Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 7, 2014

A rejoinder to Vijay Prashad on the Islamic State

Filed under: Iraq,Jihadists,Syria — louisproyect @ 7:20 pm

Vijay Prashad

I have no trouble understanding why so much of the left supported Bashar al-Assad from the very beginning of the Syrian revolt that began in March of 2011. It was a no-brainer. On one side you had the Venezuelan and Cuban governments throwing their full support behind the Baathists and on the other side there was Samantha Power and John McCain calling for “regime change”.

The analysis went something like this. The CIA was behind the Syrian protests and no matter how many times the protesters said they were for human rights and democracy, there was always lurking behind the scenes Saudi and Qatari money and Wahhabi politics. Furthermore, the real target of the Syrian insurgency was not just the Baathist government. Once a beachhead was established, the next targets would be Hizbollah in Lebanon and Iran. Using “moderates” in the FSA and the more obvious jihadists like those affiliated with al-Qaeda, US foreign policy would achieve its ultimate goal—to weaken Soviet (sorry, I meant Russian) influence in the Middle East—the last barrier to NATO and American hegemony.

Now, as it turns out, none of this was true. In a sense, it was a “no brainer” but only understood that such an analysis did not require a brain but rather some nimble fingers that could navigate Global Research, WSWS.org et al on a daily basis. Despite the hysteria that arose last September about Obama’s plan to make war on Syria in order to achieve Samantha Power type “regime change”, the net result has been a coalescing of Syria, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and the USA against ISIS, arguably the only genuine jihadist group operating in the region. To try to explain or explain away ISIS does require a nimble brain and nimble fingers. Some on the “anti-imperialist” left continue to view ISIS as a CIA tool. For them there is no medication that is powerful enough to cure such delusions.

When I received email from Vijay Prashad announcing a series of articles on ISIS for the The Hindu, I was very curious to see what he had to say. I hadn’t been following Vijay all that closely since he had made some serious analytical mistakes, at least in my opinion (who else?). He had written a number of articles predicting a regional settlement of the war in Syria, the best hope for an intractable situation. No such luck, needless to say. Following him on Twitter, I was dismayed to see him give credit to the report that there had been a landslide victory for Bashar al-Assad in the last “election”. I don’t tend to pay much attention to tweets, but conveyed my displeasure to Vijay (I am sure he did not lose any sleep over this.)

After reading the first article (The Pendulum of the Islamic State), one cannot help but conclude that ISIS and the al-Nusra front are operating in concert against the Syrian army:

Intense fighting along the belt that links Mhardeh and Houla suggests that IS and its allies (including its fractious cousin, Jabhat al-Nusra) have the ability to threaten the western coastal towns of Tartous and Latakia. The Syrian Army was able to block an al-Nusra and IS advance toward the largely Christian town of Mhardeh. Tension remains high as morale in the IS soars.

I am not quite sure what the adjective “fractious” indicates. It is a synonym for grumpy, something that would describe me but in political terms—I have no idea. More to the point, isn’t it the case that al-Nusra is aligned with al-Qaeda that expelled ISIS? And isn’t the case that ISIS has drawn many of al-Nusra’s fighters if for no other reason that it has ample arms and money?

For those who stick with al-Nusra, a group that at least has the merit of having fought against the Baathists if nothing else, the costs are significant. When al-Qaeda leader Abu Khaled al-Suri came to Syria to make peace between ISIS and other rebels, he was killed by an ISIS suicide bomber in Aleppo. Something tells me that given such a background, the term “allies” does not apply to al-Nusra and ISIS. Since Vijay is based in the region, maybe he is privy to information we have no access to. Let’s hope he can shed some light.

Chugging along with this article, I was struck by Vijay’s assertion that the US was “egging on” the rebels’ Southern Front to seize Damascus. And what would be the leverage they need to accomplish such a task? Vijay observes: “The U.S. trains Syrian rebels in the deserts of eastern Jordan.” I don’t know what use any kind of training would be to foot soldiers facing an air force that can launch missiles filled with 400 pounds of TNT. Maybe the training involves reading some Maoist tracts about the importance of a fighting spirit. Who knows?

And finally there’s this. Vijay feels that as long as there is economic inequality, the threat of jihadism will arise. He writes:

Political reforms need to be on the cards. So too must an alternative to the economic agenda pursued in both Iraq and Syria since the mid-2000s. Under U.S. pressure, the Assad and al-Maliki governments pursued neo-liberal policies that increased inequality and despair. 

Well, look, I don’t think that any kind of pressure had to be applied to Bashar al-Assad. That would be like breaking down an open door. The Baathists adopted neo-liberal policies for the same reason that Mubarak did. The Syrian bourgeoisie existed on the basis of the classic “crony capitalism” that made the poor suffer so that both the Sunni and non-Sunni elite in Damascus could continue to live high on the hog. They didn’t need any pressure from the USA to screw the plebian masses of the provincial capitals and the countryside. They did it all by themselves.

Moving right along to the next article, Metastasis of the Islamic State, I was struck by this explanation of how ISIS gained such battlefield prowess: “The Syrian war allowed the IS fighters great battlefield experience, and helped them draw in jihadis from around the world (including India, according to a July 23 report to the U.N. Security Council).” Battlefield experience? Really? With who? Surely not the Syrian army.

In fact ISIS’s main battles were with the FSA that had been battered for well over two years before ISIS emerged as a fighting force. If you had been the target of barrel bombs and 400 pounds of TNT missiles for that length of time and starved of weapons and other material aid, it is unlikely that you would be able to put up much of a fight especially when the Syrian army and ISIS were involved in a two-front pincer attack. If there were any significant battles between the Syrian army and ISIS until very recently, I don’t know of them. Maybe Vijay has information that would shed light on this question or maybe he was simply saying that ISIS became a formidable force operating against the FSA. I hope not.

Finally, there’s The geopolitics of the Islamic state. Since the whole question of geopolitics intrigues me, sort of the same way that an ingrown toenail does, I wondered where he would be going with this. After reading it, I am afraid that the wheels spun off the old Prashad wagon.

To start with, Vijay states that “ISIS entered the Syrian war in 2012 as Jabhat al-Nusra (the Support Front).” Is that so? That would indicate one of two things, either that it split from al-Nusra Front or that al-Nusra transformed itself into ISIS, which is obviously not the case. The origins are a bit more complex. At one time the al-Nusra Front was receiving funding from ISI (Islamic State in Iraq) but on April 8, 2013 Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi announced that the only authorized fighting group (in a manner of speaking) would be ISIL. Al-Nusra was now persona non grata. Furthermore, getting funding from ISI does not indicate that it was a branch of ISI. I know that some of this can seem quite arcane but it really has to do with the need for clearer lines of demarcation, which are badly needed when writing about jihadists.

Vijay puts a lot of the blame for the viral outbreak of jihadism in Syria at Turkey’s doorstop:

The West’s backing of the rebellion provided cover for Turkey’s more enthusiastic approach to it. Intoxicated by the possibility of what Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutog˘lu favoured as “neo-Ottomanism,” the Turkish government called for the removal of Assad and the emergence of a pro-Istanbul government in Damascus.

As someone who has followed Turkish politics rather carefully over the years, I find this analysis dubious. I think that the more likely explanation is AKP sympathy for their co-religionists. For example, when Turkey backs flotillas to Gaza, is that an expression of “neo-Ottomanism”? The more likely explanation is that the Anatolian elites have much in common ideologically and in class terms with formations like the Muslim Brotherhood. It would most certainly want to see its member parties prevail in Gaza and Egypt but why drag the Ottoman Empire into the equation?

Showing that he has been keeping up with Seymour Hersh, Vijay writes: “Turkey opened its borders to the ‘rat-line’ of international jihad, with planeloads of fighters from Libya and Chechnya flying into Turkey to cross into Syria to fight for ISIS and its offshoots.” Wow, pretty exciting. This would make for a good episode on Showtime’s “Homeland” but I think it would work more as fiction than fact.

