Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 17, 2017

Low Dishonest Decades: Essays and Reviews 1980-2015

Filed under: Counterpunch,journalism — louisproyect @ 3:09 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, March 17, 2017

Scialabba for the Defense

Four years ago I reviewed George Scialabba’s For the Republic: Political Essays in CounterPunch and am pleased to now review his latest collection Low Dishonest Decades: Essays and Reviews 1980-2015, whose title is borrowed from W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”, a poem written on the eve of WWII:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Although the book stops a year before Donald Trump’s election, there is no better way to understand this low, dishonest president than by reading Scialabba’s take on those who paved the way for him, especially Ronald Reagan. While I certainly understand how surprised some Americans are by Donald Trump’s awfulness, as if he was some sort of historical deus ex machina, I cannot escape a sense of déjà vu as if the years 1981-1989 were being replayed. Are we being forced to endure horrible reactionary presidents for all of eternity like Bill Murray enduring Groundhog’s Day? God help us.

Read full review

January 3, 2017

Did Syrian rebels sabotage the water supplies of Damascus?

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 9:53 pm

Over the past six years, I have noticed time and time again that a seemingly organized campaign has been mounted to accuse rebels of the kind of atrocity that the regime carries out routinely, with the “false flag” accusation that they used Sarin gas on their own supporters in East Ghouta the most notorious case.

In the latest instance, the Assadists are pushing the line that the rebels in Wadi Barada, a rural suburb northwest of Damascus, have either blown up the water pumps that supply the city with water or contaminated it with diesel fuel to make it undrinkable. Whether it is the clearly deranged Moon of Alabama or “professional” journalists like Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal, they automatically take the side of a dictatorship that has used water as a weapon against rebel-held villages and cities from the very beginning of the war.

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Ben Norton, whose tweet referred his followers to a Reuters article, probably didn’t bother to read the whole thing and was content to use the heading to condemn the rebels. If he wasn’t so lazy and so biased, he might have discovered that the very article undermined his claim: “The rebels in Wadi Barada have allowed government water authority engineers to maintain and operate the pumping station and supply Damascus since they took control of the area in 2012.”

There is also the possibility that indiscriminate barrel bombing might have damaged the water pumping station especially since the Syrian air force has never been noted for careful targeting. When you drop a 50-gallon steel drum filled with dynamite, nails, scrap iron, ball bearings and the like from a thousand feet above ground, accidents will happen. Of course, since the goal is only to kill or maim men, women and children who have the gumption to oppose a mafia state, who can blame Assad when a few of the barrel bombs go astray? Nobody’s perfect.

This frame grab from video provided By the Wadi Barada, a Syrian opposition media outlet that is consistent with independent AP reporting, shows the damaged Ain el-Fijeh water processing facility which supply the capital, northwest of Damascus, Syria. Water supplies to Damascus have been largely cut off for nearly two weeks because of fighting between pro-government forces and rebels for control of the main tributary, forcing millions in the Syrian capital to scramble for enough to drink and wash with. The cut-off is a major challenge to the government’s effort throughout the nearly 6-year-old civil war to keep the capital as insulated as possible from the effects of the conflict tearing apart much of the country. (Wadi Barada, via AP)

This frame grab from video provided By the Wadi Barada, a Syrian opposition media outlet that is consistent with independent AP reporting, shows the damaged Ain el-Fijeh water processing facility which supply the capital, northwest of Damascus, Syria. Water supplies to Damascus have been largely cut off for nearly two weeks because of fighting between pro-government forces and rebels for control of the main tributary, forcing millions in the Syrian capital to scramble for enough to drink and wash with. The cut-off is a major challenge to the government’s effort throughout the nearly 6-year-old civil war to keep the capital as insulated as possible from the effects of the conflict tearing apart much of the country. (Wadi Barada, via AP)

For a useful report on Wadi Barada written by a genuine journalist rather than a third-rate propagandist like Norton or Blumenthal, I recommend Alisa Reznick’s “Weaponizing War” in the Boston Review. She makes it abundantly clear why the rebels would be loath to cut off water to Damascus:

Each time rebels have shut off the water supply, they have restored it within a few days, according to Baradawi. He says this is partly because the spring also supplies the Wadi Barada villages along the road to Damascus and opposition-aligned neighborhoods inside the capital. Moreover, the rebels receive a major blow when government forces inevitably retaliate.

“For two days [after the shutoff] the regime was hitting Ain al-Fijah with heavy shelling, dropping barrel bombs and mortars and sending snipers into the mountains,” he said. “Entire buildings were hit with families living in them. It was really barbaric, and it turned the people against the FSA.”

Even after the water flowed again in Damascus, the regime continued to punish Ain al-Fijah. In August, Assad’s forces ordered a blockade, causing garbage services, electricity, and traffic from the capital to cease. Baradawi said only 150 or so students and government workers with business in Damascus were allowed to exit or enter the area; they were prohibited from carrying food and fuel back inside.

“People have started eating leaves,” Baradawi said when we spoke in November. “All the people want now is to find a student going to Damascus who can buy one potato. A kilo of sugar is a dream.”

The blockade also prevents chlorination of the water pumped back to Wadi Barada from the station on Mount Qasioun, sparking a host of sanitation concerns. Cholera and Hepatitis A are currently on the rise as families use untreated water to drink and cook food. Local doctors have documented some three hundred cases of stomach illnesses since the blockade began.

“We can say the regime 100 percent won this one,” Baradawi tells me in resigned tones. The blockade has been so effective that, he believes, residents no longer see the spring as a useful bargaining chip.

There’s another dimension to this story that would likely be of zero interest to either Norton or Blumenthal who are content to see Syria as merely a pawn in the geopolitical chess game. If the USA is playing white, they would cheer on the black player even if he was a combination of Somoza and Batista. Come to think of it, that pretty much describes Bashar al-Assad.

On December 14th, I wrote an article on the economic roots of the Syrian revolution that called attention to the ruling class’s exploitation of water resources that drove the rural poor to rise up. The Middle East Report (MERIP), another worthwhile magazine that would never bother to consider Norton or Blumenthal’s articles publishable and probably not even worth lining a birdcage with, documents how the people of Wadi Barada became part of this movement. According to author Mohammad Raba‘a, a Syrian researcher and journalist, the rural region northwest of Damascus was the typical victim of the mafia/bourgeois state:

But the disaffection with the regime in Wadi Barada is of long standing and rooted in exploitation of the area’s water and land to shore up the regime’s support in Damascus and among privileged strata of Syrian society. Much of the groundwater in the formerly productive farming valley was pumped out to supply the capital city. In the 1970s and 1980s, the regime expropriated vast tracts of land in Wadi Barada, including mountain ridges, “for the public good.” These lands were designated for public buildings such as schools, hospitals or military facilities, but in practice most plots were sold (or given) to high-level officials and businessmen who built private homes.

Over the last year, even as Wadi Barada and environs become war zones, the regime is applying a new version of this old strategy with a series of large-scale tourism developments in the area. In June 2014, for example, the state-run Tishrin newspaper announced that the Ministry of Tourism has licensed a new complex including a four-star hotel and a swimming pool. The complex will cost 3.5 billion Syrian pounds (over $185 million) and cover an area of 10,808 square meters. Tishrin did not mention the names of the investors, the means by which the lands would be obtained or the timeline for the construction. The drive for real estate takes advantage of the growing poverty among the population to acquire valuable land at a fraction of the pre-conflict price.

If Norton and Blumenthal had not become such shallow propagandists, this is the kind of story that they could have written. Both of them could discriminate between good and evil and truth and falsehood once upon a time. Too bad they lost that ability in pursuit of a journalism career inspired apparently by Judith Miller.

November 4, 2016

The Descent of the Left Press: From IF Stone to The Nation

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,journalism — louisproyect @ 4:28 pm

The Descent of the Left Press: From IF Stone to The Nation

Just about fifty years ago when I was becoming politicized around the war in Vietnam, I began searching desperately for information and analysis that could explain why this senseless war was taking place. After taking out a subscription to I.F. Stone’s Weekly that an old friend had recommended, the scales began to fall from my eyes. Isidor Feinstein Stone, who died at the age of 81 in 1989, began publishing his newsweekly in 1953 during the depths of the cold war and witch-hunt. Actually, the cold war had recently become hot in Korea and Stone had the courage to write antiwar articles that conceivably could have landed him in prison.

A year later, I let my subscription to Stone’s weekly lapse since I had joined the Trotskyist movement, whose newspaper The Militant brooked no competition. When you joined a group like the Socialist Workers Party, you felt like you were a chorus member in “West Side Story”:

When you’re a Jet,
You’re a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin’ day.

You’re never alone,
You’re never disconnected!
You’re home with your own:
When company’s expected,
You’re well protected!

