Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 23, 2015

The left’s on again, off again bromance with jihadists

Filed under: Jihadists,Syria — louisproyect @ 10:48 pm

Fallen out of favor

In June 2004 the World Socialist Website published by David North waxed ecstatic over the resistance to the US Marines in the battle of Fallujah:

One resident who spoke to the Los Angles Times described the uprising as a popular revolt against the occupying power. “Every Fallujan who was able to carry weapons participated,” he said. “All of us are mujahedin. No masks will be used anymore by the mujahedin. We are struggling openly. Our relationship with the new Iraqi commander and his people is very good. They did not come on the back of the American tanks. They are our sons.” The Times reporter cited a sign hanging on the gate of a mosque that captured the mood. It read, “We are the soldiers of Muhammad and not the soldiers of Saddam. We love death as you love life.”

Words such as “All of us are mujahedin” and “We are the soldiers of Muhammad” prompt a different reaction today of course. They would cause David North to break out in hives.

The WSWS.org, a pillar of the Baathist amen corner, was not alone. Pepe Escobar, who has the same relationship to Vladimir Putin today as Bill O’Reilly had to George W. Bush, practically has a cow when the subject of jihadists comes up, as Bart Simpson would put it. He hopes that Putin is up to the task of smashing “those mongrel imperial offspring once and for all.” Lovely. I haven’t heard anybody on the left using terms like “mongrel” in quite some time, maybe ever. Those sorts of epithets are usually what comes out of the mouth of an IDF officer or the aforementioned Bill O’Reilly.


Pepe Escobar: bad politics, worse haircut

Back around the time WSWS.org was having a wet dream over Fallujah, Pepe Escobar was ready to join it in an orgy of leftist celebration even if Sharia law prevented booze. In a November 11th 2004 Asia Times article titled “Satan hides in a hospital”, he pulls out all the stops, sounding practically like the kind of pour soul who would be arrested today for aiding and abetting jihadists for comments made on social media.

Apart from a maximum of 1,500 “Arab brothers” – as the Iraqis call them – from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Tunisia, most of the remaining mujahideen in Fallujah are nationalist Iraqis whose tribal code mandates that they defend at any cost their homes, their families and their city under foreign attack.

They have been preparing for this onslaught for months. And they do have a battle plan – as it was relayed to Asia Times Online by sources in Baghdad. Former or retired Iraqi army officials have always been serious students of Viet Minh tactics and Che Guevara’s theory of the guerrilla foco (center of guerrilla operations).

Do I have to point out that the “Arab brothers” are what they call “foreign fighters” nowadays?

Keep in mind that this breathless paean to the jihadists was written a full four months after Escobar informed his Asia Times readers that they were pretty much the same kinds of people he has it in for today. The title of the article “The Islamic emirate of Fallujah” should make it clear that he understood their Islamist character:

Writers and professors in Baghdad with close family and tribal ties to Fallujah have explained to Asia Times Online the new order. In today’s Fallujah, every military commander is an emir. They may be strident, conservative Salafis, philosophical Sufis, al-Qaeda admirers, former Ba’ath Party army officials, former secret-service agents, or even the average neighbor, a father of six.

If you qualify as an emir, you are a leading member of what is popularly described as “the Iraqi resistance” in control of “liberated Fallujah”, a region off-limits to US troops ever since the United States handed over control of the city in May after a month-long siege.

Along with local imams and tribal chiefs, all emirs are also part of a Shura, a mujahideen council, created last winter and directed by two imams, Abdallah Janabi and Dhafer al-Ubeidi.

These imams may be considered the spiritual leaders of the resistance in Fallujah. Janabi, from the Saad bin Abi Wakkas Mosque, is a true radical: he is the leader of the takfiris – the fiercest warriors, some Iraqi, some from other Arab countries, some voluntary, some linked to Arab groups. Janabi was the first imam in 2003 to call for armed resistance against the occupation of Iraq, and for the summary execution of spies. Dhafer, from the al-Hadra al-Muhammadiya mosque, is a senior to Janabi in the Shura. His fatwas (religious edicts) carry enormous influence.

The aforementioned Abdallah Janabi was the liaison in Fallujah for the militia run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the bloodthirsty jihadist from Jordan who founded the group that would become ISIS. Later on Abdallah Janabi would become the head of ISIS in Fallujah, and even established a “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.”


Bailed on the jihadists

Let me conclude with exhibit C in the investigation of how the left fell out of love with jihadists. While certainly a more obscure figure than David North or Pepe Escobar, Sukant Chandan deserves to be mentioned for the boldness of execution in carrying out a 180 degree turn. Chandan was on Marxmail briefly in 2008 but he unsubbed after I reprimanded him for posting links to Osama bin Laden’s statements.

He had a blog at the time called O.U.R.A.I.M: ORGANISATION TO UNDERSTAND RADICAL ARAB & ISLAMIST MOVEMENTS (forgive the caps, they are his) whose title speaks for itself. It is a virtual treasure trove of information on jihadist movements with observations such as this sprinkled throughout: “This Islamist leftist rhetoric has inspired annoyance in some left-wing and radical circles in the West. While they might share Bin Laden’s radical comments they perhaps don’t appreciate Bin Laden picking holes in their political strategies and movements so publicly.” You can obviously understand why he would be on a collision course with unrepentant Marxists.

Interestingly enough, the last article posted to O.U.R.A.I.M. is dated October 19, 2010. He must have run out of steam defending Islamism five years ago. Always showing a fondness for Stalinism as well as Salafism, our lad finally allowed his Stalinist side to take over completely like a Marvel Comics character, using his other blog Sons of Malcolm to voice opinions identical to Pepe Escobar et al today. He also is a guest on RT.com and Press TV from time to time. No surprise there. Like so many who have drunk Putin’s Kool-Aid, Chandan shows no signs of restraint. This is typical:

What Russia does: within a few days Russia has been very effective in targeting western-backed armed gangs and have the west and their pathetic hangers on in an utter state of panic and disbelief.

The Global South peoples and countries raise a big hurrah and eagerly await more unity and more alliance building of the people of the region, Russia and others to have an almighty push back on this imperialist death squad project.

If you’re looking for an explanation of why the fellow has fallen out of love with the jihadists, you’ll probably have to wait a long time. Whatever their ideology, these people have something in common with old school Stalinism, an impressive ability to turn on a dime without bothering to make sense out of the turn. You might as well be dealing with a hyena on methamphetamine.



November 17, 2015

A history of bombing

Filed under: militarism,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:42 pm

Apparently we have reached such a stage in the degeneration of the Baathist amen corner that John Wight now writes articles justifying the use of barrel bombs:

Barrel bombs are an atrociously indiscriminate weapon, for sure, and their use rightly comes under the category of atrocity. However just as the atrocity of the allied firebombing of Dresden in 1945 did not invalidate the war against European fascism then, neither does the atrocity of Syrian barrel bombs invalidate the war against its Middle East equivalent today.

This is what Malcolm X referred to once as turning the victim into the criminal.

When Assad worked out an agreement brokered by Vladimir Putin to get rid of his chemical weapons (at least those that could not be hidden away for future use), the antiwar movement—such as it was—patted itself on the shoulder for pressuring the USA and Britain from launching a Bush-style invasion of Syria as if this was ever in the cards.

Assad’s move was pretty smart seen in retrospect. It gave him a blank check starting in October 2013 to step up his aerial bombing campaign including the use of barrel bombs.

Writing for CounterPunch, Cesar Chelala, a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award, demonstrated an ability to distinguish right from wrong that so many of our newly emerged laptop bombardiers like John Wight cannot. In an August 11, 2014 article he outlined the position that the entire left should embrace:

UN Security Council Resolution 2139 of February 22, 2014, ordered all parties to the conflict in Syria to end the discriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons in populated areas. In spite of that, both the Syrian and the Iraqi governments continue using them against civilians. Human rights groups have characterized them as weapons of terror and illegal under international conventions.

It is of interest that Chelala has included Iraqi barrel bombing in the equation. I confess to not having kept up with this part of the depravity of the al-Maliki regime, whose membership in the “axis of resistance” apparently required savage attacks on the Sunni population that made it possible for ISIS to get a foothold.

My own position is pretty radical. I am opposed to aerial bombardment period. Reading Sven Lindqvist “A History of Bombing” that was published in 2000 shaped my thinking on this matter. I was familiar with Lindqvist through an earlier book titled “Exterminate All the Brutes” that was about how Hitler’s genocidal policies were first carried out in Africa. Lindqvist’s book makes the case against bombing from the air through an examination of the ideology that justified it as well as the murderous effects when either the bad guys or “the good guys” carried it out in places like Dresden or Hiroshima. In the excerpt below, he shows how abhorrent the idea of aerial bombing was to the military, so much so that an Italian military man who advocated it was court martialed. We have come a long way when the “anti-imperialist” left cheers on Russian bombing (as well as French and American) in a fashion that reminds me of George Jessel appearances on American television in the 1960s when he would show up in an Uncle Sam suit to “support the troops”.




The first person to step forward and openly acknowledge what the others were hiding was the Italian Giulio Douhet. He arrived as a young cadet in Torino, the capital of the Italian auto industry, and wrote his first book on the military use of motor vehicles (1902). In 1910 he published a book on the problems of the air force, and in 1912 he was appointed chief of the newly formed air squadron in Torino. The next year he and Gianni Caproni constructed the first heavy bomber, a tri-engine monster created to make bombardment from the air the dominant form of attack.

When the World War broke out, Douhet became famous for his criticism of the way the war was conducted and his impassioned pleading for the use of the heavy bomber. The generals were enraged, and Douhet was relieved of his post and court-martialed. But he was justified when the defeat of Italy in 1917 proved that his criticisms had been correct. Several years later the Ministry of War published Douhet’s most important work, ll dominio dell’aria (Dominion of the Skies, 1921). It came out in German in 1935 and in English in 1942, but long before then it had exercised decisive influence on military thought, not least in Great Britain.


Douhet’s principal argument is that war is transformed by the technical means at its disposal. Barbed wire and rapid-fire arms transformed warfare on land, the submarine transformed war at sea. The air force and poisonous gas will lead to changes just as great. The war of the future will be total war.

In the old days, civilian life could go on relatively undisturbed behind the front. International even created a legal distinction between “combatants” and “noncombatants.” We have passed this stage, Douhet argues, since air warfare makes it possible to attack the enemy lehind the fortified lines. It erases the distinction between soldiers and civilians.

