Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 29, 2014

Obama’s self-unravelling strategy in Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:58 pm

Obama’s self-unravelling strategy in Syria.

7 Comments »

  1. “I would just note here that, JaN, despite its al-Qaeda roots and allegiances, has moved in a very different direction to ISIS, becoming an important component of the anti-ISIS coalition, often at considerable loss to itself – something like half of Jabhat al-Nusra’s ranks defected to ISIS, including most of its foreign fighters, when ISIS was formed in May/June 2013.

    Over the last year, JaN has made a series of public gestures designed to reassure anyone watching of its intentions. For example, when it took control of Raqqa in April 2013 (prior to a very different regime being imposed by ISIS in June) it placed the local Christian church under protection, and while it counselled the local population to follow its strict interpretation of Islamic law, it did not attempt to force them to conform. This has largely been its style of operation in Sunni communities (although it remains capable of brutal conduct towards groups it regards as “apostates” like the Alawites.)”

    Am I the only person who does not find this reassuring?

    First, consider this, ” . . . . while [JaN] counselled the local population to follow its strict interpretation of Islamic law, it did not attempt to force them to conform”, surely there are still leftists who can remember how Mao got Shanghai factory owners in the mid-1950s to turn their factories over to the state by merely talking about the importance of increased state oversight over production? They took the hint and asked Mao to take over their factories, retaining a managerial role.

    As illustrated by this example, there are forms of coercion that involve the implied threat of force, or merely just the perception of it by the populace, which, unlike JaN, is unarmed and unorganized.

    Second, JaN is purportedly tolerant, except when it directs brutality towards Alawites. Again, I find this troubling, because Alawites shouldn’t be subjected to brutality on a collective basis, any more than brutality towards Serbs and and Palestinians has been justified in this way, and what is to prevent JaN from considering other kinds of people as “apostates” in the future and acting in a similar fashion?

    Lastly, there is something paradoxical about perceiving a social potential for JaN to facilitate a leftist effort in Syria, while it has been (rightly, in my view), denied in relation to Hizbollah in Lebanon.

    Comment by Richard Estes — September 29, 2014 @ 9:22 pm

  2. Richard – what I am trying to do in this post is neither idealise nor whitewash JaN but counter the demonisation perpetrated by the US government and most of the western media to justify bombing them. So when I include a remark about their sectarian attitude towards the Alawites I am neither excusing it nor minimising it, I am acknowledging that there is also a serious negative side to their character. My point is that they have been a very different kettle of fish to ISIS, have actively combatted ISIS for some time, and are subject to a different social dynamic.

    Comment by magpie68 — September 29, 2014 @ 9:41 pm

  3. I appreciate your candor, and willingness to engage without acrimony.

    Accordingly, I do not support US military attacks on JaN either, but there is a difficult question as to the extent that JaN can be considered an ally, whether openly or pragmatically, in the struggle against Assad.

    I have encountered this tendency to explain why people are joining JaN, suggesting that there are non-ideological reasons for it, and that many of them still really support a more secular, FSA approach. Perhaps, but they have become JaN fighters, carrying out orders of JaN commanders. There is also a political consequence, as it is difficult to persuade Syrians that the removal of Assad will not socially empower religious sectarians like those in JaN.

    At the risk of relying too much upon one example, the CCP engaged religious groups and secret societies from a position of strength. This was fairly common on the left in the first half of the 20th Century. But now, Syria and Iraq come across as a tragically opposite scenario: leftists compelled, on the basis of their sectarian identity, to align themselves with religious groups that are more powerful than them. I am at a loss as to understand how the left can break out of this, other than a direct challenge to Shia/Sunni conflict that the US, the Saudis, the Qataris and the Israelis inflame in furtherance of their interests.

    Comment by Richard Estes — September 29, 2014 @ 10:16 pm

  4. Richard – and I appreciate your reasoned response: I agree with you that this is not a straightforward question and there is much scope for debate. I’ll return in a couple of days to see if there are any other comments, and respond to whatever has been posted at that point.

