After reading Charlie Skelton’s 5000-word article in the July 12th Guardian titled The Syrian opposition: who’s doing the talking?, I was reminded of the difference between Marxism and what I call conspiracism. Marxism is based on a class analysis but the conspiracists essentially subscribe to a Great Man theory of history in which the CIA and parastatal institutions pull the strings in a global puppet show.
They think that the left’s main purpose is to pull back the curtain like Toto in The Wizard of Oz and expose the puppeteers, as if such knowledge will put a stop to capitalist intervention in the Middle East or elsewhere. And more problematically, the conspiracists see CIA support for an insurgent movement as prima facie evidence that it must be opposed. For most of the conspiracist left, Libya and Syria are poster children for their peculiar worldview. But at least for one high-profile member of this current—Michel Chossudovsky of Globalresearch.org—the net is cast wider. The Egyptian revolution is tainted as well since some of its leaders had the backing of the West.
Skelton’s article consists of an effort to connect the dotted lines between the anti-Assad movement and Western imperialism through numerous “revelations” such as the Bilderberg links of an SNC leader:
Here is Bassma Kodmani, seen leaving this year’s Bilderberg conference in Chantilly, Virginia.
Kodmani is a member of the executive bureau and head of foreign affairs, Syrian National Council. Kodmani is close to the centre of the SNC power structure, and one of the council’s most vocal spokespeople. “No dialogue with the ruling regime is possible. We can only discuss how to move on to a different political system,” she declared this week. And here she is, quoted by the newswire AFP: “The next step needs to be a resolution under Chapter VII, which allows for the use of all legitimate means, coercive means, embargo on arms, as well as the use of force to oblige the regime to comply.”
This year was Kodmani’s second Bilderberg. At the 2008 conference, Kodmani was listed as French; by 2012, her Frenchness had fallen away and she was listed simply as “international” – her homeland had become the world of international relations.
Skelton is some kind of special correspondent on Bilderberg for the Guardian, filing his first article in 2009. I am not quite sure how he got this gig since his prior jobs were writing comedy and reviewing porn films for the Erotic Review. Well, maybe that was just the right preparation.
Bilderberg is a kind of Holy Grail for the conspiracy-minded. This is supposedly where the ruling class gets together once a year to map out plans on how to dominate the world. For a leftist Ian Fleming, this is a collection of super-villains just waiting for a leftist James Bond to take on. Maybe someone like Charlie Skelton:
I arrived last night, under cover of darkness. I told the cab driver to stop 50 metres from the hotel. He asked why. I couldn’t tell him that it was so I could case the entrance for FBI lenses. I simply muttered that I couldn’t explain. His eyes lit up. “Aha! I see! I know!” What did he know? And who is that following us? A man in a BMW. Definite spook.
In Skelton’s entire 5000-word article, there was not a single reference to the ordinary Syrians who have risked their lives to oppose Bashar al-Assad either through peaceful protests or through armed struggle. 20,000 people have lost their lives in this conflict so far, the overwhelming majority of whom it is safe to say are opposed to the dictatorship. If Syria had the same population as the USA, this would have represented 300,000 deaths, a staggering figure.
What would cause so many people to risk their lives in such a one-sided battle? For an answer to this, you must look elsewhere than comedian-conspiracists like Charlie Skelton. For all of the preoccupation with the Western corporate elite and the CIA, the real answer lies within Syria itself and the wrenching social changes that Marxist scholar Bassam Haddad has identified in the article The Syrian Regime’s Business Backbone:
By the late 1990s, the business community that the Asads had created in their own image had transformed Syria from a semi-socialist state into a crony capitalist state par excellence. The economic liberalization that started in 1991 had redounded heavily to the benefit of tycoons who had ties to the state or those who partnered with state officials. The private sector outgrew the public sector, but the most affluent members of the private sector were state officials, politicians and their relatives. The economic growth registered in the mid-1990s was mostly a short-lived bump in consumption, as evidenced by the slump at the end of the century. Growth rates that had been 5-7 percent fell to 1-2 percent from 1997 to 2000 and beyond.
After Bashar al-Asad succeeded his father in 2000, the architects of Syria’s economic policy sought to reverse the downturn by liberalizing the economy further, for instance by reducing state subsidies. Private banks were permitted for the first time in nearly 40 years and a stock market was on the drawing board. After 2005, the state-business bonds were strengthened by the announcement of the Social Market Economy, a mixture of state and market approaches that ultimately privileged the market, but a market without robust institutions or accountability. Again, the regime had consolidated its alliance with big business at the expense of smaller businesses as well as the Syrian majority who depended on the state for services, subsidies and welfare. It had perpetuated cronyism, but dressed it in new garb. Families associated with the regime in one way or another came to dominate the private sector, in addition to exercising considerable control over public economic assets. These clans include the Asads and Makhloufs, but also the Shalish, al-Hassan, Najib, Hamsho, Hambouba, Shawkat and al-As‘ad families, to name a few. The reconstituted business community, which now included regime officials, close supporters and a thick sliver of the traditional bourgeoisie, effected a deeper (and, for the regime, more dangerous) polarization of Syrian society along lines of income and region.
