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Vol. 77/No. 33      September 23, 2013

Obama stalls push for military strike
(lead article)
Efforts by President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin to cobble together an agreement that would bring the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons under “international control” has stalled momentum toward a U.S. military strike. Meanwhile, imperialist threats persist and the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria presses ahead with its murderous war to retain its grip on power, which is taking a devastating toll on workers and farmers.

“Over the last few days we’ve seen some encouraging signs in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin,” Obama said in a televised speech Sept. 10, adding that he “therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force.”

“I’ve ordered our military to maintain their posture,” Obama said, “to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails.”

Government officials in Paris and London, as well as congressional leaders in the U.S., have backed the shift.

Moscow and Damascus are trying to diffuse pressure on the Assad regime and drown the domestic opposition in blood.

Led by Washington, the imperialists powers aim, one way or another, to remove Assad and have a hand in reshuffling a government in Syria that is more allied with their interests and capable of establishing “stability” — a code word for an overriding goal shared by both sides — by keeping a lid on the struggles of workers and farmers.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Sept. 10 that the regime would “cease production of chemical weapons and disclose the locations of its stockpiles to the United Nations, Russia and others,” the Wall Street Journal reported. This is the government’s first admission that it holds such weapons.

The same day, the Syrian army launched assaults on working-class neighborhoods in Damascus suburbs held by opposition forces, including Mouadamiya, one of the areas hit by poison gas attacks Aug. 21 that killed some 1,400 people and touched off the Obama administration’s drum beating for military retaliation.

“Syria’s top leaders amassed one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons with help from the Soviet Union and Iran, as well as Western European suppliers and even a handful of American companies,” the New York Times reported Sept. 8.

In addition to what Assad got from abroad, he has developed production factories to produce toxic chemicals at home. The regime has stockpiles of mustard gas, VX nerve agents and sarin — the chemical agent reportedly used in the Aug. 21 attacks. (The U.S. and Russia maintain the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons.)

Before the current discussions opened between Washington and Moscow, Obama had ordered the Pentagon to significantly expand the number of potential targets for Tomahawk cruise missile and bombing attacks to “deter and degrade” the Assad regime.

Assad’s assaults hit toilers

For decades Assad and his father before him have maintained dictatorial control over Syria, backed by governments of Russia and Iran. The Assad regime is based on a narrow layer of capitalist families, most from the Alawite Muslim minority, a branch of Shiite Islam representing about 12 percent of the population.

In 2011, inspired by the massive mobilizations in Tunisia and Egypt that brought down despotic regimes there, workers, farmers, youth and others organized street demonstrations across Syria demanding political rights and, increasingly, for the end of the Assad government. The growing actions were swiftly met by furious repression. In addition to attacks on the protests, whole cities were shelled in efforts to pacify the population.

As the slaughter grew and space for public street actions closed, some began to organize armed resistance. Bourgeois figures run these resistance forces as their political base. Some deeply reactionary al-Qaedist groups seeking a territorial base of operations are also fielding substantial armed units against the Assad government.

Over the last two and a half years, more than 100,000 have been killed in a nation of 22 million. The U.N. reports that more than 2 million have fled the fighting and destruction, take refuge in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. There are 720,000 in Lebanon, which has a population of 4.4 million, and over half a million in Jordan, where the massive Zaatari refugee camp is now that country’s fourth largest city.

Some 4.25 million more have been driven from their homes but remain inside Syrian borders. Like the vast majority of workers and farmers there, they face continuing threat of military attack and denial of basic political rights.

Thousands of Kurds, victims of national oppression under Assad, as they are in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, have won a measure of control over some of the areas where they are a majority in northern Syria. Many have fled to the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq.

Tel Aviv backs missile strike

“Mr. Obama’s limited strike proposal has one crucial foreign ally: Israel,” the New York Times reported Sept. 5.

Among the Israeli rulers’ major concern is the growing base of operations in Syria for Hezbollah, an armed Islamist group sponsored by Tehran. For decades Tel Aviv tolerated and even counted on the Assad regime because of its role in maintaining the status quo in the region, which includes a history of murderous betrayals of Palestinian refugees, keeping Hezbollah in check and helping ensure Israel’s quietest and most secure border, buffered by the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

“This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,” Alon Pinkas, former Israeli consul general in New York, told the Times, referring to the Assad regime and the heterogeneous opposition. “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death.”

Some commentators in Israel welcomed the Russian-U.S. negotiations. “If it also includes moves to dismantle chemical weapons, that is no small thing,” Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, told Reuters. “For us it is a good result, without our having had to do anything.”

Obama’s foreign policy

Obama has long pressed to cut back U.S. armed forces and disengage from U.S. military engagement. Obama’s election and course have coincided with a period of deep war-weariness in the U.S., induced by drawn-out and inconclusive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I was elected to end wars, not start them,” Obama told a press conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 6. “I’ve spent the last four and a half years doing everything I can to reduce our reliance on military power.” His foreign policy has been marked by an apparent belief that he can negotiate a different world in which the mounting crises and conflicts bred by capitalism can be negotiated away.

When the real world gets in the way, Obama has sought to “lead from behind” and relied on special operations forces, squads of drones and targeted killings. The course has condemned the administration to endless frustrations and left it unprepared for crises — with the potential to lash out in unpredictable ways, with dangerous and unintended consequences for the world’s workers and farmers.
Related articles:
Solidarity with Syrian workers and farmers!
No to Assad butchery! No to US intervention!
‘Militant’ brings Syrian toilers’ fight to workers door to door
Militant Labor Forum in NY: ‘Stand with workers in Syria’
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