Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 29, 2017

Assadists caught with their pants down

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:47 pm

Paul Antonopoulos: a Stalinist supporter of Assad and a neo-Nazi: all at the same time

Theodore Postol: got 2013 and 2017 mixed up

On April 5th, one day after the sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, I wrote an article titled “Sarin gas deaths in Khan Sheikhoun: separating fact from fiction” that called attention to one by Paul Antonopoulos that could have been written within hours of the incident almost as if most of it had been prepared in advance like an obituary. His article was titled “Jumping to conclusions; something is not adding up in Idlib chemical weapons attack” and appeared on Al-Masdar News, where he was serving as Deputy Editor at the time. I predicted that Antonopoulos’s article would be the first of hundreds that put forward a “false flag” narrative.

But I never would have predicted that before the month was up, Antonopoulos would be fired from Al-Masdar for having been a neo-Nazi:

Understandably, the board did not go into the sordid details but let me fill you in. He used the identity Minimalistix at Storm Front, a website that is part of the alt-right. In a thread complaining about Australian aborigines, he chimed in:

Who knows? Maybe the guy had a multiple personality disorder like the characters in “The Three Faces of Eve” or the more recent “Split”. Without any forewarnings, he would become Minimalistix and goosestep around his apartment before sitting down to write shit that wouldn’t even pass muster at Breitbart News.

And all the time he was writing racist garbage, he maintained another identity as a Marxist anti-imperialist, if you take his Twitter account at face value:

Isn’t that something? Hammer and sickle. Marx sitting in the middle of adoring disciples, just like a Last Supper painting from the Renaissance. That miserable kind of socialist realism goes hand in hand with pissing on the people who were victims of genocide in Australia. A perfect symbol of the Red-Brown alliance that is spreading across the globe like BP’s oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico.

Was it a shock to the editors to see a hatemonger in their midst? Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if he kept his filth on Al-Masdar where it wouldn’t stick out so much against a backdrop of editor and founder Leith Abou Fadel’s Tweets:

Who in their right mind would want to have anything to do with such a toxic dump? Well, there is one well-known journalist much beloved on the left who sees its editor as her go-to source of news on the Middle East (the word al-masdar means source):

It was clear that despite the similarity between what Antonopoulos and Theodore Postol were writing about Khan Sheikhoun, there was little likelihood that the closeted fascist would ever be afforded the same respect that the MIT professor emeritus was paid in The Nation, Truth-Out, Truthdig and Alternet: the Four Horsemen of the Liberal Establishment.

His latest article might have been a wake-up call for these magazines as well as many other pro-Assad outlets that have circulated his “skepticism” about Assad’s culpability that is about as fact-based as the crap written by climate skeptics who also teach at Ivy League schools and use their credentials to peddle lies paid for by the energy companies. I doubt that anybody pays Postol. He apparently writes nonsense because he like so many others has been seduced by Islamophobia (and perhaps a fellow fascist like Antonopoulos named Maram Susli).

On April 26th, Postol wrote an article titled “The French Intelligence Report of April 26, 2017 Contradicts the Allegations in the White House Intelligence Report of April 11, 2017”. He states:

Now, more than two weeks after the dubious allegations published in the WHR [White House Report], the French Government has released a report that totally contradicts the already dubious allegations in the WHR.

The French Report instead claims that there were at least three munitions dropped from helicopters in the town of Saraqib, more than 30 miles north of the alleged sarin release crater identified by the WHR.

The WHR claims that a fixed wing aircraft was the originator of the airdropped munition at the alleged dispersal site. The French Intelligence Report alleges that a helicopter was used to drop sarin loaded grenades at three different locations in Saraqib.

Both reports cannot simultaneously be true. The French Report essentially refutes the claims in the White House Intelligence Report of April 11, 2017. This is yet another indication that there are fundamental problems with the claims made by the White House that were used to justify the April 7, 2017 military strike in Syria. It also raises questions about statements praising the accuracy of the WHR by the National Security Advisor, H. R. McMaster, and the Secretary of Defense, James Mattis. Both claimed very high confidence in the quality and accuracy of the intelligence from the WHR.

Well, of course both reports can’t be “simultaneously true” because they are referring to incidents 4 years apart. The French report details an attack that took place on April 29, 2013 while the Khan Sheikhoun attack took place this month. What this tells me is that years of absence from the rigors of the academy have left Theodore Postol rather flabby in the intellectual department just as old age takes the toll on one’s muscles. If he had instead taken up some innocent hobby such as birdwatching, one would not fault him for mistaking a red-tailed hawk for a cardinal. My hope is that someone who has his ear can take him aside and urge him to stop writing about Syria. Like Seymour Hersh, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky, their musings on Syria have the character of someone who has sort of lost their way in their advanced years. Why tarnish well-deserved reputations by serving as Assad’s spin-doctor? I know about this since I am a geezer myself. If you ever find me writing the kind of nonsense they write, get in touch with my wife and tell her to take away my Macbook and replace it with a needlepoint kit.

April 26, 2017

A piano for Ketermaya

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:54 pm

Last month I had the very good fortune to see “Ketermaya”, a documentary shown at the 2017 Socially Relevant Film Festival about a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon, and the even greater fortune to meet the director Lucas Jedrzejak. In two long conversations with Lucas, I found myself admiring not only his skill as a filmmaker but his very deep feelings of solidarity for the people of the Ketermaya refugee camp, especially the children. As we said goodbye, I told him to keep me in the loop on anything that I could do to help him in his efforts on behalf of the Syrian refugees who were the stars of his film. My review of “Ketermaya” included this:

Jedrzejak’s film focuses on the camp’s children, many of whom are orphans. Despite the hardships of living in Spartan conditions, the occupants of what can be described as huts are intent on living as much of a normal life as possible. Wise beyond their years, the childrens’ life revolves around playing in a makeshift playground and going to a one-room schoolhouse. One of the teachers is a star in the film, a 13-year old hijab-wearing girl named Nijmeh who should go on speaking tour of the USA about Syrian refugee realities. She is deeply aware of her responsibility to teach the ABC’s to children half her age as well as to keep their morale up. We see her leading a group of them in what looks a bit like ring-around-the-rosie that they delight in. When we learn that most of them have been exposed to aerial bombardment from Assad and his Russian gangster confederates, we can understand that they are glad to be alive even if they lack videogames and large-screen TVs.

Well, if they lack videogames and large-screen TV’s, maybe we can help them get something that is more “old school”, interactive and valuable—a piano!

Lucas has gotten in touch with me about a Crowdsource funding project for the piano and some ancillary needs. I chipped in 100 pounds and urge you to pitch in as well. I will allow Lucas to fill you in:

The piano is apparently reduced now to $400 after 9 conversations but I need to sort out a truck to get this and be able to get to the mountains with it in one piece so thought to create a campaign to raise $700 all together and if enough to get some other instruments for the kids. We will be doing a new water filtration system and Danette Gorman from Socially Relevant NY is coming too 🙂 she raised over $3K for sanitary towels for women and loads of stuff for the orphans and other kids in the camp.

The piano:

So, dig deep into your pockets, comrades. This will make a huge difference in the lives of people who are the best hope for a better future both in Syria and the entire Middle East.

April 17, 2017

Going Postol: how an MIT professor ended up in Bashar al-Assad’s camp

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:40 pm

Theodore Postol

As I predicted in an April 5th article, Paul Antonopoulos’s “false flag” account of the Khan Sheikhoun sarin gas incident would serve as the shock troop assault on truth that would open up a breach for more reputable figures.