What source would Vijay recommend for verifying that “planeloads” of jihadists poured into Turkey en route to Syria other than the sad and discredited Seymour Hersh? Would it be the English-language version of Al Akhbar in Lebanon where Vijay reports from occasionally? A Turkish newspaper reported:

According to English edition of Lebanese al Akhbar newspaper, thousands of jihadists are coming from Jordan to Turkey by through the air. The terrorists who come to the Yayladağ region of Hatay province of Turkey are being transferred to the Latakia region of Syria. It’s reported that thousands of jihadists transferred to Turkey during the non-stop transportation operations for weeks.

Syrian sources speaking to Aydınlık confirmed the transportation of the terrorists through the mentioned routes. They also stated that according to their sources, there is a huge discomfort in the Turkish state regarding the related issue.

Wikipedia describes al-Akhbar as “pro-Hezbollah”. If that is the case, I would take its reporting with a grain of salt especially in light of what transpired with one of its most well-known reporters. Once again from Wikipedia:

[Max] Blumenthal left Al Akhbar in June 2012 in protest at Al Akhbar’s coverage of the Syrian civil war. In an interview with The Real News he said that “It was too much to have my name and reputation associated with open Assad apologists when the scale of atrocities had become so extreme and when the editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar was offering friendly advice to Bashar al-Assad on the website of Al-Akhbar, you know, painting him as this kind of genuine, earnest reformer who just needed to get rid of the bad men around him and cut out some of the rich oligarchs who happened to be his cousins, and then everything would be fine. That was ridiculous.”

I would only hope that Vijay Prashad take some inspiration from Max Blumenthal in future reporting from the region, especially since he too has written for Al Akhbar.

 

 

June 18, 2014

An Obama-Al Qaeda axis against Syria and Iran? Really?

Filed under: Iraq,Jihadists,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:44 pm

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On November 8th 2013, an article of mine titled “Why Obama Did Not Make War on Syria” appeared on CounterPunch. I imagine it was this kind of article that would incite email complaints recently to the good folks at CounterPunch along these lines as I learned from them:

Another violent message regarding “crypto zionist” Louis Proyect who deserves to be stabbed in the neck. He seems to incite these sorts of messages.

Likely the same individual wrote a comment on my blog as “killudeadkike”: “Louis Proyect = cypto-Zionist faggot White Nationalist.”

I suppose if I had been writing the same idiotic article as everybody else in 2013 about how Obama was preparing to invade Syria as stage one in a war on Iran, I wouldn’t be getting hate mail. But I’d rather get hate mail than write stupid bullshit like this:

Obama is hypocritically invoking international law to justify the escalation of a war that Washington has pursued in large measure through terrorist bombings carried out by its proxy forces in Syria. The operational alliance between the US and Al Qaeda underscores the criminal character of US foreign policy and the political fraud of the so-called “war on terror.”

That’s from the World Socialist Website. (http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/05/01/syri-m01.html) If you do a search on “Syria” and “al Qaeda” there, you will find 71 articles all making the same point, as if American imperialism was in cahoots with Islamic fundamentalists.

These sorts of people made every effort to link the FSA to jihadists even as it was becoming clearer that they were mortal enemies. ISIS first gained a foothold in Raqqa, a city that had been liberated by the FSA and then fell to jihadist control.

A New Yorker magazine article described the tension that existed from the outset. Ironically, the jihadists were with the Jabhat al-Nusra front who would be superseded by the even more reactionary ISIS fighters. It was written exactly a month before the idiotic WSWS.org article appeared. Any socialist website that was reporting on Syria should have had an obligation to be aware of what was going on in Raqqa unless of course your only goal is to write cheap propaganda. The article titled “A Black Flag in Raqqa” describes a tense situation:

“There is no moderate Islam or extremist Islam,” the Jabhat member said calmly. “There is only Islam, and Islam is under attack in the West regardless of whether or not we hoist the banner. Do you think they’re waiting for that banner to hit us?” he said.

Abu Mohammad, an older man in a tan leather jacket and a white galabia (a loose, floor-length robe), interjected: “What we’re saying is, put the flag above your outposts, not in the main square of the city. We all pray, we all say, ‘There is no god but God,’ but I will not raise this flag.”

“This is an insult to people who died for the revolutionary flag,” said Abu Abdullah, a former English major at the university.

Some pundits are now attacking Obama for not having backed the “moderate” opposition in the FSA as if the USA ever had any interest in seeing a mass movement of Syrian “hicks” who had gotten pissed off at neo-liberalism running the government. Unlike most people content to write propaganda, I made a real effort to understand what the Syrian opposition stood for. That included a trip to Washington in September 2012 to cover a major rally in support of the revolution. You would think from reading the WSWS.org crapola that Senator McCain would be the featured speaker. Instead the people who spoke had a lot more in common with those who protested the invasion of Iraq, including the keynote speaker Hatem Bazian, a Palestinian professor from the U. of California. As I wrote at the time:

At San Francisco State University in the late 1980s, Bazian became the first Palestinian to be elected president of SFSU Associated Students and the Student Union Governing Board. He was the first student to win a second term as president in the history of SFSU. The election came as a result of a united front formed under the Progressive Coalition that brought together all the students of color organizations on a common platform and a joint political strategy.

At the national conference United States Student Association (USSA) held at UC Berkeley in 1988, Bazian co-lead a major walk-out that culminated in the organization adopting a progressive board of directors structure granting by a 2/3 vote at least 50% of the Seats to Students of Color.

Bazian was elected as a Chair of the National People of Color Student Coalition (NPCSC) and an executive board member of the USSA. In both, he took the lead on affirmative action, access to education, anti-apartheid efforts on college campuses, and the Central American Solidarity Movement. He authored resolutions, which were adopted by the USSA national conference in 1991 calling for cutting US aid to Israel and imposing sanctions for its sales of military equipment to apartheid South Africa.

But none of this would matter to the “anti-imperialist” propagandists. They were determined to paint the opposition to Bashar al-Assad as equivalent to the Afghan rebels that Reagan supported. They had persuaded themselves that Bashar al-Assad and Muammar Gaddafi were on the front lines resisting imperialism like the Vietnamese in the 1960s but with Putin’s Russia serving the same role as the former Soviet Union. So what if this was a fantasy. When you are in the business of writing propaganda, the truth should not get in the way.

At the very time articles about Obama’s war on Syria and Iran spearheaded by jihadists were reaching a crescendo during Obama’s “red line” bluster, the NY Times reported that his administration had begun to tilt toward Syria and Iran:

“We need to start talking to the Assad regime again” about counterterrorism and other issues of shared concern, said Ryan C. Crocker, a veteran diplomat who has served in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. “It will have to be done very, very quietly. But bad as Assad is, he is not as bad as the jihadis who would take over in his absence.”

“Whether they are dismayed by the way things played out in Egypt or by the growth of Al Qaeda in Syria, the worm has turned in the Middle East in the minds of American foreign policy makers,” said William McCants, an expert on jihadist movements and a former senior adviser at the State Department. “It seems we are back to counterterrorism as a guiding focus for American policy.”

As we now know, the rapid progress made by ISIS in Iraq had drawn the USA and Iran even closer. The USA has reintroduced boots on the ground in Iraq for no other reason than to defend the Shi’ite government from jihadists. There is every likelihood that this is the first step in an escalating violence that could include drone strikes and aerial bombardment. Of course, if you had been paying close attention to Syria from the beginning, this eventuality would have been predictable as the LA Times reported on March 15, 2013:

The CIA has stepped up secret contingency planning to protect the United States and its allies as the turmoil expands in Syria, including collecting intelligence on Islamic extremists for the first time for possible lethal drone strikes, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Of course none of this registered on those who were predicting World War Three with the US Marines and al-Qaeda leading a joint attack on Syria and Iran as if it were a reenactment of “Lawrence of Arabia”.

