Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 29, 2015

Patrick Higgins’s war on the truth

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:19 pm

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UPDATE: CounterPunch has published a somewhat revised version of this article.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/08/31/jacobin-and-the-war-on-syria/

Perhaps the oddest thing about the Baathist propaganda piece by Patrick Higgins in Jacobin is that it appeared at all. Titled “The War on Syria”, it is the sort of item that appeared with great frequency in 2012 and that came to a climax in late 2013 when what appeared to be thousands of articles flooded across the leftwing of the Internet warning about Obama’s readiness to invade Syria over “red lines” being crossed in East Ghouta. Careful examination of the military and political record, however, would reveal that no such thing was in the offing as I pointed out in a CounterPunch article titled “Why Obama Did Not Make War on Syria”. Indeed, just when so much of the left was running around like Chicken Little, it was exactly when Obama was on the phone with Iran exploring rapprochement—the country that supposedly he was bent on destroying.

Higgins’s article is focused on a book edited by Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi that supposedly contains articles calling for “some projection of American power”. If you are worried about such a projection, why not make Kobane a litmus test rather than anything the FSA has done? This is where American air power proved decisive in dislodging ISIS from a Kurdish town. While much of the left was beside itself with joy over this turn of events, it somehow pirouetted around the alliance between American air power and Kurdish fighters who provided coordinates so that ISIS could be blasted to smithereens. In keeping with its hostility to the FSA, Jacobin ran an article about Kobane that drew a distinction between the Kurdish fighters and the FSA that was alleged to be a tool of Western imperialism. Somehow, the authors failed to read newspaper accounts about who was relying on imperialism:

Talal Raman, a 36-year-old Kurdish fighter, worked on a Samsung tablet, annotating a Google Earth map marked with the positions of the deserted apartment buildings and crumbling villas from where his colleagues were battling Islamic State fighters south of this northern Syrian town. He pinpointed in yellow the positions where his men were hunkered behind a wall, and highlighted in red the coordinates of a building next to a mosque where Islamic State fighters had taken cover.

“Our comrades can see the enemy moving at the GPS address I just sent you,” he wrote in Arabic to a handler hundreds of miles away in a United States military operations room. Then he waited for the American warplanes to scream in.

The tight coordination of American air power with the militia, known as the Y.P.G., from the Kurdish initials for People’s Protection Units, has dealt the Islamic State its most significant setbacks across an enormous strip of northern Syria near the Turkish border in recent months.

NY Times, August 10, 2015

Higgins is far more patient with the Kurdish militia than he is with the FSA:

Amid the brutal sectarian strife across Syria and the Middle East, the PYD’s project in Rojava has over the past year understandably appeared as a spark of hope to many leftists in the West. Their admiration is not misplaced.

But it must still be said that the future of Rojava very much rests on how much room the PYD decides to give to the United States as it considers exploiting the party to deepen divides in Syria.

I don’t know how much more room there is to give in light of them supplying GPS coordinates. That’s cheek by jowl, isn’t it?

You can bet that if the FSA was supplying GPS coordinates to American jets that were dropping bombs on Baathist troops, you’d see Higgins screaming bloody murder. He is up in arms when the question of “right to protect” comes up in the Postel-Hashemi book but is remarkably patient when it comes to the biggest projection of American air power anywhere in the world today. In fact, I would bet a small fortune that Higgins is okay with American jets now targeting the al-Nusra front since everybody knows that al-Qaeda must be stopped. That is, everybody who has read their Christopher Hitchens.

Higgins presents an addled history of the war in Syria that is meant to demonize the FSA. He claims that they were champing at the bit to make war, even within the first month of the Syrian protests in 2011 when they slaughtered 120 Baathist cops in Jisr al-Shughour out of the blue between June 3rd and June 6th, according to a BBC article to which Higgins linked. What would have been useful to point out, however, is that the BBC was merely quoting Syrian television that had a vested interest in making the opposition look as bloodthirsty as possible. If Higgins would have us take the word of the BBC on what happened in Jisr al-Shughour, he might have taken the trouble to mention a follow-up report from the BBC on the roots of the conflict there:

On 3 June, after Friday prayers, protesters gathered in Jisr al-Shughour to demonstrate against the Syrian government. At least one man was killed. Activists say Baseel al-Masri was shot by government security forces.

Masri was buried the following day. Mohammed Fazo, an activist using a pseudonym, told the BBC around 15,000 people attended the funeral procession. He said he personally witnessed what happened next.

