Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 31, 2014

Ukraine, NATO and imperialism

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,NATO,Russia,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:29 pm

A Google search on “Ukraine”, “NATO” and “imperialism” results in 493,000 hits. Right off the top, there’s a Youtube clip of Rick Rozoff who runs the “Stop NATO” Yahoo mailing list and is an old hand at this, followed by other old hands such as Eric Draitser, Global Research, the Spartacist League, and the World Socialist Website. Most of the nearly half-million articles make the same talking points. WSWS.org is typical:

Can anyone seriously believe that Washington did not expect that Russia, at the very minimum, would deploy military forces to secure control of Crimea—a part of Russia until 1954, the home of Russia’s Black Sea fleet and its sole access point into the Mediterranean? Or that Washington knew Russia would not simply turn the other cheek as the installation of an extreme rightwing government in Ukraine, in which xenophobic nationalists exert immense influence, transformed the country into the new forward base for NATO forces, armed with missiles, on the very border of Russia?

Nobody could ever mistake Rozoff, Draitser or Global Research for Marxists, but one does have to wonder how self-described Trotskyists as the Spartacist League and WSWS.org would have so little interest in understanding why Eastern European nations would gravitate toward NATO. If you were the head of state in a country that had been invaded by Russian tanks in the past, your options are rather limited in terms of alliances after you’ve left the Kremlin’s orbit. One doubts that the Martians can be relied upon, no matter the prowess on display in “War of the Worlds”.

In 1999, three new nations were added to NATO, the first additions since 1982. They were Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. For those whose historical memory goes back further than EuroMaidan, it is not so difficult to figure out why they would hook up with NATO. All had been invaded by Russian tanks “defending socialism” against imperialist aggression.

Under the serene and wise leadership of Mátyás Rákosi, Hungary was proceeding rapidly toward communism in the 1950s, occasionally having to rein in agents of imperialism. According to Wikipedia, they were a motley crew:

Under Rákosi’s reign, the Security Police (ÁVH) began a series of purges, first within the Communist Party to end opposition to Rákosi’s reign. The victims were labeled as “Titoists,” “western agents,” or “Trotskyists” for as little a crime as spending time in the west to participate in the Spanish Civil War or for being Jewish (labeled as “Zionist agents”). In total, about half of all the middle and lower level party officials-at least 7,000 people-were purged.

When the revolution of 1956 broke out, the British Communist Party sent a trusted reporter to Hungary expecting articles of the Rick Rozoff and Eric Draitser variety. Imagine their disappointment when Peter Fryer joined the counter-revolution:

There were Gestapo-like torture chambers with whips and gallows and instruments for crushing people’s limbs. There were tiny punishment cells. There were piles of letters from abroad, intercepted for censorship. There were batteries of tape recorders to take down telephone conversations. There were prostitutes retained as police spies and agents provocateurs. And the young brutes who made up this strong arm of the people’s democratic State were paid – according to documents found on their dead bodies – 3,000 to 4,000 forints a month as men, 9,000 to 12,000 as officers: three to twelve times the average wage. Plus luxurious flats while thousands in Budapest lived cramped in slums and cellars.

Surely Dryer should have understood that stern measures were required against Spanish Civil War veterans and rootless cosmopolitans.

Largely decided at the Yalta Conference of February 1945, the USSR won the right to create “buffer states” that would protect it against another imperialist invasion, or more specifically another German invasion. Like Daniel Goldhagen, the Soviet tyrant considered Nazism to be a kind of essential expression of the German Geist. Feelings of hatred directed against all things German filtered down to the Red Army grunt who thought himself justified in raping German women on a massive scale. In a book on this blot on Soviet history, Anthony Beevor quoted a Russian fighter: “Our soldiers’ behaviour towards Germans, particularly German women, is absolutely correct!.”

In exchange for the buffer states, Stalin agreed to rein in the Communist Parties in places where they had considerable strength: Italy, France and Greece. In Greece the consequences of this policy were particularly harmful. After Stalin tossed the Greek CP overboard, the Greek bourgeoisie was rewarded with 25 years of stability. When the workers got uppity, they got the back of the hand just like the Hungarian workers. While Greece and Hungary rested on rival social systems, they both knew how to keep the rabble at bay.

If not for Stalinism, the world would look a lot different today. A socialist Italy, France or Greece would have had much more importance than a socialist Hungary since the pre-existing democratic rights would have militated against Stalinist ambitions. As Fryer points out, Hungary was a dictatorship except for a brief period: “Hungary has never known democracy, except for four and a half quite abnormal months at the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919, under the bourgeois-democratic government of Károlyi.”

