Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 21, 2015

Random notes on “anti-imperialism”

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:36 pm

Garikai Chengu: Goldman-Sachs alumnus and gold mine-owning anti-imperialist

Let’s start with Garikai Chengu’s article that appeared on CounterPunch yesterday, which is a defense of a seemingly indefensible proposition, namely that Gaddafi’s Libya was the most democratic country in Africa. Chengu, a Zimbabwean, has a most interesting profile for an “anti-imperialist”. On his blog he describes himself as a researcher on Africa for Columbia University and Harvard and hopes to utilize “his intellectual and financial capacity” to develop Zimbabwe. One must assume that on the financial plane he will be benefiting from this background: “He has worked for Goldman Sachs and is the Founder and Chairman of Chengu Gold Mining Pvt. Ltd. one of Zimbabwe’s fastest growing indigenous private gold companies.”

It would appear that Comrade Chengu is one of those people who are in the vanguard of the BRICS revolution. In an article titled Mugabe Re-election Heralds ‘New’ Economic Model For Africa, Dana Sanchez quotes my fellow Goldman-Sachs alumnus:

Chengu cites a recent U.N. Africa Progress Report that Africa loses $63 billion dollars each year through foreign multinational corporations’ illegal tax evasion and exploitative practices. This figure surpasses all the money coming into the continent through Western aid and investment, Chengu says.

“It is for this reason that Zimbabwe’s new indigenization model emphasizes local ownership and foreign partnership with emerging nations, such as Brazil, Russia, India and China,” the editorial says, omitting South Africa from the list.

Unless China is truly communist as some of our anti-imperialist comrades allege, I doubt that it will be treating Zimbabwe any differently from other nations in Africa, namely as a place to extract minerals and agricultural commodities in exchange for the export of manufactured goods. In a July 31, 2015 article from the Zimbabwe Independent, we learn that China has directed Zimbabwe to pay up the $1.5 billion dollars it owes or else it would no longer do business there. I guess profits trump ideology.

While undoubtedly Zimbabwean entrepreneurs such as comrade Chengu will benefit from business deals with China, there are signs that the working class will function much more as impediments to the dowry that will surely await all of Zimbabwe once the economic marriage with China is consummated. Atlantic Monthly reports on the files in the ointment:

So far, the Zimbabweans who are most feeling China’s influence in their country are the workers. As Chinese firms take over business and Chinese managers come to run everything from billion-dollar mining companies to the downtown restaurants in capital Harare, Zimbabwean workers and labor unions are complaining of mistreatment and exploitation. Earlier this month, construction workers went on strike over low pay — $4 per day — and what they said were regular beatings by their managers Chinese managers with the Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company. The case is just one of many that has labor groups — one of the few segments of Zimbabwean politics that enjoys latitude from the ruling party — up in arms.

Reports of beatings by Chinese managers are so common that even a cook at Harare’s popular China Garden restaurant complained of them, telling the Zimbabwe Mail & Guardian, “Working for these men from the East is hell on earth.”

“Workers continue to endure various forms of physical torture at the hands of these Chinese employers right under the noses of the authorities,” a spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Construction and Allied Trade Workers’ Union told the same newspaper. “One of the most disturbing developments is that most of the Chinese employers openly boast that they have government protection and so nothing can be done to them. This clearly indicates that the issue has more serious political connotations than we can imagine.”

With this as background, it is not too hard to understand why Chengu would describe Libya as a virtual paradise. In case the reader has a skeptical streak, he reminds us that even the NY Times was wowed by the grass roots democracy:

In 2009, Mr. Gaddafi invited the New York Times to Libya to spend two weeks observing the nation’s direct democracy. The New York Times, that has traditionally been highly critical of Colonel Gaddafi’s democratic experiment, conceded that in Libya, the intention was that “everyone is involved in every decision…Tens of thousands of people take part in local committee meetings to discuss issues and vote on everything from foreign treaties to building schools.”

The brazenness of comrade Chengu’s defense of Colonel Gaddafi left me quite breathless. Does he think that CounterPunch readers will not take the trouble to look up the article that this seemingly positive sentence is extracted from? It is true that most people would not take out a subscription to the NY Times, the only way its archives can be searched, but yours truly is an exception to the rule mainly because he is addicted to the Sunday crossword puzzles and to Melissa Clarke’s recipes.

You’ll note that Chengu’s article lops off the beginning of the sentence in which this Libyan version of a New England town meeting takes place. Let me fill it in for you: “In Libya, the theory goes…” So how does the theory match up to the practice? Not so good:

Authoritarian leaders all over the world take steps to create a veneer of democracy. In Egypt, for example, there are elections, though there is never any doubt that the governing party will win.

Libya outdoes almost all of them.

Here, tens of thousands of people take part in meetings to discuss issues that are decided by a small group at the top, with all direction coming from the Brother Leader.

