Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 8, 2014

Seymour Hersh as Dorian Gray

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:07 pm

Like his last article for the London Review of Books,  Seymour Hersh’s latest continues to demonstrate that he is no longer a trenchant and truthful investigative reporter. Instead the portrait of a decaying and sloppy propagandist is taking shape, just as damning as the one that caught up with Dorian Gray. While Gray recoiled in horror from what he saw, it is likely that Hersh will persist in his ways since so many of his fans are also committed to demonizing the Syrian rebels and rallying around the “axis of good” in Syria, Iran and Russia. With this 77 year old reporter so badly in need of correction, it is almost tragic that none will be made.

To start with, he likens Barack Obama to George W. Bush as if the rhetoric about “red lines” were to be taken seriously. Hersh believes that he was held back by “military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.” I often wonder if people like Hersh bother to read the NY Times or—worse—read it and choose to ignore it.

In fact there was zero interest in a large-scale intervention in Syria in either civilian or military quarters. All this is documented in a NY Times article from October 22nd 2013, written when the alarums over a looming war with Syria were at their loudest, that stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.” In other words, the White House policy was and is allowing the Baathists and the rebels to exhaust each other in an endless war, just as was White House policy during the Iran-Iraq conflict.

These pacifist military leaders, Hersh assures us, were suffering sleepless nights over Turkey’s bellicose role in the region.

‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’

With all these unnamed military leaders and spooks at his beck and call, who are we to question Hersh’s analysis? I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t put much store in unnamed inside-the-beltway sources after putting up with Judith Miller’s “reporting” in the NY Times back in 2003:

Having concluded that international inspectors are unlikely to find tangible and irrefutable evidence that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration is preparing its own assessment that will rely heavily on evidence from Iraqi defectors, according to senior administration officials.

I understand that most people on the left are willing to take Hersh’s word at face value but I suppose that is to be expected when they are also partial to RT.com and Iran’s PressTV. Like the Obama voter who takes Rachel Maddow by the loving spoonful, these “radicals” find their bliss in media outlets that do not pass the smell test.

Last December Scott Lucas (http://eaworldview.com/2013/12/syria-special-chemical-weapons-conspiracy-wasnt-seymour-hershs-exclusive-dissected/) surmised that the senior intelligence official Seymour Hersh relies on could very well be F. Michael Maloof. Here’s why. Maloof wrote an article for the ultraright World Net Daily in mid-September 2013 that stated:

In a classified document just obtained by WND, the U.S. military confirms that sarin was confiscated earlier this year from members of the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, the most influential of the rebel Islamists fighting in Syria.

The document says sarin from al-Qaida in Iraq made its way into Turkey and that while some was seized, more could have been used in an attack last March on civilians and Syrian military soldiers in Aleppo.

The document, classified Secret/Noforn – “Not for foreign distribution” – came from the U.S. intelligence community’s National Ground Intelligence Center, or NGIC, and was made available to WND Tuesday.

It revealed that AQI had produced a “bench-scale” form of sarin in Iraq and then transferred it to Turkey.

And here’s something from Hersh’s first article in the LRB:

By late May, the senior intelligence consultant told me, the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on al-Nusra and its work with sarin, and had sent alarming reports that another Sunni fundamentalist group active in Syria, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), also understood the science of producing sarin. At the time, al-Nusra was operating in areas close to Damascus, including Eastern Ghouta. An intelligence document issued in mid-summer dealt extensively with Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed, a chemical weapons expert formerly of the Iraqi military, who was said to have moved into Syria and to be operating in Eastern Ghouta. The consultant told me that Tariq had been identified ‘as an al-Nusra guy with a track record of making mustard gas in Iraq and someone who is implicated in making and using sarin’. He is regarded as a high-profile target by the American military.

Can you tell the difference? I can’t.

And to bring things full-circle, it is very likely that the impeccably reliable F. Michael Maloof, who clued Hersh in on the rebels’ possession of WMDs, was the same guy who tipped off Judith Miller. In a June 7, 2004 article New York Magazine article on Miller’s reporting, Franklin Foer described the Miller-Maloof connection:

Miller is said to have depended on a controversial neocon in Feith’s office named Michael Maloof. At one point, in December 2001, Maloof’s security clearance was revoked. In April, Risen reported in the Times, “Several intelligence professionals say he came under scrutiny because of suspicions that he had leaked classified information in the past to the news media, a charge that Mr. Maloof denies.” While Miller might not have intended to march in lockstep with these hawks, she was caught up in an almost irresistible cycle. Because she kept printing the neocon party line, the neocons kept coming to her with huge stories and great quotes, constantly expanding her access.

I suppose that in some sense Maloof would figure prominently in both Miller and Hersh’s “reporting” since what we were dealing with back in 2003 and today is an obsession with jihadists. The very same hysteria over al-Qaeda in Iraq is now manifested over the war in Syria. In 2003 that hysteria served to fuel a horrible war; now it serves to stigmatize and isolate Syrian rebels who are victims both of Baathist bombs and jihadist violence.

Apparently, just at the point Obama was ready to unleash a massive military attack on Syria, another reliably pacifist military figure stepped in at the last moment just like a Royal Canadian Mountie untying a damsel in distress from the railroad tracks:

At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)

I’m sorry. I bow down before the Great Investigative Journalist who uncovered the My Lai massacre 46 years ago, but how can anybody take this kind of bullshit seriously? Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. Really? We are supposed to take the word of the Russian military that is the prime supplier of weapons and ammunition to the Baathist regime? If I submitted an article to LRB that assured its readers that climate change was a fiction based on the assurances of a scientist who had received $100,000 from coal industry lobbyists, wouldn’t the editor fall on the floor laughing hysterically? Then how in the world does Seymour Hersh’s ludicrous citation of a Russian military operative pass muster?

The remainder of Hersh’s article paints Turkey as a kind of middleman between Libyan shipments of MANPAD’S and Syrian rebels:

Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.

This would lead you to believe that the USA stood by (“no longer in control”) over arms shipments to Syria, especially the deadly manpads that might bring down a civilian airline, heaven forbid. I know that there is a good chance that Hersh does not read the NY Times, but it seems just as likely that he shuns the Wall Street Journal, which reported on October 17, 2012:

U.S. officials say they are most worried about Russian-designed Manpads provided to Libya making their way to Syria. The U.S. intensified efforts to track and collect man-portable missiles after the 2011 fall of the country’s longtime strongman leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

To keep control of the flow of weapons to the Syrian rebels, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar formed a joint operations room early this year in a covert project U.S. officials watched from afar.

The U.S. has limited its support of the rebels to communications equipment, logistics and intelligence. But U.S. officials have coordinated with the trio of countries sending arms and munitions to the rebels. The Pentagon and CIA ramped up their presence on Turkey’s southern border as the weapons began to flow to the rebels in two to three shipments every week.

In July, the U.S. effectively halted the delivery of at least 18 Manpads sourced from Libya, even as the rebels pleaded for more effective antiaircraft missiles to counter regime airstrikes in Aleppo, people familiar with that delivery said.

