For the past month or so, I have seen vitriolic attacks on Jill Stein from people I am close to on the question of Syria. I have already dealt with the question of whether Syria should be a litmus test for the Green Party but want to look at the question from a different angle now, namely how it is that she came to embrace a position that my pro-Syrian revolution friends label as “pro-fascist”. Like the friends of the Hillary Clinton campaign pouring over every Jill Stein speech looking for “anti-science” pandering, there is now a concerted effort by Syrian solidarity activists to discover evidence of this “pro-fascism” in her every utterance. The latest discoveries are that she attended an RT.com conference in Moscow in December, had dinner with Putin when she was there, and that her VP candidate has been writing some truly awful stuff about Syria.
With respect to RT.com, it has published 105 articles in praise of Jill Stein so naturally she might have accepted an invitation to their conference. Since she has given no evidence that she has a mastery of the Syrian struggle and only reflects the left consensus, it is probably unrealistic to think that she would have turned down the invitation.
As for Ajamu Baraka, my guess is that he will be speaking mostly about domestic politics rather than Syria in his various speaking engagements but that can’t be guaranteed. However, it is quite likely that if he says anything about “regime change” and the jihadist threat, he will be preaching to the choir. Is there any reason to think that there will be people in the audience who have somehow learned to think outside the box when it comes to Syria, especially when their understanding of the country is likely drawn from The Nation, ZNet, Salon, CounterPunch, Consortium News, WBAI news, and countless other zines and print publications that have been making the same points as Baraka for the past five years? It baffles me that anybody could think otherwise.
I was reminded of how left opinion is shaped when I stumbled across a website called South Front this morning when trying to find out the latest news about the battle for Aleppo.
In a nutshell, this is just one more website that is pushing the Kremlin/Baathist agenda. The first thing I did was look up the domain. Unsurprisingly, it is registered in Russia.
But what is somewhat surprising is how a website based in Russia can put out a product that is so professional looking and whose articles are obviously written by people whose first language is English. And if it is not the case, it written by Russians who have been trained to write exactly like they were.
For most people unfamiliar with the logistics and economics of websites, it might be easy to take South Front for granted but I can tell you that this is an expensive proposition both in financial and human resources terms. The website would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to maintain, if not more. Meanwhile, pro-Syrian revolution websites are run on a shoestring and count on people like me to supply content. If some rich bastard in the USA had given me that kind of money back in 2011, I could have put together a website that might have not only competed with the Baathist amen corner but crushed it. But what is the likelihood that a hedge fund billionaire would have funded a website that took up the cause of scruffy, bearded, Quran-citing, poverty-stricken rural folk who fight alongside al-Qaeda militias when it suits them? This is not to speak of the American government whose main goal was to keep the rebels on a tight leash so that a neoliberal government sans Assad could be cobbled together in Syria as Michael Karadjis pointed out in an essential article in the New Arab.
I am afraid that those who are so ready to dismiss Jill Stein as “pro-fascist” have delusions that Hillary Clinton would step into the breach and come to the aid of the Syrian rebels. People somehow have forgotten that Clinton is a cynical politician who counts Henry Kissinger as a major source of wisdom on foreign policy. She does not act on principle but on the dictates of the billionaires who run the country who paid her handsomely for her tawdry speaking engagements. She will say and do things for their benefits, not for those of the Syrian people. To get an idea of how “flexible” she is, all you need to do is pay attention to what she said in a February 26, 2012 interview with CBS’s Wyatt Andrews:
WYATT ANDREWS, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the violence continuing in Syria and Assad refusing to allow medicine to reach the injured, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview with CBS News argues the United States is doing what it can, but within limits.
CLINTON: I am incredibly sympathetic to the calls that somebody do something, but it is also important to stop and ask what that is and who`s going to do it.
ANDREWS: What to do about Assad was supposed to be answered last Friday when a global conference called “Friends of Syria” again demanded that Assad step aside. But several Arab countries starting with the Saudis argued for action to arm the Syrian resistance. The Obama administration is resisting that.
ANDREWS: The U.S. has repeatedly said that it`s reluctant to support the direct army of the dissidents, why?
CLINTON: Well, first of all, we really don`t know who it is that would be armed.
ANDREWS: Specifically, the administration fears that arms will wind up in the hands of terrorists including al Qaeda.
CLINTON: We know al Qaeda, Zawahiri is supporting the opposition in Syria. Are we supporting al Qaeda in Syria? Hamas is now supporting the opposition, are we supporting Hamas in Syria?
So I think, Wyatt, you know despite the great pleas that we hear from those people who are being ruthlessly assaulted by Assad. If you are a military planner or if you are a secretary of state and you`re trying to figure out do you have the elements of an opposition that is actually viable, we don`t see that.
In contrast to Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein stakes out positions on the basis of principle even if unfortunately the position is based on an incomplete understanding of history and politics. If you spent five years reading Salon, Counterpunch and The Nation and had never heard of Robin Yassin-Kassab or Idrees Ahmad let alone read them, what are the chances that you would have developed an analysis that favored a rebel victory over Assad?
Back in 1965, when I first faced the draft, my thinking on the Vietnam war was foggy at best. I hated Communism, or at least what I had been told about it, but never considered the possibility that the NLF’s cause was just. It took a full year of debate and discussion with an SWP member at the New School in New York to convince me that the USA had violated the Vietnamese right to self-determination and that the NLF were patriots fighting an occupying power.
And then it took another year for him to convince me that socialism was a more rational and just system than capitalism. What if I had not run into him? There was a good chance that my ideas about Vietnam and socialism would have remained as they were, even if my mind would have never been changed on the existential question of staying out of the army. My main goal in life was to read novels, smoke marijuana and listen to jazz. Politics? No thanks.
I really wonder whether most of my pro-Syrian revolution comrades have given much thought to how their thinking evolved about Syria. It is obvious that someone like Robin Yassin-Kassab, who is Syrian, would have come to the right outlook since he knows people from his homeland who were being brutalized by the dictatorship and could read authoritative analyses in the original Arabic.
Speaking for myself, it took a while to wrap my head around this question since I had, like most CounterPunch readers, seen American intervention in the Middle East after 2011 in the same way I saw Iraq in 2003—just another case of meddling that had to be resisted. I should add that I remain anti-intervention but along a different axis, namely opposed to CIA efforts to keep MANPAD’s out of the hands of the rebels.
Accepting the self-evident bankruptcy of the Green Party’s official position on Syria raises the question of its relevancy to the ongoing struggle to create a party of the left in the USA. For some of the British comrades who are outspokenly against Jill Stein, there seems to be little interest in the key question facing the left in the USA, namely how to build a party of the left. If Syria is a litmus test, then we have to wait until the Greens adopt a new position that is unlikely to happen given the ideological balance of forces in the USA, to a large extent one that has the Kremlin’s fingers on the scale. For all of the uproar over a “new McCarthyism” about Trump and Putin, there is plenty of evidence that the Kremlin does use RT.com, South Front, and other outlets to shape American public opinion.
In the long run, the only way to combat these ideas is to build a left that is predicated on the idea of working class internationalism and solidarity with the oppressed. Unfortunately, the left has been afflicted by a tendency to consider the nation-state as an instrument of struggle rather than the working class and its allies. Someone like Jill Stein’s vision of peace and global progress is based on the idea that Russia is a lesser evil to the USA. How ironic that a politician who has so effectively rebutted the idea that we need to choose a lesser evil on election day can turn around and apply in effect the same discredited logic to vote for Vladimir Putin.