“He makes the decisions,” said a high-ranking diplomat in Tripoli, the capital, who is not being identified to avoid compromising his ability to work here. “He is the only one who knows.”

Reporters from The Times watched as committees around Tripoli discussed Colonel Qaddafi’s plan to abolish the government. After the perfunctory poetic genuflecting to the leader, more than half the speakers said they did not want money, they wanted a functioning government. They were angry and heartbroken that such a resource-rich nation, a member of OPEC, could be performing so poorly.

Oh well. Who could believe such lies from the bourgeois media? That is unless you want to quote it out of context to twist the truth into a pretzel.

Turning now to Robert Fisk, the Independent newspaper’s resident amen corner pundit who shares such duties with fellow Independent reporter Patrick Cockburn, we read an article that is all aflutter over the Russian intervention in Syria titled “Everyone wrote off the Syrian army. Take another look now”. It rather has the aura of a sports writer impressed with the turn of fortune of perpetual losers like the NY Mets or the Chicago Cubs.

The less said about this idiotic article, the better. But this sticks out like a sore thumb: “The Syrians have found that the Russians do not want to fire at targets in built-up areas; they intend to leave burning hospitals and dead wedding parties to the Americans in Afghanistan.”

Perhaps Mr. Fisk does not read his own newspaper–how unfortunate:

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To wind up this sorry survey, let us turn to Noam Chomsky who evokes the words “How the mighty have fallen” given his analysis of Russian intervention, while not as bad as Fisk’s comes close.

In the Youtube clip below, you can find Chomsky’s reply to a question about Russian intervention at 58 minutes. It is mixture of confusion and bad politics.

To start with, Chomsky rejects the label “imperialist” to describe Russian bombing. One supposes that this is his concession to the virtually hegemonic view on the left that it is only the USA and its European allies that deserve such a label. As a diehard Marxist, I hew toward the Leninist perspective in which the term imperialism can be applied to states that are below the USA on the totem pole such as Czarist Russia and Japan—two countries that went to war over control over strategic resources in a manner anticipating 1914.

Chomsky has a habit of thought that is prevalent on the left, no doubt a result of his prestige. When the subject of Russian intervention comes up, his tendency is not so much to evaluate the merits of the case being made for or against the Kremlin but to put its enemies on the defense by claiming that they are only doing the same thing as us. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. For example, he says that the USA has no right to criticize the annexation of Crimea since we annexed Guantanamo more than a century ago. If you follow his logic consistently, peace might be achieved if Russia’s imperial outreach was respected. This, of course, is the same realpolitik found in Stephen F. Cohen and Walt/Mearsheimer. With all due respect to Chomsky, I think the obligation of the left is to put the heat on the USA for refusing to let its claws loose of Guantanamo and the Kremlin for annexing Crimea. That was the general outlook of revolutionary socialism in the post-WWI period and one worth reinvigorating.

He also tells the audience that his analysis of Syria is very much influenced by Patrick Cockburn even as he believes that no good can come out of military intervention. Perhaps Chomsky has not been apprised of the fact that Cockburn is quite all right with Russian bombing. That contradiction is one for Chomsky to resolve, not me.

Finally, he believes that peace can come to Syria as long as we accept that Bashar al-Assad will be part of the negotiations. One has the sinking feeling that Chomsky agrees with many liberals that a Yemen type solution is worth supporting, namely Assadism without Assad. That is virtually excluded by the dictatorship whose followers raised the slogan, “Either Assad or the country burns”.

Like so many, Chomsky seems to believe that such a peace was in hand after a Finnish diplomat recently reported that a Russian diplomat was agreeable to a Yemen solution but it was aborted by the USA that demanded Assad’s removal as a precondition. Not withstanding the dubious merits of a Yemen type solution, there was never such a deal in the offing as I point out here: https://louisproyect.org/2015/09/19/baathist-truthers/

October 20, 2015

Zibechi: New colonialisms and left values

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:41 pm

Chiapas Support Committee


Mural by Diego Rivera, at the Palacio Nacional, Mexico City. Mural by Diego Rivera, at the Palacio Nacional, Mexico City.

By: Raúl Zibechi

When visibility is minimal because powerful storms cloud the perception of reality, it may be appropriate to enlarge one’s view, to climb slopes to look for broader observation points, in order to discern the context in which we move. In these times, when the world is crossing through multiple contradictions and interests, it’s urgent to stimulate the senses to gaze far and inside.

Times of confusion in which ethics are shipwrecked, basic points of reference disappear and something is installed like “anything goes,” which permits supporting any cause that goes against the bigger enemy, beyond all consideration of principles and values. Shortcuts lead to dead ends, like equating Putin with Lenin, to use a somewhat fashionable example.

The Russian intervention in Syria is a neocolonial act, which places Russia…

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October 19, 2015

Was the Cold War good for the world?