Okay, you understand this? The WSJ is saying that America intensified efforts to control manpad’s right after the fall of Qaddafi. Not only that, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—the three Sunni arch-demons responsible for arming the bearded, “Alluah Akbar” yelling, Sharia law endorsing jihadists formed a joint operations room early this year in a covert project to block the delivery of at least 18 Manpads sourced from Libya, even as the rebels pleaded for more effective antiaircraft missiles. In other words, Hersh is lying. Actually, I don’t know if he is lying or whether a combination of advancing age and a partisan zeal for the Baathist dictatorship has convinced him to avoid reading sources that undercut the propaganda goals he seeks to advance. In any case, it is not a pretty picture—one that Dorian Gray would recoil from in horror.

Sources:

Hersh’s latest LRB article: http://www.lrb.co.uk/2014/04/06/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line

Scott Lucas’s responses:

http://eaworldview.com/2014/04/syria-hersh-chemical-weapons-conspiracy-insurgents/

http://eaworldview.com/2014/04/syria-special-dissecting-hershs-insurgents-chemical-weapons-attacks-sequel/

Brown Moses responses:

http://brown-moses.blogspot.com/2014/04/seymour-hershs-volcano-problem.html

http://brown-moses.blogspot.com/2014/04/what-does-seymour-hersh-knows-about.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGLULD3LksI

Paul Woodward response:

http://warincontext.org/2014/04/06/seymour-hershs-alternate-reality/

March 26, 2014

Return to Homs

Filed under: Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:22 pm

“Return to Homs” has the distinction of not only being the first documentary made about the Syrian revolution but also being a work of great sensitivity, political insight and courage. I saw it last night at the Museum of Modern Art as part of the annual New Directors/New Films Festival and urge New Yorkers to see a screening at 9pm tonight at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center. (The festival is jointly produced by MOMA and Lincoln Center.)

It is fairly easy to understand why this would be the first major documentary to emerge after three years of war. To start with, it is not easy to gain entrance to Syria through the normal channels. One must assume that director Talal Derki, a Syrian who lives in Germany, came across the border “illegally”. And once he was there, he took great risks in filming in an extremely dangerous location. From August of 2011 to August of 2013, he was on the front lines of the action in Homs with Syrian fighters being wounded or killed all around him, including some of the young men featured prominently in his film. But perhaps the key reason is that American documentary filmmakers, despite tacking to the left, saw little motivation in taking up the cause of “jihadists”. Not long after the early halcyon days of the Arab Spring, a consensus arose that the rebels were no better than the regime that they sought to overthrow. So naturally it would take a Syrian filmmaker to step forward and make the case for his oppressed countrymen. Abandoned by most of the world, including the left, it is up to the Syrians themselves to determine their own future.

In the opening scenes of “Return to Homs”, we meet the two young principals, star soccer goalkeeper Abdul Basset Saroot and media activist Ossama al Homsi. Both are paradigmatic figures. Basset leads mass rallies in the spring of 2011 in the streets of Homs using the distinctive Syrian call-and-response style. Meanwhile, Ossama is everywhere with his Sony video camera capturing the people as they dodge the snipers’ bullets while protesting peacefully. One might easily surmise that Ossama was a member of a Local Coordinating Committee, a grass roots network of young activists who used Youtube and social media to get the word out.

After Baathist killers cut down one too many peaceful protesters, the young men in Basset and Ossama’s circle decide to arm themselves and defend the movement. Ossama, however, feels that this is a mistake. Peaceful protest must prevail against all difficulties. Basset makes the case that most Syrians made, however. Even though taking up arms created its own risks, it was being forced upon them. They had no choice.

Once that decision was made, Homs became a living hell. Armed with nothing more powerful than AK-47’s and RPG’s, Basset and his comrades stood off tanks, jets, and heavy artillery. In excruciating detail, we see entire blocks of apartment houses turned into rubble, including those of Basset and Ossama. We see them in their former living rooms and kitchens, gazing at the wreckage. Ossama looks in vain for a filter for his Sony and only manages to retrieve a coffee mug. Both young men find themselves on the run as the siege of Homs tightens it grip. A sense of desperation develops even though Basset and the other young fighters vow to fight on despite all odds. In thinking about an analogy for their situation,  cities like Leningrad and Stalingrad during WWII, when Hitler’s forces killed both by bullet and by starvation, came to mind.

On February 12, 2014 the NY Times reported on the extraordinary achievement of “Return to Homs”. Using professional digital cameras and some Sony Handicams, the sort of modest device you bring with you on vacation, director Talal Derki and his fellow Syrian co-producer Orwa Nyrabia covered the critical phases of the struggle in Homs using their electronic gear in the same way that John Reed used his typewriter in Mexico and Czarist Russia. So modest were their means that they even lacked a credit card to pay for the registration fees at the Sundance Film Festival. Fortunately the organizers waived the fee.

When in Homs, they recharged their phones and laptops from car batteries and portable gasoline generators. They risked their lives to sneak past army checkpoints, and when things turned too deadly to continue, they taught Basset and his comrades how to use the Handycams. The footage was then smuggled out.

Of particular interest was the willingness of two veterans of the American film industry to show solidarity with Orwa Nyrabia when his life was in danger:

Mr. Nyrabia was detained at the Damascus airport on Aug. 23, 2012, and later accused of making a film with a terrorist. He was held for three weeks by military intelligence in an underground prison, he said, thrown together with 84 younger Syrians, most of them conscripts apparently reluctant to shoot fellow Syrians. “They had blinked before shooting,” he said.

His fellow inmates were deferential, Mr. Nyrabia said. “They wouldn’t make me queue for the bathroom because I was considered very old.” [Nyrabia is 36!]

Mr. Nyrabia, who now lives in Berlin, attributed his release to pressure on the Syrian government from international publicity about his disappearance. A group of prominent filmmakers and Hollywood celebrities including Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, along with members of 24 international and American cinema associations and unions, signed a petition demanding that the Syrian authorities free Mr. Nyrabia.

While Syria’s government routinely ignores demands by Western political leaders, Mr. Nyrabia said, “when it’s De Niro or Scorsese, that’s embarrassing.”

It is too bad that the American left has less interest than such luminaries in showing such solidarity.

One can only hope that general distribution of “Return to Homs” might help to change some minds. It is about as powerful a testimony to the heart and soul of one of the great revolutionary struggles of the past half-century, as determined in its own way as the Vietnamese fight to rid its country of colonialism. When you see a young man like Basset with no military training  challenging a tank with nothing more than a machine gun, you understand that freedom is more precious to him than life itself.

In the Q&A, director Talal Derki mentioned that his next film will be about Syria’s struggle against a new threat that is as inimical to freedom as the Baathist dictatorship: the Islamic fundamentalists of ISIS and similar militias. Since he will be at the Q&A tonight as well, I urge New Yorkers to try to make to Lincoln Center. It will be your film experience of the year.

