Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 8, 2017

The Sarin gas attack in context

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:19 pm

(A guest post by Amith Gupta.)

After the Syrian dictatorship fired chemical weapons at babies, villagers, and other people who were busy being completely innocent in Idlib last week, I began writing a much longer piece on what I think the role of people who are against imperialism should make of American involvement in that country.

But in the meantime, something else happened. Donald Trump ordered the launch of 60 cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airbase in Homs, ostensibly as a “response” to the killings of over 100 villagers by the Syrian regime. Before I even had the chance to think about it, virtually every antiwar activist I knew was ready to rush to the streets, treating this as an emergency, or even suggesting that this attack was in some way comparable to the US invasion of Iraq. Here is why I think they are wrong on multiple levels.

The Norm Against Chemical Weapons

First and foremost, we should be clear about what Donald Trump and the US regime are actually doing: they are continuing an already-existing campaign of bombing Syria, that has gone on since at least 2014. That bombing campaign has been driven primarily by drones, and has primarily targeted Syrian rebels and rebel-held areas, or ISIS. The strikes have killed numerous innocent people, including the dozens of innocent Muslims praying in a mosque in Aleppo when a single drone strike incinerated them on March 17th. So what changed last night?

There has been an existing norm of international relations since World War I, possibly going back before it, not to use chemical agents. Some argue it was an elitist norm, growing out of a gentlemen’s agreement between European rulers not to use poison, out of their fear of their own assassination. But whatever the reasoning, it took on new meaning after World War I, with the widespread use of mustard gas and the literal fumigation of millions of people. Nor was it limited to combat between the European powers. While Saddam Hussein is often remembered for his use of chemical weapons against Kurds and Iranians, it was Winston Churchill who first dropped such weapons on people in Iraq in 1920.

The norm is in some ways comparable to the norm against the use of nuclear weapons. And for that reason, a number of third world states have historically refused to sign the Chemical Weapons ban: chemical weapons are a poor man’s (or poor country’s) nuke. They can be used for deterrence and they can be used by untrained, poorly equipped regimes to kill large numbers of innocents.

That is why, regardless of what one thinks of the weapons, there is a sudden spike in outrage when such weapons are used in the quarters of the strategic planning rooms of countries that normally do not care when innocents die in Syria or Iraq. Nonetheless, the fact that there is an elitist and Western-state-centric strategic norm against the weapons hardly legitimates the sheer depravity of their use. In the furtherance of maintaining this norm, Trump carried out a strike on a Syrian airbase as direct retaliation for the use of chemical weapons.

While Trump cites Obama’s “failure” to do the same thing in 2013, the truth is that previous US strikes have been rationalized on similar grounds. The most analogous strike that comes to mind is the campaign by Bill Clinton to bomb “suspected” chemical weapons production sites in Iraq in 1998. The attack, in my view, was unjustified and was not based on any actual concerns about chemical weapons. Indeed, the weapons inspection program at the time was compromised because it was sharing sensitive intelligence with the US government. Nonetheless, that was how it was rationalized. To the extent there is a comparison between what Trump has just done and US policy in Iraq, it would be that series of strikes.

And like that operation in 1998, it has little to do with “regime change”. At the time, neoconservative voices who had been pressuring Clinton (and Bush before him) to remove Saddam Hussein from power were treated as unhinged extremists. While Clinton may have made concessions to them, neither he nor George H.W. Bush before him did what they wanted: taking out Saddam Hussein.

In 2017, Donald Trump has staked out a similar position. He has rejected outright the possibility of regime change in Syria, with his aides explicitly telling the rest of the world to “accept the political reality” in Syria, a message that may have been interpreted by Assad as license to use chemical weapons, believing the United States would either not attempt to enforce the norm, or that the response to its use would not be significant, as in 1998 in Iraq. Assad, thusfar, has been correct: while Trump struck a military base and continues dangling other options, there is no indication that Donald Trump wants to unseat Bashar Al-Assad, or that the price the latter will pay for the message he sent to the rebels living in Idlib will be anything significant for him.

“Regime Change” and Empty Comparisons to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq

Let’s discuss how, if at all, this strike is comparable to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. That’s an easy one: it isn’t.

In 2002, a President — surrounded by neoconservative advisors who had come into his administration with Cold War-era delusions about the role of American military power — had spent two years discussing with his confidantes how he would take out Saddam Hussein. Emboldened by the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration cherry-picked and fabricated evidence, some extracted from torture, to argue that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to the United States, Israel, and the rest of the world.

He and his neocon lawyers manipulatively interpreted the existing legal machinery from the first Gulf War, namely multiple UN Security Council resolutions, to justify sending 140,000 American soldiers into Iraq with the explicitly stated purpose of deposing Saddam Hussein. In doing so, he escalated American involvement from US sanctions, which had already killed hundreds of thousands of people, to an outright invasion.

Once Saddam Hussein was deposed, the soldiers occupied Iraq for a decade, leaving behind special forces and military bases, and continuing to supply their corrupt allies with millions of dollars in training and weapons aid. While occupying Iraq, US soldiers and private mercenaries protected and maintained a racist, ethnocratic, sectarian system closely resembling the one used by French colonial powers in Lebanon to keep the Iraqi body politic weak while foreign corporations raked in billions — not only from weapons contracts themselves, but by awarding themselves control over the rebuilding process of nearly everything in Iraq and billing themselves exorbitant prices from the Iraqi treasury.

And to maintain this purposely-broken system of foreign domination, the US military carried out a brutal campaign of counter-insurgency encompassing the exploitation of ethnic tensions, the use of white phosphorous bombs, mass expulsions, torture and rape, mass detentions, and other remnants of colonial-era rule.