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 6:11 pm

Free Charles Davis

Was the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the many hot proxy wars it spawned in Asia and the Americas, a good thing for mothers and their children and other living things? That’s what Patrick Cockburn, long-time war correspondent argues in a recent piece intended to show that yet another escalated proxy war between major powers could, in fact, be great for the long-suffering people of Syrian.

A go-to expert on world affairs for center-left news organizations and British lawmakers alike — last month he encouraged the latter to quit worrying and join the increasingly crowded war on terror in Syria’s skies — the latest column from “our respected commentator,” as his employers at The Independent describe him, should call into question whether he is fact worthy of respect from those on the left. Titled, “Syria crisis: Let’s welcome Russia’s entry into this war

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Bringing out the dead in Kansas City

Filed under: cults,humor,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 5:45 pm

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Yesterday the NY Times ran an article that reminded me of why the paper is so indispensable even if it is easy (and true) to dismiss it as the voice of the liberal wing of the ruling class. It was a long and thoroughly researched piece on how city employees clean up after the corpses of isolated individuals whose deaths remain unannounced except for the stench of their decomposing bodies:

They found him in the living room, crumpled up on the mottled carpet. The police did. Sniffing a fetid odor, a neighbor had called 911. The apartment was in north-central Queens, in an unassertive building on 79th Street in Jackson Heights.

The apartment belonged to a George Bell. He lived alone. Thus the presumption was that the corpse also belonged to George Bell. It was a plausible supposition, but it remained just that, for the puffy body on the floor was decomposed and unrecognizable. Clearly the man had not died on July 12, the Saturday last year when he was discovered, nor the day before nor the day before that. He had lain there for a while, nothing to announce his departure to the world, while the hyperkinetic city around him hurried on with its business.

Neighbors had last seen him six days earlier, a Sunday. On Thursday, there was a break in his routine. The car he always kept out front and moved from one side of the street to the other to obey parking rules sat on the wrong side. A ticket was wedged beneath the wiper. The woman next door called Mr. Bell. His phone rang and rang.

Then the smell of death and the police and the sobering reason that George Bell did not move his car.

Imagine the training in journalism school it took for the reporters to come up with the telling details about the men who came in to examine the dead man’s apartment and what they saw:

Mr. Plaza had been a data entry clerk before joining his macabre field in 1994; Mr. Rodriguez had been a waiter and found his interest piqued in 2002.

What qualified someone for the job? Ms. Rosenblatt, the head of the office, summed it up: “People willing to go into these disgusting apartments.”

The two men foraged through the unedited anarchy, 800 square feet, one bedroom. A stench thickened the air. Mr. Plaza dabbed his nostrils with a Vicks vapor stick. Mr. Rodriguez toughed it out. Vicks bothered his nose.

The only bed was the lumpy foldout couch in the living room. The bedroom and bathroom looked pillaged. The kitchen was splashed with trash and balled-up, decades-old lottery tickets that had failed to deliver. A soiled shopping list read: sea salt, garlic, carrots, broccoli (two packs), “TV Guide.”

The faucet didn’t work. The chipped stove had no knobs and could not have been used to cook in a long time.

Frankly, I find this reportage ten times more compelling than anything on the NY Times Fiction Best Sellers list especially since it reminds me of the grizzly encounter I had with such an incident when I was living in Kansas City in 1978 in my final days with the Socialist Workers Party cult.

I was living on the ground floor of an old house that had been converted into a multiple occupancy building at the time and working for the United Missouri Bank. At nights I was taking classes in lathe and milling machines at a vocational high school so I could acquire the necessary skills to “go into industry”. It was a last-ditch effort to stay in the party. The whole experience evoked hanging from the edge of a cliff while someone stomps on your fingers.

One afternoon I came home from work and was stunned to see a fire truck and police cars on the street in front of my building. A ladder was resting on the side just underneath an immense hole in the wall as if someone had used a wrecking ball to get into the apartment above mine.

As I got out of my car and began walking down the front walk, my super—an affable Chicano whose name I don’t recall—came up to give me the news. The man who lived upstairs and who weighed over 600 pounds had died of a heart attack. When the cops came, they found his body simply too massive to move through the apartment and down the stairs. So they called the fire department that had the necessary equipment to carve a hole out of the side of the building and use a cherry picker to hoist his corpse to the ground.

My poor super, just like the men profiled in the Times article, had to clean up after the dead man’s remains. He told me that he had only figured out that someone had died after a smell had wafted out from beneath the door. I guess I was so preoccupied with cult life that I managed to overlook it.

But once I was apprised of the man’s death, I could not get pass the smell, which was a mixture of the remains of the rotting flesh and the heavy-duty disinfectant that the super had used. At night I laid in bed pondering over my future in the SWP as the smell from upstairs played counterpoint to my brooding.

