Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 29, 2020

The clash between Assad and Erdogan’s militaries

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:22 pm

(A guest post by Omar Sabbour that appeared originally on Facebook. Omar is an independent Egyptian writer and activist.)

So let’s assess what Turkey’s almost unchallenged destruction of the regime today (exposing how much of a paper tiger it really is when it can’t rely on Russian warplanes to bomb civilians out of an area before they take it) means:

it means that Russia has been bluffing for a long time, as many of us long suspected, and the fears of a ‘war with Russia’ (yet alone a war between US and Russia) were based on a fundamental overestimation of Russian military capabilities. It is the US which has created the image of a behemoth out of Russia in Syria by coordinating airstrikes with it for years while blocking anti aircraft weaponry from regional allies to the rebels on the ground.

So, it could be said that Turkey couldn’t do the sort of thing it seemingly has done with incredible ease today years ago because of simultaneous US and Russian opposition (both of which still exist – there is little doubt in my mind that US today is also unhappy with Turkey’s actions; the US has since 2017 sent signals that ‘al-Qaeda held’ Idlib should collapse). Now it is argued that Turkey could step in because of the vaccum left by the partial US withdrawal from the arena, in a way that it couldn’t before when both US and Russia were active. In other words, ironically it was the US presence, not the Russian one, that was the main factor that stopped Turkey doing this kind of thing before.

But what would have been the cost to Turkey if it went ahead anyway years ago to do the sort of thing it did today – both US and Russia be damned? Would the US have shot down Turkish warplanes? Doubt it. International isolation, even though Turkey would’ve simply been carrying out the theoretical anti-Assad position of the US (even if this was of course opposite to the actual US policy of opposing taking out the regime militarily)? What would have happened? US would go to support YPG? Happened anyway. Turkey isolated/disliked in Western capitals? Happened anyway.

Would the adopted Turkish trajectory, basically allying with Russia and making quid pro quo exchanges of rebel territories for Kurdish ones have been necessary if it acted early on against regime, calling US bluff, and insisted on forcing itself into the fight against ISIS, ensuring US/YPG didn’t get all the spoils?

There’s no question that there were the sort of things that were considered by Turkish policymakers. There were a variety of options available to them: from ignoring US objections and providing MANPADs to FSA before Russia’s intervention, to the more direct option of intervening itself, as took place today.

Instead, Turkey took the most cautious and conservative approach – underplaying its cards vis a vis Russia and wasting massive leverage, especially when opposition was spread across the country. And for what? What gains did it achieve by this policy?

I wrote a (unpublished) piece a few months ago saying that Turkey had to go it alone against *both* US and Russian objections in Syria. Some might have thought this was too far-fetched but today perhaps shows that it wasn’t.

Main mistakes:

– Abiding by US diktat on giving anti-aircraft defences to rebels since 2012 onwards (abandoned *eight* years later)

– Refusing to seriously support FSA against ISIS in 2013/14

– Leaving fight against ISIS mainly to US/YPG afterwards

– Underplaying leverage (post-2016) and making uneven deals with Russia of surrendering rebel territories to regime in exchange for being able to act against YPG. With today’s events, it’s questionable even if it was necessary for Turkey to clear Euphrates Shield (i.e. Aleppo for Al-Bab) and Olive Branch (East Idlib for Afrin) with Russia beforehand.

– In any case, exchanges were not even (though of course Turkey cared about Kurds first and foremost) and furthermore, Turkey continued to pacify northern rebel front outside of the framework of these exchanges, as part of ‘deescalation agreements’ which would be completely ignored by Russia. As well as the direct surrender of places like Aleppo and East Idlib, this meant the indirect aiding of fall of places like Eastern Ghouta, Dara’a, Homs countryside by freezing northern rebel front and allowing regime to focus fully on each area one at a time.

– Finally, taking waaaaay too long and allowing regime to completely trample on Sochi agreement on Idlib (ever since regime capture of Khan Sheikhun quite a long time ago) even though Turkey had by now run out of ‘exchanges’ to make with Russia. In short, Turkey kept sending Russia signals that it will acquiesce to regime to take more territories, even though this violated Sochi, but the regime/Russia just wouldn’t stop.

