Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

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

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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.”

April 17, 2016

All you need to know about the Russia Insider scandal–and more

Filed under: humor,journalism,Russia — louisproyect @ 6:18 pm

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Like the better known Worker’s Spatula, Russia In Your Face (RIYF) is a parody website. While Worker’s Spatula tends to dish out RT.com type talking points, you can tell by the other site’s name that it is just the opposite. What they have in common is that their references can be obscure, which leads to a certain in joke tendency.

In the latest RIYF parody, there is a riff on an online magazine called Russia Insider that I have only the slightest familiarity with. It is a pro-Kremlin outlet that might be likened to Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly with RIYF playing Stephen Colbert’s old show on Comedy Central off of it. Here’s a snippet from the piece:

For years, a Western-funded, Russophobic parody site has mocked Russia and our dear leader. Thankfully their tomfoolery is soon coming to an end.

Russia Insider, or more accurately Russophobia Inside Her, was a site clearly designed to embarrass pro-Russian journalism by using ridiculous hyperbole. They try to embarrass people like our fine staff by making all pro-Russia journalists seem like Putin (Glory to his name) worshipers and conspiracy theorists. Well now this site has been exposed for what we all knew it was- a CIA psyop.

This is a somewhat subtle joke. Actually, Russia Insider was not Russophobic at all. It was just like RT.com, Sputnik News, and a host of Western fellow travelers like Moon of Alabama, Information Clearing House, et al—a totally slavish conveyer of Kremlin talking points.

I could glean from RIYF that Russia Insider had become compromised but there was nothing in the parody that revealed exactly what had happened. For that I had to do a bit of research. What it says about the Putinite “left” is quite damning.

It seems that Russia Insider had pissed off Peter Lavelle, a journalist who has a long career on RT and is very committed to the Kremlin’s cause in the geopolitical chess game. “Putin and the Mythical Empire” is a fairly typical article. In a very real sense, Lavelle is one of the real leaders of the Putinite movement worldwide with a lot of credibility. Given his spotless reputation in such circles, it was a shock to discover that he had denounced Russia Insider as a scam.

The story appeared on Fort Russ, a blog with RT type politics that features a book on its home page titled “Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach to Regime Change”. As you can probably surmise, it describes Euromaidan and the Syrian revolution as plots orchestrated by the CIA. So if you get on Fort Russ’s wrong side, you must have really screwed up royally.

Titled “Bausman and fraud at Russia Insider? Lavelle blows the whistle”, the article starts off with Lavelle’s FB post:

It has come to my attention that all is not well at the website -Russia Insider.” A number of key people have left with acrimony and it said there are numerous corporate governance issues contested and disputed. I too question the transparency and openness of the site’s management and the entire operation. There appears to be no accountability on how investor funds and crowd funding revenues are spent. Before you invest in any endeavor do your due diligence. Things do not always appear what they seem…

Backing up Lavelle, Fort Russ characterizes them as a rip-off:

Readers are asked to donate money for this content which is already readily available elsewhere for free, with the unremunerated costs of creating original content shifted onto other sites’ writers. It is a very interesting business model which other popular alternative journalists have regularly criticized.

It was set up as a nonprofit but none of the income went to journalists. This not only pissed off Lavelle, who was lured into the scam by founder Charles Bausman, but Robert Parry—another Putinite stooge. You can get a feel for the sordid world of Kremlin apologists who come across as hustlers out for a fast buck from another Lavelle FB post:

The smoking gun: Charles Bausman and fraud at Russia Insider

When I agreed to help Bausman start-up Russia Insider he suggested a shareholding arrangement — 75% for Bausman and 25% for me. I accepted. For that I supported the project and Bausman in every way I could when the site was launched. My FB page is evidence of this. Little did I know Bausman habitually lied about my share and involvement in Russia Insider Even up to a few weeks and days ago he claimed (behind my back and without my knowledge) I had a 5% share. In the last few hours. I learned from an ex-Russia Insider worker that Bausman later ordered a legal document claiming 100% ownership — cutting out those who may have believed they were investing in the site for an equity position. A noble cause is being destroyed because of one person’s greed and complete disregard of basic principles of honesty and transparency.

Right. Noble cause. Writing articles defending barrel bombs in Syria and throwing Pussy Riot in prison for blasphemy.

The remainder of Fort Russ’s article is a fairly tedious but necessary dismantling of a website that has been a source of talking points for many in the “anti-imperialist” left. Mike Whitney has cited it as has the feckless Roger Annis.

Bausman is a shadowy figure. Before he launched Russia Insider in 2014, he worked for AVG Capital Partners, a Russian private capital firm specializing in agribusiness. In addition to his own seed money and funds he ripped off from people like Lavelle, he relied early on from contributions from one Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian oligarch who has quite a track record. Like most Putinites, he is committed to strong family values and serves as the chairman of the Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation that seeks to strengthen the Russian Orthodox Church. He is also on the board of trustees of the Safe Internet League that created the original draft of Internet censorship law in Russia. And to top it all off, he hosted a secret anti-gay conference in Austria that drew upon the support of the country’s ultraright as Searchlight magazine reported.

A secret meeting discussing ways to rid Europe of the ‘satanic gay lobby’ was hosted by a Russian oligarch and attended by a host of far-right MPs and ultra-conservative Eurasian ideologists in Vienna at the weekend – just across the road from where the Life Ball was taking place the very same night.

The meeting was hosted by Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeew and his Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation and was attended by nationalists and Christian fundamentalists from Russia and the West. These were thought to include the chief Russian ideologist of the Eurasian movement Alexander Dugin, the nationalist painter Ilja Glasunow, and MPs from far right parties including the Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache.

Years from now historians will try—perhaps in vain—to explain what led nominally leftist people like Mike Whitney and Roger Annis to develop ideological ties with scum like Charles Bausman. Perhaps psychiatrists well-versed in Kraft-Ebbing will come to their assistance.

