Obstacles to the planned US bombing of the military bases of the Assad regime are multiplying.
Socialist agitation should be one of those obstacles. We are against Assad; but the opposition in Syria, which started off secular and democratic, and probably is still that way in the wishes of many people in Syria, is now dominated militarily by reactionary and sectarian groups.
On the evidence, the opposition military forces currently able to make the biggest gains from setbacks for the Assad regime have nothing to offer the Syrian people beyond further repression and religious fundamentalism.
And informed military opinion is that in fact the bombing will be a “token”, serving little purpose except to enhance the position of the USA in politicking around the Syria crisis. We are not for anyone being bombed to enhance the prestige of the rulers of the USA.
The obstacles to bombing are much wider than socialist agitation. Russia and China have declared that any assault without the backing of the UN will be in breach of international law. Russia, in particular, is a key backer of Assad and will resist any action likely to damage military installations full of Russian equipment.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar support US bombing, but Jordan and Lebanon remain concerned that it will speed the spreading of the conflict.
Israel remains cautious. It supports a drive to oust Assad, but it also fears retaliation by Iran or the Lebanese Islamist militia Hezbollah, both of whom are capable of attacking Israel and have fighters on the ground in Syria.
Inside the USA, the experience of Iraq has left many politicians, including many on the Republican right, cautious about bombing. President Barack Obama will go to Congress for approval, and says openly that he may not get it.
Now Russia has proposed Syria puts its chemical weapons under international control. Syria has accepted the proposal. The US has been forced to give a cautious welcome. That may put US bombing plans on hold.
The Assad regime is reported to have moved its Russian-built scud missile launchers, and shifted troops into places like university campuses which it thinks the USA will not bomb.
The USA and its allies may not be that bothered if bombing has little military effect, since they are as worried about the relative strength of the sectarian militias within the opposition as they are about what Assad does.
The opposition is divided over what bombing may achieve. The Guardian (9 September) reports Al Qaeda types as expecting that the US will bomb them, too, “on the side”, if it bombs Assad’s bases, and less “ultra” groups as welcoming the plans to bomb. The Daily Telegraph quotes an intelligence report from defence consultancy IHS Jane’s that an attack “is unlikely [to] lead to a nationwide surge in opposition victories and... imminent overthrow of the government”.
Jabhat al-Nusra (linked to Al Qaeda) and a group calling itself the Qalamon Liberation Front have recently seized a formerly government controlled Christian town, Maaloula, north-east of Damascus. Unconfirmed reports tell of the torching and looting of churches, forced conversions to Islam, beheadings, by fighters many of whom were from Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Chechnya.
In an interview with an Iraqi Kurdish website, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil has claimed that Government forces are now working alongside the YPG Kurdish militias in Qamishli, Hasaka and Efrin, and helping ensure flights continue between Qamishli and Damascus. The towns continue to come under attack from Jabhat al-Nusra and other sectarian militias.
The PYD, the party ruling most of Syrian Kurdistan, however denies that it collaborates directly with the Assad Government. Thousands continue to flee into Iraqi Kurdistan.