Air raids can never hope to achieve the same precision as artillery fire. But neither is that necessary—targets for bombs should always be large.

In order to succeed, air raids must be carried out against very large centers of civilian population. Is this forbidden? All international agreements reached during peacetime will be swept away like withered leaves during war. So let’s forget false hopes. When you’re fighting for your life—and today that’s the only way to fight—you have the sacred right to use any able means to avoid going under. To destroy your own people for the sake of a few graphs of legalese would be madness. Air warfare offers for the first time the chance to the enemy where he’s weakest; poisonous gas can make that first blow fatal.

It has been calculated that 80 to 100 tons of poisonous gas would suffice to enclose London, Berlin, or Paris in deadly clouds of gas and destroy them with strategically placed bombs, while the gas prevents the fires from being extinguished.

‘The thought is of course harrowing,” writes Douhet. Especially terrifying is the knowledge every advantage belongs to the one who strikes first. So it will not be possible to wait for opponent to take up these so-called inhuman and illegal weapons first for you to obtain entirely unnecessary) moral right to make use of these weapons yourself. No, necessity will force every nation to use the most effective weapons available, immediately and with the greatest possible ruthlessness.


The prophets of strategic bombing were advocating war crimes. Among the states that had signed the 1907 Hague Convention, “bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, flings or buildings which are undefended, is prohibited.”

But the word “undefended” remained ambiguous, argued James Witford Garner, when he, an expert in international law, summarized the First World War in International Law and the World War (1920).

In air attacks on cities, military damages had been insignificant or nonexistent, while non-combatants had been subjected over and over again to illegal destruction of life and property. Warfare had regularly done what it claimed to avoid while failing to do what it claimed to achieve.

So new rules were necessary. Garner suggests that air attacks should be allowed “within the military zone,” while it should be forbidden “to make attacks on cities and villages far behind the lines.”



“What are the rules for this kind of cricket?” asked the newly appointed chief for India’s Northwest Province, Sir John Maffrey. The air force headquarters for India answered that international law did not apply “against savage tribes who do not conform to codes of civilized warfare.” Warning ought to be given before an attack (so that people could take cover), but on the other hand, the attack should be a surprise (since that would increase the death toll). Loss of life was, after all, what made the greatest impact on morale.

Women held little value for the Afghans, reported headquarters, but instead were considered “a piece of property somewhere between a rifle and a cow.” So killing Afghani women could not be justly compared with similar losses among European civilians.

In 1922 a RAF memorandum lists a series of available means of terror: timed bombs; phosphorus bombs; “crow’s feet,” which maimed humans and livestock; whistling arrows; crude oil used to pollute drinking water; and “liquid fire,” a forerunner to napalm. ‘There was no sign of discomfort” regarding such methods in war, writes the English historian Charles Townshend.



The pilot found the Hottentots on a little plateau about 3,000 feet above sea level. ‘There they sat, warming themselves by tiny fires for they can hardly exist at night without their fires,” said the Johannesburg newspaper the Star in a report from the Boridelzwart uprising in Southwest Africa, 1922. It was at dawn on a Sunday morning, and the plane carried a full load of bombs and ammunition. “These ‘little yellow men” were taken completely by surprise. They had often sought refuge from their enemies here—ten men could hold the mountaintop against an army. But now they were completely at the pilot’s mercy.” “Bombs were dropping from 100 feet. Machine-gun fire was opened. Many of them tumbled into the gorge . . . scores were killed. Those who could escape fled in all directions. . . . Now their flocks and herds are scattered. Heaps of carcasses are piled up in the reserve. Huts have been burned down to the ground. . . . The Hottentots, if one may judge from the admissions of prisoners, are absolutely dismayed by this new actor in native warfare. . . . The aeroplane, the natives may find, has made war an impossible thing for them.”


Several days later, the Star’s reporter places these events in a larger context. Now the story is seen as a chapter in the natural extinction of the race: The Hottentot is too devoted to his animals. Every animal he has ever owned is burned into his memory. If his herd is taken from him, he loses his will to live. Of the ten Hottentot tribes, three have already died out. The rest are in the process of disappearing. These days, when societies are formed for all kinds of threatened species, it might be time to form one in defense of the Hottentot, the Star’s reporter concludes.

South Africa continued to bomb uprisings in Southwest Africa in 1925, 1930, 1932, and so on up to 1989, when Namibia became independent.


For Theodore Savage and his neighbors out in the country, the first bombing raids on London are nothing more than a glowing spectacle against the night sky. But refugees stream in like huge swarms of “human rats.” Driven to desperation by fear and hunger, they flood the countryside. “Women, like men, asserted their beast-right to food—when sticks and knives failed them, asserted it with claws and teeth; inhuman creatures, with distended and wide, yelling mouths, went down with their fingers at each others’ throats, in each others’ flesh . .”94 In Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage (1922, revised 1928) England has been bombed back into the primitive state depicted by Hobbes, Malthus, and their successors.

Timid little Theo does not turn into a true wild beast, but he learns to hunt rabbits and root garbage like an abandoned dog, always hungry, always afraid, always on his guard th strangers and neighbors, for everyone is his enemy. When tribes gradually start to take form, it is on the basis of fear, brutality, superstition, and the hatred of strangers. A ‘anatic preaches the new gospel—salvation through ignorance.

In the end, the old, helpless Savage is the only survivor of the legendary age before the Catastrophe. For his grandchildren his name becomes a symbol of a dead civilization, so used that no one knows any longer what it was for or how it was lost.



Who is it that bombs us back to barbarism? In Anderson Graham’s The Collapse of Homo Sapiens (1923) the answer is very clear. It is Africans and Asians who, for some reason, have been able to achieve the technological expertise that up to this point has esis for the superiority of the West. Before the novel is over, we have learned that universities must take the blame for their criminal foolishness in teaching students of foreign races.

“They had even discovered a deadlier gas than ours, and explosives of such power that two or three bombs had been enough to wipe London out of existence.” And now the dark races are using this advantage to level the civilization they hate.

The bombers fly so low that you can see the dark skin of the soldiers and their foreign uniforms, you can hear their crude laughter as they drop their little bombs.

They gassed such as made a stand and hunted to death those who ran away. Such children as escaped fled in mad terror to the wastes and the woodland, where they lost the last tatters of civilisation. . . . In winter they died as the flies do because they had not the wit left to store against its rigours. . . . The tree that has taken centuries to grow can be cut down in an hour.”



There is no pretense in Douhet. He knows what it’s all about and he says it openly, shamelessly, almost with pleasure.

He was followed by a string of lesser prophets, who tried to give terror a more human face.

The good thing bout air warfare is that instead of killing people, we can destroy their economy, writes the British military theorist J.F.C. Fuller in The Reformation of War (1923).

The bombardment of bridges and railways stops the transport of food and ammunition to combatants. It then becomes unnecessary to kill them. “Thus in the extended employment of aircraft, we have the means at hand of compelling a bloodless victory.” Gas provides an even greater means of humanizing war. If deadly gas is used, soldiers will at least not have to be shot to pieces. With the use of mustard gas, men will be injured, but only rarely killed. If nerve gas is used, the men simply fall asleep and can be disarmed without even being injured. Air raids are immoral only if they cause greater harm than ground warfare. The war of the future might indeed be harder on the civilian population, but on the other hand, wars will be shorter and less bloody, predicts Fuller. Five hundred airplanes, each loaded with 500 five-kilo bombs filled with mustard gas can injure 200,000 Londoners in a half-hour, changing the city to a raging madhouse. A landslide of terror would sweep aside the government in Westminster. ‘Then will the enemy dictate his terms. . . . Thus may a war be won in forty-eight hours and losses of the winning side may be actually nil!”



In Baghdad in February of 1923, the newly arrived staff officer Lionel Charlton visited the local hospital in Diwaniya. He had expected diarrhea and broken bones, but was instead suddenly and surprisingly confronted with the results of a British air raid. The difference between a police baton and a bomb was brutally obvious. Had it been a question of war or an open rebellion, he as an officer would not have had any complaint, he writes in his memoirs, but this “indiscriminate bombing of a populace … with the liability of killing women and children, was the nearest thing to wanton slaughter.” He became more and more doubtful about the methods with which “an appearance of law and order” was maintained in Iraq. Soon a new sheik had stirred up a rebellion and had to be punished. But from 3,000 feet it was not so easy to target him specifically. When the bombs exploded without warning in the crowded bazaar, innocent and powerless subjects would be killed along with their oppressors. Was it right for an entire city to suffer for one man’s crime? And was he even a criminal himself? Perhaps the informants who had fingered him had personal reasons to go behind his back. To bomb a city on those grounds was a form of tyranny that threatened to make the British even more hated. Charlton’s superior, John Salmond, made no bones in admitting that the bombs struck at the innocent. But the established political line had to be followed. If the air force was to survive as an independent branch of service, it had to prove its efficiency and could not afford sentimentality. As expected, when the rebellious sheik was bombed, more than twenty women and children lost their lives. Charlton no longer wanted any part of it. He requested to be relieved of his post on grounds of conscience. Headquarters sent him back to England, where he was forced to retire in 1928.


November 16, 2015

Understanding the rise of ISIS

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm

Jihadists in Fallujah, 2004, when they were good guys

After George W. Bush invaded Iraq, the left followed the war with keen interest hoping against hope that the American military would be sent packing in the same fashion as Vietnam thirty years earlier. Even though there was little evidence of socialist ideology among the Sunni or the Shiite militias who fought the Americans more sporadically, the consensus was that they deserved our support.

Like some of the key battles in Vietnam such as the Tet Offensive of 1968, the battle for Fallujah became a turning point in the war. Writing for CounterPunch on November 13, 2004 Mike Whitney professed his admiration for the “mujahideen” quoting a Pepe Escobar article to the same effect. Both men were ready to hoist the fighters on their shoulders and Whitney went so far as to regard them as students of Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara:

Former or retired Iraqi army officials have always been serious students of Viet Minh tactics and Che Guevara’s theory of the guerrilla foco (center of guerrilla operations). Now they are applying this to urban warfare.

Now, 11 years later, very few people would take up the cause of mujahideen, which is the Arabic word for “people performing Jihad”. Even less so if the men carrying it out were retired Iraqi army officers who appear to be exactly those who are running ISIS’s military operations today. Apparently, when an armed struggle is being waged against Washington, it makes little difference if the ideology is Salafist or Marxist but when Bashar al-Assad is targeted, all bets are off. Ipso facto, shooting at Baathist soldiers makes you a fascist.

