Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 25, 2015

A Pentagon-Kremlin conspiracy to back Assad? Who is Seymour Hersh kidding?

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:28 pm

Martin Dempsey, America’s top general, funneled intelligence to Assad according to Seymour Hersh

Seymour Hersh, the doddering old fool who should have retired from journalism at least as long ago as Woody Allen should have stopped making movies, has written a preposterous article in the London Review of Books that relies pretty much on the word of an ex-official in the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The unnamed source (what else would you expect) claims that the Pentagon has been effectively operating as an arm of the Kremlin to back Bashar al-Assad in his war on the Syrian rebels. If the Justice Department were to take these allegations seriously, they’d arrest the former Pentagon head for treason and not just put him in jail but underneath the jail.

Except for the supposed Dempsey-Putin conspiracy that would likely be rejected by Tom Clancy’s publisher as being implausible, most of the article is a tired retread of all the Baathist amen corner talking points.

Showing that he is as tough-minded as John Wight—the British Assadist who justified barrel-bombing as having something in common with the carpet bombing of Dresden (that’s some fucking justification), Hersh told Amy Goodman that you have to break an egg to make an omelet:

The Russians’ concern is not about establishing a new world order; their concern is terrorism, primarily. They have a big terrorism problem. There’s no question the leadership—many of the leadership modes or groups inside the ISIL, or the Islamic State, originated from the Chechnyan war. They had two wars with Chechnya—one of them went 10 years—brutal wars, in which Russia did horrible things, the same sort of stuff that Bashar al-Assad did, and one could argue that—same things we did to Japan at the end of World War II, when you see your country is at stake. People do very rough things in all-out war.

Well, he got this right—sort of. The USA dropped atomic bombs on Japan twice but was it because it saw that our country’s survival was “at stake”? That, of course, is the excuse that scumbags like Winston Churchill (a fave on John Wight’s website) made but one rejected by New Left historians like Gar Alperovitz who likely Hersh (and Wight) have never read. In fact the argument that your country’s survival is at stake is the same that was made in 1914 and then again in 1941. If you have zero understanding of the Marxist class analysis, or having once understood it like Christopher Hitchens and John Wight but went on to reject it in favor of Enlightenment Values against the dreaded jihadi scum, you are likely to line up with Hersh rather than Alperovitz. Barrel bombs, A-Bombs, carpet bombing…that’s what you need to ensure the rule of Reason, Religious Tolerance and Democracy. Just ask Bill Maher.

As might be expected, the LRB article begins with a reference to a top secret document that us poor unwashed mortals have to have transmitted to us through Hersh’s access to his informant. Don’t you feel blessed?

The military’s resistance dates back to the summer of 2013, when a highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then led by General Martin Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos and, potentially, to Syria’s takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was then happening in Libya.

According to Hersh’s pal, it was the findings in this report that so frightened the top generals that ran lickety-split to their rolodex and phoned their counterparts in the Russian army. They had to put their heads together to stop the threat posed to world survival by ISIS and al-Qaeda. If you’ve seen “Dr. Strangelove”, you’ll remember how the Yanks and the Commies could put their differences aside when their common survival was at stake. I should add that if Stanley Kubrick were still alive, he’d be writing a screenplay based on Hersh’s fanciful reporting right now.

(Coincidently, Hersh admitted to a Pacifica radio interviewer (2:30 into this clip) that he never even saw the report, he only “knew about it”. So there’s a level of reportorial integrity here that is less than meets the eye.)

With the USA and Russia secretly aligned on behalf of Assad, you would think that the war in Syria would have ended long ago. So what kept it dragging on? Of course, it couldn’t be the rebels who Hersh dismisses as extremists with a zero social base in the population. Instead it has been Turkey, a country that developed “an across-the-board technical, arms and logistical programme for all of the opposition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State”, that has tried to keep the pot boiling. But General Dempsey and his cohorts foiled the evil Turks’ dastardly plans:

“We worked with Turks we trusted who were not loyal to Erdoğan,” the adviser said, “and got them to ship the jihadists in Syria all the obsolete weapons in the arsenal, including M1 carbines that hadn’t been seen since the Korean War and lots of Soviet arms. It was a message Assad could understand: ‘We have the power to diminish a presidential policy in its tracks.’”

