Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 19, 2013

Cuban press spreads rightwing garbage

Filed under: cuba,Syria — louisproyect @ 12:36 am

Michael Maloof, the rightwing lunatic who Cuba takes seriously

9/19 Update:

But who is Maloof? According to a Mother Jones investigation, he’s a man with a dubious past who helped spread misinformation about Iraq in 2003, misinformation that ultimately helped make the case to go to war:

Maloof, a former aide to (Richard Perle) in the 1980s Pentagon, was twice stripped of his high-level security clearances‚ — once in late 2001 and, again,[in the spring of 2003], for various infractions. Maloof was also reportedly involved in a bizarre scheme to broker contacts between Iraqi officials and the Pentagon, channeled through Perle, in what one report called a “rogue [intelligence] operation” outside official CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency channels.

full: http://www.interpretermag.com/russian-media-conspiracy-theories-and-reading-comprehension-issues/

* * * *

A couple of days ago I returned a bunch of books on Cuba that I was going to use for a continuation of a rebuttal to Sam Farber’s new book. But I have grown so disgusted with Cuba’s continued support for Bashar al-Assad’s killing machine that I have lost motivation.

After I ejected Walter Lippmann, the moderator of the Cuba News mailing list on Yahoo, from Marxmail for refusing to engage with the list on other than his foreign minister without portfolio for Cuba basis, he continued on the Greenleft Yahoo mailing list without skipping a beat.

He just crossposted this:

Washington Was Aware Syrian Extremists Had Chemical Weapons

Washington, Sep 18 (Prensa Latina) The United States knew that Islamic extremists who are trying to overthrow the Syrian government possessed chemical weapons, Michael Maloof, a former Pentagon official, revealed today.

Maloof told the press that Al Qaeda and Al-Nusra – the armed branch of Al Qaeda in Syria – possess large amounts of sarin gas, a product that entered the country through Turkey and Iraq.

read full

It is a shame that Cuba lacks the honesty and the insight to identify the source of Maloof’s “revelation”. It comes from WND, that used to be called World Net Daily.

Maloof’s article can be read at http://www.wnd.com/2013/09/truth-leaking-out-nerve-gas-points-to-rebels/. It is basically a reprise of the Ray McGovern horseshit that Rush Limbaugh was touting to his mouth-breathing audience. Wnd.com is a hotbed of Obama birther and 911 truther conspiracy theories, as well as truly nasty rightwing propaganda.

How in fuck’s name does Cuba, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Maloof, and the newspaper launched by a crypto-fascist like Joseph Farah end up in bed together? Check the salon.com piece on WND at http://www.salon.com/2011/04/11/joseph_farah_wnd_misinformation/ to get a flavor of how scummy it is, filthier than the toilet in “Trainspotting”.

Here’s one of the more edifying items on Cuba that can be read on World News Daily. You can’t make this shit up:

http://www.wnd.com/2002/02/12859/

This weekend’s “Sunday Q&A” feature on WorldNetDaily takes a look at “The Secret Fidel Castro,” as talk-radio host Geoff Metcalf interviews author Servando Gonzalez.

“The Secret Fidel Castro: Deconstructing the Symbol” is neither a history of the Cuban revolution nor a biography of Castro. Rather, the book was written following what intelligence services call a CPP (Comprehensive Personality Profile), similar to the ones intelligence services keep on foreign leaders. It focuses on aspects of Castro’s actions and personality that have been either ignored, misunderstood or misrepresented.

From 1959 to 1963, Gonzales was a political officer in the Cuban army. He participated in the Bay of Pigs operations, the Cuban missile crisis, the anti-guerilla actions in the Escambray Mountains and other military operations.

Gonzalez addresses the issues of Castro’s charisma and staying power.

“I don’t think you can explain these strange uncanny abilities by charisma alone. It’s more than that. It is something that has no rational explanation. Hitler had the same faculties, as did Charlie Manson. … You cannot define what is their power. When he went to the Soviet Union – Castro does not speak Russian – the phenomenon was exactly the same. How can you explain that? I have no idea. But he has some power,” Gonzalez tells Metcalf.

September 16, 2013

A guide for the perplexed on Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:42 pm

Leftists trying to figure Syria out

From the very beginning my interest in Syria has been focused on what was taking place inside the country rather than on the Great Game that absorbed Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and Pepe Escobar. If your point of departure is that there is some kind of global chess game in which a pawn might have to be sacrificed for the sake of a checkmate, then naturally you will be willing to see Bashar al-Assad’s enemies vanquished no matter the justice of their cause. One supposes that in order to avoid the cognitive dissonance associated with an approach more Metternich than Marx, the global chess game left tended to avoid reading or mentioning any literature that put the rebels in a favorable light. Instead, every single misstep was seized upon to make it seem that they were a Taliban-like threat to a secular and progressive regime even though with somewhat naughty authoritarian tendencies.

I am sure that those who continue in this vein will have little use for the material outlined below, all of which is available online, but for those sitting on the fence or simply curious this might prove useful:

Reports from the mainstream media:

1. Anand Gopal

Gopal wrote an extremely important article for the August 2012 Harper’s Magazine titled “Welcome to Free Syria” based on his visit to the northern town of Taftanaz. I heard Gopal speak at the last Left Forum and can assure you that he is a man of the left. Here is a passage from the article:

All around Taftanaz, amid the destruction, rebel councils like this were meeting—twenty-seven in all, and each of them had elected a delegate to sit on the citywide council. They were a sign of a deeper transformation that the revolution had wrought in Syria: Bashar al-Assad once subdued small towns like these with an impressive apparatus of secret police, party hacks, and yes-men; now such control was impossible without an occupation. The Syrian army, however, lacked the numbers to control the hinterlands—it entered, fought, and moved on to the next target. There could be no return to the status quo, it seemed, even if the way forward was unclear.

In the neighboring town of Binnish, I visited the farmers’ council, a body of about a thousand members that set grain prices and adjudicated land disputes. Its leader, an old man I’ll call Abdul Hakim, explained to me that before the revolution, farmers were forced to sell grain to the government at a price that barely covered the cost of production. Following the uprising, the farmers tried to sell directly to the town at almost double the former rates. But locals balked and complained to the citywide council, which then mandated a return to the old prices—which has the farmers disgruntled, but Hakim acknowledged that in this revolution, “we have to give to each as he needs.”

2. Anthony Shadid

Shadid, who died from an asthma attack in Syria in 2012, was the NY Times chief correspondent on the Arab Spring. I can recommend nearly everything he wrote but most of all the May 10, 2011 article titled “Syrian Elite to Fight Protests to ‘the End’”. Focused on Bashar al-Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, one of Syria’s richest men, Shadid points out that “Mr. Makhlouf represents broader changes afoot in the country. His very wealth points to the shifting constellation of power in Syria, as the old alliance of Sunni Muslim merchants and officers from Mr. Makhlouf’s Alawite clan gives way to descendants of those officers benefiting from lucrative deals made possible by reforms that have dismantled the public sector.” He also quotes Makhlouf’s fairly direct statement that Israel has a keen interest in seeing Bashar al-Assad succeed: “If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel.”

I also strongly recommend the September 4, 2011 article titled “Syria’s Sons of No One“. It might not reassure the Marxist purists who genuflect to Bashar al-Assad but it makes sense to me:

“Until now, we’re in a huge prison,” Abdullah said. “For 50 years, this society has been closed. Do you think there are people having conversations with the intellectuals? Do you think there’s freedom of expression? Ideas for politics?” He continued: “How do I ask someone who was sitting in prison all his life, with all the windows closed, about these things? All he knows how to do is cry and say, ‘Oh, God!’ when someone beats him.” He drew the metaphor out further. The prisoner was banging on the wall, clanging on the door, and the West, even amid all this tumult, was asking what it meant. “Do you want an Islamic state or a civil state?” he said. “What does it even mean? The prisoner just wants to get out.”