Believe it or not, there are still some benighted souls who still believe this fiction, most egregiously Mike Whitney who is far more knowledgeable about the American economy (even when he is wrong) than he is about the Middle East.

In a rather febrile article titled “The ISIS Fiasco: It’s Really an Attack on Iran” on today’s CounterPunch, he tries to convince his readers that Iran remains the main target.

Whitney wonders why ISIS is running wild in Iraq. The answer must be that Obama is secretly pulling their strings:

When was the last time an acting president failed to respond immediately and forcefully to a similar act of aggression?

Never. The US always responds. And the pattern is always the same. “Stop what you are doing now or we’re going to bomb you to smithereens.” Isn’t that the typical response?

Sure it is. But Obama delivered no such threat this time. Instead, he’s qualified his support for al-Maliki saying that the beleaguered president must “begin accommodating Sunni participation in his government” before the US will lend a hand. What kind of lame response is that?

Now I would not want to ascribe motives to Whitney of the sort that I have had to endure from people like “killudeadkike” but I wonder if this means he would have been assuaged by a few drone strikes here and there against the terrorists instead of just a “lame response”. But then again, I have to remind myself that Whitney is a man of peace (except when it comes to the well-placed barrel bomb of course.)

The only conclusion that Whitney can draw is that the US is secretly backing ISIS in order to pressure Maliki into including more Sunnis into his government rather than marginalizing them, a policy that everybody still connected to reality understands is the cause of the revolt in Mosul.

Although I have some major differences with Patrick Cockburn, I think he is more reliable on the topic of Sunni resistance than Mike Whitney:

In December 2012 the arrest of the bodyguards of the moderate Sunni Finance Minister, Rafi al-Issawi, by the government led to widespread but peaceful protests in Sunni provinces in northern and central Iraq, Sunni Arabs making up about a fifth of Iraq’s 33 million population. At first, the demonstrations were well-attended, with protesters demanding an end to political, civil and economic discrimination against the Sunni community. But soon they realised that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was offering only cosmetic changes and many stopped attending the weekly demonstrations.

Meanwhile, we’ll know soon enough whether the USA is secretly egging on jihadists against Shi’ite governments in the Middle East and Iran. We already know that drone strikes are continuing on a daily basis against Islamic radicals all around the planet so it would be remarkable if ISIS were to be spared especially when Iraq’s largest oil refinery is under attack. Some experts describe the war in Iraq as the “biggest petroleum heist in history”, a real calamity for its people:

That makes this the biggest petroleum heist in history. And we’re supposed to believe that the oil bigwigs didn’t know anything about this before the war? What a crock! I’ll bet you even money the CEOs and their lackeys figured out that Saudi Arabia was running out of gas, so they decided to pick up stakes and move their operations to good old Mesopotamia. That’s why they put their money on Bush and Cheney, because they knew that two former oil men would do the heavy lifting once they got shoehorned into the White House.

Oh, I almost forgot. The guy who wrote this article is none other than Mike Whitney.

April 4, 2014

The Unknown Known; Watermark

Filed under: Ecology,Film,Iraq — louisproyect @ 5:19 pm

Two legends of documentary filmmaking have seen better days. Last November I was disappointed to see Frederick Wiseman take the side of the university administration in its attempt to thwart student protests over escalating fees. If anything, Errol Morris’s “The Unknown Known”, opening at theaters everywhere today, is even more of a failure. It allows Donald Rumsfeld to defend himself for 103 minutes with hardly any tough questions from Morris, his interlocutor. And when he does stray into Mike Wallace “Sixty Minutes” territory, it is always with the absence of a follow-up. Indeed, the closest resemblance is not to Mike Wallace, but to Charlie Rose or Larry King, the masters of softball interviews.

The new film is obviously modeled on Morris’s 2003 “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” that gave the Johnson administration’s Pentagon boss a platform. That film was somewhat easier to swallow since it demonstrated that the war-maker was suffering from some pangs of conscience, including a scene with him weeping—one that it was easy to describe as a display of crocodile tears.

That was to be expected with a war in which American imperialism was the clear loser. With Iraq, there is no abiding sense that the Pentagon’s nose was bloodied. In fact, the main point that Rumsfeld makes throughout the film is that it was worth it, even going so far as to insist that there was no deliberate attempt to con the American people into believing that there were weapons of mass destruction.

On top of the ideological self-justifications, there is the added ordeal of putting up with Rumsfeld’s personality. He is one of the more insufferably vain and boring personalities that has ever emerged out of the military-industrial complex, an ambitious hustler who started out as a Nixon administration operative and moved upwards and onwards to the heights of the Pentagon under George W. Bush. With his cold smile and “gee whizzes”, and “goshes”, you hope for something—anything—that will knock him back on his heels. Needless to say, this is not to be expected from Errol Morris.

Morris and Rumsfeld even managed to frustrate the Washington Post, a pillar of the establishment:

In the film, Morris quotes a 2003 Washington Post poll showing that 69 percent of Americans believed Hussein was involved in 9/11, then cuts to Rumsfeld suggesting the same at a news conference when he sarcastically rejects suggestions to the contrary. “It isn’t a confrontation in the sense of [me] saying, ‘You’re wrong,’ ” Morris said. “But, golly gee whiz, it’s all there.”

If Morris’s oblique strategy invites frustration, so does Rumsfeld’s seeming inability or unwillingness to confront the implications of his policies and actions, whether they have to do with interrogation practices at Guantanamo Bay or the planning of the war itself. Whereas “The Fog of War” presented a fascinating portrait of McNamara as a historical figure reflecting, often painfully, on the events he witnessed or authored, in “The Unknown Known,” Rumsfeld often offers vague, inconclusive cliches: About Vietnam, he says simply, “Some things work out, some things don’t. That didn’t.” About Iraq, “Time will tell.”

In attempt to better understand the career of the much-heralded Errol Morris, I checked Wikipedia and was startled to discover that the “edgy” documentary filmmaker lost his edge long ago:

Although Morris has achieved fame as a documentary filmmaker, he is also an accomplished director of television commercials. In 2002, Morris directed a series of television ads for Apple Computer as part of a popular “Switch” campaign. The commercials featured ex-Windows users discussing their various bad experiences that motivated their own personal switches to Macintosh. One commercial in the series, starring Ellen Feiss, a high-schooler friend of his son Hamilton Morris, became an Internet meme. Morris has directed hundreds of commercials for various companies and products, including Adidas, AIG, Cisco Systems, Citibank, Kimberly-Clark’s Depend brand, Levi’s, Miller High Life, Nike, PBS, The Quaker Oats Company, Southern Comfort, EA Sports, Toyota and Volkswagen. Many of these commercials are available on his website.

Finally, it is necessary to take stock of the Errol Morris legacy. Giving scumbags the right to hold forth unchallenged for over a hundred minutes has been seen in two other highly regarded films. The first is “Act of Killing” (http://louisproyect.org/2013/07/20/fact-versus-fiction-in-three-new-films/), a film that Morris actually co-produced and that gives Indonesian death squad leaders a chance to tell their part of the story, as if there was one. The other is “The Gatekeepers” (http://louisproyect.org/2013/01/31/the-gatekeepers/), an Israeli documentary that gives a platform to the Zionist entity’s military judges, a bunch of disgusting war criminals who go unscathed.

Don’t bother with this crappy movie. You can watch FOX-TV for free.

