Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 13, 2015

An exchange with a member of the Baathist amen corner

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 10:10 pm

Professor Thomas E. Harrington of Trinity College

Yesterday morning I emailed Thomas Harrington, a professor of Iberian studies at Trinity College, to inform him that an article he had written about Syria for CounterPunch left me rather disgusted. (http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/12/us-caught-faking-it-in-syria/) It was one in at least a thousand I had seen in the past four years that proceeds on the basis that outside agitators from the USA and Israel are responsible for the country’s troubles as my email makes clear. I invite you to read the exchange with my concluding remarks at the bottom:

Dr. Harrington,

I read your article in today’s CounterPunch with morbid fascination. It encapsulates everything I find problematic in the conspiracy-minded Baathist amen corner that explains that everything that has happened in Syria as a result of CIA plots, the Mossad or–god knows–maybe the Freemasons if you read Lyndon Larouche.

You cite a 1982 article by an Israeli journalist named Oded Yinon who had been a member of the Likud Party and who argued that the Arab nations surrounding Israel had to go through a dissolution along tribal and religions lines in order to weaken its enemies. You go on to write that this article was supposedly echoed in a neocon policy paper from 1996 written by Richard Perle and others.

So where is the dotted line between these policy papers and Syria’s current situation? Did the CIA organize the protests in March 2011 that were fired upon by Assad’s snipers? I know some crackpots around the Baathist amen corner believe that the snipers were actually agent provocateurs working for the Mossad or the CIA.

Have you ever read Leon Trotsky? You really need to find some time in your busy schedule teaching Iberian studies to read his marvelous history of the 1905 uprising, a dress rehearsal for the socialist revolution of 1917, in particular the chapter that deals with the protests led by Father Gapon.

Like poor people everywhere in history, they rise up when they get sick of the torture, corruption, police spies, hunger, and hopelessness that marked the reign of Czar Nicholas and the Baathist family dynasty.

All in all, it is quite remarkable that someone who views himself on the left as surely you must can be capable of writing propaganda for such a dictatorship.

* * * *

Thomas Harrington’s reply:

You start this passage by making rather large assumptions about me and my belief system.

And rather than taking the time to point out where I say or suggest the opinions and postures you adduce to me, you recur to epithets, a mode of discourse not designed to further intellectual interchange, but rather to discourage and stop it.

You suggest I am part of a Baathist “amen corner” .

Did I say anything in my article regarding my esteem for Baathism in particular, and Assad regime in particular? Do you know me to be a lover of his brutal dictatorship?

Did it ever occur to you that one might decry the Assad dictatorship for all its nastiness but realize that life under him might be preferable to a country completely torn apart by war? Or is there no such reasoning among grey options in your world?

Can a person still hate the way Saddam or Assad ran or tun [sic] their affairs as dictators and still admit that life in the countries they led was (as all polling in Iraq that I’ve seen indicates) , globally speaking, much better for most people there than after the start of the civil wars in those places, civil wars whose levels of lethality were raised exponentially by the “contributions” outside powers like the US and Saudi Arabia?

It’s nice to talk about the glories of “rising up” from the relative safety and comfort of New York. But in the conversations I’ve had with Syrians here, and in the research I’ve done on other civil wars, once such conflicts begin, most living in the theater of war just want it to stop as soon as possible.

You call me conspiracy-minded, a phrase which in our current parlance is meant to suggest that person that lives in an alternate reality of delusions and fantasies. And in current dialogical usage, it is designed not to enlighten or deepen a line of inquiry, but to stop it, the underlying reasoning being that of “How can one talk with someone who is flat out imagining things?

That effectiveness of the technique, such as it is, rests on the presumption that while we can entertain the idea that Putin and any number of other world leaders conspire and have hidden agendas, that cheating spouses conspire and have hidden agendas, that groups in our workplaces conspire and have hidden agendas. But the notion that people in our military industrial complex working with our most favored allies might have hidden agendas, well that’s beyond the pale.

And this, in the face of literally thousands of instances uncovered in recent decades revealing precisely that, from the relatively minor, such as lying about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Pat Tillman, to the major, such as the James Clapper’s blatant lying—before Congress, no less—about the staggering breadth of the Orwellian regime of surveillance under which we now all live.