Iyad offered, “There is a volcano here.”

Abdullah nodded in agreement. “The people don’t know what they want, other than freedom,” he said. “They want to get rid of this ruler, stop the corruption, end the bribes and no longer have to live under repression and the security forces. Let’s get rid of this ruler, then we can build institutions, then we can build parties, we can build awareness, and then we can figure out exactly what we want. Under the bullets, we can’t talk about the future.”

3. Rania Abouzeid

On April 23, 2013, she reported on Raqqa for the New Yorker Magazine in an article titled “A Black Flag in Raqqa”, a reference to the Islamic flag that the jihadists had raised in the city they just seized control of over the objections of many of its residents. The article is useful as a guide to the tensions between the grass roots movement and the well-armed guerrillas who rely more on strength of arms than political persuasion to achieve victories. She writes:

For the next few hours, the men engaged in a combative and highly charged discussion. It was about the black banner, but more than that about the direction the Syrian uprising has taken. The men of the house feared that it had been hijacked by Islamists, led by Jabhat al-Nusra, who saw the fall of the regime as the first step in transforming Syria’s once-cosmopolitan society into a conservative Islamic state. All four men said they wanted an Islamic state, but a moderate one.

A few days earlier, a massive black flag bearing the shahada had been hoisted atop a flagpole in Raqqa city’s main square, in front of the elegant, multi-arched governorate building. “We will become a target for American drone attacks because of the flag—it’s huge,” said Abu Noor, a wiry young man who worked in a pharmacy by day and at night volunteered to guard the post office near his home against looters. “They’ll think we’re extremist Muslims!” (There haven’t been such strikes in Syria yet, though the possibility is much discussed here.)

Scholarly articles:

1. Bassam Haddad

Haddad is the editor of Jadilayya.com, an important source of scholarly analysis of MENA (Middle East and North Africa). In the Spring 2012 MERIP journal, he wrote a piece titled “The Syrian Regime’s Business Backbone” that was much stronger on the class composition of the ruling class than the masses but still quite necessary reading. Haddad has spoken at the Brecht Forum in N.Y. and seems fairly left in his orientation, although I suspect that he has been bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Baathists to carry out reforms. He argues along the same lines as Anthony Shahid:

By the late 1990s, the business community that the Asads had created in their own image had transformed Syria from a semi-socialist state into a crony capitalist state par excellence. The economic liberalization that started in 1991 had redounded heavily to the benefit of tycoons who had ties to the state or those who partnered with state officials. The private sector outgrew the public sector, but the most affluent members of the private sector were state officials, politicians and their relatives. The economic growth registered in the mid-1990s was mostly a short-lived bump in consumption, as evidenced by the slump at the end of the century. Growth rates that had been 5-7 percent fell to 1-2 percent from 1997 to 2000 and beyond.

2. Housam Darwisheh

He is a Syrian academic now based in Japan. His paper “From authoritarianism to upheaval : the political economy of the Syrian uprising and regime persistence” can be read here. Among the points made in his article is the environmental backdrop of the crisis that led to the uprising:

Climate change also unexpectedly eroded the legitimacy of the regime. Waves of drought caused severe rural poverty and sparked massive rural-urban migration, generating unprecedented polarization between urban and rural areas and between the haves and have-nots, a situation that did not exist in Syria before. A demographic transition shaped by rapid urbanization and internal migration, exacerbated by streams of refugees from Iraq, put further pressure on the state’s ability to provide services such as housing, clean water and health. Whereas large cities such as Damascus and Aleppo with relatively developed infrastructure could absorb waves of migrants, underdeveloped cities, such as Dar’a, Hama and Homs, suffered deterioration of already poor conditions.

3. Raymond Hinnebusch

He is the author of “Syria: Revolution from Above” and many other books on the Middle East. His article titled “Syria: from ‘authoritarian upgrading’ to revolution?” can be read here. He is mainly interested in examining class relations in Syria:

The reformists, in practice, focused on making Syria a centre of banking, tourism and cross-regional trade, turning it into a version of Lebanon. Invest- ment was predominantly in tertiary sectors, as Gulf capital has little interest in manufacturing: up to $20 billion was invested in luxury housing and hotels. The absence of rule of law deterred long-term productive investment in industry and agriculture and the return of much of Syria’s enormous expatriate capital. Only 13 per cent of investment after 2000 was in manufacturing, while a flood of cheap imports allowed by trade liberalization drove small manufacturers and micro- enterprises out of business; indeed, reduced tariff protections for industry served as an incentive for investment and entrepreneurship to move from industry into trade. The economy grew at a rate of 5 per cent in 2006 and 4 per cent in 2007 and 2008, and while this enriched the crony capitalists around the regime and the treasury managed to extract a share as well, it did not provide nearly enough jobs to compensate for cuts in public employment and little of it ‘trickled down’ to ordinary people.

Syrian voices:

1. Nader Atassi

He is a young Syrian from Homs now living in the USA who blogs at http://darthnader.net/. He is a self-described anarchist whose commitment to the revolutionary cause in Syria speaks more to his understanding of class than a hundred apologists for al-Assad speaking in the name of Marxist orthodoxy. In fact the more I hear from such people, the more I think that their Marxism owes more to Stalin than any Marxist I value. He was interviewed recently at Truthout, where he stated:

In the city of Darayya in the suburbs of Damascus, where the regime has waged a vicious battle ever since it fell to rebels in November 2012, some residents have decided to come together and create a newspaper in the midst of all the fighting, called Enab Baladi (meaning Local Grapes, as Darayya is famous for its grapes). Their paper focuses both on what is happening locally in Darayya and what is happening in the rest of Syria. It’s printed and distributed for free throughout the city. [The] principles [of] self-governance, autonomy, mutual aid and cooperation are present in a lot of the organizations within the uprising. The organizations that operate according to some of those principles obviously don’t comprise the totality of the uprising. There are reactionary elements, sectarian elements, imperialist elements. But we’ve heard about that a lot, haven’t we? There are people doing great work based on sound principles who deserve our support.

2. Joseph Daher

He is a member of the Syrian revolutionary Left and a PhD student at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland who blogs at http://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/. He was on the same panel as Anand Gopal at the last Left Forum, calling in through Skype. I find him among the more reliable and inspiring voices from Syria. On September 8th he spoke about the determination of ordinary Syrians to create democratic institutions both in opposition to the regime and to the jihadists:

In the neighborhood of Bustan Qasr, in Aleppo, the local population has protested numerous times to denounce the actions of the Sharia Council of Aleppo, which gathers many islamist groups. On 23 August for instance, the protesters of Bustan Qasr, while condemning the massacre through chemical weapons committed by the regime against people in Eastern Ghouta, were also calling for the liberation of the famous activist Abu Maryam, once more jailed by the Sharia Council of Aleppo. They continue until today to demand his release. At the end of June 2013, in the same neighborhood, the activists hailed “go f*c* yourself Islamic council,” protesting the repressive and authoritarian politics of the latter. Popular outrage was also expressed following the assassination by foreign jihadists belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group (ISIS) of a 14-year old boy, who allegedly made a blasphemous comment in a joke referring to Prophet Mohammad. A protest was organized by the popular committee of Bustan Qasr against the Islamic council and the islamist groups. Activists hailed “what a shame, what a shame, the revolutionaries became shabiha,” and compared the Islamic council to the Syrian regime’s secret police, a clear allusion to their authoritarian practices.

