Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Ironically, the jihadists were with the Jabhat al-Nusra front who would be superseded by the even more reactionary ISIS fighters.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Thanks for this.
    I hardly pay attention to what Whitney says, but this one took me by a surprise because going through the pro-Assad Arab writers’ recent commentary, I haven’t seen ONE make the claim that the ISIS invasion is somehow American-backed, and they make a lot of odd claims.

    This strikes me as if Whitney is just a compulsive contrarian. Or, I guess that’s what just what being part of the “anti-imperialist” left industry means. I wonder how many writers had careers minted just by playing to the same rhetorical tunes of this bloodsoaked industry.

    Comment by Anas El Hawat — June 18, 2014 @ 9:31 pm

  2. As near as I can tell, the situations in Syria and Iraq are the opposite of what conspiracy theorists would have us believe. They are both beyond the control of the US, and, in regard to Iraq, there is sharp disagreement within the US political elite as to how to respond to ISIS. The intensity of the disagreement was exposed when South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham publicly stated that the US had to “work with Iran to save Iraq.” Meanwhile, there is been strong pressure from the opposite direction, condemning any engagement with Iran in regard to how to deal with ISIS.

    You are correct that the crisis has drawn the US and Iran closer to together, but, for now, I believe that the US remains immobilized in the face of the military successes of ISIS. Such immobility works to the benefit of those, like Joe Biden and the neoconservatives, who believe that a partition of Iraq among the Sunni, Shia and Kurds is in the best interests of the US. They are perfectly willing to rely upon Gulf State funding of armed Islamic groups to facilitate it. Accordingly, Obama will only carry out cosmetic actions in defense of the Maliki government (we are now down to 275 troops and drone strikes). But this shouldn’t be confused with the implementation of a policy, it is merely more equivocation that masks the inability of the US to develop a coherent response to events.

    Of course, the problem for all involved in that the people on the ground have minds of their own. I have this sense that the Saudis in particular are going to reap the whirlwind.

    Comment by Richard Estes — June 18, 2014 @ 10:54 pm

  3. an interesting article about the situation in Iraq in which the author engages in an admirable degree of reflection and historical perspective (I know nothing about him otherwise):

    “Why the Sunnis are revolting” (Ahmed Meiloud)

    Comment by Richard Estes — June 18, 2014 @ 11:37 pm

  4. Except of course the US petroleum industry did not “move” its money, its main supplier for oil to Iraq; except of course, the US did not pursue long term leases for the fields the Iraqis offered up for development and production; except of course that Saudi Arabia is not running out of “gas” or oil.

    Comment by sartesian — June 19, 2014 @ 1:05 am

  5. I am not sure what your point is. Will the USA be indifferent to ISIL seizing control of Iraq’s biggest oil refinery?

    Comment by louisproyect — June 19, 2014 @ 1:07 am

  6. Nader’s bewildering notion of a left/right alliance exists only because those forces outside of the one party state with 2 factions bickering over the best way to screw over working people consist largely of the anti-imperialist left and the anti-imperialist right — both of which have been thoroughly impregnated by Libertarianism which, like Isolationist Conservatism, is ultimately a reactionary philosophy in that it longs for a bygone era that can never ever be re-created.

    Huckleberry Finn was the greatest American novel because Mark Twain had the genius & writing skills to depict a historically important transitional epoch of his youth that was gone forever.

    Unfortunately the Crypto-Stalinist left & the Thomas Jefferson right neither have the genius nor the writing skills of Mark Twain but that doesn’t prevent them from being Conservatives, the definition of which is one who longs for a past that can never be re-created — Proyect’s Humpty Dumpty analogy being perfectly appropo.

    The proof of this thesis is the fact that both websitetes like CP (Counterpunch) and PP (Prison Planet) routinely share both authors & ideas (sober reality be damned).

    Take one of PCR’s (Paul Craig Roberts) latest screeds on impending WWIII. Class struggle in his diatribes are typically reduced to “Good & Evil”


    ….”The Western World has succumbed to evil.

    In an article published by Op-Ed News, Eric Zuesse supports my reports of indications that Washington is preparing for a nuclear first strike against Russia. http://www.opednews.com/populum/printer_friendly.php?content=a&id=180039

    US war doctrine has been changed. US nuclear weapons are no longer restricted to a retaliatory force, but have been elevated to the role of preemptive nuclear attack. Washington pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia and is developing and deploying an ABM shield. Washington is demonizing Russia and Russia’s President with shameless lies and propaganda, thus preparing the populations of the US and its client states for war with Russia.