As it happened, I eventually felt so disconnected that I severed my ties in 1978 and began a two or three-year process getting my bearings. Part of that involved looking for leftist analysis that did not bear a sectarian stamp (I.F. Stone had stopped publishing in 1971). That led to a subscription to The Nation magazine that I found essential to my deprogramming. When a new issue arrived in my mailbox, the first page I always turned to contained Alexander Cockburn’s “Beat the Devil”. With the wars in Central America heating up, his blistering attacks on Ronald Reagan were as valuable to me as Stone’s on Vietnam.

As I became more deeply involved with Central America solidarity, it seemed to make sense to contribute to The Nation as a sustainer. Over a two or three-year period, I must have sent in over $500 but found my enthusiasm waning after Bill Clinton became president in 1993. Three years after his election, I cancelled my subscription having grown tired of how The Nation tailed after him, just as they are doing today with his wife and presumptive next president.

As iconic periodicals, the two are the subjects of documentaries I looked at this week. Directed by Fred Peabody, “All Governments Lie” is a tribute to Stone and to the men and women who follow in his footsteps (ostensibly) and that opens tomorrow at the Cinema Village in NY and the Laemmle Music Hall in LA. It is a survey of leftist electronic and print publications with which most CounterPunchreaders are probably familiar, ranging from Democracy Now to TomDispatch. For some reason, the one publication that is arguably more rooted in the I.F. Stone tradition than any other is omitted: CounterPunch.

Hot Type: 150 Years of The Nation was made in 2015 and can now be seen on iTunes for a mere $4.99. Directed by Barbara Kopple, who has come a long way since her first film “Harlan County USA”, has essentially made the kind of film that big corporations commission as a public relations outreach—something like Bill Gates would have paid Ric Burns to make. If your idea of film entertainment is listening to Katrina vanden Heuvel, Eric Alterman, Rachel Maddow and Rick Perlstein telling you how great the magazine is for 93 minutes, it is just what you asked for. I suffered through it because I think that the left has to contend with The Nation baring its fangs on behalf of a Hillary Clinton vote. It helped me to understand how such a reactionary politician can be endorsed by a magazine that has such an exaggerated view of its progressive credentials by seeing its principal personalities preen in front of Kopple’s camera. To call them lacking in self-awareness would be the understatement of the year.

Read full article

October 16, 2016

Saudi Arabia, Syria and the smoking gun

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 10:48 pm

For those on the left who have taken up the cause of Bashar al-Assad’s survival, the universal tactic is to make the rebels seem so awful that he becomes a “lesser evil” by comparison in the same way that Hillary Clinton is in the 2016 elections. And for that tactic to succeed, it is essential to play up the alleged Saudi and CIA connections to the Syrian rebels and downplay to the vanishing point any of the goals put forward by the overwhelmingly peaceful and democratic opposition of early 2011. Most of all, you have to search for that secret document that proves once and for all that the Syrian revolution was no revolution at all and merely a proxy war by Washington and its Wahhabi allies against a secular state that despite its authoritarian tendencies was far better than al-Qaeda or ISIS. Wikileaks becomes a primary resource for the search for a smoking gun, the latest instance of which is a 2014 Hillary Clinton email that was cited by both Ben Norton and Patrick Cockburn.

Norton’s Salon.com article is titled “Leaked Hillary Clinton emails show U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar supported ISIS”. He writes:

A recently leaked 2014 email from Hillary Clinton acknowledges, citing Western intelligence sources, that the U.S.-backed regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar have supported ISIS.

“We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region,” the document states.

This adds to a growing body of evidence that theocratic Gulf monarchies have helped fuel the surge of extremist groups throughout the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Cockburn writes an article titled “We finally know what Hillary Clinton knew all along – US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding Isis” for The Independent, referring to the same email:

It is fortunate for Saudi Arabia and Qatar that the furore over the sexual antics of Donald Trump is preventing much attention being given to the latest batch of leaked emails to and from Hillary Clinton. Most fascinating of these is what reads like a US State Department memo, dated 17 August 2014, on the appropriate US response to the rapid advance of Isis forces, which were then sweeping through northern Iraq and eastern Syria.

The memo says: “We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to Isis and other radical groups in the region.” This was evidently received wisdom in the upper ranks of the US government, but never openly admitted because to it was held that to antagonise Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies, Turkey and Pakistan would fatally undermine US power in the Middle East and South Asia.

Here’s what can be established. An email from John Podesta to Clinton dated August 27, 2014 replied to her earlier email with a one-liner: “Syria elements are vexing”. You can read the entire thread on Wikileaks with its “smoking gun”, a State Department memo stating that “We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to Isis and other radical groups in the region.”

Now if you are going to come up with smoking guns, you might as well quote the Vice President of the USA who not only said the same thing as the August 2014 email but openly at a Harvard University meeting that Norton referred to in his article: “They [Turkey and Saudi Arabia] were so determined to take down” Assad that they “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra, and al-Qaida, and the extremist elements of jihadis who were coming from other parts of the world.”

Now I wouldn’t put much stock in anything Biden says, especially when he refers to al-Nusra and al-Qaeda as independent entities. This is like referring to ISIS and the Islamic State or Louis Proyect and the Unrepentant Marxist. But the more important question is whether the words coming out of his mouth or in the Podesta-Clinton email exchange truly represent the connections between Saudi Arabia and either ISIS or al-Nusra. It is entirely possible that both Biden and the State Department memo quoted in the email are nonsense.

To start with, there is an important question that seems to be of little interest to either Norton or Cockburn. Does the Saudi royal family support the goals of ISIS or al-Nusra? Let’s take a look at al-Qaeda, the sponsor of al-Nusra.

In February 2006 al Qaeda organized an assault on a Saudi refinery that was thwarted by security forces. Al Qaeda issued a statement hailing the abortive attack: “With grace from God alone, hero mujahideen from the squadron of Sheikh Osama bin Laden succeeded today (Friday)…in penetrating a plant for refining oil and gas in the town of Abqaiq in the eastern part of the peninsula, and then allowed two car bombs in driven by two martyrdom seekers.” Six years later the campaign was continuing as the BBC reported:

Saudi Arabia’s continuing campaign against al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism has enjoyed considerable success. The atmosphere in the country is noticeably more relaxed than it was a few years ago when the kingdom was buffeted by several major suicide bombings.

But the arrest earlier this month of eight men accused of plotting terror attacks in Riyadh and Jeddah is proof that the campaign is not over. As one Saudi newspaper editorial put it: “Renewed vigilance is required.”

Of the eight men arrested in the latest sweep, two were Saudis and the other six were Yemenis. There seems little doubt that the terror plot was hatched in Yemen.

So it doesn’t matter apparently that al-Qaeda not only calls for the overthrow of the Saudi government but acts on it. What about ISIS? Surely the Saudi state so committed to Wahhabist beliefs would support the Islamic State, even though the call for a caliphate involves the abolition of all Arab states run either by Sunnis or Shiites.

Like al-Qaeda, ISIS has declared the royal family to be infidels and has already launched armed attacks from within Iraq. You can read about the growing threat to the Saudi establishment by recruits to the Islamic State who are killing wantonly as the March 31, 2016 NY Times reported:

The men were not hardened militants. One was a pharmacist, another a heating and cooling technician. One was a high school student.

They were six cousins, all living in Saudi Arabia, all with the same secret. They had vowed allegiance to the Islamic State — and they planned to kill another cousin, a sergeant in the kingdom’s counterterrorism force.

And that is what they did. In February, the group abducted Sgt. Bader al-Rashidi, dragged him to the side of a road south of this central Saudi city, and shot and killed him. With video rolling, they condemned the royal family, saying it had forsaken Islam.

In fact, Saudi Arabia is so spooked by such attacks that it has begun constructing a six-hundred-mile wall on the border of Iraq just to keep out such jihadists as the Christian Science Monitor reported on January 15, 2015—just the sort of thing that would turn Donald Trump green with envy:

The main function of the barrier will be keeping out ISIS militants, who have stated that among their goals is an eventual takeover of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, both of which lie deep inside Saudi territory, according to United Press International.

This past week, a commander and two guards on the Saudi-Iraq border were killed during an attack by Islamic State militants, the first direct ground assault by the group on the border.

“It is the first attack by Islamic State itself against Saudi Arabia and is a clear message after Saudi Arabia entered the international coalition against it,” Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi security analyst with close ties to Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry, told Reuters.

But what really puts the cork in the barrel of the smoking gun is the all-important question of whether ISIS ever needed support from Saudi Arabia to begin with. It is common knowledge that the group seized weapons from those left behind by fleeing Iraqi soldiers as Amnesty International reported in December 2015. I invite you to read the entire report but if you don’t have the time or inclination, this snapshot should give you an idea of how ISIS armed itself with obviously no help from Saudi Arabia that sought nothing less than a wall of separation to keep the jihadists out.

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Finally, there’s the question of financing. Was ISIS dependent on hand-outs from ultra-Wahhabist millionaires? Even if you accept (and you should) the obvious mutual hostility between the Saudi rulers and ISIS, should that rule out  the possibility that dissident Saudi millionaires were the main base of support for the “regime change” operation in Syria directed at Assad, the Islamic Republic in Iran and—who knows?—maybe Russia down the road?