There was very little interest on the left in exactly what life was like in Fallujah back in 2004 except that we admired the courage of the citizens. But as “liberated territory”, it doesn’t sound that much different from places under ISIS control today as Nir Rosen reported in an article titled “Resistance: Meet the People of Fallujah” that appeared in the October 2004 Socialist Review, the monthly magazine of the British SWP:

They had banned alcohol, western films, make-up, hairdressers, ‘behaving like women’ (ie homosexuality), and even dominoes in the coffee houses. Men found publicly drunk had been flogged, and I was told of a dozen men beaten and imprisoned for selling drugs. Islamic courts were being established in association with mujahideen units and mosque leaders, meting out punishment consistent with the Koran. Erstwhile Ba’ath Party members told me they were expiating the sins of their former secularism, and Ba’ath ideology had now become Islamist. An assistant to the mayor confirmed that there were Islamic courts with their own qadis, or judges, who acted independently of the police.

One of the men most responsible for imposing Wahhabist norms in Fallujah was one Abu al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of a militia called Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Organization of Monotheism and Jihad), a group that would reconstitute itself as Al-Qaeda in Iraq in October 2004. Zarqawi was so extreme that he alienated Osama bin-Laden. This was a guy heavy into suicide bombings against Shi’ite mosques, beheadings and other gruesome tactics we associate with ISIS. The left had a tendency to discount such behavior since after all it was the broader anti-imperialist goal that mattered. The spin-doctoring talent that some people developed in this period prepared them for yeoman work in the Baathist amen corner years later. John Wight excuses barrel-bombing open-air markets in Syria in the same way some excuse Dresden or Hiroshima. When excesses are committed in a war on fascism, they can be forgiven unless of course you are Joseph Heller or Howard Zinn.

Between al-Zarqawi and bin-Laden there were also differences on orientation with al-Zarqawi favoring the building of an Islamic state and bin-Laden more inclined to fund and organize likeminded movements around the globe. Furthermore, bin-Laden frowned on the idea of sectarian violence—believe it or not. When al-Zarqawi, a crude and violent man by temperament, told bin-Laden that he was into killing Shi’ites, bin-Laden was appalled.

Another thing to keep in mind is that bin-Laden’s prestige, such as it was, originated in the battles against Russian troops in Afghanistan while al-Zarqawi’s “cred” rested on his feats in Iraq. Henceforth, this would favor the emergence of ISIS that had a base of younger fighters who had taken part in battles such as Fallujah.

Despite the sharp differences, it served al-Zarqawi’s practical interests to form Al-Qaeda in Iraq since it could benefit from both funding and staffing from the parent organization’s worldwide network.

On October 15, 2006 al-Qaeda in Iraq spawned a new group called the Islamic State in Iraq that was known by its initials: ISI. For the next two years it would build up its power in Anbar province, where ISIL would seize control a few years later—including Mosul the second largest city in Iraq. So in a very real sense, there was a dotted line between Fallujah in 2004, the city that raised the spirits of the left to new heights, and the targets of Russian bombing today. Nothing has changed socially or politically in Anbar province except where it fits into the geopolitical chess game. Orwell put it this way:

Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.

The cruelty of ISI had so alienated the Sunnis of Anbar province in whose name it was supposedly acting that it gave the Americans the opening it needed to create the “Awakening” movement in 2006 that pitted powerful tribal elements against the jihadists.

Once the jihadists had been sent packing from Anbar Province, Baghdad had the possibility of ruling over a united Iraq but Shi’ite sectarianism would eventually alienate Sunnis to such an extent that a new opening was provided to the followers of one Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who had taken over for al-Zarqawi and would become the public face of ISIS.

In 2012 and 2013, there was a protest movement in Fallujah, Mosul and other Sunni-dominated cities that was similar in spirit to the Arab Spring of 2011. In December 2012, the Iraqi police arrested Rafi al-Issawi in Fallujah who was one of the top Sunni politicians in Iraq, had served as Minister of Finance under al-Maliki and had been a thorn in the side of the Shi’ite establishment. Al-Maliki accused him falsely of being an al-Qaeda operative but his main offense was pressing for Sunni rights.

Writing for CounterPunch, Iraqi journalist Eman Ahmed Khamas described al-Maliki as a sectarian bully cut from the same cloth as Bashar al-Assad:

Maliki claims that he leads a vibrant democracy, but he heads an authoritarian regime and monopolizes six high governmental posts: chief of staff, minister of defense, minister of interior, chief of intelligence, and head of national security. Even his partners in the Shiite alliance have been excluded, let alone his Sunni opponents. He is supported by the theocracts in Iran and he has supported the Syrian regime, one of the most notorious autocracies in the region. In a televised interview, Maliki threatened to liquidate those who demonstrate for justice and better services, and described them as a ‘stinking bubble’. Indeed, his SWAT forces used lethal weapons against peaceful protestors several times. In the town of Hawija, for example, at least 50 unarmed men were slaughtered last April. In other cities, such as Basra, Nassyria, Fallujah, and Mosul, protestors have been beaten, arrested and killed.

When the USA began to call for al-Maliki to step down in order to prevent the growth of ISIS in Iraq (the group had changed its name to reflect its new caliphate ambitions), some interpreted this as a move to destabilize Iraq. Apparently the slaughter of peaceful protesters was necessary to keep a leader of the axis of resistance in place. Never one to mince words, Mike Whitney described the Sunni protests as being “nurtured by US Intel agencies that armed, trained and funded the respective wahhabi crackpots who then moved into Iraq”—in other words the same kinds of people he compared to Che Guevara in 2004 were now “wahhabi crackpots”.

When ISIS overran Mosul and other cities in Anbar Province, it inherited a vast supply of armaments abandoned by the Iraqi army including 2,300 armored Humvees worth a cool billion dollars. These Humvees came in handy in suicide attacks on government strongholds. Besides the Humvees, ISIS got its hands on Russian T-72 tanks, heavy artillery, American Stinger MANPADs, anti-tank TOW missiles, and anti-aircraft cannons. So for all the talk of USA arming ISIS, you can say that this is true but only in the sense that American banks supplied cash to John Dillinger in the 1930s.

For the Baathist amen corner, this historical background is best swept under the rug. What they are far more interested in is evidence of a conspiracy by Washington to create ISIS. A document posted to Judicial Watch has gotten heavy rotation as they say about Beyonce albums on FM pop music stations. Writing in the Guardian on June 9, 2015, Seumas Milne claims that a Pentagon report written in August 2012 “welcomed” a Salafist principality of the kind that ISIS now refers to as a caliphate—this despite the fact that the report views such an outcome as having “dire consequences on the Iraqi situation”. How Milne can extrapolate “welcome” out of “dire consequences” is rather a mystery but over the past four years I have become accustomed to such journalists playing fast and loose with the facts.

Flush with a massive armory, ISIS expanded into Syria in order to impose a caliphate on its people and the rebel groups that had been fighting to overthrow Assad, including al-Nusra—the al-Qaeda affiliate. Since people like Milne are committed to making an amalgam between ISIS and the Syrian rebels, you can expect very few references to the facts on the ground. In June of this year, al-Nusra launched an assault against ISIS in West Qalamoun vowing to fight “until its last breath to push them to take back their takfiri trend and bloodshed against Muslims.” Needless to say, the FSA has repelled ISIS as well on countless occasions sometimes in collaboration with the Kurds. Seumas Milne, Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn have never mentioned these confrontations for obvious reasons.

ISIS now controls a vast swath of territory in Syria despite all attempts by rebel groups to oust it. One would think that given Bashar al-Assad’s insistence that his fight is one against “terrorism” he would be anxious to bring the fight to ISIS as well.

Not exactly.

In June 2011, Bashar al-Assad declared a general amnesty that was intended to achieve two goals: the first to burnish his image in the West as a “reformer” as Hillary Clinton put it; the second to allow die-hard jihadists to constitute a counterforce to the democratic opposition (a term I prefer to “moderates”.)

Among the men released from prison were two brothers, Amr and Firas al-Absi. Amru became a member of ISIS’s ruling Shura Council and is reported to be in charge of ISIS’s media arm. Firas, who was killed by a rival jihadist, was involved with helping ISIS get a foothold in Syria. This was no accident. A former member of Syria’s Military Intelligence Directorate told the National on January 21, 2014: “The regime did not just open the door to the prisons and let these extremists out, it facilitated them in their work, in their creation of armed brigades.”

Until fairly recently, there have been few battles between ISIS and the Syrian government, which pursued a policy of benign neglect. In 2014 two out of three ISIS attacks were against rebel groups opposed to Assad, according to data gathered by Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center’s (JTIC). For the most part, ISIS’s focus has been on the relatively sparsely populated territory of eastern Syria that abuts Iraq and that is part of its “caliphate”. Most Syrians live in Damascus and other heavily populated cities in western Syria on the Mediterranean coastline. One reason that ISIS was able to seize control of the east was Baathist abandonment dictated by the need to concentrate its forces around Damascus, Homs and other cities seen necessary for the creation of an eventual creation of an Alawite dominated mini-state.

The Baathists and ISIS also had worked out mutually beneficial commercial ties. After seizing Syria’s oil and gas fields. ISIS began selling fuel to the government, a necessary element of the war machine. The Syrian air force made the wise decision not to bomb ISIS controlled territory. Why jeopardize the flow of fuel needed to keep helicopters aloft so they can carry out mission-critical barrel bomb attacks on open-air markets?

Turning to Patrick Cockburn’s recently published “The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the new Sunni Revolution”, you get a rather skewed account of what has transpired especially in chapter six titled “Jihadis Hijack the Syrian Revolution”. Oddly enough for a book purportedly about the rise of ISIS, there is very little discussion of ISIS per se in this chapter. Mostly Cockburn is content to dismiss all rebel groups as “jihadists” at odds with the original peaceful and democratic mission of the Arab Spring in Syria.

And when he does refer to ISIS, it is erroneously: “By 2014 the war had reached a stalemate and the armed opposition was dominated by ISIS.” He makes such an assertion without once engaging with the findings of the JTIC report or the commercial ties between ISIS and the regime. ISIS certainly is armed to the teeth but “opposition”? Really?

He tells his readers that the jihadists were welcomed by local people for restoring order after the “looting and banditry” of the FSA. One might expect an august member of the journalistic profession to provide some references to back up this characterization but there is none. Since Cockburn’s experience in Syria has been as a reporter embedded with the army for the most part, direct experience with the FSA is minimal at best.