For example, blogging at the NY Review of Books, David Bromwich, a Yale professor with more awards than Glenlivet scotch, chastised the Western press for not considering the possibility that ISIS might have been the culprit since according to Reuters reporter Andrew Deutsch the group has been “using chemical weapons in both Iraq and Syria.” If you take the trouble to read Deutch’s article, you will see that ISIS has indeed been using chemical weapons, including chlorine gas, but not sarin. In fact, if you Google “ISIS used sarin”, you will not find a single article making such a claim—not even from RT.com or Sputnik. Try the same thing with “al-Nusra used sarin” and you’ll come up with the same results. Even Infowars referred to “the less than incontrovertible proof the al-Nusra used sarin gas in Syria.”

None of that seems to matter to those like Antonopoulos who suggest that jihadis had been stockpiling sarin gas in Khan Sheikhoun. How do such devils who are willing to fly jets into the WTC manage to avoid using sarin gas except on their own supporters? Don’t expect answers from Paul Antonopoulos or David Bromwich.

Unlike David Bromwich, whose day job is analyzing sonnets, the 71-year old Theodore Postol is a specialist in weaponry, having both experience in the Pentagon and various universities writing scholarly articles, including some that helped to put a kibosh on Reagan’s Star Wars program.  Like Seymour Hersh and many other people carrying Assad’s water today, he has an illustrious past. That being said, he has no background writing about chemical weapons.

On April 14th, an article by Postol appeared on Truthdig, a publication generally not associated with making the case for Assad’s innocence. Naturally, it appeared as well on a host of conspiracist websites like Veterans Today and Global Research but it is cause for alarm when it ends up on Truthdig as well. This was the third offering by Postol on Khan Sheikhoun (the prior two are linked in his Truthdig article) and makes a big issue about the first responders not wearing protective clothing. Since sarin gas loses its toxicity rapidly and since the earliest responders were stricken after touching the victims, there’s not much else worth mentioning on this except that Antonopoulos and many other “false flag” propagandists have made the same point. And more alarmingly, you can interpret Postol’s article as pointing to the whole incident being staged like a movie, which is in line with everything that people like Max Blumenthal have been writing about the White Helmets.

If you turn to the first article in the series, you will note that it is written from the same angle as Postol’s articles from three years ago after the sarin gas attack on East Ghouta in August 2013. Then, as now, he tried to get Assad off the hook. Essentially, Postol hones in on the physical evidence of a crater in Khan Sheikhoun and concludes that whatever made it had to be “placed” on the ground rather than dropped from an Su-22 jet as most analysts conclude. This was the same tack he took on the East Ghouta sarin gas attack except that in that incident his central argument was that Assad’s artillery was out-of-range from East Ghouta and therefore could not be responsible for the attack that cost the lives of more than a thousand Syrian noncombatants.

Since it would help to test Postol’s latest hypotheses by reviewing his past efforts, I will start with the debate that took place between Postol and Hersh on one side and Elliot Higgins and Dan Kaszeta on the other. Much of the debate entails some rather arcane discussion of weaponry engineering and chemistry, so I will do my best to simplify matters in the interest of sustaining your attention. It is necessary to interrogate the political agenda of an MIT scientist whose pretensions to neutrality are as believable as climate change denialists. If it is important to be familiar with the science of climate change at least on a layperson’s level, it is just as important to be up to speed on the claims made about sarin gas by Assad’s supporters.

In 2013 and 2014, Postol was partnered with a weapons technology consultant named Richard Lloyd who was employed by Tesla Laboratories, Inc., a consulting company that had no connection to Elon Musk. Their names first surfaced in a study in early September written just weeks after the East Ghouta attack that had the incriminating photo just below even if it was posed as a question.

On January 14, 2014, they argued in a new report that Assad was in the clear since his troops were more than 2km (1.24 miles) from East Ghouta, putting the area beyond the range of his rocket launchers. They relied on American-government issued maps that supposedly supported their conclusions and claimed that the spent missiles found on the ground in East Ghouta could been “manufactured by anyone who has access to a machine shop with modest capabilities”. Could sarin gas be manufactured just as easily?

Since this was a question they apparently preferred to sidestep, it was left to Seymour Hersh to answer it for them in an LRB article titled “The Red Line and the Rat Line” that fingered Turkey as the supplier of sarin gas to al-Nusra. Had it ever been used? Hersh said yes, specifically on March 19, 2013 in the town of Khan Al-Assal that led to the death of 19 civilians and 1 Baathist soldier.

There’s a couple of problems with his reporting as is so often the case when it comes to Syria. To start with, the FSA was named as the perpetrator of the attack, not al-Nusra. Furthermore, Åke Sellström, the chief investigator of the UN/OPCW mission stated that it “was difficult to see” how the opposition could have weaponized sarin gas, and added that Assad had repeatedly denied that the rebels had gotten their hands on any of his chemical weapons. In the entire six years of the war in Syria, this is the only incident in which rebels have even been accused of using sarin gas against the Baathist military. If they had access to such weaponry, why haven’t they used it routinely?

According to Hersh, this was in their power since the sarin gas used in Khan Al-Assal was nothing but “kitchen sarin” made “very easily with a couple of inert chemicals”. He came up with this in a Democracy Now interview, allowing listeners to visualize it as if it was something that could be whipped up by a Food Network chef with a Cuisinart food processor and a microwave. While it was not as potent as the sarin gas cooked up by Assad’s professionals, it was toxic enough to kill 20 people in Khan Al-Assal—that is if you believe in “kitchen sarin”.

Elliot Higgins dealt with the 2km question in a number of articles, including a Business Insider item dated January 14, 2015. Using videos from Russia’s ANNA news service, he established that the Syrian military was within 2km on the day of the East Ghouta attack. To my knowledge, Postol has never responded to Higgins’s findings on the distance question. In terms of the sarin-laced missiles being “manufactured by anyone who has access to a machine shop with modest capabilities”, this could only mean that rebels went through the trouble to create facsimiles of the Volcano rockets whose remains were strewn across the streets of East Ghouta on the day of the attack.

They were identical to those that had been used in Adra just weeks before the East Ghouta attack but without the chemical warhead. To take Postol and Lloyd’s lawyerly defense of Assad seriously, you’d have to believe the following:

  1. The images found on ANNA were falsified (original copies of the video have been archived).
  2. Rebels took the trouble to manufacture rockets that were exact duplicates of those that Assad used routinely.
  3. Rebels staked out positions in the no-man’s land between East Ghouta and Damascus in order to fire sarin gas rockets at their family members, risking being seen by eyewitnesses in such a “false flag” operation and in sheer indifference to the loss of loved ones. (As they said during the Vietnam War, Orientals don’t cherish life the way we Westerners do.)
  4. Having such weapons in their armory, they have never used them up until August 2013 when they decided to kill over a thousand of their supporters just to provoke Obama into going to war.

On the question of “kitchen sarin”, we can thank weapons expert Dan Kaszeta for some clarity on this. In addition to Higgins’s analysis of Volcano rocket remnants at East Ghouta, he examined the physical evidence of hexamine, a substance that covered the earth after the sarin gas attack. In a report dated December 13, 2013, Kaszeta described the importance of hexamine in weaponizing sarin gas.