The truth is that ISIS never needed a penny from wealthy Saudis or any other state in the region. In 2014 the RAND corporation reviewed 200 documents captured from ISIS and concluded that five percent of its revenues came from foreign donors. Mostly it relies on the following sources:

  • Proceeds from the occupation of territory (including control of banks, oil and gas reservoirs, taxation, extortion, and robbery of economic assets)
  • Kidnapping ransom
  • Material support provided by foreign fighters
  • Fundraising through modern communication networks

Wikipedia reports:

In mid-2014, Iraqi intelligence obtained information from an ISIL operative which revealed that the organisation had assets worth US$2 billion, making it the richest jihadist group in the world. About three-quarters of this sum is said to be represented by assets seized after the group captured Mosul in June 2014; this includes possibly up to US$429 million looted from Mosul’s central bank, along with additional millions and a large quantity of gold bullion stolen from a number of other banks in Mosul.

So that’s how ISIS became such a powerful factor in Iraq and Syria. It was not funded by the USA or Saudi Arabia or Qatar. It financed itself by exploiting Sunni grievances to the point where it was able to capture huge swaths of Iraqi territory and the wealth contained therein. Once it became the effective state in Sunni regions, it colonized Syria and began carrying out the same game plan. Unlike Iraq, there are militias in Syria that regarded it very early on as an enemy of their own project and sought to prevent it from getting a foothold. ISIS began slaughtering these fighters with their advance weaponry at the same time the Baathist air force was bombing them. Why people like Ben Norton or Patrick Cockburn would write such bullshit about ISIS and Syria is anybody’s guess, especially since they are effectively legitimizing the Baathist killing machine. Do they really believe that they are doing the job of an investigative journalist? Sadly, one of the greatest collateral damages of the nearly six-year war in Syria is the intellectual, moral and political decay of such men and women who have decided for reasons known only to them and the devils they worship the reason why.

October 5, 2016

Getting Gaddafi wrong

Filed under: journalism,Libya — louisproyect @ 8:58 pm

Chris Welzenbach

In today’s CounterPunch, there’s the typical fulsome encomium to Gaddafi written by one Chris Welzenbach that you used to see all the time in 2011. The author has been involved in the Chicago theater scene for many years. Maybe his work with actors had the unintended result of yielding an article about Libya that is mostly fictional, including this:

Prior to Gaffafi’s [sic] murder, Libya was a stable country if not a traditional nation-state. According to a report titled “Gaddafi’s Libya Was Africa’s Most Prosperous Democracy” by Garikai Chengu that appeared in the January 12, 2013 edition of Countercurrents.org, “. . .

One of the most troublesome legacies of the “anti-imperialist” worship of Gaddafi and Assad is its utter disregard for scholarly standards. I am not talking about getting articles published in a peer-reviewed journals but simply doing the due-diligence to make sure that a citation is based on scrupulous fact-checking.

In the quote above, the author cites a Countercurrents article that in trying to prove that Libya was a “democracy” includes what looks like an impressive finding from the NY Times:

In 2009, Mr. Gaddafi invited the New York Times to Libya to spend two weeks observing the nation’s direct democracy. Even the New York Times, which was always highly critical of Colonel Gaddafi, conceded that in Libya, the intention was that “everyone is involved in every decision…Tens of thousands of people take part in local committee meetings to discuss issues and vote on everything from foreign treaties to building schools.” The purpose of these committee meetings was to build a broad based national consensus.

Wow! This sounds like Gaddafi was the head of a country that was another Rojava (leaving aside the question of whether the anarchist claims were somewhat overblown).

But if you track down the NY Times article, as the author Chris Welzenbach should have done instead of simply accepting the Countercurrents article at face value, it states:

In Libya, the theory goes, everyone is involved in every decision. People meet in committees and vote on everything from foreign treaties to building schools.

Authoritarian leaders all over the world take steps to create a veneer of democracy. In Egypt, for example, there are elections, though there is never any doubt that the governing party will win.

Libya outdoes almost all of them.

Here, tens of thousands of people take part in meetings to discuss issues that are decided by a small group at the top, with all direction coming from the Brother Leader.

“He makes the decisions,” said a high-ranking diplomat in Tripoli, the capital, who is not being identified to avoid compromising his ability to work here. “He is the only one who knows.”
Reporters from The Times watched as committees around Tripoli discussed Colonel Qaddafi’s plan to abolish the government. After the perfunctory poetic genuflecting to the leader, more than half the speakers said they did not want money, they wanted a functioning government. They were angry and heartbroken that such a resource-rich nation, a member of OPEC, could be performing so poorly.

“We don’t need money,” said Nadia Ali, 35, at one of the forums in Tripoli. “We need roads, we need health care, we need education, we need an economy.”

Maybe I am just a stick in the mud but when you cite an article that includes a dishonest citation, maybe you should stop pretending to be an investigative journalist or even a radical. The author should stick to staging Tennessee Williams and leave the political economy to experts.

October 3, 2016

Max Blumenthal follows Ben Norton down the bloody primrose path

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:52 pm

Max Blumenthal

In today’s Alternet Max Blumenthal showed up in the Baathist amen corner sitting in a pew next to fellow liberal hack Ben Norton, a location almost guaranteed to boost the career of young or nearly-young journalists. Like Norton, Blumenthal was admired not that long ago for refusing to join Bashar al-Assad’s fan club. Norton was an ex-member of the International Socialist Organization, a group that had the backbone to oppose Assad, making a very modest living free-lancing for liberal ‘zines like Alternet. While I have no idea how much Norton now makes writing for Salon, a prime source of Assadist propaganda, it certainly must be more than what he made as a free-lancer. Meanwhile, Blumenthal, who unlike Norton never had a Marxist background to shed, has seen his career moving in the opposite direction. While once prominent enough to be a guest on MSNBC, our boy Max is now free-lancing for Alternet where his crapola appeared this morning.

Titled “Inside the Shadowy PR Firm That’s Lobbying for Regime Change in Syria”, it is hardly worth reading past the title given the notion that “regime change” would now be on the agenda after 5 years of American indifference to Assad’s genocidal assault on cities and neighborhoods opposed to the mafia torture state Blumenthal now pimps for.

For those of you not familiar with Blumenthal’s erstwhile willingness to oppose a criminal dictatorship, there is some background to be considered in order to appreciate how sharp a turn he has made toward the kind of crypto-Stalinism that runs through the Baathist amen corner like a shit stain.

In June 2012, Blumenthal resigned from Al Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper that had a reputation for being leftist. For him, whatever leftism it had once espoused was trumped by its support for Assad:

I recently learned of a major exodus of key staffers at Al Akhbar caused at least in part by disagreements with the newspaper leadership’s pro-Assad tendency. The revelation helps explain why Al Akhbar English now prominently features the malevolent propaganda of Amal Saad Ghorayeb and the dillentantish quasi-analysis of Sharmine Narwani alongside editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin’s friendly advice for Bashar Assad, whom he attempts to depict as an earnest reformer overwhelmed by events.

There is no small irony in Blumenthal now writing the same kind of filthy attacks on the White Helmets as Narwani.

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Then in September 2013, he wrote an article for the Nation Magazine titled “We Just Wish for the Hit to Put an End to the Massacres” that while opposing American air strikes (the “hit” alluded to in the title) empathized with the Syrian refugees he interviewed:

When I asked the refugees of Zaatari about alternatives to US intervention like a massive international aid effort, or the Russian-brokered deal to confiscate the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons supply, I was immediately dismissed. “Just hit Assad and leave us to take care of ourselves!” a 65-year-old man from Dara’a snapped at me.

Two months later Blumenthal was interviewed by Danny Postel on Syria and the antiwar movement that had begun functioning like a wing of the Baathist amen corner. Postel, as many of you know, is a leading voice of the pro-Syrian revolution left.

So you get the idea. Three years ago he had the courage to stand up to the prevailing and morally compromised left that has attached itself to the Baathist cause alongside Alex Jones, Golden Dawn in Greece, UKIP in Britain and a thousand other rightwing slobs whose main distinction is that they hate Nicholas Kristof and immigrants equally.

As I said above, there is an element of Stalinism that explains why so many on the left back Assad. It should also be mentioned that there is something that Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal have in common with earlier generation of Kremlin boosters like William Z. Foster. For the first time within Marxism, Stalin made it possible to change one’s positions without bothering to explain why. For example, the CP opposed intervening against Hitler after a pact was signed with Ribbentrop but when Hitler invaded the USSR, it switched to supporting intervention. It was transparently clear why the CP turned on a dime but its inability or unwillingness to clarify its reversal compromised it in the eyes of those on the left who were not ideologically so flexible, in other words those that had the kind of principles Norton and Blumenthal lack.

Since neither Norton or Blumenthal were ever exactly in the same sort of position as a CP’er in 1941, their silence on their u-turn is all the more disgusting. Could it be that they are just out to make a buck? Maybe so but I think the real reason is that neither of them are particularly deep thinkers. To really come to a firm position on Syria requires a commitment to reading articles and books that detail the class conflict that finally led to an explosion in the Spring of 2011. When you write for Salon, Alternet and The Nation, there’s really no need to bother with historical materialism after all. Just write what generates traffic and subscriptions. That’s what’s expected when you are running a business, after all.