 

February 20, 2014

Another false alarm over “war with Syria”

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:24 pm

It’s so interesting how the Baathist left never has a word to say about Syria as long as American intervention is off the table. But the merest rhetoric over “red lines” gets them worked up like a weasel on Dexedrine.

Last week a WSJ article made the rounds on all the pro-Baathist websites about how the Saudis were going to arm the rebels with Manpads. All of a sudden the Baathist tools woke up from their deep slumber and began warning about how “regime change” was on the agenda once again. It didn’t matter to them that the Baathists were starving people into submission after the fashion of Leningrad’s 900 days during WWII or that helicopters were dropping barrel bombs on working class tenements. In their eyes, all’s fair in love and war. Plus, such brutality was necessary in order to prevent the rise of the dreaded Sharia law and al-Qaeda (leaving aside the reality that ISIL was in a de facto alliance withe the Baathists.) Sometimes you have to destroy a city in order to save it.

Meanwhile, there are two things worth considering. First of all, this Reuters article states that the USA remains opposed to the rebels getting such weapons. Does anybody in their right mind think that the Saudis will ignore American wishes?

(Reuters) – The United States is opposed to the supply of shoulder-fired missiles, capable of taking down warplanes, to rebel forces in Syria, a senior Obama administration official said on Tuesday.

The official, traveling with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Tunisia, was responding to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Friday which said Saudi Arabia had offered to give Syrian rebels Chinese man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS, and anti-tank guided missiles from Russia.

The newspaper cited an Arab diplomat and several opposition sources with knowledge of the efforts.

The Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “The administration remains opposed to any provision of MANPADS to the Syrian opposition.”

Next we learn from Debka that in order to placate Israel, Obama persuaded the Saudis to relieve Prince Bandar of his duties:

The Saudi intelligence chief crossed the Americans by supplying weapons and money to Syrian rebels belonging to Islamist militias – though not al Qaeda. He was the driving force behind the formation of the Islamic Front coalition, which last month beat the Free Syrian Army backed by Washington into the ground.

Some Gulf sources say he is paying the price for the kingdom’s failure in Syria. Bandar promised King Abdullah thatg he would take care of getting rid of Bashar Assad. He not only fell down on this task, but he generated a clash between the Obama administration and the Saudi throne on the Syrian issue, say those sources.

The most striking evidence of his comedown came from his absence from the secret conclave held recently by Middle East intelligence chiefs to coordinate their positions on Syrian with Washington.

Instead of Prince Bandar, his seat was taken by his leading adversary on Syria, the Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

Prince Mohammed is a favorite at the White House and a close friend of Secretary of State John Kerry and CIA Director John Brennan.

Of course, none of this will assuage those on an ideological mission to whitewash one of the most vicious and reactionary dictatorships on the planet since the days of General Pinochet. How will history judge those who propagandized on behalf of Bashar al-Assad using leftist rhetoric? Not very kindly, I believe.

January 24, 2014

Syria: The Road to Geneva

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:02 pm

(A guest post by Brian S.)

Syria: The Road to Geneva

Posted by ⋅ January 20, 2014

The suspense over the holding of the Geneva II Conference on Syria appeared to have finally ended on 18 January with the decision of the principal opposition group – the Syrian National Coalition (SNCo)– to attend, but it has now re-emerged with their threat to withdraw if Iran is invited to the proceedings.

However I don’t think there is as much real uncertainty as the press coverage implies. The UN had already taken out insurance on the event by inviting a wide range of states to participate– a total of 32 (33 with Iran) – effectively turning it into an international conference on Syria, rather than a purely bilateral peace negotiation. (The first day will involve all the participating delegations in a preliminary discussion in Montreux, with bilateral negotiations mediated by Brahimi starting on the 24th in Geneva).That means that several hundred upper class flights and 5-star hotel rooms have been booked in Geneva, virtually ensuring that some sort of international deliberation on Syria will commence on 22 January.

Moreover the US and the “Friends of Syria” are putting intense pressure on the SNCo to attend, while at the same time Russia has been doing its best to woo them, given the limitations of its being betrothed to the Asad regime. The drawn-out hesitations of the SNCO are thus conditioned more by its need to reassure various forces back home than expressing any real uncertainty about its eventual participation.

So – what are the intentions of the main players at Geneva II and what, if anything can we expect to emerge from it.? And how should the international movement of Solidarity with the Syrian revolution be responding?

The Godfathers – the US and Russia

The United States and Russia share a common concern to prevent the destabilisation of a complex and inter-twined region and to contain the development of international “terrorist” forces. The US’s parochial obsession with any whiff  of “al-Qaeda (9/11 casts a long and deep shadow) has prevented it from adopting a consistent strategy towards the Syrian conflict and limited its support for the anti-Asad forces to either tokenistic light weaponry or indirect assistance via partners such as Saudi Arabia. Russia, of course, has the additional motivation of wanting to support an ally that plays an important role in preserving its influence in an important geo-strategic region and counter-balancing US global hegemony.

What this means is that both have a real interest in seeing Geneva II succeed in producing some kind of negotiated resolution of the conflict, and are more concerned with order and stability than with meeting the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people. This is reflected in the parameters for the negotiations inherited from Geneva I (see below).

full: http://magpie68.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/21/

January 22, 2014

Yarmouk, Jonathan Cook and the Baathist left

Filed under: Palestine,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:46 pm

Every so often the name of a town or neighborhood in Syria becomes a symbol of left divisions over the 3-year long civil war. First there was Houla, where a massacre of local villagers opposed to the dictatorship was blamed on the rebels, fueled by bogus reporting from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Next there was Ghouta, the Damascus suburb that once again involved a massacre of rebel sympathizers—this time by sarin gas. From the low—Mint Press—to the high (or at least, one-time high)—Seymour Hersh—the effort of the Baathist left once again has been directed toward turning the victim into the criminal. The latest incident involves Yarmouk, a neighborhood of a half-million Palestinian refugees that has been reduced to the aged, the ill, and those economically incapable of moving out of range of Baathist bombs and missiles.

I was planning to write about Yarmouk at some point down the road but decided to put it on the front-burner after a storm broke out in the comments section of Mondoweiss under a couple of articles written as rebuttals to an article that appeared there in the name of the Cornell chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine. The article adopts the talking points of the Baathist left:

And fourth, we do not forget the US and Gulf role in militarizing the small bright hopeful protests which began in the spring of 2011 across Syria, snuffing out those fires of hope in a deluge of sectarianism, foreign proxies, and destruction. Nor do we forget that it was the Free Syrian Army, the brand-name for the “milder” of the Western-armed gangs which have rampaged across Syria, along with Jabhat al-Nusra and other reactionary militias which went into Yarmouk a year ago. It was their decision to enter the camp in late 2012 which led to the subsequent violence and its emptying out, with its people now in global scatter, some literally drowning in the Mediterranean.