From the day that the buffer states were created, the citizens suffered under dictatorship and economic privation. While the Warsaw Pact was not about extracting profits, Eastern Europe economies had to put up with bureaucratic inefficiencies that were both unnecessary and pain-inducing, particularly in Czechoslovakia, a country that was relatively advanced. When Dubcek proposed a series of economic changes that might be described as technocratic but that remained consistent with socialist principles, the pro-Kremlin wing of the CP attacked him as an agent of imperialism. When Soviet tanks invaded Czechoslovakia and re-imposed hardline Stalinist political and economic rules, a layer of the intelligentsia decided that if socialism with a human face was not possible, then you might as well opt for liberal capitalism. The most notable example was Vaclav Havel, who became president after the country left the Soviet fold. In other words, the primary driving force behind Czechoslovakia’s lining up with imperialism and NATO was Stalinist obduracy.

It might have been expected that Boris Yeltsin would have little problem with the former buffer states joining NATO since he was as willing to satisfy Western imperialism’s interests as a member of Congress. So much so in fact that he wrote a letter in December 1991 raising the possibility that Russia join NATO.

The letter stated: “This will contribute to creating a climate of mutual understanding and trust, strengthening stability and cooperation on the European continent. We consider these relations to be very serious and wish to develop this dialogue in each and every direction, both on the political and military levels. Today we are raising a question of Russia’s membership in NATO, however regarding it as a long-term political aim.”

Now our “anti-imperialist” friends might write this off as to be expected from a tool of Western interests. But not so fast. He changed his tune just four years later, sounding positively Putinesque. In 1996 he complained that the expansion of NATO as “an attempt to keep the foreign policy mechanisms and the mentality of ‘Cold War’ times.”

Whether or not Yeltsin would have been up to the kind of stiff resistance to NATO expansion as his successor Vladimir Putin is difficult to determine. However, when it came to Chechnya both leaders showed that they were ready to shove the country back into the Stone Age to protect Russian interests.

In contrast to Eastern Europe, the Kremlin has been far more willing to both wage open warfare and to ally with the West in the former Soviet Republics of the southern Caucasus, with Chechnya being the most extreme example. The Party of Socialism and Liberation went the furthest in linking the Chechen revolt to NATO’s expansion, writing in 2004:

If it were to succeed in separation from Russia, Chechnya would join the league of former Soviet lands that are now “hosts” to U.S. and NATO occupation, and whose wealth is exploited for foreign profiteers.

Few could have imagined in the 1980s that today U.S. and NATO would occupy former Soviet republics like Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kirgizistan, and Georgia, which borders Chechnya and whose pro-U.S. government is playing a key role in the struggles taking place.

One doubts that the PSL ever took the trouble to follow up on this analysis, but the presence of American troops in Uzbekistan did not exactly generate the kind of response from Putin one might expect given this gloomy prognosis. Uzbekistan has an enormous NATO base that has been key for the war in Afghanistan. Furthermore, as long as these former Soviet republics were part of the “war on terror”, Putin had no problem with a NATO presence as the NY Times reported a month after the 9/11 attacks:

Today, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, Mr. Putin seemed to signal a far more flexible approach to enlargement. ”If NATO takes on a different shape and is becoming a political organization, of course, we would reconsider our position with regard to such expansion, if we are to feel involved in the processes,” Mr. Putin said.

”They keep saying that NATO is becoming more political than military,” Mr. Putin added. ”We are looking at this (and) watching this process. If this is to be so, it would change things considerably,” he said.

Mr. Putin has moved swiftly since the terror attacks to lend his support to the West. Most strikingly, he dropped Russian objections to the deployment of American and other NATO counterterrorism forces in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and elsewhere in Russia’s Central Asian sphere of influence.

He has already extracted a price for his help. Within days, the United States and Germany lined up behind a Kremlin demand that rebels in Chechnya lay down their arms, notably omitting criticism of human rights abuses there by Russians.

You will note that the West had little problem with the Russians solving the “Chechen problem” in the way that it saw fit. For those who are still expecting the USA to go to war in Syria for “regime change” as pursuant to Samantha Power type “human rights” ideology, it would be useful to review what happened to Chechnya. With both the White House and the Kremlin acting on pragmatic grounds, there’s little reason to expect a penny to be wasted on reversing the biggest humanitarian crisis in decades.

Unless you are one of those people who still take Russian press conferences seriously, there’s little reason to believe that the Kremlin is intervening in Ukraine for fear of NATO encirclement.

Long after Yeltsin had departed from the scene (leaving aside how he eventually put some distance between himself and the West, arguably under pressure from his military), the Kremlin continued to see NATO in terms far less apocalyptic than the “anti-imperialist” left as the EUObserver reported on January 4, 2009:

Russia does not rule out NATO membership at some point in the future, but for the moment it prefers to keep co-operation on a practical, limited level, Moscow’s envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin told EUobserver.

“There is no such necessity at this moment, but we cannot rule out this opportunity in the future,” Mr Rogozin said in a phone interview on Tuesday (31 March), one day after Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Russia should join the military alliance, if it meets the membership criteria.

Ironically, the obstacle to joining NATO was not primarily over the occasional flare-ups of the sort that took place in Yugoslavia or Georgia but whether or not NATO was the appropriate place for a Great Power:

“Great powers don’t join coalitions, they create coalitions. Russia considers itself a great power,” the Russian ambassador stressed.