This was just the latest incident in a life marked by the macabre and the pathetic on one side and the comically absurd on the other. I tried to capture all this in the memoir I did with Harvey Pekar even as some idiots in the ISO tried to understand it terms of the typical revolutionary memoir. I was doing Pekar and they expected something that a sectarian would write filled with boring anecdotes about fighting the cops and making speeches to the masses, like Tariq Ali’s dreary “Street Fighting Man”.

For those interested in what it was like in Kansas City in the tail-end of a futile exercise in revolutionary politics, I invite you to read this excerpt from my memoir that I reproduce here under the provisions of Fair Use legislation.

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October 18, 2015

The Connection; Jason and Shirley

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:59 pm

Last December I reported on the ongoing restoration project at Milestone to make the groundbreaking films of Shirley Clarke available again as DVDs. I mentioned that I saw one film of hers as a young man that made a big impression on me:

The first and last time I saw a Shirley Clarke film was in 1961. As the title implied, “The Connection” was about junkies. It also happens to be the first restored film in the Milestone project. It is a truly amazing film that I can remember scenes from to this day. It has an improvised feel as the cast sits around in a tenement apartment waiting anxiously and even desperately for the heroin pusher “Cowboy” to arrive. Clarke’s boyfriend Carl Lee played Cowboy. He was the son of Canada Lee, a veteran African-American film actor who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. “The Connection” had to battle the censors to be shown in NY. They objected to the frequent use of the word “shit”, even though it was only referring to the drug.

About six months ago Milestone sent me a review copy of “The Connection” that I cannot recommend highly enough for young people today trying to get a feel what it was like to be a cultural rebel 54 years ago. Since McCarthyism was still a powerful lingering presence in American society, rebellion tended to adopt cultural forms including for director Shirley Clarke who had basically filmed Jack Gelber’s off-Broadway play. Six years later both Clarke and I would be fully immersed in the Vietnam antiwar movement, a path followed by many people from our generation.

Having see this film once again, I am struck by how bold an undertaking it was. In addition to using the word “shit”, the film fearlessly depicted the sleaziness of junkie life. Leach, whose apartment serves as a drug den for the cast, has a boil on his neck that is lanced by his fellow junkies. As a cockroach crawls across the wall, Clarke’s camera trails each step. One junkie is showing puking in the toilet—a scene of course that became a cliché in the 1980s. You see Leach sticking a needle in his arm later in the film. When I saw it, I resolved to stick to marijuana. For me, it was traumatic enough to get a vaccination. Who needed to be stuck on a daily basis?

Notwithstanding the importance of Clarke’s contribution, it was Jack Gelber’s play that blazed the trail she followed. Although Gelber’s play was deemed avant-garde at the time, it was clear to me at the time and even more so now seeing it anew that it was deeply influenced by Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh”, a play set in a saloon rather than a junkie’s apartment. The two plays serve as a rotating platform as each actor gets up to tell his story about addiction. (It should be mentioned that O’Neill’s mother was a morphine addict, as reflected in the autobiographical “Long Day’s Journey into Night”.

Julian Beck and Judith Malina’s Living Theater staged “The Connection” in 1959. Like Clarke, they too would become Vietnam antiwar activists. Most of the cast would appear in Clarke’s film, including Carl Lee as Cowboy, the dealer that the characters await anxiously as the play begins. Lee would marry Shirley Clarke and appear off-screen in “Jason and Shirley” that I reviewed last December. Lee was a heroin addict himself and died of an overdose in 1986.

Among the junkies awaiting the arrival of Cowboy, who is their iceman in a very real sense, are jazz musicians who perform throughout the play. Jackie McLean, who plays alto sax in his very Bird-like fashion, was a junkie just like Lee so the play has a vérité that other films would not dare at the time. It would be like casting a junkie in “A Hatful of Rain” or “The Man with the Golden Arm”. Hollywood would certainly not permit that although they obviously had no problems with alcoholics like Errol Flynn. As one character says toward the end of the play in reply to another’s question about why heroin was made illegal: “They wanted to protect us from ourselves”.

Gelber died in 2003 at the age of 71. He never wrote a play that was nearly as successful as “The Connection” but I am tempted to track down his 1968 “The Cuban Thing” that was based on his journalism in Cuba during the 1950s. Wikipedia states:

Produced at Henry Miller’s Theatre, the play was controversial for what some believed was a favorable portrayal of the communist leader Fidel Castro, when the Cold War was going strong. This interpretation sparked large and sometimes violent protests by Cuban exiles and others against the production, and the play ended its run after only one night.

It also states that Gelber signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge in 1968, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. Starting to see a pattern here? Clarke, Proyect (a 16 year old beatnik in 1961), Beck/Malina, Gelber… Maybe the way things are going, you’ll see all those Brooklyn hipsters at the barricades in a few years. I hope I live long enough to see it.

“The Connection” is available as a DVD or streaming on Amazon.com.

Among the characters in Gelber’s play are a stage director and his assistants who serve to set the whole thing up as a play within a play. As a slight modification to suit her medium, Clarke turns the director into a film director with a cameraman who is unseen until the very end (a very young Roscoe Lee Brown.)