“During the funeral, snipers on the roof of the post office building fired at the protesters,” he said.

This is apparently corroborated by another eyewitness, by the name of Abu Abdulla. “There was indiscriminate shooting at the protesters,” he told the BBC by phone.

But none of this would have been useful to someone serving as a lawyer for the Baathist dictatorship, and a cheap one at that. To back up his claims about what took place at Jisr al-Shughour, Higgins cites Joshua Landis, a scholar who once wrote in the NY Times: “For Mr. Assad to help the United States, he must have sufficient backing from Washington to put greater restrictions and pressure on the Sunni majority.” Well, no matter. After recounting local protesters’ outrage over having been fired upon by snipers and their determination to use arms to defend themselves if necessary, Landis can only conclude that they had “a compelling argument”. This is not an argument that Higgins would find so compelling given his obvious cherry-picking approach to Landis’s piece. That is how propaganda works, after all. You only take what you need to suit your political agenda—the truth be damned.

Higgins cites a Washington Post article dated June 12th that alleges that “the CIA has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years”, something that prompts him to state: “In other words, the United States launched a full-scale war against Syria, and few Americans actually noticed.” Well, I don’t know about a few Americans but as someone who reads Global Research, WSWS.org, Salon.com, the Nation Magazine, CounterPunch, DissidentVoice, and Jacobin on a fairly regular basis, the notion of America being in a full-scale war with Syria is old news—even if it is bullshit. The Wall Street Journal reported in January on this CIA aid, something that falls far short of Higgins’s hysterical account:

Some weapons shipments were so small that commanders had to ration ammunition. One of the U.S.’s favorite trusted commanders got the equivalent of 16 bullets a month per fighter. Rebel leaders were told they had to hand over old antitank missile launchers to get new ones—and couldn’t get shells for captured tanks. When they appealed last summer for ammo to battle fighters linked to al Qaeda, the U.S. said no.

That’s some full-scale war.

To show that he has a sense of humor, Higgins writes that there is a central contradiction in Syrian politics that belies the notion that a revolution of any kind has been taking place there. When I noticed that the words “central contradiction” had a hyperlink, I became curious to see where it went. Well, it connected to an article by Mao Zedong titled “On Contradiction”. I laughed my head off, especially seeing this in Jacobin. MRZine I could understand but Jacobin with all its ISO buddies? Well, maybe Maoism explains Higgins’s stupidity. I saw the best minds of my generation—well, maybe the nearly best—destroyed by the Little Red Book 40 years ago. Too bad it is still rotting out brains in 2015.

A large portion of Higgins’s article is taken up with the task of disproving allegations that the Baathist state relies on Alawite sectarianism. His arguments are so absurd on the face of it, there is very little need to bother with them. However, the idea that because Iran funds the PFLP, the Syria-Iran bloc cannot be sectarian is so preposterous that something must be said. Once again showing evidence that he doesn’t even read the articles he links to, Higgins neglects to mention that the article he cites—Iran Increases Aid to PFLP—is clear about the strictly pecuniary basis of these ties:

“Following the resumption of Iranian support, there will soon be a dramatic increase in the strength of the PFLP’s military wing, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, after the internal reorganization of the group is completed,” the sources said.

The PFLP has come out in support of the Syrian regime and Hezbollah’s position on the Syrian crisis. PFLP officials have made pro-regime statements and held Gaza rallies in which participants raised pictures of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

In other words, Iran is paying for the PFLP’s support for Bashar al-Assad. Only someone so cynical about the Middle East as Higgins would interpret this as a break with sectarianism. It can better be described as succumbing to bribery. In fact the article reports that when Hamas threw its moral support behind the Syrian revolt, Iranian money dried up. When it ultimately decided to get with the program and line up behind Assad, the money started flowing again. It is quite remarkable that an American leftist can get behind such political horse-trading, the Middle East version of Donald Trump giving money to buy politicians. One supposes that when it comes to writing propaganda for the Baathist goons, all bets are off.

Attempting to show that he is not a complete Baathist tool, Higgins recommends something called the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change that would like to see democracy and fair play in Syria—bully for them. Perhaps the most useful way of putting the NCCDC into context is to refer to an Al-Akhbar article written in 2011 that described the group as having an outlook that “is out of touch with the prevailing sentiment of the uprising, which seems intent on toppling the regime.” This is a newspaper that Max Blumenthal described as loaded with Assad apologists so one might think that another apologist like Higgins might have been smart enough to avoid trying to con his readers with a cheer for such an impotent formation.