The recent events will be portrayed as Turkey being aggressive/expansionist in Syria vis a vis regime. In reality, Turkey has actually bent over backwards to please Russia, ignoring its violations of the agreed de-escalation zones in 2017, then its violation of Sochi specifically since 2018, even though the anti-Kurdish bargains to be made with Russia had been completed and Turkey was not gaining anything in return for letting Russia/regime violate their agreements and seize territory.

Even today, Turkey has avoided saying that it was Russia who bombed it (even though it almost certainly was and it isn’t the first time) and has even let Russian warships through the Bosporus. I also have doubts that the current level of Turkish escalation against regime will be a protracted thing, I think it’s meant to send a strong message to Russia (better late than never) with the aim of reaching a new/old political accommodation in Idlib, though I certainly hope I’m wrong. Some of the more excited folks are saying that Turkey can even escalate to take out the regime in Damascus. I doubt that though as there are simply no rebel forces on the ground who can advance in south Syria to take advantage. In other words, two years too late.

The more realistic question is which scenario Turkey will take:

  1. Declared scenario: Turkey will back serious FSA offensive that pushes back regime to Sochi lines and reverse all recent gains (still a serious endeavour). Of course, Russia unlikely to sit by idly and will try and destroy everything that rebels try to take, so there’s that consideration (unless Turkey intervenes with its own airforce, for example with NATO defensive cover)
  2. Pragmatic scenario: Turkey will back more limited offensive that takes back some territories but leaves regime with gains
  3. Maximalist/’punishment’ scenario: Turkey will push a very strong offensive that pushes back regime to beyond Sochi lines, probably encompassing parts of Greater Idlib (east of M5) and Northern Hama exchanged with Russia as part of Afrin offensive. Such an offensive (this could have different details, at its fullest extent it could encompass assaults on imagine if it took the cities of Hama and Aleppo) would probably cause a massive fear of regime collapse and may bring Russia to compromise on Assad. This I think is the only scenario which actually has a chance of resurrecting “political solution” but on record Turkey is not ambitious enough to attempt it. Of course however, Russian airforce may go even crazier than it already has if Turkey attempted this, again, absent Turkish airforce/NATO deterrence.
  4. Pessimistic scenario: Turkey deescalates after sending message and regime actually continues to take more territory (which it actually is currently doing in South Idlib)

In conclusion, Turkey alone, through acting unilaterally, can bring a change in equilibrium which can end the Syrian war. At most optimistic, an expanded (“punishment”) campaign for Eastern Idlib, Northern Hama (maybe even Hama city) and Aleppo would result in a regime panic and perhaps a transition. Hypothetically, a surprise offensive on something like Aleppo for instance, if successful, would be such a shock that it would probably force a Russian agreed transition. Realistically though, a reversal of recent gains back to Sochi lines would still be a very significant achievement; it would likely result in a freezing of the war – at least on the part of Assad/Russia until they hope that Erdogan loses power in Turkey, leaving them to try again, Which is why, naturally, a full out offensive to beyond Sochi lines would be the most efficient way of bringing war to close – question is if Turkey has a) the ability (can it deter Russian airforce, or if not, can its own military capacities nonetheless enable rebels to advance?) and b) the willingness to do it.


  1. Apologies for my lack of knowledge, but who/what is YPG? Thank you.

    Comment by Laura — February 29, 2020 @ 5:01 pm

  2. s

    This film, produced after the liberation of Aleppo in 2017, is possibly even more relevant today. Despite the massive destruction in Aleppo and the entire country, Syria is capable of regenerating itself, were it not for the crippling economic sanctions against it and the illegal US denial of access to its own oil fields. The foundation of the Syrian economy is trade, of which there is little possibility under the sanctions.
    Another effect of the sanctions is that many Syrian refugees are delaying their return to homes that are now secure because they fear that there is no work or means of income. The destruction of Syria, which the invaders could not achieve by military means, they are now trying to achieve by denying Syria all means of sustenance.