Successive years of scant rainfall and drought after 2003 produced massive rural in-migration to the cities — more than 1 million people had moved by 2009 — widening the social and regional gaps still further. Major cities, such as Damascus and Aleppo, absorbed that migration more easily than smaller ones, which were increasingly starved of infrastructural investment. Provincial cities like Dir‘a, Idlib, Homs and Hama, along with their hinterlands, are now the main battlegrounds of the rebellion. Those living in rural areas have seen their livelihoods gutted by reduction of subsidies, disinvestment and the effects of urbanization, as well as decades of corrupt authoritarian rule. The Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings motivated them to express their discontent openly and together.
The other thing that you will never find in conspiracist literature—such as it is—is an examination of one of the most telling connections between the CIA and the Arab world, namely the service that Qaddafi and al-Assad performed for President Bush’s extraordinary rendition program. Compared to them, Bassma Kodmani’s attendance at Bilderberg meetings is small peanuts.
One of the victims was Maher Arar, a dual Canadian-Syrian citizen and telecommunications engineer who spent a year in Bashar al-Assad’s prisons being beaten with shredded cables.
Accused of being a member of al-Qaeda, Arar’s politics are anything but Islamist. He recently founded an online publication called Prism that is radical and secularist. There you can find an article by Arar titled Syria: Foreign Interference Between Myth and Reality that is a welcome corrective to Charlie Skelton’s maunderings. Arar writes:
Exaggeration of ‘outside influence’
Now to claim that there is no outside, foreign interference in Syria’s internal affairs is to deny the obvious. But in my opinion this “interference” has been exaggerated (the analyses I’ve read with respect to this issue are based on speculations that are not supported by facts on the ground). Yes, there are countries who have always had a strong desire to see the Syrian-Iranian marriage fall apart. But to what extent these countries are influencing events on the ground is far from certain. For instance, the efforts reportedly led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia to equip the rebels with heavy arms have not yet borne fruits, and it seems the FSA is mostly using light to medium weapons.
Most of these weapons have either been bought from corrupt army officers, or have been acquired by raiding weapons caches. Qatar and Saudi Arabia reportedly would want to make sure that weaponry would only be distributed to those groups that would pledge allegiance to them. While some groups may accept the deal, it is far from certain that all groups would accept any preconditions – as recently reported by Time magazine.
While the CIA may be present near the Syrian-Turkish border, all evidence points to the fact that the US is not very keen to arm the rebels, out of fear the arms would eventually fall in the hands of al-Qaeda and like-minded groups. In fact, Washington, despite the anti-Assad rhetoric we read about in media headlines, is not very keen on replacing the Assad regime with one whose allegiance to the US would be uncertain.
The two reasons just mentioned explain why the US has so far refused to supply weapons to Syria’s armed opposition. The latest discussions that took place in Geneva demonstrate that the US still prefers “a political solution” (whatever that means).
In light of Arar’s reference to CIA fears that arms would fall into the hands of Islamists, it should be noted that the bourgeois press has stepped up its warnings about the threat of Jihadism in Syria in a manner that suggests compliance with Obama’s foreign policy agenda. Despite all the talk about the U.S. pulling strings in Syria, there is every reason to believe that Washington has about as much use for the FSA as it does for Hamas or Hizbollah.
For some conspiracists, the Jihadist angle is paramount. Al-Qaeda is underneath every bed in the Middle East, a fear that originates with the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001. For people like Global Research’s Michel Chossudovsky and Voltairenet’s Thierry Meyssan, the revolts in Libya and Syria are just the latest evidence of CIA plots drawing upon willing Islamist assets.
Meyssan is the author of two “truther” books: 9/11: The Big Lie and Pentagate, a book that argues that a missile rather than a jet hit the Pentagon. Ordinarily, I would discount Meyssan as a typical nutcase but apparently he does have some traction with self-avowed Marxists like the PSL’s Diana Barahona who advised North Star readers:
For a good explanation of who the armed Syrian opposition really is, read “Who is fighting in Syria” by Thierry Meyssan, reporting from Damascus. http://www.voltairenet.org/Who-is-fighting-in-Syria
Brian Slocums, the author of the article On the Ground with the Syrian Opposition that Barahona was commenting on, took a look at Meyssan’s piece and found it lacking:
However lets look at the rest of the claims in this article. Conroy’s companions in the photo are described as “al Qaeda” leaders”. Abdulhakim Belhadj (who is correctly identified) was certainly nothing to do with al Qaeda when the photo was taken, but its true he did have a jihadist past 10 years ago, so that’s a half-truth (a good score for Meyssan). The guy who I think is mis-identified as al-Harati,probably had a similar past. But the real al-Harati has neither any al Qaeda connnection nor a jihadist past: he was living quietly in Dublin from his teenage years until the outbreak of the Libyan revolution in 2011. The article claims “According to former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Mahdi al-Harati is still wanted in Spain for his involvement in the Madrid bombings “. This piece of Meyssan arithmetic is a slander within a slander: the accusation that Aznar made was directed against Belhadj , not al-Harati, and that had no foundation in fact – no named persons are “wanted in Spain” for the Madrid bombings.