A Facebook friend has told me that Max Ajl, a graduate student in the Cornell development sociology department, wrote the statement. Since Ajl has been an ardent “anti-imperialist” for some time now, this made perfect sense. It also suggests to me why Jacobin, another enterprise he is involved with, has also published a bunch of nonsense about the Arab revolt. It is all the more puzzling in the case of Jacobin since the editorial positions are generally a lot closer to Dissent than Global Research. One imagines that Ajl has powers of persuasion that work wonders on those who are relative newcomers to Marxism.

In discussing Yarmouk, I don’t want to focus too much on refuting the particular talking points of the Baathist left, such as Syria’s right to drop barrel bombs on the neighborhood since there are “terrorists” among the civilian population—an argument recycled from the Zionist trash bin—but instead take up the broader question of whether Syrian rebels have anything in common with the Palestinians. I intend to answer an article written by Jonathan Cook that appeared on Mondoweiss and perhaps a dozen other websites titled “The false analogy of Syria and Palestine”. I didn’t bother replying to Cook when the article came out in November since I had better things to do at the time but will do so now since it is pertinent to the Yarmouk controversy.

Cook starts off by falsely accusing me of being a “diehard interventionist”, a charge that many people accept largely on the basis of my stubborn resistance to Baathist lies. In their mind, pointing out the obvious flaws in the facts and logic of a Mint Press article or Seymour Hersh’s reporting proves that I have been consulting on war plans with Samantha Powers. Since I was in the Trotskyist movement in the 1960s, when Maoists used to recycle Vishinski’s Moscow Trial accusations, such smears roll off my back like water from a duck’s.

Cook’s exercise in prolixity was prompted by an observation made in my article that was mostly about the sarin gas controversy that he totally avoided:

With his long time commitment to the Palestinian cause, [Cook] seems to have trouble understanding that those under attack in Homs or Aleppo have much in common with those living in Gaza. While he is obviously trained enough to understand and communicate the plight of one group of Arabs, another group gets short shrift because it is perceived as inimical to the interests of peace.

Let me take up Cook’s objections to analogizing Syria with Palestine one by one.

He writes:

Gaza is not like Syria because Palestinians live under a belligerent occupation, not in a unified, if failing state run by a dictator.

Any idiot understands that Syria is a unified state that emerged out of the post-WWII decolonization upheaval, unlike Palestine that was cheated out of statehood. But I was referring to cities and not states: “those under attack in Homs or Aleppo”. Right? My point was that Bashar al-Assad was using collective punishment against civilians who were “harboring terrorists”, just as the IDF did in Gaza. How could he not understand this? Well, I suppose that this goes hand in hand with labeling me an “interventionist” in the complete absence of evidence.

Now it seems that Yarmouk has joined Homs and Aleppo as a site of what the US military referred to as destroying a town in order to save it during the Vietnam War. Last week Baathist helicopters dropped barrel bombs on Yarmouk apartment buildings. This was the result:

Here’s the result of IDF bombing in Gaza:

I’ll let you decide whether my comparison is valid.

Cook adds that “external intervention” might apply to Gaza but not to Syria:

The comparison with Gaza is also unhelpful because it is possible to be in favour of external efforts to remove the occupation in Gaza without that also requiring us to be in favour of external efforts to overthrow the state apparatus in Syria.

This argument should be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for speciousness if they had such an award (given the amount of times Thomas Friedman has walked off with an award, maybe they do.) Nobody on the left is in favor of “external efforts to overthrow the state apparatus in Syria.” We are, however, in favor of internal efforts. Of course Hizbollah, Iran and Russia don’t count as “external efforts” to overthrow the “internal efforts” to overthrow the Baathists. In a bravura performance of sophistry, Cook makes the case for reinforcing Baathist rule:

Also to be addressed is the paradox that for the Syrian government to negotiate safely it needs to ensure its strength within the global system of nation-states; but with such strength it has less interest in making concessions to the rebels. This is a paradox that relates to the current world order. We may not like that order, but it is the only one that exists at the moment.

This dodgy statement is basically the negotiating position of the Syria-Iran-Russia alliance and we should make no mistake about it. “To ensure its strength within the global system of nation-states” is a formula for continued Baathist domination of its subject population as Cook admits (“it has less interest in making concessions to the rebels”). At least when you read someone like Pepe Escobar or Robert Fisk, you don’t have to put up with such circumlocutions.

Like most of the analysis proffered by the Baathist left, Cook’s article has the musty odor of having been written during the mass hysteria around Obama’s “red line” bluff:

Syria is caught in a power game, with the US and Saudi Arabia trying to keep Iran and its ally Syria weak on one side, and Iran desperately trying to keep its few remaining allies, among them Syria, as strong as possible in its battle against efforts by Israel and the west to undermine its sovereign integrity. Ignoring this as the main framework for understanding what is happening in Syria inevitably leads to erroneous analysis and faulty solutions.

As I pointed out in the months immediately following the Ghouta massacre, American imperialism had zero interest in “regime change” and would likely do nothing more than fire off some missiles and then resort to the status quo ante. But even I could not have predicted the turn against all the rebels that coincided with the thaw with Iran. It has been Syria and Iran that the USA wants to keep strong, rather than weak. President Rouhani has made it very clear that Iran is open to Western business, a ploy adopted by al-Assad (and Qaddafi) years ago and one that leads to mass discontent so powerful as to unleash a revolution.

January 18, 2014

Mondoweiss as a Baathist outlet

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 11:06 pm

annieAnnie Robbins: Baathist mouthpiece

The comments underneath Talal Aylan’s article on Yarmouk that I linked to below are really quite shocking, as bad as Moon of Alabama–an open sewer of Baathist talking points.

It seems that Annie Robbins, the editor-at-large of Mondoweiss, is a mouth-breathing Baathist tool based on her comments:

i’m sorry, but i can’t throw my lot with fighters who slice open the chest of non believers and eat their heart out. this is not a ‘revolution’ i can support and it has nothing to do with the palestinian cause just because some of those radicalized jhiadist might be palestinians. and i’m also not saying or implying most or all palestinians who have a dog in this fight are aligned with those factions. and there are rebels aligned with those with legitimate aspiration of freedom in syria fighting against assad, but they shouldn’t embed inside a densely populated refugee camp.

note how they didn’t wear burkas in iraq so much before we invaded and now they do. it would be perfectly fine for some people for the entire middle east to be fanatical stone age, backwards. you bring up assad bombing his own cities. frankly, something tells me decimating appello or damascus isn’t high on assad list of things he’d like to do.

Dreadful stuff, really dreadful.

 

UPDATE:

Long before I wrote this, I tried to post a comment on Mondoweiss. After nearly 24 hours, it is still in a moderation queue and likely never to appear there.

I am really quite shocked by the level of Islamophobia on display here that comes straight out of the “war on terror” rhetoric of both Putin and Bashar al-Assad. It is almost as if I have wandered into the Moon of Alabama website.

