Every new barbaric atrocity by the Islamic State (Isis) makes headlines. Precisely as they are intended to do. US attacks may have the effect of slowing down Isis’ military progress – but it cannot be beaten by military interventions.
Ironically, only a year ago all the talk was of US military intervention on the side of the Syrian opposition – forces that were even then dominated by jihadists who have today evolved into Isis. Today the US and UK are waging an air war against them.
This air war will bolster the regime of Bashar Assad, yesterday’s mortal enemy. Assad has consolidated his power with phoney elections; his army (supported by another ‘rogue state’, Iran) is as repressive as ever before. In short, nothing has changed except the priorities of the imperialist powers – there is now an urgent need to maintain control over the country they ruined in another ‘humanitarian’ intervention in 2003: Iraq.
So Shia Iran, and therefore its ally, Syria, are no longer the main enemy. On the contrary, Iran’s alliance and support is welcomed in Iraq, where, in true colonial fashion, Washington dismisses the prime minister of the occupation government and gets Tehran’s approval to install a replacement.
Ten years after de-Ba’athification and ‘year zero’, when neoliberal economics was supposed to bring about a democratic civil society and, according to some, trade union rights for Iraqi workers, the country remains devastated. It soon became obvious that the regional power benefiting from the political vacuum was Iran. With a friendly, at times obedient, Shia-led state in Baghdad, relative influence in Syria and growing links with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the clerics in Tehran and Qom could not believe their luck: the neoconservatives had handed them the Shia belt, stretching from Tehran (some would say Kabul) to the Mediterranean coast. Yet Iran’s influence and at times direct interventions in Iraq and Syria – not to mention Hezbollah’s political success in Lebanon – increased sectarian tension, a tension fuelled by Saudi and Qatari financial support for Sunni militias in Syria and Iraq, as well as political opponents of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
US threats against Iran and the hysteria about Iran’s nuclear programme since 2007, as well as subsequent crippling sanctions, were inevitable consequences of attempts by first Bush and then Obama to address the increasing geopolitical strength of Iran. The Arab spring in 2011 and 2012 only reinforced this position, as the US now had to consider the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. Ironically it was the defeat of the Arab spring and the rising power of fundamentalist jihadists, especially in Syria, that changed US foreign policy. Washington is disorientated and the reality is that last year’s enemies (the Iranian rulers, Assad and Hezbollah) are today’s allies. Unfortunately this disorientation is mirrored amongst sections of the left.
the choice is not between the abstraction that only ‘socialism will do’ or the ‘realistic’ politics of supporting ‘humanitarian’ interventions by the US and its allies. The mess in the Middle East makes a principled position all the more vital:
No foreign military intervention!
No support for one or the other reactionary state, one or the other hopeless, ‘moderate’ Islamic group, simply because they oppose the local dictator.
- Many of these jihadists were incubated by Saudi Arabia and other US allies
- It was western colonialism that created the underlying problems of the region – arbitrary borders, crude imposition of ruling elites from religious minorities (Sunni rulers in Shia countries and vice versa).
- All imperialist ‘humanitarian interventions’ are political, with the single aim of advancing the geopolitical hegemony of US imperialism. Otherwise we would have witnessed, if not US military action, at least forthright condemnation of Israel, as it massacred over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza.
- Sections of the left that tail the latest ‘humanitarian’ intervention end up supporting the bombing of pro-Assad forces, including Iranian Revolutionary guards one year and the bombing of Assad’s opponents the next, as ground troops supported by Iranian Revolutionary Guards help Iraqi forces to recapture Shia towns.
- Every military intervention, ‘humanitarian’ or otherwise, brings new recruits into the ranks of the jihadists. Anyone in doubt should look at events in Afghanistan and how US bombing increased support for the Taliban.
One of the revolutionary left’s most important tasks in the current situation is to point to the fallacy of ‘humanitarian intervention’, while avoiding the short-sighted, opportunistic politics of falling behind this or that Arab/Middle Eastern state or Islamic opposition (‘moderate’ or jihadist, from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to Al Nasr in Syria). This sort of politics continues to discredit the international left in the Middle East, and play into the hands of the religious fundamentalists.
The Americans and their new regional ally, Iran’s Islamic Republic, hope the removal of the much hated Maliki and the coming to power of the ‘moderate’ al-Abadi will improve relations with Sunni tribes. However, as late as August 30, Sheikh Ali al-Hatim of the Dulaim tribe was urging fellow Sunni leaders to withdraw from talks to form a new government. Hatim also called on the Sunni authorities to clamp down on Shi’ite militias.
Faced with the horrors inflicted by the IS, there was some confusion amongst the left in the imperialist countries. However, the answers remain simple and straightforward. For example: in 2007 Hopi pointed out, in opposition to the line adopted by the Stop the War Coalition leadership, that threats of war against Iran do not mean us we side with a reactionary religious state.
In 2012, during the Arab spring, Hopi said warned that, while in Egypt the departure of Hosni Mubarak was a cause for celebration, in the absence of any viable leftwing alternative, the neoliberal economics of the Muslim Brotherhood’s, and by the imposition of aspects of Sharia law, would be a disaster. We rejected claims about the allegedly progressive and anti-imperialist nature of the MB and warned against calling for a vote for it.
We were also against the military coup in Egypt in the summer of 2013, which sections of the left at first giddily supported.
And we opposed US military intervention in Syria. Foreign interventions in that country from Iran and Russia on the side of the Syrian dictator, and from Saudi Arabia and Qatar in support of Al Nasr, Isis and the Free Syrian army, paved the way for subsequent disasters.
We repeat the warnings again. The Middle East has a complicated history, compounded by arbitrary borders drawn up by the colonial powers. It has seen imperialist interventions throughout the last century. Only one position that has stood the test of time:
- No to social-imperialist calls in for ‘humanitarian’ intervention!
- No ‘critical support’ to this or that regional dictator or Islamist group (‘moderate’ or otherwise)
- Stand alongside those sections of the working class movement that have not been tainted by either social-imperialism or false anti-imperialism. do not be fooled: there are no short cuts, no easy solutions.