In the course of responding to the amen corner for the past couple of weeks over the Syrian refugee crisis, it dawned on me that it is not only an ethical lapse that we are dealing with but a theoretical one as well. Largely as a function of its narrow focus on US foreign policy and the sort of revelations we associate with Seymour Hersh type investigative reporting, Wikileaks, etc., there is zero interest in how Marxism can relate to events taking place within Syria. The country becomes a kind of black box where reductionism is taken to such an extreme degree that everything is bracketed out except what the CIA or other Western imperialist agencies are up to. Tunnel vision is perfectly suited to Baathist state terrorism.
When the protests erupted in Syria in 2011, I tried to get as much information as possible about the social and economic conditions that spurred people into action. Although I disagreed with Jadaliyya’s Bassam Haddad on some questions, I found his analysis of the agrarian crisis most useful, especially “The Syrian Regime’s Business Backbone” that appeared in the Spring 2012 Middle East Report. It was a reminder that the Baathist state was socialist in name only:
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.
But within the first month of the protests, others were searching for a CIA connection since Syria was perceived as an ally of Russia, Venezuela, Cuba and Iran—four countries that to varying degrees represented an “anti-imperialist” pole of attraction. When I kept urging one old friend to look at websites that took the side of the anti-Assad revolt, he told me that he did not have time for that. Meanwhile, he was obviously keeping track of what Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk and Tariq Ali were writing with no problem. In essence, what you had was a total refusal to examine all sides of a political question because “our obligations were to oppose imperialism”. Basically it was the same kind of intellectual laziness and lack of backbone that allowed most of the left to defend the Moscow Trials in the late 1930s.
As the years and bloodletting wore on, a “truther” mentality set in that was not that different from the “911” type. “False flags” were constantly being referred to as if the USA was planning to invade Syria and impose a sectarian Sunni state in the same way that George W. Bush imposed a sectarian Shiite state in Iraq. Blaming Assad for the Sarin gas attack in East Ghouta was like the WMD propaganda campaign in 2002. Or like 911 since Dubya supposedly needed that as a casus belli.
Even today, you have warnings about “regime change” in places like WSWS.org no matter what Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly I. Churkin stated: “This is something we share now with the U.S. Government: They don’t want the Assad Government to fail. They want to fight ISIL in a way that won’t harm the Syrian government.”
Instead of examining class relations, the left became amateur sleuths anxious to prove once and for all that the USA has been using Syrian rebels as puppets to bring down the Assad dictatorship. Influenced by the musings of ex-CIA agents such as Ray McGovern, there was a search for incriminating evidence that would allow the scales to fall from the public’s eyes and rouse it to pressure politicians to end the “war on Syria”. If only they knew. The dedication to this cause is almost as impressive as what you get from those arguing that burning jet fuel was incapable of bringing down the WTC.
Just as is the case with 911 truthers, the Baathist left shares links to the same articles that get repeated endlessly in places like Jacobin, Mint Press, DissidentVoice or Information Clearing House. I would venture to guess that the items reviewed below have been recycled hundreds of times already by the Baathist left and there is no sign that their shelf life will expire any time soon. And to what end? To justify the killing of countless more Syrians. And how is this possible? The answer: you have to objectify and dehumanize human beings, the function of a left gone mad. As a political response to mass murder, it is exactly the same as how most Israelis view the destruction of Gaza.
What all of these items below have in common is that they are based on some revelation of a top-secret or nearly top-secret memorandum or diplomatic initiative that proves once and for all that the USA was behind the “war on Syria”. Once they are exposed, they are picked up by a myriad of websites dedicated to the Baathist cause. In some ways, the websites that carry out this task are similar to the hired trolls who work in a basement in Moscow on Putin’s behalf. I am not sure whether doing this kind of work for pay is sleazier than doing it for free.
US refusal to accept a deal that would have removed Assad from office
Three days ago the Guardian reported on the revelation made by former president of Finland Martti Ahtisaari that when the aforementioned Vitaly Churkin proposed a deal three years ago that would have resulted in Assad stepping down in exchange for peace, the USA, Britain and France said no.
Writing for CounterPunch, Peter Lee considered this “an instance of neoliberal ass-covering, as if the Western allies were just waiting for Assad ‘to fall’” while Information Clearing House, a reliably pro-Assad website, reposted the Guardian article with the obvious intention of showing how Putin stood for peace and the West for war. Then there is David Swanson of Lets Try Democracy who concludes: “peace has been carefully avoided at every turn.” (http://davidswanson.org/node/4914)
The only problem is that Churkin was not the ultimate authority on such matters. Much closer to Putin and certainly speaking for him, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated just four months later: “We will not support and cannot support any interference from outside or any imposition of recipes. This also concerns the fate of Bashar al-Assad.”