December 9, 2015

Zizek, Turkey and ISIS

Filed under: journalism,Syria,Zizek — louisproyect @ 8:38 pm

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AN UPDATE FROM THE NEW STATESMAN:

Editor’s note, 9 December: This article originally included a statement that was falsely attributed to the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization. This has now been removed.

As someone who has been monitoring the leftist support for Bashar al-Assad for the past four years, I continue to be mystified by the willingness of so many otherwise sensible people to write a bunch of bullshit without the slightest self-awareness—the latest case being Slavoj Žižek in the New Statesman. The Elvis Superstar of Marxism, Lacanian film interpreter and scourge of immigrants trying to flee warfare and economic disaster has joined the growing chorus of radicals arguing that the AKP in Turkey and ISIS are in cahoots.

Like the shoddy list of allegations put together by Columbia University professor and flimflam artist David L. Phillips that John Wight and Rick Sterling represented as a smoking gun proving that the AKP and ISIS were co-conspirators, Žižek scrapes the bottom of the barrel:

In October 2015, Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation and the Turkish President’s staunchest ally, condemned Russian military intervention in Syria, accusing Moscow of trying to “smother” Syria’s Islamist revolution. “Isis is a reality and we have to accept that we cannot eradicate a well-organised and popular establishment such as the Islamic State; therefore I urge my western colleagues to revise their mindset about Islamic political currents, put aside their cynical mentalité and thwart Vladimir Putin’s plans to crush Syrian Islamist revolutionaries,” Anadolu News Agency quoted Fidan as saying on Sunday.

Actually when you click the link to Anadolu News Agency, you end up on another news website that provides no link to the reputable Turkish publisher. That website is AWDNews.com, with the “AWD” being the acronym of “Another Western Dawn”. You might wonder why Žižek would be trawling this website but then again his publisher at Verso—the redoubtable Tariq Ali—seems to have his nose buried in RT.com most of the time nowadays. I guess it is contagious.

I invite people who prefer thinking for themselves to being spoon-fed by the Baathist amen corner to visit the Anodolu website either in English (http://aa.com.tr/en) or Turkish (http://aa.com.tr/) and find such an article using the search terms “Fidan” and “ISIS”. As the Turks say, “yok”–there is none. I was not able to find anything in Nexis as well.

More importantly, it is always a good idea to check the provenance of a website before passing on its articles as the gospel. If you do a “Whois” on http://www.awdnews.com, you will discover that the administrator is one Kelvin Middelkoop who is based in Berlin. Middelkoop also administers a website called Muslim Press (http://www.muslimpress.com/) that is as anxious as AWD to make connections between the AKP and ISIS. It lines up with Phil Greaves’s Shi’ite “axis of resistance” just like Wight and Sterling do. For example, you can find an article there titled “Recent letter shows Ayatollah Khamenei’s insight into world developments”, just the sort of thing you’d expect from these quarters.

But it is AWD that really lets out the stops. In addition to the dodgy article on Turkey and ISIS, you can find one titled “North Korea Threatens Turkey With Nuclear Missile Strike” (http://www.awdnews.com/top-news/north-korea-threatens-turkey-with-nuclear-missile-strike). It states that “Mizan News agency reports that the North Korean leader has promised to ‘wipe Turkey off the map’ if Ankara takes part in the Syrian war, cooperates with the US and helps ISIS any further.” Mizan News, as it turns out, is based in Iran. Gee whiz, I never would have guessed.

Besides his reliance on such questionable sources, Žižek offers up other steaming piles of dung such as “Turkey even shot down a Russian fighter attacking Isis positions in Syria”. Who knows where he came up with this? One imagines that he has bought into the formula that Russia only bombs ISIS even though reputable sources identify the Turkmen victims of Russian bombing as FSA affiliates.

I must point out one other thing. Žižek ‘s article has a paragraph that starts off:

Fidan further added that in order to deal with the vast number of foreign jihadists craving to travel to Syria, it is imperative that Isis set up a consulate or at least a political office in Istanbul.

okThat does not exactly sound like Žižek, right? No, it doesn’t. In fact the entire paragraph is lifted from the AWD article that his stupid piece relied on. Didn’t the New Statesman editors catch this? Did Žižek send them an article that failed to blockquote the AWD horseshit? Who knows? The only thing you can conclude, as I stated above, is that it is contagious. When you associate yourself in any way with the Baathist amen corner, you will end up looking like a fool.

October 26, 2015

Seymour Hersh vindicated on sarin gas attack? Not really

Filed under: journalism,Syria,Turkey — louisproyect @ 6:44 pm

Fethullah Gülen: should we take his newspaper reports at face value?

As I pointed out in my article on “Baathist Truthers”, most members of the amen corner simply operate on a different basis than Marxism. Their method can be described as conspiracism and has a long history on the left. In its latest permutation, it boils down to a bastardized form of “investigative journalism” in which there is an almost obsessional need to find out the key piece of documentation—a Wikileaks cable, etc.—that will finally prove that the USA is responsible for everything bad that has happened in Syria rather than acknowledge it as the result of a bitter conflict over rival class interests. Syrian society? Don’t bother me with such irrelevancies, our conspiracists would maintain. The only thing that matters are CIA plots.

You get the same thing with Ukraine. From the minute the Euromaidan protests erupted, they were looking for the “proof” that the USA was behind the unrest. A phone call made by State Department Official Victoria Nuland was to blame, not corruption or police brutality. In such a schema, the Ukrainian or Syrian workers were marionettes sitting motionlessly on their behinds until the puppet-master began pulling their strings.

It should be mentioned that it is not just people on the left who have upheld conspiracy theories about Syria. Antiwar.com, a popular website run by Justin Raimondo who was the San Francisco coordinator of Proposition 187 that would have banned undocumented workers from using health care, public education, and other services in California, can usually be counted upon to spread the latest talking points of the conspiracist left.