Unable to ignore the obvious realities, Higgins is forced to admit that it was rural poverty that fueled the protests in 2011. But have no fear, our boy is sure not to give the revolt more legitimacy than it deserves because it “lacked a vision and, therefore, any revolutionary agent.” Maybe these poor benighted hungry peasants should have been reading The Little Red Book instead of the Quran. That would have assuaged him, one gathers.

When discussing political Islam’s role in the Syrian uprising, Higgins is sure to remind his readers that the “conservative” Muslim Brotherhood is lurking behind the scenes, a curse to all progressive-minded and secular governments in the Middle East. General al-Sisi knew how to deal with these troublemakers, gaining  Bashar al-Assad’s blessing who also understood that state-sanctioned murder gets results.

On his blog, Higgins had a comment about the Brotherhood that pretty much sums up his outlook on Middle East politics:

As for the SNC [Syrian National Council], it was run by a group with leanings to which the American public would not be sympathetic, the Muslim Brotherhood, but it was fronted by liberals.

Don’t you just love the bit about “leanings to which the American public would not be sympathetic”? This is the kind of dreary Islamophobic cant that runs like a shit stain across the entire “anti-imperialist” left. It is sad that Jacobin would spread these feces around so liberally in any number of articles but I suppose you can say that at least they are not much worse than the rest of the left when it comes to Syria. It is a kind of political and spiritual malaise that future historians will be at a loss to explain when they look back at the early 21st century. God give them the strength to penetrate through the filth and, unlike Higgins, tell the truth.

22 Comments »

  1. Louis — I really recommend that you and/or Michael Karadjis write a piece for the Jacobin blog — maybe a variant of what you wrote here — that challenges Higgins’ assertions. I know that Bhaskar Sunkara doesn’t agree with absolutely everything that gets printed or posted in Jacobin and I doubt that such a piece would be rejected, regardless of whether or not Max Ajl likes it.

    Comment by jschulman — August 30, 2015 @ 6:36 am

  2. “…why not make Kobane a litmus test rather than anything the FSA has done? This is where American air power proved decisive in dislodging ISIS from a Kurdish town. While much of the left was beside itself with joy over this turn of events, it somehow pirouetted around the alliance between American air power and Kurdish fighters who provided coordinates so that ISIS could be blasted to smithereens.”

    The criterion of whether a movement gets military support from an imperialist power is insufficient in deciding what it’s political character is.
    If that was all that was involved, then it would be necessary to dismiss such movements as the Haitian Slave revolt, led by Toussaint L’Ouverture (which sought help from Imperial Spain), the American Revolution (which had help from Royalist France), Tito’s Partisans in Yugoslavia (which received large amounts of weapons and ammunition from Britain) and Ho’s Vietminh (which received training and support from the OSS “Deer Team”)

    In fact, just about every revolutionary movement in history!

    It’s only possible to fully evaluate this question by looking at the political nature of the movement in question. This is why the Libyan “revolution” has failed the litmus test.
    What seems clear is that the USA’s relationship with Turkey is far more important to it than its relationship with the PYD & PKK.

    1) Initially Kerry and the British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that Kobane would “probably fall” and wasn’t of strategic importance.

    2) While they dithered, ISIS advanced to the gates of the town, after which US air-strikes destroyed most of it, leaving the majority of the inhabitants as refugees.

    3) Kurds from Syria were prevented from reinforcing Kobane by the Turkish army and the defenders were denied heavy weaponry. However, Peshmerga forces from the Kurdish Autonomous region of Iraq– an area controlled by the Barzani clan and Western oil interests- were allowed in.

    4) The YPG-J are under the control of a political party with a clear programme ( the PYD), as well as being accountable to local Assemblies.
    The PYD wasn’t given a safe place to operate from in a NATO member state (Turkey)
    Whereas the FSA has never formed a political party, has no clear programme (other than getting rid of Assad) and was allowed to operate from Turkey with impunity.

    5) Turkey has now started bombing the PYD’s close ally, the PKK, with the tacit support of the US government, which has yet to take it off its terror-list.
    The US has twisted Turkey’s arm into taking part in air attacks on ISIS in Syria, but there’s little evidence of concerted action against its sympathisers in Turkey itself.
    Turkey is also involved in repression against “PKK supporters” in towns throughout South-Eastern Turkey. This includes the widespread arrests of HDP members, including elected mayors.

