Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 7, 2014

Syria and The National Interest

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 4:32 pm

Flynt and Hillary Mann Everett: the only two people who have written both for Monthly Review and Irving Kristol’s The National Interest

Consider this the latest installment in an ongoing series on the right-left convergence. Just yesterday Idrees Ahmed, the author of a devastating critique of Sy Hersh’s articles blaming the rebels for the sarin gas attacks in Syria, brought my attention to an article in The National Interest by Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett titled “A Middle East Tragedy: Obama’s Syria-Policy Disaster” that has appeared in one form or another at least a thousand times over the past four years.

Conversely, there is no polling or other evidence suggesting that anywhere close to a majority of Syrians wants Assad replaced by some part of the opposition. Indeed, the opposition’s popularity appears to be declining as oppositionists become ever more deeply divided and ever more dominated inside Syria by Al Qaeda-like jihadis. Just last year, NATO estimated that popular support for the opposition may have shrunk to as low as 10 percent of the Syrian public.

To give you an idea of the meretricious character of this sort of punditry, the ‘estimated’ link in the paragraph above is to an article in http://www.worldtribune.com, a website that was launched by one of Reverend Moon’s editors at the Washington Times. A 2003 New Yorker magazine article on the World Tribune indicates its willingness to play fast and loose with the facts:

Aficionados of the Drudge Report may have noticed several striking headlines recently linking to stories from the World Tribune, an enterprise with a title as grand and ambitious as it is unfamiliar. One such story last week began, “U.S. intelligence suspects Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction have finally been located.” The apparent scoop—of stop-the-presses significance—was unsigned, and billed as a “special to World Tribune.com.”

So things come full circle. Friends of the Syrian dictatorship write articles “proving” that al-Assad has the support of 90 percent of the population based on lies that appear in a website that was a key backer of George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.

For those of you who keep track of Yoshie Furuhashi’s MRZine, a website that has the tacit approval of MR éminence grise John Foster Bellamy, you might recall that the Leveretts were regular contributors there for a few years, making the case for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Now that a “reformist” has replaced Ahmadinejad, the MR outlet’s enthusiasm has dimmed.

But who could have predicted that the Leveretts would eventually end up writing articles for The National Interest, a magazine that was ostensibly as far from the Monthly Review weltanschauung as can be imagined?

Irving Kristol was to The National Interest as Paul Sweezy was to Monthly Review. He launched the magazine in 1985 as a leading voice of neoconservatism. Kristol, like Sweezy, was a radical in the 1930s but aligned with the Trotskyist movement. He was one of a number of CCNY leftists who turned to the right under the impact of the Cold War. You can find out about all these renegades in a good documentary titled “Arguing the World”. (Available as a DVD from Netflix or from Amazon streaming.)

George W. Bush awarded Kristol the Medal of Freedom in 2002, the highest non-military citation. This was in gratitude for his support for American imperialist interventions going on since WWII and especially for his avid support for the “war on terror”.

So given the support for intervention in Syria by the likes of Republicans like John McCain and hawkish Democrats like Hillary Clinton, why would The National Interest be publishing articles that could have appeared just as easily on MRZine, Global Research or any of a dozen other “anti-imperialist” websites?

To start with, it is necessary to understand that The National Interest has evolved. It is no longer an advocate of Wilsonian crusades for democracy at the point of a bayonet. Instead it has taken its stand with the libertarian wing of the Republican Party that hews to the “isolationist” policies of Senator Robert Taft. Such Republicans were invited to speak at Ralph Nader’s right-left conference in Washington on May 27th.

It is not hard to figure out the magazine’s orientation given a number of the editors now ensconced there. For example, Andrew Bacevich is a contributing editor and John Mearsheimer is a member of the advisory board. Bacevich, a career military man and scholar, has become a high-profile opponent of the Bush era full-tilt “war on terror” as well as Obama’s “limited” drone program. As a hard-core realist, Bacevich understandably could come to the conclusion that “Except to Syrians, the fate of Syria per se doesn’t matter any more than the fate of Latvia or Laos.” In other words, Bacevich is just as US-centric as those he battles against, except on the opposite side of the ledger. Where men like LBJ argued that it was necessary to intervene in Vietnam so as to make sure falling dominoes do not reach Omaha, Bacevich takes the position that we should let the dominoes fall where they may since they will never reach Omaha. In either case, we are dealing with thinking squarely within the walls of Foggy Bottom.

Mearsheimer is best known as a critic of the “Israel Lobby” but has also weighed in on the “antiwar” side during the “red line” furor after the sarin gas attack in Ghouta. In a panel discussion on PBS, he made the case for non-intervention:

I think that the United States has no strategic interest in this particular case. Our core strategic interests are not at stake. There’s no compelling moral case for intervening in Syria. And, very importantly, it’s not clear that using military force is going to do any good.

Like Bacevich, Mearsheimer is thinking in terms of “the national interest”. Since Henry Kissinger, the 20th century’s Metternich, is the magazine’s honorary chairman, naturally this is its dominant perspective. When Irving Kristol was running things, the magazine championed interventionism since the Cold War was naturally in America’s “interest”. Now that the Cold War is over and Russia is capitalist and the beneficiary of major investments by Exxon-Mobil and BP, it is necessary to be more “nuanced”. A scalpel rather than a broadsword is necessary. What any of this has to do with the class struggle is anybody’s guess, of course.

