Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 1, 2017

Ben Norton and Yassin al-Haj Saleh

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:56 pm

I sometimes wonder if people hate Ben Norton for his Assadist propaganda or more for his careerist “Road to Damascus” conversion that turned him into the kind of ideologue he once denounced. After taking a job with Salon in 2015, he dumped previously held positions opposing Assad and soon became one of his most fervent supporters in partnership with Max Blumenthal who went through the same kind of evolution.

To cover his tracks, he systematically deleted all traces of the old Ben Norton. However, like all criminals, he left a clue behind:

That’s dated November 29, 2015 and clearly endorses the analysis of Yassin al-Haj Saleh.

But this year he sings a different tune:

Of course, Twitter is the perfect medium for slandering people. Saleh is an exceedingly obscure figure in the Western media despite Norton’s attempt to turn him into something like Brandeis professor Kanan Makiya who was frequently cited as an Iraqi supporting regime change in 2002.

As for Erdogan’s “leftist paradise”, who knows what Norton is trying to say here. The implication is that Saleh is some kind of supporter of the AKP. Naturally, when you write a bunch of bullshit in 140 characters, you can always claim that people misread what you wrote. Just ask George Cicariello-Maher or Donald Trump.

October 2, 2017

Tasteless publishing magnate S.I. Newhouse Jr. dead at 89

Filed under: capitalist pig,journalism — louisproyect @ 2:52 pm

S.I.. Newhouse

As might be expected, the NY Times obituary was respectful toward a member of their own class but you can get an idea of how awful this millionaire’s son was from a few excerpts:

Newhouse magazines were criticized for exalting the rich and famous through articles that gave their personal foibles and professional exploits equal importance. But as circulation and advertising revenues at his periodicals soared, other publishers took up the glitz-and-scandal approach to journalism. By the end of the 20th century, even the most serious newspapers and magazines offered profiles of entertainers, businesspeople, artists and politicians that balanced weighty accomplishment with juicy gossip.


Mr. Newhouse owned a modern art collection that at one time was valued at more than $100 million. He and his second wife, Victoria, gave lavish parties at their Manhattan townhouse. And their dog was feted at an annual birthday bash at which Evian water was served to canine guests while their owners enjoyed caviar.


His buying spree reached its apex in 1985 with his acquisition of The New Yorker, one of the country’s most intellectually rich general-interest magazines. Two years later, he replaced its legendary, septuagenarian editor, William Shawn, causing an outcry among the staff.

Although Mr. Shawn’s successor, Robert Gottlieb, was a highly respected book editor, the move added to Mr. Newhouse’s notoriety for firing even the most pre-eminent editors. In 1971, he dismissed Ms. Vreeland as editor of Vogue. Her replacement, Grace Mirabella, was informed of her own firing in 1988 when the gossip columnist Liz Smith announced it on a New York television newscast.

“The way it was handled was graceless — without making a pun,” Mr. Newhouse was quoted as saying by one of his biographers, Thomas Maier, in a 1995 article in The Quill. “The P.R. of it got all bitched up.”

But Mr. Newhouse was not any better at handling the dismissal of Mr. Gottlieb from The New Yorker in 1992. Mr. Gottlieb, who was traveling in Japan, found out he had lost his job when he was awakened in the middle of the night by a call from a reporter asking for comment on his firing. Mr. Gottlieb, like other former Newhouse editors, readily acknowledged that he had received a generous severance package.


 

Four years ago I wrote about the decline of fact-checking at The New Yorker, as well as its overall decline under Newhouse’s ownership. This section is worth reposting:

The original editor was one Harold Ross who founded the magazine in 1925 with financial backing from Raoul Fleischmann, heir to the margarine manufacturer’s CEO. In the 1920s Ross was a member in good standing of the Algonquin Round Table, a sort of American equivalent of the Bloomsbury Group, that used to meet regularly at the Algonquin Hotel dining room in New Yorker as a salon devoted to the discussion of politics and culture—something like the Marxism list. It included a wide variety of talents from Harpo Marx (I imagine he was out of character on such occasions) to the acerbic Dorothy Parker. Harpo’s brother Groucho once described them as a group where “The price of admission is a serpent’s tongue and a half-concealed stiletto.” Of course, this point was somewhat moot since Groucho once said that he would never join a club low enough to admit him as a member.