    6) The creation of a “buffer zone” separating Afrin and Kobane is an attempt to prevent the Kurdish cantons linking together.

    i.e. The aid and military support the US has given to the YPG-J, has been given on a “divide and rule” basis, with a view to turning it into a “moderate opposition” in Syria.
    However, if it were to fully assume this role, it would have to be split from its close political ally the PKK. Very unlikely.

    Comment by prianikoff — August 30, 2015 @ 12:09 pm

  3. Prianakoff, you reek of John Rees’s casuistry. This is not about determining the character of a movement that is asking for a no-fly zone or whatever. It is about the supposedly categorical imperative to oppose your own country’s military intervention no matter who it is intervening for or against. Surely you are smart enough to know that. Well, maybe not.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 30, 2015 @ 1:23 pm

  4. @Prianikoff. I agree with some of what you say – especially about the role of Turkey and the US in Kobane . But a few problems: 1. if you read the accounts of journalists who worked in the Turkish-Syrian border area in 2011-12, you will see that the FSA was not “allowed to operate from Turkey with impunity” – Turkey wasvvery selective in who it supported and put a lot of obstacles in the functioning of the FSA overall 2.The linking of the Afrin and Kobane cantons is not just rendered difficult by Turkish opposition, but also by the fact that the population in the intervening territory is for the most part not Kurdish; 3.I’m not sure what you mean when you say that the US is seeking to shape the YPG (or more properly in this context the PYD) into a “moderate opposition” – the PYD has, since 2011, been eager to present itself precisely as a “moderate opposition”, hostile to all Islamist currents, opposed to the militarisation of the conflict, and ready to talk to the regime. It is, after all, a member of the National Coordinating Committee. 3.The YPG has a relatively conventional military command structure – high command body and commander in chief. Formally they say that they are accountable to the Kurdish Supreme Committee, but given the non-functioning of that body they are effectively accountable to no one but themselves.
    On a different matter could you expand on your reasons for deciding that Libya “fails the litmus test” that you set?

    Comment by magpie68 — August 30, 2015 @ 10:57 pm

  5. #3> Projyect

    My position has always been that there’s no contradiction between opposing my own government’s bombing of Syria, or Iraq and supporting the development of left-wing secular forces in the region such as the YPG-J or PKK.
    Therefore I supported Ed Miliband’s efforts to stop the UK government bombing Syria and wouldn’t oppose the call by StWC to oppose British bombing of Syria when it comes up in Parliament in a few weeks.
    If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader of the Labour Party, we can expect this to become official opposition policy.

    However, the letter from Diane Abbott et al. in the “Guardian” on 24-8-15 contains an unfortunate reference to the Suruç bombing, which was largely ignored by Western governments and used by Turkey to attack the PKK!

    You’d have thought the people who signed this statement would have at least made some elementary statement of solidarity with the HDP and the Socialist Party of the Opressed (ESP) – parties which many of the victims were members of.

    The Turkish ambassador’s reply is correct about thing, many of the victims were Turkish, or had Turkish citizenship.
    In fact, Figen Yüksekdağ, the co-chair of the HDP and a founder of the ESP is Turkish, not Kurdish.

    Support for Kurdish self-determination has been an important touchstone for the Turkish left since the 70’s, when the Maoist İbrahim Kaypakkaya first wrote about the issue and criticised Kemalism from the left.
    He died fighting the dictatorship, whereas his polemical opponent amongst the “National Democratic” revolutionaries Dogu Perincek went on to adopt a position of right-wing Turkish nationalism.

    Abdullah Öcalan group was undoubtedly influenced by Kaypakkaya’s ideas and the PKK needs to be seen as part of the Turkish left, not just a Kurdish nationalist group.

    I’m not acting as a spokesman for the PYD, which has some ambiguous positions, but should be engaged with politically, not condemned.

    Cockburn’s latest piece is worth reading
    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/turkey-duped-the-us-and-isis-reaps-rewards-10478720.html

    #4 >Magpie
    1. re.FSA
    The officers who defected from the Syrian army were allowed to set up their HQ in Turkey, which obviously tried to shape the direction of the FSA.
    As I said, it’s never elaborated a political programme and either way is increasingly irrelevant.