    Comment by magpie68 — September 30, 2014 @ 11:13 am

  5. I’m sorry but anybody concerned for the fate of an Al Qaida affiliate has lost the plot. In addition this is the form neo-Stalinism is taking in the light of Obama’s operation against ISIS: oppose the bombing of IS because it will help Assad. Our `anti-imperialists’ will do anything to prove their anti-imperialism. Much like JAN who have joined with IS for fear of not being seen to be anti-imperialist if the don’t. The bombing is happening. Our task is to stand with the revolution not to protect a made up red line about always and everywhere opposing imperialist interventions. We must help the remnants of the Syrian National Democratic Revolution inspired by the Arab Spring to take advantage of the bombings to push back ISIS, recover lost territory and consolidate their positions in readiness for the ouster of the Butcher Assad not distract them with crap about opposing US intervention. If not Assad will be the beneficiary.

    Neo-Stalinism took two forms before this intervention: those who supported Assad against the revolution in the name of anti-imperialism and those who claimed to support the revolution but prioritised anti-imperialism. In the light of the intervention the supporters of Assad who were the noisiest anti-imperialists are silent hoping imperialist intervention will benefit their man whilst the second group are now the vocal anti interventionists when it actually could help the revolution. I’ll say this for the Neo-Stalinists, they sure do have all the counter-revolutionary angles covered.

    Comment by David Ellis — September 30, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

  6. “Much like JAN who have joined with IS for fear of not being seen to be anti-imperialist if the don’t. The bombing is happening. Our task is to stand with the revolution not to protect a made up red line about always and everywhere opposing imperialist interventions. We must help the remnants of the Syrian National Democratic Revolution inspired by the Arab Spring to take advantage of the bombings to push back ISIS, recover lost territory and consolidate their positions in readiness for the ouster of the Butcher Assad not distract them with crap about opposing US intervention. If not Assad will be the beneficiary.”

    JaN didn’t oppose the bombing of ISIS for fear of being seen as anti-imperialist, the reports I’ve seen is that there is mass opposition to the US attacks, so JaN did so to avoid a substantial loss of support.

    There is a belief among many Arabs that ISIS is a US/Saudi creation. I can’t say whether that is true or false, but there is pervasive cynicism about the creation of ISIS, its emergence as a military power and the belated US decision to undertake limited military measures against it. So, while these Arabs oppose ISIS, they, not surprisingly, oppose US airstrikes as well, particularly when civilian casualties are the inevitable result, and even question the sincerity of the US effort.

    Of course, this is yet another example of the perverse political climate that predominates in the absence of a strong working class secular presence.

    Comment by Richard Estes — September 30, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

  7. To David: you are over hasty in your effort to pigeon-hole my position. I am most decidedly anti-imperialist without the quotation marks; and equally decidedly opposed to what I take you to mean by “anti-imperialist” (e.g. UK Stop the War, or as a recent wag has labelled them with considerable justification, Stop the World). Nowhere have I opposed attacking ISIS per se – they are a dangerous and brutal force that needs to be stopped. The question is how and by whom? If coalition air power were being used to provide close cover to the Kurdish forces combatting ISIS on the ground in Kobane or working in coordination with the Syrian opposition fighters to identify key ISIS targets , I would be in favour of it. But unfortunately imperialist instincts will out: US airpower is being deployed in a way that minimises risk to US personnel and prioritises US control of the situation. The price is poor targetting which hits a combination of empty buildings and civilian populations. But hey, it looks good on CBS prime time! I don’t see any evidence so far that JaN is “standing with ISIS” (although who knows what can of worms Obama’s contortions will open up) but I imagine the reason they have raised an aggressive voice against the US operations is that they don’t like being bombed!

    Comment by magpie68 — October 1, 2014 @ 4:44 pm


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