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A good part of the dramatic tension in the film lies in the characters’ resentment of the film crew who they see as voyeurs exploiting their misery for “art”. Ironically, that is exactly the premise of Stephen Winter’s “Jason and Shirley” that premieres at the MOMA tomorrow.

Winter is of mixed Jewish and African-American background and is also gay. So for him, the Shirley Clarke/Jason Holliday connection is of key importance. To reprise my December write-up:

Jason Holliday was a 43-year-old hustler who Clarke interviewed in her penthouse apartment at the Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street in Manhattan. The Chelsea is a landmark hotel that was home to legendary bohemian and leftist figures in its heyday, including actor and filmmaker Frank Cavestani who I interview below. Jason was a friend of Carl Lee and Clarke even though he had given plenty of reasons over the years to make them wonder why. The final 15 minutes or so of the film are a kind of psychodrama as Carl Lee asks Jason repeatedly why he betrayed him.

Made 4 years before the Stonewall Uprising, “Portrait of Jason” is—as far as I know—the first film to give an openly gay man an opportunity to talk about his life and his sexuality. For nearly his entire time on camera, Jason laughs hysterically as he alternately downs cocktails and smokes joints. His performance reminded me of the cover of the old Lester Young record: “Laughing to Keep from Crying”.

To put it bluntly, Winter’s goal was to redeem the reputation of Jason Holliday and to trash that of Shirley Clarke and Carl Lee who come across as bullies. Sarah Schulman, the lesbian novelist and long-time activist, co-wrote the film with Winter and Jack Waters who plays Jason. Clarke is depicted as a variation on the film director in “The Connection”, someone who sees her subject as a means to an end—her own success. There is wrangling over Jason getting paid and in the closing credits Winter states that he considered legal action against Clarke who supposedly stiffed him.

Lee (Orran Farmer) comes across as a sadist who derides Jason for being a loser, something that Clarke harps on in the beginning of the film. She rubs the fact in his nose that Lee is appearing in a Shakespeare play while he is off trying to land gigs doing a drag queen performance in Village clubs.

I can recommend this film even though I didn’t like it very much—in fact in some ways I hated it. The performances are excellent and the film has an electricity generated from the tension between the characters that existed in Clarke’s original film and even made more palpable. If you accept that it is using the characters as a platform for the director’s resentment over what took place in a 1967 film, there will be no problem. He says up-front that he is creating fiction. I couldn’t agree more.

October 17, 2015

Patrick L. Smith: the latest inductee into the Baathist hall of shame

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:37 pm

Patrick L. Smith

In 2014 I submitted an article titled “Treason of the Intellectuals” to Critical Muslim, a journal co-edited by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Ziauddin Sardar. It was rejected because of Britain’s strict libel laws. You can read it here, however: https://louisproyect.org/2014/06/04/i-run-afoul-of-stringent-british-libel-laws/. It examined how a number of high-profile scholars and journalists including David Bromwich and Seymour Hersh have lent themselves to the Baathist cause. After reading Patrick L. Smith’s article in Salon.com titled “Putin might be right on Syria: The actual strategy behind his Middle East push — and why the New York Times keeps obscuring it”, I decided that an addendum was necessary. Smith is both a veteran journalist and a scholar, having written for the International Herald Tribune and served as a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong. Yale University published his latest book “Time No Longer: After the American Century” so the fellow is no slouch.

I have learned, however, that such recognition is no guarantee against being a bullshit artist. In an interview given to Smith on Salon.com, Perry Anderson—one of the most celebrated Marxist authors of the past half-century—told Smith that “Stalin remained a communist who firmly believed that the ultimate mission of the world’s working class was to overthrow capitalism, everywhere.” I guess in his dotage Anderson has forgotten everything he ever wrote about Trotsky. No wonder Smith, who is a Putinite sufficient enough to embarrass Mike Whitney, would find Anderson’s “Marxism” to his tastes.

In another Salon.com interview that has the same character as Charlie Rose interviewing Bill Gates or Stephen Spielberg, Smith sat down with Stephen F. Cohen. You can imagine the tough questions he posed to the professor emeritus whose decline has been as steep as Anderson’s.

Smith grills the professor emeritus like Mike Wallace turning the heat up on a corporate polluter, right? Er, not exactly:

Smith: The Ukraine crisis in historical perspective. Very dangerous ground. You know this better than anyone, I’d’ve thought.

Cohen: Our position is that nobody is entitled to a sphere of influence in the 21st century. Russia wants a sphere of influence in the sense that it doesn’t want American military bases in Ukraine or in the Baltics or in Georgia.

I suppose in a realpolitik sense, Cohen is completely right. If the USA can have a base in Guantanamo, why can’t Russia protect its own interests in Ukraine and Syria? That’s the way it goes. If the USA can pulverize Allende’s Chile using its military as its hit man, why can’t Putin use his air force to make sure that his naval base in Tartus is defended? All’s fair in love in war (but maybe not in socialism.)