    2. “The linking of the Afrin and Kobane cantons is not just rendered difficult by Turkish opposition, but also by the fact that the population in the intervening territory is for the most part not Kurdish” True, but Turkey’s buffer-zone concept also involves a no-fly zone directed at Assad’s air force. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, there’s little evidence that the YPG has mistreated Arabs, Turcomans or Assyrians and formally their programme offers them autonomy on an equal basis to the Kurds.
    Given the history of this region this is a big step forward!

    3. There has been tension between the Kurds and the Syrian regime since the PKK was ejected from the country in the late 90’s under pressure from Turkey.
    The PYD was formed in Syria by the remnants who stayed behind.
    The 2004 Qamishli uprising made relations even worse.
    But when the right-wing Islamist groups began to hi-jack the Syria uprising, the PYD (rightly) opposed them.
    There has been tactical coexistence between regime forces and the YPG in some areas, particularly Jezire in the NE.
    The problem is that many of the Syrian army officers defected to ISIS, while the rank and file went over to the YPG.

    3.The Kurdish Supreme committee doesn’t function for the same reason that the Kurdish National Council doesn’t – the pro-Barzani elements fear it would be taken over by the PKK. Nevertheless, the YPG is under the control of elected Local Assemblies.

    “On a different matter could you expand on your reasons for deciding that Libya “fails the litmus test” that you set?”

    There is no political authority, no party – just a collection of emirs and gangsters running the country. It’s a disaster, worse than under Ghaddafi.

    Comment by prianikoff — August 31, 2015 @ 8:46 am

  6. Link to “Guardian Letter” is here:-
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/24/western-bombs-will-not-stop-isis-in-syria

    Comment by prianikoff — August 31, 2015 @ 9:02 am

  7. “Cockburn’s latest piece is worth reading.”
    Only if you want to see what lies the Left are believing, from an enthusiast for Bashar al-Assad’s war of terror. As I wrote about his last piece,
    “There have been no barrel bomb attacks by Assad in Aleppo for two days, for the first time since 2013*, probably because of the threat of Turkish intervention in the area. Syrian refugees in Lebanon support** the Turkish proposal to create a safe zone in Northern Syria, in the hope they will be able to return home. If you read Patrick Cockburn you will hear none of this, as his project to make the horrors in Syria not about Assad once again requires blaming Turkey.”
    [http://notris.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/turkey-kurdish-conflict-obamas-deal.html]
    More on Cockburn and Turkey, showing how he backed off the anti-Turkey stuff when he could get an interview with the Turkish prime minister.
    [http://notris.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=cockburn+turkey]
    The point where he became an open apologist for Assad’s war.
    [http://notris.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/in-middle-east-our-enemys-enemy-must-be.html]
    The current piece contains lies like,
    “the Syrian military opposition these days is almost entirely dominated by Isis, which holds half Syria, the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and the equally sectarian Sunni Ahrar al-Sham.”
    As if ISIS were an ally of the rebels rather than Assad, as if Jabhat al-Nusra was as extreme as ISIS (who has been beheaded since they liberated Idlib?), and Ahrar al-Sham are in the same category. Cockburn is a sick joke.

    Comment by Dick Gregory — August 31, 2015 @ 11:12 am

  8. US imperialism has been a disaster for the Middle East, and absolutely reactionary, in that it has sought to divide and rule and actively fought against any whiff of progressive unity.

    That much is clear.

    However, undoubtedly the Syrian uprising, while a response to a failing economy, was primarily Islamist. Should this mean we refuse to support it? Absolutely not! If anything it shows that the movement against Assad was a ‘popular’ one, when I say popular I am under no illusions that Assad is well supported within Syria. This to anyone who still enjoys their sanity is pause for thought.

    The anti anti imperialist left pretend that ISIS and Assad are in league together and that Assad has even tried to help the Islamists. They usually point out that Assad let a few prisoners out of jail, as if letting a few prisoners out of jail would tip any sort of balance! The fact is that Assad is fighting the Islamist opposition, including a sizable ISIS faction and the US puppets.

    The problems arose when US imperialism saw an opportunity to impose its own puppets onto the people of Syria, elite puppets handpicked by the imperialists and born to rule. This handpicked elite had 2 objectives, get rid of Assad and then crush the genuine resistance movement in Syria more effectively than Assad was managing! In other words they wanted a re-run of the catastrophe in Libya. Another imperialist jaunt that Proyect defended. They certainly got the catastrophe!