He said Russia wanted to be NATO’s “partner,” provided the alliance took into account Moscow’s “interest” – a catchphrase alluding to NATO enlargement to its neighbouring Ukraine and Georgia, which it fiercely opposes.

Well, who can blame Rogozin? Interests are paramount when it comes to Great Powers. Kissinger said it best: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”

For reasons we can only guess at, Russia sees the carve-up of Ukraine in its interests. It now seems bent on either annexing Donbas in the way that Crimea was annexed or keeping Kyiv in a constant state of turmoil so that it will eventually accede to a state of affairs that allows de facto separation of Donbas.

Anton Shekhovtsov, a PhD student at the UCL in London, has a very useful blog for keeping track of what is happening in Ukraine if you are looking for an alternative to WSWS.org, Global Research et al. Of course, I imagine that if you prefer being spoon-fed from RT.com, you’d probably not be here in the first place. Here’s from his latest post, titled “The ‘Ukraine crisis’ is a long-planned operation” that should make clear that fearing encirclement was not what drove Kremlin policy:

For the Russian authorities, the “colour revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine that brought to power pro-Western governments in 2003-2004 was a sign that these countries were willing to leave the Russian sphere of influence choosing liberal democracy over semi-authoritarian kleptocracy. President Vladimir Putin perceived these revolutions as a direct threat to his rule: if Russian citizens see that post-Soviet countries such as Georgia and Ukraine can successfully modernize and democratize, then they may want the same for Russia – and this would dramatically undermine the authoritarian regime that Putin and his elites have built. Hence, Putin’s task was to subvert democratic governments in the neighbouring countries to prevent them from successful modernization.

In the past one could possibly understand why the Western left would have a tough time making up its mind what was the lesser evil, Stalinist authoritarianism that at least provided a social safety net or liberal capitalist democracy that at least opened up the possibility for a genuine socialist movement to develop and eventually take power. But how does one explain a left that seems so anxious to see the Ukraine return to the state of affairs that prevailed under Yanukovych and the Party of Regions?

Under Yanukovych, you had police repression and economic insecurity. For all of the blather about how bad life in Ukraine would become if it became tied to the EU, there’s plenty of evidence that for the average Ukrainian things couldn’t be much worse than they were in 2011, as the Kyiv Post reported:

Ukraine is on the verge of another wave of labor and intellectual potential losses, expert from the Razumkov Center and former First Deputy Labor and Social Policy Minister Pavlo Rozenko has said. During a press conference on Nov. 14, the expert said that employment does not protect a person from poverty in Ukraine nowadays.

Rozenko also said that, according to recent data, 23% of families in which all members have jobs, and 37% of families in which only one member is employed, are below the poverty line.

The poverty risk is even higher for families with children. According to the expert, 26% of families with one child, 39% of families with two children, and over 70% of families with four and more children are living in poverty.

Meanwhile, while this state of affairs existed, Yanukovych—Putin’s golden boy—lived like this. No wonder the country rose up.

 

August 30, 2014

Redwina and the Manwolf

Filed under: Jeffrey Marlin — louisproyect @ 7:19 pm

 

Redwina

 

(This is the third in a series of guest posts from Jeffrey Marlin whose e-books, including this one, are available from Amazon.com. )

The popular Red Riding Hood myth features vulnerable women terrorized by vicious beast until rescued by a one-dimensional “woodsman.” We all recognize (and deplore) the cultural biases served by this outmoded yarn. Today’s version is told in the voice of one elderly forester speaking to another as they wait out a blizzard in a bare forest cabin. It introduces deeply flawed twin brothers (Radleigh and Brother) whose sad fortunes engage three generations of Ridinghood women graced by wisdom, erudition, and courage. At this point in the story, one twins has already succumbed to the mutating bite of a young wolf, while the other is about to encounter two of the above for the first time.

“The sun cast its warmth with a generous hand through the tops of the birches and maples and larches. The budding of springtime unbuttoned such vapors as rise from the tremulous sexual organs which poets refer to with frank admiration as wild, aromatic, and colorful flowers. Songbirds alert to the joy of the season pitched in with their musical chirping and tweeting. In short, at the moment his sibling went wolfish, young Radleigh knew nothing of Brother’s misfortune.

“But rather his ear was afflicted by cries which resembled the sound of a crow doing battle, condemning the blue jay to hell and perdition and daring that cheeky marauder come hither. Yet this was no crow for the creature had words that no bird ever spoke on this side of creation. ‘Retreat, vile intruder, or you will complain of a hundred broke bones and a merciless skinning!’

“Now Radleigh stood still in the shade of a maple, his ears opened wide for additional dialogue, instincts impatient to render protection. The threat he’d just heard soon devolved to a cry of more general rage and a flurry of curses. Then entered the play a more pleasant soprano, whose lightness of tone and superlative diction bespoke a more tragically heart-rending story. ‘I beg you; take me for your hideous purpose, but leave my poor mother her limbs and her organs.’