Over 4 million people have been thusfar displaced from Iraq (it is hard to count because they have been displaced again, and again, and again); over one million people have been killed (so far); and the country is now split between the corrupt and inhuman Iranian-allied militiamen-turned-politicians that the US left in power and a revanchist Sunni extremist death cult known as ISIS. The former grew out of the sectarian system and the decisive blow to Sunni power in 2007 by Shi’ite-aligned militias, and the latter grew out of the systematic disenfranchisement of Sunnis along with a more extreme wing of Al Qaeda that had begun operating in some parts of Iraq only after the US invasion.

In sum, an otherwise functioning third-world dictatorship that was mostly stable was turned into a fractured country in which the norm is large-scale weekly massacres carried out by ethnic militias competing for power within a US-built sectarian state, where civil war and instability has essentially been institutionalized. Nearly 2 decades later, Iraqis are still applying to become refugees from the war, and they continue languishing in refugee camps in Iraq, in Jordan, and elsewhere throughout the region.

Trump’s strike on the Syrian airbase is not even remotely comparable.

As a preliminary distinction: He didn’t lie about the use of weapons of mass destruction. Bashar Al-Assad undeniably sprayed sarin gas at Syrians. The attempts to argue it was someone else strike me as a stomach-turning example of how far people will go to force reality to fit into a Manichean worldview. Virtually all weapons experts from all backgrounds, civilian and military, agreed that the symptoms exhibited by the children in the videos coming from Idlib were the symptoms of sarin. The alternative explanation given by apologists for Assad — that the weapons leaked out of a rebel weapons factory after it was bombed by the Syrian army — have been rejected by all of them, as they point out that sarin would not “leak” but simply burn up in such a scenario. In contrast, Saddam Hussein complied with weapons inspectors and had not used those weapons since the 1980s. There wasn’t any evidence that Saddam Hussein even had any such weapons.

Second: The US isn’t invading Syria. The comparison between a single airstrike and a 140,000-man army is absurd. Likewise, the US was already attacking Syria before this strike: using drones and special forces. Almost all of these strikes have hit rebel groups, signifying that to the extent that the US was already involved in Syria, it was effectively backing up the regime. So unlike the 2003 invasion, which was a dramatic escalation, the US bombing of the Syrian airbase isn’t even an escalation. It is the same level of involvement that the US already had, with the sole difference being that the target was the Syrian government rather than the Syrian government’s opponents — or, as is plenty common with US airstrikes, completely innocent people in Syria. Indeed, a Trump airstrike had struck a mosque in Aleppo only several weeks ago, in which 57 people died. There was no “emergency,” no angry statements, no reaffirmations of our opposition to imperialism. Generally, nobody really cared. They didn’t support it by any means, but the Left also did not rally around it.

So the suggestion that this is an escalation of any kind — let alone an outright invasion or even the precursor to an invasion — does not make any sense. If anything, it is simply a continuation of what the United States was already doing — firing bombs at Syria — with the slight change that instead of hitting worshippers in Aleppo, it hit regime storm troopers at a military base.

Of course, things can always change. Perhaps tonight Donald Trump will order sending 11 billion US soldiers into Syria, and while he is at it, maybe he’ll throw Hillary Clinton in jail. When that happens, call me.

Third, and most importantly: Syria isn’t an already stable country. When the US invaded Iraq, Iraq had an economy roughly the size of Greece — an impressive feat given the character of US sanctions and the war with Iran. Multiple ethnic groups in Iraq lived in relative peace, with Christians and Muslims celebrating each other’s holidays. Mixed-sect marriages and families were not only accepted, but common. The idea that one could be beaten or murdered in the streets of a major Iraqi city for religious/sectarian reasons, or the idea that entire families would be broken up and separated because married partners were from different sects, was so unheard of that the concern was laughed off by apologists for the Iraq invasion when it was brought up by critics in 2002/03.

All of that came crashing down with the US occupation and invasion of Iraq. Can that be said for US airstrikes on the Syrian military? Is it even remotely believable that the people of Syria, suffering on camera for 5 straight years, watching their friends and family die (or kill), disappear, drown, evaporate — that *this* is the point at which there is some sort of emergency for them? The reaction of sudden protests around the US strike on the airbase exposes a schism of disconnect between the actual suffering in Syria and the position of Western anti-war activists. Somehow, their sensors of what is or isn’t an emergency situation prompting statements, walkouts, protests, diplomatic intervention, and outrage, are not actually geared to what is happening in Syria. They are geared to what the US is doing to its dictatorship, its primary tormentor. So let’s talk about that.

The Role of Western Anti-War Activists

It is understandable that people on the Left in Western countries want to primarily focus their efforts on matters for which their own governments are directly responsible. That is laudable: We do not have meaningful control or effect on foreign governments, but we often have direct control over the role of our own, even if it is through something as simple as protesting. The purpose of all forms of activism, lest they be empty humanitarian posturing, are to be directed at those who govern.

And yet, the story that Western leftists have told themselves about Syria and their relationship to that country has not been consistent with this goal. According to the dominant western left narrative, Syrian opposition groups are “contras” that are co-opted or entirely controlled by the West, and the US is backing them as part of a campaign to overthrow the Syrian regime. Under these assumptions, one can see how strikes on the airbase fall into a much larger narrative that the Western left has constructed, in which at any time, the US is about to overthrow Bashar Al-Assad and unleash havoc on the people of Syria.

Of course, the narrative is flawed in numerous ways, the most obvious being that the US hardly needs to do more to unleash havoc (see point 3 in the previous section). But on top of this, to the extent that the US has backed various opposition groups, the support has been partial. Nor did it come with air support or NATO no fly zones. Indeed, even the one politician who had any real intention of imposing such a measure — Hillary Clinton — has backed off the idea. Moreover, the US aid to rebel groups has often come with the intention of splitting those rebel groups against each other — ensuring that none of them have a monopolized power over the rebellion while continuing to weaken ISIS and other jihadist groups that are undermining the US-manufactured ethnocracy in Iraq.

