One cannot exactly be sure why Eric Draitser wrote an article titled “Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence” but it probably marks the first acknowledgement that there are people who oppose the pro-Assad articles that he, Mike Whitney, Pepe Escobar, John Wight, Andre Vltchek, Diana Johnstone, Rick Sterling, Gary Leupp, Jeff Mackler, Paul Larudee, Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett and others have been writing for the past 5 years.
In a refreshing break from the “Assad or the country burns” mentality of the ultra-Baathist stance of someone like Bartlett or Sterling, Draitser issues a mea culpa:
But what does it mean to oppose the war? Does it mean that we should be opposing just Russian and Syrian bombs being dropped? Does it mean that only US-Saudi-Turkey-Israeli supplied weapons are doing the killing? Sadly, these too are not rhetorical questions as so many on the Left, including many self-described anti-imperialists, have positioned themselves as hawks in a war that has utterly devastated the country. It seems that many, myself included up to a point, have gotten so enveloped in the embrace of partisanship in this war that we have forgotten that our responsibility is to the people of Syria and to peace and justice.
If you’re supportive of Assad then it’s a certainty that you’ve chosen to ignore or downplay the horrific violence of the bombings, the brutality of the torture chambers, and other unspeakable atrocities (I admit that I have often strayed too far into the latter) out of a desire to uphold the nominally anti-imperialist position.
And how about the refugees? I’ve seen the fascist talking points spouted by many fake “anti-imperialists” who with one breath proclaim their commitment to peace and justice, and with another demonize and scapegoat Syrian refugees whose politics don’t align with the pro-Assad position. Words like “traitors,” “cowards,” and “terrorists,” are shamefully applied to ordinary Syrians fleeing to Europe and elsewhere in hopes of saving their families. Indeed, it is precisely this narrative that is at the core of the white supremacist, fascist ideology that underlies a significant amount of the support base for Assad and his allies (see David Duke, David Icke, Alexander Dugin, Brother Nathanel, Alex Jones, Mimi al-Laham, Ken O’Keefe, and on and on and on). I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true, and too many of the pro-Assad camp have willfully ignored this fundamental point.
I ask these questions as someone who took a firmly pro-Assad position from the very beginning, someone who felt (as I, and many others, still do) that Syria, like Libya, was a victim of US-NATO-GCC-Israel imperialism and that, as such, it should be defended. And while I still uphold that resistance, I also have enough humility to know that, in doing so, I abandoned other core beliefs such as defense of ALL oppressed people, including the ones with politics I reject.
The questions alluded to in the paragraph immediately above are as follows:
- Were this the 1980s one wonders whether they’d be saying the same things about the “revolutionary” contras in Central America who, like the so-called rebels in Syria, were also backed with US weapons, money, and training. How about the mujahideen in Afghanistan?
- And what about those foreign fighters fleeing Syria? Are they revolutionaries when they go back to Libya and engage in human trafficking for profit? Or to Chechnya to smuggle Afghan heroin? Or to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else?
- What will you be doing when Hillary’s fire burns and cauldron bubbles? Will you continue to ignore the material reality of this war in favor of the chimera of a revolution betrayed? Put simply: will you be supporting US imperialism in the name of the “revolution”?
As it happens, I am pretty well qualified to answer the first question about the contras since I was the president of the board of Tecnica that supplied volunteers to Nicaragua including the engineer who supervised the repair of the electrical grid that contras were continuously blowing up. After another engineer named Ben Linder was murdered by contras in 1987 while working on a small-scale hydroelectric dam in northern Nicaragua that was a Tecnica-sponsored project, our volunteers took over for Ben after his death. So I know a thing or two about opposing the contras.
However, there is a big difference between the Nicaraguan contras and the FSA. The contras were trying to return Somoza type rule to Nicaragua while the FSA was trying to overthrow Syria’s Somoza. I choose my words carefully here since the crony capitalism of Bashar al-Assad has much in common with Somoza’s dictatorship in which connections to the dictatorship could have enormous economic rewards.
Unfortunately, Draitser has a very poor grasp of class relations inside Syria and like many of his cohorts prefers to write about the conflict between hegemonic blocs rather than about Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, who controlled 60 percent of the Syrian economy and bled dry the nation’s poor workers and farmers just as Somoza’s cronies did in Nicaragua. It was the greed of men like Makhlouf that caused the uprising not a Western plot to undermine the BRICS–his primary worry.
Speaking of the BRICS, Draitser has called attention to the “destabilization of the ANC-led government in South Africa” that “continues as political forces align to remove President Jacob Zuma” in a Global Research article (where else?). If “stability” means gunning down striking workers in Marikana, I am all for “destabilization”. Indeed, you might as well ask if the striking workers were like the Nicaragua contras since apparently any challenge to oligarchies within the BRICS hegemonic bloc is tantamount to supporting imperialism. Does this kind of Manicheanism have anything to do with Marxism? With the zero engagement with class relations in the articles of people like Mike Whitney et al, apparently not.