It has always struck me odd that sections of the left, either Marxist like Barahona or conspiracist like Meyssan, can be so credulous when it comes to matters such as this. When their enemies are writing something that goes against their ideological grain, they will use every last ounce of intellectual energy to debunk a Judith Miller or a Christopher Hitchens. But when they are promoting their own agenda, critical faculties go down the drain.
For his part, Michel Chossudovsky blames the 9/11 attacks on a CIA/ISI cabal:
The 9-11 terrorists did not act on their own volition. The suicide hijackers were instruments in a carefully planned intelligence operation. The evidence confirms that Al Qaeda is supported by Pakistan’s military intelligence, the Inter-services Intelligence (ISI). Amply documented, the ISI owes its existence to the CIA.
So no wonder he views the Syrian revolt as more of the same:
Since the middle of March 2011, Islamist armed groups –covertly supported by Western and Israeli intelligence– have conducted terrorist attacks directed against government buildings including acts of arson. Amply documented, trained gunmen and snipers including mercenaries have targeted the police, armed forces as well as innocent civilians. There is ample evidence, as outlined in the Arab League Observer Mission report, that these armed groups of mercenaries are responsible for killing civilians.
To give credit where credit is due, Chossudovsky is at least consistent in applying the conspiracist template to Middle East politics. It is not just Libya and Syria that are victims of a CIA conspiracy. You can find it virtually everywhere, including Egypt and Tunisia:
The cooptation of the leaders of major opposition parties and civil society organizations in anticipation of the collapse of an authoritarian puppet government is part of Washington’s design, applied in different regions of the World.
The process of cooptation is implemented and financed by US based foundations including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and Freedom House (FH). Both FH and the NED have links to the US Congress. the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and the US business establishment. Both the NED and FH are known to have ties to the CIA.
The NED is actively involved in Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria. Freedom House supports several civil society organizations in Egypt.
But the plot thickens. It is not just the Middle East that is the victim of such a massive conspiracy. Guess what? Remember those protests on Wall Street that offered its solidarity with revolts in the Middle East? Those too were tainted by the Masters of the Universe whose headquarters are in places like Langley and Foggy Bottom:
In the course of the last decade, “colored revolutions” have emerged in several countries. The “colored revolutions” are US intelligence ops which consist in covertly supporting protest movements with a view to triggering “regime change” under the banner of a pro-democracy movement.
“Colored revolutions” are supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House, among others. The objective of a “colored revolution” is to foment social unrest and use the protest movement to topple the existing government. The ultimate foreign policy goal is to instate a compliant pro-US government (or “puppet regime”).
“The Arab Spring”
In Egypt’s “Arab Spring”, the main civil society organizations including Kifaya (Enough) and The April 6 Youth Movement were not only supported by US based foundations, they also had the endorsement of the US State Department. (For details see Michel Chossudovsky, The Protest Movement in Egypt: “Dictators” do not Dictate, They Obey Orders, Global Research, January 29, 2011)
Several key organizations currently involved in The Occupy Wall Street (#OWS) movement played a significant role in “The Arab Spring”. Of significance, “Anonymous”, the social media “hacktivist” group, was involved in waging cyber-attacks on Egyptian government websites at the height of “The Arab Spring”.(http://anonops.blogspot.com, see also http://anonnews.org/)
In May 2011, “Anonymous” waged cyberattacks on Iran and last August, it waged similar cyber-attacks directed against the Syrian Ministry Defense. These cyber-attacks were waged in support of the Syrian “opposition” in exile, which is largely integrated by Islamists. (See Syrian Ministry Of Defense Website Hacked By ‘Anonymous’, Huffington Post, August 8, 2011).
The actions of “Anonymous” in Syria and Iran are consistent with the framework of the “Colored Revolutions”. They seek to demonize the political regime and create political instability. (For analysis on Syria’s Opposition, see Michel Chossudovsky, SYRIA: Who is Behind The Protest Movement? Fabricating a Pretext for a US-NATO “Humanitarian Intervention” Global Research, May 3, 2011)
Ah, what a mind-boggling conspiracy! So deep that it is capable of turning the most powerful anti-capitalist movement in recent memory into a cats paw serving the interest of multinational corporations.
Most of the people whose articles appear on Global Research are outright cranks like Chossudovsky or Marxists with conspiracist deviations like Richard Becker, a leader of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Unfortunately you also see pieces by people like John Pilger and Eva Golinger who should know better.
It is difficult to determine in advance how the conspiracist current will fare in a period of deepening class confrontation. With its obvious hostility to grass roots movements in the Middle East and willingness to write off even the Occupy Wall Street movement as an imperialist plot, you are dealing with people who can’t tell the difference between right and wrong. Once upon a time such an inability could serve as an insanity defense in a murder trial. Let’s hope that things don’t reach such a state that the left has to confront sometime in the future the criminally insane among us.