Turning now to Blumenthal’s article, it breaks no new ground in smearing the White Helmets as an instrument of regime change. You can read the same crap from Vanessa Beeley, Rick Sterling and Eva Bartlett—just the sort of people he was supposedly so miffed at when he quit writing for Al Akhbar. He goes so far as to cast doubt on the Russian or Baathist role in bombing a Red Crescent aid convoy on September 18th, saying that “no evidence of barrel bombs has been produced”. Stop and think about it. The only alternative to such a finding is the “false flag” narrative that people like Beeley et al have been pushing for the past 5 years: the rebels attacked their own people to give the USA an excuse to invade Syria and overthrow Assad. Are these people out of their fucking minds? It took only 3 months after George W. Bush’s flunkies began making speeches about WMD’s for him to invade Iraq. If the American ruling class was for regime change, it wouldn’t need White Helmets to grease the slides.

Blumenthal’s main target is a group called Syria Campaign that I have not heard of before. According to him, it is responsible for making the UN’s job more difficult in Syria. He cites someone working for an NGO in Damascus who told him that the group was “‘dividing and polarizing the humanitarian community’ along political lines while forcing humanitarian entities to ‘make decisions based on potential media repercussions instead of focusing on actual needs on the ground.’” Now I hate to sound suspicious and everything but what kind of NGO works in Damascus? What are the humanitarian needs that it is responding to? I was not aware that in Assad’s capital city you had the victims of barrel bombs, siege-induced starvation and medical emergencies because hospitals had been levelled to the ground. It also makes me wonder what kind of NGO would get the green light from Assad. One that perhaps has people willing to tell a fool like Blumenthal what he wants to hear?

Much of the rest of Blumenthal’s article is taken up with the kind of dizzying connect the dots journalism that you find in 9/11 Truther websites and the further reaches of the Baathist amen corner like Moon of Alabama. One dot is the White Helmets. It connects to the Syria Campaign that connects to AVAAZ that connects to Purpose that connects to Ayman Asfari, the “U.K.-based CEO of the British oil and gas supply company Petrofac Limited. Asfari is worth $1.2 billion and owns about one-fifth of the shares of his company, which boasts 18,000 employees and close to $7 billion in annual revenues.” According to Blumenthal, all of the “regime change” propaganda he is funding is rooted in his desire to being able to return to Syria on his own terms in order to exploit the country economically. This is what has been called Vulgar Marxism in the past. In Blumenthal’s case I would just describe it as Vulgarity.

He blandly reports that “Asfari’s support for opposition forces was so pronounced the Syrian government filed a warrant for his arrest, accusing him of supporting ‘terrorism’”. One gathers that Blumenthal would be not only for the arrest but the extradition of Asfari to Syria where the Syrian cops could give him a lesson that he would not soon forget.

Descending fully into the cesspool and drenched now in fecal matter that will stick with him for the rest of his sorry career, Blumenthal casts doubt on the photograph of Omran Daqneesh, the shell-shocked young boy sitting in an ambulance. Blumenthal smears the effort to publicize the photo as orchestrated by al-Nusra and connects the man who took the photo with an Aleppo brigade that beheaded a supposedly 12-year-old named Abdullah Issa who “may have been a member of the Liwa Al-Quds pro-government Palestinian militia.” He links this allegation to a BBC article but fails to mention that it issued a retraction positively identifying him as a pro-Assad militia member. Furthermore, he was not a 12-year old but a 19-year old according to his family that presumably knew him better than Blumenthal.

Three years ago Blumenthal was willing to quit Al Akhbar rather than write tripe such as this. I guess that he needs a job to pay the rent and the cheap whiskey he will need to help him forget how degraded he has become.

 

 

August 19, 2016

N+1, Syria and the Democratic Party

Filed under: journalism,Syria,two-party system — louisproyect @ 10:27 pm

Nikil Saval, N+1 co-editor

Although not so nearly as well-known as Jacobin, N+1 has been mentioned in tandem with it as the voice of millennial hipster Marxism. For example, Columbia PhD student Timothy Shenk, who is intimately familiar with the terrain, wrote an article in the Nation Magazine titled “Thomas Piketty and Millennial Marxists on the Scourge of Inequality” that states:

Cloaked in the moral authority of Occupy and connected by networks stitched together during those hectic days in 2011, a contingent of young journalists speaking through venues both new and old, all of them based in New York City—Jacobin, n+1, Dissent and occasionally this magazine, among others—have begun to make careers as Marxist intellectuals.

Well, who wouldn’t want a career as a Marxist intellectual unless you were someone like the young Max Horkheimer who wrote: “a revolutionary career does not lead to banquets and honorary titles, interesting research and professorial wages. It leads to misery, disgrace, ingratitude, prison and a voyage into the unknown, illuminated by only an almost superhuman belief”? The older Horkheimer, of course, discovered that banquets and honorary titles were not so bad after all.

While the Nation and Dissent could not be possibly be mistaken as millennial, they certainly have provided a roost for that contingent of young journalists trying to make careers as Marxist intellectuals. Furthermore, as should be obvious by the time you finish reading this article, young and old Marxist intellectual careerists making the rounds in the four magazines are in total agreement over Syria and the Democratic Party.

As readers of my blog will certainly know, Jacobin has been a primary venue of Assadist propaganda. In numerous articles, there are warnings about “regime change” in Syria that would have you believe that Barack Obama was getting ready to intervene in Bush-like fashion to put the rebels in power. Does it matter that it only took three months after Bush and his gang began talking about the need to invade Iraq in January 2003 for the invasion to take place while a war in Syria now goes on for more than five years and no such action has occurred under Obama? Probably not.

Unlike Jacobin, N+1 has been pretty good on Syria with a 2011 article making the case that a genuine revolution was unfolding and one four years later that put the blame on the Baathists for the suffering of Palestinians in Yarmouk. They are both very much worth reading and did not prepare me for an article that appeared in the Spring 2016 edition titled “Bernie’s World”. Stung by what struck me as the kind of material that would appear in Jacobin, I wrote a blog post and cc’d the editors who asked if they could print an edited version as a letter in the Fall 2016 edition with their reply. I am now reproducing excerpts from “Bernie’s World”, my edited reply, their rejoinder and concluding with my rejoinder to theirs.

1. Bernie’s World

(The full version of the N+1 piece can be read at https://nplusonemag.com/issue-25/the-intellectual-situation/bernies-world/. Emphasis added throughout).

But on one significant topic — American foreign policy — Sanders has remained flat-footed. In December, after the shootings in San Bernardino by self-declared supporters of the Islamic State returned the war on terror to the center of the campaign, Sanders refused to answer questions about ISIS and seemed annoyed that reporters had raised the issue at all. On the Syrian conflict he has been at sea. At that month’s Democratic debate he bizarrely referred to Jordan’s King Abdullah as a “hero,” and in January he called Abdullah “one of the few heroes in a very unheroic place.” One doesn’t often hear democratic socialists go out of their way to praise hereditary dictators. Sanders has gone further out of his way, repeatedly suggesting that the US strengthen its ties to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. “They have got to start putting some skin in the game,” he said in one debate, the theory being that these countries will put up the money and the troops needed to combat extremism in the Middle East, diminishing the American role and thus the opportunity for American malfeasance. Of course the problem is the opposite: both Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two of the US’s strongest and least salubrious allies, are already putting lots of money into the Syrian conflict, much of it going to al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (also supported by the US) and the Islamic State.

What’s missing isn’t the anti-imperialist Sanders. It’s the antiwar movement he was once part of, and which no longer exists.

ONE REASON WHY the Sixties antiwar movement continues to be a source of both nostalgia and inspiration for the left is that it had genuine radical potential. Having begun as a movement to stop a war, it nearly became a wholesale revolution that reshaped American politics and foreign policy. It was John Kerry, speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, who best summed up the movement’s aims: “So when thirty years from now our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say ‘Vietnam’ and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.” That turning never took place: thirty years after Kerry’s speech, the war on terror commenced in earnest. Kerry voted in 2001 along with his colleagues Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to invade Afghanistan, and in 2002 with Clinton again to invade Iraq. Just as Kerry abjured his antiwar past as the 2004 presidential candidate — he ran as a war hero, not an antiwar hero — the movement, in the long run, fell far short of its hopes.

But as Daniel Schlozman details in When Movements Anchor Parties, the antiwar movement failed both to anchor itself within the party structure and to create a lasting alternative coalition. No national elected official came out of the movement. On its own, the movement fragmented and radicalized, beset by Nixon’s repression on the one hand and by faltering strategies on the other. The distinction from the labor movement in the 1930s is enormous. At that time, organized labor, gaining in strength and numbers, weighed working outside the Democratic Party against negotiating with the party for legislative gains and legitimacy. Labor chose the latter strategy. The result was the passage of the National Labor Relations Act and the election of officials who declined to send in troops when workers occupied factories. (This is not to diminish the costs, over time, of being so close to the Democratic Party and blandishments of power, but the benefits were significant.) Nothing comparable occurred with the antiwar movement. By the time its electoral reforms delivered a candidate — George McGovern of McGovern-Fraser — it was too spent a force to work with the candidate. In 1972, McGovern suffered what was then the worst electoral defeat of the postwar era, until Mondale outdid him in 1984.