“Watermark” is the second film I have seen that is based on the work of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, a Canadian who specializes in landscapes of the most sterile and industrialized places on earth, particularly in China where the government is on a forced march to “modernize”. His first was the aptly named “Manufactured Landscapes” that I reviewed in 2007, about which I said:

He is not the typical photographer. As a teenager, he worked in automobile assembly plants and gold mines in Northern Ontario. Although he refrains from editorializing in his photographs (as does this very fine documentary), it is very clear that he is appalled by this spectacle of “progress”. In one scene, he shows a neighborhood in Shanghai that has been razed in order to make way for spanking-new high rises, with the exception of one old house whose elderly female inhabitant refuses to move. The high rises were simply built around her. The million or so villagers who were about to lose their homes because of the construction of the mammoth Three Gorges Dam had no choice. The film shows them being paid by the government to demolish their homes to make way for the new reservoir that will be created by the dam.

In “Watermark”, he returns to the same preoccupations but more closely focused on the rivers, lakes, and underground reservoirs and the communities they serve that are jeopardized by unsustainable practices such as China’s megadams and irrigation dependent on the Ogalalla aquifer.

There are interviews with people whose lives and culture are deeply intertwined with traditional and more sustainable use of the water systems such as Chinese abalone fisherman who work communally and a Native American from northern British Columbia.

As in Burtynsky’s first film, the footage is ravishingly beautiful even when what is being seen threatens the health of the planet, such as the Chinese megadam. There are also some fascinating meditations on the special power of water, as a scientist notes that without water there cannot be life itself. For a plant or a human embryo to grow, it needs water. In fact, the amniotic fluid an embryo grows in is like a tiny ocean. Another scientist observes that water owes its existence solely to the accident of a comet—a huge snowball in effect—colliding with the planet earth billions of years ago.

December 31, 2013

The “anti-imperialist” backhanded support for the war against “Al Qaeda”

Filed under: Iraq,Islam,Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:04 pm

Today a Debkafiles item titled “US and Iran’s First Joint Military Venture: Fighting al Qaeda in Iraq” turned up on Facebook. As you might know, Debkafiles is an Israeli intelligence website committed to the “war on terror” so you can assume that they are pleased with Obama’s turn against a common enemy. They report:

With the Geneva Nuclear Accord still far from implementation a month after it was signed in Geneva, the United States and Iran are moving into stage two of their rapprochement: They are now fighting together to crush Al Qaeda terror in Iraq, debkafile’s exclusive military sources report.

Iraq is two weeks into a major offensive for cutting al Qaeda down – the first major military challenge the jihadists have faced in the past six years. Three armies are fighting alongside Iraq: the United States, Iran’s Al Qods Brigades officers and Syria.

Their mission is to foil Al Qaeda’s drive to spread its first independent state in the Middle East across the Iraqi-Syrian frontier. Its Iraqi and Syrian branches – ISIS and the Nusra Front – have declared a holy war to this end under their commanders Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and Abu Mohammed al-Golani.

The Anbar province of Western Iraq is the scene of he fiercest combat close to Iraq’s borders with Syria and Jordan.

“Al Qaeda”, as the scare quotes around it in the title of this article would indicate, is—to borrow a word from semiotics—a floating signifier for any Sunni tribal-based guerrilla now the target of American drones around the world: Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Iraq, Somalia and probably Syria before long as this March 15, 2013 Los Angeles Times article indicates:

The CIA has stepped up secret contingency planning to protect the United States and its allies as the turmoil expands in Syria, including collecting intelligence on Islamic extremists for the first time for possible lethal drone strikes, according to current and former U.S. officials.

There’s nothing in the Debkafiles article that gives you the faintest idea of the background to the escalating violence in this mostly Sunni province. For that, you need to take a look at the article that appeared in the December 29th N.Y. Times. It turns out that the sectarian Shiite government is largely responsible:

A raid by Iraqi security forces on the home of a prominent Sunni member of Parliament on Saturday morning in Anbar Province set off a two-hour gun battle that left the lawmaker’s brother and five guards dead, along with a soldier, Iraqi security and medical officials said.

Hours later, angry protests erupted over what Sunnis viewed as another crackdown by the Shiite-led government that alienates them from the political process by equating all expressions of Sunni grievance as terrorism.

The lawmaker, Ahmed al-Alwani, was taken into custody on terrorism charges after the raid at his home in Ramadi, in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, which has been the scene of antigovernment protests for more than a year. Mr. Alwani has been an important supporter of the demonstrators.

The gunfight erupted when Mr. Alwani; his brother, Ali al-Alwani; and the guards opened fire on soldiers as they entered the home, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Defense. In addition to those killed, about 10 others in the house were injured in the return fire, including the lawmaker’s wife and a 12-year-old boy.

The raid inflamed Sunni anger toward the government and is likely to increase sectarian tensions further in a country that is teetering on the edge of a new civil war.

At a gathering of demonstrators in Falluja in Anbar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tamimi, one of the protest leaders, said: “The war has begun. I call on young people to carry their weapons and prepare. We will no longer allow any army presence in Falluja.” Armed demonstrators later carried Ali al-Alwani’s coffin through the streets of Ramadi.

Just a reminder. The Anbar province was key to the American counter-insurgency effort in Iraq. General Petraeus calculated that tribal Sunni leaders could be convinced (and bribed) to resist anti-regime jihadists in the “surge”, also called “The Awakening”. Gabriel Ledeen, the Marine captain whose father is the notorious imperialist plotter Michael Ledeen, explained how the surge worked to Huffington Post readers:

The Anbar Awakening was not a spontaneous uprising against the horrible brutality of the insurgents. Rather, it occurred and succeeded due to the conditions created by U.S. forces who steadily built the foundation for Anbar’s stability. Through dynamic security operations, complex relationships with tribal leaders, and consistent moral authority, we successfully separated the population from the insurgency, demonstrated our potential for victory, and earned the support of Iraqis yearning for peace. It was only after we established these conditions that the Sunni sheiks could urge their tribes to awaken and stand together with U.S. forces against the AQI terrorists.

Ironically, it is the same scorched earth policy directed against Sunnis—a minority in Iraq and a majority in Syria—by these respective regimes that have in fact fostered the growth of jihadism. Maliki in Iraq and al-Assad in Syria will not be satisfied until every sign of Sunni resistance is crushed.

The jihadists, who were often foreign fighters, were once viewed more favorably about 10 years ago when their guns were aimed at American allies rather than foes (of course, Bashar al-Assad was never really a candidate for “regime change”). This 11/9/2004 Washington Post article describes some typical Fallujah fighters, who are basically the same sorts of people aligned with the al-Nusra Front, a group demonized by the “anti-imperialist” left:

Dressed alike, the men were as different as their accents, a new generation of the jihad diaspora, arriving in Fallujah from all over the Arab world: five Saudis, three Tunisians, a Yemeni. Only three were Iraqis.

“I had a vision yesterday that tomorrow I would finally be granted the martyrdom,” said the latest arrival, a thin man in his early twenties. He had come from his home in Saudi Arabia just a week ago.

“This is not fair,” replied the Yemeni, making a joke. “I have been here for months now.”

“Don’t worry, Abu Hafsa,” said one of the Tunisians, heavyset and talkative. “It is either victory or martyrdom, and both are great honors.”

Today these are the sorts of people who Robert Fisk, Pepe Escobar, and Patrick Cockburn regard as a threat to civilized Western values–those “foreign fighters”, jihadists, Salafists, Wahhabists, etc. who thank god Obama and Putin have finally decided to make common cause against.