“Having established the needful direction, the valiant young woodsman made hard for the action. A handful of steps showed a little stone cottage alone in a clearing of well-tended gardens, the center of which proved the scene of a drama as dreadful as any he’d recently witnessed. For there stood a matron of vivid dimension, built squarely and thick as piling of granite. Her pitchfork in hand, her unyielding expression confronting a monstrous bear of the forest.

Just off to the side stood a breathtaking maiden whose golden complexion partook of the sunshine, whose horrified lips bore the color of rubies, whose spacious dark eyes betrayed fear overflowing. She begged once again for the life of her mother: ‘Do chew me to bits as befits your digestion but spare from your maw my ancestral connection.’ Yet never the horror paid any attention, maliciously flaunting his gleaming dentition.

“The bear was much larger than those of today, standing almost as high as a mythical elephant, slavering canines as long and as sharp as our higher born princes might carry for daggers. His roar drove the children of earth and of air in disorderly panic to quit the location. He suddenly rose on his muscular haunches, preparing to strike without pity or caution. ‘Oh, no,’ cried the beauteous daughter distraughtly. ‘Oh yes,’ said the predator’s menacing posture.

“Adroitly he sprang with his eye full of mayhem, his claws glowing bright and his jawbone extended. And surely his prey, now absorbed in her prayers could expect nothing more from her sojourn among us. Likewise, that child whom she stood to defend looked ahead to the worrisome life of an orphan.

“When flew from the edge of the garden-strewn clearing, the furious axe of an agitate Radleigh. Its edge found a home in the skull of the monster, dividing the left from the right cerebellum. And so fell the beast at the foot of the matron, who hastily planted a toe in its rectum, persisting to kick wheresoever she felt that a dosing of vengeance might prove advantageous.

“My Dear, you can hardly imagine the scene. The blood of the ursine marauder flowed over like soup from the lip of a mighty tureen, just as red as the juice of a hot summer beet from which sibilant vapors rose swiftly above it. The woodland exploded with infamous chatter. The woodsman and savior in whom we take pride threw a glance in the beauteous maiden’s direction. Her exquisite form now assumed the recumbent, displayed like a jewel in a garden of cabbage. Unnoticed by mother still chiding her nemesis, only the hesitant breath of her bosom told Radleigh her soul had not fled from the premises.

“Swiftly he rushed to assist and assure her. He lifted her willowy form to his shoulder. He felt in the warmth that invaded his bosom a powerful force of magnetic attraction more potent of magic than he had encountered in nearly a thousand unbridled adventures. He too, might have fainted, except he was chartered with holding aloft the still senseless survivor. Now mother at last having done with the corpse made a gracious approach with her right hand extended, the pitchfork still gripped by the apposite member.”

The narrator chose to enliven his story with voices specific to all the participants, kicking it off with the noise of a crow as its owner let fly with this keen observation. “That’s quite a nice axe, as I think and I say so,’ declared a rough natured but kindly Ma Ridinghood.

“’My name is Radleigh, the woodcutter’s son, and I’m pleased to have shattered the hopes of your visitor. Likewise, I’ve hoisted up onto my shoulder an exquisite creature, who, having defied that unblinking assassin, more recently slept as a sister to cabbages.’

Mother regarded the fruit of her womb with a mixture of pity and honest affection: ‘Yes, any excitement will fell that poor child whose has never partook of my lust for adventure. She leans to a cautious and girlish demeanor, eschewing the risk for which I’m always ready. And so she advised me to stay in the house when that blasphemous bear sought to pilfer my honey.

“Yet I grabbed my pitchfork and might have prevailed had you not flung your axe with such perfect discretion. I must say she seems quite at ease on your shoulder. I see no good reason why we should disturb her. Come round to the back and my little veranda. I’ll make us some tea and dry herbals for smoking. Then, when my daughter is conscious again she may climb from your person to thank you directly.’

 

August 29, 2014

Reminiscent of WWIII?

Filed under: Russia — louisproyect @ 4:30 pm

What’s next? A tour of CIA headquarters?

Filed under: bard college — louisproyect @ 3:17 pm

An email I received from Bard College’s alumni office:

Screen shot 2014-08-29 at 10.52.22 AM

Deaths inspire calls for justice

Filed under: african-american,human rights — louisproyect @ 1:02 pm

This is an extraordinary article from my hometown newspaper in upstate NY, the Middletown Times Herald-Record. Ellenville is a sleepy little village about 10 miles from Woodridge, the hamlet I grew up in. The area was once a thriving resort area but now it is mostly home to failing farms and low-paying jobs at the local hospital, fast food restaurants, etc. In a recent CounterPunch article, my friend John Halle posed the question whether Ferguson is the American Spring. By the looks of this article, I’d say it was.

