The horrific murders of 129 people in Paris on November 13 have served as the pretext for a dangerous escalation of war in Syria and Iraq and a head-on attack on civil liberties and the right to privacy in France and Belgium. It has also intensified the debate about admitting Syrians and Iraqis who are fleeing from the conflict, as many state governors in the United States are declaring that no Syrian refugees will be admitted to their states—empty rhetoric, to be sure, since nearly all of them are lawyers who know fully well that only the federal government has jurisdiction in asylum cases.
The attack in Paris was preceded by attacks in Beirut and Baghdad, which unfortunately received far less attention in the United States. Responsibility for all three attacks was claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—ISIS. Though ISIS’s rule has been harsh and brutal within the territory it controls, it had not carried out attacks on civilians outside of that territory—until now. What ISIS has done is a dangerous escalation of the violence, which gives France, Britain, the United States, and other Western powers an opening to increase their military intervention in the Middle East with reduced opposition from the populations of their own countries.
Indeed, the United States, France, and Russia have been carrying out massive air strikes against ISIS. The U.S. has deployed Special Operations troops to the Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria, in what could be just the beginning of a larger-scale U.S. intervention with ground forces. Presidential candidates including Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Hillary Clinton are calling for an even larger U.S. military intervention.
As refugees from the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars continue to stream into eastern and central Europe and into other Middle Eastern countries, the news is nothing short of heartbreaking. Families are boarding overcrowded vessels of questionable seaworthiness or attempting to cross into Lebanon, Turkey, or Jordan, where they are languishing in overcrowded camps where food and water are in short supply.
The U.S.’s intelligence services went into action to begin the process of regime change in Syria. Senator John McCain even went there and met with a group of opposition leaders. He promised them money and weapons and was even photographed with them. However, their opposition to Assad was based not on any desire for democracy but rather on their belief that Syria should be ruled according to Sunni Islam, the majority denomination among Muslims in Syria and indeed worldwide. Assad belongs to the Alawi sect, a branch of Shi’i Islam, which has existed since the eighth century.
Their organization was to take shape as ISIS, as they joined forces with Iraqi military officers—Sunni Muslims like their executed leader Saddam Hussein—who had been purged from the Iraqi army by the Shi’i-dominated government and its patrons in Washington.
In the spring of 2014 the world was subjected to the spectacle of gruesome executions in ISIS-controlled territory. Sensational news reports led to calls for American intervention to stop ISIS, conveniently forgetting that American intervention against the Syrian government is what led to the formation of ISIS in the first place!
Up until now, ISIS has been mainly a conventional military force, whose aim is to capture territory and add it to its fundamentalist caliphate. It is commanded by well-trained professional military officers. It has achieved considerable success, controlling a swath of territory from northeastern Syria across northern Iraq, including the city of Mosul, the most important city of northern Iraq and an important oil center. It has even penetrated within a few kilometers of Baghdad itself. The Islamic Republic of Iran, whose government is led by Shi’i clerics and whose population is about 94% Shi’i Muslim, justifiably considers ISIS to be a threat to its security. Iran has allied itself with the Syrian government as has Russia, which is carrying out air strikes against forces opposing the Assad government. The United States has accused the Russians of attacking forces other than ISIS, the so-called “moderate opposition.”
It is time for the United States to take the next step and put a complete stop to its intervention in the region. Complete means complete. It means no troops, no bombing, no air support, no drones, no weapons, no money, no delay, and no conditions. This is what the labor movement and its community allies must demand.
U.S. policy has contributed mightily to the continuation of civil war in Syria, which has led to a terrible civilian death toll and destruction of Syrian cities and social infrastructure. Syrian civilians have been fleeing by the thousands to wherever they can escape the violence—to Turkey, to Greece, to Hungary, to Austria, to Germany. It has been a humanitarian disaster, without question. To date, the United States government, which bears a lot of responsibility for the disaster, has done precious little to help the refugees. Presidential contender Donald Trump has even promised, “If I’m elected, they’re going back,” even though a much smaller number of refugees has thus far come to the U.S. than to Middle Eastern or European countries. One expects hatefulness like that from the lips of the Donald; one might expect better from Obama, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, but thus far we have heard nothing from the President but empty words. If the Obama administration can waste $500 million on a project to arm and train a nonexistent “moderate opposition,” surely it can put up some serious money for humanitarian aid—food, housing, medical care, and safe transportation for families who just want to get their children out of harm’s way. The labor movement needs to demand exactly the opposite of what the billionaire Trump is proposing: open the gates to the refugees and provide for the needs of the families seeking safety from violence—no delay, and no conditions. Already groups around the country are taking to the streets to demand just that.
The people of the Middle East, from the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf, have suffered for over a century because of the ham-handed intervention and exploitation at the hands of the so-called “Great Powers” of Europe and North America. All working people, both in the exploited countries and the exploiter countries, have a direct interest in putting a stop to it. Peace, security, and fair payment for their labor and natural resources are all that the people of the region wish. It’s simple justice.