I don’t want to appear cynical about the Leveretts but I wonder to what extent their advocacy for Iran and Syria is a mixture of business and pleasure. Hillary Mann Leverett is the CEO of The Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis, a consulting firm that will certainly earn big bucks trading on the husband and wife’s close ties to Tehran. If you go to the company’s website, you’ll get a good idea of what they are up to. Doug Arent, their executive director, spoke at a “Champions of Change” White House symposium. He made the case for fracking, a technique that will promote the use of natural gas, an energy source he regards as beneficent as solar power. Here are the Leveretts arguing against EU sanctions on Iran, something that will cut off the supply of natural gas. No wonder these people are working overtime on Iran and Syria’s behalf. There’s money to be made.

With allies like the Leveretts and The National Interest, the antiwar movement in the US has the wind in its sails, all the more so given recent reports that Obama’s war threats against Bashar al-Assad had been empty bluster all along. Robert Ford, who resigned recently as the US Ambassador to Syria, testified to that in a CNN interview. It has also been widely reported that Hillary Clinton favored arming the rebels early on but was overruled by President Obama. You can be assured that these reports will have little impact on an “anti-imperialist” left that has convinced itself that the White House remains poised to carry out a Bush-style attack on Syria.

For such good people are quite sure that they are following in the footsteps of the antiwar movement of the early 2000s that mobilized millions against Bush’s “war on terror”. Does it matter that over the past four years, the Obama administration has shown little interest in such a war, refuses to supply anything more than light arms, and—most importantly—acts to block the shipment of MANPAD’s from Libya and other sources, the only weapons that could have made a difference?

I can share their opposition to American intervention since I have learned over the past 50 years or so that nothing good ever comes out of it. Where I stand apart is over the question of how to regard the Syrian revolution that they hate like a vampire hates holy water. In their mind, the plebeian masses who demonstrated against Baathist tyranny in early 2011 and then took up arms when peaceful protest was no longer possible are the moral and political equivalent of the Nicaraguan contras that Irving Kristol championed. Who can help them understand that the same politics that shaped The National Interest in 1986 continues to shape it today? Namely, the commitment of the US ruling class to choose oligarchic capitalist rule over proletarian opposition, either peaceful or armed. I have almost given up trying.

5 Comments »

  1. FYI….How “The National Interest” describes itself:

    “The National Interest, founded in 1985 by Irving Kristol and Owen Harries, has displayed a remarkable consistency in its approach to foreign policy. It is not, as the inaugural statement declared, about world affairs. It is about American interests. It is guided by the belief that nothing will enhance those interests as effectively as the approach to foreign affairs commonly known as realism—a school of thought traditionally associated with such thinkers and statesmen as Disraeli, Bismarck, and Henry Kissinger.”

    Comment by Andy Berman — June 8, 2014 @ 2:28 am

  2. Oh please dont give up Louis, it took me a long time to find your site where your opinions are highly valued. You are on the right side of history. Continue and be assured your dissent is appreciated, even though it only seems you are battling windmills…

    Comment by seaspan — June 11, 2014 @ 1:47 am

  3. Never hesitate to wallow in the mud and sling it about to defend (one of your most) outrageous positions. You have repeated the same false claim made by Ahmed about Hersh in his “devastating critique, that Hersh “blames the rebels”. I think Al Nusra may have an opening for a Minister of Information, unless that job is already filled by a U.S. State Department staffer.

    Read the devastating critique of Ahmed’s smear job:
    “Seymour Hersh: liar and pro-fascist propagandist?” from Interventions Watch

    https://interventionswatch.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/seymour-hersh-liar-and-pro-fascist-propagandist/

    Comment by P.F. — June 11, 2014 @ 5:46 pm

  4. This idiotic article cites Carla Del Ponte as an authoritative source on the rebels being responsible for sarin gas attacks. Since the pro-Russian left of today was spawned out of the debates over the Balkan wars of the 1990s, it continues to amaze me that Del Ponte is cited as often as she is.

    Contrary to subsequent insinuations that she did not know what she was talking about, Del Ponte had chosen her words carefully. She had said that witness testimony made it appear that “some chemical weapons were used, in particular nerve gas.” And it appeared to have been used by the “opponents, by the rebels.” There is “no indication at all that the Syria government … used chemical weapons.”

    Deepak Tripathi, Counterpunch May 13, 2013

    On March 15, Mandel sent another complaint to Justice Carla del Ponte, the new chief prosecutor for the tribunal, who replaced Justice Louise Arbour in October. Mandel’s sharply worded letter protests the tribunal’s refusal to investigate NATO’s actions, saying that del Ponte has turned “the investigation into more of a farce than a judicial proceeding.” Mandel’s letter makes a solid case that far from being an independent investigator, the tribunal has conducted itself “as if it were an organ of NATO and not the United Nations.”

    Alexander Cockburn and Jeff St. Clair, Counterpunch May 22, 2000

    full: http://louisproyect.org/2013/08/31/carla-del-ponte-and-the-anti-imperialist-left-an-unprincipled-combination/

    Comment by louisproyect — June 11, 2014 @ 7:46 pm

  5. “Idiotic article”? At least it’s an honest, critical analysis, without childish name-calling and personal attacks, which is more than can be said for your article on the same topic. This is the main point of said article, which has nothing to do with Carla Del Ponte:

    “Ahmad’s reading of Hersh here is, at best, tenuous and uncharitable, and at worst an outright smear that is the polar opposite of Hersh’s stated beliefs.”

    If you cannot argue facts and logic,I guess smearing is the last resort.

    Comment by P.F. — June 12, 2014 @ 2:06 pm


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