Binary Sarin weapon systems combine methylphosphonic difluoride, also known as DF, with isopropyl alcohol to form Sarin. The resulting mixture has a lot of residual acid in it, in the form of hydrogen fluoride (HF), which is highly destructive, possibly to the point of ruining the weapon system. The US Army’s cold war era Sarin  program used isopropylamine to reduce this excess HF. Several chemists and engineers knowledgeable in the matter have confirmed to me that hexamine is useful as a Sarin additive for the same reason. One hexamine molecule can bind to as many as four HF molecules. This would explain the declared Syrian stockpile of 80 tons of hexamine. Interestingly, the same stockpile contains 40 tons of isopropylamine as well.

I consider the presence of hexamine both in the field samples and in the official stockpile of the Syrian government to be very damning evidence of government culpability in the Ghouta attacks. 7 weeks of research on this subject reveal no public domain evidence of hexamine being used in this way in other Sarin programs. The likelihood of both a Syrian government research and development program AND a non-state actor both coming up with the same innovation seems negligible to me. It seems improbable that some other actor wanting to plant evidence would know to freely spread hexamine around the target areas.

The use of hexamine in this fashion is described as an “acid scavenger” by experts.

After preparing this report, Kaszeta was contacted out of the blue by Theodore Postol about hexamine. He wrote that he could find no reference to it in the technical literature having such a function, naming 9 articles. Kaszeta referred him to one article but more importantly reminded him that hexamine was found in the same location as the degraded by-products of sarin in East Ghouta. Additionally, the OPCW head Åke Sellström stated that it was included in the Syrian government’s formula by its own admission. Plus, why would Assad have surrendered 80 tons of the stuff after a deal had been worked out between Putin and Obama?

After several more exchanges, Postol informed Kaszeta that he has a heavy hitter on his side:

On the separate matter of the solubility of hexamine in isopropanol, we have finally gotten a solid scientific source. This technical information was provided to us with full scientific references by Syrian Sister, an organic chemist who we conferred with when we were unable to get this basic information from you.

As some of you may know, the Syrian Sister is one Maram Susli who is a long-time and notorious supporter of Bashar al-Assad. Her interviews with David Duke and Alex Jones have been too much even for a strong Assad supporter named Sukant Chandan, who she assailed for his leftist views obviously influenced by Maoism and Black nationalism.

Left wing individuals like Sukant Chandan who has lived his whole life as an immigrant in Europe would feel a lot better if I identified as “Arab” rather than the privileged “whites”. But where i come from it was the Arabs that were the slavers and the imperialists (apologies to my Arab friends but its history). They’re the ones who raided and took over our cities hundreds of years ago. They are the ones that enslaved the blacks of horn africa after taking over their cities and forcing the Arab language down on them. They are the ones who invaded Morocco and took white blonde Berber women of the sharmoot tribe as sex slaves.

Any surprise that this woman would feel at home doing interviews with David Duke? I think not. She even did one just a few days ago. Now none of this indicates that she is not qualified to offer opinions on hexamine. It seems that it was the late Richard Lloyd who first reached out to her on Twitter.

Why Lloyd looked her up is anybody’s guess but it was obvious that by May 2014, he had begun to move decisively into the Assadist camp based on his retweeting a Gareth Porter article with his usual excuses for the dictatorship. Once you start sniffing around websites featuring Gareth Porter, you are bound to run into Maram Susli before long.

Before long, Postol was turned on to PartisanGirl (as she is also known) and began “watching her” on Twitter, as he put it in an interview with conspiracy theorist and anti-Semite Ryan Dawson.

Kaszeta complained to Postol about him cc’ing Susli without his permission and reminded him that “that having discussions about nerve agent technology with unidentified Syrian nationals can cause me serious legal issues, particularly legal/regulatory matters and my various NDAs [nondisclosure agreements].”

The email exchanges between Kaszeta and Postol end at this point on Postol’s insistence even though Kaszeta promised him a thorough explanation of the use of hexamine in sarin gas production. I suspect that it would have been similar to the article he wrote on August 5, 2014 titled “Amines and Sarin – Hexamine, Isopropylamine, and the Rest…” that would be impossible for me to summarize since it is so technical. Suffice it to say that Postol found it convenient to ignore, just as he found Elliot Higgins’s articles on the geolocation of Assad’s military. Apparently the MIT professor enjoys picking fights even though he prefers to walk away from them when he is losing.

In addition, it would be useful to read what Jean Pascal Zanders had to say about hexamine. As  the Project Leader of the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) from October 1996 until August 2003 and Director of the Geneva-based BioWeapons Prevention Project (BWPP) between April 2003 and May 2008, his credentials would appear to be impeccable. In an August 2014 blog article, he stated:

However, recent discussions with officials from some Western states who are involved in the analysis of Syria’s declarations indicate two other roles of hexamine, namely as catalyst and stabiliser. The catalyst function is probably closely tied to the acid scrubber role. In an e-mail exchange today, Ralf Trapp, a chemist and consultant to the OPCW, confirmed that hexamine increases the yield of the chemical reaction by pulling the equilibrium between the precursors and reaction product (sarin) in favour of the latter. As a result, the sarin concentration receives a significant boost, possibly up to 60%. This degree of purity is considerably higher than the yields achieved by Iraq in the 1980s.

As a stabiliser, hexamine probably allowed the Syrians to store freshly produced sarin for days, if not several weeks. This understanding is more compatible with views before the civil war that Syria’s CW served strategic deterrence. Munitions declared to the OPCW last autumn also seem to validate those views. Initiating the final reaction shortly before use, as was the case in Iraq, would have undermined this doctrinal role.

One also must wonder why Postol turned to Susli for advice on hexamine when MIT has a world-class chemistry department filled with experts, who we must assume know more about such matters than someone whose knowledge of Ebola is—in a word— laughable:

Turning now to Postol’s three articles on the Khan Sheikhoun incident, they hinge on the impossibility of the remains of a 122 mm pipe found in a crater being fired from the sky. It had to be “placed” on the ground. His proof of it being the handiwork of somebody on the ground is a bit confusing:

The explosive acted on the pipe as a blunt crushing mallet. It drove the pipe into the ground while at the same time creating the crater. Since the pipe was filled with sarin, which is an incompressible fluid, as the pipe was flattened the sarin acted on the walls and ends of the pipe causing a crack along the length of the pipe and also the failure of the cap on the back end. This mechanism of dispersal is essentially the same as hitting a toothpaste tube with a large mallet, which then results in the tube failing and the toothpaste being blown in many directions depending on the exact way the toothpaste skin ruptures.

If this is in fact the mechanism used to disperse the sarin, this indicates that the sarin tube was placed on the ground by individuals on the ground and not dropped from an airplane.

Maybe it is just me but I have trouble visualizing what Postol is describing. Was this 122 mm pipe like a big pipe bomb to which a fuse was attached? Did jihadi rebels who supposedly control the town light the fuse in full view of the villagers like at a July 4th picnic? What about the fact that the village was attacked by Su-22 jet bombers within minutes of people falling to the ground unable to breathe? Just a coincidence? Also, how does an weapons expert MIT professor, even if emeritus, manage to write so much about sarin gas attacks in Syria without ever writing a single word about the feasibility of any rebel groups manufacturing, storing and weaponizing it?

Damned if I know.


April 11, 2017

“Experts” coming to Bashar al-Assad’s rescue

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:43 pm

On April 5th, I wrote an article just as the Assadists had begun circling the wagons over the sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun. The very first article written in Assad’s defense appeared in Information Clearing House establishing the “false flag” tone that would be repeated endlessly. I predicted that the relatively obscure author of this initial piece would be followed up by people with more authority.