The other thing that was obviously of zero interest to Peter Lee, David Swanson or Assad’s pals at Information Clearing House was the feelings of the Syrian opposition. Clearly, what the plan entailed was a Yemen type solution in which Assadism without Assad would continue. If you could see things through the eyes of people who had been tortured in Assad’s jails, you could understand why they would resist a solution that left the Syrian army and police intact especially since it had just gone through the ordeal of seeing its nonviolent supporters shot down in the streets by government snipers for the better part of a year. Maybe the protesters didn’t understand that they were CIA puppets and that decrying torture only benefited ExxonMobil and Chase Bank.
One might understand why the rebels are of no consequence to some. As an indistinguishable mass of bearded takfiri inimical to our values of freedom and tolerance, they have to be stopped before they come here and carry out more Charlie Hebdo type attacks. FSA, ISIS, al-Nusra Front—it’s all the same. That’s why it was so beneficial when Patrick Cockburn advised Parliament that jet bombing attacks against the terrorists had to be coordinated with Assad. Can’t you see Christopher Hitchens smiling benignly down from heaven (or up from hell) now that his message to an errant left has finally been vindicated?
Wikileaks regime change memo from 2006
This one is in heavy rotation in all sorts of places, from Global Research to Glenn Greenwald. This State Department had outlined a series of measures that could destabilize the Assadist dictatorship ranging from influencing members of the military to stirring up the Kurds.
What it does not include is any reference to exactly what posed the biggest threat to Assad five years later: a peaceful mass movement calling for democracy and an end to the sort of robbery that characterized the big businesses aligned with the regime, starting with Rami Makhlouf who controlled 60 percent of the Syrian economy.
Nor was there any consideration of a shift in US foreign policy that coincided with the arrival of Barack Obama into the White House in 2008. On March 26, 2009 the New York Times reported:
Only a year ago, this country’s government was being vilified as a dangerous pariah. The United States and its Arab allies mounted a vigorous campaign to isolate Syria, which they accused of sowing chaos and violence throughout the region through its support for militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.
It is not just a matter of the Obama administration’s new policy of engagement. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France led the way with a visit here last September. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was said to be furious at the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, welcomed him warmly in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, this month. Photographs of the two men smiling and shaking hands have been on the front pages of all the major Arab newspapers, along with frequent headlines about the “Arab reconciliation.”
One might safely assume that if the rabble had not taken to the streets in March of 2011, there would have been a rapid march toward fulfilling the “new policy of engagement” alluded to above. Indeed, even with the death of 225,000 Syrians, the Obama administration has shown an impressive determination to go full speed ahead with a realigned foreign policy that sees Iran and the Baathists as having a common interest in bringing stability to the region.
Judicial Watch release of US Intelligence Report that shows the USA was in cahoots with ISIS
Ever since this document appeared on the rightwing Judicial Watch’s website got the Baathist juices flowing. Seumas Milne, a diehard supporter of the gangsters in Damascus, wrote:
A revealing light on how we got here has now been shone by a recently declassified secret US intelligence report, written in August 2012, which uncannily predicts – and effectively welcomes – the prospect of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria and an al-Qaida-controlled Islamic state in Syria and Iraq. In stark contrast to western claims at the time, the Defense Intelligence Agency document identifies al-Qaida in Iraq (which became Isis) and fellow Salafists as the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” – and states that “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey” were supporting the opposition’s efforts to take control of eastern Syria.
(Milne was joined by David Mizner, a pinhead over at Jacobin who wrote essentially the same article, as is common practice in such circles. Jacobins Mizner, Patrick Higgins, and Max Ajl are part of a Twitter network that includes the imbeciles who organized the “Zizek must be destroyed” panel discussion at the Left Forum two years ago. If they organize something like this again, maybe they can invite Bhaskar Sunkara to speak although that might not sit well with fellow editor Sebastian Budgeon whose admiration for Zizek is boundless.)
As is universally true when dingbats like Milne consult such documents to bolster their Baathist talking points, they omit anything that would undermine their case. Do they think that people lack the ability to read critically? It is astonishing that a reputable paper like the Guardian would hire someone who wouldn’t cut the mustard at a Murdoch newspaper at least on the basis of professionalism. Milne says that the Intelligence Report “effectively welcomes” the growth of a formation like ISIS. But the concluding paragraph of the report states:
1. THE DETERIORATION OF THE SITUATION HAS DIRE CONSEQUENCES ON THE IRAQI SITUATION AND ARE AS FOLLOWS;
-1. THIS CREATES THE IDEAL ATMOSPHERE FOR AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq—don’t ask me why this stupid memo is in all-caps] TO RETURN TO ITS OLD POCKETS TN MOSUL AND RAMADI, AND WILL PROVIDE A RENEWED MOMENTUM UNDER THE PRESUMPTION OF UNIFYING THE JIHAD AMONG SUNNI IRAQ AND SYRIA, AND THE REST OF THE SUNNIS IN THE ARAB WORLD AGAINST WHAT IT CONSIDERS ONE ENEMY, THE DISSENTERS. ISI COULD ALSO DECLARE AN ISLAMIC STATE THROUGH ITS UNION WITH OTHER TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA, WHICH WILL CREATE GRAVE DANGER IN REGARDS TO UNIFYING IRAQ AND THE PROTECTION OF ITS TERRITORY.