As a key element of conspiracism, the false flag narrative crops up over and over. Early on, Global Research’s Tony Cartalucci was reporting that it was not Baathist snipers firing on peaceful protests but men recruited by the CIA or Saudi Arabia to make the progressive, tolerant and democratically elected Baathist state look bad.

Of course, the most infamous use of the “false flag” argument was that advanced on behalf of Bashar al-Assad immediately after the sarin gas attack in East Ghouta in August 2013. Ever since Assad surrendered his chemical weapons and began relying on impeccably clean conventional weapons to level apartment buildings and everybody who lived inside them, there hasn’t been much discussion about who was responsible.

But the topic reared its ugly head in the Oct. 23-25 weekend edition of CounterPunch with Peter Lee’s article “Hersh Vindicated? Turkish Whistleblowers Corroborate Story on False Flag Sarin Attack in Syria”. On most topics, Lee can be counted on to present logical arguments based on hard data but like most non-Marxists on the left, he makes a fool out of himself when it comes to Syria.

For example, his “proof” that Turkey mounted a false flag operation in cahoots with al-Nusra and ISIS relies on the testimony of sworn enemies of the ruling AKP:

I find the report credible, taking into full account the fact that the CHP (Erdogan’s center-left Kemalist rivals) and Today’s Zaman (whose editor-in-chief, Bulent Kenes was recently detained on live TV for insulting Erdogan in a tweet) are on the outs with Erdogan.

“On the outs”? That is like saying that Abe Lincoln was on the outs with Jefferson Davis. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been jailing Kemalist politicians and military men for years now. None other than chief conspiracist Eric Draitser considers Erdoğan to be the head of a “country that has given over to violence as a political tool, repression and censorship as standard government practice.” If you were a member of a party that was being hounded into submission by the Turkish ruling party, wouldn’t you be willing to make things up to embarrass Erdoğan or even to make him step down? This is especially true given the Kemalists’ own sleazy modus operandi. This is a party, after all, that backed one coup after another and that tortured and killed leftists and Kurds with a zeal that would make the typical Arab dictator green with envy.

Let’s assume that these sources are worth listening to for the moment. Do their reports make any sense? Lee offers up an article in “Today’s Zaman” in its entirety as evidence. This is the newspaper of the Gülen movement that has built charter schools in the USA to further its credibility with a wing of the ruling class whose favor it is attempting to curry. It shares the AKP’s goal of liquidating the Kemalist party. The relationship between the Kemalists, the AKP, and the Gülenists is quite byzantine. Prosecutors and judges sympathetic to Gülen were instrumental in railroading Kemalists to prison on behalf of the AKP. Now that the Kemalists have been tamed, the same prosecutors and judges are involved in cases being made against AKP leaders for corruption as the NY Times reported on February 26, 2014:

Many of the prosecutors and investigators in both cases — the corruption inquiry and the old military trials — are followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher who lives in exile in Pennsylvania. The adherents in his network were once partners in Mr. Erdogan’s governing coalition, but the government now considers them a “parallel state” to be rooted out through purges of the police and the judiciary.

A circular firing squad indeed and not conducive to impartial reports on sarin gas or much of anything else.

Basically, the Zaman report recapitulates the details of an arrest made in Adana, Turkey in May 2013, two months before the attack in Ghouta. In a nutshell, a group of 13 al-Nusra front members in Turkey had conspired with AKP officials to send sarin gas to Syria that would be used in a false flag operation meant to provoke the USA into a “regime change” invasion of Syria:

Taking the floor first, Erdem stated that the Adana Chief Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into allegations that sarin was sent to Syria from Turkey via several businessmen. An indictment followed regarding the accusations targeting the government.

“The MKE [Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation] is also an actor that is mentioned in the investigation file. Here is the indictment. All the details about how sarin was procured in Turkey and delivered to the terrorists, along with audio recordings, are inside the file,” Erdem said while waving the file.

Erdem also noted that the prosecutor’s office conducted detailed technical surveillance and found that an al-Qaeda militant, Hayyam Kasap, acquired sarin, adding: “Wiretapped phone conversations reveal the process of procuring the gas at specific addresses as well as the process of procuring the rockets that would fire the capsules containing the toxic gas. However, despite such solid evidence there has been no arrest in the case. Thirteen individuals were arrested during the first stage of the investigation but were later released, refuting government claims that it is fighting terrorism,” Erdem noted.

Over 1,300 people were killed in the sarin gas attack in Ghouta and several other neighborhoods near the Syrian capital of Damascus, with the West quickly blaming the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Russia claiming it was a “false flag” operation aimed at making US military intervention in Syria possible.

For Lee, this reporting “supports Seymour Hersh’s reporting that the notorious sarin gas attack at Ghouta was a false flag orchestrated by Turkish intelligence in order to cross President Obama’s chemical weapons ‘red line’ and draw the United States into the Syria war to topple Assad.”

If you have access to Nexis, you can check out what other newspapers were saying at the time.

To start with, the cops who arrested the 13 men reported that the two kilograms of sarin gas were going to be used against government offices in Turkey, not targeted at Syria. “The reports claimed that the al-Nusra members had been planning a bomb attack for Thursday in Adana but that the attack was averted when the police caught the suspects.” (Cihan News Agency, May 30, 2013) Things get even weirder as the same article indicates that the AKP blamed Syria for recent attacks by the terrorists. Now, there’s something you don’t see every day. Al-Assad using the al-Nusra Front in terrorist attacks on Turkey. Oh, by the way, the agency responsible for this rather incoherent article is also a Gülenist property, just like Zaman.

It should be stressed that this same news agency never claimed that ISIS was supposed to be the beneficiary of sarin gas supplied by some conspiracists either inside or outside the Turkish government. Instead it claimed that it was Ahrar al-Sham. So what’s the big deal, some might ask. They are Islamists, after all. Well, maybe so but Ahrar al-Sham was a bitter rival of ISIS so much so that it was targeted by the latter in suicide bombings. Well, who cares about such petty details when you are trying to make a bigger point, even if it is mindless conspiracism?