As a kind of proof that jihadism was Syria’s destiny, Cockburn tells the story of Saddam al-Jamal, a FSA commander who defected to ISIS. He was reported to have said that FSA commanders “used to meet with the apostates of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and with the infidels of Western nations such as America and France in order to receive arms and ammo or cash”. Al-Jamal supposedly symbolized the susceptibility of all rebels, including “moderates”, to the siren song of jihad. Cockburn credits Brown Moses for coming up with the goods on Saddam al-Jamal but neglects to tell his readers the circumstances in which this “conversion” took place as indicated in an update to the original post on the Brown Moses blog:

The supposed defection of the Saddam al-Jamal, commander of the Allahu Akbar brigade, to ISIS was not a wholly voluntary act. ISIS has been in constant combat with over 15 FSA units in northern Syria throughout the past few months in an effort to expand their zones of total control. The Ahfad Al-Rasoul brigade, of which the Allahu Akbar Brigade was an affiliate, is one of these units. Because of the existing tensions with Allahu Akbar’s parent unit, ISIS stormed an Allahu Akbar command post in Deir Ezzour, taking the brigade’s weapons cache and killing several fighters, including the brother of Saddam Al-Jamal. Having lost his brigade, his weapons, and his brother, Mr. Al-Jamal pledged allegiance to ISIS to protect himself. Ideological factors were not at play.

Finally, there is Cockburn’s report that he witnessed al-Nusra fighters storming an apartment complex in Adra in early 2014, where they proceeded to kill Alawites and Christians.

In Adra on the northern outskirts of Damascus in early 2014, I witnessed JAN [al-Nusra] forces storm a housing complex by advancing through a drainage pipe which came out behind government lines, where they proceeded to kill Alawites and Christians.

In his Independent article where this atrocity was first mentioned, you discover where his information came from in the very first paragraph:

“They came through the main sewer at 4.30am and caught us by surprise,” says a Syrian soldier, who gave his name as Abu Ali, describing the rebel capture of part of the industrial town of Adra, just north of Damascus.

This is par for the course. Patrick Cockburn writes a book making the case that jihadists have hijacked the Syrian revolution and the key eyewitness backing this is a Syrian soldier. This reminds me of the coverage of the war in Vietnam when the NY Times routinely cited a South Vietnamese officer on how the NLF had committed one atrocity or another. As they say, the first casualty of war is the Truth. One tends to think of Judith Miller or Wolf Blitzer when these words are brought up. How sad it is to think of Patrick Cockburn in the same terms.



November 11, 2015

This is not 2003

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:24 am

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 9.23.26 PM

(Commentary written by the editors of Salvage Magazine.)

Assad lost no time in using the crisis to bolster his narrative, tweeting ‘if you are worried about refugees stop arming terrorists’. When many on the Left have effectively taken this as their line, we have passed from the realms of campism, of some un-nuanced and notional ‘anti-imperialism’, to that of bad faith and fantasy.

This bad faith is important not merely with regard to its own truth-claims, but for what it says about the Left’s self-image and concomitant actions. A flawed analysis, narcissism and activist-conservatism are here all mutually reinforcing.

The proximate bad faith lies in the account of the Syrian Revolution. At a deeper level, there’s a gross misrepresentation of reality (including to oneself, perhaps) in the clinging to an image of imperialism from the high point of US unilateralism, circa 2003. This is nostalgia for a time when the Left seemed to be a player, when the Stop the War movement was in a coherent political confrontation with that Bush-era imperialism, rather than an impotent observer of a bloody and widening gyre.

Does the bad analysis or the self-aggrandisement come first? Yes. The bad analysis or the self-aggrandisement comes first.

Anti-anti-Assad-ism has it that the refugees are fleeing Syria because the US and its allies have funded an Islamist counter-insurgency against an anti-imperialist regime. Plans are supposedly afoot for more extensive intervention, for regime change along the lines of Baghdad 2003. Daesh is the weapon deployed (all of the Syrian oppositions being assimilated into it in this account), and it was, in the words of Seamus Milne, ‘incubated by the West’s supporting and arming an opposition they knew to be dominated by extreme sectarian groups’.

Scepticism on any of these points can provoke heavy-handed contempt for ‘gullibility’ about the perfidious US. So let us be clear: that the US would be willing to carry out this (or almost any other) plan is not in doubt. Whether it did, however, in this case, and whether the Syrian revolt was as so depicted, are questions susceptible to logic and evidence. In fact, the popular revolutionary character of the Syrian uprising in its early days has been documented by participants and observers – the Syria Freedom Forever website being an excellent point to start. Partisans of this imperialist conspiracy narrative, however, are somewhat impervious to such data.

There certainly is an imperialist intervention in Syria, one in which the US and UK are participating. It is, though, not aimed at removing the Ba’athist regime but, tacitly, at maintaining it, in such a form as can govern at least part of the country. For a year this coalition has been bombing Syrian targets – or in the UK’s case, British citizens in Syria whom David Cameron has taken it upon himself to assassinate. Not a single Syrian regime target has been struck. It is Daesh which has borne the main brunt of the bombing, but their ideological and military competitors on the armed Takfiri right, Jabhat Al-Nusra, and opposition battalions affiliated with neither party, have also been attacked.

But this anti-Daesh air campaign is in the main a sideshow. The imperialist power busiest in Syria is Russia, working with its local ally Iran. Russian troops are now deployed in near-combat roles in Syria, Russia unleashes ferocious air-strikes occasionally against Daesh, mostly against other Assad opponents (provoking slathering Russophilia in sections of the British press, left and right): the Russian foreign minister has called upon the US military to co-operate with them. The presence of Iranian, Afghan, Iraqi and Hezbollah Shi’a militias shoring up Assad – indeed, giving the regime orders – is old news. It is thisconcatenation of extra- and intra-regional forces that most actively seeks the partition of Syria to advance their interests: in Istanbul in August, representatives of Tehran and Nasrallah met leaders of Ahrar al-Sham (the authoritarian Sunni militia dominant in the Aleppo countryside) to discuss such a plan on a local level. There were no Syrian negotiators on the regime side.

If there is no evidence of direct external intervention against the Syrian regime – to the contrary – then what of the claim that Daesh is a creation of the US? It is obviously true that it would not exist without the occupation of Iraq. That is not the same as claiming the US created Daesh, let alone in a burst of evil genius – and, to be clear again, we need no convincing of the evil, the genius, or the evil genius of the US administration, only that there is, to put it mildly, insufficient evidence for this particular claim.

The Assad regime itself enjoyed a far closer relationship with these Takfiris, providing lines of logistical support to them during the resistance to the US occupation of Iraq and the civil war that ensued from it; releasing them from prison at the outbreak of the Syrian revolution; leaving their positions untouched while flattening opposition civilian areas; buying oil from the fields they have seized. Not only is it not the case that Daesh and the regime are the only protagonists in Syria: they are barely enemies.

The US has, in truth, directly funded and armed a militia in Syria: 54 men, in total. Other prospective members abandoned the programme because it was demanded that they fight Daesh, not Assad. Contrary to the anti-anti-Assadists, then, the armed opposition, in other words, have refused imperialist aid to maintain their strategic autonomy.

The only faction in Syria able to call on significant Western military aid – indeed to call in US airstrikes in their fight against Daesh – are the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Unity Party, an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK) and its militia the YPG (Popular Protection Units). Recently, reports have emerged claiming that US special forces are aiding the YPG on the ground – which is telling, if there is truth to the claims from some other rebel groups (and, unsurprisingly, Ankara) that the PYD has been willing to collaborate with Assad. Rather than being condemned by the global Left, as was – in usually, if not always, unthinking fashion – the Free Syrian Army, for calling for Western intervention, the PYD has been lauded.

For the most part the Left has failed to deal with the complications or implications of such a political dilemma, of embattled progressive forces demanding – and in this case amply receiving – aid from imperialism. This refusal to engage stems from the Left’s allergy to looking complexity and tragedy square on, to situations wherein all options are equally bad, where there is nothing for which a radical Left can meaningfully call. The most common response is simply to ignore the US alliance with the PYD, and to elide all Arab opposition (some of whom actually fought with the YPG against Daesh in Kobane) with Daesh.

The 2003 nostalgia, reading Syria as a continuation of the moment of Bush-Cheney militarism, is a flight from reckoning both with the impotence of today’s Left, and with the shifting realities of geopolitics. In its understanding of the Arab revolutions and their consequences, and of the nature of contemporary imperialism, it is a failure.

We must start from the recognition that the so-called ‘Arab spring’ was revolutionary in character – not excluding Syria – andthat the barely-comprehensible butchery and reaction in the region is a consequence of the defeat of those revolutions.

In the absence of a rooted, at least partially organised, agent of change with some conception of social relations to come after revolutionary confrontation, and with the potential to strive for any political hegemony, this is what revolutions will be like. There is none better to wait for. We must own that contradiction, not flee from it into nostalgic fantasy. There is a politics that demands the masses stay in their place because what’s likely to replace oppression is chaos, but it is that of Edmund Burke and Joseph De Maistre, not Marx or Luxemburg.

The civil wars in Syria, and their inverted image in Yemen where the Sisi counter-revolution has now committed ground troops, is not comprehensible through the lens of US power à la 2003. Those committed to that optic should ask themselves why they are so invested. The geometry of contemporary imperialist rivalry – multi-, uni-, or even a-polar – remains obscure.Salvage will devote future pages to its investigation.

The external Great Powers, Russia and the US, continue to support their clients and pursue their interests, as they always will. And their local clients – and the clients of those clients – pursue their own, in a rubble of fractured counter-revolution, in which it is no surprise they often find themselves at odds with the trajectories of their (former) patron(s), in multiple, sometimes contradictory, directions.

The petro-reactionary state of Saudi Arabia is the main supporters of the Sisi counter-revolution in Egypt: but Sisi is an ardent admirer of Assad, against whom are ranged such forces as Zahran Alloush’s Army of Islam, backed by Saudi Arabia. While the Saudis collaborate, then, with the US campaign against Daesh in Syria, which has, if loosely and uncomfortably, brought together the Iranians and Americans, Riyadh pursues an even stronger line against the loosely pro-Iran Houthis in Yemen.

This is not 2003.

November 1, 2015

Tell PBS Frontline What’s Really “Inside Assad’s Syria”

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 12:40 am

Email From Syrian American Council:

ACTION ALERT: Tell PBS Frontline What’s Really “Inside Assad’s Syria”

Dear Friend,
SAC is issuing a Call to Action and we need YOUR help. The honest truth about what’s happening in Syria is at stake.

