Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 23, 2020

Aaron Maté and Moon of Alabama slander Anand Gopal

Filed under: conspiracism,jingoism,Syria — louisproyect @ 7:39 pm
Anand Gopal

As part of my daily rounds of checking the conspiracist “left”, I make sure to include a visit to Moon of Alabama, a website that grew out of Billmon’s Whiskey Bar from the early 2000s. Most of what appeared there before 2011 was unobjectionable, just as was the case with Seymour Hersh or Robert Fisk’s reporting from the Middle East. When the civil war began in Syria, there was little engagement with its cause. Instead, we were told that this was a new “regime change operation” based on bogus reports about WMD’s. It didn’t matter that Assad was really using sarin gas. Moon of Alabama posted dozens, maybe hundreds, of articles claiming that such reports were “false flags” intended to provoke a full-scale invasion that would replace Assad with rebels linked to al-Qaeda. It didn’t matter that the CIA prevented the FSA from getting its hands on MANPAD’s shipped from Libya. Even after 9 years of asymmetric warfare that left the opposition to Assad huddled and defenseless in Idlib, Moon of Alabama continues to warn darkly about American intervention even if Trump cut off funding to the rebels right after taking power.

Generally, I don’t comment on Moon of Alabama (MofA) since it has little sway outside the Assadist cocoon. However, when I noticed that it had made common cause with Aaron Maté, Max Blumenthal’s mini-me next to Ben Norton, over an Anand Gopal article in The New Yorker, I decided to speak up. Once upon a time, the Grayzone crew—Blumenthal, Norton, and Maté—might have had a shot at being published in legitimate magazines like the New Yorker but after becoming indistinguishable from MofA, they are a sideshow. I suppose the rubles compensate for the illegitimacy but one will never know until we get a chance to see their tax returns that are probably more closely guarded than Trump’s.

The MofA blogger, some guy in Germany named Bernhard, and Maté both objected to this paragraph in Gopal’s article:

The U.S.-led coalition waged its assault on Raqqa with exacting legal precision. It vetted every target carefully, with a fleet of lawyers scrutinizing strikes the way an in-house counsel pores over a corporation’s latest contract. During the battle, the coalition commander, Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend, declared, “I challenge anyone to find a more precise air campaign in the history of warfare.” Although human-rights activists insist that the coalition could have done more to protect civilians, Townsend is right: unlike Russia, America does not bomb indiscriminately. The U.S. razed an entire city, killing thousands in the process, without committing a single obvious war crime.

Missing from their denunciation of Gopal as making the unforgiveable sin of absolving the USA from “committing a single obvious war crime” is any engagement with the central point of his article, namely that the American rules of war legitimize war crimes.

Behind a paywall (contact me if you need a copy), the article makes clear that the USA has entered a new mode of war-making that is conducted from the air, using guided missiles, drones and bombers beyond the reach of conventional anti-aircraft weapons that make it possible for our military to kill thousands without a single casualty on our side. These paragraphs will make Gopal’s logic clear even though anybody with an IQ over 80 could have figured out his point from the paragraph above:

During the summer of 2016, residents of Tokhar, a riverside hamlet in northern Syria, gathered every night in four houses on the community’s edge, hoping to evade gunfire and bombs. This was the farthest point from a front line, a mile away, where U.S.-backed forces were engaging ISIS fighters. Every night, a drone hovered over Tokhar, filming the villagers’ procession from their scattered homes to these makeshift bunkers. The basements became crowded with farmers, mothers, schoolgirls, and small children. On July 18th, at around 3 a.m., the houses exploded. Thick smoke covered the night sky. Limbs were strewn across the rubble. Children were buried under collapsed walls.

People from surrounding villages spent two weeks digging out bodies. The coalition, meanwhile, announced that it had destroyed “nine ISIL fighting positions, an ISIL command and control node, and 12 ISIL vehicles” in the area that night. Eventually, after reports surfaced that many civilians had died, the coalition admitted to killing twenty-four. When a colleague and I visited, a year after the raid, we documented at least a hundred and twenty dead civilians, and found no evidence that any isis members had been present near the four houses. A mother told me that some small children were obliterated, their bodies never found.

“We take all measures during the targeting process . . . to comply with the principles of the Law of Armed Conflict,” U.S. Marine Major Adrian J. T. Rankine-Galloway said. The essence of this legal code is that militaries cannot intentionally kill civilians. It is true that no one in the chain of command wished to massacre civilians that night—not the pilot or the targeteers or the lawyers. The U.S. points to this fact in calling the Tokhar incident an error, regrettable but not illegal. Yet, though it is reasonable to invoke intention when referring to the mind-set of an individual—this is the idea behind the legal concept mens rea—it seems odd to ascribe a mental state to a collective actor like an army or a state. It is clear, however, that the coalition could have foreseen the outcome of its actions: it had filmed the area for weeks, and intelligence indicating that the village was populated would not have been difficult to gather. During the coalition’s campaign against ISIS, it often based its bombing decisions on faulty assumptions about civilian life; in Mosul, it targeted a pair of family homes after failing to observe civilians outdoors over the course of a few afternoons. Iraqis typically avoid the blazing midday heat. Four people died. The Law of Armed Conflict excuses genuine errors and proscribes intentional killing, but most American warfare operates in a gray zone, which exists, in part, because the law itself is so vague.