The tendency to label all such fighters as “al Qaeda” can be found in the case of Benghazi as well. Three days ago the N.Y. Times published an exhaustive investigative reporting piece that reveals that the killing of an American diplomat was explained by local grievances and not by al-Qaeda plotting. In other words, the same discontent that is wracking Iraq and Syria is also at work in Libya, a nation that supposedly is the crowning glory of U.S. foreign policy. The Times reports:

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

Naturally the Republican Party denounced this article as Democratic Party propaganda designed to further Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign bid. What’s surprising is the eagerness of Moon of Alabama, a fountainhead of Baathist propaganda, to embrace the Republican Party talking points:

A big story at the NYT whitewashes the Benghazi attack that killed the U.S. ambassador. It is missing a whole lot of points: the diplomatic outpost was the cover for a CIA operation

    the CIA bought weapons there to ship them to Turkey and to their proxies in Syria

    the ambassador was involved in the weapon transfer

    “AlQaeda” groups had an interest to acquire those weapons for their own groups in Syria

    some AQ-affiliates (the brother of AQ leader al-Zawahiri in Egypt) started an international protest over some anti-Muslim video as an operational diversion and cover for taking over the CIA arms depots in Libya

Without some deeper digging into the above points, missing in the NYT, the whole Benghazi story is just a fairy tale.

Well, who knows where Moon of Alabama learned about “an operational diversion and cover for taking over the CIA arms depots in Libya”. Mint Press? Ray McGovern? Seymour Hersh? Until those “anti-imperialists” begin backing up their claims with citations, I’ll stick with the newspaper of record that actually sent its reporters to Benghazi to interview the principals, including the man who likely orchestrated the attack.

The willingness of the “anti-imperialist” left to back a war on “al Qaeda” has been one of the more startling developments in recent years. Their websites and print publications were primed to support Putin’s crackdown in Chechnya and the Syrian Baathists carrying out essentially the same strategy because they saw the world broken down into two spheres: the imperialist and the anti-imperialist. If your unit of analysis is the nation-state rather than the social class, this is logically the way to proceed. For moldy old Marxist figs like me, I prefer to analyze social classes.

Not long ago I wrote a review of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone” for Critical Muslim, a magazine co-edited by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Ziauddin Sardar, the author of 34 books on Islam, imperialism, and related topics. I read his “Postmodernism and the Other: New Imperialism of Western Culture” about 10 years ago and recommend it strongly. I don’t think that they would mind me concluding this article with an excerpt from my review since it gets to the heart of categorizing every form of armed resistance mounted by oppressed Sunnis as a jihadist dagger aimed at the heart of civilization:

We live in a period of such mounting Islamophobia that it became possible for Rush Limbaugh, one of the most venomous rightwingers in the U.S., to make common cause with Global Research, a website that describes itself as a “major news source on the New World Order and Washington’s ‘war on terrorism’”. Not long after the Sarin gas attack on the people of East Ghouta, Global Research became a hub of pro-Baathist propaganda blaming “jihadists” for a “false flag” operation. Limbaugh, who claims that there is no such thing as a “moderate Muslim”, touted a Global Research “false flag” article on his radio show demonstrating that when it comes to Islamophobia the left and right can easily join hands.

Therefore the arrival of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam” is most auspicious. It puts a human face on the most vilified segment of the world’s population, the “extremist” with his sharia courts, his “backwardness”, his violence, and his resistance to modernization. The central goal of Ahmed’s study is to subject the accepted wisdom of the punditry on both the left and right, which often descends into Limbaugh-style stereotyping, to a critique based on his long experience as an administrator in Waziristan, a hotbed of Islamic tribal “extremism”, and as a trained anthropologist. Reading “The Thistle and the Drone” can only be described as opening a window and letting fresh air and sunlight into a dank and fetid sickroom.

 The drone in the title needs no explanation except for Ahmed’s pointed reference to Obama wisecracking at a press conference. If the Jonas Brothers, a pop music sensation, got too close to his daughters at a White House visit, he had two words for them: “predator drone”.

The thistle required more explanation. We learn that this is a reference to a passage in Tolstoy’s neglected novel “Hadji Murad” that takes the side of a Muslim tribal leader against the Czarist military campaign to stamp out resistance to Great Russian domination. Considering Putin’s genocidal war on the Chechens and his support for Bashar al-Assad’s onslaught against his own countrymen, not much has changed since the 19th century. The narrator in Tolstoy’s novel attempted to pluck a thistle for its beauty but was ultimately thwarted by its prickly stalk, a perfect metaphor for the experience of trying to subdue proud and independent peoples living in inhospitable desert or mountainous regions.

Although some anthropologists consider the word “tribal” retrograde and/or imprecise, one would never confuse Ahmed with the colonial-minded social scientist that used it as a way of denigrating “backward” peoples. For Ahmed, the qualities of tribal peoples are to be admired even if some of their behavior is negative. Most of all, they are paragons of true democracy resting on the “consent of the governed”. Their love of freedom inevitably leads them to conflict with state-based powers anxious to assimilate everybody living within their borders to a model of obedience to approved social norms.

While tribal peoples everywhere come into conflict with those trying to impose their will on them, it is only with Islamic tribal peoples that global geopolitics gets drawn into the equation. “The Thistle in the Drone” consists of case studies in which the goal is to disaggregate Islam from tribal norms. For example, despite the fact that the Quran has strict rules against suicide and the murder of noncombatants, tribal peoples fighting under the banner of Islam have often resorted to such measures, especially on the key date of September 11, 2001. In an eye-opening examination of those events, Ahmed proves that a Yemeni tribe acting on the imperative to extract revenge was much more relevant than Wahabi beliefs. While most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi, their origins were in a Yemeni tribe that traced its bloodlines back to the prophet Mohammad. And more to the point, they were determined to wreak vengeance against the superpower that had been complicit in the murderous attack on their tribesmen in Yemen, an element of the 9/11 attacks that has finally been given the attention it deserves.

September 20, 2012

Tears of Gaza; In My Mother’s Arms

Filed under: Film,Iraq,middle east,Palestine — louisproyect @ 9:47 pm

Two powerful documentaries from the Middle East should be put on the must-see list for New Yorkers with a passion for justice. Sharing the theme of the impact of war on children and a partnership between Arab filmmakers and Europeans of conscience, they should definitively answer the question so much in the news today: why do they hate us?

“Tears of Gaza”, which opened yesterday at the Cinema Village, is an unstinting, Guernica-like look at the horror visited on the Palestinian people by the Israeli Wehrmacht (called the IDF) that is focused on three children who lost their parents and other family members in the winter of 2008-2009.

While watching the television news, veteran Norwegian director/writer/actress Vibeke Løkkeberg saw a story about a boy crying over his father who was killed during an Israeli bombing. Upset over the failure of the world media to cover the ongoing brutality that reminded her of the US invasion of Iraq, she wrote a script for the film based on three orphaned children.

Teaming up with her husband and producer Terje Kristiansen, the two were prevented by both Israel and Egypt from entering Gaza. As was the case with Libya before Qaddafi’s overthrow and Syria today, the international press was blocked from Gaza. Unlike Libya and Syria, which were and are ruled by “villains” (excepting of course when they were brokering deals with Western multinationals or torturing victims of the CIA on behalf of the “war on terror”), Israel’s blitzkrieg received the endorsement of American and European elites and was not likely to inspire newspapers or television networks to risk their reporters’ lives over a war against “Hamas terrorists trying to destroy Israel”.

As necessity is the mother of invention, Løkkeberg and Kristiansen ended up with footage shot by Palestinian photojournalists Yosuf Abu Shreah, Mwafaq al Khateeb, and Saed al Sabaa who were in Gaza at the time. Editing and postproduction was done in Norway.

The film starts on a wistful note showing Palestinians at the beach and celebrating a young couple’s marriage. And then all hell breaks loose. In unrelenting detail, you see Israeli jets and helicopters destroying civilian homes and leaving dead bodies strewn everywhere as ambulances speed here and there collecting the still-living. When you see the obvious defenselessness of the Gaza slums and the aerial terror being rained down on them, you feel a rising sense of anger at the Zionist entity. If you were for the Palestinians before you saw the movie, your solidarity will increase. If you were sitting on the fence (and those sorts of people should be dragooned into seeing it), you will find reason enough to oppose Israel. And for those who know how to connect the dotted lines, there is every reason to understand why al-Assad—up to now—has been getting away with Gaza-style slaughter of his own people and why you should demonstrate on Saturday against him.

