Myth two. The US has no significant strategic interest in the outcome of the Syrian conflict. ie this is primarily a humanitarian issue or one of honor for the US president.
There are variations on this theme and it is a popular one amongst certain political commentators charged to fill blank paper and computer screens with words and pictures and as well amongst right wing political opponents of Obama who see the unpopularity of US intervention in the Syria war as an opportunity to score points to be saved for upcoming elections.
Syria was not an issue that affected the U.S. national interest until Obama declared a red line. It escalated in importance at that point not because Syria is critical to the United States, but because the credibility of its stated limits are of vital importance. Obama’s problem is that the majority of the American people oppose military intervention, Congress is not fully behind an intervention and those now rooting the United States on are not bearing the bulk of the military burden — nor will they bear the criticism that will follow the inevitable civilian casualties, accidents and misdeeds that are part of war regardless of the purity of the intent.
Friedman’s articles are well reasoned but because he ignores the class divide and tends toward the short term perspectives of the business class he is missing the historical force at work. The issue at stake for the US rulers is not symbolism but real material power.
The idea has only meaning in certain contexts. For most of us working people who happen to live in the United States, we have no strategic interest in military intervention in Syria. We have on the contrary a great interest not to to be killed or to have our sons or daughters die half way around the globe in the middle of an intractable and ruthless civil war. From a broader point of view as member of the working class we also have an interest in establishing a world free from brutal contests over the control of territory, natural resources and markets for goods. And so we have a real interest in opposing this latest military drive on the part of the current administration as we have had in opposing such interventions and wars dating back at least to US imperial manipulations in the Spanish American War.
If this class separation is understood then it is also understood that while we have a strategic interest to stop this war they have a conflicted interest to prosecute it and to use us as it’s agents and ultimately victims in the slaughter. They, the social class that dominates American society, and whose privileged class position is such that they benefit from the profits drawn from the surplus product of our labor, have a dire strategic interest in the Syrian conflict. They do, so much so, that despite the somewhat calamitous results of over a decade of foreign interventions, the deep divisions which exist in their own house (don’t believe for a minute that Rand Paul is some sort of working class progressive), the profound and public opposition of a majority of American working people, and the ambivalence of large sectors of the US middle class, they go, like a gambler, back to the table to do it again.
It is the following statement from President Obama himself that most clarifies the point.
But we are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus. Out of the ashes of world war, we built an international order and enforced the rules that gave it meaning. US President Barack Obama August 31, 2013
In this statement Obama shows his complete identification with the imperial interests of the US ruling class whose charge he has accepted as its chief executive officer. “We built an international order and enforced the rules that gave it meaning.” As regards the Middle East and North Africa and specifically Syria and Iraq this “order” imposed by the victorious Anglo-American alliance meant the arbitrary creation of political boundary lines, incessant military and covert intelligence meddling in the affairs of sovereign states, the installation of minority ruling cliques, massive military support for patriarchal hereditary monarchs, a ruthless defiance of cultural and national self determination of the sort which created states such as modern Syria ruled by a privileged strata of the Alawite minority there representing only 12 percent or so of the population, and situations such as that of the Kurdish population deprived of their opportunity to constitute a nation state by their arbitrary inclusion into the national borders of Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Turkey at the end of the Second World War.
What is at stake for the imperial class is the remains of that order, one which has been slipping away from them since before the day of it’s birth. From the declining power influence and moral authority of the State of Israel, to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, to the mass uprising against Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, to the failed attempts to establish client states in Iraq and Afghanistan, the receding power of the empire is palpable.
To make matters worse for them their most reliable remaining allies in the region at this point are perhaps more vulnerable and unstable than their supposed arch enemy Iran. Iran for all of its theocratic trappings is evolving slowly toward a stable bourgeois republic. Whereas the Saudi regime, built on autocracy and cash patronage, finds its only moveable base of rank and file support amongst jihadis who are some of the most reactionary and dangerous forces operating in world politics today and it is they who most threaten the Assad Regime in Syria. In contrast to Mr. Freidman’s article consider the following perspective from the editors of the socialist newsweekly The Militant
As a pretext to rain down missiles on Syria, the U.S. rulers are shedding crocodile tears over the slaughter of hundreds of civilians in an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs that Washington says was carried out by Assad’s armed forces. Assad is already responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrians during the civil war and before; it’s certainly not above that tryrannical regime to use chemical weapons.
The capitalist rulers of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other imperialist powers are the deadly enemy of working people at home and abroad. For decades they have intervened repeatedly in the Middle East and North Africa seeking to keep workers and farmers from gaining control of the patrimony of their lands, to reap the profits flowing from oil in the region, and to impose stability for the capitalist world order.
Part 3 to come.