Later on the authorities changed their story. There was no sarin gas but only the ingredients that go into its manufacture.

But even if there was, what possible connection could that have with the East Ghouta attack that left over a thousand Syrians dead? Unless you are Mint Press that wrote at the time that the sarin gas seeped out from a storage area under rebel control due to an accidental breakage of containers, you need to be able to weaponize the stuff. This means having the technical means to construct rockets, delivery systems and the quantity of sarin gas required to disperse over a wide area.

This does not even get into the question of why al-Nusra would be involved in a “false flag” operation to precipitate a massive US intervention. Unlike the FSA, this group could not count on a free-fly zone or any other supposed benefit of intervention. It was considered a far more deadly enemy than the Baathists and one that the US has already targeted in lethal raids. I suppose that because all of these groups are “rebels” in one sense or another, it was easy for Hersh and anybody else in the amen corner to paper over the differences. Such sloppiness is endemic to the conspiracy-minded.

In April 2014, Elliot Higgins and Dan Kazseta wrote a Comments are Free piece in the Guardian taking issue with Seymour Hersh’s LRB article that remains as current as ever.

After mustering a wealth of video evidence that Baathist Volcano rockets were the means of delivery, the authors pose seven issues that had to be addressed. It is a total shame that none of the conspiracists in Assad’s amen corner has the scruples or intelligence to deal with them. Instead they would rather circulate the incoherent Gülenist press or rely on Seymour Hersh’s unnamed sources in spookworld. You are asked to take his word even if one CounterPunch contributor had this to say about him: “When there are serious political repercussions in the Middle East from Hersh’s much-read pieces, it would help for him to know better what he’s talking about.”

Firstly, sarin is difficult to make. Anyone who claims otherwise is oblivious to both history and chemical engineering. Germany, the US and the former Soviet Union took years to perfect the process. Its production requires a number of complex steps and the ability to handle highly dangerous chemicals at very closely controlled high temperatures and pressures. There is no evidence anyone has come up with any sort of streamlined method to manipulate the molecules to make sarin.

Second, quantity. Perfecting the process isn’t enough – there is a difference between making a spoonful and enough for the August attacks, which would have needed about half a ton. This assumes a scale only reached by big state production programmes. To put it in perspective, the one verified example of non-state production of sarin was the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan. Their many millions of dollars, very large purpose-built manufacturing facility and highly qualified staff got them the ability to make single batches of perhaps 8 litres of short shelf life Sarin. The alleged Aleppo plant wouldn’t need to be the size of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in the US, but it would have needed to be closer to that than the size of a house.

Third is the choice of weapon. Of the panoply of chemical warfare agents available to modern science and engineering, sarin is one of the hardest to make. So why was this one chosen? Even its nerve agent kin, Tabun and VX, are arguably easier to produce; mustard or lewisite are easier and use less technology. Numerous toxic industrial chemicals which might “fly under the radar” of non-proliferation regimes could be used as weapons. So why pick the hardest?

Fourth, economics. To make this operation work it is going to take a lot of highly trained people, raw materials, and specialised equipment, as well as a facility. It would cost many tens of millions of dollars. When the rebel factions are so stretched for resources, does it make any sense to spend, say, $50m on a weapon of limited utility? Lavish expenditure must raise a paper trail somewhere; there would be order books and receipts. Let’s see them.

Fifth is logistics. You don’t turn precursor material magically into sarin: you need about 9kg to end up with 1kg of sarin. This stuff has to come from somewhere, but where? Hersh omits these details, as do most of the alternative narratives. It is simply assumed that things like phosphorus trichloride and thionyl chloride just get summoned up in vast quantities without someone noticing. Most commentators on this issue have also forgotten about something called conservation of mass. If you use 9kg of material to synthesize 1kg of sarin you end up with 8kg of waste, rather a lot of which is very dangerous, smelly and corrosive. This waste stream has to go somewhere, and someone will notice. There are also the logistics of getting a lot of sarin into rockets and getting those rockets from Aleppo to Damascus.

Sixth, concealment. How do you hide all of this? The building, the supply chain, the people, the money, and the very smelly waste stream. Where are they? They need to be concealed not just from the Syrian regime but from other rebel factions, western intelligence agencies, the Russians, and perhaps even your own people who might desert, get captured or say silly things on YouTube videos. There is deathly silence from Aleppo and we only find out about it from Hersh?

Lastly is the specificity of the product. There are important physical clues found in the traces of sarin at the impact sites of the 21 August rocket attack. One of these is the presence of hexamine, a chemical with no history of use in nerve agent production. But hexamine can be used as an acid scavenger, and thus its presence could be explained due to its use as an additive to the sarin. This idea has been reinforced by both the admission of the Syrian regime that they used hexamine as part of their formula, and by Syria’s declaration to the OPCW of an inventory of 80 tonnes of hexamine, specifically as part of their chemical weapons program. Surely, as an uncontrolled substance, they could have omitted it from their declarations. But they didn’t. Hexamine in field samples plus hexamine in Syrian inventories, plus an admission that hexamine was in their recipe, seems a compelling case for tying the Sarin in the field to the Syrian regime. How would an Aleppo-based rebel factory somehow come up with the same exact idea?

Taken cumulatively, all these points add up to a very high degree of improbability. Isn’t it more probable that the Sarin came from the people who confessed to having a Sarin factory, fired from areas controlled by the government 2km away from the impact sites, in munitions the government had been using since 2012?

October 17, 2015

Patrick L. Smith: the latest inductee into the Baathist hall of shame

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:37 pm

Patrick L. Smith

In 2014 I submitted an article titled “Treason of the Intellectuals” to Critical Muslim, a journal co-edited by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Ziauddin Sardar. It was rejected because of Britain’s strict libel laws. You can read it here, however: https://louisproyect.org/2014/06/04/i-run-afoul-of-stringent-british-libel-laws/. It examined how a number of high-profile scholars and journalists including David Bromwich and Seymour Hersh have lent themselves to the Baathist cause. After reading Patrick L. Smith’s article in Salon.com titled “Putin might be right on Syria: The actual strategy behind his Middle East push — and why the New York Times keeps obscuring it”, I decided that an addendum was necessary. Smith is both a veteran journalist and a scholar, having written for the International Herald Tribune and served as a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong. Yale University published his latest book “Time No Longer: After the American Century” so the fellow is no slouch.