The press notes for “Tears of Gaza” includes an epigraph from Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Opening at Maysles Cinema on October 8th, “In My Mother’s Arms” is focused on three war orphans just like “Tears of Gaza”. Filmed during the final days of the U.S. occupation of Iraq (excluding the remaining mercenary forces of course), it tells the story of Husham Al Thabe, a young, handsome, and chain-smoking Iraqi man who runs an orphanage for 32 children in a two-story house in the Al-Sadr neighborhood, Baghdad’s poorest slum and a frequent target of senseless bombings by Sunni terrorists. Although the film, like “The Tears of Gaza”, lacks any didactic narration of the sort found in more explicitly political films, Husham’s mission speaks for a break with the sectarian strife that has marked Iraq since the early 2000s, intentionally fostered by American imperialism. The orphans are Sunni, Shia, Turkman and Kurd, a cross-section of the country’s population and obviously representing Husham’s intention to heal the nation’s wounds.

The film begins with Husham stopping his car beneath a bridge and approaching two homeless boys. Do they have families, he asks? No, they were killed. How do you survive? The answer: begging.  He invites them to come with him and they do. He provides a warm and supportive environment for all the kids, even if he is one step ahead of the landlord who seeks to evict him. Unlike the state orphanages, which are notorious for their mistreatment of children, Husham’s relies totally on private donations, mostly from humble bazaar merchants who give hundreds rather than millions of dollars.

The most poignant of the children is 7-year old Saif, a Kurd who barely remembers his mother who was killed by a terrorist bomb along with his father. When other children taunt him by calling out his mother’s name—Mujada—he attacks them in a blind rage.

The name of the film derives from a play that Husham mounts with the help of a theater director based in the Al-Sadr slum. “In my mother’s arms” is a kind of oratorio devoted to the vision of mother and child reunion, even if only in the realm of the imagination. It stars Saif who sings a lament about life’s cruelties. Despite the sadness of the play, Saif achieves a kind of psychological breakthrough by finding a reason to live: the chance that others can appreciate his performance.

The film is co-directed by two Iraqis: Atia and Mohammad Al-Daraji. Atia founded Iraq Al-Rafidan, a full-service film and video production company with a mission to give a voice to the Iraqi people. The Al-Daraji’s partnered with Humam Film, a UK/Dutch company established in 2006 “to seek and explore individual creativity while producing films with a social conscience and impact.” This of course is the kind of partnership between NATO countries and the Arab world that should serve as an example.

The film begins with some shocking statistics about the number of orphans the war has left. You get some sense of the depth of the problem by reading an Alternet article dated December 18, 2007:

Iraq’s anti-corruption board revealed on Saturday that there were five million Iraqi orphans as reported by official government statistics, urging the government, parliament, and NGOs to be in constant contact with Iraq’s parentless children.

That’s about 1/6th of the country. For comparison’s sake, the U.S. has just over 2 million orphans even though it is nearly ten times the size of Iraq.

Meanwhile, the government of Iraq has demonstrated hostility toward private aid even when its own institutions are worse than useless. Alternet reported:

Maysoun al-Damlouji, a member of the parliament’s Civil Society Organizations Committee, slammed a recent government decision that closed down all private orphanages. “Instead of helping private institutions improve their performance and remove all obstacles hindering their work, the Iraqi government decided to close them down, adding to the complexity of the situation in the state-run institutions.

This is one instance in which an exception to the drive toward privatization hastened by the invasion and occupation of Iraq works would benefit the people. Or perhaps the more important lesson to be drawn is that the clash between state-ownership and privately-owned institutions is secondary to the more important criterion, namely whether a government serves the people or the people serve the government—the struggle that virtually defined the Arab Spring that is ongoing.

December 27, 2011

The Iraq war in retrospect

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,Iran,Iraq,Libya — louisproyect @ 7:47 pm

The latest issue of Frontline, a leftist Indian newspaper, has an article by Vijay Prashad titled “Exit America” that deals with the question of whether the war in Iraq was “dumb”, an allusion to then State Senator Barack Obama’s comment in 2002:

What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

Forced by circumstances of his elevation to supreme representative of the American ruling class, Obama no longer uses words like “dumb” and tries to put the best possible spin on how things turned out. Vijay writes:

Obama, who had made his own position clear in 2002, could not revisit them in 2011: he is now the Commander in Chief and would find it awkward to belittle the sacrifices of troops who were sent to fight a false war. At most Obama could acknowledge the debate before the war, with the lead-up “a source of great controversy here at home, with patriots on both sides of the debate”. The Iraq war was not perfect, he accepted, but its outcome was good, with the troops leaving behind “a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people”. American liberalism is not capable of any more than that.

Meanwhile, the notion that the troops have left behind a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq” has been demolished within hours after Obama uttered these words. The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has ordered the arrest of his Sunni vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi for supporting “terrorist activity”. Al-Hashemi then fled to sanctuary in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, an act that prompted al-Maliki to brandish threats against the Kurds as well.

As it turns out, al-Maliki’s crackdown was in part a reaction to intelligence he received from an apparently friendly government in the region. Now your first reaction would be to conclude that Iran or Syria furnished this information as part of their membership in the Shia “axis of good” network in the Middle East, the last bastion of resistance to the imperialist/Sunni cabal made up of Qatar, al-Jazeera, Saudi Arabia and the CIA. Well, it turns out that al-Maliki’s informer was none other than Libya, as the NY Times reported: “The Iraqi government said the arrests had been prompted by a tip from Libya’s transitional government that said documents revealed Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was working with insurgents to stage a coup.”

What the fuck? I thought that the Libyan government was made up of Sunni jihadists. That’s the point made by MRZine when it published a photo showing al-Qaeda flags on a courthouse in Benghazi. Hasn’t Pepe Escobar proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the “revolution” against Qaddafi was a plot hatched by French intelligence and jihadists? All this is beginning to sound murkier than a John le Carré novel, don’t you think? And what the hell was Qaddafi doing, making alliances with Sunni insurgents who he had tortured in Libyan prisons as part of his obligations to the CIA?

Now it can turn out that all that intelligence was nothing but bullshit designed to justify al-Maliki’s crackdown. But it is not bullshit to say that the political elites in Libya are on fairly good terms now with Iraq’s:

Head of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), Mahmoud Jibril, arrived on Thursday to Iraq in a short surprise visit. Jibril met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki, French Foreign Minister Hosheyar Zebari and a number of Iraqi officials. During the meeting, Maliki discussed the reconstruction of Iraq, a source told Alsumaria.

Jibril stated that he agreed with Maliki to exchange ambassadors between both countries as soon as possible and benefit from Iraqi expertise especially in the oil sector.

Of course someone with a proper anti-imperialist training would point out that what Jibril and al-Maliki have in common is that they got where they are courtesy of American military power. What further proof can you have that someone is an agent of imperialism if Cruise missiles were pointed in the direction of their enemies?

Things get a bit more complicated, however, when you consider that al-Maliki has also targeted the MEK camp in Iraq, a presence that the government Iran considers deeply inimical to its own security.  We are obviously compelled to support al-Maliki in this initiative considering what Rostam Pourzal told MRZine readers in 2006:

In Iran, where the militia has been known since its inception in 1965 as Mojahedin, or jihadists, MEK lost all credibility after it became a proxy of Iran’s archenemy, Saddam Hussein, in 1986.  Anne Singleton, a former insider and now an advocate for penitent MEK activists in Europe, has labeled the militia “Saddam’s private army” in her book-length memoirs by the same title.