Unlike Gopal, Bernhard and Maté only know Syria from afar. Perhaps Maté has visited Damascus as well but if he did, he probably stayed at the same kind of 5-star hotel Blumenthal stays at when he is on one of his junkets. Over lunch a few years ago, Anand told me that he learned Arabic just so he could be able to conduct interviews with people living under the dictatorship. He also didn’t come in on jets landing at the airport in Damascus. Instead, he snuck under barbed wire at the Turkish border and followed painted stones to avoid land mines as he wended his way toward a village that opposed Assad. That is a real reporter as opposed to the corrupt, mendacious, low-rent writers at Grayzone and Moon of Alabama who will have about as much chance getting paid for writing an article in a legitimate magazine as I have winning the NY Marathon in 2021.


  1. I guess your article means Amnesty Int. research is also a piece of pro Assad and anti USA propaganda?

    “On four visits since the battle was still raging, Amnesty International researchers spent a total of around two months on the ground in Raqqa, carrying out site investigations at more than 200 strike locations and interviewing more than 400 witnesses and survivors.

    Amnesty International’s innovative “Strike Trackers” project also identified when each of the more than 11,000 destroyed buildings in Raqqa was hit. More than 3,000 digital activists in 124 countries took part, analyzing a total of more than 2 million satellite image frames. The organization’s Digital Verification Corps, based at six universities around the world, analyzed and authenticated video footage captured during the battle…..”

    Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend, declared, “I challenge anyone to find a more precise air campaign in the history of warfare.”

    and so much for the claimed precision

    “One US military official boasted about firing 30,000 artillery rounds during the campaign – the equivalent of a strike every six minutes, for four months straight – surpassing the amount of artillery used in any conflict since the Viet Nam war. With a margin of error of more than 100 metres, unguided artillery is notoriously imprecise and its use in populated areas constitutes indiscriminate attacks.”


    Comment by peter moritz — December 23, 2020 @ 8:19 pm

  2. Read the fucking article, you stupid motherfucker. It is a searing attack on people like Townsend. I understand you are probably some kind of Assadist tool but please don’t waste your time and mine with pointless comments.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 23, 2020 @ 9:13 pm

  3. Damn P. Moritz. Did your parents have any kids that lived? You are like one of the biggest wastes of bandwidth I’ve ever encountered.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 24, 2020 @ 1:28 am

  4. “you stupid motherfucker.”

    Very classy man, and if I as a socialist worker and not some prissy intellectual that calls himself a Marxist without likely ever having worked in any kind of factory knowing the working conditions from experience and not from behind a desk and from meetings with other middle class asshats pretending to be revolutionaries
    had you in reach I would despite my seventy years try my best to punch your fucking lights out.

    I have read the article and my response refutes the claim made by Gopal that “The U.S.-led coalition waged its assault on Raqqa with exacting legal precision.” and also it never challenges the assertion by Townshend that: ” Townsend is right: unlike Russia, America does not bomb indiscriminately.”.

    And in the end your response confirms that you actually understand fuck all: “I understand you are probably some kind of Assadist tool”. No arsehole, you don’t.
    and respond to anyone who questions your assertions re Syria as an Assad tool, which reminds me very much of the respond by the typical German Buerger when I questioned them about their activities under the Nazis as a Stalinist, Marxist or Maoist tool. Thanks, you prove to be in worthy company. You just have to add: “if you don’t like it here, why don’t you go over there.”

    As I said, classy man, very classy. Or better – a classy class clown. But not of the working class, and believe me – I had enough of your intellectual Ilk that has never done more than eventually to betray the working class, from idiots pretending to be Marxists like Cohn-Bendit to the idiots of the Bader Meinhof gang (RAF)

    Comment by peter moritz — December 24, 2020 @ 1:46 am

  5. Yeah, freaking out over Gopal’s article was an embarrassing own goal by Maté. Given the “respectable” media largely turning into a collection of blatant propaganda organs for the Democratic Party, hysterical clickbait purveyors and neoliberal “narrative” pushers, Maté’s fuck up is small fry but it would nonetheless be nice to see him acknowledge his error. But that kind of thing isn’t done anymore these days so I’m not holding my breath.

    I don’t read Moon of Alabama because the guy who runs it is a flake who caters to MAGAtards and his regular audience of echo-chambered sycophants. I wouldn’t characterize this guy as even nominally ‘left’.

    Comment by Eric Blair — December 24, 2020 @ 1:46 am

  6. I see Moritz still is incapable of writing anything of substance. Instead of trading insults with me, he can write a thousand or so words backing up Maté and Bernhard but that is evidently above his pay grade.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 24, 2020 @ 1:54 am

  7. I generally enjoy reading LP’s posts, but the rather crude red/Russia baiting, “I suppose the rubles compensate . . . ” seems like a sad adaptation to the the bourgeois media’s war mongering Russia- Gate campaign. Hopefully,this was just a one-off rhetorical excess.

    Comment by Dan Greene — December 24, 2020 @ 7:24 am

  8. It was a rhetorical excess but will use it again depending on what side of the bed I wake up on in future mornings.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 24, 2020 @ 2:29 pm

  9. Thus the “Unrepentant” Marxist. As advertised.

    Comment by Dan Greene — December 25, 2020 @ 3:51 am

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