For many observers in the West, the Syrian revolution has been defined by the threat of imperialism; that is, by the notion that the Western imperialist powers would co-opt the popular struggle against the Assad regime for their own ends. While this thinking has proved erroneous, imperialism has indeed been a devil on the back of the Syrian revolution. But not in the way that one might immediately imagine. At this moment in the revolution, when the Assad regime has managed (by way of massive military aid from Russia and direct intervention from both the Islamic Republic of Iran and their theocratic proxies in Hizbullah) to hammer out a bloody stalemate with the fractured, isolated, increasingly sectarian and materially emaciated armed rebel factions, it is ludicrous to imagine that the main problem facing the revolution is an excess of support from the West. Yet this has been the charge from certain so-called ‘anti-imperialist’ quarters.
When one thinks of imperialism in the modern era, one thinks of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one assumes straightaway that imperialism’s prime danger is its incessant and malign interference. One does not immediately consider imperialism’s other side, namely its cold and amoral indifference to the worst kinds of human suffering, and to those struggling against the very well-supported causes of such suffering. Indeed, the Syrian revolution and the lack of material support for those forces leading it should provide the final nail in the coffin of the notion of ‘humanitarian intervention’, if the Iraq war had not already left this concept dead and buried. Sadly, the leadership of the moderate civil and military opposition forces in Syria have yet to realise this fact, and have therefore organised on the basis of what has been a series of red herrings (forget ‘red lines’) of supposed Western support.