A day before the Berkeley forum took place, the far-right daily Washington Times was busy promoting MEK’s annual convention in the US capital.  Perhaps you remember a similar cozy relationship the Moonie newspaper had with Nicaragua’s Contra mercenaries and with UNITA, the rebel army that terrorized Namibia on behalf of the Reagan Administration and apartheid South Africa.  A Reagan-era Pentagon official and leading architect of the Iraq invasion, Richard Perle, was the keynote speaker at MEK’s 2004 convention.

And, of course, any anti-imperialist worth his or her salt would have to back al-Maliki’s crackdown on a friend of the Baathist Party in light of the fact that Richard Perle spoke at their convention.  To really succeed in this brand of politics, it is necessary to put a minus where someone like Perle puts a plus. And for those stodgy old Marxists hung-up on dialectical contradictions, the only advice is to wise up and get with the program.

Now it is a possibility that the left makes a mistake by thinking in these terms, I am afraid. I have vivid recollections of those arguments made on behalf of the Sunni guerrillas some years ago, when the slogan “support the resistance” became a kind of litmus test.

In 2005, ISO’er Sharon Smith wrote an article titled “The Right to Resist Occupation” that claimed:

SUPPORT FOR the right of Iraqis to resist occupation must extend beyond an abstract principle for the U.S. antiwar movement.

While recognizing “the right of the Iraqi people to resist as a point of principle,” Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies–in widely circulated notes for a speech to the steering committee of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) on December 18–argued, “We should not call for ‘supporting the resistance’ because we don’t know who most of them are and what they really stand for, and because of those we do know, we mostly don’t support their social program beyond opposition to the occupation.”

To be meaningful, however, supporting the “right to resist” must include support for that resistance once it actually emerges.

To be fair to the ISO, they were not half as bad as someone like George Galloway who in his debate with Christopher Hitchens described the Sunni guerrillas as some of the greatest patriots since the days of the heroic NLF.

Unfortunately, nobody on the left could have guessed how willing the Sunni fighters would have been to cut their own deals with imperialism in a pacified Anbar Province:

Much of the local population here has always wanted the US to give them handouts, but it’s different now, American officials say. Over the past few years, the strategy here was to clear an area of danger and then swoop down with reconstruction projects in an attempt to win over the populace. That was because Anbar was still dangerous, still peppered with Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists. The US would see a project finished, only to be destroyed.

Now, say Marine officials, they’ll only spend money on a project that tribal sheikhs want only if those sheikhs get buy-in from the local and provincial governments that will ultimately own and maintain it.

“We don’t want this to be about us spending American money for the sheikhs,” says Brig. Gen. John Allen, who oversees political and economic reconstruction for Multi-National Forces-West. “We want this to be about American money that makes a difference in bringing government along and making the sheikhs part of the government.”

In other words, the Sunni resistance melted away as soon as the imperialist pocketbook opened up.

Back in the 1960s, the SWP resisted every effort made by SDS or independent leftists to make slogans like “Support the NLF” part of a mass mobilization. Primarily, the thinking was that anything that kept Americans from participating on the basis, for example, that the NLF was trying to kill their draftee son, was objectively against the interests of the NLF. A demonstration of 200,000 under the banner of “Out Now” was far more effective than one of 20,000 around the slogan “Victory to the NLF”. When you stop and think about it, such a slogan made little sense since it was not directed against the American government. It functioned more as an emotional expression of how you felt about imperialism—clearly understandable given the tenor of the times. Surely we should be capable of more nuanced thinking nowadays.

Returning to the original question posed by Vijay, maybe the best way to look at things is not from the perspective of “dumb” or “intelligent”. Looking at how things turned out in retrospect, they certainly seem dumb. Iraq appears destined to be as close to Iran as the U.S. is with Britain. A war against Iran likely will spark economic and military retaliation by the Shia states.

If you think, however, in terms of how Wall Street operates, the foreign policy calculations of Washington make a little bit more sense. Did Jon Corzine make a dumb decision when he bet that the EU would be forced to back up the government bonds of a Greece or a Spain? If he were correct, then MF Global would have been catapulted to the ranks of a junior Goldman-Sachs. If he weren’t, then the worst outcome would have been MF Global coming to an ignominious end. That would have not gotten in the way, however, of Corzine getting his golden parachute worth $12 million (even though he would have been last on line getting paid by the defunct hedge fund.)

Imperialist foreign policy is the same kind of high stakes casino as well but one that allows you to hedge your bets. You seed the Egyptian army with billions of dollars while simultaneously funding some of the activists who organized the Tahrir Square protests through the NED and Soro-type NGO’s. You back Qaddafi until the signs become abundantly clear that the movement against him has achieved the critical mass necessary to topple him, just as the case with al-Assad.

The only way to throw a monkey wrench in this kind of operation is to build our own movement globally that seeks to promote working class and revolutionary oppositions that cannot be so easily bought off. That requires breaking with bourgeois oppositions to imperialism, even as we organize to defend their countries from imperialist attack. As daunting a task as this might seem today, it is the only intelligent course of action open to those who want to live in a world of peace and plenty, namely the 99 percent globally.

March 27, 2011

Erstwhile strange bedfellows

Filed under: Iraq,Libya — louisproyect @ 1:05 pm

September 16, 2010

The War is Over?

Filed under: Iraq — louisproyect @ 2:09 pm
NY Times September 15, 2010

Iraqi-U.S. Raid Near Falluja Leaves 7 Dead

By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS and DURAID ADNAN

BAGHDAD — Seven Iraqis were killed in a village near the city of Falluja on Wednesday during an early morning raid by American and Iraqi security forces on the house of a suspected insurgent leader, officials said.

Four of the dead were brothers between the ages of 10 and 18, according to the Iraqi police and residents of the area.

The United States military said in an e-mail on Wednesday afternoon that the Iraqi military had “planned and led” the “joint counterterrorism” operation. Yet, the raid underscored the continuing presence of American service members in security operations, even after the United States declared an official end to combat on Aug. 31.

Of the approximately 50,000 United States troops remaining in Iraq, about 4,500 are Special Operations troops who take part in raids with Iraqi units, pursuing insurgent leaders and suspected members of other armed groups.

It is not clear whether the dead were the targets of the raid or how they were killed. Four other people were wounded during the operation, the police said.

There were stark differences between the American military’s description of the raid and the one supplied by villagers.

Maj. Rob Phillips, a spokesman for the United States military in Iraq, said a joint Iraqi-American unit had been seeking a senior leader of an Iraqi insurgent group, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, who was believed responsible for a number of attacks in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, in western Iraq. The major said the American forces were acting as advisers while the Iraqis tried to serve an arrest warrant.

The Iraqi police said the raid started about 1 a.m. Wednesday, with at least four American helicopters providing support. Major Phillips said the troops came under fire as they approached the suspect’s house and shot back, killing four suspected insurgents — he said he did not know their ages — and wounding three others. Two residents of the village who came out of their homes with weapons were also fatally shot by the troops, he added.

Major Phillips said he did not know whether the Americans fired their weapons or whether the suspected Qaeda leader was captured or killed, or had escaped. Officials in Iraq’s Ministry of Defense and in the prime minister’s office did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

In addition to the four brothers who were killed, police officials said that a man who had been a colonel in the Iraqi Army under Saddam Hussein had also died. The police officials said they believed that the man, whose identity was not released, might have been the original target of the raid.

Local residents described a far different scene, one of chaos and fear as American soldiers and Iraqi security officers moved through the area in the darkness. They accused the Iraqis of firing indiscriminately, often at people who represented no threat.

“I was sleeping when I was awakened by gunfire and explosions,” said a resident who would give only his first name, Muhammad, because he feared reprisal from Iraqi security. “I went out to see what was happening and they shot at me. They missed, but I went back inside and stayed there.”