    Comment by socialistfight — February 29, 2020 @ 5:27 pm

  3. This crap is written not only in the name of socialism but from a Trotskyist group. The war in Syria is a class war against its people. These people have no concept of class. For them, it is just a geopolitical chess game with imperialism bullying a sovereign state. Assad could have spared his country the suffering it has endured if he simply went back to England where he had a lucrative trade as an ophthalmologist. Instead, he unleashed his snipers and his shabiha gangs whose slogan was “Assad or the country burns”. I would only change the “or” to “and”. Then, the slogan makes perfect sense.

    For newcomers to this blog, I recommend something I wrote a while back that is useful for understanding the class conflict that Assad tried to suppress, following the same tactics as Franco or Pinochet.


    Comment by louisproyect — February 29, 2020 @ 5:53 pm

  4. Wiki on the YPG: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Protection_Units

    Comment by louisproyect — February 29, 2020 @ 6:14 pm

  5. Sabbour is a supporter of the ‘Syria Solidarity Campaign’, an organisation which has consistently called on NATO to bomb government targets in Syria.
    He recently re-tweeted this clip of a rabid Turkish chauvinist mob in Reyhanli, “beating the wardrums”.

    Those in Turkey who cheer on Erdogan’s “Spring Shield” offensive (the fourth time his forces have intervened in Northern Syria) are the mortal enemies of theTurkish left
    Erdogan has spelt out the loyalty test himself.:-
    “Whoever says, ‘What business does Turkey have in Syria?’ is either unaware or intentionally an enemy of this people.”

    For a riposte, see this piece in the Turkish left-wing daily ‘Evrensel’:-

    Evrensel and the journalists who work for it, have been consistently under attack from the Turkish government.
    Members of the EMEP party that founded the paper were killed in the 2015 Ankara bombing.

    Whereas Sabbour seems to have spent the entire Syrian war at Sussex University and free-lancing for various publications left-liberal publications.

    Much the same could be said for the other academic leftists currently cheering on Erdogan, such as the Austrian crank Michael Probsting and the Australian academic Michael Karadjis – self proclaimed experts on the “Syrian rebels”, who’ve never been able to name a single organisation they’d support, or what it’s programme is!

    Comment by prianikoff — March 1, 2020 @ 1:24 pm

  6. Prianikoff, you need to join Grayzone. They are always on the lookout for Assadist propagandists who are capable of such filthy rationalizations for bombing hospitals. Just make sure you can find a bank that can convert rubles into British currency.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 1, 2020 @ 1:28 pm

  7. #6 Not an argument, even if it were true (which it isn’t)

    What you’ve totally failed to deal with are the issues raised in the ‘Evrensel’ article.
    These conflict with amost everything Sabbour says:

    Erdogan was interferring in Syria from 2011 onwards.
    This was revealed by Can Dundar’s articles in “Cumhuriyet”, for which the paper was shut down and someone tried to shoot him.

    Now Erdogan has lost his head completely, most probably in response to a military cock-up, you and your mates Probsting and Karadjis, are engaged in a pro-Turkish wankfest, claiming that Erdogan is leading some kind of national liberation struggle and must be supported uncrtically.
    Probsting even claims that “Turkey isn’t imperialist at all”,

    This is obviously complete shit.
    This isn’t 1918.
    Turkey is a member state of NATO.
    It sent troops to Korea in the 1950’s and invaded and ethnically cleansed Northern Cyprus in the 1970’s.

    Erdogan’s AKP hasn’t reversed such policies. If anything he’s trying to deepen them and go it alone.
    e.g in Libya and his attempts to blackmail the EU into supporting him over the refugees.
    There’s also the little matter of Hatay province, which was annexed after a dodgy referendum conducted by the French in WW2, despite having a an Arab majority. This issue was largely forgotten about when Assad and Erdogan were friends, but will certainly re-emerge now.

