Photo: Area targeted for US bombing in Syria, before and after airstrike
By Jakob Stein
Last week, Joe Biden authorized an airstrike in eastern Syria along the border with Iraq directed against Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces), a coalition of Shiite militias supposedly backed by Iran, killing at least 22 according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British non-governmental organization (NGO). The Biden administration has said the airstrike was in retaliation against rocket attacks targeting a US-led military base in northern Iraq, which left one contractor dead and several others injured.
Initially, representatives from the Pentagon hailed the strike as “defensive” and “proportionate,” and said that it was done “in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq.” Within the past two days, this “deliberate” attempt to “de-escalate” the situation has resulted in additional rocket attacks on an air base housing US military forces, which killed at least one other US military contractor.
Aside from the absurdity of a foreign army claiming to act in self-defense in another country that it is occupying, the number of reported dead on each side shows that the strike was in no way “proportionate.”
US imperialism generally utilizes two forms of military action, the first being its preferred method of low-intensity warfare and the other being overwhelmingly destructive attacks through superior firepower. Ever since the imperialist war in Vietnam, where US forces massacred thousands upon thousands of national liberation fighters but never seemed to gain an edge as more rose up in response to the brutality, the US has realized that ‘soft’ tactics were preferable. With these, they try to ‘build coalitions’ with local lackeys of US imperialism and utilize NGOs to provide ‘aid’ in order to give a ‘humanitarian’ face to imperialist aggression and regime change. The ultimate goal is to prevent further mobilization of anti-imperialist forces by obscuring US imperialism’s aims to dominate the country.
This approach is exactly what has been applied to the US campaign in Iraq since the killing of Saddam Hussein. The US government installed a puppet government favorable to the interests of US imperialism, but this has only led to further destabilization, worsening economic conditions, the birth of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in the area, and massive protests against the land-selling government of imperialist lackeys, which have been ongoing since October 2019.
These long-term, low-intensity tactics are usually supplemented by efforts to economically cripple nations with sanctions as well as air bombardments which seek to overwhelm small pockets of their enemies as a show of force, as happened most recently. The Pentagon proclaimed, “The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” but this message seems to not have been received by the Shiite militias.
The US government claims that it has remained in the region to continue fighting against the last remnants of the Islamic State, even though the Iraqi government ended the campaign in 2017. The real reason for US forces’ continued presence is to fight the influence of the skinny dog of Russian imperialism through its lackeys in Iran and Syria as well as the presence of oil fields in this region. The US has absolutely no interest in ‘supporting democracy’—its only care is securing its own economic interest by propping up puppet governments friendly to the US, dominating foreign markets to fight the worsening crisis of overproduction, and securing access to cheap raw materials and other natural resources like oil.
Contrary to what the social democrats and the so-called ‘progressive’ wing of the Democratic Party say, imperialism is not simply a set of economic policies or a position on military affairs and foreign relations. Imperialism is the very basis of the US system—it is the highest stage of capitalism, characterized by the domination of large monopolies, a constant state of decay that relies on sucking the blood of foreign nations to stay afloat, and a system on its deathbed, desperately gasping for air.
In this sense, Biden and his administration are no different from those of his predecessors—they are merely representatives of US imperialism. No matter how ‘progressive’ a president may claim to be, they have absolutely no choice when it comes to upholding imperialism. They must do this to keep the system alive and are constantly compelled to seek out new markets as part of the redivision of the world, seeking to combat the influence of rival imperialist powers like Russian imperialism and Chinese social-imperialism and launching military action when deemed appropriate.
Biden’s airstrike garnered support from both Republicans and Democrats, only further demonstrating that imperialist aggression is the go-to policy on ‘both sides of the aisle.’ While some members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, condemned the attack, they did so only on the basis that it was carried out unilaterally without the direct approval of Congress.
Military actions have been ordered by presidents without congressional approval increasingly over the course of previous administrations, and, combined with the increasing use of executive orders, this shows the growing concentration of power within the executive branch. This is not a coincidence—it is the direct result of deepening imperialist crisis in the US and is accompanied by the further reactionization of the state. Some members of Congress may try to undo the authorizations to use military force, granted in 1991 and 2002 and used as a justification for military action, but these efforts are futile as they go against the necessities of maintaining US imperialism.
On Thursday, in a cynical act of public relations, Biden informed the monopoly media that he had called off a second retaliatory strike because military intelligence reported civilians in the area. Biden calculatedly seeks to have it both ways, to be able to unleash bombs to further US imperialist interests while feigning concern for the lives of those he drops bombs on, a two-faced strategy which is a hallmark of the Democrats.
The airstrike in Syria is yet another expected confirmation that Biden is following in the footsteps of Trump, Obama, and Bush as the new manager of US imperialism, and comes as no surprise to those who remember his posturing toward Russia and China during the presidential debates as well as his tenure as vice president under Obama. This is why revolutionaries across the US have raised the slogan “New President, Same Imperialism,” emphasizing that the changing of the guard has no effect on the essence of US imperialism.
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