Viewpoint Magazine

The Enemy at Home: U.S. Imperialism in Syria

Diana al-Hadid, Nolli’s Orders, 2012

“…all plots are united; they are waves that seem separate, and yet they mingle.”
– Louis Antoine de Saint-Just

“Where imperialists do not find disorder they create it deliberately…”
– C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins

In 1971, at the near-height of the United States’ monumentally murderous war on Vietnam, a group of radical Argentinian and Italian filmmakers calling themselves the Colectivo de Cine del Tercer Mundo released a film with a provocative title: Palestine, Another Vietnam. The title says a lot in just a few words, a brief statement pregnant with a range of possible meanings. The title’s chief suggestion – that both Vietnam and Palestine were sites of imperial aggression as well as resistance to it – would have been not at all out of place or uncommon among the global left in 1971. Indeed, Palestinian revolutionaries of the period were paying close attention to Vietnam, studying both the brutal military tactics used by U.S. imperialism to crush a revolutionary people’s movement as well as the Vietnamese people’s historic resistance. What could be learned?

In 1973, as the Vietnamese anti-colonial revolution was proclaiming victory against the militarily superior United States, a group of revolutionary Palestinian and Arab intellectuals convened a roundtable discussion moderated by Haytham Ayyoubi, the head of the Military Studies division of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), to find out. “The United States, with its violent intervention against the Vietnamese revolution and against the Vietnamese people, tried to propose an issue, and did so in practice,” stated Tahsin Bashir, then the Assistant to the General Secretary of the Arab League. The United States tried to propose “that modern science and modern technology, in using computers and planners, are capable of defeating humans.” In response to this arrogant proposition, Bashir declared what he thought was the primary lesson of the failed U.S. war on Vietnam: “The success of the Vietnamese experience is based upon the success of humans over technology.” Bashir’s co-panelist, Dawud Talhami of the World Studies Division of the PLO Research Center, proclaimed Vietnam “the richest experience presented to us by modern revolutionary heritage in facing different forms of oppression.” After all, here was a society, Vietnam, that the U.S. empire had attempted to destroy – much like the forces of British colonialism and Zionism had attempted in Palestine even prior to the devastating events of 1948, when Zionist militias ethnically cleansed and expelled upwards of 750,000 Palestinians, throwing Palestinian society itself into tatters. And here, in Vietnam, was also a society that had expelled the forces of imperialist destruction.

It is fitting that there exists no surviving print of Palestine, Another Vietnam on film – it has been forgotten, like so much else from the era of anti-imperialist solidarity during which it was made. After the global counter-revolution of the 1980s, it had appeared, especially to left-wing or formerly leftist intellectuals, that the anti-imperialist internationalism of the late 1960s and early 1970s had become a relic. Moreover, consensus emerged about the U.S. military campaign in Vietnam: it had been the product of a crisis, a misadventure and a quagmire throughout which U.S. imperial planners had stumbled their way into extreme violence counter-intuitive to U.S. interests. But to survey today’s targets of U.S. imperialism, especially in the Arab world, it would appear that, for all the differences between then and now, the U.S. practice of destroying societies wholesale, as the United States had attempted in Vietnam, appears to be in full effect. Palestine, the central historic cause of the Arab world, remains occupied. Palestine’s neighbor countries of Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria have been fragmented and, in places, torn apart. There have been suggestions to the effect that each of these countries – all of them sites of large-scale U.S. military violence – constitute another “Nakba,” or “catastrophe,” the name given by Arabs to the events in Palestine in 1948, which amounted to an attempt to obliterate Palestinian society wholesale through a Zionist military invasion, followed by ethnic cleansing and murder of Palestinian inhabitants, followed then by the replacement of Palestinian villages’ names and physical structures with Israeli ones.

It is probably Syria that has most flabbergasted and divided the Western left. It is also the most recent site of direct U.S. military occupation. On October 31, 2017, it was reported that Army Maj. Gen. James B. Jarrard accidentally revealed that the number of U.S. troops inside Syria approximates 4,000 – a far cry higher than the 500 number the Pentagon has been selling. This divisiveness around Syria only makes it all the more important to comprehend. We cannot meaningfully oppose U.S. imperialism anywhere if we compromise or make the slightest peace with it in Syria. How does the destruction in Syria fit into broader historical patterns? How do we situate the war on Syria into the histories of U.S. imperialism, the Arab world (including Palestine), and the relationship between the two? It is only by positing those questions that we can develop the theoretical grounding necessary to build the movements and establish the alliances required to defeat the U.S. war machine in Syria and elsewhere.