And most importantly, the existing campaign of airstrikes have been almost entirely aimed at the opposition and opposition-held areas, or ISIS. This is, objectively speaking, a manner of *supporting* the Assad regime. Even the introduction of US troops into Syria matches this policy objective of stabilizing Assad’s rule by attacking opposition groups — not the regime.

Some have interpreted our criticisms and drudging up these prior US airstrikes as an allegation of purity: “Why weren’t you out here protesting earlier!? Where have you been!? I’m clearly more principled than you!”

Not quite. The point is not that the US has been striking Syria for years, so there is no reason to get upset now. The point is that the Western Left has chosen exactly the wrong target for its “sympathy”. There is no way to deny the blatant nature of silence when the US struck rebel-held areas and killed hundreds of innocent people. While the Syrian regime continues to have the monopoly on murdering innocent Syrians, US airplanes have been responsible for thousands of innocent deaths in Syria as it is.

The point is that the Western Left did not see an “emergency” until one of those strikes intentionally hit the Syrian army. It is not a question of arriving late to the party. It is a question of which party the Western Left is arriving to. The idea that it constitutes some sort of “emergency” or even something warranting concern that the US has struck not civilians but a legitimate military target belonging to a regime that has gassed innocent people within the prior week sends a very strong message about who “counts” for our sympathy — and who doesn’t.

To give an analogy, many of us on the Left have mobilized around police brutality and state repression carried out by the FBI. But few took to the streets when the FBI killed a member of the right-wing extremist militia that had taken over a wildlife preserve in Oregon during a shoot-out. Likewise, most on the Left would likely mobilize against the NYPD’s policies of Stop-and-Frisk and the numerous police shootings that have taken place in New York. But how many would mobilize in a protest against the NYPD’s policy of deterring child abuse? That is, criticizing the US government is one thing; *why* we criticize it and *what things we mobilize around* are crucial and risk sending exactly the wrong message.

In the last month, no protests took place around the US campaign of drone strikes against Syrian villagers. The drone strikes almost gain greater criticism because of the Brave-New-World-character of the weapon in question, rather than the fact that they are being used to achieve the policy goal of stabilizing Syria by keeping Assad in power. Indeed, the drone wars are often just bunched together based on weapon type (drone) rather than where they are being used and for what purpose (such as in Syria, where they are used against the Opposition). And that is to the extent that there has been any attention to them at all.

In contrast, the mobilization around “US Intervention” against an airstrike retaliating for the use of chemical weapons, combined with the (relative) silence about the ongoing drone war against Syria, sends a fairly strong message about who or what constitutes a “red line” for the Western Left. The red line is not the deaths of Syrians, or even US intervention. It is US intervention targeting the regime, even if it is to maintain the norm against chemical weapons use. Within the 2 years of US war on Syria, why is *this* the point to emphasize? Why are we using the campaign against US intervention to carry water for the regime? Such bombings are, if anything, the silver lining of American overreach in the world. Like the fact that the FBI occassionally stops right-wing extremists, or the Police occasionally stop domestic abuse, or the fact that the NSA occassionally cracks down on a kiddy porn ring, they are an example in which the “bad guys” in power crack down on, well, another “bad guy”. This hardly warrants sympathy, let alone to be the banner of opposition to US involvement in Syria.

More importantly, the narrative around which this line is built ignores the actuality of US involvement in Syria — the actual policy that Western leftists should oppose. That policy has not been one of driving the opposition to overthrow Assad. Rather, that policy has been to use imperial hubris and fancy new air equipment to *prevent* the opposition from doing precisely that, knowing that US interests are better off in the hands of a known tyrant whose capacities are weakened than an unknown and unpredictable one that replaces him.

Indeed, the risks of Syrians overthrowing Assad are immense. What if the Syrian people decide to not only stop, but declassify all the evidence of Syrian regime collaboration with the US government’s international torture campaign? What if the Syrian people elect a government that actively risks liberating the Golan Heights from Israeli occupation? What if the Syrians set up a government that is interested in Arab unity rather than Ba’athism? What if they elect a regime that wants independence for the Kurdish minority? What if they begin spreading these dangerous ideas of democracy, unity, and anti-imperialism into Iraq, Iran, and Palestine? Such risks are those that the United States cannot afford. Hence, the United States must do whatever it can to control the opposition and ensure that a manageable tyrant who spends most of his time killing Syrians rather than Israeli soldiers stays in place, albeit too weak to scuttle regional policy initiatives.

And that is why an anti-interventionist, anti-imperialist movement in the United States should start, first and foremost, by questioning why the United States believes it has the authority to bomb the Syrian opposition and undermine their struggle. Such a movement should not be distracted when, on occassion, the United States needs to discipline its favorite bad option to prevent the use of chemical weapons.

 

41 Comments »

  1. Thank you Amith Gupta for this balanced and measured article, carefully delineating the western left’s failings as relates to Syria. And thank you Louis for posting this.

    Comment by Reza — April 8, 2017 @ 8:06 pm

  2. There are many valuable points in this essay. But in one respect, I think the author misses a essential point. By saying that every US strike on ISIS is pro-Assad, he inadvertently accepts the Assad narrative that this is a two-sided struggle, with Assad on one side and rebels, al Qaeda, and ISIS on the other. In fact, it’s a multi-sided conflict. On many occasions AQ and ISIS have fought with other rebel groups; on many occasions, Assad and ISIS have essentially ignored each other, and cooperated economically. So sometimes US attacks on ISIS have objectively helped Assad, but sometimes they have not.