Ross was succeeded by Shawn in 1951 and probably had more of a political edge than the founder.

After buying the magazine in 1985, media mogul Si Newhouse Jr. decided to replace Shawn with Robert Gottlieb two years later, a move that precipitated a protest letter by 154 contributors to the magazine. A NY Times article suggested what might have caused the eruption:

Mr. Gottlieb’s editorial stamp is also apparent in his passion for kitsch, exemplified by the garish statues of Elvis Presley and the Lone Ranger among the knickknacks on his desk. But few longtime New Yorker staff members seem to share that taste, which probably accounts for their general annoyance with a recent article about a convention of Scottish terrier fanciers. The piece was written by Jane and Michael Stern, who wrote a book for Mr. Gottlieb on Elvis Presley.

In any case, Gottlieb’s stay was a short one. In 1992 Newhouse put Tina Brown, the British editor of “Vanity Fair” (another Condé Nast property), in charge. It was widely understood at the time that Brown, now the editor of the Newsweek/Daily Beast atrocity, would reshape the New Yorker along the lines of “Vanity Fair”, a temple of vacuous celebrity worship. Wikipedia reports that two months after the first Gulf War started, she removed a picture of the blonde Marla Maples (Mrs. Donald Trump) from the cover and replaced it with a photograph of Cher. She told the Washington Post: “In light of the gulf crisis, we thought a brunette was more appropriate.”

In 1998 Brown moved on to a new job at the Walt Disney Corporation. Newhouse replaced her with Sovietologist David Remnick, who is still the editor. With no apparent appetite for kitsch or celebrities, Remnick does seem to have an unquenchable appetite for neoliberalism and bellicose foreign policy initiatives.

One of Remnick’s early hires was Jeffrey Goldberg, the Zionist booster of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Alexander Cockburn did not mince words back in 2003 when he called attention to Counterpunch readers that Goldberg had written a New Yorker article tying al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein.

At the core of his rambling, 16,000-word piece was an interview in the Kurdish-held Iraqi town of Sulaimaniya with Mohammed Mansour Shahab, who offered the eager Goldberg a wealth of detail about his activities as a link between Osama bin Laden and the Iraqis, shuttling arms and other equipment.

The piece was gratefully seized upon by the Administration as proof of The Link. The coup de gráce to Goldberg’s credibility fell on February 9 of this year in the London Observer, administered by Jason Burke, its chief reporter. Burke visited the same prison in Sulaimaniya, talked to Shahab and established beyond doubt that Goldberg’s great source is a clumsy liar, not even knowing the physical appearance of Kandahar, whither he had claimed to have journeyed to deal with bin Laden; and confecting his fantasies in the hope of a shorter prison sentence.

Given Goldberg’s talent for the fabulous, and Remnick’s role in vetting his garbage, is it any wonder that Jared Diamond falsely accuses Samuel Wemp of murder and that Jon Lee Anderson is caught with his pants down reporting on Venezuela?

I’ve had my own complaints about the New Yorker in recent years. I found Malcolm Gladwell tendentious on social networking and was appalled by Jill Lepore’s pissing on Howard Zinn’s grave.

Finally, although I have serious problems with the Nation Magazine, I am glad they gave Daniel Lazare a platform from which he could expound on the New Yorker’s perfidy at length. Written in 2003 (The New Yorker Goes to War) and inspired like Cockburn’s piece by the magazine’s support for Dubya’s war, the article went straight for the jugular:

The New Yorker has not been the only publication to fall into line behind the Bush Administration’s war drive, but for a number of reasons its performance seems especially disappointing. One reason has to do with the magazine’s track record. One doesn’t have to be a William Shawn devotee to agree that the magazine has published some astonishing journalism over the years–Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” James Baldwin’s “Letter from a Region of My Mind,” Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” Jonathan Schell’s pieces on Vietnam and Pauline Kael’s wonderful demolition job on Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, to name just a few. During the Vietnam War, it was one of the few mainstream publications to try to unmask the sordid reality behind the brass’s regular 5 o’clock press briefings. And if it published too many long and hyperfactual stories in the 1980s about wheat or geology, at least it preferred being trivial and obscure to the glories of being a team player in Washington, which is a moral stance of a sort.