Our current understanding of U.S. imperialism and how it functions today in a place like Syria thus needs to draw on history and be reformulated to meet the demands of the current conjuncture. This means that it is necessary to consider both the political imperatives as well as the capital accumulation circuits of the war, which remain deeply intertwined. The war’s political goals and the profit networks, part-and-parcel of an unimaginably cruel and barbarous force inflicting miseries and social collapse across the globe, should not only point us towards a political strategy, but should also serve to remind us of why we oppose U.S. imperialism in the first place, helping those of us in the United States to recall Karl Liebknecht’s enduring warning belted out on the eve of world war: the main enemy is at home! Nor should we forget his additional imperative: “Learn everything, don’t forget anything!”

The Political Imperatives of the U.S. in Syria

On January 5, 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower, as president of a U.S. empire which was becoming increasingly assertive in the wake of the Second World War, called for a congressional resolution that would authorize him, in the words of Salim Yaqub, “to pledge increased economic and military aid and even direct U.S. protection to any Middle Eastern nation willing to acknowledge the threat posed by international communism.” An important subsidiary of that resolution, known sometimes as the “Eisenhower Doctrine,” was “to contain radical Arab nationalism of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and to discredit his policy of ‘positive neutrality’ in the Cold War, which held that Arab nations were entitled to enjoy profitable relations with both Cold War blocs.” In other words, Eisenhower’s policy sought to diminish the independence of Arab nations.

As the Eisenhower policy became operationalized as a matter of U.S. policy, the United States developed political and economic ties to regional entities that would assist in shattering Pan-Arabism in its anti-colonial and anti-imperialist iterations. The first of such entities was the State of Israel, a European settler-colony in the heart of the Arab world that has become, in the words of Palestinian community organizer Hatem AbuDayyeh, the United States’ “watchdog” against Arab peoples in the region. The second entity, or set of entities, were Arab monarchies contemptuous of Arab nationalist movements for, among other reasons, their tendency towards radical republicanism.

By 1962, during a war in Yemen between republican and monarchist forces, Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia collaborated with the aim of defeating the former. By 1967, after the United States witnessed Israel’s potential military utility in diminishing the capabilities and influence of pro-independence forces in the oil-rich region during the so-called “Six-Day War,” the United States consecrated its present-role as Israel’s underwriter, as U.S. military aid to Israel increased 450 percent between 1967 and 1968, from $7 million to $25 million. By 1970, during a period in Palestinian and Jordanian history popularly known as Black September, the United States and Israel intervened on behalf of Jordanian King Hussein to crush a revolution led by the Palestine Liberation Organization. In the aftermath of the war in Jordan, during which the Jordanian military destroyed civic and popular institutions that the Palestinian Revolution had built in the wreckage of refugee camps, the CIA went as far as to place King Hussein directly on its payroll. The episode additionally presaged another boost in U.S. aid to Israel, this one astronomical: up to $1.15 billion dollars between 1971 and 1973.

And onwards these relationships extended. Although the United States’ tactical alliances have varied from this pattern at particular conjunctures, and while there have been and continue to exist major tactical disagreements within the U.S. empire about policy in West Asia, this general strategic trend has held true into our present moment, even following the collapse of the Soviet Union, to the point that the Arab countries burning today (Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria) hold in common a history of Arab nationalist and republican state structures, in contrast to retrograde monarchies that remain comparatively stable and enjoy friendly relations with the U.S. (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and so on).

The political goal of the United States when obtaining these regional relationships was in at least one sense consistent with those of the French-British powers when they erected borders between Arab societies in 1916, on the basis of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. In the words of Ali Kadri, U.S. imperialism has historically sought to “purposely erect barriers between Arab states.” As Kadri’s argument indicates, this is, from the standpoint of U.S. imperialism and Zionism, a rational strategy, for diminished economic sovereignty of Arab states has contributed to diminished political sovereignty, and vice versa. That is, if we observe the history of the Arab world across the 20th and into the 21st century, it becomes clear that as the United States and Israel achieved military victories over Arab states in several wars (1948 and 1967 earlier on, 1982 in Lebanon and 1991 and 2003 in Iraq more recently), the ability of Arab states to pull their own economic levers (control of capital and trade and interest and exchange rates, to give a few examples) rapidly shrunk. Simultaneously, U.S. and Israeli military victories against Arab states gave way to a series of Arab political surrenders, particularly on the Palestinian issue, from the 1979 Camp David Accords to the 1993 Oslo negotiations.