Indeed, if you Google Syria and “false flag”, you will get 556,000 results—most of them linking to conspiracist outlets like 21st Century Wire, The Duran and Zero Hedge. As I have seen in propaganda offensives like these, you can count on such explicitly over-the-top, pro-Assad websites to act as the shock troops in a propaganda offensive, to be followed within months by Seymour Hersh articles in the LRB and other high-toned purveyors of mass murder apologetics.

As surely as night follows day, several high-profile “experts” have come forward to get Assad off the hook and as might be expected, their opinions are getting wide circulation in the Assadist propaganda network.

Patrick Lang

The first one I ran into was a former Defense Intelligence Agency Colonel named Patrick Lang whose “proof” of Assad’s innocence appeared on a blog titled Intel Today. Lang makes assertions without bothering to provide evidence. For example, he claims that there was no sarin gas attack, only the accidental release of toxic chemicals after a Russian jet bombed an al-Nusra arms depot. They included organic phosphates and chlorine that were spread by the wind, killing civilians. You must ask yourself how he knows that this was the case. Who told him that? A little birdie?

Using the mantle of authority, he winds up his spiel:

We know it was not sarin. How? Very simple. The so-called “first responders” handled the victims without gloves. If this had been sarin they would have died. Sarin on the skin will kill you. How do I know? I went through “Live Agent” training at Fort McClellan in Alabama.

This, of course, was the same claim made by Paul Antonopoulos in his Information Clearing House Article. How could it be sarin when first responders treated the victims without wearing protective clothing? In fact, the NY Times reported on first responders becoming ill in the early minutes following the attack but more critically sarin gas quickly loses its toxicity. I understand that Assadists agree with Donald Trump that the NY Times is a purveyor of “fake news” but surely the Center for Disease Control can be trusted: “Because it evaporates so quickly, sarin presents an immediate but short-lived threat.”

Lang’s conversion to the anti-imperialist cause is recent. Only 10 years ago, he was advocating a strike at Iran to end its nuclear program. He told the NY Times:

“You are talking about something in the neighborhood of a thousand strike sorties,” said Mr. Lang. “And it would take all kinds of stuff — air, cruise missiles, multiple restrikes — to make sure you’ve got it all.” Other former officials say fewer bombing runs would be needed.

When he isn’t writing Assadist propaganda, Lang writes fiction (I guess there’s not much difference) about the Civil War. Guess what. His hero is a confederate spy.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Moving right along, we meet Lawrence Wilkerson, another former government official who was Colin Powell’s chief aide during the war on Iraq. Wilkerson was interviewed by Abby Martin on Empire Files, a Telesur program that is in line with Venezuela’s tawdry support for the Assad dictatorship. This interview appeared on the Kremlin-supporting 21st Century Wire as vindicating Assad even though it was conducted in 2015. It has also appeared on Veterans Today, another Assadist outlet.

Oddly enough, Wilkerson describes himself both as a Republican and a firm supporter of Thomas Piketty’s ideas. The first 6 minutes of the interview consists of him reeling off the standard denunciations of US foreign policy and plutocracy that makes him sound like a Green Party candidate but afterwards goes off the rails wehen Martin asks him how he could have written Powell’s infamous WMD speech to the UN.

At 15:00 in the Youtube clip, he directly addresses claims against Assad for using sarin gas. He says that he spoke to everybody he knew in the “intelligence community” if they could confirm Assad had ever used chemical weapons and they all said no. You think maybe Patrick Lang was the first guy he phoned?

While he is speaking, a still image of a Global Research article headlined Syria UN Mission Report Confirms that “Opposition” Rebels Used Chemical Weapons against Civilians and Government Forces appears during Wilkerson’s voice-over. This article claims that the UN documented rebel use of sarin gas just before the East Ghouta attack, which supposedly proves that they used it in there as well but this is falsified by a December 2013 UN report: “However, in the absence of primary information on the delivery system(s) and environmental samples collected and analysed under the chain of custody, the United Nations Mission could not establish the link between the victims, the alleged event and the alleged site.” [emphasis added]

It never fails to amaze me that Assadists can advance such easily falsifiable claims. Do they think that everybody operates within their Islamophobic comfort zone?

Scott Ritter

Finally we come to the guy who would seem most trustworthy—Scott Ritter, whose claim to fame was debunking WMD hysteria in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

The Huffington Post, a magazine generally free of conspiracy theorizing, allows Ritter to hold forth on Assad’s innocence in an article titled “Wag The Dog — How Al Qaeda Played Donald Trump And The American Media”.

Showing utter indifference to documenting his findings, Ritter states:

International investigations of these attacks produced mixed results, with some being attributed to the Syrian government (something the Syrian government vehemently denies), and the majority being attributed to anti-regime fighters, in particular those affiliated with Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

For a thorough dismantling of Ritter’s crude conspiracism, I recommend Stanley Heller’s New Politics article.

In journalism school, you supposedly learn that reporting involves answering: who, when, where, why and how. So “who” are the groups conducting international investigations? RT.com? Press TV? Abby Martin? Alex Jones? Paul Antonopoulos? Fuck if I know.

But I would recommend the Wikipedia article on chemical attacks in Syria. A chart indicates that most of them take place in rebel-controlled (or formerly rebel-controlled) areas like Idlib or Homs. The only ones taking place in government-controlled areas are in Jobar, the very locale the UN admits could not be verified.

Ritter offers up the Russian narrative, namely that the jihadists controlling the town were involved in making crude land-mines laced with a mixture of chlorine and white phosphorus that were used in Aleppo. I invite my readers to find a reference to such a weapon ever being used in Aleppo or anywhere else on the planet. Other than Mintpress, RT.com and Sputnik News of course.

Ritter takes aim at the White Helmets, who he claims exploited the sarin gas fatalities to depict Assad as a war criminal. When you are writing this sort of propaganda, smearing these first responders as al-Qaeda operatives is de rigueur.

Moving right along, he refers to townspeople reports of “pungent odors” at the time of the attack. Since sarin gas is odorless, this falsifies the claim that it was used. However, speaking of falsehoods, there is no reference anywhere to odors except in a Wikipedia article that cited a Syria Deeply article to that effect. Apparently, Ritter did not bother to check the Syria Deeply article since it makes zero references to odors. Wikipedia evidently screwed up and Ritter failed to notice that.

Doubling down on his false reporting, Ritter claims that White Helmet first responders also referred to a pungent odor. Good luck trying to find a reference to this anywhere.

Lang, Wilkerson and Ritter loom large on the Assadist “left” because this is a milieu that has little interest in or background in Marxism. For them, everything is a conspiracy. History does not take place because of the class struggle but because secret agents plot to make things happen. If you want to read an article that encapsulates the mindset of these three nitwits, just go to Infowars and you’ll see them beaten by their own game. How we ended up in 2017 with a left mired in conspiracy theories about Syria is up to future historians to unravel. All I can say is that anybody with a functioning brain must break with this shit for the sake of their sanity and for the sake of revolutionary change.


April 8, 2017

The Sarin gas attack in context

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:19 pm

(A guest post by Amith Gupta.)

After the Syrian dictatorship fired chemical weapons at babies, villagers, and other people who were busy being completely innocent in Idlib last week, I began writing a much longer piece on what I think the role of people who are against imperialism should make of American involvement in that country.

But in the meantime, something else happened. Donald Trump ordered the launch of 60 cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airbase in Homs, ostensibly as a “response” to the killings of over 100 villagers by the Syrian regime. Before I even had the chance to think about it, virtually every antiwar activist I knew was ready to rush to the streets, treating this as an emergency, or even suggesting that this attack was in some way comparable to the US invasion of Iraq. Here is why I think they are wrong on multiple levels.

