Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 13, 2018

Ben Norton cooks the books

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:02 pm

Once you decide to become an Assadist propagandist, it is like selling your soul to the devil. If Faust sought infinite knowledge,  a job with AlterNet or Salon seems rather cheap by comparison. Ben Norton is a case in point.

In an article for The Real News, Norton uses all sorts of dodgy journalistic tricks to make the case for Assad. Like AlterNet, TruthDig, et al, the Real News is a bully pulpit for Assadists with Ray McGovern, Lawrence Wilkerson, et al, making frequent appearances. With over 100 articles turned up by a search for “Syria”, not a single one challenges the Assadist propaganda machine.

The goal of Norton’s article is to prove that the USA sought regime change in Syria by “following the money”. He writes:

The United States spent at least $12 billion in Syria-related military and civilian expenses in the four years from 2014 through 2017, according to the former U.S. ambassador to the country.

This $12 billion is in addition to the billions more spent to pursue regime change in Syria in the previous three years, after war broke out in 2011.

To start with, Norton makes no attempt to document the “the billions more spent to pursue regime change in Syria in the previous three years, after war broke out in 2011”. It is common knowledge that the USA spent money through two different programs, one out of the Pentagon and one out of the CIA that only began in 2013. It is a sign of Norton’s dodgy reporting that he does not bother to identify where “the billions” were coming from unless they were part of an underground, illegal network like Oliver North set up for the Nicaraguan contras. This was not Obama’s style, especially since he held the rebels in contempt from the beginning.

So let’s take a look at that $12 billion and see why it failed to make a dent in the Assadist killing machine. Most of it was actually spent on humanitarian aid that Norton considered part of the “regime change” agenda, just like the White Helmets:

Ford also reported that the U.S. spent $7.7 billion in humanitarian aid efforts in Syria in those same four years. This figure cannot be excluded from the overall cost of the U.S. regime change mission, however, because U.S. spending on humanitarian aid in Syria has often been explicitly politicized.

Did the USA spend nearly $8 billion dollars on humanitarian aid in Syria? That’s a lot of dough and it hardly made a difference, as far as I can tell. All you need to do is check all the articles on starvation conditions in places like East Aleppo, East Ghouta, and Idlib where such aid could not be distributed for obvious reasons.

If you go to the Department of State website, you’ll get a proper accounting for the funds. Of that $7.7 billion, less than half of that was spent in Syria. Most went to refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Does this Assadist propagandist really think that the people living in tents in Lebanon were a threat to the regime with its barrel bombs and poison gas? I suppose anything is possible with such a sick mind.

The $7.7 billion is not distributed by American agencies, needless to say. But even the UN, that does operate in Syria with other NGO’s, admits that it has not had access to “hard-to-reach” places, including East Ghouta. Since Norton blames the “extremist” rebels for carrying out a “false flag” attack there, I suppose he is pleased that people in East Ghouta are being reduced to Auschwitz like conditions. In November, Reuters reported that they are so short of food that they are eating trash, fainting from hunger and forcing their children to eat on alternate days. Meanwhile, Norton gets paid to write propaganda describing such suffering as necessary to prevent al-Qaeda from invading Park Slope.

Once you subtract the $7.7 billion, you end up $4.3 billion that supposedly went to weapons and material aid for fighters in programs mounted by the Pentagon and the CIA’s Timber Sycamore. You might as well subtract the $500 million that the Pentagon spent since it would only be allocated to rebels who signed a contract that they would not fight against Assad’s military and only target ISIS.

As for remainder doled out by the CIA, it paid for everything except MANPAD’s. In fact, the CIA created border guards in collaboration with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to keep the Libyan-supplied weapons out of the hands of rebels. If the CIA had kept its AK-47s that could be bought cheaply on the black market and simply gotten out of the way, the war would have likely ended in 2015 by turning Syria into a graveyard for MIGs.

It is important to mention that despite claims that Timber Sycamore supplied anti-tank TOW missiles to the rebels, there was little indication that they were received until 2015. A 2013 NY Times article describes the reality:

Through the fall, the Qatari Air Force cargo fleet became even more busy, running flights almost every other day in October. But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft.

Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought. [emphasis added] These complaints continue.

“Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” said Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province.

I have heard Assad supporters justify the blockade against MANPADs on the basis that they can be used against civilian airliners (even though most fly above their range) but why would the USA interfere with the shipment of TOWs if it was so hell-bent on regime change?