Though its style may have been genteel, The New Yorker succeeded in challenging middle-class sensibilities more often than any number of scruffier publications. Another reason to mourn the magazine’s lack of resistance is that it represents an opportunity lost. Just as the magazine helped middle-class opinion to coalesce against US intervention in Vietnam, it might well have served a similar function today by clarifying what is at stake in the Middle East. Rather than unveil the reality behind a spurious War on Terrorism, though, The New Yorker helped obscure it by painting Bush’s crusade as a natural and inevitable response to the World Trade Center/Pentagon attack and, as a consequence, useless to oppose. Instead of encouraging opposition, it helped defuse it. From shocking the bourgeoisie, it has moved on to placating it at a time when it has rarely been more dangerous and bellicose.

How does a magazine bring itself to such a pass? The process probably began when Tina Brown took over in 1992. Politically, Brown wasn’t left wing or right wing so much as no wing. She fawned over Ronald and Nancy Reagan in Vanity Fair and then, a dozen years later, fawned over Bill Clinton in The New Yorker (“his height, his sleekness, his newly cropped, iron-filing hair, and the intensity of his blue eyes…”). While publishing the occasional exposé, such as Mark Danner’s memorable “Massacre at El Mozote,” she was more concerned with putting the magazine in the swim. David Remnick, who succeeded her in 1998, is a different case. Where Brown is catty and mischievous, his style is earnest and respectable. Although a talented reporter and a graceful writer, he lacks Brown’s irreverent streak. (One can hardly imagine him writing a first-person account of dancing topless in New Jersey, or whatever the male equivalent might be, as Brown famously did at the beginning of her career.) Remnick’s 1993 book, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, dutifully followed the Washington line in reducing a complex historical event to a simple-minded melodrama about noble dissidents versus evil Communist apparatchiki. Under his leadership, The New Yorker has never seemed more like a tame, middle-of-the-road news magazine with cartoons, which may explain why its political writers, people like Nicholas Lemann, Jeffrey Goldberg and Remnick himself, have never enjoyed more airtime on shows like Charlie Rose. In traveling from irreverence to reverence, it helps to have someone in charge with a heat-seeking missile’s ability to home in on the proper establishment position at any given moment. But it also helps to have someone who knows when to ask the tough questions and when to turn them off.

You are strongly encouraged to read Lazare’s entire article here.

July 15, 2017

Ben Norton’s transparent alibi

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:18 pm

Initially getting the Syria war wrong, learning from past mistakes, and correcting lies

I have never seen any conflict lied about more than the horrific war in Syria.

Most of the lies have been in the interest of empire. But there has also been a fair share of lying within the camp of those who ostensibly oppose it.

I have been ceaselessly attacked from multiple sides for the evolution of my views on Syria. Some of these attacks have been warranted, I readily concede. Many others have not been.

In a recent denunciation, the blog Moon of Alabama pilloried me, Max Blumenthal, and Rania Khalek, in one of a slew of nearly identical pieces that have done the same (penned by a motley crew of deranged digital stalkers with a penchant for lying, like serial impersonator Pham Binh, Photoshop-wielding demagogue Louis Proyect, and reactionary conspiracy-monger Barbara McKenzie)…

I admit I was wrong, and it was gradually from 2014 into 2015 that I began to see that. When Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra was openly leading the opposition, and yet Cliffites continued to support it (with Trotskyite writers like Louis Proyect and Michael Karadjis cheering on al-Nusra’s offensives), I was hit with the realization that I had been fooling myself.

Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek came to similar realizations on a similar timeline. The three of us are close friends and colleagues who talk frequently. We discussed the issue at length; our views evolved together organically.