Earlier this week, PBS Frontline released a feature “Inside Assad’s Syria,” with correspondent Martin Smith, that tried to portray Syria as not so bad under Assad.

He said that those under Assad’s yolk view all rebels as extremists. He said that we should not try to defeat the Assad regime. He even asked if “new borders will need to be drawn” to carve up our beloved Syria. We can not accept this.

We can’t sit idly by while pro-regime propagandists whitewash Assad’s crimes. ACT NOW TO TELL PBS THAT SUCH DISTORTED JOURNALISM IS UNACCEPTABLE:

1) Let PBS know how you feel about this Frontline report by using the PBS Frontline “Contact Us” field.

2) Email Martin Smith to let him know that you are outraged by his report and found it to be dishonest. Email Smith at msmith@rainmedia.net — let’s overflow his inbox!

3) Join our Twitter campaign ‪#‎InsideAssadsSyria‬ to tell the real story about the atrocities taking place Inside Assad’s Syria right now.

4) Share this Action Alert!

When taking these four actions, please reference this op-ed by Smith use the messaging points below. Here’s why the PBS Frontline report was divorced from the realities inside Assad’s real Syria:

1. The lie: Smith claimed there was consensus among the people he talked to that there were no moderate rebels and that the protests had been hijacked by foreign jihadists.
The truth: People did not speak freely to Smith — talking negatively against Assad in Assad’s Syria is a death warrant. Even Smith wrote this. So what makes Smith think the “consensus” he saw was real?
The checkpoints near the Damascus Old Suq of Hamidiya are manned by Hezbollah. Why did he not notice this or inquire about them? There are over 15,000 Shiite foreign fighters supporting Assad in Syria. Why did he never attempt to meet with them or even mention them?
Suq Hamidiya — It is crawling with Mukhabarat which is why the regime allowed Smith to walk there without a minder. The people there were not speaking freely. The woman at 8:00 whose sons all left Syria were probably fleeing conscription as tens of thousands of Syrians have, but she could never have told him so. Did Smith even try to ask why they left?

2. The lie: Smith’s contact, Thaer al-Ajlani, is described as just a “war reporter.
The truth: Thaer al-Ajlani is actually a regime official who heads military propaganda for the Damascus area. He previously headed Assad’s parliamentary press office. His mom is Ambassador to Greece. This is why he received a huge military parade at his funeral. To describe him as merely a “hero to the regime,” as if he were a private citizen, reflects either very shoddy background research or a deliberate omission of information.

3. The lie: Smith described early protest videos as “confusing” regarding who fired first, the regime or the demonstrators!
The truth: This description is an insult to all the media activists who gave their lives to spread the truth. The first protest video from Deraa shows clearly protesters fleeing in panic after the first sounds of gunshots. Even Assad himself said that the protesters did not take up arms until Ramadan (late July 2011). Smith’s presentation of such a baldly revisionist viewpoint as fact shows either that he was taken for a ride (which reflects poorly on his judgement as a reporter) or had an initial pro-regime bias (which reflects poorly on PBS for sending him).

4. The lie: Najdat Anzur is presented as merely a “director.”
The truth: It should be blatantly obvious (and should have been mentioned) that Najdat Anzur is not merely a “director.” Anzur was able to transform a three-day official notice to leave the country by a government ministry into a multi-day trip to the Alawite coastal areas. He had an Air Force Intelligence Colonel as his bodyguard and driver. The presence of a Mukhabarat (secret police) agent from the most feared branch during Smith’s trip to pro-regime areas again prevented his interviewees from speaking freely.

5. The lie: There is concern among the “internal opposition” that they are at risk of “liquidation” by rebel groups.
The truth: There is no basis to this claim. Nothing like this has ever happened. It is not just Syrian exiles who accuse them of being fake opposition, as Smith alleged, but it is also thousands of Syrians (many of whom are now dead or in detention) that protested against Mahmoud Marei’s fake “internal opposition” efforts Hai’et al-Tansiq al-Wataniya. The “internal opposition” consists of about 25 individuals total who have never held protests, command no rebel brigades, and represent only themselves.

6. The lie: Smith claims that the “tactic of the rebels” outside Damascus is to fire mortars at regime areas and that the regime simply “responds” by barrel-bombing civilians.
The truth: The regime has been bombarding civilians in the Damascus suburbs, including with Sarin gas, ever since those areas fell outside its grasp in 2012. After years of bombardments, the main group in this area (Jaish al-Islam) launched large-scale rocket attacks on the regime for only a few days before it was dissuaded from continuing its attacks. This is in no way the rebels’ main “tactic” — and the regime would have barrel-bombed them regardless.

These are just a few of the grossly inaccurate, misleading and dishonest points in Martin Smith’s documentary “Inside Assad’s Syria.” The entire program is littered with deception, missing background information, and biased reporting. It is clear there was an agenda set by the reporter and the fixers inside. This shamelessly biased and deceptive reporting is an indignity to the thousands of martyrs who were brutally murdered at the hands of the Assad regime, and to all those who still in detention, under siege, and in constant fear of bombardment.

October 26, 2015

Seymour Hersh vindicated on sarin gas attack? Not really

Filed under: journalism,Syria,Turkey — louisproyect @ 6:44 pm

Fethullah Gülen: should we take his newspaper reports at face value?

As I pointed out in my article on “Baathist Truthers”, most members of the amen corner simply operate on a different basis than Marxism. Their method can be described as conspiracism and has a long history on the left. In its latest permutation, it boils down to a bastardized form of “investigative journalism” in which there is an almost obsessional need to find out the key piece of documentation—a Wikileaks cable, etc.—that will finally prove that the USA is responsible for everything bad that has happened in Syria rather than acknowledge it as the result of a bitter conflict over rival class interests. Syrian society? Don’t bother me with such irrelevancies, our conspiracists would maintain. The only thing that matters are CIA plots.

You get the same thing with Ukraine. From the minute the Euromaidan protests erupted, they were looking for the “proof” that the USA was behind the unrest. A phone call made by State Department Official Victoria Nuland was to blame, not corruption or police brutality. In such a schema, the Ukrainian or Syrian workers were marionettes sitting motionlessly on their behinds until the puppet-master began pulling their strings.

It should be mentioned that it is not just people on the left who have upheld conspiracy theories about Syria. Antiwar.com, a popular website run by Justin Raimondo who was the San Francisco coordinator of Proposition 187 that would have banned undocumented workers from using health care, public education, and other services in California, can usually be counted upon to spread the latest talking points of the conspiracist left.

As a key element of conspiracism, the false flag narrative crops up over and over. Early on, Global Research’s Tony Cartalucci was reporting that it was not Baathist snipers firing on peaceful protests but men recruited by the CIA or Saudi Arabia to make the progressive, tolerant and democratically elected Baathist state look bad.

Of course, the most infamous use of the “false flag” argument was that advanced on behalf of Bashar al-Assad immediately after the sarin gas attack in East Ghouta in August 2013. Ever since Assad surrendered his chemical weapons and began relying on impeccably clean conventional weapons to level apartment buildings and everybody who lived inside them, there hasn’t been much discussion about who was responsible.

But the topic reared its ugly head in the Oct. 23-25 weekend edition of CounterPunch with Peter Lee’s article “Hersh Vindicated? Turkish Whistleblowers Corroborate Story on False Flag Sarin Attack in Syria”. On most topics, Lee can be counted on to present logical arguments based on hard data but like most non-Marxists on the left, he makes a fool out of himself when it comes to Syria.

For example, his “proof” that Turkey mounted a false flag operation in cahoots with al-Nusra and ISIS relies on the testimony of sworn enemies of the ruling AKP:

I find the report credible, taking into full account the fact that the CHP (Erdogan’s center-left Kemalist rivals) and Today’s Zaman (whose editor-in-chief, Bulent Kenes was recently detained on live TV for insulting Erdogan in a tweet) are on the outs with Erdogan.

“On the outs”? That is like saying that Abe Lincoln was on the outs with Jefferson Davis. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been jailing Kemalist politicians and military men for years now. None other than chief conspiracist Eric Draitser considers Erdoğan to be the head of a “country that has given over to violence as a political tool, repression and censorship as standard government practice.” If you were a member of a party that was being hounded into submission by the Turkish ruling party, wouldn’t you be willing to make things up to embarrass Erdoğan or even to make him step down? This is especially true given the Kemalists’ own sleazy modus operandi. This is a party, after all, that backed one coup after another and that tortured and killed leftists and Kurds with a zeal that would make the typical Arab dictator green with envy.

Let’s assume that these sources are worth listening to for the moment. Do their reports make any sense? Lee offers up an article in “Today’s Zaman” in its entirety as evidence. This is the newspaper of the Gülen movement that has built charter schools in the USA to further its credibility with a wing of the ruling class whose favor it is attempting to curry. It shares the AKP’s goal of liquidating the Kemalist party. The relationship between the Kemalists, the AKP, and the Gülenists is quite byzantine. Prosecutors and judges sympathetic to Gülen were instrumental in railroading Kemalists to prison on behalf of the AKP. Now that the Kemalists have been tamed, the same prosecutors and judges are involved in cases being made against AKP leaders for corruption as the NY Times reported on February 26, 2014:

Many of the prosecutors and investigators in both cases — the corruption inquiry and the old military trials — are followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher who lives in exile in Pennsylvania. The adherents in his network were once partners in Mr. Erdogan’s governing coalition, but the government now considers them a “parallel state” to be rooted out through purges of the police and the judiciary.

A circular firing squad indeed and not conducive to impartial reports on sarin gas or much of anything else.

Basically, the Zaman report recapitulates the details of an arrest made in Adana, Turkey in May 2013, two months before the attack in Ghouta. In a nutshell, a group of 13 al-Nusra front members in Turkey had conspired with AKP officials to send sarin gas to Syria that would be used in a false flag operation meant to provoke the USA into a “regime change” invasion of Syria:

Taking the floor first, Erdem stated that the Adana Chief Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into allegations that sarin was sent to Syria from Turkey via several businessmen. An indictment followed regarding the accusations targeting the government.

“The MKE [Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation] is also an actor that is mentioned in the investigation file. Here is the indictment. All the details about how sarin was procured in Turkey and delivered to the terrorists, along with audio recordings, are inside the file,” Erdem said while waving the file.