The Pan-Arab idea that the United States sought to undermine cannot simply be reduced to its ideal of a single Arab (often articulated as socialist) state extending from the North Africa, across the Levant, and to the Gulf. It also prevailed as a living reality in the practical realm of grassroots political organizing. The capacities of the most important Arab left-wing and socialist parties – from the Communist parties to offshoots of the Movement of Arab Nationalists and each party’s associated mass organizations and unions – were always strengthened through the formation of cross-border relationships.

The Pan-Arab idea has also been historically important to the military capacities of the Palestinian revolutionary movement against imperialism and Zionism. According to Sa’ad Sayel, the Brigadier-General of the Palestinian Revolution in Lebanon during the horrific war of 1975–1990, the Palestinian movement’s historic strategic advantage lay in its Arab depth. (As Mao said in 1965 to a PLO delegation to China: “When you discuss Israel you must keep the map of the entire Arab world before your eyes.”) Sayel described the ongoing regional wars of the 1980s, in Lebanon as well as the Iran-Iraq War, as “secondary” conflicts that “diverted from the main conflict” with Israel. In Lebanon, Israel saw a potential “confrontation state” and thus tried “to maintain the tension in the Lebanese arena in order to prevent the strategic balance in the region from being achieved.” The military hegemony of Israel, and by extension that of the United States, therefore relies on the fragmentation of Arab societies and, furthermore, the military weakness of Arab states.

So where does Syria, an Arab nationalist state that professes anti-Zionism in its constitution, figure into this picture? The relationship between the Syrian Arab Republic and the Palestine liberation movement has certainly been fraught with debates, political rivalries, and even outright violence, most notoriously when Syrian President Hafez al-Assad ordered a military intervention against the PLO in Lebanon in 1976. Palestinian critics of the Syrian government have argued that the latter will only support Palestinian organizations as long as they control them. It is an accusation that comes out of a history of heavy overlap between Syrian and Palestinian politics. There have been Palestinian figures, perhaps the most notable example being Ahmed Jibril of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), who have professed support for the Syrian government’s proposed strategy for anti-Zionist struggle. (The Syrian Ba’ath Party also had its own faction in the PLO, al Saiqa.) Be all that as it may, none of these tensions within Arab nationalist politics hold major bearing over the view held by U.S. strategists, particularly since the second Bush Administration, of the Syrian government’s relationship to anti-Israel forces. For an empire seeking to safeguard its Zionist military asset, material resistance to Israeli colonialism in any form becomes unacceptable.

In 2006 Syrian leadership met some of its promises to both Syrians and Palestinians by offering military and political support to the Arab guerrilla resistance of Hezbollah against Israel. To quote just one U.S. analysis of the war among many, offered by Major Anthony A. Kerch of the Marine Corps Academy, there circulated among military planners an impression that “many adversaries will mimic Hezbollah’s tactics,” and, crucially, “the assistance Hezbollah received came from countries the United States may be involved in future conflicts with in the near future (North, Korea, Iran, China and Syria).” These were part of the “contributory factors to Hezbollah’s success and Israel’s struggles on the battlefield.” This analysis was corroborated and felt in the core of the United States’ watchdog, Israel. Most notably, the Winograd Commission’s “Final Report” determined that in 2006 “a semi-military organization of a few thousand men [Hezbollah] resisted, for a few weeks, the strongest army in the Middle East, which enjoyed full air superiority and size and technology advantages.”

In Syria, beginning in 2011, the United States employed its alliances with Israel and Gulf monarchies, mainly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to shatter the contemporary links between the Islamic Republic of Iran and resistance organizations. And those organizations were not limited to Hezbollah. The fact, for example, that left-wing Palestinian organizations were able to hold open strategy conferences in Damascus before the outbreak of war, is not in the slightest way insignificant, for either U.S. imperialists or for anti-imperialists, in a region where such organizations are outlawed and forced underground to hide perpetually and flee from the surveillance of absolutist monarchs and unrelenting Israeli occupiers.