(clip)


What a lying bastard this kid is. I had never met him before August 21, 2015 when he approached me after Patrick Bond’s talk at the Verso office in Brooklyn on Rosa Luxemburg’s “The Accumulation of Capital” to telll me that he agreed completely with my analysis of Syria and Ukraine. He also mentioned that he was about to start a new job at Salon. I told him good luck. So if he had started to “rethink” things as early as 2014, why would he have come up to spend 10 minutes badmouthing exactly what he was already well on the road to becoming, namely a carbon copy of Robert Parry, Patrick L. Smith, Gareth Porter and other tawdry apologists for the Baathist killing machine.

Besides killing and displacing Syrians, the war has taken a toll on leftist journalists. Norton is as slippery as an eel coated in vaseline and will likely end up like David Horowitz. That’s what happens when you begin to write articles relying on the Saudi media for “the truth”.

I figured out that Norton had joined the conspiracist left after reading his Salon articles. In my view, it was cash that made the difference–not having a Road to Damascus conversion after reading some book opposed to Gilbert Achcar or Idrees Ahmad. If you want to understand him politically and psychologically, I’d advise reading Norman Podhoretz’s memoir “Making It”. From my first commentary on the turncoat dated June 18, 2016:

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?

 

UPDATE:

 

Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames: sexist pigs

Filed under: journalism,sexism — louisproyect @ 2:25 pm

When I watched Oliver Stone’s Putin interviews, I was struck by how the two men were bonded by homophobia. I have a strong sense that some on the American left are attracted to Putin because he isn’t into “political correctness”. For example, when the subject of gays in the military came up, Stone asked how he would deal with having to take showers with “them”. Putin smiled and said that he was a judo expert. Does anybody not understand that this meant that he would kick their ass?

I don’t think that Matt Taibbi is the sort of person nowadays who would be drawn to Putin’s backward attitudes but I’ll bet anything that Mark Ames would have gotten a chuckle out of the shower room exchange. Ames is a ubiquitous figure on social media who can be counted on to take Putin’s side on just about every issue, from his intervention Ukraine to blaming a rightwing gay activist for the murderous assault on gays in Chechnya.

Here is an excerpt from a Chicago Reader article about a book they wrote about their time publishing Exile in Russia:

Most notably, the Exile nurtures a peculiarly vicious and schizoid attitude toward women. While Russian women are rhapsodically celebrated as long-legged gazelles with loose morals–“the most physically attractive women on earth, and…usually available to the highest bidder,” expat women are ridiculed at length as “fat-ankled” and defensively sexless. Self-hating geeky American men are encouraged to take advantage of the perception that all Americans are rich and have oodles of condomless sex (sometimes in the ass!) with drunk, nubile dyevushkas. Ex-girlfriends are held up to public ridicule–Ames at one point chronicles his threats to kill a pregnant ex if she won’t have an abortion. The club listings are rated by three factors: how cheap the beer is, how thuggish the crowd is, and how likely an expat male is to score: “Babes with nose-bleeds and their pot-bellied, cell-phone-totin’ sugar dyadyas. One of the highest concentrations of beautiful chicks–and heavily armed men–in the world. (If you have an 8-ball of whiff you’ll get laid.)”

It’s not ironic–Ames and Taibbi explicitly scorn the bourgeois safety net of irony–and it’s not just a rhetorical stance. “You’re always trying to force Masha and Sveta under the table to give you blow jobs,” complains their first business manager, an American woman, in chapter six, “The White God Factor.” “It’s not funny. They don’t think it’s funny.” “But…it is funny,” replies Taibbi. They take particular glee in trashing several former female staff members in print, taking multiple potshots at the aforementioned business manager’s “gorilla ass.” They’re equally nasty to her replacement, who quit in disgust after they went on a four-month “brain-sucking speed binge.”

And Ames’s treatment of Russian teenage girls is documented with frightening glee. In the book he recounts one evening with an expat investment banker pal and what he thought were three 16-year-old girls:

“When I went back into the TV room, Andy pulled me aside with a worried grin on his face. ‘Dude do you realize…do you know how old that Natasha is?’ he said.