    Washington has been convinced by neoconservatives that Russian strategic nuclear forces are in run down and unprepared condition and are sitting ducks for attack. This false belief is based on out-of-date information, a decade old, such as the argument presented in “The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy” by Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press in the April 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs, a publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, an organization of American elites. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/61508/keir-a-lieber-and-daryl-g-press/the-rise-of-us-nuclear-primacy

    Regardless of the condition of Russian nuclear forces, the success of Washington’s first strike and degree of protection provided by Washington’s ABM shield against retaliation, the article I posted by Steven Starr, “The Lethality of Nuclear Weapons,” makes clear that nuclear war has no winners. Everyone dies. http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2014/05/30/lethality-nuclear-weapons/

    In an article published in the December 2008 issue of Physics Today, three atmospheric scientists point out that even the substantial reduction in nuclear arsenals that the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty hoped to achieve, from 70,000 warheads in 1986 to 1700-2200 warheads by the end of 2012, did not reduce the threat that nuclear war presents to life on earth. The authors conclude that in addition to the direct blast effects of hundreds of millions of human fatalities, “the indirect effects would likely eliminate the majority of the human population.” The stratospheric smoke from firestorms would cause nuclear winter and agricultural collapse. Those who did not perish from blast and radiation would starve to death. http://climate.envsci.rutgers.edu/pdf/ToonRobockTurcoPhysicsToday.pdf Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev understood this. Unfortunately, no successor US government has. As far as Washington is concerned, death is what happens to others, not to “the exceptional people.” (The SORT agreement apparently failed. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the nine nuclear-armed states still possess a total of 16,300 nuclear weapons. http://rt.com/news/166132-nuclear-weapons-report-obama/ )

    It is a fact that Washington has policymakers who think, incorrectly, that nuclear war is winnable and who regard nuclear war as a means of preventing the rise of Russia and China as checks on Washington’s hegemony over the world. The US government, regardless of party in office, is a massive threat to life on earth. European governments, which think of themselves as civilized, are not, because they enable Washington’s pursuit of hegemony. It is this pursuit that threatens life with extinction. The ideology that grants “exceptional, indispensable America” supremacy is an enormous threat to the world.



    As a prol in the trenches I don’t have time to plumb these sociological depths further but I suggest Lou the fresh retiree wordsmith continue on this line of thought which he’s been duely plumbing with fecundity and tie in all this false, ridiculous, irresponsible & outright absurd propaganda about Russia vis-a-vis Syria, Iraq, Iran, Ukraine & Al-Queda into one coherent thesis that ties in all this bizarre bazaar of politics outside the Centrist mainstream — especially considering the coziest of petro dollar ties the US & Russia currently enjoy & have for a decade.

    Just repeat over and over the staggering amount of US taxdollars the Pentagon hands Putin & his Gangsters (the Butchers of Grozny) every month to fund its MidEast Adventures on terms favorable to both parties and then imagine the profiteers of this arrangement letting that apple cart get overturned anytime soon.

    $400 per gallon times billions of gallons squandered at the public’s expense for private gain year after year is the key to everything as the first rule of investigative journalism is to follow the money.


    Sure speculators love instability for short term profits but for the long run the Wall Street ruling class that owns & controls the Pentagon and the Generals advising the White House — they demand STABILITY.

    Of course it’s a fools errand because such a globally iniquitous social arrangement always generates resistance, such is the nature of class struggle. But that’s why Drone warfare was developed — as a process in the class struggle — as an effort to eliminate the unstabilizers, that is, the Resistance.

    PCR’s idea of positing fictions like Good & Evil against a scientific understanding of social evolution in terms of historical materialism & class struggle with some dialectical interaction is like positing Biblical Creationism against Darwinian evolution with it’s theory natural selection.

    PCR should read Proyect’s article of a few years ago when N. Korea was hot in the news as a Pentagon target when he posited that the best way for a 3rd world country NOT to be attacked by the Pentagon was to develope nukes, much like Iran iwas allegedly trying to do — and who can blame them?

    The fact is that if N. Korea’s paltry cache thwarted a Pentagon attack (which it did) then what the hell is PCR thinking about Uncle Sam side-swiping with a Nuke his buddy Putin with all the lucrative business dealings and quid pro quos like Ukraine & Afghanistan they have at stake?

    Fucking ludicrous!

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 19, 2014 @ 2:42 am

  7. “As near as I can tell, the situations in Syria and Iraq are the opposite of what conspiracy theorists would have us believe. They are both beyond the control of the US, and, in regard to Iraq, there is sharp disagreement within the US political elite as to how to respond to ISIS.”

    That is about the best comment on this subject I’ve seen.

    Wether it be conspiracy theorists or the appended WSWS article the situation in Syria and Iraq are being offered as tropes for other unrelated agendas and so the efficacy of their respective analysis are secondary at best.