2. My letter

(I should start off by saying that N+1 butchered my original blog piece to such an extent that it was practically robbed of its meaning. I suppose that they did this to save space and admittedly it was my mistake to give them permission to run the letter but I urge you to read the original here.)

Dear Editors,

I was rather disappointed with your editorial statement on foreign policy (“Bernie’s World”), which repeated many of the talking points of the “anti-imperialist” left about Syria. One can certainly understand why the editors would fall short on Syria. With so many other smart magazines publishing articles that could have been lifted from RT.com, it is difficult to swim against the stream. After all, who would want to be associated with a struggle against Bashar al-Assad, who in his genial clean-shaven and well-groomed manner seems to be much more like us than the unfathomable, bearded Allahu akbar–yelling men in fatigues who would surely launch an attack on the American homeland if given half a chance? If Vogue was willing to run a profile on the Syrian president and his lovely wife a while back, who are we to quibble? After all, being photogenic compensates for bombing hospitals.

The editors are generally OK with Sanders except on foreign policy. They fret over his suggestion that the US strengthen its ties to Saudi Arabia and Qatar since the two countries are major donors to “the al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (also supported by the US) and the Islamic State.” In fact, Qatar insisted that it would only give money to al-Nusra if the group severed its ties to al Qaeda. When negotiations broke down in 2015, the group continued to finance its own militias in Syria the way it always has, through donations by sympathizers in various Sunni countries, including Qatar. Does this mean that Qatar backs al-Nusra? Only in the sense that the US backed the Irish Republican Army in the 1970s when most of its funding came from US citizens, living especially in Boston’s South End. Nor does the US support al-Nusra. The country has bombed the group repeatedly, always making the excuse that it was after the Khorasan — a nonexistent group that supposedly had plans to launch September 11–type attacks in America.

The editors also criticize the Vietnam antiwar movement for failing to “anchor itself within the party structure,” a clear reference to becoming a wing of the Democratic party. In 1937, when Chicago steelworkers went on strike, Mayor Edward Kelly — a Democratic “friend of labor” who was backed by the Communist party and as such would ostensibly be loath to attack workers — ordered an attack by the cops that left ten people dead. The antiwar movement kept the Democratic party at arm’s length because it was led by the Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers party, who had a much more class-based understanding of the Democrats than the CPUSA. The CP, which worked with the SWP and the pacifists in a kind of tripartite coalition, was always trying to get the coalition to follow the Democrats’ lead. If it had been successful, there never would have been a Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam or any other mass demonstration. You can take my word on that.

— Louis Proyect

3. The editor replies

Louis Proyect writes that we and others on the left are insufficiently willing to confront Bashar al-Assad because we have been duped by his haircut and a Vogue puff piece that described the dictator and his wife as “wildly democratic.” Not only do we not think that “being photogenic compensates for bombing hospitals” — we don’t think this of Obama, either — we can’t find any liberal or left-wing writer who thinks of Assad as “genial.” With their profile, Vogue’s editors executed a flawless caricature of themselves as clueless fashionistas, and that is how the profile was received everywhere. The reaction was so overwhelmingly negative that the piece was taken down from the magazine’s website.

Is the idea that we are “appeasing” Assad? That was the idea the last time the US foreign policy establishment began to dream of ousting a Middle Eastern dictator. In a kind of ritual humiliation, liberals and leftists were required, like kids reciting the Bill of Rights in class, to demonstrate that they understood Saddam’s crimes against humanity before they could voice any objection to America’s military involvement in the region. That we might still be subject to this ritual isn’t surprising, but it is a bummer.

That the US has bombed al Nusra Front groups in Syria on occasion does not mean the US hasn’t also supported al Nusra on occasion. Alternately supporting and attacking various groups and figures (among them, Saddam Hussein) is a recurring motif in the history of US’s military involvement in the Middle East. And while Qatar may also have had a falling-out with the group in 2015, a report from last December described a prisoner swap between al Nusra and Lebanon that Qatari officials encouraged by giving al Nusra $25 million. The US has also tracked shipments of Qatari arms directed to the Islamist groups that further destabilized Libya in the wake of the Western intervention there. Qatar’s relationship with al Nusra has had its ups and downs, but the country has long served as a key source of funds and materials for extremists in the region.

With respect to Bernie Sanders, Proyect does not voice an objection to our claim that for all the candidate’s galvanizing rhetoric on domestic policy, there remains too little distance between his foreign policy views and those of the Democratic party mainstream, especially with respect to the use of force. His efforts to make the party platform use the word occupation when discussing Palestine are welcome, but in the immediate aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting, his campaign tweeted, “From what is now known, this was a terrorist act by an ISIS sympathizer. That despicable and barbaric organization must be destroyed.” But Omar Mateen had no real connection to ISIS — he sympathized with the group like Richard Ramirez, the “Night Stalker,” sympathized with Satan. To watch Sanders fall back on this bogus war-on-terror logic is to see the full impoverishment of the Democratic party’s foreign policy thought. Proyect says that the Vietnam-era antiwar movement had good reasons to keep its distance from the party, that to engage more fully would have prevented even a single mass demonstration from taking place. That may be true, and yet the movement’s failure to make a more permanent place for itself in the country’s party politics during the postwar years is a failure — one we hope can be remedied soon.

4. The last word

Perhaps as a result of being fatigued from having made the same arguments dozens of times over the past five years, I did not develop them this go round to the extent where the N+1 editor understood what I was driving at. So let me try again.

The Vogue article was scheduled to appear in the March 2011 issue, the very month when the protests began taking place and when Hillary Clinton was disposed to call Assad a “reformer”. As it happens, the only place where it can be read now is on Gawker, reason enough to hate Peter Thiel for destroying such a fearless website.

It was unfortunate that I focused on the appearance of the Assads when the article was much more about their supposed political assets:

Neither of them believes in charity for the sake of charity. “We have the Iraqi refugees,” says the president. “Everybody is talking about it as a political problem or as welfare, charity. I say it’s neither—it’s about cultural philosophy. We have to help them. That’s why the first thing I did is to allow the Iraqis to go into schools. If they don’t have an education, they will go back as a bomb, in every way: terrorism, extremism, drug dealers, crime. If I have a secular and balanced neighbor, I will be safe.”

When Angelina Jolie came with Brad Pitt for the United Nations in 2009, she was impressed by the first lady’s efforts to encourage empowerment among Iraqi and Palestinian refugees but alarmed by the Assads’ idea of safety.

“My husband was driving us all to lunch,” says Asma al-Assad, “and out of the corner of my eye I could see Brad Pitt was fidgeting. I turned around and asked, ‘Is anything wrong?’ ”

“Where’s your security?” asked Pitt.

“So I started teasing him—‘See that old woman on the street? That’s one of them! And that old guy crossing the road?

That’s the other one!’ ” They both laugh.

The president joins in the punch line: “Brad Pitt wanted to send his security guards here to come and get some training!”

In fact, Vogue was simply expressing the dominant viewpoint of the mainstream media in the years just prior to 2011 when Assad unleashed the dogs of war. For example, on March 6, 2009, the Guardian reported:

Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, has good reason to be pleased. Barely a day goes by without a western politician or envoy knocking on his palace door. Europeans, led by the hyperactive Nicolas Sarkozy, have been doing it for months. News that two high-level representatives of the Obama administration are heading for Damascus means that Assad’s visitors are getting steadily more important.

Hillary Clinton’s announcement of the impending arrival of officials from the state department and national security council (message: they’re on the same side under this president) was the moment the Syrians have been waiting for – more than the secretary of state’s carefully choreographed public handshake with the influential foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, at the Gaza donors conference in Egypt this week.

In terms of  N+1 being unable to find any liberal or left-wing writer who thinks of Assad as “genial”, maybe it is better to analogize the Syrian civil war with the 2016 American elections, one in which the choice is between a “lesser evil” and the dreaded alternative. It is doubtful that anybody on the left, at least that part of it occupied by N+1 and Jacobin is concerned, would consider Hillary Clinton as the second coming of FDR as Obama was mistakenly heralded in 2008 but she is accepted as the lesser evil to Donald Trump unless you are like some CounterPunch contributors such as Andre Vltchek or Paul Craig Roberts.