“‘Sixteen?’

“‘No! No, she’s fif-teen. Fif-teen.’ Right then my pervometer needle hit the red. I had to have her, even if she was homely.”

After they do it, she tells him she has a three-month-old baby.

“It was hard to imagine that Natasha had squatted out a baby,” Ames writes. “Her cunt was as tight as a cat’s ass….I’d slept with mothers before–they’re a lot wider. Sex with them is like probing a straw in a mildew-lined German beer mug.”

Later he learns that she’s lying–she has no baby, but rather is four months pregnant. After she has an abortion, he writes about her in the Exile, suggesting that she be sterilized and awarded “one of those cheap trophy cups with the inscription ‘World’s Greatest Mom.'”

Ames and Taibbi rationalize their flaming sexism with the argument that part of the whole expatriate experience is to have one’s moral compass come loose. American men have internalized a sexual script that prescribes equality and respect, but “out in Russia,” Ames writes, “you gain a little perspective, which can be dangerous. Deep down, even the most emasculated, wire-rimmed glasses, cigar-smoking and martini-drinking American guy fantasizes about living in a world full of…well, I’ll let you guess: a) self-reliant, androgynous women who are also your friends, b) young, beautiful sluts.”

Needless to say this kind of thing pisses some people off. In early 1998 Ames’s column about Natasha pissed off a correspondent for the Baltimore Sun named Kathy Lally, who lobbied to get an influential Internet newsgroup about Russia to stop posting the Press Review column. This in turn pissed off the Exile boys enough that they decided to give her the treatment. They had a female friend call her and, posing as an anti-Exile sympathizer, ask her to help shut the paper down by giving a statement to FAPSI–Russia’s Federal Agency of Government Communication and Information, an organization analogous to the National Security Agency that, according to Taibbi, has a reputation for being “a reactionary force on par with the old KGB.” They got Lally on tape agreeing to “think about it,” and of course they published the transcript. Upon hearing from a friend that they’d made her cry, Taibbi writes, “Mark and I burst out laughing.

“‘Good!’ I shouted.

“‘Fuck her!’ said Mark.”

July 2, 2017

When Seymour Hersh was interviewed on Infowars

Filed under: Fascism,journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm

This week, when a Facebook friend referred to a Seymour Hersh appearance on Alex Jones’s Infowars, I did a double-take. Could that be possible? I understand that his judgement is poor but nobody with an ounce of sense would agree to be interviewed by arguably the worst rightwing demagogue in the USA. It turns out that he spoke with Jones on December 30, 2015–timed with his LRB article about how American Generals sidestepped Obama to provide critical intelligence that the Russians and Assad used against the opposition. Not only did Hersh consent to the interview, it was about as amiable an encounter as Barack Obama being interviewed by Charlie Rose.

Is it possible that this shows signs of senility? That might be one way of explaining the inexplicable. You saw similar behavior from another elderly celebrity of the left. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Ryan Dawson did a podcast with MIT professor emeritus Theodore Postol on August 25, 2014 in order to blame the rebels rather than Assad for using Sarin gas in East Ghouta a year earlier. Much of the show consisted of Postol crediting the Syrian Girl for help on clearing Assad’s name. Also known as Partisangirl, Maram Susli is a fascist (I use the word advisedly) who has appeared on David Duke’s radio show. It’s a small world when it comes to Assadism, senility and fascism apparently.

In making the case for Bashar al-Assad as a big improvement over the opposition, Hersh says that the mass murderer was responsible for major reforms. One of them is that now “you can bank there”. There are ATM machines everywhere. There were 30 different foreign broadcasts on TV as well.

So you can understand why with all those ATM’s and foreign broadcasts, a revolution in Syria would be unnecessary. Yes, it’s true that back in 2011 there might have been some “moderate” rebels but in no time at all, the rebels became fanatical supporters of Sharia law and determined to oppress Christians and Alawites if they took over. With such an analysis, it makes perfect sense why Hersh would accept an invitation to speak on a podcast hosted by a fanatical Islamophobe.