    Comment by Steve Shalom — April 8, 2017 @ 9:47 pm

  3. Bravo! Major sections of the left—probably the majority—really do support Assad, whether they admit it or not. Anti-imperialism may be the appetizer, but Ba’athism is the main course. When push comes to shove, they will bring up the counter-revolutionary logic of TINA. To assert TINA in Syria, you just need to know the following: the Syrian regime exists and is winning, ISIS and Al Qaeda are scary, the toppling of Saddam “opened a Pandora’s box” (implying that it should be just be shut, no matter how many people are buried alive in the process), Libya was another NATO disaster. To give credit where it’s due, this logic has the benefit of appealing to simple-mindedness and apathy. But mostly, these people are not confronted about their sympathy for the devil they know, so their first response is to get properly offended when someone calls them out on it.

    The weakest link here is probably Libya. If a Syrian woke up amidst the “disaster” that is Libya, they would think they were in heaven. (Other disasters in history, presumably, were every revolution or revolt ever).

    Comment by Maxim L — April 8, 2017 @ 10:05 pm

  4. But to interrogate the essay a bit:

    * “Moreover, the US aid to rebel groups has often come with the intention of splitting those rebel groups against each other — ensuring that none of them have a monopolized power over the rebellion.”
    Can this be proven? My impression was that the US often tried to unite everyone who was not Al Qaeda.

    * “And most importantly, the existing campaign of airstrikes have been almost entirely aimed at the opposition and opposition-held areas, or ISIS.This is, objectively speaking, a manner of *supporting* the Assad regime.”
    The US has launched thousands of strikes on Syria over the years. What percentage were aimed at ISIS, anyone know? The extent to which this helped Assad is not immediately clear, since for the greater part of the war, ISIS was mainly fighting the opposition.

    * The US has has given billions to opposition groups. What do we know about the use to which the aid was put? What percentage (ballpark) of the aid went to fighting Assad (as opposed to ISIS)?

    Comment by Maxim L — April 8, 2017 @ 11:35 pm

  5. To supposedly be putting it all in ‘context’ I read nothing that really did so. Events in Syria happen in a world where the US government and military recently has been warring in multiple forms in multiple places from Afghanistan to Libya, through Iraq, Ukraine, Georgia, Gaza, Egypt, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, and even in Sudan And here I didn’t even mention the continuing US and allied offensive against Iran and China and Russia. That is the context and yet none of any of this was even mentioned! How miserably misleading, sad and lacking was this essay by Gupta.

    Comment by Tony Logan — April 9, 2017 @ 12:34 am

  6. Excellent analysis Louis. Thanks. Rich Wood, Port Townsend, WA

    Comment by Richard Wood — April 9, 2017 @ 1:09 am

  7. Thanks, Tony, for writing a bunch of bullshit having nothing to do with what Amith wrote. It convinces me that all Assadists are cheap Stalinist shysters.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 9, 2017 @ 2:14 am

  8. Well glad that you got to straighten us out on that score. So what’s the next step if there’s another Sarin incident? Russian has just laid down the gauntlet( no more strikes or else!). Should the US pick it up maybe we’re at the brink of WWIII. Any bright ideas for what we should do then? Nukes or Sarin, take your pick.

    Comment by Jeffy Smits — April 9, 2017 @ 3:59 am

  9. Actually, Lou, the geopolitical contexts have everything to do with the CONTEXT of what’s going on in Syria. The fact that neither you nor Gupta are willing to discuss any of the geopolitical context shows me that you and him are yourselves a bunch of bullshit.

    Comment by Tony Logan — April 9, 2017 @ 4:06 am

  10. Gupta is wrong on so many points:-

    There is every indication that Trump plans further military action against the Syrian government.
    Just look at the statements of his Secretary of State Tillerson and UN Ambassador Halley.

    Gupta is also wrong about Hillary Clinton, who twitched back into life this week, calling for the US to bomb Assad’s air-force out of existence.

    Gupta’s criticisms of the “Western left” are wrong too.
    They are typical of “Syria Solidarity” supporters in the UK, who have disrupted Stop the War Coalition events, because they support Western intervention to bring down Assad.

    Jeremy Corbyn’s statement on Syria on April 7th, warned that:-
    “unilateral military action without legal authorisation or independent verification risks intensifying a multi-sided conflict that has already killed hundreds of thousands of people”.

    Syria Solidarity’s statement of April 8th called for :-
    “Taking all necessary steps, including the possibility of further precision air strikes, to ensure that Assad’s air force is grounded”;

    If the US government intervenes to bring down Assad, it will lead to a similar disaster to those which have occurred in Iraq and Libya.
    Except this time it will be worse, because it risks an all-out war with Russia.

    Comment by prianikoff — April 9, 2017 @ 10:59 am

  11. I have the minutes from the meeting that decided to carry out the bombing. It provides irrefutable proof (how exciting):

    The Syrian Army council convenes a meeting, all the highest levels are there.

    Assad opens up,

    “Right guys, I have a great plan. Right we are going to bomb a warehouse where I think those rebel guys have a stockpile of weapons.”

    A camp voice speaks up,

    “Oh Assy (pet name for Assad), that’s a bit naughty. Oooh you butcher”

    Assad,

    “No its a typical tactic when at war, you take out the oppositions capabilities”

    Camp voice back,

    “Oooh Assy just admit you are insane, you know how it turns me on!”

    Assad,

    “Moving on. I am not content just to drop a normal bomb on this warehouse, where would the fun in that be? I am planning on inserting chemical weapons into the bomb”

    Camp voice,

    “ooooh Assy”

    Assad,

    “Anyone have any issues with that”

    Voice from a General

    “No problem with the plan, just point out that the chemicals will likely vaporise and not be at all effective”

    Another General,

    “And it is likely to provide the US with an excuse to kill you mr President, your wife and your children”

    Assad,

    “I hate my kids anyway, and my wife is a fucking whore. And I have had a good innings. So I ask again anyone have any objections to this plan”

    Top general,

    “No we all agree what a great plan this is”

    Assad,

    “great. Let me just phone Putin”

    Ring ring ring ring

    Mr Putin

    “Just hang on a minute Assy, I am spit roasting some gay guys”

    10 minutes later

    Mr Putin

    “Yes go on Assy”

    Assad,

    “Vlad, here is the plan, we drop a bomb on a warehouse, and for no reason other than the fun of it we insert lots of lovely chemicals weapons.”