Deaths inspire calls for justice

Police culture cited during Ellenville rally
Top Photo
Pam Krimsky of Highland held a placard at an NAACP rally supporting civil rights Thursday night in Ellenville. About 80 people attended the rally, which was sparked by the recent deaths of two men who were killed during incidents with police officers.JIM SABASTIAN/For the Times Herald-Record

ELLENVILLE ­— Maude Bruce, in her yellow NAACP hat and T-shirt, walked in front of a crowd of about 80 people Thursday evening and spoke of the death of Eric Garner.

“Here we are again. Demanding justice,” Bruce said. “Whenever this happens, it touches me.”

Maude spoke from experience. About 27 years ago, her 20-year-old son Jimmy Lee Bruce was killed by a chokehold applied by a white, off-duty Middletown police officer.

Bruce, who is the head of Ellenville’s NAACP, led the rally at Ellenville Liberty Square. It came in the wake of the deaths of Garner, who died of a chokehold applied by a cop in Staten Island, and Michael Brown, an 18-year-old shot by a police officer in in Ferguson, Missouri.

Both men were black, both were unarmed and both incidents are under investigation.

The deaths of the two men have spurned nationwide anger over police tactics, racial profiling and the racial makeup of police forces.

 

Second march this month

The rally was at least the second locally this month. Two weeks ago about 50 people gathered in front of Kingston City Hall to chants of “hands up, don’t shoot” at a vigil for Brown organized by Citizen Action.

Eric Monroe took off his bucket cap, threw on his black beret, and got up in front of the crowd wearing his black shades.

“How many more deaths do we need before we realize we’re all in peril,” Monroe said.

Monroe, executive director of the Sullivan County Human Rights Commission, said an ingrained police culture is sometimes more to blame than race for abuses of authority. But he stressed police need to equally represent the people they police, too.

“The police department has to reflect the community,” Monroe said.

Wilbur Aldridge, regional director of the NAACP, told the crowd that police who abuse procedures need to to be held accountable. And scrutiny on those problems will increase.

“It’s our job to hold police to the fire,” Aldridge said. “It will no longer be the fireplace, it’s going to be the furnace as far as law enforcement and anyone doing anything they shouldn’t be doing.”

Eben Nettles-Abrams, 17, told the crowd that “a good society hears the cries of a community and responds” and that the death of Brown, just 18, sparked a nerve among him and his friends.

“It kind of scares us,” he said. “It seems like that’s the trend.”

A.J. Williams, SUNY New Paltz black studies professor, talked of blacks’ roles in history, work and war.

“We must take the bull by the horns. Black people must begin to own their history,” he said. “Our grandchildren cannot grow up thinking this is the way it has to be.”

 

Cancer, Politics and Capitalism

Filed under: Counterpunch,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 12:00 pm

Dissenting Opinions

Cancer, Politics and Capitalism

by LOUIS PROYECT

After working for a series of unsavory financial institutions for 15 years, I accepted a position as a database administrator at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in 1983 with an eager sense of anticipation. Finally I would be doing something professionally that was more in sync with my political values. Instead of using my skills to keep track of pension trust portfolios, I would be creating a data infrastructure for patient care.

For more than a year I worked on developing a data model based on “normalized” relationships that sought to eliminate redundancies and provide a reliable foundation for applications development. A few months after I presented the model to management, I learned that all my work was in vain. The hospital had decided to buy a package from SMS, inc. that was considered nonpareil when it came to debt collection. As happened too often, a loved one would check into the hospital for a couple of months of very expensive and painful treatments that came to an end with the patient’s death. Since the survivors often had a tendency to ignore the astronomical bills that went along with such an exercise in futility, the hospital decided to purchase a system that was very good at dunning if nothing else. That decision left me feeling deflated. Once again money ruled.

When I received an invitation to review “Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering”, a documentary described as “the remarkable true story of a young science-writer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who risked everything by blowing the whistle on a massive cover-up involving a promising cancer therapy”, I knew that this was one I could not miss. (The film opens at Cinema Village in NYC on August 29, and at Laemmle Music Hall in LA on September 5. A national release will follow.)

read full article

August 28, 2014

The Anti-Imperialism of Fools

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:52 pm

As we all witnessed yesterday Syria’s foreign minister Walid Muallem said thatSyria will offer to help the US fight the Islamic State (IS) militant group. This of course has left the so called Anti-war camp and “Anti-Imperialist” left in the U.S/West and even Arab assadists that support Assad either confused or silent on the matter. It’s important to note these are the same leftists or as some call them ‘tankies’ that support Russian imperialism and Iranian mini-imperialism in the Middle East and don’t even care whether Russia is a capitalist oligarchy or if Iran has communist political prisoners in its jails or killed because of their ideas this shows you how unprincipled they can be by becoming reactionary by supporting bourgeois nationalism and fascism. This article will focus on the many ways to break the regime’s “resistance” and “rejection of U.S/Western Imperialism” narrative and a way for critically think about Syria and the peoples mobilization against the regime.

full: The Anti-Imperialism of Fools.