Turning now to Smith’s latest dreck, it is the sort of article that should be studied in journalism school for those with their heart set on writing for Newsweek or Time—in other words, the kind of places where people like Smith, Robert Parry and other converts to the Kremlin’s foreign policy have worked for decades. Written as a critique of the NY Times, Smith adopts many of its own dodgy techniques but on behalf of its nemesis Vladimir Putin. Since so much of the left is fixated on putting a plus where Thomas Friedman or Nicholas Kristof put a minus, it makes perfect sense that Smith would take a whack at the NY Times. My advice to aspiring journalists is to keep an independent class perspective no matter how difficult that is in such trying times.

Contrary to the NY Times, Smith feels that “Very simply, we have one secular nation [Russia] helping to defend what remains of another [Syria], by invitation, against a radical Islamist insurgency that, were it to succeed, would condemn those Syrians who cannot escape to a tyranny of disorder rooted in sectarian religious animosities.” Breathtaking, simply breathtaking.

Is Smith aware that the Russian Orthodoxy has blessed this intervention?

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Furthermore, a state has obligations beyond being “secular”. Leaving aside the question of how secular Syria was, it was a family dynasty that ruled through terror. Bashar al-Assad’s father came to power in a coup, after all. After he died, his son was offered in 2000 to the Syrian people through an uncontested referendum in which you could vote either yes or no. The Baathist election officials reported 99.7% of voters voted for him, with a turnout of 94.6%. Can you fucking imagine that? Salon.com, which runs articles 35 times a year screaming about election irregularities in the South (which it should) now features one that winks at this kind of demonstration “election”. Joan Walsh should be ashamed of herself.

For Smith, the Baathist selling point is that its bureaucracy exists:

The Assad government is a sovereign entity. Damascus has the beleaguered bones of a national administration, all the things one does not readily think of as wars unfold: a transport ministry, an education ministry, embassies around the world, a seat at the U.N. In these things are the makings of postwar Syria—which, by definition, means Syria after the threat of Islamic terror is eliminated.

So amusing to see such naked worship of the accomplished fact. The same litmus test could have been applied to Pinochet’s Chile or Suharto’s Indonesia.

Like so many on the left, using the term charitably, Smith views Obama as being just as intransigent as George W. Bush, maybe more so:

We can demonize Putin, Russia, Iran, Assad or anyone else we like. We lose in the end, because we destroy our capacity to see and think clearly. What we are doing in Syria today is Exhibit A.

Russia and its leader as Beelzebub is an old story. Obama, after his fashion, has simply bought into it. This is now irreducibly so, and the implications refract all over the place: Ukraine and the prospects for a negotiated settlement, Washington’s long-running effort to disrupt Europe’s extensive and complex interdependence with Russia. The unfolding events in the Middle East weigh heavily against any constructive turn in American policy on such questions.

If you read between the lines of this sort of inside-the-beltway prose, you understand what both Smith and Stephen F. Cohen yearn for, namely a kind of understanding between major powers over how to divide up the world into spheres of influence after the fashion of Yalta and Potsdam. If you are unlucky enough to be born a Sunni in Syria or a Ukrainian but outside of Donetsk or Luhansk, tough luck. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. Learn to live with it unless you want to get blasted to hell like the Chechens.

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/

He also cites Gary Leupp, another professor who writes for CounterPunch (and in the process throws scholarly standards out the window). Apparently Leupp believes that “the bulk of the peaceful protesters in the Syrian Arab Spring want nothing to do with the U.S.-supported armed opposition but are instead receptive to calls from Damascus, Moscow and Tehran for dialogue towards a power-sharing arrangement.” Looking for a citation on that? Don’t hold your breath. Leupp just made it up. After all, the ends justify the means. If you are writing propaganda to keep a blood-soaked dictatorship in power, why not assert that “the bulk of the peaceful protestors” are receptive to calls from Damascus, Moscow and Tehran. Frankly, I haven’t read such brazen bullshit outside of Rupert Murdoch’s NY Post editorial page.

But nothing tops this: “Thank you, professor. Now we know why the flow of refugees runs toward secular, democratic Europe and not areas of the nation Assad has lost to rebel militias.” Maybe that’s because Assad’s air force has the most puzzling tendency to drop bombs on the homes of people living in such areas. If you want background on that, have a look at Picasso’s “Guernica”.

October 16, 2015


Filed under: Counterpunch,psychology,television — louisproyect @ 3:59 pm

Hannibal: Television in the Spirit of Buñuel

As a rule of thumb, network television is the bottom feeder in popular culture while the novel, a medium we associate with classics such as “Don Quixote” and “Moby Dick”, dwells in the heavens. In a striking reversal, NBC television has aired a series called “Hannibal” that while based on the novels of Thomas Harris is far more complex and inspired than the source. As each episode begins, we see the words “Based on the characters of the book ‘Red Dragon’ by Thomas Harris”. Having just read “Red Dragon” to help me prepare this review, I would say the relationship between the source and its offspring is close to the one that exists between a banal tune like “Tea for Two” and how Thelonious Monk interpreted it.