There is a deep malaise obviously at work in “Palestinian solidarity” circles, which is probably rooted in the bogus credentials of the Baathist dictatorship as a front-line state against Israel. Of course, you can only adopt that orientation in clear ignorance of the facts. It was Bashar al-Assad’s father who colluded with the Phalangists and Israel to slaughter Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila.

It is hardly worth answering the Baathist talking points here. At this stage of the game, anybody who sides with a government that drops barrel bombs on civilians is beyond hope.

January 17, 2014

While you were neutral about Yarmouk

Filed under: Palestine,Syria — louisproyect @ 9:02 pm

While you were neutral about Yarmouk

on January 17, 2014

Ruined buildings in the Yarmouk refugee camp, summer 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

While you were insisting on neutrality about Yarmouk, the Syrian regime dropped barrel bombs on it. Mohammad Al Far. Husam Abo Ahmad. Mohammad Tafori. Mohammad Suhaib Al Qides. Ala’a Fri’j. These men are all dead. Mohammad Taha would later die too when he, along with a larger demonstration, approached a regime checkpoint in frustration after the carnage rained on them from above.

The Pro-Palestinian movement was delayed in picking up on the tragic unraveling of Yarmouk. It took the work of a great deal of dedicated activists to force it into the forefront of the solidarity movement’s agenda. What couldn’t be predicted, however, was that, in the place of silence, an ugly neutrality would hover over the new-founded concern. And that said the neutrality was often an unconvincing veil for something much more vile. Perhaps, in our naivety, we believe that when Yarmouk became visible, it would be nearly impossible to omit the clear fact that the siege was being imposed by the Syrian regime. Instead, it was the oppositional fighters in the camp who fell under the spotlight. A chorus emerged, one familiar enough to evoke a surreal sense of Déjà vu.

full: http://mondoweiss.net/2014/01/neutral-about-yarmouk.html

January 16, 2014

Why calling for “diplomatic solutions” stabs the Syrian Revolution in the back

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:34 am

A guest post by Andrew Pollack

Why calling for “diplomatic solutions” stabs the Syrian Revolution in the back

January 15, 2014 at 4:58pm

On January 14th came reports of the conclusion of a two-day UN-sponsored conference attended by a self-selected group of women discussing how to increase female participation at the proposed Geneva II conference and its aftermath. Nowhere in the statements coming out of the event was there any indication that those seeking to achieve greater gender balance in Geneva have any problem with its core mission: to let imperialist powers dictate “peace” terms to Syrian revolutionaries.

This “women’s” event comes amid a welter of proposals for negotiations, diplomatic solutions, ceasefires, etc., etc. by various liberal and pseudoradical forces. Many of those involved have been around the block and know what brand of snake oil they’re peddling. Newer forces less aware of the long history of such sell-outs may sincerely think that by demanding negotiations or diplomatic solutions they are aiding the Syrian Revolution. But in fact these calls for “talks” and “peace” are helping the imperialists, whether in Washington or Moscow, to stab it in the back. They deny the self-determination of the Syrian people – the only ones who have a legitimate right to say what a just resolution of the Revolution should be, the only ones with the right to define what liberation means for them. And they insult the steadfastness of the Syrian people, who despite horrific casualties, starvation, torture and genocidal murder, show no signs of abandoning their Revolution.

None of the politicians, whether in Moscow or Washington, Beijing or Tehran, Riyadh or Beirut have any business dictating terms to the Syrian people, or even demanding they come to the table. In any case the overwhelming majority of grassroots forces in the Revolution have made clear that they see Geneva for the farce it is. They have expressed in no uncertain terms that not only will they not talk to Assad, but that they resent and reject the imperialists’ likely attempt to impose a Yemen-style solution, i.e. to maintain he current regime minus Assad.

Calling for talks or “peace” is calling for maintenance of that regime, for an end to the Syrian people’s just struggle for bread, freedom, dignity and social justice.

Below I’ll look at some statements by those pushing Geneva (or an “improved” Geneva). Then I cite briefly some parallel debates from the movement against the US war in Vietnam, and from discussions among Bolsheviks heading the new Soviet Republic who had to grapple with similar issues when under attack after the revolution’s success.

A November 28, 2013 article (“Opposition Activists in Damascus Give Views on Peaceful Solution,” https://www.adoptrevolution.org/en/opposition-activists-on-peaceful-solution/ ) quotes Kifah Ali Deeb, a member of the executive office of the National Coordination Board for Democratic Change, saying she “is confident about a peaceful solution to end the crisis. “[This can be achieved through] an end to the violence, releasing prisoners, and negotiations in Geneva on a peaceful transfer of power to a transitional government with full powers.”

Geneva I, she said “didn’t fail. It produced a set of recommendations that we can build on for Geneva II in order to reach a political solution that will lead to a transfer of power. This will achieve the demands of the people for freedom, dignity, and democracy,” she said.”

Deeb’s group, the NCBDC, has been roundly criticized by revolutionaries from the beginning of the Revolution for attempting to cut deals with the regime and advocating direct talks with it. The groups making up the Coordination Board seem to be left-over pro-Moscow or pro-Beijing Stalinist parties, whose stock in trade has for decades been class collaboration, i.e. deals for “peace” whether in the international or domestic spheres.

Deeb is clearly operating in this framework. She hails the fact that all permanent members of the UN Security Council attended Geneva I, and praises their 12 point plan, “the most important elements of which were the formation of a transitional government with full executive powers which would include officials from the current Syrian government, reform of the constitution, ensuring the continuity of public services and agencies, including the army and security services, and stopping the bloodshed.”

Officials from the current government? Continuity of the army and security services? Clearly Deeb has no interest in advocating for what the Syrian grassroots is actually fighting for.

The same article quotes “political activist and lawyer Faeq Howeija, a member of the Syrian Secular Democratic Coalition,” as saying that Geneva II can succeed and a “political solution” be found “once the two sides genuinely feel that they cannot continue with a military confrontation.” So while those who face the bullets of Assad and the Islamists call for greater military and other aid to complete the revolution against all counterrevolutionary forces, Howeija and his ilk call for “peace.”

Some Palestine solidarity activists are also calling for “diplomatic solutions,” this despite their longstanding and correct rejection of similar efforts by imperialists to force the “peace process” with Israel down their throats. (Although perhaps this hypocrisy tells us something about their rejection of that “peace process”: for some of them, it may just be a question of wanting “better” parties at the table, i.e. a hope that a “left” faction of the PLO, after achieving hegemony in the mass movement, could push aside Fateh as lead negotiator and come up with a “more just” peace.)

Meanwhile the “Anti-imperialist Camp,” a gaggle of groups which seem to come from the same neo-Stalinist milieu as the NCBDC, is pushing a shadow conference in Vienna to happen during Geneva II – while still supporting the latter. They do so because they – unlike the masses in Syria – have given up hope in the Revolution (one would certainly want to check statements of this Camp and its constituent groups to see if they ever supported the Revolution).

