From the October 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
In his 1998 book The Common Good, Noam Chomsky makes an important observation: ‘The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate’.
The notion expressed here has been confirmed as the refugees crisis has unfolded. The government and the media have indeed set the parameters of the debate and the majority of people have engaged. Discussion has tended to focus on how many refugees Britain should take, what the relief effort would cost and whether, as the BBC had us considering, these unfortunates are refugees or migrants.
The public have responded empathically, often heroically, with a spontaneous upsurge of heartfelt solidarity, signing petitions, collecting money, taking part in demos and marches, even organising aid convoys to help stranded refugees in Calais. Governments across Europe have reacted accordingly to the outpouring of popular support and, in many cases risibly, with David Cameron, the British PM, for instance, pledging to take 20,000 refugees over the next five years – a mere 10 refugees a day and a figure dwarfed by the number of Britons who will leave their native shores for a better life elsewhere in that period.
The military ‘solution’
There has been a ubiquitous outcry that something must be done to halt this global diaspora and Western governments – Britain's being no exception – have not been slow in interpreting this as a call for further military intervention in Syria where, currently, most refugees are fleeing from.
Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, writing in theDaily Telegraph (30 August), said: ‘I perfectly accept that intervention has not often worked. It has been a disaster in Iraq; it has been a disaster in Libya. But can you honestly say that non-intervention in Syria has been a success? If we keep doing nothing about the nightmare in Syria, then frankly we must brace ourselves for an eternity of refugees, more people suffocating in airless cattle trucks at European motorway service stations, more people trying to climb the barbed wire that we are building around the European Union’.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, writing in the Daily Telegraph (5 September) could ‘not consider it enough to send aid to refugee camps in the Middle East.’ Instead, he called for a military effort to ‘crush’ ISIS in its Syrian heartlands, voicing support for British military intervention to help establish "safe enclaves" within the country where civilians would be shielded from attack by the warring factions in Syria's civil war.
Roger Cohen, an op-ed columnist, writing for the New York Times (10 September), expressed ideas that are becoming common in the US media: ‘American interventionism can have terrible consequences, as the Iraq war has demonstrated. But American non-interventionism can be equally devastating, as Syria illustrates. Not doing something is no less of a decision than doing it’.
And for its part, the Murdoch-controlled media is also supportive of Western military intervention in Syria, perhaps not least because Murdoch is a major shareholder in Genie Energy which has recently been granted rights to explore for oil and gas in the portion of Syria occupied by Israel and known as the Golan Heights.
David Cameron has played his hand close to his chest, wary of forcing another Commons vote on military action in the region after his humiliating defeat two years ago unless, that is, he can be sure of winning the parliamentary consensus needed for airstrikes. With Jeremy Corbyn now facing him on the opposition benches as Labour leader, that support is extremely remote.
Needless to say, it's the same old lie, the same thin veil that has cloaked many a conflict peddled by politicians and their lackeys who count on people suffering massive bouts of historical amnesia at times of crisis – the perennial case for humanitarian intervention and bombs with smiley faces that supposedly kill only bad guys.
The BBC news site reported on 5 September that ‘President Barack Obama has called on Congress to authorise US military action in Syria. The move has provoked sharp, multifaceted debate in the US Capitol as a resolution moves through the legislative process’.
And of that resolution, the Guardian reported (6 September): ‘... Barack Obama for the first time portrayed his plans for US military action [in Syria] as part of a broader strategy to topple [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad, as the White House's campaign to win over sceptics in Congress gained momentum’.
Ostensibly, the resolution would allow a 90-day window for a US military attack in Syria, where both ISIS and the Syrian government would be targeted and with regime change in Syria the ultimate objective.
Western political pundits would have it that their respective governments are not doing enough to solve the crisis in Syria and the resulting and ongoing chaos. This helps to mask just what they have done to create the crisis. In recent years, for instance, the Obama administration has engaged in crippling Syria with sanctions, provided air support for those keen to overthrow Assad and in direct violation of international law, inadvertently, and perhaps purposely, armed ISIS, and all but merged the CIA-bankrolled Free Syrian Army with Al Qaeda.
Supporting the anti-Assad forces, every bit as reactionary as the regime they are keen to overthrow, has cost the CIA over $1 billion and US officials concede that they have trained 10,000 of these jihadist fighters. The maths speak for themselves – $100,000 to train each fighter.
Syria and Iran have long been in Washington's crosshairs. Back in October of 2007, General Wesley Clark gave a speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in which he revealed the gist of a memo from the Office of the US Secretary of Defense, weeks after 9/11, and US plans to ‘attack and destroy the governments in seven countries in five years,’ commencing with Iraq and moving on to ‘Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finally Iran’. Clark argued that this strategy is fundamentally about control of the region’s vast oil and gas resources (see also: Real Men Want to go to Iran, Socialist Standard, March 2006).