What could possibly have allowed Milne to describe anything like this as “effectively” welcoming the emergence of ISIS? Do the words “Grave Danger” mean something different to him than they do to the average person? Where is George Orwell when we need him to unravel such doublethink when “effectively welcome” and “a grave danger” go together?
Since the report was only a draft and heavily redacted, it is open to different interpretations. If ISIS were such a “grave danger”, why would “the west” support it? It does state that Qatar, Turkey and “the west” support the opposition but if so, why does it conclude with a dire warning about the jihadist threat to Iraq and Western interests?
But that’s the problem you run into when everything turns on a top-secret memo whose author is unnamed and unaccountable. When Seymour Hersh kept referring to his sources inside the intelligence community, there was no way to validate their claims. It was their word against any detractors who came along that found their story to be pure bullshit.
The report also claims that the Muslim Brotherhood was one of the main participants in the armed opposition but this is utter nonsense. A couple of its members were represented in the official Syrian opposition in exile but it has never been a “driving force” as the report asserts.
If you want to read a serious analysis of how ISIS came into being, I recommend Peter Neumann’s article in the April 2014 London Review of Books, a journal that has published Seymour Hersh, Tariq Ali, Charles Glass, and David Bromwich on Syria. As these four individuals are part of the amen corner, rest assured that the LRB is no friend of the Syrian opposition. Neumann wrote:
The most significant, long-term consequence of Assad’s policy arose from the opening up of Syria to international jihadist networks. Before he turned his country into a transit point for foreign fighters, Syrian jihadists had been largely homegrown. If international links existed, they were to neighbouring countries. Al-Qaida had always had prominent Syrians as members – the strategist Abu Musab al-Suri, for example, or Abu Dahdah, who was sentenced to a lengthy prison term in Spain – but they had fled the country in the early 1980s, and there is no evidence that they directed jihadist activities inside Syria, sought to organise them, or even showed any interest in doing so. The terrorism experts were not entirely wrong, therefore, in believing that – for some time at least – Syria was outside al-Qaida’s orbit.
This changed in 2003 when Assad allowed the jihadists in his country to link up with Zarqawi and become part of a foreign fighter pipeline stretching from Lebanon to Iraq, with way points, safehouses and facilitators dotted across the country. With the active help of Assad’s intelligence services, Syria was opened to the influx – and influence – of experienced and well-connected jihadists from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen and Morocco, who brought with them their contact books, money and skills. Within a few years, the country ceased to be a black spot on the global jihadist map: by the late 2000s it was familiar terrain to foreign jihadists, while jihadists from Syria had become valued members of al-Qaida in Iraq, where they gained combat experience and acquired the international contacts and expertise needed to turn Syria into the next battlefront.
The Washington Post article that alluded to a billion dollars spent on the armed opposition to Assad
Adam Johnson of FAIR, Patrick Higgins of Jacobin, and countless others have linked to this article that like the ones cited above amounts to some kind of “smoking gun” that proves the USA has been involved in “regime change”. Referring to the article, Higgins lamented the fact that “the United States launched a full-scale war against Syria, and few Americans actually noticed.”
I guess Higgins is stunned by the monumental expense but maybe he isn’t aware that a billion dollars is chickenfeed when it comes to supporting military adventures. Experts in the field estimate that Iran spends $6 billion per year to prop up the Syrian dictatorship. Syria spent $2.5 billion on its military in 2011, the last year for which data exists. You can safely assume that it has doubled given the escalation of the violence. So if it was $5 billion, Iran and Syria have spent 44 times as much on warfare than those it has been trying to kill.
One might think that people like Adam Johnson would be more motivated to scrutinize media reports since after all a media watchdog employs him. As is always the case, you need to evaluate multiple reports to gauge whether the USA was involved in what Higgins called “a full-scale war” and that he himself referred to as “intervening” in Syria in “measurable and significant ways.” Perhaps they have a subscription to the WSJ over at FAIR. If they do, Johnson should have been doing his homework before writing such a stupid article. On January 26th of this year, Adam Entous reported:
It didn’t take long for rebel commanders in Syria who lined up to join a Central Intelligence Agency weapons and training program to start scratching their heads.
After the program was launched in mid-2013, CIA officers secretly analyzed cellphone calls and email messages of commanders to make sure they were really in charge of the men they claimed to lead. Commanders were then interviewed, sometimes for days.
Those who made the cut, earning the label “trusted commanders,” signed written agreements, submitted payroll information about their fighters and detailed their battlefield strategy. Only then did they get help, and it was far less than they were counting on.
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.
All sides now agree that the U.S.’s effort to aid moderate fighters battling the Assad regime has gone badly. The CIA program was the riskiest foray into Syria since civil war erupted in 2011.
Now I don’t care if Higgins and Johnson believe this or not, or for that matter, whether they think the refugee crisis was caused by Nicholas Kristof, but if you don’t take the trouble to account for data that contradicts your thesis, you better get out of the journalism business and look for a job with Rupert Murdoch who is always on the lookout for people who know to twist the truth into a pretzel.