The television show also borrows from the novel “Hannibal”, which like “Red Dragon”, was written after “Silence of the Lambs” in an obvious bid to cash in on the massive book sales that followed Jonathan Demme’s blockbuster film. The TV series omitted any reference to “Silence of the Lambs” and to Clarice Starling, a wise move since this overly familiar material would have undercut the goal of seeing the characters with fresh eyes. Once you’ve seen Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins square off, there’s no turning back.

For some Thomas Harris is a novelist to be reckoned with. David Foster Wallace includes “Red Dragon” and “Silence of the Lambs” as two of his top-rated ten novels. That being said, he is a fan of pulp fiction and includes Stephen King’s “The Stand” as well. (A confession: I consider King to be the finest novelist writing today.) In my view, “Red Dragon” is an engaging police procedural that includes lots of chatter about carpet fibers, fingerprints, blood samples, autopsies and the like. If you enjoy CSI, you’ll probably go for this novel in a big way. Given Harris’s background as crime reporter for a Waco, Texas newspaper, he is obviously familiar with the terrain.

Read full article

October 15, 2015

David Horowitz joins the axis of resistance

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 12:06 am

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 8.04.02 PM

Indeed, growing numbers of Americans who have no special love for Russia or Orthodoxy—from billionaire capitalist Donald Trump to evangelical Christians—are being won over by Putin’s frank talk and actions.

How can they not?  After one of his speeches praising the West’s Christian heritage—a thing few American politicians dare do—Putin concluded with something that must surely resonate with millions of traditional Americans: “We must protect Russia from that which has destroyed American society”—a reference to the anti-Christian liberalism and licentiousness that has run amok in the West.

Even the Rev. Franklin Graham’s response to Russia’s military intervention in Syria seems uncharacteristically positive, coming as it is from the head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which for decades spoke against the godless Soviets:  “What Russia is doing may save the lives of Christians in the Middle East….  You understand that the Syrian government … have protected Christians, they have protected minorities from the Islamists.”

October 14, 2015

A resource guide for understanding Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:21 pm

Daraa, Syria — where the struggle began

I was prompted to post this article for two reasons. When I was discussing Syria with a very old friend the other day, it soon became apparent that the dominant narrative largely shaped his views on the war, namely that Bashar al-Assad was a “lesser evil”. He was preoccupied with ISIS but when I pointed out to him that the vast portions of eastern Syria that it controlled were thinly populated, he seemed surprised. There are two cities (Raqqa, Deir al-Zour) each having 220,000 or so residents but Palmyra, the third and most infamous, only has around 7000. Most of the conflict is in the west of the country where ISIS is not much of a presence. Of course, I only knew this because I try to keep abreast of Syrian politics on a daily basis. So, to help him get up to speed, I thought I would pull together a list of websites I consult.

Although I can hardly describe him as a friend, it occurred to me that John Wight could use such a list as well since he posted a comment on my blog the other day that supposedly proved that the Sunnis supported Assad. When I clicked the link in his comment, I was directed to the West Point Anti-Terrorism Center. I wrote my “idiot’s guide to ‘anti-imperialism’” in jest but apparently Wight was recommending such a resource in earnest. I advised him to read the Middle East Research and Information Project instead, a journal written from a left perspective. Although I doubt that he will bother, my inclusion of that website and others will surely prove useful to those trying to understand Syria in terms other than as a conspiracy hatched in CIA headquarters.

I should add that I took an initial stab at providing such a resource in 2013: https://louisproyect.org/2013/09/16/a-guide-for-the-perplexed-on-syria/

News and information

These are websites that are most useful for getting a complete picture on what is happening in the country. Clearly their views are similar to my own, but they are far more scrupulous than what you get from RT.com in my opinion. And even if they are just the other side of the coin of RT.com, you at least owe to yourself to check in on them fairly regularly to get both sides in the debate. After all, I can’t help but be bombarded by the pro-Assad POV that I run into on a daily basis as I look at CounterPunch, Salon.com, Jacobin, the Nation, ZNet and just about every other high-profile voice on the left.


Vice is a major news outlet that started out as a kind of underground Internet newspaper but has developed into a major operation that has attracted investors like the Disney Corporation and Hearst. You can get a feel for the kind of information you get there from this video report on the FSA in Idlib province: https://news.vice.com/video/the-battle-for-syrias-south-full-length


This is an aggregation of news from major newspapers around the world that are chosen by Paul Woodward who describes himself as a bricoleur, which one dictionary describes as “someone who continually invents his own strategies for comprehending reality.” Typically, you will find articles such as “Iran and Hezbollah losing senior commanders in Syria at a rapid rate” (http://warincontext.org/2015/10/14/iran-and-hezbollah-losing-senior-commanders-in-syria-at-a-rapid-rate/).