Indeed, we are now watching a government openly refusing to release the details of a sweeping new trade deal, hammered out in private with selected business magnates, that will have enormous consequences for our everyday lives, and perhaps more importantly, the sovereignty of our most basic institutions of popular governance.

But bring up the possibility that similar collusion and campaign of disinformation might exist in regard to the US and Israel and their approach to the Middle East geo-politics and of course, I am crazy, and therefore–and here’s the key part for those disinclined to engage true back and forth on difficult issues—not worth talking to any further.

Sorry Mr. Proyect, but the days of being able to stop the inquiries into of the directed efforts of elites in general, and the deeply intertwined elites of the US and Israel in particular, with put-‘em—back- on– their—heels putdowns of the type you just tried with me are fast disappearing.

Its time for you to either get some new and more effective scarecrow tactics, or learn to engage with facts that clearly makes you uncomfortable.

To wit, a series of simple questions:

Does the vision of fragmenting the Middle East for Israeli benefit in the Yinon Plan have any resemblance to that plans laid out by Richard Perle et al in the Clean Break document?

Does the Clean Break document call for a rearrangement of the Mid-East balance of power through, among other things, the destruction/blakanization of Syria?

Do the US and Israel cooperate quite closely in defense and strategic matters?

Did the a number of the people who were instrumental in the writing the Clean Break Document for Netanyahu, including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser, serve in very key policy roles in the first GW Bush administration?

Did Wesley Clark say what I said he said… and much more?

Did Alon Pinkas say what I said he said?

You know the answers to all these questions quite well.

You cite a 1982 article by an Israeli journalist named Oded Yinon who had been a member of the Likud Party and who argued that the Arab nations surrounding Israel had to go through a dissolution along tribal and religions lines in order to weaken its enemies. You go on to write that this article was supposedly echoed in a neocon policy paper from 1996 written by Richard Perle and others. So where is the dotted line between these policy papers and Syria’s current situation?

Do you have proof to the contrary? Do you have proof that the paper produced by Yinon, a Likud party policy maker in what is a relatively small Likud policy-making establishment, was not known to the creators of the Clean Break document?

All I note, and there is not denying it, is that the conceptual thrust relating to what Israel “ needs” to do strategically in regard to Syria are quite similar in a policy plan produced by one Likud member and another produced for the head of the party some years later?

Should someone say that some William Buckley or Jude Wanniski’s early writings found their way into the policy statements and postures in Ronald Reagan’s campaign for President in 1980, would you ask that person to provide a smoking gun to prove it? Of course not.

You know as well as I do (well, maybe not since I actually research these things) that this is how ideological movements establish their core package of beliefs over time.

Intellectuals reveal a new vision, that is, they generate new tropes an parameters of thinkable thought, and the, after these ideas are made known to to power holders, they make their way (or not) to the center of the particular cultural sub-system in question over a matter of years.

Did the CIA organize the protests in March 2011 that were fired upon by Assad’s snipers?

Did I say anything to this effect? Did I claim that the original uprisings were not about genuine disaffection with the Assad Regime?

I know some crackpots around the Baathist amen corner believe that the snipers were actually agent provocateurs working for the Mossad or the CIA.

Did I claim this? Did I suggest his?

I think it is important for you to remember who you are polemicizing with and when.

You may have talked with someone else who believed or said that who also happened to believe, as I do, that the US and Israel actually desire, and in fact, have strategized to generate a deadly stalemate in Syria. However, it was not me.

Have you ever read Leon Trotsky? You really need to find some time in your busy schedule teaching Iberian studies to read his marvelous history of the 1905 uprising, a dress rehearsal for the socialist revolution of 1917, in particular the chapter that deals with the protests led by Father Gapon. (https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1907/1905/ch06.htm)

Like poor people everywhere in history, they rise up when they get sick of the torture, corruption, police spies, hunger, and hopelessness that marked the reign of Czar Nicholas and the Baathist family dynasty.

Beautiful and bracing words, especially good to hear, and shed a tear for, while watching a stirring revolutionary movie with a bowl of popcorn at you side.

Less stirring and even less beautiful when heard sitting in the unspeakable destruction caused by a war that was about to be ended two years ago by the reigning dictator, but that was was extended because several foreign powers led by the US (and including Israel Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) saw that doing so would be in their long-term strategic interest, and concluded that the additional deaths produced in that interim (which now stand at roughly 200,000), and the complete destruction of of the country’s modern infrastructure, was, as Madeleine Albright said in a different but analogous context, “worth it”.