    War hysteria in Turkey will be used to attack its left.
    Many of them live in Europe too.
    Many of the victims of the fascist bombing in Hanau, were Kurds, leftists and democrats.

    Any Turkish socialist worth their salt will oppose Turkey’s intervention in Syria.
    -quite of lot of them involved in the British left & generally supported Corbyn in the last elections.
    They work in Trade unions and with the left.
    Whereas supporters of Syrian Solidarity Campaign argue for bombing and criticise the anti-war the left.

    Comment by prianikoff — March 1, 2020 @ 3:45 pm

  8. Erdogan was interferring in Syria from 2011 onwards.
    This was revealed by Can Dundar’s articles in “Cumhuriyet”, for which the paper was shut down and someone tried to shoot him.


    You have no fucking clue about Turkey’s “interference”. All you people like Max Blumenthal, Tariq Ali, Diana Johnstone, Craig Murray, and Michel Chussodovsky are full of shit. Turkey and all the other states supposedly bent on toppling Assad collaborated to prevent the one thing that could have ended the war 7 years ago, namely making Syria a graveyard for jets and helicopters.

    Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2012:

    U.S. officials say they are most worried about Russian-designed Manpads provided to Libya making their way to Syria. The U.S. intensified efforts to track and collect man-portable missiles after the 2011 fall of the country’s longtime strongman leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

    To keep control of the flow of weapons to the Syrian rebels, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar formed a joint operations room early this year in a covert project U.S. officials watched from afar.

    The U.S. has limited its support of the rebels to communications equipment, logistics and intelligence. But U.S. officials have coordinated with the trio of countries sending arms and munitions to the rebels. The Pentagon and CIA ramped up their presence on Turkey’s southern border as the weapons began to flow to the rebels in two to three shipments every week.

    In July, the U.S. effectively halted the delivery of at least 18 Manpads sourced from Libya, even as the rebels pleaded for more effective antiaircraft missiles to counter regime airstrikes in Aleppo, people familiar with that delivery said.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 1, 2020 @ 3:54 pm

  9. Air power alone can never win a war and there were good reasons not to supply anti-aircraft missies to Al Qaeda, who dominated the Syrian opposition by that time. Any fool can see that.

    Since you have connections to Turkey, you should at least be aware of Can Dundar’s articles about AKP intervention in Syria and its consequences for him and his family.

    You should also have something to say about the ongoing repression against the Turkish media, the left and the Kurds.
    And the fact that the HDP was the only party to oppose the recent motion on Syria in the Turkish parliament

    I’ m afraid that attacking your pet hates – the “Assadists” – doesn’t carry any weight with me.

    I agree that Michel Chussodovsky often talks shit, which is why I’ve described him as an “impresario for conspiracy theorists”.
    I never read Diana Johnstone and don’t give a shit about her.
    Craig Murray does some good work, even if he’s basically an SNP liberal.

    Tariq “Tin-Pan” Ali is OK by me, if a bit of an ageing media tart.
    He actually gave a very good speech in Westminster gardens prior to the UK general elections.

    Max Blumenthal writes some good articles, but tends to regurgitate government propaganda uncritically.
    One example was when he did a video of a Venezuelan market, where the government was distributing un-refigerated vaccuum packed meats to the poor.
    Didn’t he bother to look up the health and safety implications?

    (I say this as a bitter opponent of the contra-Muppet Guaido and his backers in Washington.)

    But Blumrenthal and the “Grayzone” people are no worse than Andrew Stewart, who you share a platorm with on Counterpunch and MML.
    All of them are born-again Stalinists, who attack “Trotskyists” , using Shachtmanites as their straw-man.
    As if Trotsky had never written In Defence of Marxism!

    All of them are essentially irrelevant sectarians, incapable of participating in a mass movement when history is knocking on their front door.
    Unfortunately you share the same characteristic .

    Comment by prianikoff — March 1, 2020 @ 5:18 pm

  10. Air power alone can never win a war and there were good reasons not to supply anti-aircraft missies to Al Qaeda, who dominated the Syrian opposition by that time. Any fool can see that.


