The Russians are bombing Syria. They hope to destroy the Free Syrian Army, and any resistance from those who seek liberation from Assad's rule. The left, that has spent the last four years telling Syrians that the threat to them comes from Western bombing, or even support to those fighting for liberation, have finally noticed that Russia is bombing too. This isn't the cue for any change of mind, just an adding to the list that they oppose all bombing equally in the manner of a liberal pacifist. Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition says, I oppose Russia bombing Syria. It should stop, but less hypocrisy from those supporting US and allied bombing over last year." London2Calais, a group that has been doing some good work helping refugees stuck in France, says "We oppose ALL imperialism, whether it's the US, Britain, France or Russia," though they do want to distinguish themselves from those openly supporting the Russians and Assad, "Those in Britain who support Russia and Assad have no credibly left or respect for Syrian people. We say No to Assad, Oppose the British government's thinly veiled support for the Assad regime, No to bombing of Syria by ANY state, Freedom for Syrian people!"
I don't think this is good enough. It isn't the experience of Syrians. They have seen the Russians as their enemies from day one, as they poured military support for Assad into Syria, and blocked any condemnation in the United Nations, while the left told us that it was Western support for jihadist rebels that was destroying Syria. When Assad attacked the Damascus suburbs with chemical weapons in 2013, the left didn't protest the attacks, it went along with the Russian claims that we couldn't know who carried them out, and the important thing was to stop America reacting, because any strikes would turn into a rerun of the Iraq war, or the overthrow of Gadaffi in Libya (which as people have pointed out recently, has resulted in far less death than Assad and his allies have managed in Syria).
I am reminded of Paul Foot's account of the first time he met Tony Cliff, the longtime leader of the Socialist Workers Party:
"I saw a newspaper poster about events in the Congo, and remarked, partly to break the silence, that I'd never really understood the Congo. Quick as a flash, the rag doll came to life, and started jabbering with amazing speed and energy. I can't remember exactly what he said, but I do remember my clouds of doubt and misunderstanding suddenly disappearing and the role of the contestants in the Congo, including the United Nations, becoming brutally clear."
What had happened in the Congo was that within three months of independence, the Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was deposed and murdered in a coup supported by the former colonial power Belgium and the United States, which became the main backer of the dicatator Mobutu, who reigned for thirty years in a manner less genteel than the Assads, though not as bloody. The UN had actively enabled the coup, and then had stood idly by while Lumumba was killed. The Russians had promised to come to Lumumba's aid, but were happy to have another opportunity to denounce American interference.
It wouldn't make sense to lump all these actors together, and hold them equally responsible for the catastrophe that occurred, because that would take the focus off the particular villains and what could be done to stop them.
Likewise in Syria we have to understand the difference between the Russian bombing from the American, or even from Assad's own. The Americans have been trying to bomb ISIS, while trying to avoid any conflict with Assad or being seen to support him, and have also been bombing Syrian rebels, most notably those they identify as their Islamist enemies, like Jabhat al-Nusra. They've tried to find groups that the can be totally OK with to retake ground from ISIS, but have been left with the one-party state that is the Kurdish region of Rojava, and a handful of Syrian rebels who were prepared to act as mercenaries and fight ISIS and not Assad. This makes sense for a power that is not responsible for Syria, that has had a couple of bruising wars, that has its priorities as preventing Islamists coming to power, that is content to make propaganda about Assad's genocide and Russian complicity but do nothing to stop it. And so the reaction of Syrians isn't to simply lump in America with everyone else as enemies, but to object that they have not been friends. That when President Obama said there were red lines that Assad could not cross, he should have done something when Assad crossed them. Nobody asked America to invade. The media from then until now has presented this all as about the West, should America intervene, how can the West pick the right people to support. When asked, most Syrians said they were quite happy for the US to bomb Assad's forces if that would stop his assaults on them, a year after he had gutted the city of Homs and bombed the rest of Syria in unprecedented fashion, with the mass arrest, rape and torture continuing of those who had not acquired the means to resist.
What Syrians asked for was the chance to stop Assad themselves. To have the anti-aircraft missiles that would stop the devastating bombing, and precipitate millions to flee. That's what they need now. The effectiveness of Assad's bombing had become less with the disintegration of his forces. The Russian bombers can fly high enough not be seen, there is no way to flee their attacks, and so if there isn't an appropriate response soon from someone, many more civilians will have to run.
Where would that response come from? From Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Turkey, the neighbouring states most affected by Assad's genocide, and so certainly in the first two cases, not intervening because of some secret salafist plan to advance their influence through proxies. They have helped the Free Syrian Army because decency and their people have demanded it. And the commentators on the Left have demonised and lied about them, said they were supporting ISIS, or that the forces they support were equally as bad as Assad. Yes any foreign support comes with strings, but when you are facing genocide, you want the strings to be as few as possible, but when there is no alternative other than death you take the strings. There is little the Saudis or anyone else is obtaining with their support right now. Being popular among those whose homes are being barrel bombed doesn't add a dime to Saudi coffers. Any thanks they receive once Assad is overthrown will be freely given, not part of some betrayal of Syria.
Tony Cliff used the slogan Neither Washington Nor Moscow to establish opposition to repression wherever it comes from. What is ironic is that much of the left those mentioned at the start get their inspiration from Cliff, showing that words mean nothing without thinking behind them. Lindsey German would say it always means opposing your own ruling class, and therefore in the West the US. That's why she's happy to ignore the facts on the ground that show this isn't down to the West, but the effects of the spiraling down of the control of a Russian and Iranian client. There are groups in Syria who share the anti-Americanism, that would be the extreme jihadis, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, who see Christians and secularists as much the same as Assad. The problem is that there is no help forthcoming for those that prefer a more secular outcome, not that people are demanding American intervention. And those jihadists, seen by the Left at its least anti-racist, as a good reason to prevaricate over support for the Syrian revolution, have sacrificed much in the fight against Assad, and so have gained the respect of the Syrian people, so a Left saying we can't support the rebels because of them is multiply cut off from the experience of Syrians. The way to win back the revolution from the jihadists is not to ignore and denounce them, but to show that there is an alternative that is just as determined to kick out Assad.
I've pointed out before that if you tell Syrians their greatest enemy is the US, they will call you pro-Assad. And I get leftists going off in a huff, complaining that I am calling them pro-Assad. I'm not, but missing the point is the far greater mistake here. Those like Lindsey German who call for a negotiated solution that leaves Assad in power have clearly strayed light-years from any fight against oppression. But those who say we have to be balanced, to condemn everyone equally, are still not connecting with the reality in Syria. The Russian project is clearly to keep Assad in place, which will require the return of his reign of terror across Syria. The Iranians are slightly different, they would be happy with a sectarian rump state that maintained their supply lines to Lebanon, and reinforced their colonisation of the parts of Syria needed to achieve this. For Syrians this is a most titanic struggle, against Assad, Russia and Iran. They need support from those states that might give them weapons to protect themselves. They need as little interference with that help from the US as they can get. They do not need to be told that everyone is as bad as each other. None of the bombing is likely to be a help, though the American bombing of Kobane did enable its liberation from ISIS; while we are at it the limited bombing in Libya probably did help turn the tide against Gadaffi. But the bombing isn't all equally the problem, and the American bombing of ISIS that causes some civilian casualties and may be ineffective doesn't compare with the Russian attempts to murder Syrians who resist Assad.