The Camp launched an “International Peace Initiative for Syria” months ago, seeking signatures of left celebrities on behalf of peace and love in Syria. Now they are organizing an “all sides’ civil society conference in Vienna.” (www.antiimperialista.org/all_sides_syrian_conference )

“Every day,” they warn us, “it becomes clearer that the Syrian war cannot be won by anybody with a positive outcome for the Syrian people. With its internal divisions on every side the civil war has reached the state of an unprecedented bloodshed increased by external interventions. Its continuation will only wreak havoc and spread destruction on all levels of society.

“Among its main victims there are the democratic rights of the Syrian people, who originally tried to claim these rights by launching a peaceful popular mass protest movement. However their efforts have gradually been thwarted by an increasing influence of sectarian tendencies as well as a growing regional and global involvement.”

So their counsel to the Syrian masses – who show no sign of sharing their defeatism, and who are in fact turning the tide against one pole of the counterrevolution, i.e. ISIS and its ilk – is surrender:

“Together with many people inside Syria and across the world our initiative for Peace in Syria continues to insist (see initial call http://www.peaceinsyria.org/mission.html ) that the only viable solution is a political settlement with a ceasefire paving the way to a transitional government, based on a power sharing agreement between the socio-political, confessional and ethnical blocs maintaining a common State. We are conscious that this is not the ideal solution for any side, and therefore it will be difficult for all sides to accept. Yet a political solution is the only way out, because the continuation of the war will be even worse.”

And they praise imperialist powers for sharing their crocodile tears and proposing a way out: “Internationally, most of the involved players have now come to the conclusion that a political settlement is necessary to stop the number of victims from growing. This is being shown also by the recent agreement between the USA and Iran which provides a framework for the upcoming Geneva II talks.”

But so as not to be completely confused with their imperialist inspirers, they propose a parallel confab in Vienna: “… most of the Syrian people, who – while starving – continue to strive for their democratic and social rights, have lost their voice within the diplomatic efforts which are being made on the level of States. There is an urgent need to let them speak and allow their voices to be heard while important parts of the international community engage in power brokering ignoring the interest of the people on the ground.

“As an International Initiative of civil society, we are proposing to hold a conference in Vienna, Austria, with renowned figures of the Syrian civil society from all walks of life and associated with all sides of the conflict, in order to explore possible and realistic ways for achieving a democratic transition acceptable to the vast majority of Syrians. For this proposal, we have received positive signals from across the whole political spectrum of Syria.”

And just so no-one is misled into thinking that they’re trying to replace Geneva, they stress that “Whilst we hope that Geneva II will get off the ground, we strongly believe that the Vienna conference is a necessary complement to it. There is a real need to lend a voice to those who will have no say at the negotiation table, because they are not State-actors or representatives of political organisations. Furthermore any ceasefire agreement will need strong popular support from below. [That is, they want to help the imperialists force an agreement on the revolting masses.] This is needed whether Geneva will yield results or not.”

The UN-sponsored women’s conference mentioned at the start took a similar approach to trying  to “improve” Geneva II, declaring that “The voice of Syrian women must be heard in all efforts to resolve the civil war that is tearing their country apart.” ) http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46916&Cr=Syria&Cr1=#.UtbSObSpfdU )

Needless to say the conference took no position on who was responsible for the bloodshed and violence, the oppression and exploitation, which sparked the Revolution. Instead, the 50 gathered women (the statement doesn’t say who picked them and how), called for a solution that would urge greater women’s participation in the country’s political and social life (something Assad would assure them he had already achieved). They were motivated by the same horror of suffering – again, without attributing responsibility or blame – as expressed by those quoted above: “We have come together to prepare this set of demands and priorities based on our first-hand experience of the suffering of the Syrian people, which has become intolerable.” And on this basis they too recommended surrender, “calling for an immediate cessation of armed violence.”

They go on to list specific proposals for women’s participation in various negotiating, transition, constitutional and other processes. Not a word about the Revolution’s demands. In fact they characterize the fighting as a “conflict [which] erupted almost three years ago between the Government and various groups seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad,” as if they didn’t know – or dare not voice – what revolutionaries are fighting for.

Of course this is about what one would expect from a body whose Secretary-General just got done heaping praise on deceased mass murderer Ariel Sharon, and whose main purpose has always been as a pacifist cover for imperialism.

Finally by way of examples we cite Code Pink, which weighed in long ago along exactly the same lines. The presumption, the violation of self-determination, the denial of the existence of the Revolution are too self-evident in its statement to need dissection here:

http://codepink.salsalabs.com/o/424/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=7155

In contrast to the above approaches we must stress that our task now is greater support for the revolution, not efforts to force it into submission or surrender.

It’s not our business to pressure revolutionaries to go to the table; our job is to support them materially and politically against all forms of counterrevolution domestic or foreign.

That was the approach of revolutionaries in the US and other imperialist countries during the US war against Vietnam. While the Communist Party in the US and their co-thinkers were pushing for a negotiated “solution,” for support for peace talks, Trotskyists and radical pacifists said we in the US had no right to add to the pressure on the Vietnamese to submit, that our job was to get our government to stop committing and aiding genocide, to pull out completely and immediately.

These genuine radicals added that if the Vietnamese felt compelled to go to the table, whether out of weakness or for tactical propagandistic purposes, that was their business and their right. But by letting up for one second in the slightest degree the call for “Out Now!”, we would in fact be weakening the Vietnamese efforts to navigate their way through those thickets, and more fundamentally would be violating their right to self-determination.

As Nat Weinstein wrote: ( http://www.socialistviewpoint.org/may_04/may_04_01.html )

“From the very first, however, there was a small section of the Vietnam antiwar movement that rejected the slogan, ‘Negotiations Now!’ simply because it implied that the United States had the right to set limits on the Vietnamese people’s right to self-determination. What proved to be the most effective section of the Vietnam antiwar movement had rejected the ‘Negotiate Now!’ slogan from the outset because it gave credence to the ‘right’ of American imperialism to send the world’s most powerful military behemoth into Vietnam to suppress the struggle of the Vietnamese workers and poor farmers for self-determination. And as the war dragged on and tens of thousands of body bags had already been shipped home, the ‘Bring The Troops Home Now!’ demand began winning the support of millions…”

A 1969 resolution of the then still healthy US Socialist Workers Party explained why the imperialists wanted talks in the first place: “The central problem facing U.S. imperialism in attempting to win the kind of settlement it wants is control of the state power in Vietnam, which depends in the last analysis on force of arms. Without the massive military might of U.S. imperialism, the Saigon regime would rapidly collapse. This fact shows the fraudulent nature of all the well-publicized Washington schemes for a settlement: the scheme of turning the war over to Saigon; the scheme of a coalition government; the scheme of elections under the Saigon administration. So long as the Vietnamese revolutionaries refuse to give up their arms and continue to carry on the fight a U.S. withdrawal will lead to rapid victory over the Saigon regime. Under these conditions, a ‘compromise’ formula that does not settle the question of state power will remain illusory. The war can end only when one side is defeated; and until that happens, either on the battlefield or at the negotiating table, the war will go on…” (http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/swp-us/education/anti-war/part6.htm )

The same can be said of Syria: the imperialists want talks above all because they want to ensure that the question of state power is settled in favor of the existing regime or some armed body like it, and not in favor of the Syrian masses.