Erdem also noted that the prosecutor’s office conducted detailed technical surveillance and found that an al-Qaeda militant, Hayyam Kasap, acquired sarin, adding: “Wiretapped phone conversations reveal the process of procuring the gas at specific addresses as well as the process of procuring the rockets that would fire the capsules containing the toxic gas. However, despite such solid evidence there has been no arrest in the case. Thirteen individuals were arrested during the first stage of the investigation but were later released, refuting government claims that it is fighting terrorism,” Erdem noted.

Over 1,300 people were killed in the sarin gas attack in Ghouta and several other neighborhoods near the Syrian capital of Damascus, with the West quickly blaming the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Russia claiming it was a “false flag” operation aimed at making US military intervention in Syria possible.

For Lee, this reporting “supports Seymour Hersh’s reporting that the notorious sarin gas attack at Ghouta was a false flag orchestrated by Turkish intelligence in order to cross President Obama’s chemical weapons ‘red line’ and draw the United States into the Syria war to topple Assad.”

If you have access to Nexis, you can check out what other newspapers were saying at the time.

To start with, the cops who arrested the 13 men reported that the two kilograms of sarin gas were going to be used against government offices in Turkey, not targeted at Syria. “The reports claimed that the al-Nusra members had been planning a bomb attack for Thursday in Adana but that the attack was averted when the police caught the suspects.” (Cihan News Agency, May 30, 2013) Things get even weirder as the same article indicates that the AKP blamed Syria for recent attacks by the terrorists. Now, there’s something you don’t see every day. Al-Assad using the al-Nusra Front in terrorist attacks on Turkey. Oh, by the way, the agency responsible for this rather incoherent article is also a Gülenist property, just like Zaman.

It should be stressed that this same news agency never claimed that ISIS was supposed to be the beneficiary of sarin gas supplied by some conspiracists either inside or outside the Turkish government. Instead it claimed that it was Ahrar al-Sham. So what’s the big deal, some might ask. They are Islamists, after all. Well, maybe so but Ahrar al-Sham was a bitter rival of ISIS so much so that it was targeted by the latter in suicide bombings. Well, who cares about such petty details when you are trying to make a bigger point, even if it is mindless conspiracism?

Later on the authorities changed their story. There was no sarin gas but only the ingredients that go into its manufacture.

But even if there was, what possible connection could that have with the East Ghouta attack that left over a thousand Syrians dead? Unless you are Mint Press that wrote at the time that the sarin gas seeped out from a storage area under rebel control due to an accidental breakage of containers, you need to be able to weaponize the stuff. This means having the technical means to construct rockets, delivery systems and the quantity of sarin gas required to disperse over a wide area.

This does not even get into the question of why al-Nusra would be involved in a “false flag” operation to precipitate a massive US intervention. Unlike the FSA, this group could not count on a free-fly zone or any other supposed benefit of intervention. It was considered a far more deadly enemy than the Baathists and one that the US has already targeted in lethal raids. I suppose that because all of these groups are “rebels” in one sense or another, it was easy for Hersh and anybody else in the amen corner to paper over the differences. Such sloppiness is endemic to the conspiracy-minded.

In April 2014, Elliot Higgins and Dan Kazseta wrote a Comments are Free piece in the Guardian taking issue with Seymour Hersh’s LRB article that remains as current as ever.

After mustering a wealth of video evidence that Baathist Volcano rockets were the means of delivery, the authors pose seven issues that had to be addressed. It is a total shame that none of the conspiracists in Assad’s amen corner has the scruples or intelligence to deal with them. Instead they would rather circulate the incoherent Gülenist press or rely on Seymour Hersh’s unnamed sources in spookworld. You are asked to take his word even if one CounterPunch contributor had this to say about him: “When there are serious political repercussions in the Middle East from Hersh’s much-read pieces, it would help for him to know better what he’s talking about.”

Firstly, sarin is difficult to make. Anyone who claims otherwise is oblivious to both history and chemical engineering. Germany, the US and the former Soviet Union took years to perfect the process. Its production requires a number of complex steps and the ability to handle highly dangerous chemicals at very closely controlled high temperatures and pressures. There is no evidence anyone has come up with any sort of streamlined method to manipulate the molecules to make sarin.

Second, quantity. Perfecting the process isn’t enough – there is a difference between making a spoonful and enough for the August attacks, which would have needed about half a ton. This assumes a scale only reached by big state production programmes. To put it in perspective, the one verified example of non-state production of sarin was the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan. Their many millions of dollars, very large purpose-built manufacturing facility and highly qualified staff got them the ability to make single batches of perhaps 8 litres of short shelf life Sarin. The alleged Aleppo plant wouldn’t need to be the size of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in the US, but it would have needed to be closer to that than the size of a house.

Third is the choice of weapon. Of the panoply of chemical warfare agents available to modern science and engineering, sarin is one of the hardest to make. So why was this one chosen? Even its nerve agent kin, Tabun and VX, are arguably easier to produce; mustard or lewisite are easier and use less technology. Numerous toxic industrial chemicals which might “fly under the radar” of non-proliferation regimes could be used as weapons. So why pick the hardest?

Fourth, economics. To make this operation work it is going to take a lot of highly trained people, raw materials, and specialised equipment, as well as a facility. It would cost many tens of millions of dollars. When the rebel factions are so stretched for resources, does it make any sense to spend, say, $50m on a weapon of limited utility? Lavish expenditure must raise a paper trail somewhere; there would be order books and receipts. Let’s see them.

Fifth is logistics. You don’t turn precursor material magically into sarin: you need about 9kg to end up with 1kg of sarin. This stuff has to come from somewhere, but where? Hersh omits these details, as do most of the alternative narratives. It is simply assumed that things like phosphorus trichloride and thionyl chloride just get summoned up in vast quantities without someone noticing. Most commentators on this issue have also forgotten about something called conservation of mass. If you use 9kg of material to synthesize 1kg of sarin you end up with 8kg of waste, rather a lot of which is very dangerous, smelly and corrosive. This waste stream has to go somewhere, and someone will notice. There are also the logistics of getting a lot of sarin into rockets and getting those rockets from Aleppo to Damascus.

Sixth, concealment. How do you hide all of this? The building, the supply chain, the people, the money, and the very smelly waste stream. Where are they? They need to be concealed not just from the Syrian regime but from other rebel factions, western intelligence agencies, the Russians, and perhaps even your own people who might desert, get captured or say silly things on YouTube videos. There is deathly silence from Aleppo and we only find out about it from Hersh?

Lastly is the specificity of the product. There are important physical clues found in the traces of sarin at the impact sites of the 21 August rocket attack. One of these is the presence of hexamine, a chemical with no history of use in nerve agent production. But hexamine can be used as an acid scavenger, and thus its presence could be explained due to its use as an additive to the sarin. This idea has been reinforced by both the admission of the Syrian regime that they used hexamine as part of their formula, and by Syria’s declaration to the OPCW of an inventory of 80 tonnes of hexamine, specifically as part of their chemical weapons program. Surely, as an uncontrolled substance, they could have omitted it from their declarations. But they didn’t. Hexamine in field samples plus hexamine in Syrian inventories, plus an admission that hexamine was in their recipe, seems a compelling case for tying the Sarin in the field to the Syrian regime. How would an Aleppo-based rebel factory somehow come up with the same exact idea?

Taken cumulatively, all these points add up to a very high degree of improbability. Isn’t it more probable that the Sarin came from the people who confessed to having a Sarin factory, fired from areas controlled by the government 2km away from the impact sites, in munitions the government had been using since 2012?

October 21, 2015

Random notes on “anti-imperialism”

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:36 pm

Garikai Chengu: Goldman-Sachs alumnus and gold mine-owning anti-imperialist

Let’s start with Garikai Chengu’s article that appeared on CounterPunch yesterday, which is a defense of a seemingly indefensible proposition, namely that Gaddafi’s Libya was the most democratic country in Africa. Chengu, a Zimbabwean, has a most interesting profile for an “anti-imperialist”. On his blog he describes himself as a researcher on Africa for Columbia University and Harvard and hopes to utilize “his intellectual and financial capacity” to develop Zimbabwe. One must assume that on the financial plane he will be benefiting from this background: “He has worked for Goldman Sachs and is the Founder and Chairman of Chengu Gold Mining Pvt. Ltd. one of Zimbabwe’s fastest growing indigenous private gold companies.”

It would appear that Comrade Chengu is one of those people who are in the vanguard of the BRICS revolution. In an article titled Mugabe Re-election Heralds ‘New’ Economic Model For Africa, Dana Sanchez quotes my fellow Goldman-Sachs alumnus:

Chengu cites a recent U.N. Africa Progress Report that Africa loses $63 billion dollars each year through foreign multinational corporations’ illegal tax evasion and exploitative practices. This figure surpasses all the money coming into the continent through Western aid and investment, Chengu says.

“It is for this reason that Zimbabwe’s new indigenization model emphasizes local ownership and foreign partnership with emerging nations, such as Brazil, Russia, India and China,” the editorial says, omitting South Africa from the list.

Unless China is truly communist as some of our anti-imperialist comrades allege, I doubt that it will be treating Zimbabwe any differently from other nations in Africa, namely as a place to extract minerals and agricultural commodities in exchange for the export of manufactured goods. In a July 31, 2015 article from the Zimbabwe Independent, we learn that China has directed Zimbabwe to pay up the $1.5 billion dollars it owes or else it would no longer do business there. I guess profits trump ideology.

While undoubtedly Zimbabwean entrepreneurs such as comrade Chengu will benefit from business deals with China, there are signs that the working class will function much more as impediments to the dowry that will surely await all of Zimbabwe once the economic marriage with China is consummated. Atlantic Monthly reports on the files in the ointment:

So far, the Zimbabweans who are most feeling China’s influence in their country are the workers. As Chinese firms take over business and Chinese managers come to run everything from billion-dollar mining companies to the downtown restaurants in capital Harare, Zimbabwean workers and labor unions are complaining of mistreatment and exploitation. Earlier this month, construction workers went on strike over low pay — $4 per day — and what they said were regular beatings by their managers Chinese managers with the Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company. The case is just one of many that has labor groups — one of the few segments of Zimbabwean politics that enjoys latitude from the ruling party — up in arms.

Reports of beatings by Chinese managers are so common that even a cook at Harare’s popular China Garden restaurant complained of them, telling the Zimbabwe Mail & Guardian, “Working for these men from the East is hell on earth.”