I have learned, however, that such recognition is no guarantee against being a bullshit artist. In an interview given to Smith on Salon.com, Perry Anderson—one of the most celebrated Marxist authors of the past half-century—told Smith that “Stalin remained a communist who firmly believed that the ultimate mission of the world’s working class was to overthrow capitalism, everywhere.” I guess in his dotage Anderson has forgotten everything he ever wrote about Trotsky. No wonder Smith, who is a Putinite sufficient enough to embarrass Mike Whitney, would find Anderson’s “Marxism” to his tastes.

In another Salon.com interview that has the same character as Charlie Rose interviewing Bill Gates or Stephen Spielberg, Smith sat down with Stephen F. Cohen. You can imagine the tough questions he posed to the professor emeritus whose decline has been as steep as Anderson’s.

Smith grills the professor emeritus like Mike Wallace turning the heat up on a corporate polluter, right? Er, not exactly:

Smith: The Ukraine crisis in historical perspective. Very dangerous ground. You know this better than anyone, I’d’ve thought.

Cohen: Our position is that nobody is entitled to a sphere of influence in the 21st century. Russia wants a sphere of influence in the sense that it doesn’t want American military bases in Ukraine or in the Baltics or in Georgia.

I suppose in a realpolitik sense, Cohen is completely right. If the USA can have a base in Guantanamo, why can’t Russia protect its own interests in Ukraine and Syria? That’s the way it goes. If the USA can pulverize Allende’s Chile using its military as its hit man, why can’t Putin use his air force to make sure that his naval base in Tartus is defended? All’s fair in love in war (but maybe not in socialism.)

Turning now to Smith’s latest dreck, it is the sort of article that should be studied in journalism school for those with their heart set on writing for Newsweek or Time—in other words, the kind of places where people like Smith, Robert Parry and other converts to the Kremlin’s foreign policy have worked for decades. Written as a critique of the NY Times, Smith adopts many of its own dodgy techniques but on behalf of its nemesis Vladimir Putin. Since so much of the left is fixated on putting a plus where Thomas Friedman or Nicholas Kristof put a minus, it makes perfect sense that Smith would take a whack at the NY Times. My advice to aspiring journalists is to keep an independent class perspective no matter how difficult that is in such trying times.

Contrary to the NY Times, Smith feels that “Very simply, we have one secular nation [Russia] helping to defend what remains of another [Syria], by invitation, against a radical Islamist insurgency that, were it to succeed, would condemn those Syrians who cannot escape to a tyranny of disorder rooted in sectarian religious animosities.” Breathtaking, simply breathtaking.

Is Smith aware that the Russian Orthodoxy has blessed this intervention?

Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 1.56.15 PM

Furthermore, a state has obligations beyond being “secular”. Leaving aside the question of how secular Syria was, it was a family dynasty that ruled through terror. Bashar al-Assad’s father came to power in a coup, after all. After he died, his son was offered in 2000 to the Syrian people through an uncontested referendum in which you could vote either yes or no. The Baathist election officials reported 99.7% of voters voted for him, with a turnout of 94.6%. Can you fucking imagine that? Salon.com, which runs articles 35 times a year screaming about election irregularities in the South (which it should) now features one that winks at this kind of demonstration “election”. Joan Walsh should be ashamed of herself.

For Smith, the Baathist selling point is that its bureaucracy exists:

The Assad government is a sovereign entity. Damascus has the beleaguered bones of a national administration, all the things one does not readily think of as wars unfold: a transport ministry, an education ministry, embassies around the world, a seat at the U.N. In these things are the makings of postwar Syria—which, by definition, means Syria after the threat of Islamic terror is eliminated.

So amusing to see such naked worship of the accomplished fact. The same litmus test could have been applied to Pinochet’s Chile or Suharto’s Indonesia.

Like so many on the left, using the term charitably, Smith views Obama as being just as intransigent as George W. Bush, maybe more so:

We can demonize Putin, Russia, Iran, Assad or anyone else we like. We lose in the end, because we destroy our capacity to see and think clearly. What we are doing in Syria today is Exhibit A.

Russia and its leader as Beelzebub is an old story. Obama, after his fashion, has simply bought into it. This is now irreducibly so, and the implications refract all over the place: Ukraine and the prospects for a negotiated settlement, Washington’s long-running effort to disrupt Europe’s extensive and complex interdependence with Russia. The unfolding events in the Middle East weigh heavily against any constructive turn in American policy on such questions.

If you read between the lines of this sort of inside-the-beltway prose, you understand what both Smith and Stephen F. Cohen yearn for, namely a kind of understanding between major powers over how to divide up the world into spheres of influence after the fashion of Yalta and Potsdam. If you are unlucky enough to be born a Sunni in Syria or a Ukrainian but outside of Donetsk or Luhansk, tough luck. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. Learn to live with it unless you want to get blasted to hell like the Chechens.

Showing that he is up to speed on the amen corner, Smith refers his readers to Thomas Harrington, the Trinity professor who blames Syria’s current woes on a 1996 article written by neocons. I have already dealt with Harrington’s nonsense here: https://louisproyect.org/2015/10/13/an-exchange-with-a-member-of-the-baathist-amen-corner/

He also cites Gary Leupp, another professor who writes for CounterPunch (and in the process throws scholarly standards out the window). Apparently Leupp believes that “the bulk of the peaceful protesters in the Syrian Arab Spring want nothing to do with the U.S.-supported armed opposition but are instead receptive to calls from Damascus, Moscow and Tehran for dialogue towards a power-sharing arrangement.” Looking for a citation on that? Don’t hold your breath. Leupp just made it up. After all, the ends justify the means. If you are writing propaganda to keep a blood-soaked dictatorship in power, why not assert that “the bulk of the peaceful protestors” are receptive to calls from Damascus, Moscow and Tehran. Frankly, I haven’t read such brazen bullshit outside of Rupert Murdoch’s NY Post editorial page.