3. Robin Yassin-Kassab

Robin is a novelist who blogs at http://qunfuz.com. “Aziz’s Story” is his latest post:

Why did Selemiyyeh rise? For the same basic reason as the rest of Syria – in reaction against the terrible decades-long oppression of the Assad regime. Here, as illustration, is Aziz’s personal story.

When he was 19 he was a student of Information Systems Engineering, as eager as any of his townsmen to earn academic qualifications. He was also a young man with a passion for aeroplanes. When he met an Iraqi ex-pilot he was spurred to research and write a long article on the role of air power in the Iran-Iraq war. He managed to publish the article in “Avions”, a specialist magazine in France.

That was his mistake. He thinks something in the article must have upset the Iranians, Assad’s closest allies. He was arrested and tried for the crimes of “seeking to undermine national unity, and the disclosure of military information.” He was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment. After the first year, and after paying a thousand-dollar bribe, his parents were able to pay him a two-minute visit. During this agonisingly brief encounter they were insulted by the guards, but at least they knew their son was alive.

Get it? Two and a half years for writing an article on air power in the Iran-Iraq war. How the “anti-imperialist” left can rally around a government capable of such depraved action is a mystery beyond comprehension.

4. Anonymous

This is an article by a young man who I got to know fairly well through conversations over Skype for more than a year: http://syrianfreedomls.tumblr.com/post/54663959595/a-story-untold-from-syria

What Marxists say:

1. Hassan Khaled Chatila

Interestingly enough, an interview with him appeared originally on the Kasama website, no doubt a function of Chatila’s affiliation with what was likely a Maoist group called the Communist Action Party. I am not sure the article disappeared inadvertently after they moved to a new format or else they decided that it clashed too much with their “line” on Syria that resembles the PSL’s or Counterfire’s. Fortunately, you can still read the interview at Links. Chatila’s article appeared at the very start of the uprising. He writes:

The revolt is not generalised across the country and society. It is more like a series of neighbourhood uprisings than a centralised revolution. The main actors so far have been educated youth and unemployed youth seeking access to modernity.

Industrial workers take part as individuals, but many of the people in the streets are what I would call lumpen proletariat, people who are unemployed or without regular jobs, who have to live as best they can. They work a few days here and there, mainly in services for the bourgeoisie, as maids, porters, doormen, etc. They have no social security or other benefits. The other component of this movement comes from the lower middle class, especially young unemployed university graduates. About 20 per cent of young graduates are unemployed. They can’t get married because they have to live with their parents, due to both unemployment and the severe housing shortage.

I would not use the word lumpen myself but agree with the underlying thrust of the analysis, namely that the prime actors are in the informal economy, which was the case in Nicaragua in the 1980s. These are the people that Mike Davis wrote about in “Planet of Slums”. One imagines that much of the left is ready to throw such Syrians under the bus because they are not coal miners or steel workers carrying lunch pails to their job, with copies of a sectarian newspaper under the arm. Once you are ready to dispense with such fantasies, the authors and articles cited here would be a good place to begin getting grounded in reality.

2. Yassir Mounif

There is an interview with this young academic who received his PhD from a Lebanese university in a recent issue of International Viewpoint, the magazine of the Mandelista Fourth International.  He just returned from Syria and offers these observations:

I think that the left has a real task ahead of it. It has to really formulate a new position, a more coherent position. A position where one can be at the same time against the war and also against dictatorship. And as long as they don’t do that, I think that they won’t have any kind of credibility. People in Syria will see that as almost a license to kill because the Syrian regime has been actually broadcasting those demonstrations on Syrian State TV, showing how much it is popular in the West and that people are demonstrating in the streets of New York and other cities showing those pictures of Asad. Actually the Syrian regime is not even able to organize such demonstrations or rallies in Syria, so it was very happy to see that emerging in many parts. And many of the people who are demonstrating actually don’t know anything about the reality that Syrians are living, and their struggles, and their fights, and their everyday resistance, and what they’re trying to build, and the creativity in what they’re doing.

3, Michael Karadjis

Although I used to have violent debates with him about Yugoslavia, I find myself in awe of his ability to grasp the complexities of the Syrian revolution. He is a long-time member of the Australian group called the Socialist Alliance that started out over forty years ago as a clone of the American SWP. They have gotten sharper as they have gotten older, while the SWP has gone into orbit around the lost planet of Zyglish in the Merxandor galaxy. Here is a passage from Karadjis’s “Is there ‘a US war on Syria’? The Syrian uprising, the Assad regime, the US and Israel”. It is a direct challenge to the prevailing “wisdom” that the FSA must only get its weapons from sources vetted by the “anti-imperialist” left that has no problems with MIG’s firing S25 missiles, each carrying 400 pounds of TNT, into apartment buildings in Homs or Aleppo.

In the meantime, it is important to stress that it is the regime that is imposing a “military solution” on a massive scale; in such circumstances the FSA has the right to get arms for self-defence from whoever it wants. Blaming whatever tiny trickle of arms the FSA gets for continuing military conflict is simply stating that the FSA should commit suicide in order to achieve the peace of the graveyard. To begin to ever-so-slightly equalising the fire power of the two sides – with the regime still absolutely dominant[1] – does not mean advocating a military solution. It just means people have the right to protect themselves against getting blasted to bits. It may even strengthen the possibilities for a negotiated solution, which at present Assad has no reason to consider.

4. Corey Oakley

Oakley is a member of Socialist Alternative in Australia, a group that comes out of the “state capitalist” tradition and that is having talks about possible merger with Karadjis’s group. Needless to say, Syria will not be one of the sticking points. In “The left, imperialism and the Syrian revolution”, Oakley writes:

Prominent British leftists Tariq Ali and George Galloway have come out stridently in opposition to the insurrectionary aims of the uprising, claiming that the revolution has been taken over by reactionaries and arguing that a negotiated settlement with the regime is the only answer. Ali, in an interview with Russia Today, said the choice was between a “Western imposed regime, composed of sundry Syrians who work for the Western intelligence agencies…or the Assad regime.” Galloway, the left populist MP best known as a campaigner against the Iraq war, goes even further, denouncing the Syrian resistance for not accepting the peace plan advanced by the UN.

Much of this left-agonising about the Syrian revolt reflects the legacy of Stalinism, which led many to identify leftism with various despotic but “anti-imperialist” regimes that opposed the West and oppressed their own people in equal measure. But others on the left not weighed down by the legacy of Stalinism echo Galloway’s attitude over Syria. John Rees, until a few years ago a leading member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, wrote last month that he was in “broad agreement” with Galloway and Ali.

Sad but true.

September 15, 2013

The neocon’s spirit possesses the left

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 1:25 pm

Perhaps most disturbing of all, some have attempted to “apply” the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the Syrian situation, or at least read the latter through the lens of the former. It has evidently escaped this group that the very same discourse at the core of George W. Bush’s ideological mantra has been reconstructed to the letter by the Syrian regime and its allies. It has gotten to the point that you can find a full sentence from one of Bush’s speeches on the war against terror in the mouth of either Hizbollah’s Secretary-General (who, at long last, is obsessed with the “takfiris”), or select leaders of the secular Arab left. In the name of resistance to the military strike, the Bush discourse thus flutters between lines spoken by leftists who fought the Iraqi invasion tooth and nail. Perhaps the neoconservatives’ spirit has finally possessed them.