Vandana Shiva answers Michael Specter

Filed under: Ecology,farming,india,journalism — louisproyect @ 5:46 pm

Screen shot 2014-08-28 at 1.42.49 PM

Read article

August 26, 2014

ISIS gained momentum because al-Assad decided to go easy on it

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 11:20 pm

Wall Street Journal, August 22 2014

Islamic State, or ISIS, Gained Momentum Early On From Calculated Decision by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Go Easy on It

By MARIA ABI-HABIB

The Islamic State, which metastasized from a group of militants seeking to overthrow the Syrian government into a marauding army gobbling up chunks of the Middle East, gained momentum early on from a calculated decision by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to go easy on it, according to people close to the regime.

Earlier in the three-year-old Syrian uprising, Mr. Assad decided to mostly avoid fighting the Islamic State to enable it to cannibalize the more secular rebel group supported by the West, the Free Syrian Army, said Izzat Shahbandar, an Assad ally and former Iraqi lawmaker who was Baghdad’s liaison to Damascus. The goal, he said, was to force the world to choose between the regime and extremists.

“When the Syrian army is not fighting the Islamic State, this makes the group stronger,” said Mr. Shahbandar, a close aide to former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said Mr. Assad described the strategy to him personally during a visit in May to Damascus. “And sometimes, the army gives them a safe path to allow the Islamic State to attack the FSA and seize their weapons.”

“It’s a strategy to eliminate the FSA and have the two main players face each other in Syria: Assad and the Islamic State,” said Mr. Shahbandar. “And now [Damascus] is asking the world to help, and the world can’t say no.”

The Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, has emerged recently as a major threat to the entire region and beyond. Its seizure of territory in neighboring Iraq triggered American airstrikes, and its execution this week of kidnapped American journalist James Foley prompted President Barack Obama to vow to continue the U.S. air war against the group in Iraq and to relentlessly pursue the killers. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the group can’t be defeated without choking off its operations in Syria.

This account of how the Islamic State benefited from the complex three-way civil war in Syria between the government, the largely secular, moderate rebels and the hard-core Islamist groups was pieced together from interviews with Syrian rebel commanders and opposition figures, Iraqi government officials and Western diplomats, as well as al Qaeda documents seized by the U.S. military in Iraq.

The Assad regime now appears to be shifting away from its early reluctance to engage the group.

In June, Syria launched airstrikes on the group’s headquarters in Raqqa in northern Syria, the first large-scale offensive against the militant group since it rose to power a year ago. This week, Syria flew more than three dozen sorties on Raqqa, its biggest assault on the group yet.

The Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, denied that Damascus supported the Islamic State early on and praised his government’s battlefield response to the group, pointing to dozens of recent strikes on the group’s headquarters.

“Our priorities changed as these groups emerged,” Mr. Ali said in an interview at his office. “Last month it was protecting Damascus, for example. Today it is Raqqa.”

Speaking of the Islamic State aggression that has decimated the more secular FSA, he said: “When these groups clashed, the Syrian government benefited. When you have so many enemies and they clash with each other, you must take advantage of it. You step back, see who is left and finish them off.”

Mr. Shahbandar said the Islamic State’s recent success forced the Syrian government and its Iranian allies to ramp up their military assaults, hoping the West will throw its weight behind Damascus and Tehran to defeat the extremists. Such cooperation would put the U.S. and its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia in an uncomfortable position, after years of supporting the FSA and demanding that Mr. Assad step down.

There are some signs that the opposing sides might be willing to work together. In Iraq, the U.S. began arming Kurdish Peshmerga forces this month, while the Iranians sent advisers.

The Syrian government facilitated the predecessor to the Islamic State — al Qaeda in Iraq — when that group’s primary target was U.S. troops then in the country.

In 2007, U.S. military forces raided an al Qaeda training camp in Sinjar, northern Iraq. They uncovered a trove of documents outlining Damascus’s support to the extremists, according to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which publicly released the records. The Sinjar records detailed the flow of extremists from across the Middle East to the Damascus airport.

Syrian intelligence agents detained the fighters as they landed in the capital, holding them at the Sadnaya military prison on the city’s outskirts. If deemed a threat to the country, they would remain imprisoned, the records indicate. But if their intentions were solely to fight U.S. troops in Iraq, Syrian intelligence would facilitate their flow across the border, the records show. Making that journey were many Saudis and Libyans — the same nationalities that today bolster the ranks of the Islamic State.

Mr. Maliki’s former spokesman, Ali Aldabbagh, said in an interview that he attended heated meetings in Damascus during which Baghdad asked Mr. Assad to stop the flow of al Qaeda militants across the border. He said Syria brushed off the requests.

“The Assad regime played a key role in ISIL’s rise,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf at a news conference earlier this month. “They allowed for a security situation where ISIL could grow in strength. The Syrian regime fostered the growth of terrorist networks. They facilitated the flow of al Qaeda foreign fighters in . . . Iraq.”