All in all, it is quite remarkable that someone who views himself on the left as surely you must can be capable of writing propaganda for such a dictatorship.

All in all, it is remarkable that someone who considers himself to be on the left can be so cavalier about the loss of life, and so simplistically bathetic—in a down right Hollywood-like way—about the beauty and nobility of a devastating civil war.

* * * *

Dr. Harrington,

You ask “Did I say anything in my article regarding my esteem for Baathism in particular, and Assad regime in particular?” Of course not. As I pointed out in an article the other day, nearly everybody who supports Baathist rule is forced to issue a disclaimer that he is not very nice in order to be taken seriously unless you are someone reporting for RT.com or Press TV. The strategy is to depict him as a lesser evil in the way that General al-Sisi claims that his draconian measures were necessary as a defense against terrorism. Or as Donald Trump told the Guardian: “Assad is bad, maybe these people could be worse.”

You go on to say, “Did it ever occur to you that one might decry the Assad dictatorship for all its nastiness but realize that life under him might be preferable to a country completely torn apart by war?” Well, did it ever occur to you that the war began after his snipers fired on peaceful protestors? Unless you agree with some of those beady-eyed conspiracy theorists that the snipers were a “false flag” operation, surely you must understand that the FSA came together as a way of defending peaceful protests against the kind of murderous attacks that General al-Sisi unleashed upon Egyptian protestor after he seized power. Clearly, Bashar al-Assad recognized a kindred spirit when he stated in an RT.com interview that al-Sisi was acting against a “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.

The irony is that much of the left has taken up Assad’s cause using an Islamophobic rhetoric that comes out of Christopher Hitchens’s playbook in the early 2000s. You apparently have problems that Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been providing weapons to those combatants. What should they have done? Refuse them on principle and ask Venezuela or Cuba for weapons so that they would be cleansed of sin? What kind of world do you live in when you expect people facing tanks, helicopters and MIGs to use spears or bows and arrows? That didn’t work very well for the American Indian, after all.

Let me answer your rhetorical question now: “Can a person still hate the way Saddam or Assad ran or tun [sic] their affairs as dictators and still admit that life in the countries they led was (as all polling in Iraq that I’ve seen indicates) , globally speaking, much better for most people there than after the start of the civil wars in those places.” This is sophistry of Biblical proportions. I was involved with Central American solidarity in the 1980s. When Indian peasants in Guatemala took up arms against General Rios Montt, their impudence and disrespect for the existing order was the obvious irritant that led the military dictator to launch a genocidal war. If they had continued to simply accept hunger, disease, illiteracy and racism in peace, they would have been spared the kind of scorched earth attacks that Rigoberta Menchu documented in her “I, Rigoberta Menchu”. It is also a bit difficult to figure out what you mean by “much better” since in all your articles on Syria, I have not read a single word about Syrian society. Maybe the country was something of a cipher to you until Nicholas Kristof began writing editorials about it. That is most unfortunate but to be expected from a member of the amen corner.

To conclude, you ask “Did I claim that the original uprisings were not about genuine disaffection with the Assad Regime?” No, you did not. But that is the implicit message of your article. When you write something that explains Syria’s civil war in terms of Likudist or neoconservative ambitions, the only conclusion that a reader can draw is that we are seeing just the latest episode in a seventy year long series of CIA counter-revolutions that would put the FSA in the same category as the Nicaraguan contras, UNITA, FRELIMO, the lumpen gangs who took part in the coup against Mossadegh, Chiang Kai-Shek, General Thieu, et al. I would call this a big lie and hardly acceptable for a professor at a respected university but then again I have seen any number of prestigious academics and journalists disgrace themselves around the question of the war in Syria.

16 Comments »

  1. I love the idea that irritation with this kind of shit is the result of being made to feel uncomfortable about *facts*. Its sometimes hard to believe that these people are for real.

    Comment by John Gamey — October 13, 2015 @ 10:19 pm

  2. At what point in their rebellion against General Rios Montt did the Guatemalan Indians ask for and receive weapons from the CIA and /or the US military or any of their proxies ?