Finally, some quotes from the parallel Soviet debate. After the Revolution, the new power was faced with invasion from imperialist powers on both sides of World War I. The Bolshevik government sent representatives to talks with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk, and had to encounter dissent within Party ranks about whether such talks were an impermissible compromise.

Lenin’s answer (not heeded at first, by the way, in what was then an incredibly democratic party used to stormy, vibrant debate), was that the new Republic had no choice but to negotiate, especially as to survive until aid could come from successful revolutions elsewhere – BUT that while the Soviets were under the gun, that made it MORE urgent for revolutionaries in other countries to oppose efforts by their own governments to dictate terms or even to presume there was anything to talk about. To use the same terms as in the Vietnam debate, the Bolsheviks could justify going to the table, but communists in Germany, England, France, etc. had no business calling for talks: their duty was to tell their own governments to simply get the hell out of the Soviet Union — and while doing so, to try to make their own revolution at home.

Lenin wrote (http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch04.htm  ):

“Imagine that your car is held up by armed bandits. You hand them over your money, passport, revolver and car. In return you are rid of the pleasant company of the bandits. That is unquestionably a compromise. ‘Do ut des’ (I ‘give’ you money, fire-arms and a car ‘so that you give’ me the opportunity to get away from you with a whole skin). It would, however, be difficult to find a sane man who would declare such a compromise to be ‘inadmissible on principle,’ or who would call the compromiser an accomplice of the bandits (even though the bandits might use the car and the firearms for further robberies). Our compromise with the bandits of German imperialism was just that kind of compromise.

“But when, in 1914-18 and then in 1918-20, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries in Russia, the Scheidemannites (and to a large extent the Kautskyites) in Germany, Otto Bauer and Friedrich Adler (to say nothing of the Renners and Co.) in Austria, the Renaudels and Longuets and Co. in France, the Fabians, the Independents and the Labourites in Britain entered into compromises with the bandits of their own bourgeoisie, and sometimes of the ‘Allied’ bourgeoisie, and against the revolutionary proletariat of their own countries, all these gentlemen were actually acting as accomplices in banditry.”

Again, Lenin explains why those under attack might feel pressured to seek a deal (http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/jan/07.htm ):

“Workers who lose a strike and sign terms for the resumption of work which are unfavourable to them and favourable to the capitalists, do not betray socialism. The only people who betray socialism are those who secure advantages for a section of the workers in exchange for profit to the capitalists; only such agreements are impermissible in principle…

“He does not in the least betray socialism who, without concealing anything from the people, and without concluding any secret treaties with the imperialists, agrees to sign terms of peace which are unfavourable to the weak nation and favourable to the imperialists of one group, if at that moment there is no strength to continue the war.”

That, however, is not what is happening around Geneva. Here supposed “friends” of the Syrian people are trying to drag supposed opponents of the regime to the table when the real revolutionaries have NOT yet declared the strike over (to use Lenin’s trade union example), are not yet ready to resume work under their exploiters.

What’s more, the Bolsheviks used to the fullest the opportunity of talks to state their case, and that of the global revolution, to all listening around the world – something which we can be sure won’t be the case with whatever craven “opposition” ends up at Geneva. Thus Leon Trotsky, in a public declaration issued to the peoples of the whole world, declared (http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1918/02/peace.htm ):

“We must open negotiations with those governments which at present exist. However, we are conducting these negotiations in a way affording the public the fullest possibility of controlling the crimes of their governments, and so as to accelerate the rising of the working masses against the imperialist cliques. We are ready to support this uprising with all the forces at our command.” In other words, as had Lenin, Trotsky was telling fellow revolutionaries elsewhere: “Don’t worry about what we may have to do at the negotiating table. The best aid you can give us is to make your own revolution, to rise up against your own government.”

That is certainly advice well-worth heeding in every country, including the US, which is suffering the same ravages of a capitalist system in decline and the resulting attempts by its masters to use whatever draconian measures are needed to pile the costs of that decline onto the backs of the world’s workers. That, after all, was exactly why the Syrian people revolted in the first place, and why they are determined to see their Revolution through to the end.

Postscript: While looking for the above quotes I came across the passage below, which sheds additional light on the debate within the ranks of those who support the Syrian Revolution about from whom and under what conditions it is acceptable to accept aid from imperialist bandits. In his biography of Lenin, Tony Cliff writes (http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1978/lenin3/ch04.html ):

“On 22 February Trotsky reported to the Central Committee an offer by France and Britain to give military aid to Russia in a war against Germany. The majority of the ‘Left Communists’ were opposed in principle to accepting: aid from such imperialist quarters. Trotsky came out clearly in favour of accepting aid, from whatever source. ‘The “Left Communists” arguments do not stand up to criticism. The state is forced to do what the party would not do. Of course the imperialists want to take advantage of us and if we are weak, they will do so; if we are strong, we will not allow it.’

‘As the party of the socialist proletariat which is in power and conducting a war against Germany, we mobilize every means to arm and supply our revolutionary army in the best way possible with all necessary resources and, for that purpose, we obtain them where we can, including therefore from capitalist governments. In doing this, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party retains full independence in its external policy, gives no political undertakings to capitalist governments and examines their proposals in each separate case according to what is expedient.’

Cliff continues: “Lenin, who had not been present at the meeting of the Central Committee, added the following statement to the minutes of the session: ‘Please add my vote in favour of taking potatoes and weapons from the Anglo-French imperialist robbers.’

“To explain his readiness to use the conflict between the imperialist powers in the interests of the proletariat in power, Lenin wrote, on 22 February, an article entitled “The Itch”:

“’Let us suppose Kaliaev, in order to kill a tyrant and monster, acquires a revolver from an absolute villain, a scoundrel and robber, by promising him bread, money and vodka for the service rendered.

‘Can one condemn Kaliaev for ‘dealing with a robber’ for the sake of obtaining a deadly weapon? Every sensible person will answer ‘no’. If there is nowhere else for Kaliaev to get a revolver, and if his intention is really an honourable one (the killing of a tyrant, not killing for plunder), then he should not be reproached but commended for acquiring a revolver in this way. But if a robber, in order to commit murder for the sake of plunder, acquires a revolver from another robber in return for money, vodka or bread, can one compare (not to speak of identifying) such a ‘deal with a robber’ with the deal made by Kaliaev?’

“In a postscript to the article, Lenin added:

‘The North Americans in their war of liberation against England at the end of the eighteenth century got help from Spain and France, who were her competitors and just as much colonial robbers as England. It is said that there were ‘Left Bolsheviks’ to be found who contemplated writing a ‘learned work’ on the ‘dirty deal’ of these Americans.’

“In the end, however, nothing came of the offer of aid from Britain and France.”