The Norm Against Chemical Weapons

First and foremost, we should be clear about what Donald Trump and the US regime are actually doing: they are continuing an already-existing campaign of bombing Syria, that has gone on since at least 2014. That bombing campaign has been driven primarily by drones, and has primarily targeted Syrian rebels and rebel-held areas, or ISIS. The strikes have killed numerous innocent people, including the dozens of innocent Muslims praying in a mosque in Aleppo when a single drone strike incinerated them on March 17th. So what changed last night?

There has been an existing norm of international relations since World War I, possibly going back before it, not to use chemical agents. Some argue it was an elitist norm, growing out of a gentlemen’s agreement between European rulers not to use poison, out of their fear of their own assassination. But whatever the reasoning, it took on new meaning after World War I, with the widespread use of mustard gas and the literal fumigation of millions of people. Nor was it limited to combat between the European powers. While Saddam Hussein is often remembered for his use of chemical weapons against Kurds and Iranians, it was Winston Churchill who first dropped such weapons on people in Iraq in 1920.

The norm is in some ways comparable to the norm against the use of nuclear weapons. And for that reason, a number of third world states have historically refused to sign the Chemical Weapons ban: chemical weapons are a poor man’s (or poor country’s) nuke. They can be used for deterrence and they can be used by untrained, poorly equipped regimes to kill large numbers of innocents.

That is why, regardless of what one thinks of the weapons, there is a sudden spike in outrage when such weapons are used in the quarters of the strategic planning rooms of countries that normally do not care when innocents die in Syria or Iraq. Nonetheless, the fact that there is an elitist and Western-state-centric strategic norm against the weapons hardly legitimates the sheer depravity of their use. In the furtherance of maintaining this norm, Trump carried out a strike on a Syrian airbase as direct retaliation for the use of chemical weapons.

While Trump cites Obama’s “failure” to do the same thing in 2013, the truth is that previous US strikes have been rationalized on similar grounds. The most analogous strike that comes to mind is the campaign by Bill Clinton to bomb “suspected” chemical weapons production sites in Iraq in 1998. The attack, in my view, was unjustified and was not based on any actual concerns about chemical weapons. Indeed, the weapons inspection program at the time was compromised because it was sharing sensitive intelligence with the US government. Nonetheless, that was how it was rationalized. To the extent there is a comparison between what Trump has just done and US policy in Iraq, it would be that series of strikes.

And like that operation in 1998, it has little to do with “regime change”. At the time, neoconservative voices who had been pressuring Clinton (and Bush before him) to remove Saddam Hussein from power were treated as unhinged extremists. While Clinton may have made concessions to them, neither he nor George H.W. Bush before him did what they wanted: taking out Saddam Hussein.

In 2017, Donald Trump has staked out a similar position. He has rejected outright the possibility of regime change in Syria, with his aides explicitly telling the rest of the world to “accept the political reality” in Syria, a message that may have been interpreted by Assad as license to use chemical weapons, believing the United States would either not attempt to enforce the norm, or that the response to its use would not be significant, as in 1998 in Iraq. Assad, thusfar, has been correct: while Trump struck a military base and continues dangling other options, there is no indication that Donald Trump wants to unseat Bashar Al-Assad, or that the price the latter will pay for the message he sent to the rebels living in Idlib will be anything significant for him.

“Regime Change” and Empty Comparisons to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq

Let’s discuss how, if at all, this strike is comparable to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. That’s an easy one: it isn’t.

In 2002, a President — surrounded by neoconservative advisors who had come into his administration with Cold War-era delusions about the role of American military power — had spent two years discussing with his confidantes how he would take out Saddam Hussein. Emboldened by the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration cherry-picked and fabricated evidence, some extracted from torture, to argue that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to the United States, Israel, and the rest of the world.

He and his neocon lawyers manipulatively interpreted the existing legal machinery from the first Gulf War, namely multiple UN Security Council resolutions, to justify sending 140,000 American soldiers into Iraq with the explicitly stated purpose of deposing Saddam Hussein. In doing so, he escalated American involvement from US sanctions, which had already killed hundreds of thousands of people, to an outright invasion.

Once Saddam Hussein was deposed, the soldiers occupied Iraq for a decade, leaving behind special forces and military bases, and continuing to supply their corrupt allies with millions of dollars in training and weapons aid. While occupying Iraq, US soldiers and private mercenaries protected and maintained a racist, ethnocratic, sectarian system closely resembling the one used by French colonial powers in Lebanon to keep the Iraqi body politic weak while foreign corporations raked in billions — not only from weapons contracts themselves, but by awarding themselves control over the rebuilding process of nearly everything in Iraq and billing themselves exorbitant prices from the Iraqi treasury.

And to maintain this purposely-broken system of foreign domination, the US military carried out a brutal campaign of counter-insurgency encompassing the exploitation of ethnic tensions, the use of white phosphorous bombs, mass expulsions, torture and rape, mass detentions, and other remnants of colonial-era rule.

Over 4 million people have been thusfar displaced from Iraq (it is hard to count because they have been displaced again, and again, and again); over one million people have been killed (so far); and the country is now split between the corrupt and inhuman Iranian-allied militiamen-turned-politicians that the US left in power and a revanchist Sunni extremist death cult known as ISIS. The former grew out of the sectarian system and the decisive blow to Sunni power in 2007 by Shi’ite-aligned militias, and the latter grew out of the systematic disenfranchisement of Sunnis along with a more extreme wing of Al Qaeda that had begun operating in some parts of Iraq only after the US invasion.

In sum, an otherwise functioning third-world dictatorship that was mostly stable was turned into a fractured country in which the norm is large-scale weekly massacres carried out by ethnic militias competing for power within a US-built sectarian state, where civil war and instability has essentially been institutionalized. Nearly 2 decades later, Iraqis are still applying to become refugees from the war, and they continue languishing in refugee camps in Iraq, in Jordan, and elsewhere throughout the region.

Trump’s strike on the Syrian airbase is not even remotely comparable.

As a preliminary distinction: He didn’t lie about the use of weapons of mass destruction. Bashar Al-Assad undeniably sprayed sarin gas at Syrians. The attempts to argue it was someone else strike me as a stomach-turning example of how far people will go to force reality to fit into a Manichean worldview. Virtually all weapons experts from all backgrounds, civilian and military, agreed that the symptoms exhibited by the children in the videos coming from Idlib were the symptoms of sarin. The alternative explanation given by apologists for Assad — that the weapons leaked out of a rebel weapons factory after it was bombed by the Syrian army — have been rejected by all of them, as they point out that sarin would not “leak” but simply burn up in such a scenario. In contrast, Saddam Hussein complied with weapons inspectors and had not used those weapons since the 1980s. There wasn’t any evidence that Saddam Hussein even had any such weapons.

Second: The US isn’t invading Syria. The comparison between a single airstrike and a 140,000-man army is absurd. Likewise, the US was already attacking Syria before this strike: using drones and special forces. Almost all of these strikes have hit rebel groups, signifying that to the extent that the US was already involved in Syria, it was effectively backing up the regime. So unlike the 2003 invasion, which was a dramatic escalation, the US bombing of the Syrian airbase isn’t even an escalation. It is the same level of involvement that the US already had, with the sole difference being that the target was the Syrian government rather than the Syrian government’s opponents — or, as is plenty common with US airstrikes, completely innocent people in Syria. Indeed, a Trump airstrike had struck a mosque in Aleppo only several weeks ago, in which 57 people died. There was no “emergency,” no angry statements, no reaffirmations of our opposition to imperialism. Generally, nobody really cared. They didn’t support it by any means, but the Left also did not rally around it.