    So what Proyect supports in Syria is not the genuine resistance to Assad but the US imposed puppets, who will be more ruthless and even more murderous than Assad but who will be able to carry out the atrocities without any criticism from the anti anti imperialist left!

    We have seen in Egypt what secular liberalism looks like in a land under the yolk (one of the older readers!) of imperialist domination, it means a military dictatorship that imprisons and murders all political opponents and bans all political opposition, this is the face of liberalism in that part of the world!

    The dangerous thing is that this carnival of carnage can be carried on without much fuss. At least with Assad in charge we get to hear about it!

    Comment by Simon Provertier — August 31, 2015 @ 12:01 pm

  9. Ronahi TV’s view of the “Safe Zone” policy is here:-

    Comment by prianikoff — August 31, 2015 @ 1:06 pm

  10. Prianikoff: My position has always been that there’s no contradiction between opposing my own government’s bombing of Syria, or Iraq and supporting the development of left-wing secular forces in the region such as the YPG-J or PKK.

    Frankly, I don’t give a shit about your position. I am dealing with the antiwar movement, particularly the Assadist STWC in Britain that hosted a Baathist tool like Mother Agnes. They will march against US bombing of Assad’s army, if by some weird twist of fate it ever occurred, but stand by with their arms folded when those jets attack ISIS. It is not opposed to “humanitarian intervention” when it is used against Evil–in other words the same sort of stance you see from people like Nicholas Kristof or Samantha Power.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 31, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

  11. “They will march against US bombing of Assad’s army, if by some weird twist of fate it ever occurred, but stand by with their arms folded when those jets attack ISIS.”

    I think this is wrong (though i am sure some individuals are guilty), for example, Jeremy Corbyn has argued against bombing ISIS. I think this is the majority position among the STWC. The STWC, which I wouldn’t call Assadist, believe that US imperialism doesn’t make things better when they meddle, for want of a better word, in the region. So they are against a US led attack against Assad. And who could disagree with that position?

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jeremy-corbyn-winning-labour-leadership-could-threaten-tory-plans-to-bomb-isis-in-syria-10436528.html

    It appears to me that you conflate opposing US imperialism with support for Assad.

    The only people on the left I see calling on US imperialism to attack ISIS are the usual pond life that passes for the pro war and pro imperialist left. But they think the white hats should be bombing the Middle East back to the stone-age. Who knows, maybe that’s the plan?

    You are building straw men as usual.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — August 31, 2015 @ 1:48 pm

  12. The position of the Stop the War Coalition is that bombing ISIS will not work: http://stopwar.org.uk/news/why-the-us-led-bombing-of-iraq-and-syria-will-not-save-the-kurds

    If they have organized demonstrations against American bombing of ISIS during the battle of Kobane, it missed my attention.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 31, 2015 @ 1:59 pm

  13. “The position of the Stop the War Coalition is that bombing ISIS will not work:”

    But this is how they articulate opposition to US bombing generally. For example, the argument against the war in Iraq is that it would fuel sectarian division and make Iraq worse. To be fair to them they were spot on about that.

    The position statement on Syria is here, seems pretty clear to me:

    http://stopwar.org.uk/campaigns/syria

    This explains their position in relation to ISIS,:

    http://stopwar.org.uk/news/six-steps-to-defeating-isis-without-the-us-and-britain-bombing-iraq-or-syria

    Again pretty clear to me.

    They also point out that they are against bombing for moral reasons:

    “We have to recognize that military attacks are not only wrong in a host of ways (illegal in international law, immoral because of civilian casualties, a distraction from vitally needed diplomacy) but also that those strikes are making real solutions impossible.”

    “If they have organized demonstrations against American bombing of ISIS during the battle of Kobane, it missed my attention.”

    In July they held a ‘national’ event against Britain’s bombing of ISIS in Syria, after it became clear Britain was secretly involved in bombing ISIS positions. They even have a petition for people to sign!

    http://stopwar.org.uk/events/stop-the-war-events-national/don-t-bomb-syria-action-page

    Again your analysis is fond a bit wanting. You claim you are dealing with the STWC in Britain but seem to have a very peculiar take on what they represent. If I were not such a polite chap, i might think you were just making shit up.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — August 31, 2015 @ 2:27 pm

  14. “But this is how they articulate opposition to US bombing generally. For example, the argument against the war in Iraq is that it would fuel sectarian division and make Iraq worse. To be fair to them they were spot on about that.”