M1 Carbines? Really? Funny that this weapon is not mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on arms used by the Syrian rebels. Who knows, maybe the rebels opened a box of M1’s and threw them away. But more to the point, despite all the fear-mongering over Turkey’s supposed backing for ISIS et al, there is evidence that it was crucial in blocking shipments of the very weapon that could have made the most difference, even without the connivance of those “trusted” Turks who were as ready as Martin Dempsey to prop up Assad.

On October 17, 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported (emphasis added):

U.S. officials say they are most worried about Russian-designed Manpads provided to Libya making their way to Syria. The U.S. intensified efforts to track and collect man-portable missiles after the 2011 fall of the country’s longtime strongman leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

To keep control of the flow of weapons to the Syrian rebels, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar formed a joint operations room early this year in a covert project U.S. officials watched from afar.

The U.S. has limited its support of the rebels to communications equipment, logistics and intelligence. But U.S. officials have coordinated with the trio of countries sending arms and munitions to the rebels. The Pentagon and CIA ramped up their presence on Turkey’s southern border as the weapons began to flow to the rebels in two to three shipments every week.

In July, the U.S. effectively halted the delivery of at least 18 Manpads sourced from Libya, even as the rebels pleaded for more effective antiaircraft missiles to counter regime airstrikes in Aleppo, people familiar with that delivery said.

Martin Dempsey resigned in May of this year, thus allowing Obama to preside over a foreign policy that could rely on a “more compliant” Pentagon. Hersh is disappointed in this, since it means “There will be no more indirect challenges from the military leadership to his policy of disdain for Assad and support for Erdoğan.” If that is the case, why the continuing refusal to supply the weapons that could turn Syria into a graveyard for Russian jets?

On October 26th, the Voice of America reported on the frustration of Syrian rebel commanders over the continuing ban on MANPAD’s:

Abdul Rahman, a commander with the Ahfad Omer battalion, part of the larger First Brigade, a U.S. backed secular militia, said they had made several attempts to buy MANPADS and recently had been negotiating with a mafia group in Turkey, but they realized they were being set up for fraud. “We understood that they didn’t have access to the weapons they claimed,” he explained.

He said he has hopes that Saudi Arabia and Qatar may tire with the U.S. ban on supplying MANPADS and break coalition ranks, but that the Gulf countries are not ready to flaunt the Americans. “No one will give us any, we are really suffering because of this.” He added: “We are trying all kinds of ways to get them, including from the mafia, on the black market, anything we can think of to get some. Whatever money they want, we can give them.”

Is there any explanation for Saudi Arabia and Qatar not supplying MANPAD’s, especially in light of their supposed involvement with jihadist terror all around the world? With all of the zillions of articles about the Saudi’s commitment to Salafist terror groups like ISIS, why in the world would they respect a U.S. ban? None of this adds up, of course, if you accept the notion that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey would stop at nothing to create an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. However, this is a false premise. These three nations have been supporting a wide range of groups in Syria but all of them have been at odds with ISIS. In fact, ISIS came into existence as a break with al-Qaeda in whose name the al-Nusra Front operates. That being said, Turkey has promoted other groups especially the FSA that has borne the brunt of Russian and Syrian bombing.

How does Hersh explain the various reports in the media about Russia targeting these enemies of ISIS? That’s no problem for our intrepid journalist. He relies on the Russian media for an explanation:

The Kremlin adviser on the Middle East, like the Joint Chiefs and the DIA, dismisses the ‘moderates’ who have Obama’s support, seeing them as extremist Islamist groups that fight alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and IS (‘There’s no need to play with words and split terrorists into moderate and not moderate,’ Putin said in a speech on 22 October).

Well, I guess that settles it. If Putin says it, it must be true.

To buttress his case against those of us who view Assad as a stinking, scabrous Middle East version of Pinochet or Suharto, Hersh invokes the expert testimony of a German journalist and one-time politician:

Jürgen Todenhöfer, a German journalist who was allowed to spend ten days touring IS-held territory in Iraq and Syria, told CNN that the IS leadership “are all laughing about the Free Syrian Army. They don’t take them for serious. They say: ‘The best arms sellers we have are the FSA. If they get a good weapon, they sell it to us.’ They didn’t take them for serious. They take for serious Assad. They take for serious, of course, the bombs. But they fear nothing, and FSA doesn’t play a role.’”