So the suggestion that this is an escalation of any kind — let alone an outright invasion or even the precursor to an invasion — does not make any sense. If anything, it is simply a continuation of what the United States was already doing — firing bombs at Syria — with the slight change that instead of hitting worshippers in Aleppo, it hit regime storm troopers at a military base.

Of course, things can always change. Perhaps tonight Donald Trump will order sending 11 billion US soldiers into Syria, and while he is at it, maybe he’ll throw Hillary Clinton in jail. When that happens, call me.

Third, and most importantly: Syria isn’t an already stable country. When the US invaded Iraq, Iraq had an economy roughly the size of Greece — an impressive feat given the character of US sanctions and the war with Iran. Multiple ethnic groups in Iraq lived in relative peace, with Christians and Muslims celebrating each other’s holidays. Mixed-sect marriages and families were not only accepted, but common. The idea that one could be beaten or murdered in the streets of a major Iraqi city for religious/sectarian reasons, or the idea that entire families would be broken up and separated because married partners were from different sects, was so unheard of that the concern was laughed off by apologists for the Iraq invasion when it was brought up by critics in 2002/03.

All of that came crashing down with the US occupation and invasion of Iraq. Can that be said for US airstrikes on the Syrian military? Is it even remotely believable that the people of Syria, suffering on camera for 5 straight years, watching their friends and family die (or kill), disappear, drown, evaporate — that *this* is the point at which there is some sort of emergency for them? The reaction of sudden protests around the US strike on the airbase exposes a schism of disconnect between the actual suffering in Syria and the position of Western anti-war activists. Somehow, their sensors of what is or isn’t an emergency situation prompting statements, walkouts, protests, diplomatic intervention, and outrage, are not actually geared to what is happening in Syria. They are geared to what the US is doing to its dictatorship, its primary tormentor. So let’s talk about that.

The Role of Western Anti-War Activists

It is understandable that people on the Left in Western countries want to primarily focus their efforts on matters for which their own governments are directly responsible. That is laudable: We do not have meaningful control or effect on foreign governments, but we often have direct control over the role of our own, even if it is through something as simple as protesting. The purpose of all forms of activism, lest they be empty humanitarian posturing, are to be directed at those who govern.

And yet, the story that Western leftists have told themselves about Syria and their relationship to that country has not been consistent with this goal. According to the dominant western left narrative, Syrian opposition groups are “contras” that are co-opted or entirely controlled by the West, and the US is backing them as part of a campaign to overthrow the Syrian regime. Under these assumptions, one can see how strikes on the airbase fall into a much larger narrative that the Western left has constructed, in which at any time, the US is about to overthrow Bashar Al-Assad and unleash havoc on the people of Syria.

Of course, the narrative is flawed in numerous ways, the most obvious being that the US hardly needs to do more to unleash havoc (see point 3 in the previous section). But on top of this, to the extent that the US has backed various opposition groups, the support has been partial. Nor did it come with air support or NATO no fly zones. Indeed, even the one politician who had any real intention of imposing such a measure — Hillary Clinton — has backed off the idea. Moreover, the US aid to rebel groups has often come with the intention of splitting those rebel groups against each other — ensuring that none of them have a monopolized power over the rebellion while continuing to weaken ISIS and other jihadist groups that are undermining the US-manufactured ethnocracy in Iraq.

And most importantly, the existing campaign of airstrikes have been almost entirely aimed at the opposition and opposition-held areas, or ISIS. This is, objectively speaking, a manner of *supporting* the Assad regime. Even the introduction of US troops into Syria matches this policy objective of stabilizing Assad’s rule by attacking opposition groups — not the regime.

Some have interpreted our criticisms and drudging up these prior US airstrikes as an allegation of purity: “Why weren’t you out here protesting earlier!? Where have you been!? I’m clearly more principled than you!”

Not quite. The point is not that the US has been striking Syria for years, so there is no reason to get upset now. The point is that the Western Left has chosen exactly the wrong target for its “sympathy”. There is no way to deny the blatant nature of silence when the US struck rebel-held areas and killed hundreds of innocent people. While the Syrian regime continues to have the monopoly on murdering innocent Syrians, US airplanes have been responsible for thousands of innocent deaths in Syria as it is.

The point is that the Western Left did not see an “emergency” until one of those strikes intentionally hit the Syrian army. It is not a question of arriving late to the party. It is a question of which party the Western Left is arriving to. The idea that it constitutes some sort of “emergency” or even something warranting concern that the US has struck not civilians but a legitimate military target belonging to a regime that has gassed innocent people within the prior week sends a very strong message about who “counts” for our sympathy — and who doesn’t.

To give an analogy, many of us on the Left have mobilized around police brutality and state repression carried out by the FBI. But few took to the streets when the FBI killed a member of the right-wing extremist militia that had taken over a wildlife preserve in Oregon during a shoot-out. Likewise, most on the Left would likely mobilize against the NYPD’s policies of Stop-and-Frisk and the numerous police shootings that have taken place in New York. But how many would mobilize in a protest against the NYPD’s policy of deterring child abuse? That is, criticizing the US government is one thing; *why* we criticize it and *what things we mobilize around* are crucial and risk sending exactly the wrong message.

In the last month, no protests took place around the US campaign of drone strikes against Syrian villagers. The drone strikes almost gain greater criticism because of the Brave-New-World-character of the weapon in question, rather than the fact that they are being used to achieve the policy goal of stabilizing Syria by keeping Assad in power. Indeed, the drone wars are often just bunched together based on weapon type (drone) rather than where they are being used and for what purpose (such as in Syria, where they are used against the Opposition). And that is to the extent that there has been any attention to them at all.

In contrast, the mobilization around “US Intervention” against an airstrike retaliating for the use of chemical weapons, combined with the (relative) silence about the ongoing drone war against Syria, sends a fairly strong message about who or what constitutes a “red line” for the Western Left. The red line is not the deaths of Syrians, or even US intervention. It is US intervention targeting the regime, even if it is to maintain the norm against chemical weapons use. Within the 2 years of US war on Syria, why is *this* the point to emphasize? Why are we using the campaign against US intervention to carry water for the regime? Such bombings are, if anything, the silver lining of American overreach in the world. Like the fact that the FBI occassionally stops right-wing extremists, or the Police occasionally stop domestic abuse, or the fact that the NSA occassionally cracks down on a kiddy porn ring, they are an example in which the “bad guys” in power crack down on, well, another “bad guy”. This hardly warrants sympathy, let alone to be the banner of opposition to US involvement in Syria.

More importantly, the narrative around which this line is built ignores the actuality of US involvement in Syria — the actual policy that Western leftists should oppose. That policy has not been one of driving the opposition to overthrow Assad. Rather, that policy has been to use imperial hubris and fancy new air equipment to *prevent* the opposition from doing precisely that, knowing that US interests are better off in the hands of a known tyrant whose capacities are weakened than an unknown and unpredictable one that replaces him.

Indeed, the risks of Syrians overthrowing Assad are immense. What if the Syrian people decide to not only stop, but declassify all the evidence of Syrian regime collaboration with the US government’s international torture campaign? What if the Syrian people elect a government that actively risks liberating the Golan Heights from Israeli occupation? What if the Syrians set up a government that is interested in Arab unity rather than Ba’athism? What if they elect a regime that wants independence for the Kurdish minority? What if they begin spreading these dangerous ideas of democracy, unity, and anti-imperialism into Iraq, Iran, and Palestine? Such risks are those that the United States cannot afford. Hence, the United States must do whatever it can to control the opposition and ensure that a manageable tyrant who spends most of his time killing Syrians rather than Israeli soldiers stays in place, albeit too weak to scuttle regional policy initiatives.

