by Judith Bello, September 17, 2019
The comments below were inspired by the comments of various speakers at the conference and especially the optimistic speech by Syrian President Bashar Assad on the morning of September 9th before the participants in the 3rd International Trade Union Forum in Solidarity with Syrian Workers and Syrian people. ~jb
This week I participated in the Third International Trade Union Forum in Solidarity with Syrian Workers and People To Break the Economic Sanctions and in Rejection of Imperial Intervention and Terrorism in Damascus Syria. The forum was hosted by the Syrian General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) a branch of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), an international organization that has been around since the end of World War II. They have a representative in the United States, and many representatives belonging to national trade unions and communist or socialist organizations in developing nations. These are significant entities in their home countries.
The purpose of the forum was to show solidarity with the Syrian people and to rally these organizations to take a strong public stand against U.S. sanctions in Syria. As such, it was very successful. As an eight year war winds down, the United States has placed drastic sanctions on the Syrian government and Syrian people, making it impossible to obtain basic resources for rebuilding, restoring their manufacturing capacity and providing for the needs of a large population of exhausted and, in many cases, displaced people. Representatives of other Middle Eastern nations, Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran, India, and African nations from Sudan to South Africa, Cuba to North Korea, from Switzerland and France, Russia and Ukraine, the United States and Canada, stood at the podium and proclaimed their support for the Syrian people and the Syrian Government. In open discussion they talked about ways to circumvent the sanctions and to publicize the true story of the Syrian war as broad attack on an independent state with a popular secular socialist government that prioritizes support for the working people.
Syria has been fighting what, at this point, can only be called an invasion of foreign mercenaries, armed and funded by the United States, British and European allies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates. There are Syrians fighting on the ground but their allegiance is to international terrorism at this point, and not to Syria. This war has been complicated and fueled by a massive, global propaganda initiative carried by US and European, Qatari and Saudi Satellite networks accusing the Syrian Government of the crimes committed by their own forces.
Through much difficulty and aided by the leadership of Bashar Assad, the resilience of the Syrian People, the steadfast persistence of the Syrian Arab Army and the support of the Russians along with Iran and Hezbollah, Syria is on the verge of victory in securing all of the country except the portion occupied by the United States and their regional militias whom they call the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). These forces occupy almost 1/3 of Syrian territory, in thinly populated areas that never the less include the grain producing region and more than half the oil resources of Syria. The SDF are led by Kurdish forces affiliated with the PKK. The PKK is socialist organization with a history of militancy within Turkey. Their Syrian branch the YPG are currently affiliated with the United States against both Turkey and their Syrian hosts, hoping to secure independent control of a large array of Syrian territory and Syrian resources to which they have no legitimate claim.
The Syrian Arab Army, with the assistance of their Russian allies, are currently recovering the province of Idlib, a region on the border with Turkey that has been occupied by Tahrir as Sham (Al Qaeda in Syria), Turkic militants from China and Russia brought into the region by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish Army. From the beginning, the Turkish President has coveted Syrian territory. Many of the Kurdish communities on the border include a large number of recent refugees from Turkey where Kurds have been persecuted since the time of Attaturk. Periodic pogroms and internal conflict between Turkish forces and the PKK, the Kurdish resistance, have resulted in frequent waves of Kurdish migrants and refugees across the Syrian border. Meanwhile, the Syrians in Turkish refugee camps are Arabs from Idlib and other northern provinces of Syria. Erdogan is leveraging this demographic transformation to slow the reconciliation processes in hopes of obtaining concessions of land and power from Syria and her allies. At the same time, Turkish relations with the United States are under significant strain due to the U.S. patronage of Kurdish forces allied with Turkish PKK dissidents.
The war against Syria has been engineered through economic incentives to all players large and small, and through the greed of powerful entities that wish to control the region including Israel and Saudi Arabia, but also Turkey and Qatar where the Muslim Brotherhood plays a lead role. The United States mobilized and supported these forces from a distance early in the war but US soldiers have occupied the eastern oil fields and crop lands of Syria since ISIS secured them in 2015. Since then, the US appears to have removed the majority of remaining ISIS forces or absorbed them into SDF militias as they secured the region for themselves. The city of Raqqa was destroyed by US bombing and no effort has been made to recover it. A toxic mix of unexploded ordinance and decaying bodies lie beneath the rubble in Raqqa. SDF forces vie with the remaining ISIS fighters for control of civilian resources and the people are largely without support.
The Syrians were able to secure Deir Ezzor but not the oil fields east of the Euphrates. Earlier this year, they rescued nearly half the inhabitants of Rukban, a large refugee camp in the US held territories at al Tanf, and removed the population to the government secured region despite US and UN warnings against approaching the camp. Despite U.S. threats, those who were willing to go out to meet government forces are now safe and have access to basic resources. The residents had been without necessities such as food and water, medical treatment and educational facilities, and in many cases subject to harsh treatment by ISIS members training nearby. There is another camp like this in the north that remains outside the reach of the Syrian government for now. The residents continue to suffer without a serious attempt on the part of their keepers to provide basic resources and security.