U.S. Capital and the War on Syria

To turn again, for purposes of contextualization, to the U.S. empire’s earlier attempts to dismember another society in Southeast Asia: would the U.S. war on Vietnam have been a “blunder” for U.S. planners if it had not led to a crisis of legitimacy at home? It is a worthy question. Certainly the United States’ retreat from Vietnam came as the result of an inability to assert its political will on the Vietnamese people. Undeniably the United States’ scorched-earth military campaign faced a fundamental dilemma that could not be resolved. The more resources the United States poured into the war, the more U.S. heads of state felt the need to stay the course so that prior investments would not have been made in vain. By the same token, the longer it remained and continued to sustain military losses, the larger its investment became, only prolonging and thus deepening the shame of inevitable withdrawal.

The expenditures from the war on Vietnam became so colossal that President Lyndon Johnson sought, in the words of Atif A. Kabursi and Salim Mansur, “to wage the war by indirectly taxing American allies through pressing them to accept an unlimited flow of U.S. dollars.”1 Johnson’s successor Richard Nixon took this initiative a step further by dropping the gold standard. But pointing to these problems for U.S. imperialism does not answer a looming question: why did the United States, the leading nation-state of the capitalist system, express its power overseas by, as Gabriel Kolko put it, “[making] South Vietnam a sea of fire as a matter of policy, turning an entire nation into a target”?

That question must now be approached with the knowledge that the United States, albeit through much different means and in a much different global context, has again made turning nations into seas of fire a matter of policy in several Arab states. Not only is Palestine “another Vietnam”; so too, we might suggest at this point, is Syria. In Syria, and indeed in all of the Arab nations targeted by the United States, it is not only societies being ripped to shreds, but the state infrastructures inextricably intertwined with the fabric of those societies. With such a frequency of policy, it becomes necessary also to consider the extent to which this destruction is intrinsic to the entire U.S. imperialist enterprise: that as long as the United States is an empire, there will be smaller and weaker nations reduced to rubble and flames.

To ask a more concrete question then: which sectors of U.S. capital benefit from the war on Syria? Any answer requires a close inspection of the means by which the United States has executed the war. The empire has resorted to scorched-earth and chemical weapon air attacks in parts of Syria. For example, “U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Maj. Josh Jacques told Airwars and Foreign Policy that 5,265 armor-piercing 30 mm rounds containing depleted uranium (DU) were shot from Air Force A-10 fixed-wing aircraft on Nov. 16 and Nov. 22, 2015,” into Syria’s rural east.

But a large part of the reason Syria has flustered analysts has been that, before its direct military occupation, the United States’ main mode of military assault has been carried out by proxy forces, with the arming duties executed by the CIA as well as subcontracted to the Saudi and Qatari intelligence services. This tactic of war has precedent in the arsenal of U.S. imperialism, wherein CIA has sought out right-wing, in the Syrian case anti-nationalist, rebel bands to do its bidding off-the-books. As Andrew Cockburn has documented, the links between the CIA and sectarian fundamentalists during the United States’ covert activities in Afghanistan in the 1980s were firmly entrenched to the point that joint funds with Saudi Arabia would be parked in rebel fighter recruiting offices in Brooklyn on Atlantic Avenue through an organization called Maktab al-Khidamat.

In Syria, a similar campaign took shape. As reported in the mainstream U.S. press in December of 2017, Conflict Armament Research (CAR) conducted a 200-page report finding that “the United States has repeatedly diverted EU-manufactured weapons and ammunition to opposition forces in the Syrian conflict.” Consequently, “IS forces rapidly gained custody of significant quantities of this material.” Those weapons were delivered to plenty of unsavory organizations besides the Islamic State, from Jabhat al-Nusra to Nour al-Din al-Zenki.

The destinations of those weapons were neither a mystery to the branches of the U.S. state involved nor even sections of the U.S. media. One 2012 intelligence brief from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency stated plainly that “the Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and [al Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” Establishment U.S. media was itself in several cases explicit about the politics of the rebels as far back as 2012, when Foreign Policy endorsed Syrian rebel fighters because they were, in its words, “Islamist”: “…while the Islamist surge will not be a picnic for the Syrian people,” the magazine advised, casually tossing off as immaterial the untold misery and social regression of an entire society, “it has… important silver linings for U.S. interests,” such as delivering blows against Iran.2 Logically, if U.S. planners did not like the consequences of their arms policy in Syria, of which even journalists were aware in 2012, they could have taken steps to avert it then, rather than allow it to continue upwards of another five years.