And that is why an anti-interventionist, anti-imperialist movement in the United States should start, first and foremost, by questioning why the United States believes it has the authority to bomb the Syrian opposition and undermine their struggle. Such a movement should not be distracted when, on occassion, the United States needs to discipline its favorite bad option to prevent the use of chemical weapons.


Neo-Nazi leader hails Bashar al-Assad

Filed under: Fascism,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:48 am

April 7, 2017

Why Trump acted

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:53 pm


Just over a week ago, Trump administration officials had issued statements that essentially caved in to Russian objectives in Syria. Preservation of the Assad regime was now official US policy. Reuters reported on March 30:

The view of the Trump administration is also at odds with European powers, who insist Assad must step down. The shift drew a strong rebuke from at least two Republican senators.

“You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told a small group of reporters.

Meanwhile, Rex Tillerson had told reporters that the status of Bashar al-Assad would be “decided by the Syrian people”, which was like saying that the fate of Augusto Pinochet would be decided by the Chilean people. Sean Spicer rounded out the Assad can stay brigade: “With respect to Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept.”

All that changed after Tuesday, April 4th when Syrian Su-22 fighter-bombers launched a Sarin gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province, the only area in Syria that was not under government control. Trump’s first response was to blame Obama’s failure to adhere to his “red line” warnings in 2013, when East Ghouta suffered an identical attack. Since Trump warned Obama against taking military action at the time, there’s an element of hypocrisy that goes with the Trump territory. Now he sounded like Nicholas Kristof: “It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line. Many, many lines.”

Ever hear the term Pecksniffian? It comes from a Charles Dicken character named Seth Pecksniff, who adopted a holier-than-thou posture. Trump’s words were pure Pecksniff. This is a guy who authorized the bombing of a mosque in Aleppo that left more than 57 people dead, the same number as in Khan Sheihoun. Trump’s excuse was the same as Assad’s—the mosque was a meeting place for al-Qaeda just like Khan Sheihoun. It’s also the same excuse Netanyahu gives when he bombs Gaza, except it is Hamas that is the “bad guys”.

What would make Trump turn on a dime? Since he clearly cares about nobody in the world except himself, his family, and the rich bastards whose interests he upholds as chief executive, there must be something else going on.

I think the “red lines” are worth considering. In September 2013, Obama found a convenient excuse for backing down on his threats after Putin offered an escape clause. In exchange for Assad surrendering his chemical weapons, the USA would not attack Syria. This was a very smart move for Assad since it effectively gave him and his Russian allies carte blanche to throw everything else he had against the rebels from barrel bombs to white phosphorus and cluster bombs.

It is clear to me that Assad saw the statements by the Trump administration as a green light to use Sarin gas once again. For Assad’s supporters on the left, this made no sense since he was winning the war anyhow. That might be true but what sort of restraint would he feel necessary with Donald Trump in the White House?

It was clear that US imperialism could not abide with such an impudent refusal to abide by the terms of the September 2013 agreement. Given the truculent stance of the Trump administration to North Korea and China, it needs to be regarded as a power not to be trifled with. So, Assad miscalculated and got a bloody nose for his efforts.

Despite the worries that the “anti-imperialist” left has over this becoming a “regime change” effort, there are signs that things will return to normal once the Syrian dictator understands that using Sarin gas is a no-no. The USA took great pains to make sure that things were kept under strict control as Salon reported today:

It turns out that President Donald Trump gave a heads up to the Russian government before launching his missile strike against Syria on Thursday night.

“Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line,” said Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis in an official statement. “U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.”

In response to the attack, Russia has announced that it will help Syria strengthen its air defenses. It also may have prepared Syrians for the attack by tipping them off, as eyewitnesses observed personnel and equipment being moved from the Shayrat airbase in advance of the attack.

I don’t think that George W. Bush had this kind of arrangement with Saddam Hussein.

April 6, 2017

Correspondence with Noam Chomsky

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:21 pm

I was responding to Chomsky’s comments in a Democracy Now interview from yesterday:

In 2012, there was an initiative from the Russians, which was not pursued, so we don’t know how serious it was, but it was a proposal to—for a negotiated settlement, in which Assad would be phased out, not immediately. You know, you can’t tell them, “We’re going to murder you. Please negotiate.” That’s not going to work. But some system in which, in the course of negotiations, he would be removed, and some kind of settlement would be made. The West would not accept it, not just the United States. France, England, the United States simply refused to even consider it. At the time, they believed they could overthrow Assad, so they didn’t want to do this, so the war went on. Could it have worked? You never know for sure.

I wrote:

Noam, I understand that you are busy addressing many different topics but your knowledge of Syrian politics is superficial at best.

Yes, in 2015 the Guardian reported on the claim made by former president of Finland Martti Ahtisaari that when Vitaly Churkin proposed a deal in 2012 that would have resulted in Assad stepping down in exchange for peace, the USA, Britain and France said no.

I was not surprised to see the Islamophobic left taking this at face value 2 years ago.

Writing for CounterPunch, Peter Lee considered this “an instance of neoliberal ass-covering, as if the Western allies were just waiting for Assad ‘to fall’” while Information Clearing House, a reliably pro-Assad website, reposted the Guardian article with the obvious intention of showing how Putin stood for peace and the West for war. Then there is David Swanson of Lets Try Democracy who concludes: “peace has been carefully avoided at every turn.” (http://davidswanson.org/node/4914)

The only problem is that Churkin was not the ultimate authority on such matters. Much closer to Putin and certainly speaking for him, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated just four months later: “We will not support and cannot support any interference from outside or any imposition of recipes. This also concerns the fate of Bashar al-Assad.”

His response:

Afraid I don’t see your point. I quoted the proposal accurately, made clear that it was not an official proposal, and pointed out correctly that the West refused to explore it, expecting Assad to fall.

I see nothing here that suggests any modification in that comment.

I followed up:

Yes, you don’t see my point.

The 2012 proposal had zero significance. Even the Kremlin dismissed it as bogus:


The Kremlin denied a claim by a senior negotiator Wednesday that Russia had offered in 2012 to make Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down in an “elegant way”, saying it never called for regime change.

“I can only once more repeat that Russia is not involved in changing regimes. Suggesting that someone step aside – elegantly or not – is something Russia has never done,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists, quoted by TASS state news agency.


I haven’t heard back from him.

April 5, 2017

Sarin gas deaths in Khan Sheikhoun: separating fact from fiction

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:25 pm

As could have been predicted, the Sarin gas incident that left 58 dead in the Idlib town of Khan Sheikhoun has been compared by various Assadist websites to what they considered a “false flag” operation in East Ghouta in August 2013. And a year before East Ghouta, there was a massacre in Houla in which 108 civilians, including 34 women and 49 children, had their throats slashed by Assad’s death squads. According to German journalist Rainer Hermann, it was actually Sunni extremists killing Alawites, a claim that the Baathist amen corner took up eagerly. Hermann’s reporting was debunked but that hardly made a dent in Assad’s considerable worldwide network of thick-skulled sycophants.

Indeed, if you Google Syria and “false flag”, you will get 556,000 results—most of them linking to conspiracist outlets like 21st Century Wire, The Duran and Zero Hedge. As I have seen in propaganda offensives like these, you can count on such explicitly over-the-top, pro-Assad websites to act as the shock troops in a propaganda offensive, to be followed within months by Seymour Hersh articles in the LRB and other high-toned purveyors of mass murder apologetics.