Andrew Pollack, 1/15/2014

 

December 31, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    the ambassador was involved in the weapon transfer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 29, 2013

Theodore Postol falsifies the Seymour Hersh hypothesis

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:45 pm

Safely within the “red line” guidelines:

In his “Whose Sarin” article, Hersh wrote:

Theodore Postol, a professor of technology and national security at MIT, reviewed the UN photos with a group of his colleagues and concluded that the large calibre rocket was an improvised munition that was very likely manufactured locally. He told me that it was ‘something you could produce in a modestly capable machine shop’. The rocket in the photos, he added, fails to match the specifications of a similar but smaller rocket known to be in the Syrian arsenal.

While Hersh’s article carefully avoided blaming the rebels for a “false flag” attack intended to draw America into the war, his “who knows who did it” analysis combined with some plausible debunking of Obama administration claims served the political aims of the Baathist left.

Today’s N.Y. Times makes it clear that Hersh should avoid referring to Postol and his colleague Richard M. Lloyd in the future since they have weighed in against the Baathist dictatorship as C.M. Chivers reports.

A new analysis of rockets linked to the nerve-agent attack on Damascus, Syria, in August has concluded that the rockets were most likely fired by multiple launchers and had a range of about three kilometers [1.86 miles], according to the two authors of the analysis.

An examination of the territory to the northwest of the cluster of reported impact strikes shows many positions that have been firmly under military control throughout 2013, including factories and a bus station complex that are part of Mr. Assad’s defense around his seat of government.

Eliot Higgins, a blogger who has collected and analyzed many online videos related to the attack, the munitions and the Syrian government’s military positions in Damascus, said the new analysis of the rockets’ range aligned with assertions that the government was culpable.

“A range of beyond 2.5 kilometers would put potential launch sites in an area between Jobar and Qaboun, to the north and northwest of the impact locations, that has been a hive of government activity for months,” Mr. Higgins wrote in an email on Friday.

The new analysis has limits. It relies on secondhand measurements of and assumptions about the rockets’ components and construction, but no handling, X-rays or other examination of the real items. The central claim, about a particular rocket-motor insert, regards an item that has not yet been seen in any publicly available images.

Nonetheless, a core assertion in the two authors’ previous analysis of the sarin-filled rockets, also based on dimensions, has stood for months.

That study proposed that the warheads contained a large volume, about 13.2 gallons, of sarin. The United Nations implicitly seconded that suggestion when it included a similar estimate in its own report in September.

The assumption that the warheads contained a large volume of nerve agent also helped shape another prominent analyst’s assertion that the details of the Aug. 21 attack implicated the Syrian government.

Full Theodore Postol report

What’s puzzling, of course, is the apparent reluctance of the jihadists to use sarin gas against the Baathist troops now that they have the upper hand. Why haven’t there been any such attacks since August? It certainly can’t be a function of jihadist respect for humanitarian norms since we all know that they would slash the throat of a ten-year-old boy for not saying his prayers.

The answer to this is that the worst of the jihadists—the al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant—never had any intention of overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. Apparently their main goal is to create an Islamic state in northern Syria, even if it means killing other rebels that stand in their way. In an illuminating blog post on the N.Y. Review of Books website titled “How al-Qaeda Changed the Syrian War”, Sarah Birke makes all this quite clear:

In fact, while ISIS and Nusra share many aims, and both are well funded and trained, there are significant differences between the two groups. Jabhat al-Nusra stresses the fight against Assad, while ISIS tends to be more focused on establishing its own rule on conquered territory. Nusra has pursued a strategy of slowly building support for an Islamic state, while ISIS is far more ruthless, carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing sharia law immediately. And while Nusra, despite its large contingent of foreign fighters, is seen as a home-grown problem, Syrians at the border frequently described Da’ash as foreign “occupiers” in their country.

With such jihadists and the Baathists forming what amounts to a united front against those having the temerity to challenge their rival visions of an Islamic state or a family dynasty in the “secular, progressive” mold to employ the Orwellian discourse, one has to pose the question of where ISIS and the al-Nusra front [a somewhat less toxic brand] came from. Doha Hassan provided the answer in an article titled “ISIS is the child of the regime”:

According to numerous studies and reports, regime prisons are the womb that birthed the extremist Islamists who have become today’s leaders of ISIS, Nusra, and others.

Activist Maher Esper says: “I saw prisoners who were with me in the Saydnaya prison in most YouTube videos since the emergence of Nusra, ISIS, and other Islamic brigades.” Syrian regime forces arrested Esper in 2006 and sentenced him to seven years in prison, five of which were spent at the Saydnaya prison before he was encompassed in the presidential amnesty issued at the start of the revolution.

Esper asserts, “There’s a person I saw in a video in which fourteen Raqqa clans pledged allegiance to ISIS, he used to sleep on the bunk directly above mine. The regime released those individuals despite their involvement in murders, even in prison. All those I saw became members or leaders of ISIS (like Nadim Balous), al-Nusra (like Baha’ al-Bash), Jaysh al-Islam (like Zahran Alloush), Ahrar al-Sham (like Hassane Abboud), or Suqur al-Sham brigades (like Ahmad Issa al-Sheikh).”

So now the Baathists are free to use any weaponry at their disposal to crush the revolution, now that they are safely within Obama’s red line. An attack on Aleppo should give you  a flavor for the military tactics of this “secular, progressive” regime:

Syrian government forces continued their bombing campaign in the northern city Aleppo on Saturday, with a single strike in a crowded vegetable market killing at least 21 people, activists and residents said.

Activists in Aleppo said that more than 400 people had been killed in nearly two weeks of airstrikes and barrages of improvised “barrel bombs” packed with explosives that are dropped from low altitudes by helicopters.

The N.Y. Times was not explicit enough. It is not just explosives that are in these barrel bombs. They also contain chunks of steel meant to maim over a wide area. Dropping one on a crowded vegetable market is a war crime, but nothing new for the Baathists. They have also dropped napalm on a school playground, killing more than 10 kids and horribly burning many others.

History will judge those leftists harshly who stood by basically giving their benediction to such attacks on the basis of the need to rally around the “axis of good”. It is the equivalence of cheering Franco’s bombing of Guernica.

One of these days I might get around to reading Sven Lindqvist’s “A History of Bombing” that explores the origins of aerial bombardment and its gradual acceptance by “civilized” nations. In 1910 the Italian officer Giulio Douhet wrote a book on the problems of air power. Two years later he was made chief of the newly formed air squadron in Torino. A year later he and Gianni Caproni, an aeronautical engineer who figures heavily in “The Wind Rises”, built the first heavy bomber. When WWI broke out, Douhet became famous for complaining about the way the war was being carried out and campaigned for aerial bombardment from his tri-motor bomber. What was the reaction of the general staff of the Italian army to this proposal? They relieved Douhet of his duties and court-martialed him.

A fanciful rendition of the Douhet/Caproni bomber in “The Wind Rises”

The actual bomber with Carmoni at the helm

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