But nothing tops this: “Thank you, professor. Now we know why the flow of refugees runs toward secular, democratic Europe and not areas of the nation Assad has lost to rebel militias.” Maybe that’s because Assad’s air force has the most puzzling tendency to drop bombs on the homes of people living in such areas. If you want background on that, have a look at Picasso’s “Guernica”.

October 10, 2015

The idiot’s guide to writing an anti-imperialist article about Syria

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

From left to right: Mike Whitney, Pepe Escobar, John Wight

Do you want to join the ranks of the leftist journalists who number in the thousands at this point covering the West’s brutal attack on progressive, peace-loving, pluralistic and clean-shaven Syria? If you agree with me that Mike Whitney, Eric Draitser, Pepe Escobar, Robert Fisk, John Wight, Patrick Higgins, Adam Johnson, and Shamus Cooke need some more help in preventing “regime change” in Syria at the very least and thermonuclear world war as the most extreme outcome, let me advise you on how to write an article that is certain to be published in all the right places.

To start with, don’t worry about plagiarism since this sort of article is not likely to appear in a peer-reviewed journal. When it comes to making the case for Baathist rule, the sky’s the limit.

An Introduction

To start with, you need an opening paragraph. Feel free to use mine:

Once again, the United States is saber-rattling over Syria, demonstrating that Barack Obama will not be satisfied until there is a puppet government in Damascus that is willing to open up the country to penetration from multinational corporations and to host NATO military bases as a beachhead for an attack on Iran and then on Russia. This is part of a new Cold War that has been brewing since the mid-1990s when neo-conservatives decided to liquidate the pole of opposition to Western banks and corporations in those parts of the world that were aligned with Russia.

For credibility’s sake, you need to include a disclaimer close to the beginning that reads something like this:

This is not to say that Bashar al-Assad has been a paragon of leftist virtue. As is commonly understood, he has adopted neoliberal reforms that were forced upon him by sanctions and other forms of economic pressure by Western banks and corporations. He has also jailed opponents of his government unfortunately. If Syria were not under the sorts of pressure that other independent-minded governments had been submitted to, the amount of political prisoners would certainly be reduced.

As long as you say something along these lines, nobody can accuse you of being a Baathist tool (not that such a charge could possibly be made by anybody who was not on the payroll of the CIA.)

Once you get the intro out of the way, you can get down to brass tacks. Using Google, it is not too difficult to dredge up all the talking points that make an article such as this so attractive to Jacobin editor Max Ajl.

Google “Syria proxy war” (2,400,000 results):

Close to the top of the results set, you will find a piece that the Angry Arab wrote for Huffington Post in 2014. Since it is important to find at least one Arab who is not on the Baathist payroll to make excuses for President Assad, it is probably a good idea to cite Mr. Angry rather than plagiarize him. He writes:

There are thousands of reasons for the Syrian people to protest against a family dictatorship that has controlled much of their lives since 1970 but the civil protest movement did not erupt by itself, the Western media narrative notwithstanding. Concurrent with the protest movement that erupted in 2011, Turkey and Gulf regimes had already set up armed rebel groups to help bring down a regime.

You’ll note that Mr. Angry adds the necessary disclaimer: “There are thousands of reasons for the Syrian people to protest against a family dictatorship that has controlled much of their lives since 1970” but then he deftly proceeds to focus on how Turkey and the Gulf regimes were lurking in the background ready to exploit some understandable discontent. Back in the 1960s, this is the sort of analysis heard frequently from college presidents facing a student strike or occupation. Yes, there were some reasons for students to be unhappy about the war but outside agitators from SDS came in and fomented violence—curse their eyes.

Google “Syria beheading” (842,000 results):

It is essential to document the tendency of the rebels to chop off peoples’ heads. This sort of ghastly image is worth a thousand words even though in the interests of good taste it is probably a mistake to show a head rolling about on the ground. Now most of these results will obviously be referring to ISIS. This does present some problems since some “humanitarian intervention” ZioNazis have written articles in places like the NY Review of Books pointing out that Assad turned a blind eye to ISIS when it was getting a foothold in Syria. I wouldn’t worry too much about this. Nobody cares if you say that the Mossad and the CIA are mainly responsible for ISIS. Consult Global Research on this. They have a vast database of such articles.

But your best bet is to find anything that connects al-Nusra to beheading since the FSA has joined forces on occasion with the group against the Baathist military. This allows you to make an amalgam between al-Nusra, the FSA and beheading. What could be more useful?

You might want to refer to an article titled “Nusra Terrorists Behead 40 in Syria” that appeared in Al-Alam. Now Al-Alam is part of Iran’s state-owned media but I wouldn’t worry about this too much. Most readers will accept the report at face value since they are prepared to think the worst of a group that brought down the WTC and that wants to destroy our progressive, peace-loving, pluralistic and clean-shaven way of life.

Google “Syria CIA” (28,100,00 results):

You really hit the jackpot with this one, an embarrassment of riches. There are so many ways to go that your only problem is finding which material is best for discrediting those fighting Assad, who must be likened to the Nicaraguan contras, RENAMO, UNITA and all the other CIA assets from the Reagan era.

