire for self-preservation, Trump will in no way distance himself from racism, sexism, xenophobia, or the ruling class—and they always welcome a sitting president as their class instrument. His agenda remains a deadly threat and must be fought.
STANDING ON REVOLUTIONARY GROUND
Events have shown that stage-managing developments in Syria remains beyond the power of any state actor. The Revolution remains a living force with its own logic. A “Left” that fails to take that fact as its ground ends up by making excuses for fascism and genocide—and becomes irrelevant, at best, as witnessed by some recent “anti-war” demonstrations. It will protest a largely symbolic strike against a regime military base, but not the U.S. mosque bombing which killed scores of civilians in Aleppo, or the thousands killed in coalition bombings in occupied Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq.
We take instead the living freedom struggles as our basis for thinking and acting, including the idea of freedom itself that can open new perspectives for these struggles. Nothing could be more significant than for the domestic struggles against the Trump agenda to come together with the Syrian Revolution. It would, now, be a very different world if for example the thousands who occupied U.S. airports in opposition to Trump’s attempted Muslim ban had also been actively engaged with the Arab Spring revolutions for the last six years.
In truth, perhaps the deadliest weapon of mass destruction to be introduced into the Syrian conflict has been the lie that there is “no good alternative” to Assad. An awakening world should hear the echo of the bourgeoisie’s “there is no alternative” to endless cutbacks, immiseration, and imprisonment. As never before, the necessity for revolutionaries to be motivated by an idea of what we are for, the social revolution, and not just by what we are against, becomes clear and pressing. One hundred years after the Russian Revolution, the Syrian struggle has helped renew this basic insight into the dialectics of revolution.
–Gerry Emmett for the Resident Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees
April 9, 2017