    I actually think my CounterPunch article reflects my views on all this better than my original piece. I care less about what antiwar groups say than what they do. In fact Higgins makes clear that he is unhappy that the Kurds relied on American jet fighters. The real question is whether there will ever be any protests in the streets against the American war on ISIS. You can bet that if F-16’s were bombing Baathist troops, there would be.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 31, 2015 @ 3:11 pm

  15. @Prianikoff:
    On the FSA: As you say the Turkish authorities “tried to shape the direction of the FSA” and one of the ways they did that was by placing the most senior military defectors under effective house arrest. According to James Harkin who reported from the border region in early 2012 and inteviewed most of the key players Turkey and the US consistently tried to disrupt efforts to form an FSA operations room. He spent some time with the group around Col Aqidi who he described as having considerable difficulty moving supplies and personnel across the Turkish border. So little sign of being “allowed to operate with impunity” for them.
    On the PYD/YPG – I don’t think anyone can take away the credit that is due to the YPG/J for their heroic stand against ISIS. And I agree that for that reason alone it is necessary to engage with them. But I think we should do so on the basis of a realistic appreciation of what they are and what they have accomplished (the object of my current project) rather than accepting the various poorly substantiated claims that are made for and by them. The idea that the YPG is “under the control of local assemblies” is a case in point. First, how likely is it that the armed wing of a cadre party involved in a life and death struggle would place accept three separate lines of command? Secondly, what evidence is there of this? The Rojava constitution seems to provide the cantonal ministries of defence with formal authority over the YPG high command (I don’t know if that is what you are referring to) – but as I said, that’s not how the YPG views its ultimate accountability. If you can shed any light on this or any other aspect of PYD institution building (which I find mostly quite byzantine) I would greatly appreciate it.
    On Libya: Maybe, but this is a judgement in hindsight; what I was wondering was how Libya would fare in your litmus test ex ante. Anyway maybe this is a topic better left for another time and place.

    Comment by magpie68 — August 31, 2015 @ 6:39 pm

  16. Thank you Mr. Proyect for this piece; great refutation of an absurd and confused line of thinking.

    As to the Iranian connection here, as you state, “just when so much of the left was running around like Chicken Little, it was exactly when Obama was on the phone with Iran exploring rapprochement—the country that supposedly he was bent on destroying.”

    As senior Iranian diplomat Salehi (former Foreign Minister, and current head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization) has made clear, the secret negotiations between Iran and the U.S. (a secret well kept from the U.S.’s closest allies) had begun well before Rouhani became president, meaning those secret talks began under the administration of Ahmadi-nejad. (see link at: http://www.payvand.com/news/15/aug/1030.html)

    In fact, we have known that in May 2009, a month before the sham “elections”, Obama sent a private letter to Khamenei, signaling the U.S.’s desire to normalize relations with that regime (link at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jun/24/khamenei-obama-letter). Further, they kept up correspondence after the elections, and we can now see in hindsight that those letters provided the opening, based on which they later started their secret negotiations.

    So, we can say with certainty that the U.S. policy under Obama has been to support the theocracy in Iran. In case any of this is a shock and is taken for an aberration, let’s not forget the open and explicit alliance between the U.S. and the Iranian regime when it comes to their support for the successive puppet regimes in Iraq (well before their current joint military actions against ISIS).

    In this light, we can say with equal certainty that the western “anti-imperialist” left has been in complete agreement with “their” own governments. They should be very proud of their efforts to divert and distract and deflect criticisms directed at this theocratic regime by Iranian socialists, radical democrats, political prisoners’ rights activists, women’s rights activists, student activists, labor rights activists, et al.

