Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 13, 2016

On the marbling of al-Nusra and “moderate” Syrian rebels

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:20 pm

One of the things I’ve noticed over the past five years of genocidal war against the Syrian people is the apparently well-orchestrated defense of the regime by elements of the “left” who are as disciplined in their way as members of the Communist Party when Stalin was running the show. Using websites such as Salon.com, Jacobin, CounterPunch, the London Review of Books and Consortium News, they can be relied upon to crank out basically the same article with the same embedded links reading in some ways like plagiarized versions of Syrian state media. It was most prominently displayed in September 2013 when it seemed like a chorus of a thousand voices spoke as one in defense of the idea that the Sarin gas attack was a “false flag” operation mounted by the rebels to give the USA the excuse it needed for “regime change”. To give you an idea of the massiveness of the propaganda campaign, Googling “Sarin gas” and “false flag” returns 58,800 results with CounterPunch, Iran’s PressTV and the LRB included in the first six.

Right now the main talking point of the Baathist amen corner seems to be the question of American support for Al Qaeda in Syria aka al-Nusra front, which is usually formulated as support not exactly for al-Nusra but those rebel groups that engage in joint military actions with it. It is like saying that Winston Churchill, one of the 20th century’s most vicious anti-Communists, was pro-Stalin because English and Soviet soldiers both targeted Hitler.

While I have grown inured to these articles, they seem to be gathering momentum as the “peace” talks broke down and allowed Russian and Syrian jets to bomb hospitals and other civilian targets. What better way to make such barbarism tolerable than to smear the rebels as those who would launch attacks on the American homeland if given half a chance. In an odd way, it reminds me of how LBJ used to defend the invasion of Vietnam except in this case it is jihadism rather than Communism that has to be stopped in its tracks.

Weighing in on Truthout.org, long time Iranian theocracy defender Gareth Porter speaks about how “Obama Broke Pledge to Demand Syrian Opposition’s Separation From Nusra Front”. It starts off:

The gradual erosion of the cease-fire in Syria over the past month is the result of multiple factors shaping the conflict, but one of the underlying reasons is the Obama administration’s failure to carry out its commitment to Russia to get US-supported opposition groups to separate themselves physically from the Nusra Front — the al-Qaeda organization in Syria.

The rest of the article contains exactly the same observation repeated continuously to the conclusion. Of course, repetition is a key device in propaganda just as it is in Trivago commercials. The Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov refers to the intermingling of al-Nusra and USA supported (verbally) rebels as “marbling”, a term that ironically evokes the way that fat is found in cuts of beef. Given the slaughterhouse that Syria has become, this must have reflected Russian subliminal thought.

As bad as Porter is, he does not come close to the sheer mendacity of Patrick L. Smith, Salon.com’s resident expert on all things Syrian. His article is titled “Our Syria policy is still a mess: These are the dots the media refuses to connect”  and covers the same bases as Porter’s, especially the refusal of Syrian rebels to separate themselves physically from al-Nusra as if it was as simple as obeying a parent to stop hanging around some trouble-makers in high school. The article begins:

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s widely respected foreign minister, dropped a big one here last weekend. After an hour-long conversation with John Kerry, Lavrov asserted in nationally televised remarks that the American secretary of state told him he wanted Russian planes to stop bombing al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda, in their air campaign against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. GlobalSecurity.org carried the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty account of the exchange; it is here and worth a read.

“They are telling us not to hit it [al–Nusra] because there is ‘normal’ opposition next…to it,” Lavrov explained very soon after the two put their telephones down.

For Smith, the real explanation for physical proximity between “moderate” (an idiotic term) rebels and al-Nusra is their ideological proximity:

For the record, it has long been understood and occasionally acknowledged by those on the ground in Syria that many of the militias the U.S. has armed and trained are hopelessly tangled up with al–Nusra rebels. If you listen closely, this is not a matter of logistics or military strategy, and still less of happenstance. It is primarily a reflection of ideological affinity, given how regularly these groups are in and out of alliances with one another. Washington’s moderates, in other words, do not give much evidence of moderation. There is little ground left to qualify this even as a topic worth debate.

Once he has established that it is nothing but jihadists that are fighting in Syria, the next step for a propagandist like Smith is to serve as an attorney for Baathist extremism (or exterminism, more accurately) as he plunges the butcher knife in ever more deeply:

One concerns the propaganda that crawls like kuzdu all over official statements and press reporting on the Syria conflict. The two usually coincide, we need to note, though this is not always so.

Barrel bombs (of the kind American deployed against the Vietnamese), targeted hospitals, civilian casualties, blockaded populations pushed to starvation: If you have not read of all this and more you have not been reading the newspapers. Here is our question: How much of this do we know to be so and how much as to the culpable parties?

Oh sure, everybody knows that this is just like the reports of the Huns impaling Belgian babies on their bayonets in 1914:

And you get how Smith throws in the reference to Vietnam? What is the point? That it is hypocritical for us to condemn their use there because “our country” used them against the Vietnamese? Not for me, at least. I opposed them in both Vietnam and Syria. What a hack like Patrick L. Smith was doing to oppose the war in Vietnam back then is anybody’s guess.

Maybe the best tactic the Russians can use against marbling in Syria would be the one they used in Chechnya:

Russian warplanes dropped leaflets Monday on the capital of separatist Chechnya, declaring that the war-torn city is surrounded by troops and warning residents that they must flee by Saturday or die.

The bluntly worded statement threatened that anyone who does not leave the city of Grozny will be deemed a terrorist and will be destroyed in a massive campaign of shelling and bombing.

“You are surrounded,” the leaflet said. “All roads to Grozny are blocked. You have lost. You have no chance of victory. Your commanders do not know what to do next. Further resistance is senseless.”

–LA Times, December 7, 1999 (http://articles.latimes.com/1999/dec/07/news/mn-41422)

As was the case in 1999, the American president spoke sternly to Russia about such a threat. With a scowl on his face, Clinton said, “Russia will pay a heavy price for those actions with each passing day, sinking more deeply into a morass that will intensify extremism and diminish its own standing in the world.” Those words had some impact, didn’t they?

The only question is where Russia learned such a tactic. If you want to separate “terrorists” like the Chechen rebels and al-Nusra front from those irresponsible enough to be in close proximity to them, there’s no better solution than to drop leaflets telling them to get out of Dodge or be blown to kingdom come.

Is it possible that they learned it from the most vigilant opponents of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East?

The air-dropped leaflets warned Gaza residents that failure to comply with instructions to evacuate “will endanger their lives and the loves of their families,” according to Reuters. The area is home to at least 100,000 people.

The BBC quotes the Israel’s military as confirming that it dropped leaflets in the area this morning.

“We do not wish to harm civilians in Gaza, but these civilians must know that remaining in close proximity to Hamas terrorists and infrastructures is extremely unsafe,” the IDF said.

–NPR, July 13, 2014 (http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/07/13/331122214/palestinians-flee-gaza-after-israel-drops-warning-leaflets)

Clearly two countries having so much in common in dealing with an existential challenge to civilization and cultural diversity such as Russia and Israel would naturally begin to not only cross-fertilize each other in terms of military tactics; they would inevitably draw closer together so that cheek-by-jowl they could form a united front against the dreaded jihadists who are threatening not only Moscow, Damascus and Tel Aviv but New York as well. What the world needs now more than ever is a war on terrorism with Christians, Jews, atheists and forward-thinking Muslims against the threat to our most deeply held values.

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