    Comment by Georges — October 14, 2015 @ 3:27 am

  3. What kind of asinine question is that? The CIA backed Rios Montt, just as the Russian air force, Hizbollah, and Iran are supporting Assad. You seem to have some difficulty understanding that a popular revolt can erupt in the part of the world that you so clearly identify with. That clearly is a function of your inability to grasp dialectics. You should go to the Marxist Internet Archives and read Plekhanov.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 14, 2015 @ 2:27 pm

  4. What I’d like to know is on what cockeyed basis Harrington and his Putin co-fellators assert that Putin (whom I shall henceforth refer to as Way To Go Vladimir, or WTGV) has somehow decisively given the lie to the neocons, Obama, CIA, the Likud Party, Mossad, the Saudis, the Turks–and (no doubt) the little green people from Area 51–by initiating his bombing campaign allegedly against ISIL.

    There is zero evidence that the WTGV attacks are degrading ISIL, militarily speaking, and yet Harrington, Whitney, and the rest of that crew are proclaiming with one voice that the blitzkrieg (Lightning War) has already decisively succeeded.

    The Amen gang are crowing like roosters about, dare one say it, the shock and awe delivered by WTGV when there is not a single shred of evidence that the Russians are attacking ISIL in particular or perhaps even at all–or that the campaign is doing anything but indiscriminately killing Syrian rebels of all stripes along with a hefty percentage of women, children, and domestic animals.

    To be sure, there are no unbiased sources for events in the Syrian nightmare. Nevertheless, here are two of many reports that suggest that the clear-cut WTGV victory being proclaimed as indisputable by the putinistas not only has not occurred but is in fact not even remotely in prospect.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/10/russia-syria-putin-isis/408406/
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/world/europe/russia-airstrikes-syria.html?_r=0

    But maybe Harrington can find some Israeli position paper from 1982 that proves the great Russian victory. People do much the same thing with Nostradamus, I am told.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — October 14, 2015 @ 3:45 pm

  5. The Wesley Clarke statement is oft quoted but rarely listened to properly: is clear that the General Clarke quotes was not an enthusiast for these grandiose plans but bemused and eventually horrified by them. This makes him typical of the officials who shape policy in normal times – Grand Schemes are not well received in foreign and security policy communities; it takes a particularly focused and determined political leadership – and a unique historical moment like that post 9/11 – to override their pragmatic realism, The idea that there is some continuous scheme underlying US foreign policy for the last 15-20 years, undisturbed by major debacles like Iraq and Afghanistan and unmodified by successive changes of administration is both factually absurd and indicates an inability to understand how policy is made in democratic,capitalist states.

    Comment by magpie68 — October 14, 2015 @ 3:51 pm

  6. Sorry, I didn’t realize “dialectics” shows us that canny revolutionaries can maneuver the US and other western imperialist states into supporting genuine popular revolutions. I guess the success of the Libyan revolution is there for all of us to see the power of “dialectics”.

    Comment by Georges — October 14, 2015 @ 4:11 pm

  7. The USA does not support “regime change” in Syria. I have no idea why people like you fail to understand that. Well, maybe I do. You are hobbled by a low IQ and ideological intoxication.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 14, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

  8. “The irony is that much of the left has taken up Assad’s cause using an Islamophobic rhetoric that comes out of Christopher Hitchens’s playbook in the early 2000s.”

    Speaking as a professional Hitchens hater I would take issue with this. Hitchens, like ALL US imperialist apologists (Proyect included), used the appropriate rhetoric for the given occasion, this was his playbook. So to justify the invasion and obliteration of Iraq he denounced secular Arab nationalism but when generally apologising for the war of terror (sorry war on terror) or Israeli war crimes he would spout Islamophobia. I am sure if he had lived to see the day he would have joined Proyect in lauding the Islamist uprising against Gadaffi. And then kept his mouth firmly shut as the whole thing turned decidedly bad.

    So the question comes down to this, support for US imperialism of struggle against it?

    “The USA does not support “regime change” in Syria.”