Read full: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/14157/sleeping-with-the-enemy_the-global-left-and-the-no

September 14, 2013

Buyer’s remorse over the Arab Spring

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:37 pm

tariq

Tariq Ali: not happy with the way things turned out

I was struck by the recent bumper crop of articles complaining about the way things have turned out in the Middle East, a state of affairs most frequently alluded to as the Arab Winter. I imagine that the authors must feel a lot like I did when my thirteenth birthday arrived. When I unwrapped a long rectangular box, it turned out to be a badminton set and not the BB gun I had been expecting. What a bummer.

Going through them in no particular order, Tariq Ali’s “Tariq Ali: What Is A Revolution?” sets the rueful tone. One by one, Ali examines Egypt, Libya and Syria only to conclude that they fail his acid test:

I’ve argued against the position that mass uprisings on their own constitute a revolution, i.e., a transfer of power from one social class (or even a layer) to another that leads to fundamental change. The actual size of the crowd is not a determinant—members of a crowd become a revolution only when they have, in their majority, a clear set of social and political aims.

Not to dwell on the prose style of a man who occupies such a lofty post at Verso, but how exactly would “members of a crowd” ever become a revolution? Isn’t this a rather confusing formulation? More ungainly prose follows: “The notion that the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) is the carrier of a Syrian revolution is as risible as the idea that the Brotherhood was doing the same in Egypt.” Doesn’t Ali review his prose? I guess that once you become a big macher like him or Woody Allen, you tend to rest on your laurels. My only advice to Ali is not to let himself fall asleep.

The article concludes with these portentous words: “Meanwhile, back at home, Obama is promising Republicans that he will facilitate regime change.” Really? I must have missed something. Oh well, the Ali/Fisk/Cockburn school of Mideast journalism is as reliable as a stopped clock. Maybe one day Obama will put the head of the SNC in charge of Syria but it certainly won’t be anybody like the last one who said “Iran’s possession of nuclear capabilities poses no threat to any Sunni but it will be a formidable deterrent to the evil powers that are rushing madly upon the Muslim World.”

Then we have Hugh Roberts’s piece in the latest London Review of Books titled “The Revolution That Wasn’t”. At least the writing is more lucid than Ali’s. The ideas of course are another matter entirely.

Roberts reviews four books about the Arab Spring that reinforce the idea that there were no revolutions at all. Focused mostly on Egypt, Roberts advises his readers:

We shouldn’t reduce 11 February 2011 to a coup. It wasn’t a revolution, but it wasn’t just a coup either. It was a popular rising that lost the initiative because it had no positive agenda or demand. ‘Bread, freedom, social justice’ aren’t political demands, just aspirations and slogans.

Oh well, time to toss my copy of Leon Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution” into the garbage bin of history. Roberts’s main complaint besides the lack of a “positive agenda” was the inadequacy of the young professionals and students who spearheaded the protests in Tahrir Square, many of whom eventually hooked up with Tamarrod, the group that collected signatures to remove Morsi.

But not all is lost, as Roberts assures his readers: “The return with a vengeance of the Egyptian army to the centre of government doesn’t, as some have suggested, mean the advent of Mubarakism without Mubarak, since the extreme autonomy of the presidency is no more – this will be true even if Sisi takes the job.” Whew, that’s a relief.

Maybe things were never that bad under Mubarak since we are reminded that during his reign “the press in particular was generally lively, with room for a wide spectrum of opinion, including plenty of criticism of the government.”

Roberts, like Ali and just about every other member in good standing of the Arab Winter club, was sad to see Qaddafi go. He penned an article for LRB last November titled “Who said Gaddafi had to go?” that was a litany of complaints about how bad things turned out. I urge you to read the article but also the letter that a Libyan wrote in reply. It starts as follows:

Only a Libyan who has lived all his life in Gaddafi’s Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriyya is in a position to point out the many things that Hugh Roberts gets wrong.

Roberts puts Libyans’ per capita income at $12,000. I don’t know where he gets this figure. What I do know, as a Libyan civil servant of more than 15 years, is that the income of the average grade-six government sector employee is 150 Libyan dinars – hardly $100 a month or $1200 a year. A grade-nine employee earns no more than $3000 a year. It isn’t true that Libyans were ‘well fed, housed and schooled’. I remember as a young child in the 1980s having to stand in exhaustingly long queues in front of the state-owned outlet to get the family’s monthly ration of basic food supplies. Good housing and good schooling are unknown to the vast majority of Libyan citizens, who have had to live for generations in the same house and to study in school buildings unfit even for keeping cattle.

You can go here to read the letters, including one from Brian Slocock who dismantled Musa al-Gharbi and ST McNeil’s Counterpunch article alleging that Christians were really the victims of the chemical weapons attack in East Ghouta, not Sunni opponents of the Baathists. You can see the exchange between Slocock and al-Gharbi here.

Going from the not quite sublime to the truly ridiculous, there’s Slavoj Zizek’s piece in the September 6 Guardian titled “Syria is a pseudo-struggle.” Unlike Roberts, Zizek is much less disappointed by the way things turned out in Egypt, so much so that he uses it as a cudgel to beat the Syrians, who lacked “a strong radical-emancipatory opposition whose elements were clearly perceptible in Egypt.” He warns that Syria will turn into “another Afghanistan” if al-Assad is overthrown. He poses the question: “So will the US repeat their Afghanistan mistake of arming the future al-Qaida and Taliban cadres?” I hope that Zizek can reach Obama in time to warn him. With rumors blazing over the plans that Obama has to equip the al-Nusrah Front with B-52’s, time’s a wastin’.

The one thing that you can say about “Good Wars, Real or Imagined”, Freddie de Boer’s blog article on the Jacobin website, is that it does not plumb the depths of stupidity found in the others referred to above. Maybe there’s an inverse relationship between your “intellectual capital” and the crap you put out. Unlike Zizek, the Elvis superstar of Marxism according to the Verso publicists, de Boer is a humble graduate student who is far more careful about what he writes. That, of course, comes naturally when you are working on a dissertation.

Framed as a critique of liberal hawks, de Boer’s piece acknowledges that “liberal support for intervention in Syria has been nowhere near as common or as angry as that for war on Iraq.“ That is, of course, until recently with the uproar over the “red line” ultimatum. No surprise there. Unlike what occurred during the Balkan wars, the FSA does not exactly get the kind of press that Muslims got in Bosnia or Kosovo. If the New York Review of Books was falling all over itself 20 years ago on behalf of the poor souls in Sarajevo, nowadays there is nothing about Homs or Aleppo. When it does print an article about Syria, it is something like David Bromwich’s “Stay out of Syria” that accepts the dreadful Carla del Ponte’s assurances that it has been the rebels using sarin gas.

But the biggest chuckle I got out of de Boer’s article was this:

This is all simply to say that civil wars tend to result in chaos and atrocity regardless of who won, and that great powers merely choose winners, and that the short-term requirements of politics have nothing whatsoever to do with the long-term good of actual people.

Funny that a magazine called Jacobin does not appreciate the irony of such a Burkean reflection. In his 1790 “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, Edmund Burke wrote:

I should therefore suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France, until I was informed how it had been combined with government, with public force, with the discipline and obedience of armies, with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue, with morality and religion, with solidity and property, with peace and order, with civil and social manners. All these (in their way) are good things, too; and without them, liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and is not likely to continue long.

This essentially reflects the mood of the authors under consideration here, despite any protestations to the contrary. We are dealing with four men who refuse to understand that when people are crushed by tyrannies, they often react in the most “irrational” and impulsive manner with little regard to how their actions might pan out.