Scott Lucas describes his website as “Daily news and analysis about Syria, Iran, the wider Middle East, US and Russian foreign policy.” Lucas describes himself as “a professional journalist and Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham, where he has worked since 1989. A specialist in US and British foreign policy, he has written and edited seven books, more than 30 major articles, and a radio documentary and co-directed the 2007 film Laban!.” 4.


Despite its title, this website is fairly dispassionate. Lara Setrakian, who “spent five years in the Middle East reporting for television, radio and digital platforms for ABC News, Bloomberg Television, the International Herald Tribune, Business Insider and Monocle magazine”, is a co-founder. It has a daily executive summary that is pretty useful.


This is a newspaper with a strong Islamist orientation that identifies with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Considering its support for Hamas, it is interesting that it has condemned Russian intervention in Syria. I suspect that if Hamas was not depending on Iranian funds, it would still be supporting the revolt against Assad.


This is a well-funded newspaper based in Washington, DC that supposedly has Baathist loyalties. Even if that is generally true, I find useful articles there such as “Don’t underestimate Free Syrian Army” (http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/10/syria-fsa-isis-media-coverage-palmyra-101-divison.html).

Scholarly analysis


Juan Cole is pretty bad most days but necessary to follow since he reflects the liberal consensus on Syria. For all of the talk about how the USA is about to start WWIII, Cole hews pretty closely to the Obama minimalist approach.


Bassam Haddad, a professor at George Mason University, started this. He wrote a good article on Syria some years ago (http://www.merip.org/mer/mer262/syrian-regimes-business-backbone) but has largely washed his hands of the struggle there because it does not match up to his ideal of gradual change based on a “Yemen” strategy—ie., Assadism without Assad.


Landis, like the two above, is very cool to the Syrian militias. He wrote an op-ed piece in the NYT before the Arab Spring broke out urging that the Sunnis be kept in line in Syria. Despite this, the site is a useful source of information and analysis, particularly from Aron Lund.


Radicals launched the Middle East Research and Information Project in 1971 in the same spirit as other New Left projects such as URPE or Science for the People. It is essential reading on Syria. A February article (http://www.merip.org/mero/mero022412) by Peter Harling and Sarah Birke is most useful:

Throughout the crisis, the regime has proven more sectarian, unaccountable and vicious than ever. Obsessed with the challenge posed by peaceful protests, its mukhabarat security services — almost none of whose members have been put on trial as promised — have hunted non-violent progressive activists, often with more zeal than shown toward criminal gangs and armed groups. The mukhabarat have recruited thugs and criminals — the more extreme, venal and subservient elements of society — into an army of proxies known across the country as shabbiha. It has tried to intimidate protesters through gruesome tactics. An emblematic case for the opposition is Hamza al-Khatib, a 14-year old from Dir‘a whose battered and castrated corpse was returned to his family a month after he was taken. (The regime never denied the boy had been arrested and killed, but had forensic experts explain on television that he was in fact a professional rapist operating within a jihadi network.) Asad has gradually shed all pretense of being a national leader, speaking instead as the head of one camp determined to vanquish the other.


Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel are involved with the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver. Since both are opposed to the Baathist dictatorship, you can expect to find useful resources there especially on the question of human rights.



This is the website of Idrees Ahmed, the Pakistani author of “The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War”. Like the lucky few who had their heads screwed on right, he had the ability to see Syria as the victim of outside intervention but from Iran, Russia and Hizbollah. His website is essential.


This is the blog of Joseph Daher, a Syrian living in exile in Switzerland whose politics are Trotskyist but not dogmatically so. I have heard him speak about Syria over Skype at Left Forums that you see on my Vimeo channel: https://vimeo.com/130671622.


Michael Karadjis is a member of the Socialist Alliance in Australia and a deeply informed commentator on events taking place in Syria. He is especially good at analyzing the bourgeois press in order to sort out the truth from the Baathist propaganda as his latest article on the Russian-Israeli connection should bear out: https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/the-israel-russia-axis-of-resistance-its-place-in-regional-geopolitics/


Clay Claiborne was the person who turned me around on Syria, convincing me to drop my plague on both your houses orientation. He is an African-American computer expert who was part of the New Left in the 1960s and is still going strong.


Charles Davis is a journalist based in Los Angeles who had the distinction of being one of the few opponents of the Baathist dictatorship to have been published on CounterPunch. I strongly recommend a look at his article that appears there today: http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/14/anti-imperialism-2-0-selective-sympathies-dubious-friends/. While you are there, make a contribution to CounterPunch that has just started its yearly fund drive. Good for them to publish mavericks like Charles and me.

This is not an exhaustive list. Please recommend any others that come to mind in the comments section.

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.

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