Recently the wheat fields in this region burned while in the flush of what should have been the best harvest in years. The US and their SDF made no attempt to extinguish the fires so a major source of this basic food staple will not be available this year. Syria will have to import grain. The U.S. proxy SDF sell the Syrian government their own oil for cooking and heating, but it is far from adequate.
Bodies still lie under the rubble in Raqqa, and there has been no attempt at demining so the population cannot return. Every city and town secured by the Syrian government and their allies is cleaned and cleared of danger so the population can return. Yes, there is poverty and damage to buildings across the country. But, Damascus is buzzing with activity, businesses are thriving and there are plans to restore the entire country.
The sanctions cause many problems in this journey. They are a spiteful punishment from those who dreamed of conquest and have lost. The Syrian people have asserted their sovereignty and independence in the face of chaos and misery, death and destruction and a massive propaganda campaign designed to undermine the unity of their society. The mouse has roared. The much maligned Syrian President has maintained a clear understanding of global realities while he has navigated a treacherous and demanding course of defending the people and the country against a massive and multifaceted assault by global powers.
This is not the story you have heard in the United States and other western countries. You won’t see it on CNN or Fox news. You won’t hear it on Al Jazeera or Al Arabia in the Middle East or any Arab stations in the west. But it is the true story.
Now it is time to restore Syria’s position in the global community and allow the necessary resources for reconstruction to flow into the country. Those who attended this conference agreed to publicize the truth about the Syrian war, to demand an end to sanctions against Syria and to do everything in their power to mobilize resources for the people of Syria. Syria does have strong supporters in the region. The tanker of Iranian oil that was impounded by the British at Gibraltar a few weeks ago sailed round the horn of Africa and arrived in Tartous during the conference. Without a lot more of this kind of assistance, Syrians will lack heating oil for the coming winter. US sanctions rob the Syrians of the opportunity for free trade and certain necessary medical and manufacturing materials. Instead of replacing parts in the machines bought in Europe they will need to replace the whole machines. Advanced medical equipment and medicines are not available today in Syria. But this will change.
Russia and China are prepared to invest in the project to rebuild Syria. It is the United States and their allies who will pay in the long run, for closing the door to trade, not only with Syria, but with a growing block of countries who are forming their own global network. Through the reckless use of economic sanctions, the US government is, as the old saying goes, cutting off its nose to spite its face. Instead of finding its place in an open global network, the United States has taken the stance of ‘dominion or death’. And every US citizen should understand that this means ‘death’. There is no longer any way for the United States to dominate world trade. While the US closes the door to one country after another and threatens weak economies in development and ancient cultures in the process of transformation, other global powers are pursuing a path of damage control. While the United States is willing to destroy whatever it cannot control, other powerful nations are prioritizing development. They are patient. But they are growing in power and we are growing weaker.
Syria, like so many other small countries, tried to join the global society led by US imperialism in the 21st century but it was not received. There is an appearance of prosperity and freedom, but there is no place in that system for independence and sovereignty. Without independence and sovereignty, small countries and developing economies cannot achieve prosperity. It is all a con. The path is confirmed. You can choose resistance and sanctions or capitulation and austerity. Global fascism reigns with corporate mechanisms to siphon resources out of the people and into abstractions of power relationships. Only outside this world is there room for peace and prosperity. With every country that breaks free or is driven out, another people are freed to develop a society that meets the human and social needs of human life.
Freedom and justice as advertised, are a mirage. Freedom to build a society requires the will to submit to the constraints of social engagement. Justice is not something that can be dispensed with impunity by powerful agents through rigidly biased structures without tolerance for regional and local cultural contingencies. Without real engagement and inclusion, societies cannot develop their own character. The fragmentation of society in the United States is no accident. It is an entropic freedom that leaves individuals without power in an increasingly chaotic environment.
Both sanctions and austerity lead to painful deprivations and undermine the ability of a society to provide for the needs of the people. But there is no escape from austerity. It is an economic death spiral with circling vultures. Sanctions, on the other hand, close one door and open another. As much as the deliberate impoverishment of the Syrian people saddens me, I think they are on the better path. Those of us in the United States and its satellites however, still have a long way to fall.
As individuals, we can mitigate this course through understanding that the world is changing. We are part of the changing world, and if we acknowledge this truth then we have access to the deep well of resources that belong to humanity. It isn’t easy to look beyond the comforting lies that have mesmerized us for a lifetime. But today it is necessary. It opens our minds and hearts to a new vision, a vision of freedom tempered by a sense of place leads to respectful engagement with others. Justice grows from a willingness to deal with other people and societies with respect, to develop an openness and consciousness in each moment.
Judith Bello is a member of the Board of Syria Solidarity Movement, and on the AC of United National Antiwar Coalition. She moderates this blog as well as Upstate Drone Action and The Deconstructed Globe. She just returned from the conference in Syria where she joined other members of Syria Solidarity Movement, and she has been to Syria twice before.