    Al Qaeda dominated the rebels in 2012? You are so uninformed that it is a fucking waste of time to even answer you. Why don’t read a book about Syria written by Syrians, you crypto-Stalinist jackass?

    Comment by louisproyect — March 1, 2020 @ 5:28 pm

  11. “Sabbour is a supporter of the ‘Syria Solidarity Campaign’, an organisation which has consistently called on NATO to bomb government targets in Syria.”

    Read this FB post by and him and ask yourself if it sounds like he ever supported NATO intervention. People who throw dung like this should be prepared to back it up with verbatim quotes.

    Comment by andrew r — March 1, 2020 @ 9:02 pm

  12. @prianikoff

    “#6 Not an argument, even if it were true (which it isn’t) ”

    Proyect doesn’t make arguments. He writes (or reposts) walls of text making assertions, and then when challenged he resorts to smears and insults. Anyone who disagrees with him is an ‘Assadist’, and then he works his way down from there. If you go on long enough at some point he’ll simply tell you to go fuck yourself. I see he’s already at the swearing point.

    Basically everything in this article is a weird twisting of history, but one that really stands out to me is the idea that it’s the Russia-Syrian side that hasn’t honored the Idlib agreements. Al-Qaeda groups were never included in those agreements. Russia gave Turkey two full years to meet its promises of separating the ‘moderates’ from the jihadis. Turkey failed to do so, either because it couldn’t or because it didn’t want to. Either way, Moscow and Damascus finally decided to remove them by force, at which point Turkey dropped all pretense that the ‘opposition forces’ were anything other than Turkish proxies.

    Comment by Benjamin — March 1, 2020 @ 11:57 pm

  13. Here are some Syrian voices. Proyect’s response will probably be to either ignore this comment completely, make counterfactual slanders against the multi-ethnic left-wing revolutionary forces (derived from Turkish propaganda but laundered through Proyect’s chosen “experts”), or attack me personally. One response I do not expect is for him to actually engage with what they say, but other people here might find these articles interesting

    Comment by Tony — March 2, 2020 @ 12:43 am

  14. Russia gave Turkey two full years to meet its promises of separating the ‘moderates’ from the jihadis.

    I guess that’s why the dictatorship and its Russian henchmen started bombing hospitals and schools. The jihadis were holed up in them just like Hamas was holed up in civilian buildings. The worst was the Abu Khilmen Brigades that used to fire rockets at the secular-minded, democracy-supporting Syrian military from maternity wards. Yeah, the babies might have been collateral damage but they’d probably grow up to be jihadis themselves, planning to fly jets into the new WTC and imposing Sharia law on people like Benjamin and Prianikoff.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 2, 2020 @ 1:15 am

  15. Tony posts from the YPG press. What a fucking joke. Their former leader Salih Muslim warned that if Assad was overthrown, Syria would go to the dogs. Like Max Blumenthal and Tucker Carlson, he even doubted that Assad would use chemical weapons.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 2, 2020 @ 1:19 am

  16. Like I said…

    Comment by Tony — March 2, 2020 @ 1:19 am

  17. Actually Proyect, I mostly don’t accept the allegations that schools and hospitals are being bombed on the regular. These are claims that have been being made against the Russians and Syrians for years now. Syria must have an absolutely incredible number of schools and hospitals, because it sure seems like the majority of buildings hit are claimed to be one of these two things.

    I have no doubt some schools and hospitals have been hit, either as inadvertent collateral damage, or on purpose because, yes, they have been identified as being used for some sort of military function.

    I’m curious what your logic is. Do you imagine that the Syrians and Russians just wake up each morning, eager to bomb a new set of helpless targets? Are they twirling their Snidely Whiplash mustaches while they make their ne’er-do-well plans as well?

    And I note that, as usual, you can’t argue facts. The fact is that Turkey agreed to separate the moderates from the jihadists (your scoffing at me won’t change the fact that AQ is the dominant faction in Idlib. Or at least it was; there may not be much of it left when the current phase of fighting is over. Turkish military seem to be making up a lot of the ‘opposition’ now), and to reopen the two highways for civilian traffic. Neither of these things happened, after two full years.