Again in 2007, in a New Yorker article entitled ‘The Redirection: Is the Administration’s new policy benefiting our enemies in the war on terrorism?’, Seymour Hersh wrote: ‘To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East ... The US has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.’
In 2008, the US Army-funded RAND report, Unfolding the Future of the Long War, noted that ‘the economies of the industrialised states will continue to rely heavily on oil, thus making it a strategically important resource.’ Thus, with most oil being produced by the Middle East, Washington has ‘motive for maintaining stability in and good relations with Middle Eastern states’.
The report goes on:
‘The geographic area of proven oil reserves coincides with the power base of much of the Salafi-jihadist network. This creates a linkage between oil supplies and the long war that is not easily broken or simply characterised... For the foreseeable future, world oil production growth and total output will be dominated by Persian Gulf resources... The region will therefore remain a strategic priority, and this priority will interact strongly with that of prosecuting the long war’.
In August 2009 – and notably the year in which Britain covertly began to make plans to train anti-Assad rebels – it was announced that US-friendly Qatar was intent on running a pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, and with a view to supply the European market and in blatant competition with Russia. Assad was having none of it and refused to sign any agreement – his allegiance was with Russia. Conversely, Assad had other plans that could only enrage Washington – proposals for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with neighbouring Iran, crossing Iraq and into Syria that would also, it was hoped, allow Iran to supply gas to Europe direct. Assad was overstepping the mark, not playing by Washington's rules and his removal had become a necessity.
It is not just coincidence that those countries with major oil and gas deposits, or strategically placed so the same can be easily accessed, suffer the greatest instability and are producing the greatest number of refugees. Cameron's 'moral responsibility' to refugees pales into insignificance when one considers the real agenda – Britain's part in Washington's plan for regime change in Syria. And this is where Cameron’s personal 'responsibility' really lies – not with ordinary people, in their hundreds and thousands, compelled to flee war zones that his government had a hand in creating but with removing Assad, in order for instance to run a pipeline through Syrian territory and to prevent Iran and Russia gaining strategic momentum in the region.
Meanwhile, Russia – its overtures to seek peace talks with all factions in Syria rebuffed by Washington – has moved to strengthen the Assad government against ISIS and al-Qaeda backed rebels. In response, the White House issued a stern warning to Russia and pressured neighbouring governments, like Bulgaria, to deny Russia access to their air space in an attempt to block Russia's transportation of weapons to aid the Syrian government forces.
Critics warn that in moving to prevent Russian weapons reaching the Syrian government, Obama is strengthening those forces fighting to overthrow Assad and that if Obama wins a mandate for his new war and topples the Syrian president, these rebel groups are the ones who will fill the power vacuum. The logic suggests that overthrowing President Assad would in all probability create a radical jihadist state in Damascus, every bit as repressive as the current regime, and lead to massacres and floods of people fleeing reprisals – Syrian Christians, Alawites and Druze – ensuring the further destabilisation of the region. Thus, millions more refugees will sweep into neighbouring countries and Europe, that is if they survive the vengeance of the new Syrian rulers.
The price paid
US intervention under the guise of humanitarian objectives is not about stabilising the world's trouble spots and alleviating human misery. The most cursory reading of US foreign policy since 1945 suggests the exact opposite. It destabilises one country after another on behalf of its corporate elite and its military-industrial complex and in furtherance of what has often been referred to as full spectrum dominance, and to hell with the loss of life. Consider, for instance, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, when confronted in an interview with the heinous fact that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of US sanctions. Her reply: ‘It was a price worth paying’.
For the US and its lackeys in Downing Street, the refugee crisis is perhaps a price worth paying, especially if the spin-off is consolidating their power in a region of the world rich in mineral resources and controlling who does and does not get access to them. The British government's real commitment can further be witnessed at the DSEI Arms Fair in London last month where some 1500 stall holders aimed to sell their wares to some of the most authoritarian, brutal and repressive regimes on Earth.
In the meantime, the real clamour to help refugees is not coming from Western governments, but ordinary people from all walks of life, organising as best they can, in their groups, communities, and often as individuals. For socialists, it is reassuring that so many workers across Europe refuse to see those they are rallying to support as anything other than human beings, homeless, frightened, displaced, and have refused to see them as migrants, illegal immigrants, refugees, Syrian, Libyan, Moslem, black or any of the other categories into which our species is labelled and pigeonholed. We can only hope this solidarity grows into a revolutionary class consciousness – when these same workers demand the eradication of borders and frontiers and every other artificial boundary that divides us, realising that same solidarity can help us fashion a world in our own interests if taken a step further.