    Mr Putin,

    “Oooh Assy, what great plan. The skies above Sheikhoun will look like the Northern lights, please take a pic for me and I will put it on my phone. But before I agree let me just ask my Generals. Erm generals, Assy wants to drop a bomb full of chemical weapons on a warehouse, any holes in the plan”

    Russian top brass,

    “No Vlad, it is a great plan”

    Mr Putin,

    “Go ahead Assy. Can’t foresee any problems with the plan”

    Comment by The Syrian Observatory — April 9, 2017 @ 11:51 am

  12. The playwright George S. Kaufman famously said, “Satire is what closes on Saturday night.” The comment above closed as it was being written.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 9, 2017 @ 12:19 pm

  13. The weakness of your and Gupta’s -Let us not look at the geopolitical context- efforts to frame the debate, is that it simply ignores the fact that when forces calling themselves nationalist or pro working class begin to work in tandem with US imperialist forces, that they really pretty much cease being what they might be claiming to be. They become one with their US imperialist sponsors at that point. They become merely another platoon in the US imperial forces for maintaining continued US domination of the region..

    For example, what just is Kurdish nationalism when it begins to coordinate its drive for their own regional autonomy with a global US imperialist empire’s drive to take away autonomy from their own Pentagon targets Kurds might be themselves in the process of confronting? This has happened in both Iraq and Syria, and Turkey worries about it being done BY THE US to them as well.

    I support Kurdish nationalism when it is directed against their regional oppressors, but quit that support for their nationalism when their wars for independence and self determination become directed by US imperialism itself, and subordinate to US imperialist world war making to keep control over the world for the USA. You and Gupta though would not change a damn thing in how you view what was going on, saying idiotically that USA entry into the foray simply has nothing to do with what’s being discussed locally. That is absurd refusal to look at what’s actually going down by yourselves. The fact that a national political grouping’s struggle gets coopted and then directed by US imperialism itself is simply seen as not being worth discussing by you and Gupta, and others with the same orientation. But you are totally wrong.

    Where is your supposed ‘revolution’ in Libya today, Lou? Where is that supposed ‘national self determination’ in the southern portions of what was once a region of Sudan? You supported the efforts of the US imperialists against both these countries. You supported continued imperialist domination over Libya and Sudan/ South Sudan, all the while calling it support for the people there. You and your supposed international solidarity with all oppressed peoples everywhere is a big fraud, Lou.

    And notice I’m not even talking about any of your bad mouthing Russia in the context of Far Right Ukrainian nationalism in regions that border Russia. However in short, you simply support the advance of Nato war making in that region as well though, Lou. You were essentially part of that US and Canada based Ukrainian nationalist brigade that once claimed all over the place that the US had supposedly nothing to do with anything that was happening in Ukraine. This is an absurdity that now has been dropped totally in the flood of anti Russian venom that the Democratic Party hacks are now vomiting up nonstop. Though their habit of calling any opposition to the Ukrainian Far Right’s nationalism ‘Russian’, no matter where the people might be speaking from, is now in vogue with the Clintonistas. Red baiting has now morphed into Russian baiting, and I see little where you have done anything to oppose that. Instead you seem only to want to give ammo to that red baiting Russian baiting crew. You simply ignore the context again of where the discussion is taking place, and with who.

    Nationalist uprisings when taken over, and then directed and controlled by imperialists is no longer a revolutionary force at that time. You and Gupta simply deny that that is the case though. Your eyes are kept closed. Your ears are kept plugged with cotton. Your minds are shut off to discussing anything at all that is unpleasant for you to acknowledge. Then when it really goes sour, like in Libya or South Sudan, you simply develop political Alzheimers disease. Your memory simply is gone for good. You no longer want to even say ‘Libya’ or ‘Sudan’. It’s all over as far as you are concerned. No admission of being in the wrong, no analysis need be done by yourselves of why things turned out so bad? It is similar to how no former Stalinist cadre ever admit that their Stalinist parties ‘leaders’ in China and the fUSSR turned over the State to capitalism.

    Comment by Tony Logan — April 9, 2017 @ 5:24 pm

  14. Where is your supposed ‘revolution’ in Libya today, Lou? Where is that supposed ‘national self determination’ in the southern portions of what was once a region of Sudan? You supported the efforts of the US imperialists against both these countries.

    Liar, liar, pants on fire.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 9, 2017 @ 5:26 pm

  15. Assad;s a bad guy. Putin’s a bad guy. Trump is a bad guy. Hillary Clinton and the Dumbocrats are bad guys. But that’s no reason to close one’s mind about other possible scenarios and explanations. I’m no expert, and neither are any other commentators here, but check out this scenario/explanation from someone who does have inside insights and experience into this latest episode:

    Here’s info on the author of an article exposing the fraud of Trump’s missile attack on Syria. It looks like Lang is a serious guy. Certainly as credible as the legions of leftist supporters of Islamist rebels in Syria and elsewhere in the Mideast where U.S. imperialism and its allies are wreaking havoc and creating failed states, as in Libya.
    ———-

    W. Patrick Lang
    Walter Patrick “Pat” Lang, Jr. (born May 31, 1940)[1] is a commentator on the Middle East, a retired U…

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/46827.htm
    Donald Trump Is An International Law Breaker