A template for future articles was written by Paul Antonopoulos. Expect versions of his piece to show up in its original version or plagiarized in places like Moon of Alabama, Global Research, DissidentVoice, et al. I also expect his talking points to be repeated by Rania Khalek, Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal who have indeed insinuated something like this on Twitter.

Titled “Something is Not Adding Up in Idlib Chemical Weapons Attack”, Antonopoulos’s article offers up a howlingly preposterous account of supposedly what really happened in Khan Sheikhoun. The corpses were not really victims of Sarin gas but the corpses of 250 al-Nusra kidnapping victims from the towns of Majdal and Khattab whose images became props in a false flag scenario. As unlikely as this seems, this was the same story concocted by Assadist nun Sister Agnes Maryam about the East Ghouta Sarin gas massacre in 2013. She produced a report that identified its victims as pro-Assad villagers having been killed by jihadists in Latakia who then made a video that was exploited by the rebels in East Ghouta for their own purposes. A plot like this would have been rejected by the producers of “X-Files” but it passes muster in these quarters.

Clearly not even up to speed on Assadist talking points, Antonopoulos refers to a claim by UN weapons inspector Carla del Ponte that there was no evidence that Assad ordered the hit on East Ghouta. I hope this PhD student is more on top of data gathering when he submits his dissertation but del Ponte was rendering a judgement on something altogether different, namely the jihadist use of Sarin gas in Khan al-Assal on March 2013, a full 4 months before East Ghouta. There’s not much point in taking up that case but I will say that del Ponte is not very trustworthy in the eyes of Jeff St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn, two people who could hardly be charged with backing US imperialism. Referring to the war crimes tribunal against Milosevic, they wrote on May 22, 2000:

On March 15, Mandel sent another complaint to Justice Carla del Ponte, the new chief prosecutor for the tribunal, who replaced Justice Louise Arbour in October. Mandel’s sharply worded letter protests the tribunal’s refusal to investigate NATO’s actions, saying that del Ponte has turned “the investigation into more of a farce than a judicial proceeding.” Mandel’s letter makes a solid case that far from being an independent investigator, the tribunal has conducted itself “as if it were an organ of NATO and not the United Nations.”

Stumbling forward in his bogus investigative reporter mode, Antonopoulos is constrained by parameters set by Assad, whose military issued a statement that the Sarin gas was disseminated accidentally as the result of a bombing raid on a jihadist weapons depot by Su-22 bombers. Unlike East Ghouta, which we were told was a “false flag” mounted by the rebels, Khan Sheikhoun then becomes the unintended product of a bombing raid that only had military purposes.Antonopoulos’s most important argument against the Su-22 being the conveyor of Sarin-laced weapons was this: “Most importantly, the Su-22’s bombs are unique and cannot be filled with any chemical substances, which is different to the bombs dropped from attack helicopters.”

I often wonder if people like Antonopoulos expect their readers to be typical Information Clearing House readers–dimwitted pigs lining up at the propaganda trough. Five minutes of research on the net would tell you that the Su-22 can fire chemical weapons as Saddam Hussein did against Iran and hoped to do in the first Gulf War. Furthermore, it does not take rocket science to retrofit a Syrian Su-22 to fire missiles carrying Sarin gas. That’s what Assad did in August 2013, when his killers fired Volcano rockets laden with Sarin gas. All you need to do is replace the factory-supplied warhead with an oversized warhead. Not a big deal at all.

What is a big deal, however, is producing Sarin gas. You get the impression from reading Antonopoulos that there was something like a warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun that had big bottles of Sarin gas on the sort of racks you see in Home Depot. The problem is that even if they were capable of producing Sarin gas, they would have huge problems storing it.

In a must-read article on Bellingcat by Dan Kaszeta, we learn that Sarin gas is extremely volatile and cannot be stored as the final product used in military strikes since the main chemical reaction that produces Sarin creates one molecule of hydrogen fluoride (HF) for every molecule of Sarin. This hydrogen fluoride byproduct destroys nearly anything the Sarin would be stored in and quickly degrades the Sarin gas itself. The USA and Russia developed technology that could purge HF but have kept it top-secret and proprietary for obvious reasons. Syria certainly does not have that capability and only managed to produce Sarin by combining its ingredients just moments before weaponizing it. Even if the jihadists had such ingredients, it is beyond belief that they had mastered the same technology as the US and Russia to keep them safe and stable over a long shelf-life. Kaszeta writes:

Even assuming that large quantities of both Sarin precursors were located in the same part of the same warehouse (a practice that seems odd), an air-strike is not going to cause the production of large quantities of Sarin. Dropping a bomb on the binary components does not actually provide the correct mechanism for making the nerve agent. It is an infantile argument. One of the precursors is isopropyl alcohol. It would go up in a ball of flame. A very large one. Which has not been in evidence.

He concludes his article with the same observation he made after the East Ghouta attack:

Finally, we are back to the issue of industrial capacity. It takes about 9 kg of difficult to obtain precursor materials to generate the necessary steps to produce Sarin. The ratio is similar with other nerve agents. Having a quantity of any of the nerve agents relies on a sophisticated supply chain of exotic precursors and an industrial base. Are we to seriously believe that one of the rebel factions has expended the vast sums of money and developed this industrial base, somehow not noticed to date and not molested by attack? It seems an unlikely chain of events.

What is even more unbelievable to me is the notion that if al-Nusra or any other merciless Muslim foe of Western civilization of the sort found in films like “American Sniper” or “Zero Dark Thirty” had such a potent WMD, why would they only use them against their own supporters?

Why didn’t the jihadists lob Sarin-bearing rockets into West Aleppo or into the area of Damascus containing government buildings? Instead they tend to use mortars and even clumsy DIY artillery that can certainly kill enemy combatants (and cause collateral damage unfortunately) but not as efficiently as weaponized Sarin. For all the fears about rebels getting their hands on MANPAD’s, how do you explain a warehouse filled with the stuff in Idlib sitting idly? Just go ahead and Google al-Nusra and Sarin and nothing comes up except links to idiotic Seymour Hersh articles about a ratline from Turkey into Syria for Sarin gas. Since he was making a point exactly like Antonopoulos’s, there’s not much to support a case that they are being used against Assad’s military. Why bother with a false flag when you can mount a real flag over enemy territory? With Assad responsible for hundreds of thousands of casualties, what holds back the jihadi? Have they been reading Gandhi speeches?

Finally, there is this mind-numbing stupidity about this being another “regime change” operation. Antonopoulos write:

All evidence suggests this is another false chemical attack allegation made against the government as seen in the Ghouta 2013 attack where the terrorist groups hoped that former President Obama’s “red-line” would be crossed leading to US-intervention in Syria against the government.

What can you say? It is now six years of war and the USA has not mounted a “regime change” operation in the George W. Bush mode. This is like Waiting for Godot. Furthermore, Donald Trump has announced that he has no intention of removing Assad and his Secretary of State has refused to condemn Assad. If believe that this is a government so determined to remove Assad and replace him with one supported by the Sunni poor, you can probably believe anything. That, sadly, is the state of the anti-Imperialist left today—one so corrupt and cynical that it makes Stalinism of the mid-30s look pristine by comparison.


March 29, 2017

Anarchists in solidarity with the Syrian Revolution

Filed under: anarchism,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:14 pm

I have big problems with the black bloc but this reminds me why I grew to admire the anarchist movement for its refusal to fall into the “Marxist” geopolitical chess game mode of thinking.

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