Hersh admits to Jones that Assad was a dictator but the opposition was worse. Hersh states that ISIS executed 200 of his soldiers in one fell swoop. On the other hand, Amnesty International reported that 13,000 prisoners have been secretly hanged in Assad’s prisons but you can’t believe a word that they say since they are a tool of imperialism (except when they are reporting on rebel war crimes). Same thing with Doctors Without Borders. When they claim that Assad bombs hospitals, they are lying but when they report on Saudi Arabia doing the same thing in Yemen, they are telling the truth. How postmodern.

Hersh understood the value of Alex Jones, at least on his own terms. In the old days, it was the NY Times and the Washington Post that controlled the agenda but now because of the Internet and what guys like Jones do, the word gets out there automatically. In his view, “that’s good” because now we have more and better communications. So let’s applaud Infowars, Breitbart News, Global Research, Al-Masdar News, Duran, 21st Century Wire and SOTT for providing a much needed alternative. Along with WBAI, we can now get an alternative to the mainstream news. As far as I know, Jones does not give away Gary Null tapes.

Just this week Alex Jones made the news by both inviting and appearing to take seriously a guest who charged NASA with operating a child slave colony on Mars. Largely through his connections to the Donald Trump campaign, Jones has become infamous in the last year or so as a close ally of the emerging alt-right. But for those who have been aware of Jones for the past decade or so, the NASA slave colony stuff comes as no big surprise since Jones is a major league conspiracy theorist whose attorney even defended him as a purveyor of entertainment rather than a reporter. Taste, they say, is largely in the mouth.

Would Hersh have had agreed to be interviewed by someone like Jones if he knew in advance that he was obviously so deranged? Maybe Jones hadn’t come up with something so outrageous back in December 2015 but it didn’t take much research to find out that he had already described the Sandy Hook Massacre as “staged”.This is not to speak of Jones’s long-standing affiliation with the 9/11 Truther movement.Why would a “legendary” Pulitzer Prize winning reporter want to even take part in a podcast interview conducted with someone that detached from reality? Would he have gone on the David Duke show? I really have to wonder.

This week I have seen repeated credit given to Hersh by people who should know better. For example, Jeff St. Clair touted his Die Welt article as a “landmark piece of investigative reporting”, while the Monthly Review website has linked to the article as well as one Ray McGovern’s wrote in support of Hersh’s article that also appeared on CounterPunch. Does John Bellamy Foster, who has devoted many hours reading about soil chemistry in conjunction with his research on the “metabolic rift”, believe that it is possible to create a toxic cloud that killed 58 people and wounded 300 by dropping a bomb on fertilizer? What about Fred Magdoff, the son of the late editor that Foster replaced after his death? Magdoff is Emeritus Professor of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Vermont. What if one of his students wrote a paper that made such a claim? What kind of scientific evidence would Magdoff expect from his student? Wouldn’t he be as exacting with a journal edited by his respected father? Would the fact that they must have deemed it a waste of time discomfit him? They must have figured that anything written by Seymour Hersh didn’t have to be read with a critical eye. As Donald Trump would say, how sad..

The other day Paul Street, a guy I have a lot of respect for, posted a link on Facebook to a CounterPunch article by Jonathan Cook along the same lines. When, probably to his surprise, a number of people became indignant over this, he understandably didn’t try to defend Hersh (which would have required defending the idea that a bomb dropped on fertilizer can have the same effect as Sarin gas). Instead, he fretted over how the left can become so divided over “foreign” affairs and urged the need for a united front against the capitalist class in the USA. Surely that will be necessary as I tried to indicate in my defense of a Jill Stein vote in 2016.

However, there is something that Paul probably didn’t quite grasp. In the six years of leftist propaganda for Assad, the truth has become less and less important. I first noticed this on CounterPunch articles about East Ghouta that motivated me to resign in 2013. It was not just disagreeing over how to assess Assad. It was how so many people were willing to argue along the lines that it was “illogical” for Assad to carry out such an attack since he was winning the war and since UN inspectors were in the area.