More to the point, all revolutions have turned out badly, let along prerevolutionary outbursts of the kind that amount to the Middle East’s 1905–a kind of dress rehearsal. What planet is Tariq Ali living on? The French Revolution unleashed a reign of terror; the Russian Revolution did so as well. The social and economic gains of the French Revolution took most of a century to win. As late as 1871 the armed rebels embarked on an adventure that left them far worse off than before they started. Russia was in the eyes of many Marxists, Kautsky in particular, an exercise in futility. The forces of production had not ripened. Hadn’t Lenin understood?

My suggestion to these good people is to remember what Zhou Enlai once said about the impact of the French Revolution. His reply? “It is too soon to tell.” Now it turns out that he was being asked about the May-June events of 1968 but no matter. There are lots of former enragés who still feel that it was worth all the turmoil even if there was no revolution. Once upon a time I would have included Tariq Ali among them. Now I am not so sure.

Fred Katz, Who Married Cello to Jazz, Dies at 94

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 3:42 pm

NY Times September 12, 2013

By

Fred Katz, a classically trained cellist who quite by accident helped elevate his instrument to unlikely stardom in jazz, died on Saturday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 94.

His son, Hyman, confirmed the death.

Mr. Katz, best known for his long association with the Chico Hamilton Quintet, was also a pianist who accompanied Lena Horne, a composer who wrote songs for Frankie Laine and film scores for Roger Corman, an arranger who worked with Carmen McRae, and a retired professor of anthropology.

In the mid-1950s, when Mr. Hamilton, a drummer, founded his quintet, the cello was a marginal figure in the jazz world. A few jazz bassists, like Oscar Pettiford, sometimes doubled on cello, typically plucking its strings (a technique known as pizzicato), just as they did on the bass.

But jazz had been home to few if any musicians who were cellists first — and who, as often as not, played the instrument using the bow, much as they would in classical music.

Mr. Katz joined the Hamilton quintet primarily as a pianist, playing the cello only on ballads. Between sets, he often took his cello and sat onstage alone, playing a classical work like an unaccompanied Bach suite.

One night, playing between sets at a small club in Long Beach, Calif., Mr. Katz, his eyes closed in reverie, did not realize that his bandmates had crept back onstage. The stage was tiny and crowded, and by the time the band swung into an up-tempo number and he realized what had happened, he could no longer get to the piano.

So he stayed where he was, cello in hand, and played along — and with that the group had its new sound, and went on to become one of the most popular in jazz.

Frederick Katz was born on Feb. 25, 1919, in Brooklyn and reared in the Williamsburg section there. A prodigy on both the cello and the piano, he was performing in public by the time he was a teenager. As a young man he was a cello student of Pablo Casals and a member of the National Symphony Orchestra.

But Mr. Katz found himself attracted increasingly to the jazz he had heard in the Manhattan nightclubs he had haunted as a youth. A Communist as a young man — for him, art, spirituality and progressive politics formed a seamless, imperative whole — he was also deeply drawn to folk music.

“The Communist Party in those days, we used to do hootenannies,” he said in a 2007 interview with “All Things Considered” on NPR. “And that was part of the radical movement, to bring back American folk poetry. We really were terrific that way.”

During World War II, Mr. Katz was an entertainment director with the Seventh Army in Germany, conducting concerts and writing arrangements for musical revues. Afterward he moved to the West Coast and turned his attention to popular music.

As a pianist, Mr. Katz accompanied Horne and Vic Damone. As an arranger and conductor, he was responsible for McRae’s 1958 album, “Carmen for Cool Ones.” As a composer, he wrote several songs sung by Laine, including “Satan Wears a Satin Gown,” written with Laine and with Jacques Wilson.

He wrote music for a slew of Mr. Corman’s sanguinary low-budget films, including “The Wasp Woman” (1959), “A Bucket of Blood” (1959) and “The Little Shop of Horrors” (1960).

“I hated every picture that Corman did, but you’ve got to be a professional about this,” Mr. Katz said in a 2008 interview.

Mr. Katz’s great facility on the cello, combined with its capacious range of tone and pitch (its lowest note is two octaves below middle C, its highest more than two octaves above it), made his cello a singular sonic addition to the Chico Hamilton Quintet.

The quintet appeared in the movies “Sweet Smell of Success” (1957), with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, and “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” (1960), Bert Stern’s documentary about the Newport Jazz Festival.

An autodidact who left high school before graduating, Mr. Katz held faculty appointments at California State University, Northridge, and Cal State, Fullerton, teaching world music, anthropology and religion. He was a longtime Fullerton resident.

His albums as an orchestrator and conductor include “Folk Songs for Far Out Folk,” originally recorded in 1958. Rereleased in 2007 to wide attention, it features his adaptations of American, African and Hebraic folk music.

His recordings as a cellist include “Soul-o Cello” (1957) and “Fred Katz and His Jammers” (1958).

Mr. Katz’s wife, the former Lillian Drucker, whom he married in 1941, died in 1992; a daughter, Joyce Katz, also died before him. Besides his son, Mr. Katz’s survivors include a daughter, Marian Scatliffe, and five grandchildren.

Though he became renowned as a jazz improviser, Mr. Katz said he found it difficult at first to unlearn the classical approach in which he had long been steeped.

“You are so used to playing along, reading from the printed page,” he told The Boston Globe in 1989. “Then all of a sudden you come away from the page and you don’t know what to do.”

September 12, 2013

When truth is the first casualty of warfare

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:07 pm

Should we imitate this example?

You can include left journalism as part of the collateral damage from the August 20 chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs. Written to defend Syria against Obama’s war machine, a number of articles have failed to pass the smell test. There is a sense that the ends justify the means as someone put it in a Facebook discussion:

If someone wants to “write some bullshit that has as much basis in the evidence as 911 [“truther” theories],” that’s fine with me…Anything to obstruct a U.S. imperialist attack on Syria gets a green light with me.

Maybe I am the only person on the left that is not fine with telling lies to oppose American intervention. Sometimes I feel like Joe Buck in “Midnight Cowboy” who stops dead in his tracks when he spots a bum sprawled out unconscious or maybe dead on a NYC sidewalk as others pass by in total indifference. Why should I get worked up over a little white lie that gets Bashar al-Assad off the hook? Just move along, nothing to see here.

It takes a scorecard to keep track of the bullshit that has been paraded out to clear the Syrian president’s name but here’s a go at it.

1. No chemical weapons attack took place at all.

This was the word of Bashar al-Assad himself on the morning following the attack. It was only the combination of Youtube videos of convulsing victims and bodies piling up at local hospitals that made this story impossible to accept, although I am sure that if the Syrian president had continued to defend it, there would be many good leftists willing to take him at his word.

2. An attack took place but in Latakia, not the Damascus suburbs.

This was the claim made on September 6th by VoltaireNet, a 911 Truther site that views every revolt against the “axis of good” as a CIA “color revolution” plot. It repeats the obtuse Russian Foreign Minister’s misunderstanding of how Youtube videos are dated as “proof” that the attack could not have taken place in Ghouta. Instead the visual evidence that showed up on August 21 was of Alawite children kidnapped from Latakia by jihadists weeks earlier and then killed. VoltaireNet chief Thierry Meyssan is an old hand at sniffing out such skullduggery. When Chechen terrorists held Russian schoolchildren hostage at Beslan in 2004, Meyssan told the world that they were operating under the command of the CIA that sought control of Russian oil. You get the same sort of thing nowadays with the claim that Israeli oil exploration in the Golan Heights explained Obama’s “red line” ultimatum.