But be careful that some malcontent does not bring up the Baathist participation in the CIA rendition program. You have to watch out for comments on your article that might have graphic references to the necessary treatment of stubborn jihadist scum being called to order in a Syria prison:

  • waterboarding,
  • “rectal feeding”—i.e., feeding by rape; liquidating entire solid-food meals, inserting it into detainees rectum via IV, and pumping it into the large intestines,
  • rape threats with broomsticks,
  • “ice water baths,”
  • standing sleep deprivation; sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours,
  • threats with buzzing power drills
  • threats to kill family members and rape mothers

Your best bet is to have the people running the website where your article appears to delete them without skipping a beat. The obvious intention of these creeps is to make the Middle East’s only progressive, peace-loving, pluralistic and clean-shaven government look bad and we can’t have that. You might even reference Christopher Hitchens’s encounter with waterboarding. He didn’t like it very much, I admit, but he did survive the experience after all.

Google “Syria wikileaks” (1,770,000 results)

This goes hand in hand with the search above. For most of your potential readers, any way that you can work the CIA or secret cables revealed by Wikileaks into your article helps you make your overall point even though of course most of them have made up their minds that the opposition to Syria is rotten to the core long ago. As is the case in this type of work, repetition is essential. Why else would Trivago run ads 10 times an hour on CBS during prime time on many popular shows?

I would point you to an article that Robert Naiman wrote for Truthout, a website whose editorial board he sits upon. It is actually a chapter from a book on Wikileaks by Verso that I received a review copy for a while back. The title of the article is “WikiLeaks Reveals How the US Aggressively Pursued Regime Change in Syria, Igniting a Bloodbath”, one that suits the predominantly conspiracist mindset of much of the left that like Naiman wisely prefers to the retrograde and irrelevant Marxist theory some antediluvians prefer.

Wikileaks refers to a 2006 cable written by a Bush administration official that was in line with the “regime change” orientation that led to the disastrous war in Iraq. Even though the Obama administration that Naiman urged a vote for in 2008 and 2012 abandoned that policy and sought a new orientation to Iran, it is still useful to cite the cable since the entire purpose is to represent US foreign policy as a one-note affair that rules out reorientations such as Nixon’s trip to China, etc.

Again it is necessary to ward off complaints from ZioNazis who will try to embarrass you by referring to articles that appeared before the Arab Spring along the lines of the March 26 2009 NY Times: “With Isolation Over, Syria Is Happy to Talk” or even after the revolt in Syria broke out in early 2011 when Hillary Clinton referred to Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer”. Your best bet is to dismiss such reports as disinformation carefully intended to lull us into believing that “regime change” was not being plotted in Washington.

The Conclusion

You should include the following points:

–Russian intervention is designed to bring the war to an end. It is only through a muscular application of force that the jihadist threat can be overcome. It might make sense to refer to the WWII alliance between the USSR and the USA, as Putin has done. Many of your readers will be inclined to think of the Syrian rebels as the modern-day equivalent of the Japanese and German last-ditch resistance to the allied war machine. Surely, there is a much more calibrated approach by the Russians even if a bunch of hospitals had to be leveled in rebel-controlled areas. You can always say that if the USA bombed a Doctors without Borders hospital in Kunduz, why make a big deal about Russia?

–Stress civilized values and the need to preserve them. You might want to borrow some of Christopher Hitchens’s lofty prose from the early 2000’s. He really knew how to make the case for preserving Enlightenment values:

We know that the enemies of our civilization and of Arab-Muslim civilization have emerged from what is actually a root cause. The root cause is the political slum of client states from Saudi Arabia through Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere, that has been allowed to dominate the region under U.S. patronage, and uses people and resources as if they were a gas station with a few flyblown attendants.

Indeed, there is at least one veteran leftist who is clearly channeling Christopher Hitchens (let’s hope he goes easy on the whiskey and smokes):

In particular the Saudi gang of corrupt potentates, sitting in gilded palaces in Riyadh, have long been dredging a deep well of hypocrisy as part of the US-led grand coalition against IS and its medieval barbarism. A state that beheads almost as many people in public as IS, the oil-rich kingdom’s status as a close Western ally is beyond reprehensible.

(John Wight, “The West and ISIS”)

The Russia-ISIS shuffle

Now I don’t have any easy answers for this but in terms of what Mr. Wight wrote, you might want to think about how to handle a rather delicate matter, namely the general perception that Russia is not attacking ISIS but the other groups that are more interested in getting rid of Assad than in building a Caliphate based on a medieval model. Your best bet is go on the offensive and claim that such groups are just as bad even if it involves stretching the truth. You might even break the truth here and there. A readership that has been reading Global Research, Jacobin and WSWS.org for the past few years has been softened up to the point that it would probably believe that the FSA intends to invade the USA and convert Bill Maher to Islam at the point of a gun.

October 5, 2015

A closer look at Jabhat al-Nusra

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 9:58 pm

Jabhat al-Nusra fighters

On September 27th I tweeted this in response to someone else’s 140 character revelation that American-trained “moderate” rebels had traded weapons to al-Nusra in exchange for safe passage into Syria: “Good. I hope they use it to blast the Syrian military to hell.”

As some of you may know, I have little use for Twitter except as a place to forward links to my blog. It is simply impossible to express complex ideas in 140 characters. My tweet was nothing much more than a wisecrack but some like Jacobin’s David Mizner interpreted it as me “celebrating the delivery of US arms to Al Qaeda.”

For Mizner, Patrick Higgins, Adam Johnson, Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and David Bromwich, there is a prima facie basis for lumping all those who fight against Assad as “jihadist”. Since the FSA has collaborated with al-Nusra against the Baathist military, this is proof positive that it is an accessory after the fact. Of course, you will find no acknowledgement in all of their writings that the FSA and al-Nusra have done more to combat ISIS until the more recent period than the Baathists. In a May 2015 al-Monitor article, the conflict between Nusra and ISIS was clearly established:

Several areas of West Qalamoun have been witnessing since two days, a fierce wave of raids conducted by Jabhat al-Nusra against IS strongholds and checkpoints, and clashes erupted between both groups.

As a result of the campaign, dozens of IS members, including leaders and emirs, were arrested. On the first day, about 47 members were detained, according to sources.