I always wonder why people who raise such cavils never seem nearly so interested in what was in the minds of the rebels they accuse of mounting a “false flag”. Between the two Sarin gas attacks blamed on the rebels by Seymour Hersh, Theodore Postol, et al, 1800 supporters of the rebels were killed and 5000 wounded. What are we to make of men who are so heartless as to kill their own supporters, including many family members, on a gamble? And if they are so heartless, why haven’t they used such a deadly weapon a single time in 6 years of war on Assad’s military, his government bureaucracy or his wealthy supporters who could be reached by sarin-weaponized artillery in the Damascus suburbs that Postol blamed for the East Ghouta massacre. None of this makes any sense, of course.

There’s a real danger when the left embraces such lies in order to pursue “anti-imperialist” goals. As Leon Trotsky points out in “Their Morals and Ours”, the ends do justify the means but under no conditions would a revolutionary socialist like Trotsky accept telling lies to further justifiable ends. The more we bend the truth to support a political agenda no matter how laudable (giving support for Assad the benefit of the doubt), the greater the danger it will finally break.

 

June 28, 2017

Seymour Hersh’s jumbo-sized shit sandwich

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:44 pm

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 4.46.00 PM

On June 26th Die Welt published an article by Seymour Hersh that made the case that the Syrian military was not responsible for a Sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 6th. Instead, what supposedly took place was the unfortunate collateral damage of a leakage of toxic material when a guided missile struck a building where jihadists were meeting. Without exactly revealing how he got the information about what was stored there, Hersh points to supplies of chlorine in the basement that the jihadists dispensed to the locals when they needed to clean the bodies of the dead before burial as well as fertilizers used for growing crops. When a bomb hit the building, it created a Bhopal type disaster. The symptoms displayed by the victims was “consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.”

I found the business about using chlorine to cleanse bodies most intriguing, especially since every Muslim website I could find about burial rituals stresses the need for clean water. For example, Al-Islam stipulates:

It is obligatory to bathe a dead body thrice. The first bathing should be with water mixed with “Sidr” (Ben) leaves. The second bathing should be with water mixed with camphor and the third should be with clean water.

Well, who knows? Maybe it was the camphor that killed 58 people and wounded 300. Camphor is used in mothballs, after all. If you had sufficient camphor stored in the building—a couple of tons of the stuff—it might have killed 58 people, right? Or at least, a shitload of moths. As far as organophosphates being used in many fertilizers, I suspect that Hersh might have been referring to bug and weed killers rather than fertilizers. If you check Wikipedia, it says that they are the basis of many insecticides and herbicides but there is no mention of fertilizers. An innocent mistake, I suppose. Maybe if the New Yorker had decided to publish Hersh’s article, they would have caught it but then again the magazine had declined to publish anything by him on Syria since the articles didn’t pass the smell test.

Instead, he has published his crap in the London Review of Books until now. This is a journal that has been a prime outlet of Assadist propaganda going on five years now, making room for Hersh, Hugh Roberts, Tariq Ali and Patrick Cockburn to make the case for Assad being a lesser evil. But apparently, his latest “investigating reporting” didn’t make the LRB grade as Dirk Laabs points out in a companion piece to Hersh’s article:

Hersh had also offered the article to the London Review of Books. The editors accepted it, paid for it, and prepared a fact checked article for publication, but decided against doing so, as they told Hersh, because of concerns that the magazine would vulnerable [sic] to criticism for seeming to take the view of the Syrian and Russian governments when it came to the April 4th bombing in Khan Sheikhoun.

Let me tell you something. If LRB nixes something because it takes the side of the Syrian and Russian governments, it has to be pretty fucking bad.

While I have no idea how Hersh learned about chlorine in the basement or organophosphate fertilizers upstairs, he does make sure to impress the reader with the “inside” information that backs up his reporting:

Russian intelligence, which is shared when necessary with Syria and the U.S. as part of their joint fight against jihadist groups, had established that a high-level meeting of jihadist leaders was to take place in the building, including representatives of Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaida-affiliated group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra.