3. The rebels probably did it since Carla del Ponte found them guilty of doing it in the past.

Del Ponte’s authority as a UN official has been invoked in many articles but none with more clout than the one written by long-time National Lawyers Guild leaders Marjorie Cohn and Jeanne Mirer. They took the word of former international prosecutor and current UN commissioner on Syria Carla del Ponte, who “concluded that opposition forces used sarin gas against civilians” in May. This is the same del Ponte that was viewed 13 years ago by Alexander Cockburn and Jeff St. Clair as conducting a tribunal against Milosevic as if it were “an organ of NATO and not the United Nations.” This del Ponte eventually became even too much for her bosses at the Hague who brought charges against her for harassing, bribing, and mistreating witnesses as well as tampering with evidence. Now I have no idea how del Ponte became transformed from a typical “humanitarian intervention” supporter in the early 90s to someone now committed to promoting Syrian and Russian interests but her psychological/political evolution is of less interest to me than her overall credibility. If she told me that it was going to be beautiful day, I’d hunker down in my bathtub to protect myself against a level-5 tornado, the first ever in Manhattan. Why people at the Lawyers Guild would take her at her word is puzzling to say the least, but maybe they think the same way as my FB correspondent. It is contagious.

4. The rebels had an accident.

This was the conclusion of MintPress News reporters Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh. A well-known rebel they call “J” told them: “We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions.” You have to wonder if Moe, Shemp, and Larry had joined the FSA. No attempt is made to explain how the accident, which took place in a tunnel, could have impacted eight separate villages that left others within the general perimeter unharmed. It is as if someone broke a bottle of sarin in Greenwich Village and killed people in Times Square, while leaving Chelsea unharmed. That none of this makes sense has not prevented the article from going viral. Sadly, it probably helped.

5. The rebels did it but it was no accident.

As you might expect, it takes an ex-CIA agent like Ray McGovern to sell this version on the basis of inside information. He states:

There is a growing body of evidence from numerous sources in the Middle East — mostly affiliated with the Syrian opposition and its supporters — providing a strong circumstantial case that the August 21 chemical incident was a pre-planned provocation by the Syrian opposition and its Saudi and Turkish supporters… According to some reports, canisters containing chemical agent were brought into a suburb of Damascus, where they were then opened. Some people in the immediate vicinity died; others were injured.

In addition, we have learned that on August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors.

So basically this is the same story as Mint Press but unlike the negligent homicide version, we now have first-degree murder. One imagines that McGovern got his information by calling up one of his pals from the old boys network of current or former CIA spooks who are like the character Robert Redford played in “Three Days of the Condor”. Actually, the source of this fable has more in common with Danny DeVito’s Penguin as Muhammad Idrees Ahmad reported:

The sources for VIPS’ [a group led by Ray McGovern] most sensational claims, it turns out, are Canadian eccentric Michel Chossudovsky’s conspiracy site Global Research and far-right shock-jock Alex Jones’s Infowars. The specific article that Giraldi references carries the intriguing headline “Did the White House Help Plan the Syrian Chemical Attack?” (His answer, in case you wondered, is yes.) The author is one Yossef Bodansky—an Israeli-American supporter of Assad’s uncle Rifaat, who led the 1982 massacre in Hama. Bodansky’s theory was widely circulated after an endorsement from Rush Limbaugh. A whole paragraph from Bodansky’s article makes it into the VIPS letter intact, with only a flourish added at the end.

Giraldi references two more articles to substantiate his claim: one from Infowars and another from DailyKos. But both reference the same source, an obscure website called Mint Press which published an article claiming that Syrian rebels had accidentally set off a canister of Sarin supplied to them by the Saudis. The idea that an accident in one place would cause over a thousand deaths in 12 separate locations—with none affected in areas in between—somehow did not strike this intelligence veteran as implausible. But to its credit, Mint Press has since added a disclaimer: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified.”

What of VIPS’s “numerous sources in the Middle East,” then? It turns out they’re the same as Bodansky’s “numerous sources in the Middle East”—the sentence is plagiarized.

6. The attack was mounted by rebels but not against their own people as a “false flag” operation. Instead it was a military operation against Christians.

This is the argument put forward in an article by Musa al-Gharbi and ST McNeil titled—without a trace of irony–‘Flooding the Zone’ with Bullshit on Syria. While starting off giving the expected salute to Carla del Ponte and the Mint Press accident theory, they come up with something that is breathtakingly inventive:

Ghouta is home to a number of Christians, a population which is frequently targeted by al-Nusra and other extremist groups. That is, far from being a “rebel-held area,” those who died in the Ghouta attack were the type of people whom the rebels wish dead. They are exactly the sort of civilians whom the rebels have a history of targeting.

So you see, dear readers, there was never a “false flag” operation to begin with. The dead people were Christians who the rebels punished for backing Bashar al-Assad and rejecting Muhammad. So what if the suburbs were being shelled daily by the Baathist military? What do you expect from our authors, a coherent story? Don’t you know that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds?

My first reaction, silly me, was to check my usual sources to verify the story. (Although I play a fact-checker on the Internet, I am actually a professional actor.) I started with a search on “Christian” and “Ghouta” on Nexis, a database of newspaper articles going back 30 years or so. Nothing turned up there or in JSTOR. A search on Sunni instead of Christian did turn up something interesting in Nexis, however. Long before the chemical weapons attack, back on January 30, 2012 when the revolt was not even a year old, the Guardian reported that Ghouta was a stronghold of Sunni resistance to al-Assad:

The insurgency, which is raging in towns and cities across Syria – with further protests in Aleppo yesterday – has now reached the capital. The suburbs are made up of conservative Sunni Muslim towns, surrounded by countryside and farmland, known as the al-Ghouta.

The area has seen large demonstrations demanding the overthrow of Assad and his minority Alawite regime. The Alawite sect has traditionally dominated Syria’s government and armed forces.

One activist in Saqba suburb said mosques there had been turned into field hospitals and they were appealing for blood supplies.

“They cut off the electricity. Petrol stations are empty and the army is preventing people from leaving to get fuel for generators or heating,” he said.

I was so impressed with the audacity of Musa al-Gharbi and ST McNeil in concocting such a tale that I could not resist finding out a bit more about the two lads who are students at the University of Arizona and work with a campus-based think-tank called the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts (SISMEC). The director is Dr. Leila Hudson, a vigorous supporter of an American attack on Syria (“military intervention must be decisive.”) Among the academic board of advisers is one David Dunford, who worked in Baghdad as Senior Ministerial Liaison to Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You also have retired army Brigadier General John Adams who worked in military intelligence. But I guess my favorite is Charles Mink, “a former Army interrogator” whose research includes U.S. counterterrorism policy in the Mid East during the 21st Century. Although Mink struck a rueful note about failed policy objectives in Iraq, he told the student newspaper that he plans “to become an interrogation instructor working with U.S. allies in the Middle East after he graduates.”

So how do our two intrepid journalists fit into such a toxic stew? I have a theory. Hear me out. I was told by a source in Turkey (don’t tell anybody, but it was my brother-in-law Hasan who was in military intelligence 20 years ago but now is an agent for belly dancers) that Musa al-Gharbi and ST McNeil are actually on Mossad’s payroll, a couple of Jewish guys  whose real names are Aaron Goldstein and Myron Rabinowitz. Israel told them that in order to grease the slids for a war on Syria they had to come up with such a wild cock-and-bull story that it would discredit the antiwar movement and make Obama seem reasonable by comparison.

That’s my theory. If you don’t like it, go read some other blog. Who needs you?