    Comment by reza — August 31, 2015 @ 6:49 pm

  17. Reza,
    Of course the United States should have attempted and should be attempting to normalize realations with the Islamic Republic of Iran on their terms. No effort should have been or should be spared in that endevor. In fact if I had the power I would with out hesitation give a Trident Nuclear missle sub complete with missles and 10 megaton nuclear warheads to the Iranian Navy. The United States government needs to make it perfectly clear that it is done with trying to influence what is going on Iran. The United States attacked the Iranian people twice in the last half of the 20th century. If any American supported an attack by the United States again it would be no different that denying Christ for the third time.
    As a person probably raised in an Islamic country that comparison may escape youi. Furthermore an attack does not have to be a convential military attack. Any action which negatively affects the Iranian economy is an attack on the Iranian people.
    It is not even logical to claim that by having diplomatic or even sexual relations, with the current rulers of Iran, that the US government supports or agrees with what they are doing. Our recognition of the regime in no way what so ever prevents Iranian socialists, radical democats, womans rights activists or gay lesbian and transgender actvists from critiising or even trying to overthrow the regime. They should not expect the help of western leftists however because it is just plain stupid to think that peeople who live far away can have the slightest idea which factions in a distant country are worthy of support. It is not even easy to figure out who to support in ones own country.
    If by chance leftist should manage to come to power in Iran while I was in power in the USA Iranians should expect no changes in American policies towards Iran because there would be no room for improvement. If by chance Iranian leftists should come to power Iranians should not expect much from western leftists other than an increase in in leftist visiting Iran. I really do wonder what will happen first, a zombie apocolypse, that I become the Fidel Castro of the United States, or that leftist come to power in Iran.
    Curt
    No, I did not mean 10 one megaton nuclear warheads I meant 48 10 megaton nuclear warheads or however many would fit on to the missles of a Trident Submarine. I am not a nuclear weapons engineer so I do not know exactly how many that would be.
    Curt

    Comment by Curt Kastens — August 31, 2015 @ 9:20 pm

  18. Curt,

    You are right. I should not expect any western “leftist” to stand for justice for all.

    In fact, I gave up on that a long time ago. I only am surprised pleasantly when some, like Louis here, still stands for what leftists everywhere should stand for.

    Thank you again for clarifying that, in your estimate, the left should basically do nothing.

    Comment by reza — August 31, 2015 @ 9:58 pm

  19. OK, here’s the addendum to the last comment I made:

    1) I am not fundamentally surprised at all that an imperialist power (such as the U.S.) would want to have normal relations with a reactionary regime that is in total opposition to its “subjects”. Imperialists don’t have any time for democratic third world nations. They want illegitimate regimes, exactly because it is from such regimes that they can extract the best concessions (ask Putin about how they extort the Iranian regimes for a few good lessons on the point I am making).

    In fact, the U.S. has been trying to “normalize” relations with Iran since the Reagan administration. Remember the Iran-Contra Affair?

    It’s just that the Iranian regime, the counter-revolutionary product of the reactionary forces that got together in Iran to kill the revolution, a force that stole some of the revolution’s slogans — one being the anti-US sentiment, now dressed in reactionary xenophobic garb — has been constrained by a peculiar situation: it has not been easy for the Iranian regime to weasel out of their “anti-U.S.” charade.

    Having denied the population who rose up in revolt in 1978-79 to gain democracy and a better life independent of foreign domination, the Iranian regime just could not justify why the population did not get any democracy for all their revolutionary efforts (but got the antithetical opposite, in the form of a theocracy), and why the regime could not provide a better economy (and in fact unemployment and social poverty and general misery has expanded wildly), they now would have to justify cooperating with the Great Satan in all its regional plans of destruction and pillage of Iraq and Afghanistan, in an open relationship with the biggest imperialist power on earth.

    Hence, the “nuclear issue”; the biggest smoke screen operation the regime has carried out. The Iranian regime practically gave up nothing to gain *official* legitimacy in imperialist circles and the recognition of its bully status in the region.

    2) The people in Iran have been trying to get rid of dictatorships of all colors for the past one hundred years, starting with our Constitutional Revolution of 1906. At this moment in our historical struggle against tyranny, we are dealing with a particularly nasty dictatorship, the likes of which we had never seen.

    But, rest assured that we will continue to fight against this medieval monstrosity regardless of how it looks to some clueless “leftist” in the west. We don’t expect any solidarity, but if some comes our way, we welcome it and give back love as we can.

    As to people like Curt, who would give nuclear weapons to an obscurantist medieval reactionary regime that considers a woman as half worth a man, and treats our political prisoners with “corrective rape” (regime’s own vocabulary), we have nothing but contempt for you and your kind.

    Comment by reza — August 31, 2015 @ 10:41 pm

  20. […] U.S. air strikes. As Louis Proyect notes, were the FSA given such power the author would be “screaming bloody murder.” But the U.S. gives no such power to other groups in Syria: It has, in fact, bombed every other […]

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  21. […] the person most flustered by my article is one Louis Proyect, who first took to his blogand then to CounterPunch to tell the world that there is no way the United States has launched a war […]

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