To carry out such a campaign successfully, the United States and allied states need two things: guns and fighters. Meeting the first necessity boosts the arms industry; meeting the second provides for a range of private contractors that render a range of services, from outfitting and training armed militia fighters, to building military bases. Both attest to the fact that, since 1945, the U.S. military-industrial base has served as the central structuring element for U.S. capital, with the scorched-earth campaign against Korea from 1950 to 1953 (which Curtis LeMay, the Head of the Strategic Air Command during the war, said “killed off 20 percent of the [North Korean] population”) marking a significant acceleration point at which weapons manufacturers determined that making products for the Defense Department was more profitable than entering civilian markets. The same reliance of weapons manufacturers on state purchases ballooned during the U.S. war on Vietnam.

The war on Syria exploded alongside – indeed, was a crucial component of – a massive expansion of global arms exports over since 2011, when the United States and its regional partners launched the war. In February of this year, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz quoted the Swedish think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute as finding that “global arms exports increased 14 percent during the five years to 2015.” The article added that “the US [retained] top position after its sales grew 27 percent from the previous five-year period.”

The Syrian war has in particular provided occasion for the United States to expand weapons sales to its regional henchmen. According to Reuters, the Obama Administration offered the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “more than $115 billion in weapons, other military equipment and training, the most of any U.S. administration in the 71-year U.S.-Saudi alliance.” Obama also gave Israel a “record package” of at least $38 billion worth of weapons in a 10-year deal. Israeli warplanes, we should remember, continue to bomb Syrian Army and government sites, including an aerial assault in January 2017 of the Mezza military airport on the outskirts of Damascus. Not to mention, Israel continues to illegally occupy Syria’s Golan Heights, offers medical assistance to anti-government fighters (which earlier fought as the Syrian branch of al Qaeda in 2012), and even openly conspires to use the war to expand settlements there.

The imperialist proxy attacks were launched amid diverse protests in a domestic context of increased poverty and inequality. The economic conditions of Syria before the war reveal much about the nature of contemporary imperialism as a global system, and how it functions within postcolonial states in periods of “peace,” that is, when the U.S. bloc has not resorted to military assault for not achieving its aims through other means. After Syria lost an important trading partner with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the International Monetary Fund and other powerful financial institutions sought to preside over the creation of new financial markets in the country. (It must not be forgotten that, as poverty increased in Syria, the IMF marveled with great satisfaction at the process of privatization.) Benefitting from and complicit with this process were elements of the Syrian state. One target of some of the 2011 protests, the billionaire Rami Makhlouf, in many ways personifies this turn. Makhlouf amassed a personal fortune in several markets, including U.S. investments. One example of personal corruption within the Syrian state apparatus, a figure such as Makhlouf also presented Syria with the embryos of what could become neocolonialism, which Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros determine to be characterized “in the first instance, by the transfer of the state apparatus to an indigenous conservative petty bourgeoisie, and, thereafter, by the dual process of indigenous capitalist class formation and compradorisation.”

Syria is not alone in facing this problem among those states that achieved independence through anti-colonial movements, and the struggle over the nature of private capital in Syrian society and the ruling Ba’ath Party will endure after the war’s end. For those of us living inside imperial states, our relationship to that struggle will chiefly be determined by our relationship to our own governments. There is perhaps no clearer illustration of this reality than the fact that Makhlouf was sanctioned by the U.S., and thereby ultimately forced to drop his U.S. investments – an effect of fundamental inequality between nations and a stark reminder that the highest financial power ultimately lies in U.S.-based and U.S.-protected financial firms.

Returning to the war on Syria, there is then the blood-drenched corollary of having an “economy” built on war – the social impact. In an earlier case like Vietnam, the United States largely dropped bombs and chemical defoliants on peasant communities and enveloped villages in flames of napalm. Today’s Syria is by contrast a longtime postcolonial state, comparatively urbanized. This means that the U.S. war has targeted and exploded state institutions, which double as sites of social reproduction, from government buildings to schools, where Syrian life has been forced into the proximity of the mortar bomb and the suicide attack.