Essentially, this is how Assad is regarded, as a lesser evil to the Syrian rebels who are reduced to a homogenous glob of Sharia-law supporting head choppers. If Stephen Kinzer would likely never apply the adjective “genial” to Assad, he is still capable of writing articles with the title “On Syria, Thank You Russia” on February 12, 2016. Charles Glass has a particular skill at articulating the lesser evil perspective and even verges on accepting Assad as the greater good in the NY Review of Books, a journal that caters to elite liberal opinion:

The only forces fighting with success against the Assad regime are Sunni Muslim holy warriors who are destroying all that was best in Syria: its mosaic of different sects and ethnic communities—including Christians, Druze, Turkmen, Yazidis, and Kurds, along with Alawites and Sunni Arabs—its heritage of ancient monuments, its ancient manuscripts and Sumerian tablets, its industrial and social infrastructure, and its tolerance of different social customs. “The worst thing is not the violence,” the Armenian Orthodox primate of Syria, Bishop Armash Nalbandian, told me. “It is this new hatred.”

You get the same sort of thing from Jeffrey Sachs and David Bromwich but there’s no point in citing them since I don’t want to induce the same sort of fatigue that I experience writing about Syria.

The N+1 editors feel that I am subjecting them to some sort of ritual in which they are required to denounce Assad, like a “moment of hate” scene from Orwell’s “1984”. If they got that impression, I must apologize since that was not my intention. I only wanted to take exception to their notion that Turkey and Saudi Arabia were backing al-Nusra and ISIS.

I don’t want to waste any bandwidth in exploring this topic at any length and would simply refer you once again to Sam Charles Hamad’s article that I cited in my blog article and repeat what I wrote:

I recommend two new books on Syria that will clarify the role of such jihadist groups in Syria. One is titled “Burning Country” co-authored by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami. The other is “Khiyana”, a collection of articles including one by me but the more relevant one is titled “The Rise of Daesh”, written by Sam Charles Hamad. His research is thoroughgoing and essential for getting past the stereotypes of Saudi Arabia being Dr. Frankenstein to the monster of ISIS:

One of the forces that received generous Saudi funding was the secular nationalist FSA-affiliate Liwa Shuhada Suriya (Syrian Martyrs’ Brigade) led by Jamal Maarouf. Far from Saudi’s funding Daesh when the FSA and Qatar and the Turkish funded Islamic Front launched an offensive against Daesh it was led by a FSA coalition called the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front led by Jamal Maarouf. The weapons they used against Daesh on the frontlines were paid for by Saudi Arabia.

The only hard line Salafist group that Saudi has funded is Jaish al-Islam (the Army of Islam) which was a merger of several different Salafi forces initiated by Saudi’s to attempt to deflect both Syrian and foreign Salafi recruits away from the growing threat of Jabhat an-Nusra (which at that time was still what Daesh called itself in Syria before its split). The reason for this was that Jabhat al-Nusra, as with all al-Qaeda ‘franchises’, espouses a virulent and violent anti-Saudi theology and politics.

By snipping this material, N+1 lets itself off the hook with a breezy reassurance that “That the US has bombed al Nusra Front groups in Syria on occasion does not mean the US hasn’t also supported al Nusra on occasion.” Whatever. Just tell that to the people of East Aleppo who are now being bombed by F-16s according to some reports because they are harboring the rebranded al-Nusra in the same way that Israeli F-16s bombed Gaza’s schools because they were a haven for Hamas.

Finally, let me turn to the question of the Democratic Party. I have no idea who wrote the reply to my letter but there is a good chance that it was co-editor Nikil Saval, who wrote a book titled “Office Space: The Cubicle Dweller’s History of the American Workplace”.

It seems that Saval was a big-time Sanderista, reporting on his volunteer work for the campaign in the same issue where my letter appeared. Dated April 5th, it is a 7000 word (!) journal titled “Canvassing” about his experiences going door-to-door for Sanders in Philadelphia, where he makes his home.

Saval writes that Sanders is “the first candidate in two generations who is not a neoliberal, the first in decades to call himself a socialist, running as a Democrat but, bless him, not one”. In fact, Sanders registered as a Democrat in 2015 but why quibble. With respect to him calling himself a socialist, so did François Hollande who runs France in the same way that Hillary Clinton will run the USA. It was pretty much precluded that Sanders would ever get the opportunity Hollande got to impose a neoliberal agenda but at least he has the distinction of endorsing Clinton’s right to do so. Everybody knows that allowing Goldman Sachs to have its way beats the gas chambers Donald Trump has in store for Marxist intellectual careerists.

Saval also admits to canvassing for Obama but can’t remember what he said in his favor. Hmm. Repressed memories?

Saval seems to have a thing about the appearance of the people he is canvassing. Is that why he was so insistent on clearing the air on the Vogue article? I hope not. He refers to an elderly woman sucking “from a limp cigarette”, her “open mouth revealing a stretch of missing teeth.” He also meets a “75-year-old toothless Italian American with a buzz cut.” Jeez, I am glad I got a dental implant before going out to Brooklyn for an N+1 cocktail party. The buzz cut, however, I’ll stick with.

After putting up with some frustrating experiences, Saval hits pay dirt:

A 75-year-old white woman who arrives at the door with her two East Asian grandchildren, whom she asks to let me know who she voted for. “BERNIE SANDERS!” they cry in unison, and mawkishly enough I choke back tears. I suddenly feel as if an era of my life were passing. I leave half my packet unfinished and head back to the house.

Well, not being in a position to know the publication schedule of N+1, I wonder if Saval would be as thrilled today as he was when he wrote this article. The Sanderistas gave their hero a hard time at the Democratic Party convention last month for kowtowing to the Clinton campaign. I won’t begrudge Saval for sticking with the Sanders “political revolution” to the bitter end. If it brought him tears of joy, god bless him. It is hard enough being a revolutionary socialist so I can empathize with someone seeking change through the Democratic Party, a fool’s errand if there ever was one.

June 18, 2016

Putting Ben Norton under a microscope

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:59 pm

When I visited the Verso office in Brooklyn for a panel discussion on Rosa Luxemburg last August, I ran into someone named Ben Norton who I knew vaguely as a critic of the crude “anti-imperialism” that had swept across the left like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We chatted briefly about our shared political values and his latest career move, which was joining Salon.com as a staff member. I thought this was a welcome addition to a magazine that featured Patrick L. Smith, one of the worst propagandists for the Assad dictatorship to be found anywhere.

I never would have expected that within six months Norton would end up in the Smith/Cockburn/Fisk camp writing articles reinforcing the dominant narrative on the left that the USA was bent on “regime change” and that the Syrian rebels were reactionary jihadists engaged in a proxy war launched by the West against its perceived enemies in the region.

I want to review his journalism since early 2016 as a way of showing how taking the wrong position on Syria inevitably leads to bending the truth, which for a serious-minded journalist is a cardinal sin. Writing for Salon, at least until it remains in business, might pay the rent but what good is that if you lose your soul in the process?

On January 18th, 2016 Norton advised Salon’s readers that “Sieges by Western enemies get big headlines, while larger U.S.-backed blockades are ignored”. It made the somewhat obvious point that the USA has a double standard but it is questionable whether Madaya got “big headlines”. As is the case with most instances of Baathist depravity, it hardly earns top billing in the NY Times or elsewhere.

What made Norton’s article fail the smell test was his allegation that if the Syrian army was besieging Madaya, so were the rebels besieging government-held cities like Idlib: “Before capturing the city, extremist Syrian militants had imposed a siege on Idlib for two years.”

So the rebels were starving the citizens of Idlib into submission? I was curious to get the facts on that so I checked his link to find out more. The very first sentence in the linked article demonstrated that Norton had set up a false equivalence: “A Syrian government garrison at Abu al-Duhur airbase has been overrun by fighters from Al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra front affiliate after a two-year siege.” Why would Norton consider the siege of an airbase to be on the same level as starving out the people of Madaya who made the mistake of rebelling against Assad especially when they and other people had to endure years of MIG attacks originating from places like Abu al-Duhur?

In Syria you are dealing with asymmetric warfare and Norton decides to drop the first letter of asymmetric? What a sleazy trick he must have learned as an apprentice to Patrick L. Smith who recently described reports of barrel bomb attacks as unfounded.

From that point on, I decided to monitor Norton’s journalism on Syria just as I do with Smith, Hersh, Cockburn, Fisk, Whitney, Escobar, Draitser and a score of other scoundrels. It is dirty work but someone has to do it.

About a month later, Norton filed one of his many pro-Sanders articles that was all aglow over Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard becoming part of the “political revolution”. In contrast to the warmongering Hillary Clinton, Gabbard was against intervention:

Gabbard, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has condemned U.S. policy in Syria. In late 2015, she introduced a bipartisan bill that called for “an immediate end to the illegal, counter-productive war to overthrow” Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

“The war to overthrow Assad is illegal because Congress never authorized it,” she said, calling the U.S. policy of arming and training rebels “counter-productive because it actually helps ISIS and other Islamic extremists achieve their goal of overthrowing the Syrian government of Assad and taking control of all of Syria — which will simply increase human suffering in the region, exacerbate the refugee crisis, and pose a greater threat to the world.”