Ray McGovern’s source? Plagiarized from Global Resarch’s toilet bowl

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 12:52 pm

The sources for VIPS’ [a group led by Ray McGovern] most sensational claims, it turns out, are Canadian eccentric Michel Chossudovsky’s conspiracy site Global Research and far-right shock-jock Alex Jones’s Infowars. The specific article that Giraldi references carries the intriguing headline “Did the White House Help Plan the Syrian Chemical Attack?” (His answer, in case you wondered, is yes.) The author is one Yossef Bodansky—an Israeli-American supporter of Assad’s uncle Rifaat, who led the 1982 massacre in Hama. Bodansky’s theory was widely circulated after an endorsement from Rush Limbaugh. A whole paragraph from Bodansky’s article makes it into the VIPS letter intact, with only a flourish added at the end.

Giraldi references two more articles to substantiate his claim: one from Infowars and another from DailyKos. But both reference the same source, an obscure website called Mint Press which published an article claiming that Syrian rebels had accidentally set off a canister of Sarin supplied to them by the Saudis. The idea that an accident in one place would cause over a thousand deaths in 12 separate locations—with none affected in areas in between—somehow did not strike this intelligence veteran as implausible. But to its credit, Mint Press has since added a disclaimer: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified.”

What of VIPS’s “numerous sources in the Middle East,” then? It turns out they’re the same as Bodansky’s “numerous sources in the Middle East”—the sentence is plagiarized.

full: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114676/syrias-chemical-weapons-assad-not-blame-say-truthers

 * * * *

So it would appear that the source of VIPS intelligence is not active CIA case officers speaking to old colleges like Ray McGovern, Philip Giraldi, Larry Johnson and Ann Wright on the q-t, it is Yossef Bodansky writing for the pro-Assad, pro-Qaddafi, pro-Russian website Global Research.

So who is Yossef Bodansky? David Kenner has done some interesting research there. What he’s come up with was published this week on Foreign Policy:

Bodansky is an ally of Bashar’s uncle, Rifaat al-Assad — he pushed him as a potential leader of Syria in 2005. Rifaat is the black sheep of the Assad family: He spearheaded the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, but then was forced into exile after he tried to seize power from his brother, President Hafez al-Assad, in 1983. Despite his ouster, however, Rifaat is just as hostile to a Sunni Islamist takeover as other members of the Assad family — a position Bodansky appears to share. Ending Alawite rule in Syria, Bodansky wrote on another pro-Assad website, “will cause cataclysmic upheaval throughout the greater Middle East.”

The implication is that the real source of VIPS’s intelligence is CIA operatives chatting it up with old pals. That is just their cover story. The real source of their information on how the opposition gassed over a thousand of its own people with Obama’s help is the Assad Mukhabarat, the Syrian Security Services.

Guess who else likes this Bodansky/VIPS conspiracy theory that blames the rebels and lets the Assad dictatorship off the hook? Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh! On 3 September 2013, Limbaugh told his audience:

“There is evidence — mounting evidence — that the rebels in Syria did indeed frame Assad for the chemical attack, but not only that, but Obama, the regime, may have been complicit in it. Mounting evidence that the White House knew and possibly helped plan the Syrian chemical weapon attack by the opposition!”

He then goes on to cite Global Research and Bodansky as his source, which actually shows more integrity than Ray McGovern & VIPS!

It is a very sad day for the Left when we see Ann Wright and Rush Limbaugh united in supporting a fascist dictatorship against a popular revolution, and promoting the same lying Assad Regime propaganda to do it.

full: http://claysbeach.blogspot.com/2013/09/secret-intel-source-of-ray-mcgovern.html

September 11, 2013

Letter to John Bellamy Foster

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 11:49 pm

John Bellamy Foster

John Bellamy Foster,

I was always under the impression that the only two deranged crypto-Stalinists on MR’s board were John Mage and Yoshie Furuhashi. Although you have never written anything as crude and stupid as the kind of stuff that Yoshie aggregates in your name, I was rather shocked to see her tweet that you endorsed a Veterans for Peace article by Jack Dresser that appeared in your local newspaper as a “good statement” on Syria. I find this both singularly depressing and at the same time an explanation why you have allowed MRZine to become the laughing-stock of the left. Let me walk you through Dresser’s article and explain why you embarrass yourself by endorsing it. (The entire piece can be read here: http://www.registerguard.com/rg/opinion/30407781-68/syria-chemical-syrian-weapons-assad.html.csp)

Dresser writes: “The Free Syrian Army is comprised less of defectors from government forces, as represented in the Western media, than of foreign mercenaries and Sunni fundamentalists of both the Wahhabi and Salafi variety.”

Do you really agree with this, Foster? If so, I recommend that you get up to speed on more authoritative reporting. Foreign mercenaries are generally involved with the jihadist groups, not the FSA. Furthermore, there have been widespread reports about the clash between Sunni fundamentalists and the movement that supports the FSA. I recommend in particular the New Yorker Magazine article about the tensions that exist in Raqqa: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2013/04/the-black-flag-of-raqqa.html. Even more importantly, aren’t you aware that the jihadists have already begun to kill FSA commanders? You really need to familiarize yourself with the facts. Start here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/12/free-syrian-army-officer-killed

Going downhill rapidly, Dresser writes: “The outside FSA military units have little allegiance to the people or the state of Syria and do not represent the legitimate Syrian opposition, which has already negotiated a new constitution with the government of President Bashar al-Assad resolving most of their grievances, with elections scheduled next year. Last year, a survey by a foundation in Qatar found 55 percent citizen approval of Assad, and the new constitution was endorsed by 89 percent of Syrian voters.”

I wonder what planet Dresser is living on. What “legitimate Syrian opposition” could he possibly be referring to? And which elections? Every serious analyst describes the country as being in an advanced state of decomposition and you nod your head approvingly in support of this idiocy? How did you ever get so far in your profession that is supposedly based on social science? The poll that Dresser refers to was taken 18 months ago, long before al-Assad had ratcheted up his war-machine to Chechen type dimensions and even then it was pretty dodgy.

Meanwhile the new constitution Dresser refers to that got 89 percent approval was voted on while the country was being torn apart by artillery and aerial bombardment. For Christ’s sake, that’s almost as absurd as the percentage by which al-Assad won the last “election”: 97 percent.

Needless to say, Dresser is just as laughable when it comes to the question of the recent chemical attack, calling it a “false flag” operation and asserting that since “Assad is winning with conventional weapons”, there was no reason to use such weapons. Aren’t you aware that the suburban neighborhoods that got attacked were strongholds of support for the rebels that proved resistant to conventional weapons attack? Don’t you care?

There was a time, maybe as near as a decade ago, that I had deep respect for you. Now I am more sad than angry that you have turned out to be subject to such shallow thinking and so little concern for political principle.

In sorrow,

Louis Proyect

Reading the NY Times on Syria, part 2

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:06 pm

In accord with World Socialist Website

As I mentioned in my last post on this topic, NY Times readers do not bother to read many of the articles, but rely on the title to orient them to what is happening in the world. For example, a buyer in the Bloomingdales housewares department might take a look at the title “Assault on Christian Town in Syria Adds to Fears Over Rebels” and say to himself or herself: “Tch-tch, those Arab radicals are up to their old tricks, raping and killing nuns”, without reading the actual body of the article. Of course, it didn’t help the rebel cause when the photo appearing beneath the title was a funeral procession for three Christians who had recently been killed in Maaloula—even if they were the victims of government artillery.