These atrocities constitute nothing short of a massive attack on social investment, the Syrian people’s wealth, for, as noted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as recently as 2013, “[state-owned enterprises] operate across all sectors in Syria, inspired by the Soviet model of state ownership, including in activities such as food ownership that in other countries of the region are owned by private operators.” Those sectors also include light manufacturing, landline telecommunication services, public banks, and more. Meanwhile, alongside the expansion of arms markets, U.S. capital continues to grow. The latest Global Wealth Report from the Credit Suisse Research Institute finds 2017 presented “the fastest pace of wealth creation since 2012,” the U.S. “an unquestionable leader” in global wealth gains at a time when the richest three Americans hold more wealth than the bottom half of the rest of the U.S. population.

The significance of these details cannot be understated, for they indicate that sections of U.S. capital not only depend on undermining Syrian sovereignty, but on destroying the Syrian state and evaporating its wealth, in what amounts to an unspeakably violent episode of looting. This avaricious aspect of U.S. imperialism has actually been theorized before by revolutionaries in the very region in question.

In 2005, when seeking to develop a theory to explain the U.S. destruction of Iraq, Soula Avramidis invoked the concept of the “new imperialism,” in which it is posited that “the American economy needs more instability abroad to maintain the health of its capital at home.” Avramidis recognizes that “long before discourse on ‘new imperialism’ became popular in the West, Palestinian intellectuals in refugee camps arrived at this very conclusion by simply reflecting upon the wretched conditions of their own existence.” For “the theory implicit in nearly every issue of Al-Hadaf [the official magazine of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] was that the struggle against Zionism was more than a struggle to reclaim land – it was a struggle against American capitalist hegemony on whose behalf Israel acted as a gendarme.” These Palestinian and Arab revolutionaries took special note of how necessary Israel’s fomenting of regional war was to the recycling of dollars.

This is theory borne from practice and applied to practice, consecrated within and tested by reality, the tribulations any useful theory must endure. It is the communism of refugee camps, producing theory “bred by crossing open sewers and tin roofs with the ability of human beings to examine their own lives.” As the PFLP put it in their own words, “that Israel is an imperialist and colonialist base on our land and is being used to stem the tide of revolution… is a self-evident fact which does not need discussion.” Why? For them this was not “merely a theoretical conclusion but represents [their] actual experience during the Tripartite Aggression of 1956, during the June 1967 war and throughout the existence of Israel on [their] soil.”

Those of us living inside of the beast have an internationalist obligation to amass whatever forces possible to antagonize, obstruct, and ultimately shut down these networks of war. In doing so, we must recognize that we face an enemy with which partial compromises amount to total compromises. For an example of what this means, we can look to the issue of private contractors. In 2016, a company called Six3 Intelligence Solutions Inc., based in McLean, Virginia, was awarded by the state with a contract for $9,578,964 to perform unspecified work in Syria. According to a 2015 U.S. Department of Defense Press Operation report, the same company had already been awarded a “$13,967,720 modification (P00003) to contract W560MY-15-C-0004 to fully fund the base period and for intelligence support to US Forces in Afghanistan….” In the most practical sense, we cannot oppose U.S. imperialism anywhere if we actively or passively accept it in Syria. To oppose U.S. imperialism is to oppose capitalism itself. Conversely, the successes of U.S. imperialism in Syria strengthens its profits, and thus its expansive capacities elsewhere, from Honduras and Colombia to Niger and the Philippines, and beyond.

“Here is Jerusalem”

In September of 2017, Hassan Nasrallah, the General-Secretary of Hezbollah, declared victory for the Syrian Army and its allies. “We have won the war,” he said; the U.S.-Israeli-Saudi “project” in Syria had failed. In a rare moment, the U.S. mainstream press agreed with Nasrallah. “How the U.S. Lost the War in Syria to Russia and Iran,” a Newsweek headline offered a month later. Consensus has emerged: the United States has lost the war in Syria for failing to overthrow the Syrian government. But however true it may be that the United States has failed to achieve maximal aims, up to 4,000 U.S. troops remain in Syria, stationed at bases dotted throughout the Northern part of the country. In September of 2017, Donald Trump’s appointed Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley repeated on the world stage that the United States will not be “satisfied” so long as Syrian President Bashar al Assad remains in power. It was evident then that Trump had plans to continue the war – and, as it turns out, to widen its scope.