Somehow Norton failed to mention other aspects of the Gabbard record that might have made her appear less savory. Zaid Jilani, a journalist whose work appears in the same kind of liberal online magazines that have published Norton’s work over the years, lifted up the rock and showed what was crawling around in a well-researched article for Alternet: “To Gabbard, the fact that Syria and Iraq have been through years of brutal civil war, wrecked economies and massive displacement is irrelevant; the only reason they have an extremism problem is because of Islamic theology.”

Basically Gabbard is a Bill Maher style Islamophobe who supports the fascist-like BJP in India and who has received substantial donations from its members-at-large in the USA. Even more incriminating, Gabbard is close to Christian Zionists and even spoke at one of their conferences. You can get a good idea on where she stands on Israel from her sponsorship of a resolution claiming that Israeli attacks in Gaza were “focused on terrorist targets” and that Israel “goes to extraordinary lengths to target only terrorist actors.” Co-sponsors included other hard-core Zionists like Alan Grayson (FL), Elliot Engel (NY), and Debbie Wasserman-Schulz (FL). But none of this was reflected in Norton’s breathless paean to the wretched Islamophobe.

On May 4, 2016 Norton wrote an article titled “Doctors Without Borders condemns ‘epidemic’ of hospital attacks as ‘acts of terror’” in chilling U.N. address” that ostensibly departed from the Patrick L. Smith School of Newspeak Journalism. How could one possibly find a way to tarnish the Syrian rebels when it seemed like a different hospital was being bombed by Syrian or Russian jets on practically a daily basis? Like this apparently:

On Tuesday, rebels attacked another hospital  as part of shelling that killed at least 19 Syrians in government-controlled areas of the city, according to a pro-rebel group. The Syrian government accused al-Nusra and allied Islamist groups of being behind the attacks.

Once again Norton was trying to draw an equivalence between the Baathist dictatorship and those who oppose it. But also once again if you go to the article that is linked by Norton, it tells a somewhat different story:

Zouhir Al Shimale, a local journalist, cast doubt on the veracity of the Syrian government’s claims about the shelling of al-Dabbit Hospital.

“The hospital is 6km away from the rebel held area,” he told Al Jazeera via the messenger service Whatsapp. “Rebels’ guns or simple weapons couldn’t have shelled the facility.

“Syrian state media is trying to put the blame on the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to deflect attention from Assad’s campaign in Aleppo city.”

One might also question why Norton referred to “another hospital”, which gives the impression that there have been multiple attacks. It would have been more accurate to write “a hospital”. This kind of slipperiness is the sort of thing you’d expect from someone writing for the Murdoch press, not a “radical” who might have at one time in his life dreamed of being another John Reed. I guess Norton decided to settle for less—a lot less.

Five days later, Norton dipped into the Baathist amen corner’s bag of tricks and interviewed one Max Abrahms, a “terrorism expert” who shares Norton’s obsession with al-Nusra. The article paints the group as far more threatening than ISIS and—who knows?—one capable of another 9/11.

So who is this Max Abrahms exactly? You might want to look at Joel Beinin’s article “US: the pro-Sharon thinktank” from the July 2003 Le Monde diplomatique where he identifies Abrahms as a specialist in Israeli security affairs and a columnist for the National Review Online. Just the sort of authority someone like Norton would want to cozy up with after his earlier smooching with Tulsi Gabbard. I invite you to check out Abrahms’s articles at National Review. Maybe Norton could take a peek at them as well to get inspirations for future contributions to Salon. Like this one:

How does one explain this marked improvement in Israeli security? The “cycle of violence” theory would posit that such a reduction in terror derives from Israeli softness. Again, this logic was proven false. To staunch the bleeding from Israel’s July 2000 openhandedness, the Israel Defense Forces used an iron fist. Operation Defensive Shield, initiated in March 2002, brought the fight to the terrorists by deploying massive numbers of troops to the West Bank. This was language terrorists could understand. Evidently, it worked.

Finally, there’s the latest that appeared the day before yesterday and that prompted me to prepare this article. In an item on Jo Cox, the British MP who was assassinated by a neo-Nazi, there is not a single word about her support for the Syrian rebels. When asked by Oz Katerji why he covered this up, Norton responded that he did not want to mention her “infantile” right to protect liberal imperialism since he didn’t want to insult her on the day of her horrific death. So amusing to see Norton hurl the epithet “infantile” but let’s leave it at that.

What really stuck in my craw was Norton’s assertion that “Most refugees are fleeing Western-backed wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and more.” Was there a Western-backed war in Syria? Of course, Norton would say yes even though there have been reports on Obama’s indifference to the rebel cause on an almost daily basis for years now. Why let the truth get in the way of propaganda? But even if there was American backing for such a war, what exactly drove so many people to flee their homeland and risk death on the open seas in rickety boats? Was it al-Nusra or ISIS terrorism? You can actually check the results of a poll that appeared in the Independent last October.

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That is worth thinking about, if I were Ben Norton and tempted to write another piece of dodgy propaganda for Salon.com. One might expect a serious journalist to get the facts on what is driving Syrians from leaving their homeland even if it gets in the way of his political agenda based on calculations that it will serve his career path in a world where Islamophobia rules.

 

June 16, 2016

The conspiracy theory shared by Donald Trump and the Baathist left

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 3:33 pm

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 11.21.38 AM

In May 2015 a declassified Pentagon report appeared on rightwing website Judicial Watch that was cited widely by the pro-Assad left as proof that the USA supported the growth of al-Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

It has now gotten the exposure that the pinheaded comrades never could have hoped for. Donald Trump, the man of a thousand conspiracy theories, has now referred to it as proof that Obama supported jihadists, linking it to the mass murder of people in Orlando. Salon.com covered the story in their patented destroy Donald Trump fashion:

Even while a majority of Americans say they disapprove of Donald Trump‘s response to the mass shooting in Orlando over the weekend, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate is doubling down on some of his most ludicrous conspiracy theories — and ridiculously citing discredited right-wing websites as evidence.

In an attempt to defend his controversial suggestions that President Obama somehow allowed the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history to occur because he is secretly a “Radical Islam” terrorist sympathizer, Trump took to his favorite social media platform to share “proof” from the right-wing website Breitbart.com.

The Breitbart story (http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/06/14/hillary-clinton-received-secret-memo-stating-obama-admin-support-for-isis/) cites “a newly discovered SECRET classified memo” that purportedly proves Obama’s terrorist sympathies. The memo shows, Breitbart claimed, that the Obama administration, specifically Hillary Clinton’s State Department, backed ISIS in Syria when it equipped and trained Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad:

Hillary Clinton received a classified intelligence report stating that the Obama administration was actively supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist group that became the Islamic State.

The memo made clear that Al Qaeda in Iraq was speaking through Muhammad Al Adnani, who is now the senior spokesman for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Western and Gulf states were supporting the terrorist group to try to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad, who was being propped up by the Russians, Iranians, and Chinese.

What the Salon.com article fails to point out is that they came to the same exact conclusions as the nasty, awful Breitbart.com report that Trump tweeted. On May 28, 2015 Marcy Wheeler wrote essentially the same kind of article that appeared on Breitbart:

What did the CIA know and when did they know it?

That’s the real question that ought to be raised by a recently declassified Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report, obtained by Judicial Watch in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The August 2012 document describes how the U.S. ended up on the same general side in the Syrian Civil War as Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to ISIS.

Somewhat to the left of Salon.com, Jacobin, which has been lionized in the NY Times as the Marxist voice of the millennial Brooklyn hipster, jumped on board the Judicial Watch “revelation” in two different articles—not content to spread bullshit only once.

In a June 1, 2015 article with a title redolent of Breitbart.com (“How the US helped ISIS”), David Mizner told the bright young things who read Jacobin:

While American politicians and pundits have blamed the ascendance of ISIS on former Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki and Assad — or on the removal of American troops from Iraq — the DIA report reminds us that the key event in the rise of ISIS was the corresponding rise of the insurgency in Syria.

Mizner credits Brad Hoff of the Levant Report for alerting him about the Judicial Watch discovery. It should be mentioned that Hoff’s website is a cesspool of Baathist propaganda and hardly the sort of reading one would expect from champions of democratic socialism.

Greg Shupak followed up more recently in Jacobin with another nod to the declassified report:

A 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report notes that “the West, Turkey and the Gulf” support the Syrian opposition, admits that the Syrian war could result in the creation of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria, and warns that “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

What Mizner, Shupak and just about everybody else who refers to this dubious report fail to mention is the conclusion that follows the reference to a “Salafist principality” immediately.

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Does that sound like the USA wanted to “help” ISIS? Grave danger? You’d think that people like Mizner would at least take the trouble to address the conclusion of the report that runs counter to their talking points. But when you are more interested in writing propaganda, the truth be damned.