    By Colonel W. Patrick Lang

    April 08, 2017 “Information Clearing House” – Donald Trump’s decision to launch cruise missile strikes on a Syrian Air Force Base was based on a lie. In the coming days the American people will learn that the Intelligence Community knew that Syria did not drop a military chemical weapon on innocent civilians in Idlib. Here is what happened:

    The Russians briefed the United States on the proposed target. This is a process that started more than two months ago. There is a dedicated phone line that is being used to coordinate and deconflict (i.e., prevent US and Russian air assets from shooting at each other) the upcoming operation.
    The United States was fully briefed on the fact that there was a target in Idlib that the Russians believes was a weapons/explosives depot for Islamic rebels.
    The Syrian Air Force hit the target with conventional weapons. All involved expected to see a massive secondary explosion. That did not happen. Instead, smoke, chemical smoke, began billowing from the site. It turns out that the Islamic rebels used that site to store chemicals, not sarin, that were deadly. The chemicals included organic phosphates and chlorine and they followed the wind and killed civilians.
    There was a strong wind blowing that day and the cloud was driven to a nearby village and caused casualties.
    We know it was not sarin. How? Very simple. The so-called “first responders” handled the victims without gloves. If this had been sarin they would have died. Sarin on the skin will kill you. How do I know? I went through “Live Agent” training at Fort McClellan in Alabama.

    There are members of the U.S. military who were aware this strike would occur and it was recorded. There is a film record. At least the Defense Intelligence Agency knows that this was not a chemical weapon attack. In fact, Syrian military chemical weapons were destroyed with the help of Russia.

    This is Gulf of Tonkin 2. How ironic. Donald Trump correctly castigated George W. Bush for launching an unprovoked, unjustified attack on Iraq in 2003. Now we have President Donald Trump doing the same damn thing. Worse in fact. Because the intelligence community had information showing that there was no chemical weapon launched by the Syrian Air Force.

    Here’s the good news. The Russians and Syrians were informed, or at least were aware, that the attack was coming. They were able to remove a large number of their assets. The base the United States hit was something of a backwater. Donald Trump gets to pretend that he is a tough guy. He is not. He is a fool.

    This attack was violation of international law. Donald Trump authorized an unjustified attack on a sovereign country. What is even more disturbing is that people like Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and NSA Director General McMaster went along with this charade. Front line troops know the truth. These facts will eventually come out. Donald Trump will most likely not finish his term as President. He will be impeached, I believe, once Congress is presented with irrefutable proof that he ignored and rejected intelligence that did not support the myth that Syria attacked with chemical weapons.

    It should also alarm American taxpayers that we launched $100 million dollars of missiles to blow up sand and camel shit. The Russians were aware that a strike was coming. I’m hoping that they and the Syrians withdrew their forces and aircraft from the base. Whatever hope I had that Donald Trump would be a new kind of President, that hope is extinguished. He is a child and a moron. He committed an act of war without justification. But the fault is not his alone. Those who sit atop the NSC, the DOD, the CIA, the Department of State should have resigned in protest. They did not. They are complicit in a war crime.
    >>
    >> Colonel W. Patrick Lang is a retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces (The Green Berets). He served in the Department of Defense both as a serving officer and then as a member of the Defense Senior Executive Service for many years. He is a highly decorated veteran of several of America’s overseas conflicts including the war in Vietnam. He was trained and educated as a specialist in the Middle East by the U.S. Army and served in that region for many year.http://turcopolier.typepad.com/

    Comment by David Thorstad — April 9, 2017 @ 6:24 pm

  16. Lou accuse me of supposedly lying about his past and current history of political but I have followed his heavily censored ‘marxism list’ for over 2 decades now. I stated exactly how his arguments have run and are still currently running up to this very day. Instead of dealing with any of the issues I have raised here he acts like a little child.

    NOTE- If you were ever to stop throwing people off your owned and censored sites, Lou, other people with similar views to my own would make mince meat out of your pretense at being a marxist.

    ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire.’

    Comment by Tony Logan — April 9, 2017 @ 6:57 pm

  17. David Thorstad has a terminal Islamophobic illness, I’m afraid. He cites from information Clearing House, which along with Voltairenet, Global Research, and DissidentVoice is a prime source of Kremlin/Assad talking points. It is the place where Paul Antonopoulos’s absurd article on the Sarin gas attack originated.

    Thorstad’s “expert” writes: “All involved expected to see a massive secondary explosion. That did not happen. Instead, smoke, chemical smoke, began billowing from the site. It turns out that the Islamic rebels used that site to store chemicals, not sarin, that were deadly. The chemicals included organic phosphates and chlorine and they followed the wind and killed civilians.”

    It is really something when someone can make such an assertion without bothering to back it up. Organic phosphates and chlorine gas do not induce the symptoms that have been documented. Are we supposed to eat this shit because a spook wrote it? It never fails to amaze me how 60s radicals lost the ability to think critically. Aging? Maybe Aricept is the answer.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 9, 2017 @ 7:01 pm

  18. Logan, if you have been following Marxmail for years, then quote me. My articles always quote the people I am critiquing like Paul Antonopoulos. You say I “supported the efforts of the US imperialists against both these countries.” No. I supported armed revolutionaries. Because people like you view every armed struggle against the “axis of resistance” as a CIA plot, it is impossible to have a serious debate with you. You are Stalinist filth and a defender of Putin and Assad’s fascist international that is endorsed by Richard Spencer and David Duke. Why you would have the strange notion that this has something to do with Marxism is best left to experts in abnormal psychology to figure out.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 9, 2017 @ 7:08 pm

  19. Oh, dear, Louis, So, your way of dealing with this man’s take and my posting it is to say I’m suffering from dementia. That’s beyond even the low level of polemics in the SWP that you appear to have imbibed from having stayed in it way beyond the date when rational members got the hell out..