Quoting this 75-year old globetrotting fool (if I embarrass myself as badly as Hersh or Todenhöfer 5 years from now, please inform my wife) is about the same thing as quoting Pepe Escobar or Mike Whitney. On his website,Todenhöfer invokes the Pentagon document found on Judicial Watch that has been cited 10,000 times by people like Seumas Milne to “prove” that the USA was trying to create an Islamic State (of course, everybody knows that Obama is a secret Muslim—just ask Donald Trump):

The contents of the said secret document is prone to leave readers speechless. It reveals a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate to actually be an instigator of terror and shows how the West sides with international terrorists. Both of them have been deliberately promoting international terrorism – particularly ISIS! That’s the bitter reality.

The document is a sensation and a political scandal – let’s call it a “terrorist Watergate”. Obama and the West knew early on who was really fighting in Syria and how much of a terrorist threat their politics created for the world. While they were telling the world the usual lies of them fending for freedom, democracy and human rights, they were actually actively (and purposefully) supporting terrorist organizations.

Don’t these idiots read the document to its conclusion? It clearly states that the development of what would become ISIS is a threat to US interests:

. 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.

Dire consequences? Grave dangers? How in fuck’s name do you interpret such words to mean that Obama was in favor of jihadists especially when he has been using drones to kill them all around the planet on a nonstop basis for fifteen years now? Some analysts say that the use of drones will convince people to join ISIS. Is that what Todenhöfer had in mind? Your guess is as good as mine.

Hersh also has good things to say about Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic Congresswoman from Hawaii who served two military tours in the Middle East. Hersh concurs with her statement to CNN that Russia was doing the USA a favor by bombing the rebels in Syria (with an occasional token gesture aimed at ISIS.)

I am a bit surprised to see Hersh neglect other major political figures who have pretty much the same outlook, including Donald Trump who said that even if Assad is pretty bad, the rebels are worse. Without going too far, it might be said that this is the dominant position across the political spectrum from Marine Le Pen on the right to Mike Whitney on the left. If you are comfortable with such bedfellows, be my guest. Just watch out for the crabs and the scabies.

And finally, if you are trying to establish whether or not Obama was a bitter enemy of Assad anxious to “bring ’em on” as George W. Bush once infamously referred to war with Iraq, there’s no need to go scuttling about trying to find some spook or retired Pentagon official to quote anonymously in the feckless LRB. You can simply check out what Robert Ford has to say–no not the guy who shot Jesse James but the former Ambassador to Syria who has been telling everybody who will listen that Obama had the same relationship to Assad as Neville Chamberlain had to Hitler. In countless interviews and articles, he has been hammering the administration for abandoning the rebels:

First, the Free Syrian Army needs far greater material support and training so that it can mount an effective guerrilla war. Rather than try to hold positions in towns where the regime’s air force and artillery can flatten it, the armed opposition needs help figuring out tactics to choke off government convoy traffic and overrun fixed-point defenses.

Indeed, this was administration policy all along. Perhaps General Dempsey was tilting even more for directly backing Assad but that would be trying to break down an open door as far as the White House was concerned.

In fact there was zero interest in a large-scale intervention in Syria in either civilian or military quarters. All this is documented in a NY Times article from October 22nd 2013, written when the alarums over a looming war with Syria were at their loudest, that stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.” In other words, the White House policy was and is allowing the Baathists and the rebels to exhaust each other in an endless war, just as was White House policy during the Iran-Iraq conflict.

(In a future post, I will deal with Hersh’s claim that Turkey had a “rat line” of Uyghur jihadists that Russia needed to exterminate for its own survival.)

2 Comments »

  1. […] Hersh’s latest piece on Syria seems to contain quite a few dubious claims, but I was most curious about what he says about the two “rat lines” funnelling Uyghur […]

    Pingback by Seymour Hersh turns Uyghur refugees into “would-be fighters” | Sinoturcica — December 27, 2015 @ 6:22 am

  2. […] Hersh’s latest piece on Syria seems to contain quite a few questionable claims, but I was most curious about what he says about the two “rat lines” funnelling Uyghur […]

    Pingback by Seymour Hersh turns Uyghur refugees into “would-be fighters” | The Kebab and Camel — December 28, 2015 @ 8:27 pm


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