The Assad regime denies providing any support to the groups.

By the time the U.S. military withdrew from Iraq in December 2011, the militant group was nearly decimated. It regrouped in northeast Syria as the revolution was becoming a civil war. It was led by a charismatic figure from Samarra, Iraq, who goes by the name of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

In May 2011, after the first protests broke out in Syria, the Syrian government released from the Sadnaya military prison some of its most high-value detainees imprisoned for terrorism, the first in a series of general amnesties. At least nine went on to lead extremist groups in Syria, and four currently serve the Islamic State, statements from the extremist groups and interviews with other rebels show.

Mr. Ali, the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, said Damascus had released only common criminals in the amnesties, who were then offered money by extremist groups to fight against the government.

“When Syria released these people, they hadn’t committed terrorist crimes,” he said. “They were just criminals. In 2011, there were calls for freedom and accusations that Damascus was imprisoning people, so we hosted several amnesties [to demonstrate] our goodwill.”

Bassam Barabandi, a diplomat in Syria’s foreign ministry at the time who has since defected, offered a different explanation. “The fear of a continued, peaceful revolution is why these Islamists were released,” he said. “The reasoning behind the jihadists, for Assad and the regime, is that they are the alternative to the peaceful revolution. They are organized with the doctrine of jihad and the West is afraid of them.”

The U.S. has been reluctant to supply arms to the moderate rebels for fear that the weaponry would wind up in the hands of extremists.

By the start of 2012, radical groups were entrenched in the Syrian uprising, with al Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syrian arm, the biggest player. Last year, Nusra split over an ideological and leadership struggle. Most of the group’s foreign fighters formed what was then known as Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, since renamed Islamic State.

The split between Nusra and the Islamic State created a fissure among al Qaeda supporters. The Islamic State presented itself as truer to al Qaeda’s past, with its more radical social codes, and was more focused than its predecessor in creating a caliphate, or Islamic empire.

The Islamic State militants despised the FSA and its largely secular rebels, denouncing them as nonbelievers. By last summer, the Islamic State began grabbing territory the FSA had captured from the regime. In September, the Islamic State defeated the FSA’s Northern Storm Brigade in Azaz, a border outpost between Aleppo province and Turkey. The Islamic State quickly imposed its hard-line version of Islam, forbidding smoking, enforcing the segregation of the sexes and conservative dress.

The Islamic State continued to take territory and impose its social codes on more of Syria, growing more ruthless over time. In January, disparate rebel factions united to turn their guns on Islamic State fighters, while angry civilians simultaneously rose up against the group. The FSA drove the Islamic State from its strongholds across Syria.

Shifting alliances between various rebel groups made the situation murky.

In the northern city of Raqqa, Islamic State fighters were ensconced in three municipal buildings by mid-January, surrounded by rebels from the FSA and Islamic Front, a coalition of religious rebel groups. The Islamist militia Ahrar al-Sham, fighting alongside the FSA, posed the biggest threat, and Islamic State fighters appeared ready to surrender to that group.

“They got on the loudspeakers and said, ‘We are your Muslim brothers. Don’t kill us. Let us withdraw peacefully with our weapons,'” said Mohammed Abu Seif, an FSA rebel in Raqqa who was present at the standoff.

FSA fighters said their leaders wanted to continue the attack. They were prepared to kill the Islamic State militants, said Mr. Abu Seif and several other rebels involved in the fighting.

But Ahrar al-Sham wavered, they said, taking pity on their Muslim brethren. FSA fighters pressed on, hoping to wipe out the Islamic State and restore the secular roots of their revolution, according to Mr. Abu Seif and the other rebels.

But by the fourth day, Ahrar al-Sham started to withdraw from Raqqa. Rebels say a previously unreported deal was cut for Ahrar al-Sham and the Islamic State to swap territory. The Islamic State agreed to withdraw from Aleppo and Azaz, a border crossing with Turkey. In exchange, Ahrar al Sham would withdraw from Raqqa and Tal Abyad, another border town.

The FSA found themselves surrounded in the Raqqa suburbs by thousands of Islamic State fighters who were retreating from FSA advances elsewhere. On the eighth day, the FSA and its affiliates retreated, leaving Raqqa to the Islamic State.

By the spring, the Islamic State had used what amounted to a sanctuary in Raqqa to rejuvenate its ranks. With Raqqa as its base and headquarters, the militants went back on the offensive, storming across Syria, while its branch in Iraq did the same just across the border.

By June, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate and renamed ISIS the Islamic State, declaring nearly 12,000 square miles of contiguous territory across western Iraq and in Syria’s north and east — an area the size of Belgium — a newly formed Islamic caliphate. The group now threatens the borders of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, where it briefly occupied a Lebanese border town this month.