For many in the Baathist amen corner, there is an incentive to put Nusra in the foreground since any identification with al-Qaeda is bound to summon up images of 911, bin-Laden, shoe bombers, Sharia law, forced wearing of the hijab, bans on smoking and drinking—in other words all the things that get the vigilant attention of Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, and Christopher Hitchens when he was alive.

Ten years ago political Islam was more acceptable than it is today for obvious reasons. When jihadists were sticking it to the marines in Fallujah, it was a cause for celebration. In 2004 Mike Whitney took the side of the insurgents there without questioning their political or religious beliefs. Apparently reports such as the one that appeared in the November 10, 2004 Washington Post did nothing to persuade Whitney or anybody else in the amen corner to support the marines:

In Fallujah, [foreign fighter] Abu Thar was assigned to a group called Monotheism and Jihad. The group is headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian who has asserted responsibility for many of the most extreme terrorist strikes in Iraq, and who last month allied his group with al Qaeda.

Can you imagine Mike Whitney praising anything called Monotheism and Jihad today? Well, maybe if it was based in Seattle and was blowing up Starbucks, he might.

For reasons having to do with my unwillingness to take anything at face value, I never found the presence of al-Nusra in Syria to be a game changer. If the FSA was willing to work with them, more power to them.

But the recent torrent of pro-Assad propaganda prompted by the Russian entry into the war and the bombing of towns that are supposedly under the control of “al-Qaeda” convinced me to take a closer look at al-Nusra. If my taking a closer look at the group condemns me as a jihadist sympathizer, so be it. I have been called worse things over the years.

If you are looking for the typical al-Qaeda type sectarian terrorist attack, wouldn’t it make sense to look for something in the Nexis database with the keywords “Nusra mosque bombing Syria” as I just did? If you don’t have access to Nexis, try Googling it. What you will discover is that the preponderance of articles close to the top reveals this incident:

An explosion in a mosque in northern Syria killed 25 members of al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, including one of its leaders, as they attended Ramadan prayers, a monitoring group said on Friday.

Director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Rami Abdel Rahman said the death toll could rise as dozens of civilians were also injured in the explosion during Iftar prayers in the city of Ariha.

“Twenty-five members of Al-Nusra Front, including a leader of the jihadist group, died in an explosion inside a mosque in the city of Ariha, in Idlib province,” the Britain-based observatory said.

Of course, if car bombs were going off in front of Alawite or Shi’ite mosques in Syria, you’d expect Robert Fisk to report it. What about beheading? This is the sort of thing, after all, that got Obama and Putin to start raining bombs on Syrian villages, after all. Well, Robert Fisk did report that Nusra beheaded seventy Baathist soldiers back on October 29, 2014. This is the only reference to such an atrocity I could find. However, it is significant that his article does not refer to any media account that puts the blame on Nusra. Perhaps he was embarrassed that the only source of this news was the Daily Mail, a newspaper that editorialized in favor of Mussolini and Hitler in the 1930s and that has lost seven lawsuits since 2001 over bogus reporting.

If the ultimate goal of Jabhat al-Nusra is to create an Islamic state based on Sharia, there’s not much relevance to what it is doing today, which is indistinguishable from all the other militias in Syria—namely to defeat the Syrian army until the Baathist state is overthrown. It is also worth noting that Iran, the supposed arch-enemy of al-Nusra, is also an Islamic state based on Sharia law. I guess some Islamic states are more equal than others.

Since Hassan Hassan’s book on ISIS is so highly regarded, I thought it would be worth it to check out his March 4, 2014 article on Nusra that appeared in The National. Titled “A jihadist blueprint for hearts and minds is gaining traction in Syria”, it describes a group that is anything but fanatical:

The strategies derived from [Islamist theoretician] Abu Musab’s guidelines to win hearts and minds are largely four-fold: provide services to people, avoid being seen as extremists, maintain strong relationships with communities and other fighting groups, and put the focus on fighting the regime.

Throughout Syria, Jabhat Al Nusra is known to be a pragmatic group that does not impose its ideology in liberated areas and can even turn a blind eye to those who have to deal with the regime for daily needs. In one statement, Jabhat Al Nusra’s leader warned his followers: “Beware of being hard on them. Begin with the priorities and fundamentals of Islam, and be flexible on the minor parts of religion.”

Abu Musab heralded the rise of what he called “the third generation of jihadis”, which is exactly what we may be witnessing now. By the first and second generations, he means the jihadists in Afghanistan and Iraq who committed grave mistakes that undermined jihad.

As it turns out, Patrick Cockburn—one of the grand Poobahs of the amen corner—wrote about Nusra in his new book “The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution,” that is about as dodgy as Fisk’s recycling of the Daily Mail.

In Adra on the northern outskirts of Damascus in early 2014, I witnessed [Nusra] forces storm a housing complex by advancing through a drainage pipe which came out behind government lines, where they proceeded to kill Alawites and Christians.

Writing for the Daily Beast, Idrees Ahmed put Cockburn’s reporting under a microscope where it belongs. He wrote:

Cockburn was witnessing a war crime.

But there is a problem. The atrocity may or may not have happened, and it seems unlikely that Cockburn witnessed it.

Before Cockburn published the first edition of his book in August 2014 and promoted himself to the status of witness, he had devoted only two articles to Adra; neither mentions him witnessing a massacre. Indeed, according to the first—published in his January 28, 2014, column for The Independent —Cockburn arrived in Adra after the alleged incident and was told the story about rebels advancing through a drainage pipe and massacring civilians by “a Syrian [regime] soldier, who gave his name as Abu Ali.”

The story about a massacre in Adra, allegedly carried out by Islamist rebels, was briefly reported on before disappearing in a swirl of contradictory claims. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have no record of it. The Russian broadcaster RT covered it, but used fake pictures, which it subsequently had to withdraw.

For the sordid details on Cockburn’s account of Adra, read Idrees Ahmed’s article here.

October 3, 2015

War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength

Filed under: journalism,mechanical anti-imperialism,Syria — louisproyect @ 11:50 pm

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 7.48.05 PM

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