RESPONSE FROM THOMAS HARRISON AND JOANNE LANDY (Aug. 27, 2013)
No to U.S. War on Syria!
No to Assad!
Yes to a Democratic Syrian Revolution!
We would like to thank all of the contributors to the CPD symposium for helping to enrich the discussion of how peace activists and leftists should respond to the unfolding events in Syria, and to the escalating threats of war on Syria by the United States and its allies.
Our fundamental disagreement with David McReynolds, Molly Nolan and Michael Eisenscher is that we believe it is essential to take sides in Syria. The Assad regime is extraordinarily cruel and tyrannical, and while it does retain support among sectors of the Syrian population, it is hated by the millions of Syrians, most likely the great majority, who have suffered under its rule. Although the fight against Assad has been complicated, and to a significant extent compromised, by the role of sectarian jihadists, it is still predominantly a popular democratic revolution. (See, for example, Amnesty International’s Map of Non-Violent Activism in Syria.)
We agree with Michael Karadjis when he says that “the situation on the side of the revolution is still fluid, there is still struggle, the reactionary forces by no means dominate.” Karadjis cites the reports of those on the ground who describe life in many areas of Syria controlled by the rebels, where authoritarian jihadists are not dominant, or where they are challenged by local people. He and others like Joseph Daher from the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current note that civic councils and local coordinating committees have sprung up in rebel-controlled areas -- and when extremist political Islamists have tried to impose their doctrines on the population, they have often been resisted. Nonetheless, as we acknowledged in our initial statement, there is unquestionably a very real and growing threat of the Syrian revolution being hijacked by reactionary Islamists. Consequently we see an emerging three-cornered struggle with three contenders: supporters of the Assad regime, foreign and Syrian Islamists, and democratic forces resisting both.
David McReynolds rightly describes the retrograde aims of the U.S. government in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and argues that the left “cannot count on an imperial power to act with democratic and humanitarian concerns.” Indeed, in our view, and in the view, it seems, of all of the contributors to the symposium, the sordid history of U.S. interventions in country after country stands as rejoinder to those who would hope that “this time” the United States military could play a positive role.
In our original statement, we said: “Consistent with our strong opposition to any kind of military intervention in Syria by the U.S., or other foreign powers, we also oppose providing air cover or establishing no fly zones. We do believe, however, that the democratic opponents of the Assad dictatorship have the right to get guns where they can, while resisting all attempts by those who provide arms to acquire political and military influence in return.” We continue to defend this right, and we agree with Karadjis that merely receiving arms from foreign countries has never been the “final determinant” of a revolutionary movement’s politics. But we also recognize that since none of the governments in the region or in the West actually favor a mass popular democratic victory, they are extremely reluctant to offer the democratic opposition significant weaponry. Moreover, like Karadjis, we do not call on the United States to arm the rebels, because we are unwilling to take responsibility for the way that the U.S. government will inevitably use any offer of weapons to attempt to manipulate the struggle and buttress its ongoing reactionary role in the Middle East.
We agree with Assaf Kfoury, Michael Karadjis, Salameh Kaileh and Joseph Daher that only the Syrian people can win their own freedom, and that the Syrian revolution has no real and reliable international support besides the revolutionary movements in the neighboring nations. This is why we remain extremely dubious about negotiations brokered by the big powers, such as the upcoming G-2 Conference. It may or may not be true, as Kfoury argues, that the current military imbalance is so overwhelmingly in favor of Assad that a brokered cease-fire is the only way to prevent further slaughter. But we should have no illusions. Russia and the U.S., if they can agree to use their "good offices" to resolve the Syrian conflict, will most likely seek a "Yemeni-type" solution -- one which leaves the Assad regime intact, with or without Assad himself remaining in power.
The recent events in Egypt underscore the tremendous hurdles facing democratic revolutionary movements in the Middle East, but they also demonstrate the ongoing vital grassroots resistance to neoliberal, authoritarian governments that is the embryo of an egalitarian and democratic alternative. As long as these forces remain alive, they deserve our support and solidarity. What they do not need is a destructive, cynical and self-serving military strike on Syria by the U.S. and its allies.