When Trump made his announcement that the United States would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which he simultaneously declared the undivided capital of Israel, it came on the heels of extensive regional maneuvering, attempts to re-consolidate the United States’ regional ties to Israel and Saudi Arabia, the sources of the exclusivist ideologies of Zionism and Wahhabism, respectively. Both states would be recruited for an effort to redirect regional attention towards a war on their mutual enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Under Trump’s discretion, Israel and Saudi Arabia’s long-standing relationship burst out onto the public stage in the most disgraceful imaginable way in the eyes of the Arab masses, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman openly allying with a U.S. figure who is in effect pushing for the total colonization and final de-Arabization of the profoundly Arab and resiliently Palestinian city of Jerusalem.

Trump, the brute reactionary, has with this single move shed the mask of respectability that his predecessor Barack Obama had so skillfully worn. With a fell swoop, Trump has offered liberation-minded peoples of the world a potentially invaluable gift, at once ripping away the chimera of the so-called “Peace Process” through which the Palestinian people have been systematically robbed; exposing the Israeli-Saudi collaboration that has proceeded covertly in Syria; and – this is the most important part – redirecting the eyes of the Arab popular classes towards occupied Palestine, restoring the rightfully esteemed place of the Palestinian cause in the hearts of the world’s disinherited, and providing an anti-sectarian rallying point across the Arab world, in the process undermining years of propaganda work that used sectarianism to fracture unity around Palestine. As demonstrations gain momentum in the Arab world, with the United States being the source of their ire, it remains for us in North America to figure out how we will seize the moment and do our part to contribute to the defeat of U.S. imperialism in the Arab world.

To find and then strengthen the necessary alliances against the U.S. war machine might seem strenuous in a time of rising reaction inside the imperialist core. It is, however, increasingly evident that Trump’s rule is more precarious than his aggressive tone would indicate, and is in reality rife with intrinsic weaknesses and contradictions, certainly when it comes to war. After all, when Obama and then Secretary of State John Kerry made noise about a possible military invasion of Syria in September 2013, Gallup polls revealed “Americans’ support for the United States’ taking military action against the Syrian government… is on track to be among the lowest for any intervention Gallup has asked about in the last 20 years.” The poll showed that the majority of Americans, 51 percent, opposed taking military action against the Syrian government, while 13 percent were unsure. Only 36 percent of those asked were in favor.

We can extend this sentiment directly to Trump himself. During the campaign, Trump struck a posture against Hillary Clinton’s full throated support of liberal imperialism. It was Clinton who promised on her campaign website to employ No-Fly Zones with the power of U.S. bomber jets to provide “leverage and momentum for a diplomatic solution that removes Assad….” Douglas L. Kriner of Boston University and Francis X. Shen of the University of Minnesota Law School recently produced a study that suggested “that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.” The study stated that “central to Trump’s victory was his ability to flip three reliably blue states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.” In terms of military deaths, these states “experienced casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan that placed them in the middle of the distribution, nation-wide.” To add to the point, Kriner and Shen’s study fails to account for those Americans tired of war who abstained from voting altogether. To push for military bellicosity while launching a major class war offensive on behalf of the rich potentially puts Trump and U.S. imperialism in a dual-sided bind. He can commit troops to combat and thereby potentially weaken domestic support, or he can continue to do as Obama had done and evade possible blame for U.S. troop casualties by outsourcing warfare to proxy rebels capable of delivering only partial, and not full, war successes as in Syria.

Still, the question remains as to what constituencies can be mobilized in such a moment. On that front, there already exists a growing and serious solidarity between the Palestinian and Black liberation movements, itself built on earlier groundwork and linkages made in the 1960s and 70s. Any resurgent antiwar effort would have to meet those movements at an intersection and articulate itself in a way that corresponds to their strategic needs while helping to broaden their analyses of the imperialist enemy before us. If this could be successfully executed, we would have a viable force capable of employing a wide range of confrontational tactics against the corporate headquarters of global war, much the way the Black liberation movement had done with the peace movement against the war on Vietnam generations prior, bequeathing us a precious revolutionary anti-imperialist tradition that expressed the importance of having inside the United States a force fundamentally against the United States. Another Vietnam, indeed.


  1. Atif A. Kabursi and Salim Mansur, “From Sykes-Picot Through Bandung to Oslo: Whither the Arab World?”, Arab Studies Quarterly 18, no. 4 (1996), 11.  

  2. This endorsement, a psychopathic death wish for and blatant threat to millions of people delivered by suit-and-tie molders of political respectability, should be seen as symptomatic of the culture of U.S. imperialism at the moment.