    Comment by David Thorstad — April 9, 2017 @ 7:10 pm

  20. Thorstad, I don’t view you on the left. To me, you are a run-of-the-mill conspiracy theorist. That’s the sort of morons that imbibe the stuff on Information Clearing House. Frankly, I wish that people like you, Jeff Mackler and “Tony Logan” would all go to hell.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 9, 2017 @ 7:11 pm

  21. Lou, it is you that embodies the mindset of Stalinism much more than either David and I. I was in the same exact branch of the SWP as you were once, but luckily moved to an East Coast city right as you were arriving in Texas. I got to participate much more in how the antiwar movement was being successfully constructed then nationally , and there was nothing like that happening where you were situated at engaging mainly in a nasty internal conflict which had the National Office in New York City pumping in people to browbeat the Texas branch’s opposition with. Most all real antiwar activity in Texas was actually taking place in Austin which was a fairly long distance from where you were stationed, shall we say… You didn’t really have much to do with any of that, did you? I know the answer since that is where i returned to from the East Coast.

    David is right about you staying in too long as the group degenerated. The group actually began to fall apart right after the US military pulled out of Saigon. You were part of the confused crowd of muddled o mind comrades that stayed in and helped lead the group off towards La La Land. David is right about you. And so am I. So throw all the mud and poop at us both you want to, because we have seen it all before. And we see it all the time in your own ongoing polemics against people who hold views counter to your own. Censorship of our views is your chief ‘debating’ weapon. Vile nonsense and false ridicule are your other pick axes you like to use.

    Comment by Tony Logan — April 9, 2017 @ 7:52 pm

  22. Tony, you need Thorazine.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 9, 2017 @ 10:14 pm

  23. This comment made me laugh more than any other that I have read in several days.

    Trump intervenes in the Great Mideast Civil War in Syria (25)
    Gregg Gordon 04/08/2017 at 6:38 pm in reply to My comment
    We’re against the regime and we’re against the rebels. We’re against the Shi’ites and against the Sunnis. We’re against the people who stay in Syria and against the refugees. How can you say we have no strategy?

    Comment by Curt Kastens — April 9, 2017 @ 10:28 pm

  24. It always deteriorates to comments like this by you, Lou. When will you resort to your standard censorship though, Comrade Louis Steel? ….’Off with his head! Offline wirh you, Filth!’

    ‘Tony, you need Thorazine.’

    It seems that with the The Unrepentant ‘comrade’ that trying to actually discuss the ‘The Sarin gas attack in context’ can only be an exercise in total futility, all sabotaged by Louis himself telling us that we are supposedly crazy since we don’t see his own supreme brilliance as a super charged up dialectical materialist when it comes to his pronouncements about what is supposedly going on in Syria and the world as a whole.

    When will Our Supreme Leader put me in a strait jacket, I do wonder? How sad that his comical ad hominem approach to political discussion always is just like this. It would make both Jack Barnes and Gus Hall blush with complete pride in Lou. It is a wonder all.

    ‘You are Stalinist filth (,Tony,) and a defender of Putin and Assad’s fascist international that is endorsed by Richard Spencer and David Duke.’

    How can anyone seriously and sanely discuss socialist politics when Lou creates this sort of ambiance from almost the very start? You do it always, Comrade Proyect. Always. You are an absurd caricature of how a sectarian acts.

    Comment by Tony Logan — April 9, 2017 @ 11:07 pm

  25. Tony Logan – Bellingcat and Dan Kaszeta have discussed the claims of the Russians and Syrians and found them absurd.

    You know that ‘The Syrian government said it had not used chemical weapons, “not in the past and not in the future”, and the Syrian army “categorically” denied it was involved in the Tuesday attack. ‘

    You buy that? Really? Senility then, may be the answer.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 10, 2017 @ 12:10 am

  26. What an absurd spectacle Proyect presents—a piping little pipsqueak making pompous pronouncements ex cathreda from the keyboard capital of his fantasy fiefdom, somewhat like the caterpillar in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to whom Dwight Macdonald compared James P. Cannon … except that Proyect is a much tinier species of insect than Cannon.

    Comment by elderlee1blog — April 10, 2017 @ 1:50 am

  27. Abdo, you are so fucking stupid and such a waste of time that I am putting you in a spam filter. You need psychiatric help. Reading every word on Marxmail and my blog despite your hatred for everything written by me and Marxmailers who are happy that screwballs like you and Walter Lippmann have gotten shit-canned. Why don’t you find like-minded Stalino-Trotskyists like yourself? Go join Jeff Mackler’s sect. You’ll fit right in. In any case, you are done here.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 10, 2017 @ 2:12 am

  28. Proyect is a much tinier species of insect than Cannon.

    Why is every troll so afraid of having a serious debate about Sarin gas? Oh, I know. They all have IQ’s of under 65.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 10, 2017 @ 2:15 am

  29. I have removed all of Sid Deng’s comments since he was posting from a proxy server. This nut has been trolling my blog for over a decade using a proxy server, which is strictly forbidden. Didn’t catch him at first because there have been a number of new people making comments. I don’t give a shit what you say as long as you don’t use a proxy server. In terms of “Tony Logan”, this guy has a sick obsession with me and I really don’t feel comfortable with him haunting my blog.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 10, 2017 @ 11:22 am

  30. @Maxim L:

    “The US has launched thousands of strikes on Syria over the years. What percentage were aimed at ISIS, anyone know? The extent to which this helped Assad is not immediately clear, since for the greater part of the war, ISIS was mainly fighting the opposition.”
    All US strikes have been *aimed* at either ISIS or Jabhar al-Nusra (one of course *hit* the Syrian army in Deir Ezzour).