Well, that cinches it, I guess. If Russian intelligence says so, it must be true. Why would they lie? So what if some people believe that the first casualty of war is truth. That couldn’t possibly apply to the Russians. The only problem I have with taking them at their word is their apparent reluctance to share the evidence that supports their findings. Hersh writes:

The Russians were intent on confirming their intelligence and deployed a drone for days above the site to monitor communications and develop what is known in the intelligence community as a POL – a pattern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the building, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, including rockets and ammunition.

I mean, for fuck’s sake, I bought a Mavic Pro camera drone for $1000 that could have recorded all of these goings on. For that matter, ISIS has purchased off-the-shelf amateur type drones and equipped them with explosives to slow the advance of the Iraqi army. You mean to tell me that the Russians couldn’t have made such evidence available to all their stooges in the West, from Vanessa Beeley to Eva Bartlett? Either they are getting soft or they were just lying. You be the judge.

Another companion piece to Hersh’s article got my eyebrows raised so high that I began to fear that they would take wing and fly off. Titled “We got a fuckin ‘problem“, it purports to be an electronic chat between a security adviser and an active US American soldier on duty on a key operational base about the events in Khan Sheikhoun.

American Soldier: We got a fuckin‘ problem

Security-Adviser: What happened? Is it the Trump ignoring the Intel and going to try to hit the Syrians? And that we’re pissing on the Russians?

AS: This is bad…Things are spooling up.

SA: You may not have seen trumps press conference yesterday. He’s bought into the media story without asking to see the Intel.  We are likely to get our asses kicked by the Russians.  Fucking dangerous.  Where are the godamn adults? The failure of the chain of command to tell the President the truth, whether he wants to hear it or not, will go down in history as one of our worst moments.

AS: I don’t know. None of this makes any sense. We KNOW that there was no chemical attack. The Syrians struck a weapons cache (a legitimate military target) and there was collateral damage. That’s it. They did not conduct any sort of a chemical attack.

Sounds like lines from Oliver Stone’s next movie, doesn’t it?

If you want to read a good take-down of Hersh’s crap, I recommend Elliot Higgins who wrote a piece titled “Will Get Fooled Again – Seymour Hersh, Welt, and the Khan Sheikhoun Chemical Attack”. Like Theodore Postol who couldn’t get his years straight, Hersh doesn’t seem bothered by the inconsistencies between his timeline and those of the regimes he seeks to defend. He writes, “The target was struck at 6:55 a.m” but the Syrian foreign ministry held a press conference after the attack that dated the incident at 8:30 a.m. Oh well, what’s 90 minutes between friends, least of all 80 year old investigative reporters who can’t be bothered with such details.

If I were Seymour Hersh, I would have retired long ago. In fact, posterity will not look kindly on these elder statesmen of the left who have lent their good name to defending the Baathist dictatorship. Hersh, Cockburn, Fisk, Chomsky—all of them.

Indeed there were signs a decade ago that Hersh was “slipping”. (That’s the word my mother’s friend used to alert me to my mom’s behavior once she hit my age. She was losing her temper a lot and was driving erratically. Come to think of it, that pretty much describes me as well.)

In 2007, Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Daily Star, a Lebanese daily, started his Counterpunch article with words that opened with words indicate little respect for the “legendary” reporter:

It’s become a habit to greet whatever journalist Seymour Hersh writes with reverence. However, after his ludicrous claim last summer that Israel’s war in Lebanon was a trial run for an American bombing of Iran – an accusation undermined by postwar narratives showing the confused way Israel and the United States responded to the conflict – my doubts hardened.

The gist of Hersh’s article was that the Bush administration was lining up with Sunni extremists in Lebanon, something that Michael Young found untenable:

What about Hersh’s belief that the Bush administration is illegally hiding aspects of its pro-Sunni regional strategy? “The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution of the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process.” The administration’s point man in this endeavor is purportedly Vice President Dick Cheney.

This revelation is noteworthy, but when we turn to the final part of Hersh’s text in which he addresses congressional oversight issues, we find little meat.

Little meat? That’s being generous. I’d say that Hersh had written a jumbo-sized shit sandwich and continues to do so.

 

 

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.

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