One supposes that the editor who assigned the title to the article, as opposed to the reporter, must have understood that this would be a good possibility. As anybody who has been reading the NY Times lately understands, the paper is dead-set opposed to an American intervention despite hysteria at places like wsws.org over “another Iraq”. In the last article I commented on, it was revealed that the Youtube clip featured in the article that depicted government soldiers about to be executed as proof that you were dealing with utter savages was from a year ago. I ordinarily don’t bother with Twitter, but thought that this one that turned up in a Google search was worth sharing: Hey @nytimes your buried “correction” on the Syria rebels front page story reminds of good old days: Jeff Gerth, Jason Blair, Judy Miller.

When you read the body of the article about the poor, beleaguered Christians, you discover:

Reached by telephone on Monday night, Mother Pelagia Sayaf, who is in charge of Mar Taqla, a monastery in Maaloula that is among the country’s oldest, said that the 53 nuns and orphans staying there had not been harmed and that the principal damage was shattered windows. Another nun said some of the fighters were local men who promised to protect the monastery.

The government has been shelling near the hotel and a monastery, according to rebels and Russia Today, an official television outlet that supports Mr. Assad. Rebels say they pulled out of the town to minimize the damage; others say they still occupy much of it.

In other words, the body of the article belied the title.

Not surprisingly, the World Socialist website went with the Christian victims of jihadist terror narrative. This website that speaks in the name of Trotskyism was launched by a sect whose top leader took money from Qaddafi in exchange for favorable coverage. My guess is that they are not on the Baathist payroll as are George Galloway and the 911 Truther who runs the VoltaireNet website, but only write such garbage out of an elective affinity. Does it really matter? You tell me.

If you’ve been following the latest bromance between the right and the left, you won’t be surprised to learn that Pat Buchanan’s article in American Conservative basically repeats the talking points of the wsws.org article. Not only does Buchanan depict the rebels as filthy savages demanding that the nuns convert to Islam or else be beheaded, he repeats the false flag narrative that is ubiquitous on the “anti-imperialist” blogosphere:

Where is the evidence Assad ordered a gas attack? German intelligence says it intercepted orders from Assad not to use gas. Congressmen coming out of secret briefings say the case is inconclusive.

The American people do not want war on Syria, and such a war makes no sense. Who is trying to stampede Congress into war on Syria, and then on Iran—and why? Therein lies the real question.

While Buchanan has always been associated with old-line “isolationist” politics of the sort that you can find on the libertarian antiwar.com website, there’s a newcomer to the fold that may make even the most ardent defender of a right-left antiwar alliance queasy. I am speaking of the vicious racist Rush Limbaugh who has lately taken to quoting articles on Global Research, a combination “anti-imperialist” and 911 Truther website that regularly publishes “good guys” like John Pilger, James Petras, Pepe Escobar, and Norman Solomon. A fascinating blog article on Foreign Policy provides the details:

There is evidence — mounting evidence — that the rebels in Syria did indeed frame Assad for the chemical attack,” conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh told his audience on Sept. 3. “But not only that, but Obama, the regime, may have been complicit in it. Mounting evidence that the White House knew and possibly helped plan the Syrian chemical weapon attack by the opposition!”

Limbaugh cited an article by Yossef Bodansky on Global Research, a conspiracy website that has advanced a pro-Assad message during the current crisis. “How can the Obama administration continue to support and seek to empower the opposition which had just intentionally killed some 1,300 innocent civilians?” Bodansky asked.

Bodansky is an ally of Bashar’s uncle, Rifaat al-Assad — he pushed him as a potential leader of Syria in 2005. Rifaat is the black sheep of the Assad family: He spearheaded the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, but then was forced into exile after he tried to seize power from his brother, President Hafez al-Assad, in 1983. Despite his ouster, however, Rifaat is just as hostile to a Sunni Islamist takeover as other members of the Assad family — a position Bodansky appears to share. Ending Alawite rule in Syria, Bodansky wrote on another pro-Assad website, “will cause cataclysmic upheaval throughout the greater Middle East.”

Pro-Assad voices have also helped shape the debate in Europe. The British organization Stop the War, which was instrumental in convincing Parliament to reject a strike on Syria, is not just made up of opponents of intervention — it includes staunch supporters of the Syrian regime. The organization’s vice president is a Stalinist who praised Assad for “a long history of resisting imperialism,” and warned that his defeat “will pave the way for a pro-Western and pro-U.S. regime.” Other top officials in the organization have also spoken publicly about the benefits of keeping Assad in power.

One of the most common ways for pro-Assad propaganda to find its way into reputable newspapers is through Christian news outlets. Arab Christians have many legitimate fears of how Islamist takeovers in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East could affect them — but nonetheless, some of the outlets that cover their plight regularly trade fact for fiction.

The official Vatican news agency, Agenzia Fides, for example, was caught reproducing word-for-word a report on the alleged mass killing of Christians in the city of Homs from Syria Truth, a virulently pro-Assad website. The Agenzia Fides report was eventually picked up by the Los Angeles Times — with no mention, of course, of the original source.

It’s not only the LA Times that has been duped in this way. USA Today ran an article earlier this year saying Saudi Arabia had sent 1,200 inmates on death row to fight in Syria, sourcing the claim to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA). The document, however, appears to be a hoax, and had been passed around frequently by pro-Hezbollah websites prior to appearing on AINA. In addition to relying on pro-Assad sources, AINA also looks to U.S. conservatives for inspiration — it republished an article titled “The Myth of the Moderate Syrian Rebels” that first appeared in the far-right FrontPage Magazine.

One of the most prolific defenders of the Assad regime is Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, who says she is a Carmelite nun born in Lebanon who converted to Christianity when she was 19. The National Review uncritically cited her claim last year that Syrian rebels had gathered Christian and Alawite hostages together in a building in the city of Homs, and proceeded to destroy the building with dynamite, killing them all. More recently, she has argued that the video evidence of the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack were fabricated, writing that it was “staged and prepared in advance with the goal of framing the Syrian government as the perpetrator.”

As I see the continuing evidence of a broad and unprecedented alliance of the NY Times editors, leftist websites like wsws.org and Global Research (putting it charitably), and rightwing scum like Pat Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh, I think god that I can retain my sanity through the contacts I have made with the Arab left that supports the Syrian revolution. If I am finally reduced to calling them my only true comrades, so be it. If you are comfortable being bedfellows with bedbugs like Rush Limbaugh, don’t let me stand in the way.

“Segui il tuo corso, e lascia dir le genti.” (Go your own way and let people talk.) – Karl Marx paraphrasing Dante.

September 10, 2013

Rush Limbaugh cites Global Research

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 11:31 pm
To speak at next ANSWER rally?

“There is evidence — mounting evidence — that the rebels in Syria did indeed frame Assad for the chemical attack,” conservative talk show host RUSH LIMBAUGH told his audience on Sept. 3. “But not only that, but Obama, the regime, may have been complicit in it. Mounting evidence that the White House knew and possibly helped plan the Syrian chemical weapon attack by the opposition!”

Limbaugh’s cited an article by YOSSAF BODANSKY on GLOBAL RESEARCH, a conspiracy website that has advanced a pro-Assad message during the current crisis. “How can the Obama administration continue to support and seek to empower the opposition which had just intentionally killed some 1,300 innocent civilians?” Bodansky asked.

Bodansky is an ally of Bashar’s uncle, Rifaat al-Assad — he pushed him as a potential leader of Syria in 2005. Rifaat is the black sheep of the Assad family: He spearheaded the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, but then was forced into exile after he tried to seize power from his brother, President Hafez al-Assad, in 1983. Despite his ouster, however, Rifaat is just as hostile to a Sunni Islamist takeover as other members of the Assad family — a position Bodansky appears to share. Ending Alawite rule in Syria, Bodansky wrote on another pro-Assad website, “will cause cataclysmic upheaval throughout the greater Middle East.”

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