“Workers continue to endure various forms of physical torture at the hands of these Chinese employers right under the noses of the authorities,” a spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Construction and Allied Trade Workers’ Union told the same newspaper. “One of the most disturbing developments is that most of the Chinese employers openly boast that they have government protection and so nothing can be done to them. This clearly indicates that the issue has more serious political connotations than we can imagine.”

With this as background, it is not too hard to understand why Chengu would describe Libya as a virtual paradise. In case the reader has a skeptical streak, he reminds us that even the NY Times was wowed by the grass roots democracy:

In 2009, Mr. Gaddafi invited the New York Times to Libya to spend two weeks observing the nation’s direct democracy. The New York Times, that has traditionally been highly critical of Colonel Gaddafi’s democratic experiment, conceded that in Libya, the intention was that “everyone is involved in every decision…Tens of thousands of people take part in local committee meetings to discuss issues and vote on everything from foreign treaties to building schools.”

The brazenness of comrade Chengu’s defense of Colonel Gaddafi left me quite breathless. Does he think that CounterPunch readers will not take the trouble to look up the article that this seemingly positive sentence is extracted from? It is true that most people would not take out a subscription to the NY Times, the only way its archives can be searched, but yours truly is an exception to the rule mainly because he is addicted to the Sunday crossword puzzles and to Melissa Clarke’s recipes.

You’ll note that Chengu’s article lops off the beginning of the sentence in which this Libyan version of a New England town meeting takes place. Let me fill it in for you: “In Libya, the theory goes…” So how does the theory match up to the practice? Not so good:

Authoritarian leaders all over the world take steps to create a veneer of democracy. In Egypt, for example, there are elections, though there is never any doubt that the governing party will win.

Libya outdoes almost all of them.

Here, tens of thousands of people take part in meetings to discuss issues that are decided by a small group at the top, with all direction coming from the Brother Leader.

“He makes the decisions,” said a high-ranking diplomat in Tripoli, the capital, who is not being identified to avoid compromising his ability to work here. “He is the only one who knows.”

Reporters from The Times watched as committees around Tripoli discussed Colonel Qaddafi’s plan to abolish the government. After the perfunctory poetic genuflecting to the leader, more than half the speakers said they did not want money, they wanted a functioning government. They were angry and heartbroken that such a resource-rich nation, a member of OPEC, could be performing so poorly.

Oh well. Who could believe such lies from the bourgeois media? That is unless you want to quote it out of context to twist the truth into a pretzel.

Turning now to Robert Fisk, the Independent newspaper’s resident amen corner pundit who shares such duties with fellow Independent reporter Patrick Cockburn, we read an article that is all aflutter over the Russian intervention in Syria titled “Everyone wrote off the Syrian army. Take another look now”. It rather has the aura of a sports writer impressed with the turn of fortune of perpetual losers like the NY Mets or the Chicago Cubs.

The less said about this idiotic article, the better. But this sticks out like a sore thumb: “The Syrians have found that the Russians do not want to fire at targets in built-up areas; they intend to leave burning hospitals and dead wedding parties to the Americans in Afghanistan.”

Perhaps Mr. Fisk does not read his own newspaper–how unfortunate:

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.39.24 AM

To wind up this sorry survey, let us turn to Noam Chomsky who evokes the words “How the mighty have fallen” given his analysis of Russian intervention, while not as bad as Fisk’s comes close.

In the Youtube clip below, you can find Chomsky’s reply to a question about Russian intervention at 58 minutes. It is mixture of confusion and bad politics.

To start with, Chomsky rejects the label “imperialist” to describe Russian bombing. One supposes that this is his concession to the virtually hegemonic view on the left that it is only the USA and its European allies that deserve such a label. As a diehard Marxist, I hew toward the Leninist perspective in which the term imperialism can be applied to states that are below the USA on the totem pole such as Czarist Russia and Japan—two countries that went to war over control over strategic resources in a manner anticipating 1914.

Chomsky has a habit of thought that is prevalent on the left, no doubt a result of his prestige. When the subject of Russian intervention comes up, his tendency is not so much to evaluate the merits of the case being made for or against the Kremlin but to put its enemies on the defense by claiming that they are only doing the same thing as us. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. For example, he says that the USA has no right to criticize the annexation of Crimea since we annexed Guantanamo more than a century ago. If you follow his logic consistently, peace might be achieved if Russia’s imperial outreach was respected. This, of course, is the same realpolitik found in Stephen F. Cohen and Walt/Mearsheimer. With all due respect to Chomsky, I think the obligation of the left is to put the heat on the USA for refusing to let its claws loose of Guantanamo and the Kremlin for annexing Crimea. That was the general outlook of revolutionary socialism in the post-WWI period and one worth reinvigorating.

He also tells the audience that his analysis of Syria is very much influenced by Patrick Cockburn even as he believes that no good can come out of military intervention. Perhaps Chomsky has not been apprised of the fact that Cockburn is quite all right with Russian bombing. That contradiction is one for Chomsky to resolve, not me.

Finally, he believes that peace can come to Syria as long as we accept that Bashar al-Assad will be part of the negotiations. One has the sinking feeling that Chomsky agrees with many liberals that a Yemen type solution is worth supporting, namely Assadism without Assad. That is virtually excluded by the dictatorship whose followers raised the slogan, “Either Assad or the country burns”.

Like so many, Chomsky seems to believe that such a peace was in hand after a Finnish diplomat recently reported that a Russian diplomat was agreeable to a Yemen solution but it was aborted by the USA that demanded Assad’s removal as a precondition. Not withstanding the dubious merits of a Yemen type solution, there was never such a deal in the offing as I point out here: http://louisproyect.org/2015/09/19/baathist-truthers/

October 17, 2015

Patrick L. Smith: the latest inductee into the Baathist hall of shame

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:37 pm

Patrick L. Smith

In 2014 I submitted an article titled “Treason of the Intellectuals” to Critical Muslim, a journal co-edited by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Ziauddin Sardar. It was rejected because of Britain’s strict libel laws. You can read it here, however: http://louisproyect.org/2014/06/04/i-run-afoul-of-stringent-british-libel-laws/. It examined how a number of high-profile scholars and journalists including David Bromwich and Seymour Hersh have lent themselves to the Baathist cause. After reading Patrick L. Smith’s article in Salon.com titled “Putin might be right on Syria: The actual strategy behind his Middle East push — and why the New York Times keeps obscuring it”, I decided that an addendum was necessary. Smith is both a veteran journalist and a scholar, having written for the International Herald Tribune and served as a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong. Yale University published his latest book “Time No Longer: After the American Century” so the fellow is no slouch.

I have learned, however, that such recognition is no guarantee against being a bullshit artist. In an interview given to Smith on Salon.com, Perry Anderson—one of the most celebrated Marxist authors of the past half-century—told Smith that “Stalin remained a communist who firmly believed that the ultimate mission of the world’s working class was to overthrow capitalism, everywhere.” I guess in his dotage Anderson has forgotten everything he ever wrote about Trotsky. No wonder Smith, who is a Putinite sufficient enough to embarrass Mike Whitney, would find Anderson’s “Marxism” to his tastes.

In another Salon.com interview that has the same character as Charlie Rose interviewing Bill Gates or Stephen Spielberg, Smith sat down with Stephen F. Cohen. You can imagine the tough questions he posed to the professor emeritus whose decline has been as steep as Anderson’s.

Smith grills the professor emeritus like Mike Wallace turning the heat up on a corporate polluter, right? Er, not exactly:

Smith: The Ukraine crisis in historical perspective. Very dangerous ground. You know this better than anyone, I’d’ve thought.

Cohen: Our position is that nobody is entitled to a sphere of influence in the 21st century. Russia wants a sphere of influence in the sense that it doesn’t want American military bases in Ukraine or in the Baltics or in Georgia.

I suppose in a realpolitik sense, Cohen is completely right. If the USA can have a base in Guantanamo, why can’t Russia protect its own interests in Ukraine and Syria? That’s the way it goes. If the USA can pulverize Allende’s Chile using its military as its hit man, why can’t Putin use his air force to make sure that his naval base in Tartus is defended? All’s fair in love in war (but maybe not in socialism.)

Turning now to Smith’s latest dreck, it is the sort of article that should be studied in journalism school for those with their heart set on writing for Newsweek or Time—in other words, the kind of places where people like Smith, Robert Parry and other converts to the Kremlin’s foreign policy have worked for decades. Written as a critique of the NY Times, Smith adopts many of its own dodgy techniques but on behalf of its nemesis Vladimir Putin. Since so much of the left is fixated on putting a plus where Thomas Friedman or Nicholas Kristof put a minus, it makes perfect sense that Smith would take a whack at the NY Times. My advice to aspiring journalists is to keep an independent class perspective no matter how difficult that is in such trying times.

Contrary to the NY Times, Smith feels that “Very simply, we have one secular nation [Russia] helping to defend what remains of another [Syria], by invitation, against a radical Islamist insurgency that, were it to succeed, would condemn those Syrians who cannot escape to a tyranny of disorder rooted in sectarian religious animosities.” Breathtaking, simply breathtaking.

Is Smith aware that the Russian Orthodoxy has blessed this intervention?

Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 1.56.15 PM

Furthermore, a state has obligations beyond being “secular”. Leaving aside the question of how secular Syria was, it was a family dynasty that ruled through terror. Bashar al-Assad’s father came to power in a coup, after all. After he died, his son was offered in 2000 to the Syrian people through an uncontested referendum in which you could vote either yes or no. The Baathist election officials reported 99.7% of voters voted for him, with a turnout of 94.6%. Can you fucking imagine that? Salon.com, which runs articles 35 times a year screaming about election irregularities in the South (which it should) now features one that winks at this kind of demonstration “election”. Joan Walsh should be ashamed of herself.

For Smith, the Baathist selling point is that its bureaucracy exists:

The Assad government is a sovereign entity. Damascus has the beleaguered bones of a national administration, all the things one does not readily think of as wars unfold: a transport ministry, an education ministry, embassies around the world, a seat at the U.N. In these things are the makings of postwar Syria—which, by definition, means Syria after the threat of Islamic terror is eliminated.

So amusing to see such naked worship of the accomplished fact. The same litmus test could have been applied to Pinochet’s Chile or Suharto’s Indonesia.

Like so many on the left, using the term charitably, Smith views Obama as being just as intransigent as George W. Bush, maybe more so:

We can demonize Putin, Russia, Iran, Assad or anyone else we like. We lose in the end, because we destroy our capacity to see and think clearly. What we are doing in Syria today is Exhibit A.