    “* The US has has given billions to opposition groups. What do we know about the use to which the aid was put? What percentage (ballpark) of the aid went to fighting Assad (as opposed to ISIS)?”
    NO: the US has allocated billiions to its operations against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq ($11 billion officially). The CIA had an initial $1 billiion budget for Syria operations but that was cut by 20% by Congress; $500 million of that was for its programme to train and equip forces to fight ISIS, which collapsed largely because of the US insistence that they did not fight against the regime. And we are talking here about allocations, not spending. Add to that that costings here seem to be done in US terms,and that weaponry supplied to Syrian rebels passed through intemediaries, Qatar, private arms dealers, smugglers who all siphoned off a slice. Difficult to come up with a final figure for military aid to opposition groups – but I doubt that any more than $20 million was ever received as on the ground military aid.

    Comment by Tettodoro — April 10, 2017 @ 1:44 pm

  31. @Tettodoro

    Thanks, always glad to hear from you.

    1) I was actually more interested in the percentage of strikes that hit non-ISIS (“rebel”) targets. It is uncertain how much the bombing of ISIS targets helped the regime, since ISIS spent much of the war battling the rebels.

    2) On the second point, I’d like to learn more. First of all, do these figures include the YPG?

    Thanks for pointing out the distinction between allocation and expenditure. I was basing my question on stuff like this:

    * https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/lawmakers-move-to-curb-1-billion-cia-program-to-train-syrian-rebels/2015/06/12/b0f45a9e-1114-11e5-adec-e82f8395c032_story.html
    This says allocation reached close to “$1 billion a _year_” in 2015. Even given the budget cut, and uncertainty about other years, we are taking about an allocated sum that’s in the billions.

    * As you say the anti-ISIS program fell through in 2015, but it is unclear at what cost:
    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/16/us-military-syrian-isis-fighters
    AFAIK, this 500M is allocated for the DoD, _not_ the CIA. The DoD then asked for the allocation to be renewed and raised to 600M. What came of that? Did the DoD spend any money outside this anti-ISIS program?

    * There was a report in Jane’s defense of a single shipment of 1000 metric tons of arms to Syria. I am not sure how long this was supposed to last them (whomever), but that’s got to be at least 10M worth of weapons (not that that I really have any idea about weapons prices):
    http://web.archive.org/web/20170203094028/http://www.janes.com/article/59374/us-arms-shipment-to-syrian-rebels-detailed

    The actions of the CIA (especially) and the Pentagon are inherently opaque. If there is evidence that *almost none* (20M) of the allocated aid went to fighting Assad, that would seem like a pretty newsworthy revelation. However, I haven’t seen statements to this effect in press reports.

    * Finally, as in Afghanistan, the CIA relied heavily on Saudi Arabian expenditure, which numbered in the billions.

    To sum up: it seems that direct allocation alone was was well over a billion; it is unclear how much of that was actually spent and on what. Would love to see a post along these lines on your blog, since foreign funding comes up in discussions all the time.

    Comment by Maxim L — April 10, 2017 @ 10:43 pm

  32. @Louis: can you just delete the all the stupid troll comments in the future (including stuff like my own response to Wight I guess). Every insult and conspiracy theory imaginable has already been posted in the comments section, so this crap is just gumming up the works at this point.

    Comment by Maxim L — April 10, 2017 @ 10:50 pm

  33. […] fiercest shows of anger for this, Trump’s Damascene moment. But it is not, as Amith Gupta has written, ‘a question of arriving late to the party. It is a question of which party the Western Left […]

    Pingback by Becoming POTUS: Trump’s Syrian Gambit | The Colossus — April 11, 2017 @ 8:27 pm

  34. If it weren’t for your misappropriation of the term “Marxist”, in your blog title and mailing list, people wouldn’t have to use proxy servers or pseudonyms. Maybe you should change the name to “Unrepentant Narcissist”, or Narxist!

    Comment by Max Power — April 12, 2017 @ 11:59 am

  35. Max, I just reviewed your 6 comments. Not a single one has the slightest whiff of political analysis. I don’t mind being disagreed with but I do mind bandwidth being wasted.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 12, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

  36. Uncle Louis, could you tell me again the story about the happy Libyans?

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 15, 2017 @ 3:13 am

  37. Colwell, I have plans to write about Libya at some length later in the year based on scholarly material plus blogs written by Libyans themselves. I would say this, however. If the average Syrian woke up tomorrow living in conditions similar to Libya, they’d think they had entered paradise. Death by violence per capita in Libya was far less than in Venezuela.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 15, 2017 @ 11:36 am

  38. Maybe you could throw in some polling data to show how much they prefer their new Libya to the old one run by the evil dictator. And throw in some info about the improvements in education, medicine, and economic conditions. Yeah! And rights for women!

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 15, 2017 @ 2:31 pm

  39. Colwell, do you any fucking clue about what I ever wrote about Libya? You strike me as a two-bit troll but if you bother to look them up in the category Libya to the right of my page, you will see that nearly all of them are meant to debunk the claims of Gaddafi fan boys like you. For example, there’s one that dismantles the claim that Gaddafi became a target of NATO because he opposed AFRICOM. If you prefer to pick fights with the Louis Proyect of your imagination, go right ahead. Straw men are much easier to knock down.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 15, 2017 @ 2:35 pm

  40. I shall await your forthcoming article on Libya. As a Stalinist and Gaddafi fan boy (I assume I can be both, right?) what I find striking is how your conclusions mirror those of say….the New York Times.

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 16, 2017 @ 3:01 am

  41. Louis, I don’t know how to thank you. Yesterday I was on one-bit troll pay scale, but your comment bumped me up! Putin himself just gave me a cheque! Not much, he’s a cheap prick, really.
    In a personal aside, I want to say I do genuinely like your film reviews, and have put some of them on a list to view.

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 16, 2017 @ 3:52 am


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