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Proletarian issue 5 (April 2005)
Down with US meddling in the affairs of Syria and Lebanon!
No amount of 'broader Middle East', 'democratic' flannel from the Bush regime can conceal the ever-deeper warmongering hole into which Anglo-American imperialism is digging itself in the region.
Two years on from the invasion of Iraq, despite the slaughter of more than 100,000 men, women and children, the US remains further than ever from its goal of reducing Iraq to a tame, exploitable vassal state acting as a new bastion of imperialist authority in the region. Adding the insulting farce of phoney elections to the injury of invasion and occupation has certainly revealed in sharp detail the crass divide and rule tactics on which imperialism counted to render the citizens of Iraq a subject people. But the election fraud has failed to dent the resolve of the united patriotic forces to prevent this from happening.

Nor have the comical attempts to present Saudi Arabia's recent curious experiment in 'municipal elections' as further evidence of a 'democratic' transformation of the Middle East instigated by the 'democratic' West fooled any but the most gullible. These 'municipal elections', relating to part of Riyadh, sent delegates to a consultative body, half of whose members are in any case royal appointees. Women were banned from voting, as were most men!

This adventure in empty 'democratic' posturing says plenty about the corrupt feudal sheikhdom's nervousness about the level of anti-imperialist unrest rife in the country, but nothing about genuine democratic progress for the Arab people.

Now the latest 'people power' histrionics in Lebanon, by which Washington seeks to justify its aggressive threats against Syria, are running into choppy water, as imperialism gets tangled up in its own propaganda lies.

A death foretold

In a strangely prescient article, published in the Financial Times shortly before the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, David Gardner suggested that, for Washington, Syria might seem "more 'doable' than Iran". (5 February 2005) While France opposed US warmongering elsewhere, she might view Syria differently. After all, it was French colonialism that annexed Greater Lebanon from post-Ottoman Syria in the first place. Now, claimed Gardner, France is egging on "a regionally aggressive US".

Whatever we think of this analysis, what stands out very clearly is the way in which Syria was already being flagged up as "doable" a week or so before the assassination of Hariri plunged Lebanon into crisis.

Who could hope to benefit from the demise of Hariri? Least of all Syria, with whom Hariri had enjoyed workmanlike relations, and whose own national interest is best served by the stability of its Lebanese neighbour.

The most likely beneficiaries of the assassination would be those who would wish to destabilise Lebanon, and thereby weaken Arab unity in the struggle against zionism and imperialism - in short, those for whom 'democracy' finds its noblest expression in discussions over which particular sovereign nation is most "doable" this week.

'People power' and pogroms

At first it looked as though this western provocation was going to sweep the board uncontested. Premier Karameh's government fell amidst well-rehearsed 'people power' demonstrations, fronted by photogenic young things waving placards demanding the overthrow of the President, allegedly for being 'soft' on Syria.

As with the recent 'people power' theatrics in the Ukraine, behind the smiles and the talk of democracy lay darker political forces, well prepared to serve imperialist reaction. In the so-called 'Orange Revolution', it was the rank anti-Semitism of the Ukraine bourgeois nationalist counterrevolutionary tradition. In Lebanon, it was the anti-Arab racism viciously planted at the heart of modern Lebanon by imperialism itself, thanks to the cynical use of the minority christian community as a brake on national progress.

Less well publicised than the media stunt around 'tent city' in Martyrs' Square were the racist pogroms simultaneously being unleashed against the many thousands of Syrian workers living in Lebanon. The Guardian let slip that Syria's "unofficial army of poor labourers, who used to do work that was too low-paid or demeaning for the Lebanese, have already left … Fear has driven them out … Syrian workers have been beaten up and three have had their throats cut". (5 March 2005) The true mentality of the 'democratic opposition' is epitomised by the remark of one hotelier who, when asked who would do all the dirty jobs if the Syrians left, replied: "We'll get Indians and Sri Lankans instead."

The puppet master

From the outset it was clear that Washington's hand was guiding events.

Bush had already declared in his State of the Union address that: "Syria still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists."

Now, with characteristic insolence, Washington and Paris "called on Syria to pull out all its 13,000 soldiers and intelligence services, while offering help to stabilise the country until fresh elections take place". (Our emphasis) This ultimatum boiled down to this: the predominantly Arab nation of Lebanon should expel all pan-Arab influence, meanwhile leaving the USA and France in charge of national defence! This would indeed be to put the fox in charge of the henhouse.

The reality is that Syria's military presence in Lebanon is in any case in the process of being phased out by mutual agreement, in line with the Taif accords signed by both Lebanon and Syria at the conclusion of the civil war. As for the so-called "terrorists" Syria is supposed to protect, let's hear what the Financial Times has to say: "Hizbollah, the shia movement [is] seen in the US as a terrorist group but in the Arab world as a resistance movement." (2 March 2005) Why? Because nobody in the Arab world can ever forget the victorious struggle the Hizbollah fighters led against the zionist occupation of Lebanon, finally driving them out in May 2000.

No wonder US imperialism badgered the UN Security Council into demanding their disarmament!

In demanding the disarmament of Hizbollah and the withdrawal of Syrian forces, the US is attempting to prepare the ground for concluding some 'unfinished business', that is, splitting Lebanon into two parts: south, to be swallowed up by Israel; and north, to form a suitably servile client state of the US. We are confident that this aim, which fuelled both the civil war of 1975-1990 and the Israeli invasion of 1982-2000, will be frustrated yet again, with Hizbollah and the other anti-imperialist forces in the area leading the way.

Those 'democrats' who protest against "Syrian interference" whilst flinging open the doors to imperialism are no better than their fellow 'democrats' in Iraq who cry loudly about their patriotism from behind a protective wall of British and US guns.

Struggle against imperialism

So for a while it seemed that the West's propaganda onslaught was all-conquering. Then suddenly, to the consternation of the Financial Times, the situation turned on its head: "Tens of thousands of Hizbollah followers turned out on the streets of Lebanon yesterday carrying banners saying 'Thank you Syria' and 'No to Foreign Interference'." This anti-imperialist demonstration, even by capitalist press estimates 500,000-strong (Guardian, 12 March 2005), easily dwarfed all the carefully orchestrated 'pro-democracy' stunts played out over the previous three weeks. On the back of this development came the return of ousted premier Karameh to his former post, from which position he challenged the 'opposition' to join in the effort to form "a government of national unity and salvation". By their predictable refusal, the 'opposition' showed themselves ready to hold the country to ransom, content to see the imperialist gun targeting Lebanon's sovereignty.

For Syria and Lebanon, as for every other developing country whose sovereignty is threatened by crisis-driven Anglo-American imperialism, democracy can never be a prize to be won for 'good behaviour'. It can only be the fruits of victory in the struggle against national oppression.

At a recent anti-war meeting in Bristol, a Green candidate for the European Parliament correctly decried the Iraqi elections as a fraud, since they were imposed by the invaders' gun. From this, however, she then drew the most reactionary conclusion. "Democracy can never come from the barrel of a gun," she said, and used this comforting generalisation to leave the door open for those who sought progress in the 'political process' - ie, those who turned their back on the national democratic struggle and looked for something positive in the quisling politics bequeathed by imperialism.

CPGB-ML members pointed out to the meeting that for Iraq, as for Colombia, Nepal and Palestine, democracy can only come from the barrel of the guns of those patriotic forces who have taken up the just war of resistance against national oppression. By recognising this truth and giving maximum support to those in struggle against their own imperialist ruling class, the British proletariat will shorten the path to its own social emancipation.

Down with imperialist meddling in the Middle East!

Death to imperialism!
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