From the November-December issue of News & Letters
by Gerry Emmett
It is hard to predict what effect Donald Trump’s election will have for U.S. policy on the Middle East. He is being lobbied intensively, not least by President Obama. But from Trump’s open expression of hatred toward Muslims and Syrian refugees, it’s safe to say that contempt for the people of the Middle East will continue to play the central role it has had for all U.S. rulers.
MILITARISM VS. NEW RELATIONS
President Barack Obama placed his highest-stakes bet against the revolutionary “farmers and dentists” of Syria, and he lost miserably. He preferred to deal with counter-revolutionary state powers to bring “stability.” What he found was that at every stage of the Syrian revolution the masses in motion rose to the challenge—from attacks by Bashar al-Assad’s fascist regime, to Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah intervention, to ISIS and the counter-revolution from within the revolution.
It is only with the last year of Russian imperialism’s genocidal bombing of schools, hospitals, civil defenders, markets, bakeries, mosques, and refugee camps that Assad has been able to regain a minimum of scorched ground. His own army has essentially ceased to exist, and even with Iran’s occupying troops he can’t retake all of Syria.
This is at the cost of over 400,000 dead, including 15,000 children, over 6 million internally displaced people, and over 4.8 million refugees—almost half Syria’s total population rendered homeless and in desperate need. The world’s acceptance of this has once again revealed the infinite degradation in which humanity exists. President Obama’s bet against the people of Syria contributed to the flourishing of reactionary politics.
It is a bitter irony to see so many of the destabilized region’s contending militaries armed with U.S. weapons. Today, the U.S.-supplied Iraqi forces battle ISIS forces in Mosul who are armed to the teeth with U.S. weapons taken from those same Iraqi forces. ISIS battles the U.S.-supplied Kurds in Raqqa, and the Kurdish PYD faces off with the (meagerly) U.S.-supplied Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Turkish forces in Aleppo, while the FSA fights Hezbollah mercenaries who are well-supplied with U.S. weapons through the Lebanese Army—bought and paid for by the Saudis, who also supply Egypt’s brutal dictator Sisi, who in turn sends military supplies to Assad. Stability?
For years there was a kind of rhetorical Cold War waged by Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Much of it was for internal political posturing. But as Assad’s repression metastasized, this became a hot war of regional imperialism in which the people of Syria and Yemen especially are being subjected to unbelievable atrocities.
THE DESTRUCTION OF YEMEN
It was the rulers’ desire to crush the Arab Spring uprisings, a true existential crisis which made nonsense of their cynical rhetoric, that drove them to act. It should be recalled that Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi were far more relevant figures to Arab Spring revolutionaries than were Khomeini or bin Laden. The young Alawite lawyer Rima Dali quoted Dr. King’s “The means we use to achieve our goals must be as pure as our goals” in 2011 even as the Assad regime arrested her.
Counter-revolution ushered in a nightmare in which Sunni, Shi’a, and “secular” alike commit the most inhuman crimes against each other and others in the name of self-deified state power.
In Yemen, the unified Arab Spring demonstrations that ousted dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh have given way to a situation in which the Iran-backed Houthis are allied with Saleh in fighting the Saudi-backed regime of President Abdrabbu Mansur Hadi, itself a continuation of Saleh’s government. Over 10,000 Yemenis have died.
Yemen is one of the world’s poorest countries, and faces an acute water shortage. This cynical and cruel war has further led to shortages of food (with 10 million underfed), medicine, and electricity. The Houthi and Saleh forces have forcefully suppressed demonstrations, extorted illegal taxes, and shelled civilian areas. Worse, the Saudis have bombed hospitals, funeral services, and refugee camps, killing thousands of civilians. Like Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Syria, they have made a point of targeting civilian infrastructure, resulting in over 2.8 million internally displaced persons and 120,000 refugees.
THE ‘DEAL-MAKER’ ENTERS THE SCENE
Trump has put forward few concrete policy ideas. In Syria, he would double down on what is already a tacit U.S. policy of cooperation with his friend Putin. This policy has shown itself to amount to genocide—hundreds of children are dying in Aleppo, all hospitals have been destroyed—and the collaboration of the two biggest nuclear powers in genocide, both racist, both unscrupulous, will be one of history’s worst “terrorist conspiracies.”
Trump may be able to reverse the nuclear deal with Iran. It is opposed by the Republican-controlled Congress. But he will run into differences with Russia, China, France, Germany—countries already taking advantage of business openings to Iran. The Republican Congress is running on old Israeli/Saudi fumes, as is Iran’s Supreme Ruler Ali Khamenei when he also threatens to tear up the agreement. Trump will have to figure out who the rubes are.
In a world of coldly calculating, viciously repressive capitalist rulers, Trump has risen to state power as a representative of counter-revolution. In fact, Trump isn’t an “outsider” to bourgeois politics, he is its perfect representative.