    Comment by Scott Edwards — June 19, 2014 @ 3:04 am

  8. The point, Louis, is that Whitney didn’t know what he was talking about when you thought he knew what was being talked about, so his current displays should come as no surprise.

    Comment by sartesian — June 19, 2014 @ 4:48 am

  9. Our neo-Stalinist chums have reduced Marxism to conspiracy theory deploying so-called anti-imperialism as an excuse to oppose revolution and cheer on those who are drowning them in blood.

    Comment by David Ellis — June 19, 2014 @ 8:37 am

  10. What after all is conspiracy theory? There is hyper-conspiracy theory, yes. Such as the theory that 9-11-2001 from inception was an inside job.
    Then there is simple conspiracy theory. No one was found guilty of criminal negligence ……Israeli agents were indeed tracking certain of the hijackers.
    Both not dealt with in the government’s “official report.” A conspiracy to conceal. When simple conspiracy theory is obvious and not dealt with, the result is proliferation
    of hyper-conspiratology.

    Comment by amspirnational — June 20, 2014 @ 9:21 pm

  11. Bored/procrastinating at work, take a peek at what the Moonies are up to in the wake of Iraq events, and sure enough, they are furiously chasing the tail of the contradictions of a conspiracy theory that must line up Syria, Libya, Ukraine, and now Iraq into one grand “ZUSA” scheme by a supposedly almighty, all-knowing empire. One side of the Moonie bin doesn’t seem to realize that through its implicit alignment with the Shia sectarian Maliki regime (“democratically elected”, too, just like in Ukraine, and nevermind that this is according to a constitution put in place under U.S. occupation!) – because this is aligned with Iran and, Iran is aligned…well you can play connect the dots – they are in effect aligning themselves with a U.S. intervention against ISIS.

    All the while at the same time these same claim a U.S.-Israeli-Saudi-ISIS alignment! This is for the purpose of partitioning Iraq between Sunni, Shia and Kurds. To make way for another branch of PeePee Escargot’s Pipelinistan, as always. Problem is, the Sunni part will be run by sworn enemies of the U.S., one that could furthermore be a “safe haven” for groups like ISIS, if not actually dominated by ISIS. And ISIS is a sworn enemy of the whole U.S. axis of evil. So, sooner or later the U.S. would have to attack the Sunni part.

    Well, that’s what you get for pissing into the wind. Meanwhile their comrades at the ANSWER Coalition are revving up for another round of antiwar demos: http://www.answercoalition.org/national/news/emergency-actions-no-new.html

    That ought to be interesting. If these ever amount to anything, I’ll be sure to bring Syrian Revolution banners. Let’s see how that goes over.

    Meanwhile my own sense of the US beltway crowd is that, after thinking it over for a day or two, they have moved away from the idea of any collaboration with Iran in Iraq. Not even with US airstrikes only, that would be “to function as Iran’s airforce” and so forth. OTOH, the sentiment may be to draw Iran further into the Iraq conflict. But what if Iran is “too successful”, and so forth. The U.S. position in the ME is floundering in its own contradictions.

    Finally, I find the perspectives of Michael Karadjis, well known around here, to be the best approximation of what I am talking about concerning the development of all-sided, well-rounded perspective that, as a best approximation to reality, can also be a guide to action. Theory->perspective->action, not (unconscious dogmatic received perspective)->”theory”->invariably one-sided perspective->various absurd implications for action.

    Comment by matthewrusso9 — June 20, 2014 @ 10:47 pm

  12. Here’s my take on Iraq for you to ignore

    Comment by Tony Iltis — June 21, 2014 @ 2:20 pm

  13. “All the while at the same time these same claim a U.S.-Israeli-Saudi-ISIS alignment! This is for the purpose of partitioning Iraq between Sunni, Shia and Kurds. To make way for another branch of PeePee Escargot’s Pipelinistan, as always. Problem is, the Sunni part will be run by sworn enemies of the U.S., one that could furthermore be a “safe haven” for groups like ISIS, if not actually dominated by ISIS. And ISIS is a sworn enemy of the whole U.S. axis of evil. So, sooner or later the U.S. would have to attack the Sunni part.”

    Yes, it’s a problem, isn’t it? Just as US elites have come to recognize that some accommodation with Iran is necessary, I’m guessing that they are also slowly coming around to the notion that something has to be done about the Saudis (and their American supporters as well). ISIS is the tripwire that is bringing this subject to the fore. To the delight of the neoconservatives, the Saudis are promoting sectarian violence throughout the region, but the perils and limitations of this effort have, with the emergence of ISIS, become all too obvious.

    Comment by Richard Estes — June 21, 2014 @ 6:59 pm

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