Iraqi police officers, who said they had been barred from taking part in the raid but raced to the scene after it began, said the commandos took four of the seven bodies before they departed about 7 a.m.

Near the northern city of Mosul on Wednesday, nine Iraqi soldiers were killed and seven other people were wounded after the minibus carrying them struck a roadside bomb, the Iraqi police said.

Iraqi employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Anbar and Nineveh Provinces.

August 11, 2009

In the Loop; Hurt Locker

Filed under: Film,Iraq — louisproyect @ 6:54 pm

Despite what you might have read in the over-hyped reviews for “In the Loop”, this is not a satire on the build-up to any war in the Middle East, including the one that began in 2003. It is instead a commentary on the back-stabbing behavior of high-powered governmental functionaries in the U.S. and Great Britain that throughout its 106 minutes contains not a single political conversation.

We are led to believe that Pentagon generals, British foreign office functionaries, and inside-the-beltway policy wonks could be capable of not mentioning a single word about the ostensible enemy despite the reality of White House obsession with Saddam Hussein in 2003. Instead, the power-brokers, both men and women, spend all their time cursing each other out with particular emphasis on the size of the men’s penises. One supposes that A.O. Scott, the N.Y. Times movie reviewer, flipped out over this sorry movie (“The audience…is likely to die laughing”) because it reminds him of what goes on at his job.

Some reviewers compare “In the Loop” to “Dr. Strangelove”. For this comparison to work, you have to imagine a “Dr. Strangelove” without any reference to a looming nuclear war with Russia. Instead we would be treated to George C. Scott’s colorful portrayal as General ‘Buck’ Turgidson but captured entirely in the bedroom rather than the “war room”. Who would want to be inconvenienced with boring discussions about the impact of a thermonuclear device on New York City or Moscow when you can get laughs watching Turgidson prancing about in his underwear?

“In the Loop” reminded me of last year’s “Nothing but the Truth”, a movie inspired by the Judith Miller/Valerie Plame contretemps but utterly devoid of politics. The movie begins with some vague reference to CIA military intervention in Venezuela in order to get the plot moving, but switches gears to become a sterile melodrama about professional ethics and the ambitions of strong-willed women. A big yawn in other words.

The movie begins with a low-level British foreign affairs minister being interviewed about sexually transmitted diseases, his specialty. When asked whether he thought that a war would be fought in the Middle East, he replies that such an event is “unforeseeable”. The doves interpret this as opposition to war, while the hawks spin it in the other direction. The foreign minister is a character similar to Zelig or Peter Sellers in “Being There”. Meanwhile, James Gandolfini of “Sopranos” fame plays a Pentagon general who also likes to be seen as dovish or hawkish to fit the occasion, a supposed reference to General Colin Powell. The only problem with this, of course, was Powell’s full-throated warmongering in 2003. He only became ambivalent about the war after it became costly, just as was the case with most politicians including Barack Obama.

The movie was directed by Armando Iannucci, a Scotsman of Italian descent who also directed “The Thick of It”, a BBC comedy with the same narrow focus as “In the Loop”—nothing so boring as politics ever makes its presence in this television show apparently. It instead prefers to reveal what miscreants run the British government, as if we needed to watch television to learn that. Iannucci’s inspiration was “Yes, Minister”, another comedy of bad manners that used to air on PBS. I once watched 10 minutes of it before switching the dial out of fear of being turned into a pillar of stone.

I doubt that I could improve on the proper trashing of “Hurt Locker” by Jay Rothermel that appeared today on Marxmail. It includes the following observations that I could not agree more strongly with:

The Hollywood combat movie is a genre notorious for hoary clichés. We all know them: at least one solider is on the verge of going home. Another loves war a little too much. A third, from the rear echelon, wants to see some real action. Around camp a G.I. might befriend a local boy, a Samuel Fuller war orphan with a name like Short Round. If Fuller or Robert Aldrich made the movie, most of the officers would be useless tyros or dangerous martinets. The Black soldier would come off hard-as-nails, but reveal himself late in the movie as the heart of the unit. The youngest baby-faced grunt would have a meltdown. There would be some lighter escapades, too, to break-up the bigger combat scenes: men carousing and “getting down” to the soundtrack’s rock and roll music.

“The Hurt Locker” is sold as a vigorously up-to-date hand-held no-stars kitchen-sink realist combat movie with none of these trite and ancient plot points. On this the TV commercials, stellar reviews, and print ads all agree. But the movie has them. Indeed, it seems like an encyclopedia of such clichés. So many are used that the viewer starts to feel like the victim of a practical joke, lured to the theater with the old bait-and-switch.

I would only add a couple of my own complaints. In one scene the American bomb defusing expert, one Sergeant James, scours an abandoned bomb factory, where he discovers a dead Iraqi boy who has been booby-trapped. In keeping with the sensationalist approach of director Kathryn Bigelow, James uses his knife to surgically remove the bomb. To add to the melodrama, the boy is assumed to be a street kid that Sergeant James has befriended, a DVD peddler who calls himself Beckham after the soccer superstar.

Now there have been few reports of booby-trapped corpses in Iraq, but those have exclusively involved occupation forces, either military or civilian like truck drivers. The idea that Sunni insurgents would defile the corpse of a Muslim, even if it belonged to a Shi’ite is unbelievable. As deeply religious rebels, they were and are obviously constrained by their beliefs. The Muslim religion dictates a rapid burial and not the use of a dead believer’s body for a weapon. Suicide bombing, of course, is an entirely different matter that while not exactly sanctioned by the religion is not in open defiance of its strictures, at least as interpreted by its Imams, which is all that matters in the final analysis.

In some ways, this lack of verisimilitude reminded me of “The Deer Hunter”, another war movie that also aspired to transcend the genre’s conventions. In one of the most heralded scenes in the movie, the Vietnamese force an American captive to play Russian roulette. As it turns out, the only record of such a gruesome form of mental and physical torture taking place during the war was imposed by Americans on their Vietnamese captives. That’s par for the course in Hollywood, where demonization of the Empire’s enemies is a requirement for career advancement.

In another scene that is directly related to the scene described above, Sergeant James forces another Arab DVD peddler to drive him to the house where Beckham was booby-trapped, or where he lived. Like much of this movie, it is rather murky what his goal is. When he gets there, pistol in hand, he discovers that it is a middle-class home with an older man preparing dinner in the kitchen. The man, a college professor who speaks English, is not intimidated by the gun and invites him to share tea with him. We are finally on the verge, it would appear, of having some serious dramatic interaction and revelations about how the Arab perceives the occupying powers. But just as soon as the professor makes his invitation, his wife bursts into the kitchen and beats Sergeant James over the head with a metal pot. Our intrepid GI, unafraid of the deadliest bombs, goes running off into the night and no further words are exchanged with the Iraqi man and woman. I imagine that the screenwriter was incapable of writing dialog appropriate to the scene. He was much better suited obviously for having his principals say things like “Haji at 2:00″.

February 27, 2009

McCain backs Obama

Filed under: Iraq — louisproyect @ 9:22 pm

McCain backs Obama’s Iraq troop withdrawal plan

WASHINGTON (AP) – Sen. John McCain, who lost the presidency to Barack Obama last fall, is supporting Obama’s new plan to pull most U.S. troops out of Iraq by the fall of 2010.

McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview Friday he thinks the plan is “significantly different” from the one Obama pushed during his campaign.

During the campaign, Obama had advocated a complete withdrawal within 16 months of taking office.

McCain said that members of Congress were told in a White House meeting Thursday that the majority of troops in Iraq now would be kept there through the end of the year to protect against violence during Baghdad elections next December. Then, even as troops begin to leave, some 50,000 forces would be kept behind to advise the Iraqi troops.

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