Two years alter, TOW missiles became available but only from Saudi Arabia that plausibly was acting on its own. They proved so devastating that there were genuine fears that Assad’s days were numbered, especially after the Southern Front of the FSA overran a major air base near Dara’a in June of that year. This evidently persuaded the Russians to intervene in September. You might remember that the combined firepower of the Syrian and Russian air force was initially directed against everyone except ISIS.

Clearly, it was Russia, Iran, Hizbollah, Iraqi sectarian Shi’ite brigades and Afghan mercenaries that finally broke the back of the revolutionary resistance. This is a Pyrrhic victory. Syria is rapidly running out of oil and water, so much so that even if had been at peace for the past six years, it would still be in a deep economic/ecological crisis. This is compounded by massive infrastructure destruction that will require billions to replace but that the West has little interest in supplying. This leaves it to oil rentier states like Russia and Iran to step into the breach. Given the economic woes of both countries, it is doubtful that Syria will be anything except what Tacitus described: “To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.”




  1. Ben Norton is out of his damn mind. See this:

    What the hell is he even talking about?

    Comment by jschulman — February 13, 2018 @ 10:10 pm

  2. To implement ‘regime change’ in Iraq, the U.S. spent $676 billion (some estimates are much higher, but let’s go with the low figure, not even taking into account figures for taking care of the veterans after their military service, etc.) just on the military expenditure alone. In today’s dollars, using the inflation calculator (http://www.usinflationcalculator.com), that would be $1.267 trillion. Again, we are assuming the conservatively low estimate; it could easily run up to $2 trillion and beyond.

    Further … To overthrow Saddam’s regime militarily in 2003, they started the land invasion on March 20 (which happens to be the Iranian New Year; a gift to Iran?) and by May 16, Paul Bremer was issuing his Coalition Provisional Authority Order 1 (disbanding the Baath party, along with other things like disbanding the army basically, along with firing teachers and others professionals who had had to join the party just to keep their jobs: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_War#2003–11:_Post-invasion_phase). So, what’s that? Seven to eight weeks, give or take? And they took the country mostly intact (whatever of it was there after a decade of bombing the infrastructure).

    That’s the kind of treasure, commitment and alacrity they put into it if they’re really serious about regime change.

    Some traders on Wall St. make $12 billion in half a day of trading (some would estimate it takes mere nano-seconds). They can throw that kind of cash around and away at will, while managing the behavior and effectiveness (or ensuring the ineffectiveness) of whatever opposition suckers who line up for cheap weapons.

    Comment by Reza — February 14, 2018 @ 12:55 am

  3. Just curious, what would Syria look like had Russia not intervened Louis?

    Comment by Les Kober — February 14, 2018 @ 2:23 am

  4. A better question would be what it would look like if Assad had not directed snipers to kill unarmed protestors and unleash a civil war. The answer: maybe like Tunisia but much better.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 14, 2018 @ 2:30 am

  5. @ Reza

    More like Libya, only much worse.

    Comment by jacobo — February 14, 2018 @ 5:16 am

  6. Sorry, I meant @ Les Kober

    Comment by jacobo — February 14, 2018 @ 5:19 am

  7. Me, I’m plaid. Put that in your peace pipe and smoke it, Norton.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — February 14, 2018 @ 1:09 pm

  8. Re :”better question”–well said, Louis.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — February 14, 2018 @ 1:11 pm

  9. The choice between supporting Assad or Western/Russian intervention is a false one.

    Comment by WeatherEye — February 14, 2018 @ 2:00 pm

  10. This information is two years old, so positions may have changed in the interim: https://syriainbrief.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/leftist-groups-on-the-syrian-civil-war/

    Comment by Richard Modiano — February 14, 2018 @ 4:00 pm

  11. “Just curious, what would Syria look like had Russia not intervened Louis?” A lot more people would be alive. The level of aerial mass murder shot up with the Russian invasion, because Russian jets were much more efficient at killing than Assad’s helicopters and barrel bombs. It is even likely that the military pressure then being exerted by the rebels may have forced Assad to the negotiating table, with the rebels in a fairly good bargaining position, though the US was already doing its best to hold the rebels back even before the Russians attacked Syria.

    Comment by Michael Karadjis — February 21, 2018 @ 1:09 pm

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