US president Barack Obama has suspended his threat to rain death and destruction on Syria following a week of intense diplomatic efforts by Russia and China to prevent the Syrian crisis escalating into a general war in the Middle East. Obama has asked Congress to postpone a vote authorising the use of force to destroy Syria’s stockpile of poison gas that the Americans claim was used in an attack that killed hundreds in Damascus in August.
There is little doubt that Obama’s U-turn was forced on the leader of US imperialism by the wave of anti-war protests that have swept America and world, opposition from senior officers in the US armed forces and amongst America’s ruling circles and the growing fear that his war motion would be defeated in Congress.
Last Saturday over 100,000 people filled the Vatican’s St Peter’s Square for a peace vigil and to hear Pope Francis call war a “defeat for humanity”. The next day the Pope denounced the proposed US attack as a “commercial war to sell arms” while the Americans failed to win any significant support at the G20 summit talks in St Petersburg.
Only four countries — France, Turkey, Canada and Saudi Arabia (plus a British prime minister rebuffed by his own Parliament) backed America at a working dinner set aside to discuss the Syria crisis.
On Monday American foreign minister John Kerry said Assad could avert an attack by surrendering all his chemical weapons stocks to the international community within a week following talks with the British government in London. This was immediately taken up by the Russians who kicked the proposal into the international arena. Though Kerry initially claimed he was only speaking rhetorically it appears that Obama had raised the face-saving formula with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on the side-lines of the G20 talks.
Obama has now accepted a Russian plan to put all Syria’s chemical weapons under international control which has been welcomed by leaders of most of the Third World. Syria, which has vigorously denied any involvement in last month’s atrocity, has endorsed the plan while their army has driven out the rebels from the key Christian village of Maaloula, which was briefly occupied by the Al Qaeda terror gangs earlier in the week.
The Syrian government maintains that the poison gas attack was a rebel ”false-flag” provocation designed to provide a pretext for open imperialist intervention. This has been backed by the Russians who have provided proof of rebel held chemical weapons to the United Nations. Russian Duma international affairs committee head Alexei
Pushkov told the Russian parliament that “There are reasons to presume that not only the Syrian government but also the militants possess [chemical weapons]” and that these weapons have been used against the Syrian army. Pushkov said that rebels used chemical weapons near Aleppo in March and that this was acknowledged by Carla Del Ponte, a member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The TUC in congress this week in Bournemouth said that it “strongly [opposes] external military intervention” in Syria and is committed to “work with civil society organisations” including “Stop the War Coalition, in pursuit of [preventing such action]”. This was welcomed by Stop the War national convener, Lindsey German, as “A great step forward and reflects massive public opposition to David Cameron or President Obama’s plans for a new war in the Middle East.”
But the war-mongers on both sides of the Atlantic are already trying to recover lost ground. Russia has already had to block new French efforts to get a new UN Security Council mandate that would sanction force à la Libya if Syria does not comply with the chemical weapons demands. Now the spotlight has moved from the UN to Geneva where Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Secretary John Kerry will meet this week to hammer out the details of the Russian proposal and hopefully move on to take concrete steps to convene the Geneva Peace Conference that has been stalled through American intransigence.
The drive to war against Syria has been halted for the moment. We must make sure it’s stopped for good. Mass pressure must continue throughout the labour and peace movement to prevent any new American move to attack Syria or any other country in the Middle East that dares to stand in the way of big oil corporations, the feudal Arab oil princes, and the overall strategic interests of US-led imperialism.