Still, at times its actions appeared to help the Syrian government in its fight against the FSA. Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, remained one of the few major strongholds of FSA resistance. Last month, the Islamic State quietly withdrew from the city’s northeastern suburbs, clearing the way for Syrian government forces to stream in. Not a shot was fired. The gains enabled government forces to flank FSA rebels from three sides in Aleppo.

As FSA fighters struggle to hold off the regime, they also are fighting Islamic State militants in the countryside just north of Aleppo. Only 4 miles remain to fully encircle and besiege Aleppo. If FSA rebels lose the battle, it could spell the end of their revolution, rebels say.

Today, at a time when the FSA’s ranks are thinning, new recruits from the Middle East and beyond are flocking to the Islamic State, crossing the Turkish border to settle themselves and sometimes their families in Raqqa. The group’s fighters and core members are largely Syrians and Iraqis, but recruits are arriving from as far away as Europe and the U.S., say American intelligence officials. The U.K. chief of police in charge of counterterrorism estimated in June that 500 Britons alone have joined the group, although a member of British Parliament has said the number could be as high as 1,500.

At a recent U.S. intelligence briefing, American officials estimated the Islamic State’s size to be about 10,000 before it took over Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June. European diplomats say the number may be as high as 20,000.

In June, after the Islamic State took over most of western Iraq and eastern Syria, controlling much of the border between the two countries, the Syrian regime began shifting its approach, striking Raqqa from the air. Since then, the Islamic State’s appetite to attack the regime has grown, and it has assaulted government forces across Syria.

Iraqi officials say the strike on Raqqa may have been prompted by Baghdad’s anger toward Damascus for allowing the Islamic State to rise to prominence in Syria, emboldening its Iraq branch.

Syrian civilians living in Raqqa and rebels said that unless the U.S. is willing to expand its military strikes against the Islamic State to include Syria, the group will continue to grow.

The perfect embodiment of the anarchist concept of the revolutionary order?

Filed under: Russia,Ukraine,Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 5:36 pm

“By contrast, the Donetsk Republic formulates its agenda from below, literally on the run, in response to the public mood and the course of events. Strictly speaking this republic is not even a state—rather, it amounts to a coalition of diverse communities, most of them self-organised. In essence, it is the perfect embodiment of the anarchist concept of the revolutionary order.”

–Boris Kagarlitsky

 

Pro-Russia rebels paraded Ukrainian prisoners of war through the main street in central Donetsk on Sunday. Onlookers shouted insults and pelted the prisoners with beer bottles, eggs and tomatoes. Credit: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

NY Times, August 25 2014
In Eastern Ukraine, Rebel Mockery Amid Independence Celebration
By ANDREW E. KRAMER and ANDREW HIGGINS

DONETSK, Ukraine — On a day when Ukrainians celebrated their independence from the Soviet Union with parades and speeches, pro-Russia separatists in the eastern part of the country staged a grim counter-spectacle: a parade that mocked the national army and celebrated the deaths and imprisonment of its soldiers.

Leading the procession was an attractive young blond woman carrying an assault rifle, followed by several dozen captured Ukrainian soldiers, filthy, bruised and unkempt, their heads shaved, wearing fetid camouflage uniforms and looking down at their feet.

Onlookers shouted that the men should be shot, and pelted the prisoners with empty beer bottles, eggs and tomatoes as they stumbled down Artyomovsk Street, Donetsk’s main thoroughfare. A loudspeaker played Tchaikovsky’s “Slavonic March,” a familiar Russian patriotic piece. Behind the prisoners were two tanker trucks spraying soapy water, demonstratively cleaning the pavement where the Ukrainian soldiers had passed.

People in the crowd shouted “fascists!” and “perverts!” and separatist fighters held back a man who tried to punch a prisoner.

The Geneva Conventions’ rules for treating prisoners of war prohibit parading them in public, but the treatment of the wounded, disheveled prisoners seemed to offend few of those watching, who in any case had turned out for the promise of seeing a ghoulish spectacle. “Shoot them!” one woman yelled.

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A passer-by at a checkpoint taunted a woman suspected of aiding the Ukrainian military. The prisoner had to hold a sign saying: “She kills our children.” Credit: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

NY Times, August 26 2014
As Peace Talks Approach, Rebels Humiliate Prisoners in Ukraine
By ANDREW E. KRAMER and ANDREW ROTH

DONETSK, Ukraine — On the sidewalk of a busy street beside a checkpoint, a bearded gunman wrapped a woman in a Ukrainian flag and forced her to stand, sobbing in terror, holding a sign identifying her as a spotter for Ukrainian artillery. “She kills our children,” it read. Because the woman was a spy, said the gunman, a pro-Russian militant, everything that would happen to her would be well-deserved.

Passers-by stopped their cars to get out and spit, slap her face and throw tomatoes at her. Her knees buckled. She struggled to mumble in protest of her innocence and to shake her head in denial.

This theatrical scene of abuse unfolded a day after the rebel movement had paraded Ukrainian prisoners of war down a main thoroughfare here at bayonet point, then dramatically washed the pavement behind them.

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