Seumas Milne is the press adviser to Jeremy Corbyn—the British version of Jacobin darling Bernie Sanders supposedly—and has the reputation of being a fearless investigative reporter. Two days after Mizner’s report appeared in Jacobin, he wrote essentially the same article (the Baathist amen corner is not averse to plagiarism). Titled “Now the truth emerges: how the US fuelled the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq”, it once again relied on the Pentagon report without bothering to include the conclusion:

A revealing light on how we got here has now been shone by a recently declassified secret US intelligence report, written in August 2012, which uncannily predicts – and effectively welcomes – the prospect of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria and an al-Qaida-controlled Islamic state in Syria and Iraq. In stark contrast to western claims at the time, the Defense Intelligence Agency document identifies al-Qaida in Iraq (which became Isis) and fellow Salafists as the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” – and states that “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey” were supporting the opposition’s efforts to take control of eastern Syria.

Vijay Prashad, who would probably want to avoid appearing as pro-Assad as Milne or the two stooges writing for Jacobin, could not resist citing the Judicial Watch material in an article that appeared in The Hindu, just 5 days after Milne’s piece appeared:

A U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) intelligence report from August 2012 suggests, however, a much more cold and sober reality. The report came to light in mid-May because of a lawsuit brought by the conservative group, Judicial Watch, with regard to the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. A senior intelligence official, who cannot go on the record, said that the report is only one among many. Other reports would likely have contradicted its assessment — although it is one that is highly informed and was circulated across the intelligence community.

I see that comrade Prashad studied in the Seymour Hersh School of Investigative Journalism by referring to a “senior intelligence official, who cannot go on the record.” That report was only one among many? One can only wonder if they shared the report’s conclusion that the growth of ISIS would be a disaster.

Prashad’s opinions on White House policy would startle anybody familiar with the actual record of indifference mixed with outright hostility to Syrian rebels or, even better, who has read Jeffrey Goldberg’s account in the Atlantic Monthly that reveals a president with about as much interest in “regime change” as he had in changing the way Wall Street does business:

The callousness of U.S. policy is that despite such an assessment the U.S. government continued to support the “rebels,” who had now largely been recruited into extremist groups. U.S. President Barack Obama’s refrain — “Assad must go” — was not shared by these DoD analysts, who suggested that Assad’s “regime will survive and have control over Syrian territory”.

The only callousness an objective observer could see was a White House that saw the rebels (love Prashad’s scare quotes—not) as a greater evil than the Baathists. Obama was never interested in regime change, only Assadism without Assad, a variant on the Yemen solution that the ghoulish family dynast would never accept.

Next in line is Daniel Lazare, a man who has written many intelligent items on American political history but who turns into Mr. Hyde when the topic of Syria comes up. In an article for Robert Parry’s Consortium News (24/7 Baathism), Lazare takes up what he calls “A New Anti-Assad Propaganda Offensive”. It refers to a New Yorker Magazine article that deals with Assad’s war crimes. War crimes? Imagine that. What will they report on next? The earth revolving around the sun? How eating McDonald’s is bad for your health?

Although you wouldn’t know it from a travesty like “The Assad Files,” the facts about Syria have long been clear. In August 2012, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency issued a report stating that Al Qaeda, the Salafists, and the Muslim Brotherhood were “the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” that their goal was to establish a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria, and that this is “exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition” – which is to say Turkey, the Arab Gulf states, and the Western powers – “want in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

Lazare is totally obsessed with “exposing” people who have the audacity to charge Assad with war crimes. He showed up at a Columbia University meeting for Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al Shami who were on a book tour for “Burning Country”. His hand shot up during the discussion period when he breathlessly poured out a litany of how the rebels were evil incarnate. He reminded me of the kind of people who used to show up at SWP forums in the 1960s accusing it of “betraying the working class”, the kind of people who look like Diane Arbus photographs and who went on to form WSWS.org. As it turns out, Lazare was one of those people and retains the bad habits of his youth.

So what unites Trump and all these high-minded leftists who can recite Karl Marx chapter and verse? It is a dirty little secret: Islamophobia. In Trump’s case, it is fairly obvious that he has the same attitude toward Muslims that George Wallace had to Black people. With Jacobin et al, it is something a bit different. For these leftists, the minute people rebelled against Assad, it became a Western conspiracy. Instead of paying close attention to what Syrians were saying or doing, they were more concerned with speeches by Samantha Power or op-ed pieces in the NY Times attacking Assad. Who could possibly identify with people whose cause they took up? It was far too easy to treat them as pawns on a chess game without faces, without ideals, without humanity. So in writing articles warning about a repeat of George W. Bush’s “regime change” intervention in Iraq 14 years ago, they have become latter-day Christopher Hitchens warning about how al-Qaeda was gonna get your mama.

April 25, 2016

No, Seymour Hersh, the shish kebab does not favor Sharia law

Filed under: Jihadists,journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:17 pm

As it happens, on the same day I posted my article “Taking the Baathist Garbage Out”, Seymour Hersh gave an interview on RT.com (naturally) with the customary “regime change” warnings.

Pay careful attention to 4:15 in the Youtube clip below where Hersh refers darkly to American support for “moderate” rebel groups aligned with the dreaded Sharm al-Sharma that actually was in favor of Sharia law and expelling all Christians and Alawites from Syria.

As it happens, there is no such group and the closest anything comes to this garbled formulation is something called shawarma, a kind of shish kebab popular in the Middle East.

Shawarma on pita bread: no threat to Alawites

Instead, he was speaking about Ahrar ash-Sham, a group that was brought up in the course of a podcast interview of Robert Ford by Stephen Sackur of the BBC. Ford had been ambassador to Syria but was unhappy with the White House’s failure to arm the rebels adequately. This failure led to the rapid growth of ISIS that had an abundant supply of powerful weapons it had seized in Iraq after the Shiite-dominate military had fled Anbar province.

Ford was put on the defensive by Sackur, who tried to smear the “moderate” Syrian rebels by pointing out that they were often involved with Ahrar ash-Sham in joint military actions against the Syrian army. Ford stood his ground pointing out that while insisting on a pluralist post-Assad society in Syria, he distinguished between ISIS and al-Nusra on one side and Ahrar ash-Sham on the other.

As it happens, the leaders of Ahrar ash-Sham were among the Islamist prisoners released by Bashar al-Assad in 2011 in order to unleash the sectarian dynamic that would endear him to people like Hersh, Cockburn, Fisk et al. They preferred the clean-shaven man in a necktie even though his regime would cause Suharto or Pinochet to look benign by comparison. Most of Ahrar ash-Sham’s funding comes from Qatar and Kuwait with the USA not only having zero connections to them, but going so far as to consider designating them as a terrorist group.

In a perfect world, groups such as Ahrar ash-Sham would play a much more minor role in the Syrian struggle. It has gained a foothold for obvious reasons:

  1. When the Syrian version of the Arab Spring commenced, Assad set in motion the killing machine that would force his victims to take up arms if only to protect neighborhoods from marauding bands of pro-regime gangs that were raping, torturing and killing civilians. These very localized self-defense militias came under pressure to get heavier weaponry after the Baathists began using tanks, heavy artillery and air power in a scorched earth campaign against Aleppo, Homs, and the suburbs of Damascus. In order to procure weapons, it was necessary to approach states such as Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey—all of which had an Islamist agenda. The net result was that the peaceful and democratic process that had begun in the Spring of 2011 was forced into the background even if it has not disappeared. As Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami point out, there are 400 democratically elected councils in Syria today that adhere to the original vision of 2011.
  2. The Syrian countryside, which is the heartland of the revolution, is socially conservative. Poor people, as is the case in just about every underdeveloped country, tend to be religious. Islamist groups therefore operate in relatively fertile ground. For people like Seymour Hersh, this is anathema. Sharia law, cries of “Alluah Akbar” on the battleground, beards, etc. are far more frightening than a barrel bomb or a sarin gas attack (Hersh made an appearance today on the dreadful Democracy Now radio show repeating his canard that the rebels gassed their own families in East Ghouta 3 years ago.)

Based on this litmus test, the logical choice would be to support Israel against Hamas, a group that was spawned by the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza. If you are terrified by Ahrar ash-Sham, you might as well be terrified of Hamas who at least understood what side was worth supporting in Syria:

Leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas turned publicly against their long-time ally President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Friday, endorsing the revolt aimed at overthrowing his dynastic rule.

The policy shift deprives Assad of one of his few remaining Sunni Muslim supporters in the Arab world and deepens his international isolation. It was announced in Hamas speeches at Friday prayers in Cairo and a rally in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas went public after nearly a year of equivocating as Assad’s army, largely led by fellow members of the president’s Alawite sect, has crushed mainly Sunni protesters and rebels.

In a Middle East split along sectarian lines between Shi’ite and Sunni Islam, the public abandonment of Assad casts immediate questions over Hamas’s future ties with its principal backer Iran, which has stuck by its ally Assad, as well as with Iran’s fellow Shi’ite allies in Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

“I salute all the nations of the Arab Spring and I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, visiting Egypt from the Gaza Strip, told thousands of Friday worshippers at Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque.

“We are marching towards Syria, with millions of martyrs,” chanted worshippers at al-Azhar, home to one of the Sunni world’s highest seats of learning. “No Hezbollah and no Iran.

“The Syrian revolution is an Arab revolution.”

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