If the pain of birth is the price of life, Syria’s birth as a truly independent nation has come at the price of eight years of brutal and merciless struggle.
As with the Vietnamese people, so with the Syrians. Their struggle against imperialism and hegemony has earned them a place at history’s table that can never be relinquished. Because, if you penetrate beyond the obfuscations peddled by Western ideologues, the conflict in Syria at its core has been anti-imperialist in character.
The hell visited on Syrian society has been in many respects a continuation of the hell visited on Iraq in 2003, after 13 years of sanctions had already killed two million of its people, including half a million children.
During this sanctions period, former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, in a rare moment of candor for a functionary of the empire, provided us with an invaluable insight into the pristine barbarism which lurks behind the mask of democracy and human rights that such people usually wear for the purposes of confusing the public mind as to who and what they truly are.
The interviewer, Lesley Stahl, put it to Albright that half a million Iraqi children had died due to the sanctions, and asked if she thought the price “is worth it.” Albright without hesitation answered Yes. “We think the price is worth it.”
Getting to the grips with the beast of Western hegemony obligates us to grapple with the salient truth that Albright’s grotesque and perverse worldview, providing her with the ability to insouciantly account for the murder by sanctions of half a million Iraqi children, is the same worldview which drove the US war against Vietnam, that has underpinned the six decades of economic warfare against the Cuban people, the covert military interventions in South and Central America in the 1980s, support for the mujahideen in Afghanistan over the same period, and the ongoing effort to effect regime change in Venezuela.
It is also, be in no doubt, the thinking that informed the West’s approach to Libya in 2011 when the country’s difficulty presented itself as their opportunity.
In other words, it is the worldview of those so sick with the ideology of hegemony there is no monstrous act, no crime or slaughter that cannot be undertaken in its cause, necessitating the abstraction of millions of lives as mere flotsam and jetsam in order to justify their suffering as a “price worth paying.”
Returning to Iraq in 2003, the scourge of Salafi-jihadism that has scarred Syrian society was hatched in the course of that war, wherein ISIS (Islamic State) began life as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) under one Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. According to Stanford University, an institution not hitherto known to be a hotbed of pro-Assad sentiment, this particular history unfolded thus:
“The Islamic State (IS), also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) is a Salafi-jihadist militant organization in Syria and Iraq whose goal is the establishment and expansion of a caliphate. The group has its origins in the early 2000s, when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi began training extremist militants. The group was a major participant in the Iraqi insurgency during the American occupation, first under the name Jama’at al-Tawhid wa’al-Jihad and then, after swearing fealty to Al-Qaeda, as Al-Qaeda in Iraq.”
This reason why this trajectory is so important to reaffirm, and why it must detain us, is to emphasize that the roots of what later befell Syria were planted in Iraq by the US-led war unleashed there in 2003. Bush and Blair’s war was the key that unlocked the gates of hell out of which this medieval barbarism sprung to devastating effect. Those who believe otherwise, such as former US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, would do well to ponder that without Iraq being pushed into the abyss of societal collapse, carnage and resulting sectarian bloodletting, the Salafi-jihadism of al-Zarqawi et al would have been denied the conditions required to feed its growth and spread.
Washington not Damascus or Moscow created and incubated the Frankenstein’s Monster of ISIS, in the same laboratory of US imperialism in which the Khmer Rouge was created in the 1970s and Al-Qaeda in the 1980s.
What Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s, Afghanistan in the 1980s, and Syria today have in common, of course, is Moscow’s stance. It is a matter of historical record that without Soviet (Russian) aid to the Vietnamese in the 1960s and 70s, they would not have prevailed, and it is likewise a matter of record that the grim fate to befall Afghanistan in the 1990s was predicated on the forced withdrawal of Soviet forces as the country began to flounder under the weight of the internal contradictions that were to lead to its demise.
Though the cost to the world of the end of the Soviet Union will never be compensated – measured not only in the medieval abyss into which Afghanistan was plunged, but also in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the aforementioned decimation of Iraq – without Moscow’s recovery to the point of being able to intervene militarily in Syria in 2015, Damascus today would be occupying a place in the same graveyard.
Iran and Hezbollah have also played an indispensable role in the struggle for Syria’s survival, expending blood and treasure in the event, while the Syrian Arab Army’s sacrifice has been immeasurable.
The glorification of war and conflict, especially among those living safely many miles away from its horrors and brutality, conceals and sanitizes its bitter truths. Those who do glorify it, who view it in the manner of a parlor game, should take a moment to study and imbibe the words of Jeannette Rankin, who said: “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”
The war in Syria confirms the abiding truth of those words when we take into account the mammoth destruction it has wrought, the tragic human cost, and how it has shaken Syrian society to the very limits of endurance. It means that while the country’s survival as an independent non-sectarian state may by now be certain, its ability to fully recover from the earthquake Rankin describes is something only time will tell.
But the fact that the country has managed to achieve its survival and, with it, the opportunity to recover, is predominately the achievement of the Syrian Arab Army, whose complexion is a microcosm of the very society and people it has defended – Sunnis, Shia, Druze, Christians, Alawites, etc.
Robert Fisk, whose reports from Syria since the conflict began have been indispensable in helping us navigate its trajectory, informs us that something of the order of 70-80,000 Syrian soldiers have perished. This constitutes a staggering toll in a country whose army stood at 220,000 at the start of the conflict. More crucially, it is a toll that could not possibly have been borne without the solid support of the Syrian people for the army and its government, led by President Bashar Assad, over these past eight years.
Idlib is now the last bastion of militant-held territory in the country and, though of course folly to count chickens, by all accounts events on the ground point inexorably to the complete liberation of the country sooner rather than later. Yet isn’t it an interesting study in the space that exists between the ideology and reality of Western hegemony and unipolarity that not one mainstream journalist has joined the obvious dots between ascribing rebel status to the assorted Salafi-jihadist groups whose conception of a society is a living hell, and the government and armed forces fighting to prevent it from coming into being.
This is never better illustrated than the fact that not one Western journalist denouncing the Syrian government and its motives during the war would have dared to set foot within so much as an inch of militant-held territory, knowing that if they did they would be peremptorily abducted, tortured and slaughtered.
In which direction Syria heads after the fighting ends is without reservation a matter for its people. It is hard to believe that it could hope to return to the status quo that existed before, though, not after the elemental suffering and sacrifice that has been endured and made by so many.
One thing that is quite certain: the nation and society that began life as a colonial construct has, over the course of the conflict, rallied at a seminal point in its history to assert the right never to be colonized by anyone again.