Russia and its leader as Beelzebub is an old story. Obama, after his fashion, has simply bought into it. This is now irreducibly so, and the implications refract all over the place: Ukraine and the prospects for a negotiated settlement, Washington’s long-running effort to disrupt Europe’s extensive and complex interdependence with Russia. The unfolding events in the Middle East weigh heavily against any constructive turn in American policy on such questions.

If you read between the lines of this sort of inside-the-beltway prose, you understand what both Smith and Stephen F. Cohen yearn for, namely a kind of understanding between major powers over how to divide up the world into spheres of influence after the fashion of Yalta and Potsdam. If you are unlucky enough to be born a Sunni in Syria or a Ukrainian but outside of Donetsk or Luhansk, tough luck. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. Learn to live with it unless you want to get blasted to hell like the Chechens.

Showing that he is up to speed on the amen corner, Smith refers his readers to Thomas Harrington, the Trinity professor who blames Syria’s current woes on a 1996 article written by neocons. I have already dealt with Harrington’s nonsense here: http://louisproyect.org/2015/10/13/an-exchange-with-a-member-of-the-baathist-amen-corner/

He also cites Gary Leupp, another professor who writes for CounterPunch (and in the process throws scholarly standards out the window). Apparently Leupp believes that “the bulk of the peaceful protesters in the Syrian Arab Spring want nothing to do with the U.S.-supported armed opposition but are instead receptive to calls from Damascus, Moscow and Tehran for dialogue towards a power-sharing arrangement.” Looking for a citation on that? Don’t hold your breath. Leupp just made it up. After all, the ends justify the means. If you are writing propaganda to keep a blood-soaked dictatorship in power, why not assert that “the bulk of the peaceful protestors” are receptive to calls from Damascus, Moscow and Tehran. Frankly, I haven’t read such brazen bullshit outside of Rupert Murdoch’s NY Post editorial page.

But nothing tops this: “Thank you, professor. Now we know why the flow of refugees runs toward secular, democratic Europe and not areas of the nation Assad has lost to rebel militias.” Maybe that’s because Assad’s air force has the most puzzling tendency to drop bombs on the homes of people living in such areas. If you want background on that, have a look at Picasso’s “Guernica”.

October 15, 2015

David Horowitz joins the axis of resistance

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 12:06 am

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 8.04.02 PM

Indeed, growing numbers of Americans who have no special love for Russia or Orthodoxy—from billionaire capitalist Donald Trump to evangelical Christians—are being won over by Putin’s frank talk and actions.

How can they not?  After one of his speeches praising the West’s Christian heritage—a thing few American politicians dare do—Putin concluded with something that must surely resonate with millions of traditional Americans: “We must protect Russia from that which has destroyed American society”—a reference to the anti-Christian liberalism and licentiousness that has run amok in the West.

Even the Rev. Franklin Graham’s response to Russia’s military intervention in Syria seems uncharacteristically positive, coming as it is from the head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which for decades spoke against the godless Soviets:  “What Russia is doing may save the lives of Christians in the Middle East….  You understand that the Syrian government … have protected Christians, they have protected minorities from the Islamists.”

October 14, 2015

A resource guide for understanding Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:21 pm

Daraa, Syria — where the struggle began

I was prompted to post this article for two reasons. When I was discussing Syria with a very old friend the other day, it soon became apparent that the dominant narrative largely shaped his views on the war, namely that Bashar al-Assad was a “lesser evil”. He was preoccupied with ISIS but when I pointed out to him that the vast portions of eastern Syria that it controlled were thinly populated, he seemed surprised. There are two cities (Raqqa, Deir al-Zour) each having 220,000 or so residents but Palmyra, the third and most infamous, only has around 7000. Most of the conflict is in the west of the country where ISIS is not much of a presence. Of course, I only knew this because I try to keep abreast of Syrian politics on a daily basis. So, to help him get up to speed, I thought I would pull together a list of websites I consult.

Although I can hardly describe him as a friend, it occurred to me that John Wight could use such a list as well since he posted a comment on my blog the other day that supposedly proved that the Sunnis supported Assad. When I clicked the link in his comment, I was directed to the West Point Anti-Terrorism Center. I wrote my “idiot’s guide to ‘anti-imperialism’” in jest but apparently Wight was recommending such a resource in earnest. I advised him to read the Middle East Research and Information Project instead, a journal written from a left perspective. Although I doubt that he will bother, my inclusion of that website and others will surely prove useful to those trying to understand Syria in terms other than as a conspiracy hatched in CIA headquarters.

I should add that I took an initial stab at providing such a resource in 2013: http://louisproyect.org/2013/09/16/a-guide-for-the-perplexed-on-syria/

News and information

These are websites that are most useful for getting a complete picture on what is happening in the country. Clearly their views are similar to my own, but they are far more scrupulous than what you get from RT.com in my opinion. And even if they are just the other side of the coin of RT.com, you at least owe to yourself to check in on them fairly regularly to get both sides in the debate. After all, I can’t help but be bombarded by the pro-Assad POV that I run into on a daily basis as I look at CounterPunch, Salon.com, Jacobin, the Nation, ZNet and just about every other high-profile voice on the left.


Vice is a major news outlet that started out as a kind of underground Internet newspaper but has developed into a major operation that has attracted investors like the Disney Corporation and Hearst. You can get a feel for the kind of information you get there from this video report on the FSA in Idlib province: https://news.vice.com/video/the-battle-for-syrias-south-full-length


This is an aggregation of news from major newspapers around the world that are chosen by Paul Woodward who describes himself as a bricoleur, which one dictionary describes as “someone who continually invents his own strategies for comprehending reality.” Typically, you will find articles such as “Iran and Hezbollah losing senior commanders in Syria at a rapid rate” (http://warincontext.org/2015/10/14/iran-and-hezbollah-losing-senior-commanders-in-syria-at-a-rapid-rate/).


Scott Lucas describes his website as “Daily news and analysis about Syria, Iran, the wider Middle East, US and Russian foreign policy.” Lucas describes himself as “a professional journalist and Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham, where he has worked since 1989. A specialist in US and British foreign policy, he has written and edited seven books, more than 30 major articles, and a radio documentary and co-directed the 2007 film Laban!.” 4.


Despite its title, this website is fairly dispassionate. Lara Setrakian, who “spent five years in the Middle East reporting for television, radio and digital platforms for ABC News, Bloomberg Television, the International Herald Tribune, Business Insider and Monocle magazine”, is a co-founder. It has a daily executive summary that is pretty useful.


This is a newspaper with a strong Islamist orientation that identifies with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Considering its support for Hamas, it is interesting that it has condemned Russian intervention in Syria. I suspect that if Hamas was not depending on Iranian funds, it would still be supporting the revolt against Assad.


This is a well-funded newspaper based in Washington, DC that supposedly has Baathist loyalties. Even if that is generally true, I find useful articles there such as “Don’t underestimate Free Syrian Army” (http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/10/syria-fsa-isis-media-coverage-palmyra-101-divison.html).

Scholarly analysis


Juan Cole is pretty bad most days but necessary to follow since he reflects the liberal consensus on Syria. For all of the talk about how the USA is about to start WWIII, Cole hews pretty closely to the Obama minimalist approach.


Bassam Haddad, a professor at George Mason University, started this. He wrote a good article on Syria some years ago (http://www.merip.org/mer/mer262/syrian-regimes-business-backbone) but has largely washed his hands of the struggle there because it does not match up to his ideal of gradual change based on a “Yemen” strategy—ie., Assadism without Assad.


Landis, like the two above, is very cool to the Syrian militias. He wrote an op-ed piece in the NYT before the Arab Spring broke out urging that the Sunnis be kept in line in Syria. Despite this, the site is a useful source of information and analysis, particularly from Aron Lund.


Radicals launched the Middle East Research and Information Project in 1971 in the same spirit as other New Left projects such as URPE or Science for the People. It is essential reading on Syria. A February article (http://www.merip.org/mero/mero022412) by Peter Harling and Sarah Birke is most useful:

Throughout the crisis, the regime has proven more sectarian, unaccountable and vicious than ever. Obsessed with the challenge posed by peaceful protests, its mukhabarat security services — almost none of whose members have been put on trial as promised — have hunted non-violent progressive activists, often with more zeal than shown toward criminal gangs and armed groups. The mukhabarat have recruited thugs and criminals — the more extreme, venal and subservient elements of society — into an army of proxies known across the country as shabbiha. It has tried to intimidate protesters through gruesome tactics. An emblematic case for the opposition is Hamza al-Khatib, a 14-year old from Dir‘a whose battered and castrated corpse was returned to his family a month after he was taken. (The regime never denied the boy had been arrested and killed, but had forensic experts explain on television that he was in fact a professional rapist operating within a jihadi network.) Asad has gradually shed all pretense of being a national leader, speaking instead as the head of one camp determined to vanquish the other.


Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel are involved with the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver. Since both are opposed to the Baathist dictatorship, you can expect to find useful resources there especially on the question of human rights.



This is the website of Idrees Ahmed, the Pakistani author of “The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War”. Like the lucky few who had their heads screwed on right, he had the ability to see Syria as the victim of outside intervention but from Iran, Russia and Hizbollah. His website is essential.


This is the blog of Joseph Daher, a Syrian living in exile in Switzerland whose politics are Trotskyist but not dogmatically so. I have heard him speak about Syria over Skype at Left Forums that you see on my Vimeo channel: https://vimeo.com/130671622.


Michael Karadjis is a member of the Socialist Alliance in Australia and a deeply informed commentator on events taking place in Syria. He is especially good at analyzing the bourgeois press in order to sort out the truth from the Baathist propaganda as his latest article on the Russian-Israeli connection should bear out: https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/the-israel-russia-axis-of-resistance-its-place-in-regional-geopolitics/


Clay Claiborne was the person who turned me around on Syria, convincing me to drop my plague on both your houses orientation. He is an African-American computer expert who was part of the New Left in the 1960s and is still going strong.


Charles Davis is a journalist based in Los Angeles who had the distinction of being one of the few opponents of the Baathist dictatorship to have been published on CounterPunch. I strongly recommend a look at his article that appears there today: http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/14/anti-imperialism-2-0-selective-sympathies-dubious-friends/. While you are there, make a contribution to CounterPunch that has just started its yearly fund drive. Good for them to publish mavericks like Charles and me.

This is not an exhaustive list. Please recommend any others that come to mind in the comments section.

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,925 other followers