In terms of “foreign fighters fleeing Syria”, I suppose this is a reference to ISIS since by all accounts every other armed group is made up of people born and raised in Syria. Oh, just to clarify. I exclude the government’s armed groups that now consists of Hizbollah from Lebanon, Iranians, Russians, Iraqis Shia militias and impoverished Afghans who became mercenaries out of desperation.
This sort of baiting question is what you might expect from someone like Draitser who obviously has a need to make an amalgam between ISIS, al-Qaeda and the admittedly wide range of rebels in Syria who, excluding the FSA, to one degree or another incorporate Islamist politics. Speaking of the FSA, Draitser has referred to it as being composed of “terrorist elements” so perhaps it is only logical that he lumps it in with ISIS. I should add that except for this rather unsubstantiated claim, he has never written anything about the FSA or the wide range of unarmed groups that remain in the country fighting for democracy and social justice. That would only interfere with his geopolitical chess game narrative that reduces them to pawns.
Finally, on the question of American imperialism and “regime change”. Like Ashley Smith, I am opposed to American intervention period, which includes no-fly zones. I am opposed to Western air attacks in Syria, Yugoslavia, and Iraq. Furthermore, I would have even been opposed to them in Germany during WWII, no matter that Draitser’s co-thinker John Wight supported barrel bombing as the moral equivalent of bombing Dresden–god help us.
My opposition to aerial bombing and US military boots on the ground flows from my analysis of American imperialism that remains one of my lingering Trotskyist influences. James P. Cannon and other SWP leaders went to prison in 1941 for opposing WWII and their example still inspires me. Beyond that, I view bombing as a war crime in and of itself as I pointed out in an article about Sven Lindqvist’s “A History of Bombing”. Lindqvist wrote:
The first person to step forward and openly acknowledge what the others were hiding was the Italian Giulio Douhet. He arrived as a young cadet in Torino, the capital of the Italian auto industry, and wrote his first book on the military use of motor vehicles (1902). In 1910 he published a book on the problems of the air force, and in 1912 he was appointed chief of the newly formed air squadron in Torino. The next year he and Gianni Caproni constructed the first heavy bomber, a tri-engine monster created to make bombardment from the air the dominant form of attack.
When the World War broke out, Douhet became famous for his criticism of the way the war was conducted and his impassioned pleading for the use of the heavy bomber. The generals were enraged, and Douhet was relieved of his post and court-martialed.
Following the Italian brass, I advocate that any head of state that uses aerial bombardment be put in prison. This includes Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin. It also includes Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton if she uses American air power to enforce a NFZ.
Let me wrap up with some questions to Eric Draitser:
- After Assad bombed a Douma marketplace in August 2015 that resulted in the death of more than 100 civilians, you wrote an article casting doubt on the Syrian dictatorship’s culpability. You pose an “alternative theory”, namely that “the Syrian military carried out an airstrike in the rebel stronghold town of Douma, and that the strike hit its target, a building housing a terrorist faction long since known to be in the city.” If the target was a building where a terrorist faction hung out sort of like Hamas in Gaza, how do you explain the photographs and video below? If there was pinpoint targeting, it must be same kind the IDF uses in Gaza.
- As someone who claims that the rebels gassed themselves in East Ghouta as a false flag operation to provoke regime change, how do you explain the failure of such cold-bloodedly devilish counter-revolutionaries to launch Sarin gas attacks on Damascus or any other government-controlled areas henceforth? These are obviously powerful weapons so why have they failed to exploit them? Are they afraid of being denounced by Vanessa Beeley?
- Finally, in August 2013 you wrote an article linking the “red line” rhetoric over the Sarin gas attacks as the opening salvo of a proxy war on Iran. Surely, you have become aware that at exactly the time that Obama was warning Assad about an intervention, he was in the first stages of a rapprochement with Iran. In fact, despite your frequent warnings about regime change, even as late as August 2016, there is ample evidence that this was never Obama’s intention as the NY Times reported on October 22nd 2013, just when the “red lines” rhetoric had fooled everybody writing for Counterpunch or Global Research except maybe me. The Times article 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.”
So my question is why you continue to write articles about “regime change” after nearly six years of Assad’s scorched earth policies that goes unanswered by the USA. Isn’t it possible that Obama had simply acted on the recommendation of the RAND corporation that “Regime collapse, while not considered a likely outcome, was perceived to be the worst possible outcome for U.S. strategic interests”?