    Comment by Benjamin — March 2, 2020 @ 6:31 am

  18. This comment is not a reply to despicable assholes who are Assadist moles, such as Benjamin. This is for those who are after the truth:

    1) How Times Reporters Proved Russia Bombed Syrian Hospitals

    2) Russian–Syrian hospital bombing campaign

    The reason for targeting hospitals is very simple: to deny the wounded to receive care. Plain and simple. It’s to instill terror in the hearts of people, and to slaughter the professionals who might care for them. It’s a war strategy undertaken, not by psychopathic people who “just wake up each morning, eager to bomb a new set of helpless targets”, but by calculating mass murderers who wish to instill terror in the hearts of those who oppose their tyranny. It’s the same logic that establishes mass-scale torture facilities.

    It is of note how the exact same language is used by Assadists, Israelis, Neo-Cons such as George W Bush’s administration officials, et al and by the likes of Benjamin et al: it is the language of War on Terror, complete with all the accouterment of ‘collateral damage’ and ‘terrorist hideouts’. Also, notice how easily entire populations are reduced to sub-humans who should be killed with total impunity, even when talking about children (such as pediatric care facility bombed by Assad’s regime in Aleppo in March 2016, mentioned in the Wikipedia page linked above). This is the language of racists and mass murderers.

    Comment by Reza — March 2, 2020 @ 7:43 am

  19. I’m curious what your logic is. Do you imagine that the Syrians and Russians just wake up each morning, eager to bomb a new set of helpless targets? Are they twirling their Snidely Whiplash mustaches while they make their ne’er-do-well plans as well?


    Sure. This is a dictatorship whose militias scrawled “Assad or the country burns” on walls across the country. That’s a pretty good indication that we are dealing with fascist-like tendencies.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 2, 2020 @ 12:39 pm

  20. I command prianikoff for trying to instil a bit of good sense, or counterpoint, in Mr Proyect’s seemingly invincible narrative.

    Comment by bmntmp — March 2, 2020 @ 3:15 pm

  21. @ 20:

    “command”? Don’t you mean “commend”?

    ‘F’ for vocabulary knowledge! (sorry, can’t stop being teacherly!–))

    ‘F’ also for political knowledge and objectivity.

    ‘F-‘ for plain decency.

    Comment by Reza — March 2, 2020 @ 6:06 pm

  22. I’m not a native-speaker so if you will excuse the typo…

    Comment by bmntmp — March 2, 2020 @ 6:36 pm

  23. I wonder if Proyect at all has the self-awareness to see that he’s now effectively siding with Turkish fascist (or at least fascist-adjacent) forces in his zeal to destroy the Syrian government.

    Comment by Benjamin — March 2, 2020 @ 6:36 pm

  24. @22

    I’m not a native speaker of English either. Just studied it a lot. Yet, I still make lots of typos also, so I sympathize! Peace!

    Comment by Reza — March 2, 2020 @ 7:06 pm

  25. Is Proyect siding with Erdogan? I hardly think so–he seems to be thinking rationally about the complexities of a real situation, not leading cheers.

    For example

    Turkey has actually bent over backwards to please Russia, ignoring its violations of the agreed de-escalation zones in 2017, then its violation of Sochi specifically since 2018, even though the anti-Kurdish bargains to be made with Russia had been completed and Turkey was not gaining anything in return for letting Russia/regime violate their agreements and seize territory …

    These are the same Russians who, per Louis (and IMO in plain fact) are bombing hospitals on behalf of Assad. Not a ringing endorsement from LP therefore.

    Get a life, people.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — March 3, 2020 @ 4:54 pm

  26. No worry Reza, you can commend Louis for not censoring the “trolls” or the Assad fanatics. (I almost wrote “censuring” by the way).

    Comment by bmntmp — March 3, 2020 @ 8:06 pm

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