    If we take your very suspect subjective mutterings then we could almost argue this, if we were prepared to lie to ourselves. But if we just took the comments of the main US leaders at face value things could not be clearer. Now maybe those with high IQ’s look at what someone has said and always assumes they are in fact saying the opposite, but anyway here is what the US is actually saying (and they want regime change):

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/09/kerry-syria-assad-timing-negotiable-150919124946684.html

    http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-obama-un-address-20150928-story.html

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/05/us-usa-election-clinton-syria-idUSKCN0RZ1C020151005

    Comment by Simon Provertier — October 14, 2015 @ 5:27 pm

  9. The whole thing is scripted. Whether or not the US is backing regime change it is not at all hard to imagine that the Russian and Iranian leaders will think that the US will try everything in their power to take advantage of a situation, that maybe the USA did or maybe the USA did not create, and improve their own postiion in the region by either getting a government in power in Syria that makes it easier to extract profits from the region or at a minimum keep Syrians fighting themselves so that they can never develope their economy, and their military. Anyone with half a brain can see that what everyone is doing is based on what they think that they know. Why else would a weak nation, like Iran, that aspires to be an Islamic power in the region spend so many resources proping up a dictator that does not even give lip service to Islam? Why else would a week nation like Russia now pour more resources in to the fight than it is likely to get back before 2035, if it wants to be effective? Those who can not see that it is scripted have no business being in positions of leadership. Those who think that honest people have to condemn Russian crimes with the same vigor that they condemn American crimes would have then condemned American crimes with the same vigor that they condemned German and Japanese crimes in WW2 and they would have been wrong and irrelevent then. Now they are wrong but I can not say how much relevence that they have. Today the USA and its allies are the driving source of world conflict just as Germany and Japan were in WW2, just barely. I say just barely because if Germany and Japan did not exist English and American efforts to dominate the world in the 20th century would have eventually led to war(s) anyways. Samsara Does anyone know what that means?

    Comment by Curt Kastens — October 14, 2015 @ 8:06 pm

  10. Did you have the opportunity to read the WikiLeaks cables on this topic?

    Comment by Andrew Stewart — October 15, 2015 @ 5:21 am

  11. Yes, I did read them in the Verso book I got a review copy of. As I pointed out in my “idiot’s guide” article, the cables reflect US policy under Bush. It has changed, however.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 15, 2015 @ 1:16 pm

  12. So the US does not support regime change in Syria! I guess someone should tell the brain dead Syrian “revolutionaries” because they haven’t got the message and keep calling for western arms. They are even nostalgic for the George W Bush term, because apparently George, unlike the dithering Obama, was willing to take down Arab dictators. Maybe a delegation of anti-anti-imperialists ( Karadjis and Claiborne, perhaps) should go to the rebel controlled areas and inform them of the hopelessness of their pleas. I,for one, will pray for their safe return.

    Comment by Georges — October 15, 2015 @ 3:37 pm

  13. The question is why are the US pretending they do want rid of Assad and why do Russia feel they have to intervene to save him?

    Comment by Simon Provertier — October 15, 2015 @ 3:44 pm

  14. I guess someone should tell the brain dead Syrian “revolutionaries” because they haven’t got the message and keep calling for western arms.

    I guess for them to receive your blessing, they should have asked Cuba instead. Or maybe they should have gone into battle with slingshots and baseball bats. What kind of weird world do you live in when you condemn people living in a torture state from getting weapons wherever they can? Of course, this is besides the point for you since you are a member of the amen corner. You have the same relationship to the Kremlin that fools like Gus Hall once had. At least Hall had the excuse of defending socialism even if on a faulty basis. You have no excuse at all.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 15, 2015 @ 3:47 pm

  15. You miss the point, Lou. If, as you say, the US is not interested in regime change, why don’t the Syrian rebels know this? Why do they keep begging for arms? They are supposed be leaders of a revolutionary process and they can’t figure out the political direction of Washington?

    Of course, this all a joke. The US, along with other NATO powers and the Gulf monarchies, is supplying them with arms. The rebels just want direct intervention.

    Comment by Georges — October 16, 2015 @ 2:40 pm

  16. […] Showing that he is up to speed on the amen corner, Smith refers his readers to Thomas Harrington, the Trinity professor who blames Syria’s current woes on a 1996 article written by neocons. I have already dealt with Harrington’s nonsense here: https://louisproyect.org/2015/10/13/an-exchange-with-a-member-of-the-baathist-amen-corner/ […]

    Pingback by Patrick L. Smith: the latest inductee into the Baathist hall of shame | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — October 17, 2015 @ 6:37 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: