Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 20, 2017

Was Syria an exception to the Arab Spring: commentary on Stephen Gowans’s “Washington’s Long War on Syria”

Filed under: Counterpunch,Syria — louisproyect @ 12:29 pm
Stephen Gowans
COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 20, 2017

One can debate whether to label the ideology that structured the Arab nationalists’ economic policies as socialism, but U.S. officials unquestionably regarded the economic demarche of the Arab nationalist countries, including Syria, as socialist. As mentioned, some even went so far as to brand Assad’s father, Hafez, an Arab communist. Others described Syria’s economic policies under Bashar as inspired by Soviet models.

— Stephen Gowans, “Washington’s Long War on Syria

Late last year, a group of big-name investors — including Bill Miller of Legg Mason Capital Management and Barton Biggs, managing partner of Traxis Partners, a New York hedge fund — spent a week in Syria and Lebanon. They met with top political leaders and local businesspeople and were feted with elaborate dinners with the cream of society.

Traveling to far-flung corners of the world to get an early look at promising markets has long been a staple of global investing. But Syria — until recently a pariah state in the eyes of the U.S. — proved irresistible, drawing an unusual array of money managers.

Long isolated from international finance, Syria is one of the last remaining investment frontiers. It has a sizable economy, an educated populace, and, lately, a new degree of openness to foreign investment.

“This was not a group of naive investors, and [I] have to say it opened all our eyes,” said Steven Galbraith, a partner at Maverick Capital, a $11 billion hedge fund.

— Joanna Slater, “Syria Woos Investors From Half a World Away”, Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2010

Published in April, 2017, Canadian blogger Stephen Gowans’s “Washington’s Long War on Syria” is a 282-page full-throated defense of Bashar al-Assad, who, according to the excerpt from the book’s Introduction above, amounts to a heroic figure defending socialism just as much as Fidel Castro did during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. In a Manichean-like understanding of politics that permeates the openly pro-Assad left, the world is divided between Good and Evil. On one side, you have vintage Arab nationalism that stood up to Israel, exploited a nation’s resources for the common good, opposed medieval Islamic institutions, and generally took the side of people struggling against imperialism everywhere in the world. On the other hand, you had villainous Salafi jihadists funded by the Saudis and other Sunni states in the Middle East who sought to kill “infidels” such as the Shia and the Alawites. These mustache-twirling fiends were in turn backed by the CIA and Israel. According to this scenario, the revolt that began in 2011 was nothing but a plot hatched by the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria to foment discord among a comfortable and untroubled Sunni population that was unfortunately susceptible to demagogic appeals based on religious dogma. It was not hardship that drove people to protest but differences over who is entitled to speak in the Prophet’s name.

Continue reading

September 15, 2017

Gareth Porter: master alchemist

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:30 pm

Gareth Porter: master alchemist

The Grayzone Project at Alternet is a primary source of Assadist propaganda, the latest instance of which is a 5,226 word article by Gareth Porter titled “Have We Been Deceived Over Syrian Sarin Attack? Scrutinizing the Evidence in an Incident Trump Used to Justify Bombing Syria”. It denies that the Syrian dictatorship unleashed a sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4th and instead puts the blame on an accidental release of phosphine gas when a warehouse containing aluminum phosphide was bombed. As has been claimed by a number of Assadist propagandists, it was the bombing of a phosphate based pesticide rather than sarin gas that caused over a hundred deaths.

I addressed this claim in a July 8, 2017 article titled “Phosphorus, phosphates, organophosphates and phospine” that attempted to ground the discussion in the abc’s of chemistry even though I am obviously not a chemist. Under the section that dealt with phosphine, I referred to Porter’s initial foray into this matter:

On April 13, 2017 Gareth Porter, who was as ardent in his support for Pol Pot in the 1970s as he is today for Bashar al-Assad, told Truthout readers that it was not necessarily sarin gas that was used in Khan Sheikhoun. He came close to Ritter’s account but identified phosphine rather than white phosphorus as the smoking gun. He stated, “Both the Syrian Army and the Al-Nusra Front fighters in the Aleppo area, moreover, had abundant stocks of phosphine-producing smoke munitions in 2013” and that “phosphine-producing munitions can be lethal if humans are exposed in confined space”. Well, I don’t know how Porter defines confined space but by all accounts the toxic cloud swept across several miles. Maybe the jihadists were funded by the Rothschild bank to put a huge glass dome over the village to make sure that the “false flag” worked. Who knows?

Chemically, phosphine is produced by combining white phosphorus with sodium or potassium hydroxide in laboratory conditions. As is the case with Ritter’s accusation, there are no news accounts of phosphine weaponry being used in Aleppo by either Assad or rebels—not even by Sputnik news. Maybe it was a dream he had.

Porter returns to the phosphine explanation but from a different angle this time. He writes:

Eyewitness accounts of the airstrike, the revelations in Seymour Hersh’s article in Die Welt and other information about the building hit by a Syrian bomb, the geographic pattern of the casualties, the known characteristics of aluminum phosphide and the symptoms of the victims all indicate a very different explanation: A Syrian high explosive bomb hit supplies of aluminum phosphide stored in a building in the northeast area of Khan Sheikhoun, releasing a cloud of deadly phosphine gas, which caused the deaths and injuries.

Can bombing aluminum phosphide release phosphine gas? Only if there were different laws of chemistry that were only recognized by Porter and his feckless editor at the Grayzone Project, one Max Blumenthal. Maybe it would be best to describe Porter’s article as an exercise in alchemy.

As it happens, aluminum phosphide is a deadly poison that has resulted in significant accidental deaths in India, Saudi Arabia and Iran. But this is typically how it occurs. Since as a pesticide, it comes in the form of what looks like rice pellets, it is often swallowed by toddlers or by adults intent on suicide. You can understand why this would make India a prime candidate for aluminum phosphide deaths since farmers who have access to the pesticide are also prime candidates for suicide. The International Journal of Medical Research and Review pointed out in a recent article:

Acute self infliction of poisoning is very common among young in developing countries. The epidemiology of poisoning changes time to time and varies region to region. In south India, organophosphorus compound poisoning has been more common as compared to Aluminium phosphide poisoning in north India. All over India males are more commonly reported to poison themselves. Poisoning in farmers has been reported more commonly than in any other profession. Madhya Pradesh is situated in central part of India, where agriculture is the predominant source of income.

The actual chemical basis for the poisoning, however, is the creation of phosphine gas when the pesticide reacts to water in the human body since it is only this combination, which chemists call hydrolysis, that can produce the gas. This is what you will find in the Wikipedia entry on aluminium phosphide poisoning:

The toxicity of aluminium phosphide is attributed to the liberation of phosphine gas, a cytotoxic compound that causes free radical mediated injury, inhibits vital cellular enzymes and is directly corrosive to tissues. The following reaction releases phosphine when AlP reacts with water in the body:

AlP + 3 H2O → Al(OH)3 + PH3, and

AlP + 3 HCl → AlCl3 + PH3 (stomach)

So if you drop a bomb on barrels of aluminum phosphide, that does not produce phosphine gas. All it will produce is pulverized pellets. For a citizen of Khan Sheikhoun to have been poisoned by phosphine, it would have required them to scoop up some of the powder and ingest it. This hardly seems likely. Nor does it seem to matter to people like Blumenthal and Porter that the warehouse in question has never been identified by Syria or Russia.

To illustrate the difference between bombing aluminum phosphide and the chemical process needed to unleash phosphine, I would refer you to a December 29, 2015 article in Marine Insight, a trade publication:

A container vessel loaded some containers of Aluminium Phosphide (IMDG Class 4.3, UN No. 1397) from an Asian port. The consignment used plastic bags as inner packaging and steel drums as outer packaging. The drums were then secured on wooden pallets and these were finally stacked inside a standard marine freight container.

During the voyage, the crew heard a number of small ‘explosions’ inside one of these containers, after which some smoke escaped past the rubber seals of the door. On seeing the smoke, the crew assumed that the cargo inside was burning and sprayed water on the outside of the container exterior in order to cool it.

Although the cargo had been correctly declared at the time of shipment, the relevant Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) was not provided to the carrier or to the vessel. The crew was unaware of the fact that contact between water and Aluminium Phosphide produces phosphine, an extremely flammable and toxic gas.

I have no idea how much money Alternet pays Max Blumenthal to turn out this easily refuted propaganda but they are not getting their money’s worth. Maybe they should reassign him to cover the alchemy beat. It would make a lot more sense than this bullshit.

September 12, 2017

Why in god’s name did the Socialist Project decide to recommend Alastair Crooke’s article hailing Assad’s victory?

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:54 pm

Alastair Crooke

Yesterday, I wrote a message to Marxmail condemning Socialist Project’s decision to regularly tweet Assadist propaganda, the latest installment of which is an article by ex-MI6 operative Alastair Crooke that appeared on Consortium News. Crooke, whose spooky past and name seem lifted out of a John Le Carré novel, was described as a supporter of Islamic “freedom fighters” and power-hungry clerics in a Mother Jones profile ten years ago but more recently has become the typical Assadist, sounding every bit as committed to the “war on terror” as all the other people writing for Consortium News, starting with its webmaster Robert Parry, a one-time investigative reporter who like Seymour Hersh is far more dedicated to covering things up today.

In email exchanges with Sam Gindin today, I was assured that the Socialist Project editor Greg Albo was only posting a link to Crooke’s article for informational purposes, only to allow readers to get inside the skull of a figure with a background in foreign affairs. Since the Socialist Project Twitter feed is an almost daily source of Assadist propaganda, I tend to doubt that but will not dwell on it. Gindin invited me to write a critique of Crooke’s article, which I will do after saying some brief words about the provenance of Socialist Project.

This is a collective of sorts that was initiated by Socialist Register editors, including Gindin, Leo Panitch and Greg Albo, who is the nominal editor of Socialist Project. I welcomed this initiative back in 2000 as described on their website:

At a meeting in Toronto in the fall of 2000, some 750 activists responded to a call to “rebuild the left” by developing a structured movement against capitalism. This call for a new political formation that would be “more than a movement, less than a party” was similar to other initiatives in Canada and around the world that have been undertaken as the traditional organizations of the political left have waned.

I suspect that Gindin, Panitch and Albo have not given much thought to Syria, at least on the basis of a search of Socialist Register where there are zero references to the country dated after 2009. Nor will you find a single reference to the Arab Spring. I would describe this as a dereliction of socialist duty and leave it at that.

Turning now to Crooke’s article, it basically describes Syria as suffering the same kind of “regime change” attack as Iraq in 2002 that was supposedly intended to bolster Sunni fundamentalism against Russian and Iranian interests: “Fired-up Sunni radicals have now been used by Western states to counter Nasserism, Ba’athism, the USSR, Iranian influence, and latterly to try to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.”

Would you expect Crooke to explain why Bush’s invasion helped to install a Shia regime close to Tehran? Of course not.

One of the host of experts on Syria Crooke calls upon is a libertarian named Dan Sanchez, who has written articles like “Mises Never Gave In to Evil“. This is the same Mises who once wrote that “It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.”

No wonder Sanchez is an Assad fan.

I have no idea who at Socialist Project deemed Crooke’s article worth linking to but wonder if they share his view that the Arab Spring was a vehicle supported by the West “to break up the nationalist-secular Arab world” and replace it with Islamists.

Crooke is encouraged by BRICS calling out Pakistan for providing aid to jihadist groups. As Charles Davis pointed out in a recent al-Jazeera article, George Bush’s brand of “war on terror” has spread internationally as a favorite tool to cover up of war crimes. Does anybody think that Modi, whose BJP carried out pogroms against Muslims, or China that has been suppressing Uighur rights for decades in the name of fighting terrorism have the moral high ground to lecture Pakistan?

Right now Myanmar is working with China and Russia to make sure that the UN Security Council is prevented from censuring the Assadist-like scorched earth tactics that has forced nearly 150,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. Myanmar National Security Adviser Thaung Tun said he was counting on China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, to block a UN resolution on the crisis. “We are negotiating with some friendly countries not to take it to the Security Council. China is our friend and we have a similar friendly relationship with Russia so it will not be possible for that issue to go forward.” About Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi blaming “terrorists” and “a huge iceberg of misinformation”, the less said the better.

Crooke is also encouraged by a statement made by his country’s Middle East minister Alistair Burt on behalf of General al-Sisi in Egypt who has killed, imprisoned and tortured members of the Muslim Brotherhood as part of a crackdown on “jihadism”. With the “axis of resistance” to jihadist terror now encompassing the White House, the Kremlin, the British foreign ministry, Assad, Robert Fisk, Seymour Hersh, Patrick Cockburn and thousands of other journalists and politicians, one can understand why the Socialist Project has decided not to swim against the current.

Crooke, like many others on the Assadist left (using the word left charitably), is positively gloating over Assad’s victory, since it has shown Wahabbism to be “thoroughly discredited by its careless brutality.” How remarkable it is for someone to write an article hailing Assad’s victory without even the slightest whisper that the man he is hoisting on his shoulders has used poison gas repeatedly, killed 13,000 prisoners, driven half the country into either internal or external displacement and is responsible for over a half-million casualties. If Syria had the same population as the USA, this would amount to 9 million deaths.

Crooke asserts that this victory was ensured by “the mostly Sunni Syrian Arab Army.” Odd, all along I thought it was Russian bombers, Hezbollah, Iran’s Quds Brigades, Shia mercenaries from Afghanistan and Iraq that did the trick. I guess I should have been paying closer attention to sources like Dan Sanchez to understand what was happening in Syria. In reality, it is doubtful that Assad would have made it past 2014 unless these outside powers had stepped in. In a speech made in July 2015, Assad stated that “the country’s army faced a manpower shortage and had ceded some areas to insurgents in order to hold onto other regions deemed more important”, according to the NY Times. It was just such a manpower shortage that led to the use of barrel bombs and poison gas. The barrel bombs were meant for wholesale murder in rebel-controlled areas and the sarin or chlorine gas was meant to frighten the survivors into submission.

With all due respect to Sam Gindin, I don’t think that Crooke’s article was meant as an example of how such people view the current situation in Syria. I am convinced that this is the editorial outlook of some leading Socialist Project members, at least those like Justin Podur, an ideologically committed Assadist. For all I know, it is Podur who is responsible for this garbage.

Back in 2014, Greg Albo signed an open letter titled “Odessa: The Last Warning” that repeated the Kremlin’s talking points about Euromaidan being a fascist plot. At the time, it suggested to me that the milieu around Socialist Register and Socialist Project were being drawn into the emerging “anti-imperialist” front based in the Kremlin. I have no idea whether Sam Gindin or Leo Panitch paid much attention to this development but I certainly did.

I was struck by this sentence in the letter: “If we allow the Banderovites in Kiev to do what they like in Odessa, then we will allow tomorrow the same crime to be committed by the ‘Golden Dawn’ in Greece, by Jobbik in Hungary or, even, by Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France.” What a striking irony that these three fascist parties are all staunch supporters of Bashar al-Assad. That is a contradiction I will leave Sam Gindin and Greg Albo to resolve.

 

August 25, 2017

White Supremacist Support for Assad in Charlottesville (and Beyond)

Filed under: Fascism,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:34 pm

It was impossible not to miss the support for Bashar al-Assad that was on display in the white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville. The press drew attention to the picture of Assad with the word “Undefeated” emblazoned beneath it on the Facebook page of James Alex Fields, the man who plowed his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protestors killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. There is also the video clip  of a couple of fascists saying that “Assad did nothing wrong” and calling for “dropping barrel bombs on those motherfuckers”, a reference to the counter-protestors.

Washington Post article dated August 14 concluded that there was always an underlying affinity between the Baathists and fascism: 

The far right’s love affair with Assad might not be entirely unpredictable. His Baath Party is fiercely nationalist and ethnocentric, focused on the promotion of Arab identity. One of the few political parties permitted by his regime and one of his staunchest supporters in the war is the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, which drew the inspiration for its logo from the swastika.

In my view, this analysis—while not entirely wrong—is inadequate to explaining the underlying reasons for racist and fascist support for Assad. Nor does it come to terms with the much broader appeal that Assad has had for many on the left who regard him not as a fascist but as a fearless anti-imperialist warrior who is being attacked by American and Saudi proxies because of his resistance to IMF-imposed austerity. This analysis is encapsulated in Canadian blogger Stephen Gowans’s new book Washington’s Long War on Syria:

Juxtapose U.S. prescriptions for how the Washington-led global economy would be structured against the economic program espoused in the founding document of the Ba’ath Party: Industry “will be protected together with the national production from the competition of foreign production.” Natural “resources, and means of transportation ” “shall be directly administered by the State,” in the public interest. Workers “shall take part in managing the factories and they will be given, [on top of] their wages, a share of profits to be determined by the State.” The Interim 1990 constitution of secular Arab nationalist Iraq declared that the “State assumes the responsibility for planning, directing, and steering the national economy.” These views were inimical to the economic policies Washington promoted as the world’s self-appointed leader. They did not fit with the global economic order Washington insisted on creating.

Like a Rorschach test, the Syrian dictatorship is open to multiple interpretations. To really get to the bottom of this complex and dialectically contradictory phenomenon of Baathist rule, it is necessary to place it into the context of two historical sea changes that have marked this epoch.

Continue reading

August 12, 2017

Left and Right agreement on Syria?

Filed under: Fascism,Syria — louisproyect @ 11:53 pm

The only thing keeping westerners from seeing through the lies that they’ve been told about Syria is the unquestioned assumption that their own government could not possibly be that evil. They have no trouble believing that a foreigner from a Muslim-majority country could be gratuitously using chemical weapons on children at the most strategically disastrous time possible and bombing his own civilians for no discernible reason other than perhaps sheer sexual sadism, but the possibility that their government is making those things up in order to manufacture consent for regime change is ruled out before any critical analysis of the situation even begins.

 

The Facebook page of James Alex Fields Jr., the man who drove a car into anti-racist protestors, killing one and injuring dozens of others:

August 8, 2017

A weekend in Hudson

Filed under: bard college,Catskills,Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:17 pm

Louis Proyect and Lucas Jedrzejak

My primary purpose in going to Hudson, NY was to attend a screening of Lucas Jedrzejak’s documentary “Ketermaya” on Sunday, August 6th,  a film I first saw at the 2017 Socially Relevant Film Festival in March of this year. The screening was organized by Danette Gorman who was also at the SR 2017 festival and was inspired by the film to show solidarity with Syrian refugees determined to forge ahead despite dire circumstances. They are a microcosm of the freedom struggle that continues after six years of the regime’s genocidal attack on civilians.

Unlike other films about Syrian refugees that tend to be stories about their desperate flights across Europe or the Mediterranean and subsequent estrangement from an aloof if not hostile Swedish or German society, “Ketermaya” is a different kind of film. It is a testimony to the unquenchable spirit of the Syrian people and particularly the children of this refugee camp who will be the future leaders of a free Syria someday if there is any justice in this world and if there are enough people like Lucas and Danette to help make the critical difference.

Another motivation was to return to a town I had visited with some frequency when I was at Bard College in the early 60s. About a twenty minute drive from Bard, Hudson was in decline just like other towns and villages along the Hudson River. What all of them had going for them was a stunning view of the river and the Catskill Mountains behind it that I enjoyed from my dorm window at Ward Manor, a mansion the school purchased in my junior year. One night I came back around 8pm to see Bob Dylan in a salon on the ground floor playing an electric guitar with some of Bard’s folk musicians. I listened to them play for a bit and walked back to my room wondering why Dylan had gone electric.

Ward Manor

In a stroke of luck, Danette found lodging for me and my wife in the house of her friend Agi in the hills above Hudson. The view, as indicated above, was spectacular. Our host was nicknamed Agi since it easier to pronounce than her Hungarian birth name.

Her story was remarkable.

During WWII, when she was only three years old, she was among the Jews living under the protection of Raoul Wallenberg. As a Swedish diplomat assigned to Budapest, he was able to issued protective passports and to keep Jews like Agi and her parents alive in buildings designated as under Swedish protection. As an ally of Nazi Germany, Hungary obviously sought ways to help carry out the Final Solution. One day a gang of machine-gun touting Hungarian militia members swarmed into her building and ordered her and everyone else to line up on the street. With death staring them in the face, Wallenberg’s limousine showed up at the last minute. Using his authority as an official representative of Sweden, he ordered the fascists to disperse.

Why would Soviet Russia have had Raul Wallenberg arrested in January 1945, the month of my birth, and sent to the Lubyanka prison camp near Moscow where he died two years later? Since the USSR had no use for “bourgeois democracy”, there are no records of the charge against him, which were probably as bogus as all the others that took place under Stalin. What we do have is a record of Soviet leader Nikolai Bulganin’s order for his arrest:

On Saturday during lunch at Agi’s home, Lucas referred briefly to his own exposure to Stalinist criminality. In high school, he had a teacher who was notoriously strict and demanding—the sort of man who would throw a heavy keychain at the blackboard to get the attention of an unruly class. One day, he closed the door to the classroom and told the students that he was going to tell them the truth about the massacre in Katyn. 23,000 Polish officers were executed in 1940 for no other reasons than that they were officers. This occurred when the USSR was in control of the eastern half of Poland as part of the secret protocols of the Malenkov-Ribbentrop nonaggression pact. It was the determination of men and women like this high school teacher, as well as Lucas’s parents, to be free that put them on a collision course with the Kremlin, which finally culminated in the emergence of Solidarity in 1980.

Like Lucas, Agi knew what it meant to be part of a powerful anti-bureaucratic movement. Like many Hungarian youth, she started off seeing some benefits in Communism, especially its ambitious athletics program modeled on the USSR’s but when she joined a massive protest march in 1956, she felt the same way that Poles would feel in 1980 and Syrians would feel in 2011—free at last, to repeat Martin Luther King Jr’s immortal words.

As I have said hundreds of times before, the Western left has a deficit problem. Seeing Washington as a kind of absolutely evil presence in the world, it tends to demonize any movement receiving its aid. This leads it to excuse oppressive behavior by the Kremlin on a consistent basis, just like the Communist Parties did in the 30s and 40s. When there was a USSR, one might explain this as motivated by good intentions even if it objectively helped Stalin have Wallender arrested or invade Hungary and Poland. But with Putin supposedly being one of the wealthiest men in the world today according to some experts and Assad’s crony capitalist cousin controlling 60 percent of the Syrian economy, there can be no excuse.

With 150 people showing up for the screening of “Ketermaya”, it was obvious that human rights trumped geopolitical foolishness. Like anybody else who has seen the film, they understood that Syrians deserve our support and solidarity.

There are good reasons why Hudson would serve as a “sister city” to Ketermaya, to recall the term activists used in the 1980s when places like Park Slope in Brooklyn would link up with a Nicaraguan city that had been a victim of Reagan’s contra war. What better way to oppose American foreign policy than to act as a citizen of the world sending medicine or computers to people under siege? Agi described Hudson as a city with many liberal-minded New Yorkers who moved there because they could no longer afford the rents in Park Slope. Among them were a sizable contingent of gays and lesbians who flocked to the there in the mid-80s when it was rapidly becoming a center for antique dealers, a business long favored by gay men and women. Wikipedia refers to this development:

In the last few years, perhaps encouraged by the number of gay business owners among the original antiques dealers, Hudson has become a destination for gay people who have opened new businesses, moved here from larger urban areas, and who have been in the forefront of the restoration of many of the city’s historic houses. In 2010, Hudson High School made history when openly gay seniors, Charlie Ferrusi and Timmy Howard, were named prom king and queen. During the same year, Hudson hosted its first gay pride parade, which was attended by several hundred people.

Since January, Americans have been agonizing over the direction of the country with a racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, Islamophobe in the White House. While a lot of the discussion veers toward electoral strategy, there was something about the positive example of Hudson that deserves consideration by the left.

Aided by the Presbyterian Church in Hudson, which is as progressive as any Unitarian church I have ever seen, Danette Gorman has taken the initiative to create an alternative America that embodies the true spirit of this country. Only arriving in Hudson around the same time she saw “Ketermaya”, she raised money to fund a needs assessment trip to Lebanon. Her next step is to organize a meeting at the church to get people involved. So instead of bemoaning the evils of a know-nothing president, she and her fellow Hudsonites are acting to create a different reality, one in which solidarity across borders in the interests of peace and fair play reigns supreme.

If you want to support Danette Gorman’s project to help the children of Ketermaya, please go to https://www.helpsyriaskids.org/ and help spread the word.

Finally, as someone who recognizes the power of “Ketermaya” to cut through the stereotypes of Syrians as fanatics and potential terrorists, I am hoping to recruit college students in NY to help organize a screening when the fall semester starts. Ideally, it would include Skype connections to Lucas for a Q&A and with the children of Ketermaya who love connecting with people in the West to tell their story. Contact me at lnp3@panix.com if you find this trailer inspiring, as surely you will.

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:

 

July 12, 2017

Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton: Saudi Arabia’s snitches

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:19 pm

On July 6th Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton co-authored an article for Alternet that fingered one Bilal Abdul Kareem as an al-Qaeda member, something that put not only his right to travel freely in jeopardy but also his life. Given the intensity of the “war on terror” under both Obama and Trump, such accusations might give the military or the CIA the excuse to do to him what they did to Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011—end his life with a Predator drone strike, as well as that of his teen-age son two weeks later. Not satisfied with their murder, Donald J. Trump ordered a strike on al-Qaeda in Yemen that resulted in the death of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 8 year old daughter. So, if you are going to accuse someone of being an al-Qaeda member, you’d better be damn sure you are right.

What do these two snitches point to as proof? They write, “In fact, the Saudi Arabian news outlet Al Arabiya reported on June 7 that Abdul Kareem officially joined al-Nusra in 2012.”

Habituated at this point to shoddy reporting from people like these two creeps, I clicked the link to the Al Arabiya article for more information on Kareem’s membership in a group Donald Trump is committed to exterminating. I imagine that the liberals who read Alternet on a regular basis couldn’t bother checking the article since if the Katzenjammer Kids said it, it must be true.

It turns out that the article is a diatribe against Qatar in keeping with Saudi Arabia’s recent attempt to bring the impudent emirate into line, including an ultimatum to shut down al-Jazeera. Did I mention that Al Arabiya is the Saudi news agency that was created to compete with al-Jazeera but from the royalist right?

The article is titled “Al-Nusra religious leader, prominent ISIS supporter defend Qatar” and describes Qatar as the nerve center of jihadist terror in the Middle East and Bilal Abdul Kareem as one of its key operatives. It makes a bald assertion that “What’s interesting here is that Abdulkareem had traveled to Doha for the panel [sponsored by the Brookings Institute] from the Syrian city of Aleppo. He went to Doha although he joined al-Nusra in 2012.” So, if Al Arabiya, the official propaganda arm of the Saudi monarchy, says that Kareem was an al-Nusra member, it must be true. You have to believe the Saudis, don’t you, especially when they are a major player in the war on terror.

Taking note that Kareem denied being a member, the two jihadi-hunters, second only to Pamela Geller in investigative skills, offered some more irrefutable evidence:

However, one of Abdul Kareem’s closest colleagues has also been accused of membership in Syria’s al-Qaeda franchise. Akif Razaq, an employee of Abdul Kareem’s online media group, On the Ground News, was recently stripped of British citizenship for his alleged involvement with al-Nusra. A notice presented by British authorities to Razaq’s family in Birmingham accused him of being “aligned with an al-Qaeda-aligned group” and declared that he “presents a risk to the national security of the United Kingdom.”

During Abdul Kareem’s Facebook video response to the Al Arabiya report, he was seated beside Razap. Razaq has also co-hosted On the Ground News segments with him.

What did they used to call that? Guilt by association? This is more than guilt by association. It is guilt by association squared. Razaq has been accused? So who accused him? The fucking British authorities? How in the hell did these two stooges end up using the word of the “British authorities” to help sentence men such as this to execution by Trump’s out-of-control police state?

It turns out that the “al-Qaeda-aligned” group he was punished for joining was none other than Kareem’s On the Ground News.

Let me get this straight. Kareem is guilty because he is associating with Razaq and Razaq is guilty by associating with Kareem? Where is Franz Kafka when we really need him?

Moon of Alabama, a website that can be described as ground zero of the batshit Assadist conspiracy-mongering universe, was incensed with Blumenthal and Norton’s article. The screwball in charge wrote an item titled “Syria – The Alternet Grayzone Of Smug Turncoats – Blumenthal, Norton, Khalek” that rightfully accused the two boys of reversing previously held opinions without explaining why. I don’t think it takes much brains to figure out why. They do what they do for the money. Writing articles opposing Assad won’t pay the rent. All you need to do is look at the wheelbarrows of cash that poured into the pockets of people writing salutes to Seymour Hersh’s brilliant investigative reporting that contained the totally unscientific claim that fertilizer contains organophosphates (it is phosphates). I invite anybody to find a bag of fertilizer containing the organophosphate poisons normally found in pesticides in a farm supply store. If you do, I will personally eat it.

The article basically charges Blumenthal and Norton with plagiarism, pointing out that Vanessa Beeley, one of their recommended authorities on Syria, wrote a piece for 21st Century Wire on August 4, 2016 that they obviously poached. Titled “SYRIA: CNN Normalizes Suicide Bombers and Embeds Reporters with ISIS and Al Qaeda”, Beeley’s piece is her customary Islamophobic tripe holding up Bashar al-Assad as the last best hope for civilized values in Syria. This is the kind of shit that would have made Goebbels blanch.

I don’t know what Beeley is complaining about. There’s plenty of money out there for every Assadist to make a good living. It’s like writing articles hailing the Moscow Trials in 1938. If chief prosecutor Vyshinsky was praised for his integrity in the NY Times of all places, you could sell the same kind of article anywhere.

Today, there’s nothing more scary than some guy in a beard who backs sharia law and yells “Allahu Akbar” after firing an missile that blows up a regime tank. Gee whiz, if we don’t stop them in Iraq and Syria, they might come to Bushwick and destroy our way of life.

Max Blumenthal has become a new Christopher Hitchens in his quest to exterminate Sunni jihadists, even if it requires American power. If you go to 6:50 in the Real News interview above, you’ll see what I mean. He says:

In its zeal to bleed … Russia and Iran, the National Security State has completely abrogated what should be its top mission, which is to take on these Sunni jihadist organizations, which have repeatedly attacked soft targets in the West, caused chaos—they should be fighting them. Instead they are using them as proxies in many cases to bleed Russia and Iran and Syria as well—countries which pose no…which have no intention of attacking the United States and which are active in the fight against ISIS.

I don’t think it could be much clearer than this. Blumenthal is urging the “National Security State” to escalate its war on terror. To use more Predator drones, to kill alleged al-Qaeda operatives like Bilal Abdul Kareem and Akif Razaq whose guilt is established by their willingness to interview its members, and to top it all off to achieve victory in places where the Sunni jihadists held sway. Just look at the photo of liberated Mosul to get an idea of what gets Blumenthal salivating.

Update:

Apparently, my worries about Blumenthal and Norton’s piece helping to undermine Kareem’s survival were not ill-founded.

 

July 10, 2017

Risk

Filed under: Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:42 pm

On July 22nd, Showtime will be premiering Laurie Poitras’s “Risk”, a deeply flawed and controversial film about Julian Assange that he has described as a “severe threat” to his freedom. Despite Assange’s words, the best way to describe the film is as a study in ambivalence. As the director of a documentary on Edward Snowden (“Citizenfour”), Poitras and Glenn Greenwald made clear that their sympathies were with the whistle-blower. In making what amounted to a companion-piece to that film, Poitras adopted a cinéma vérité style that was punctuated by her own commentary in very small but highly critical doses. The problem is that her negative feelings toward Assange are not exactly supported by the footage, which cover familiar territory. Most importantly, you are left wondering whether she agreed with James Comey and the Hillary Clinton camp that Wikileaks acted as a “cutout” for the Russians who provided hacked emails from the candidate’s campaign that supposedly elected Donald J. Trump.

As highly useful background to the film, a June 29, 2017 Guardian article  hints at why this might have been the case:

While Poitras is no fan of Hillary Clinton, she does question the timing of the Podesta emails (John Podesta was chairman of Clinton’s election campaign), thought to have been hacked by the Russians and published by WikiLeaks in October/November 2016 just before the election.

But the major cause of her disaffection was the charges brought against Assange for sex crimes in Sweden. In one of the more disturbing scenes in the film where Assange was hung on his own petard, he is discussing a PR campaign to help his cause with a Labour Party politician named Helena Kennedy who warns him against referring to a “feminist conspiracy” for his own sake. He shrugs this off and alludes to a “tawdry, radical feminist” plot instigated by a woman who launched a lesbian nightclub. Like Bill Maher and Donald Trump, Assange seems to lack what Freud called the super-ego, a mechanism responsible for conscience. Or it could equally be the case that as Assange built up a cult around himself, he lost the capacity for self-criticism. Considering how the British SWP shot itself in the foot over a leading member’s Assange-like behavior, it appears to be a communicable disease.

Stupid enough to say these things on camera, Assange continued on his bumbling ways throughout. In one of the more grotesque scenes, we see Lady Gaga making a pilgrimage to the cult figure in the Ecuadorian Consulate where she seems a bit put off by his appearance in a suit and white shirt. Pointing to a closet with his piled up laundry, she says he should wear a “dirty, fucking T-shirt” so he’ll look like a rebel. She follows up with questions like “what’s your favorite kind of food”. It’s enough to inoculate you against Gaga, if her awful music wasn’t reason enough.

It seems that Assange has a preference for healthy food since another female sex symbol (erstwhile, admittedly) made another pilgrimage in December 2010 to bring him a vegan meal and words of support. That was Pamela Anderson, the 49-year old former star of “Baywatch” who condemned the “made up sexual allegations” against him.

Another sexual predator who has second billing to Assange in the film is one Jacob Appelbaum, a hacker who was a key lieutenant to Assange and a highly placed technician in the Tor Project that was designed to build a secure communications channel for activists. In June 2016, he was accused of sexual abuse by women working in the Tor Project. Like Assange, he has denied all the charges. Poitras mentions casually in passing that she had been “involved” with Appelbaum.

As might be expected, Assange still has his supporters, especially those who see him as a man on horseback in the geopolitical chess game that pits the West against Russia and its allies. Thomas S. Harrington, a professor of Iberian Studies in Trinity College in Connecticut, wrote a piece for CounterPunch titled “Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras that he described as “self-involved, reachingly [sic] melodramatic and filled with unfounded innuendo.” Harrington concludes that Gandhi was also a pretty awful guy in his own way but steers clear of assessing Assange politically. Since fools rush in where angels fear to tread, we might have expected WSWS.org to take up the fight against “Risk” on political grounds. They opine:

The various critics, wealthy and conservative, hardly make a secret of the fact they perceive Assange to be a disrupter of the social order and political system they hold dear. The most hostile of all are those remnants of the old protest generation, who still perhaps expressed opposition to the Iraq invasion in 2003. What they can never forgive Assange is that, for all his political limitations, he did not fold his tent, like they shamefully did in the mid-2000s, and join the pro-war, pro-imperialist camp.

Did I mention that they describe the sexual charges against Assange as “voiced by a noxious alliance of feminists, pseudo-leftists, establishment media figures, right-wing tabloid scum and various mouthpieces, acknowledged or unacknowledged, for the US State Department and CIA”? Well, at least they are consistent, having written profusely in defense of Roman Polanski when fled the USA to avoid arrest for having sex with a 13-year old girl.

Unlike Poitras, I have no problems with the Russians hacking Democratic Party emails and using Wikileaks as a cutout. If American politicians don’t want to be embarrassed by things they say privately, they’d better think about what they were saying in the first place.

The USA does this sort of thing on a scale that dwarfs Putin. It unleashed the Stuxnet worm on the Iranian computers used in atomic energy research that led to infections of computers in other countries as collateral damage. After the NSA developed malware to be used against its “enemies”, hackers got a copy and used it for a ransomware attack that infected computers used in critical care applications in hospitals around the world. This is not to speak of how it interferes in elections around the world, including Nicaragua when it was governed by the Sandinistas. The NED pumped millions of dollars into their opponents’ election campaigns without even bothering to cover it up. This takes the kind of brass that not even Putin would display.

Poitras’s documentary is very much worth seeing but it doesn’t begin to penetrate into the inner contradictions of Wikileaks that would have been present even if Assange had not been such a flaming asshole and sexual predator. A documentary should be made but not in the cinéma vérité style that suited Poitras’s someone subjective needs.

That documentary should cover matters such as how Wikileaks promoted a dump of hacked emails from Turkey that supposedly exposed wrongdoing by the ruling AKP. It turned out that no such information was present in the emails. Instead, as former Marxism list subscriber Zeynep Tukfeci pointed out, it contained “spreadsheets of private, sensitive information of what appears to be every female voter in 79 out of 81 provinces in Turkey, including their home addresses and other private information, sometimes including their cellphone numbers.”

It would also address Assange’s questionable personnel decisions such as designating Israel Shamir as its spokesman in Russia. Shamir is a disgusting pig who fits neatly into the emerging Red-Brown alliance being consolidated across Europe with generous support from the Kremlin. You have to ask yourself why Wikileaks would want to be associated with someone like Shamir who wrote an article on immigration and race that is filled with nativist trash like this: “In order to defend their policy of destroying society by influx of strangers, they invented and propagated a new blood libel, that of ‘racism’. People who resist the imposition of mass immigration are deemed ‘racists’ and precluded from participation in the scripted television discourse.”

Shamir urges immigrants to defer to the sensibilities of those whose turf they have penetrated: “Admittedly, I never tried to annoy the native inhabitants by playing loud foreign music, practicing strange customs in public, or purposely behaving in offensive ways.” When Shamir wrote a CounterPunch article 5 years ago supporting the Kremlin for cracking down on Pussy Riot for its “offensive” behavior, I answered him in my very first article on CounterPunch. As someone who first discovered himself culturally by reading William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, reading Shamir makes me wonder how such people can ever think of themselves as rebels. For me, the attitudes of people like Shamir remind me nothing more than the ignorant and racist garbage I heard from people in my very backward village that was accurately described once by Karl Marx as “rural idiocy”.

If you really want to understand Assange in political terms, the best place to look is not in the batshit crazy WSWS.org but in his first attempt to participate directly in electoral politics in the name of the Wikileaks Party that ran him for Senate in Australia in 2013. The party had a six-member executive committee that included Assange.

Another member was John Shipton who gave an interview to Sputnik News that sounded very much in line with Israel Shamir. When asked about Russia’s role in Syria, Shipton replied:

The Russian diplomatic skills are a triumph, and with the Shanghai Cooperative Organization, the BRICs last year in Far East and this year Syria and the Ukraine. There is diplomatic triumph second to none, and in our view the Russian President and Foreign Ministry people wish to bring peace to allow development.

But for me the biggest problem with Wikileaks is how it has fostered the growth of conspiracist thinking on the left ever since its inception in 2010. In November, 2006 Alexander Cockburn wrote an article titled “The 9/11 Conspiracists and the Decline of the American Left” that accurately sized up a malaise on the left attributable to the decline of Marxism:

These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list. The 9/11 “conspiracy”, or “inside job”, is the Summa of all this foolishness.

What Cockburn neglected to mention, and what has been unfortunately reflected in CounterPunch all too often both under his editorial direction and Jeff St. Clair who succeeded him, is a reliance on the “smoking gun”, which is more often than not a Wikileaks cable from a US policy analyst or diplomat that supposedly proves that the Syrian revolution was hatched in Washington. You don’t need to learn political economy from Marx if you can find a cable that says something to the effect that Assad “has to go” or some such formulation. Also, how much difference is there between the “inside job” analysis on 9/11 and the “false flag” explanations of the two major sarin gas attacks in Syria? Is there that much difference between the WTC controlled demolition nonsense and Seymour Hersh blaming a bomb dropped on fertilizer for the death of 80 people and the wounding of 600 in Khan Sheikhoun?

Even a publishing house that is virtually synonymous with Marxist political economy eroded its own credentials by publishing a book like “The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire” with an introduction by Assange himself. Verso sent me an advance copy of the book that I found totally useless for understanding the US Empire since I tend to prefer the sort of class analysis found in David Harvey or the late Peter Gowan, who was a veteran of a Trotskyist groupuscule when he joined the New Left Review editorial board just like Tariq Ali, who unfortunately has succumbed to conspiracy theory himself.

You can get a flavor of this book by reading professional liberal Robert Naiman’s chapter on Syria that was reproduced on Truth-out in 2015 as “WikiLeaks Reveals How the US Aggressively Pursued Regime Change in Syria, Igniting a Bloodbath”.

Showing much less interest in class relations in Syria than in US State Department cables, Naiman cites one dated December 13, 2006 that was written by William Roebuck, the chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Damascus. Roebuck alluded to “actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send” that will bolster the opposition to Assad, including the Saudis providing media openings to Abdul Halim Khaddam, leader of the opposition-in-exile National Salvation Front.

This and other such Wikileaks material leads Naiman to conclude:

We are told in the West that the current efforts to topple the Syrian government by force were a reaction to the Syrian government’s repression of dissent in 2011, but now we know that “regime change” was the policy of the US and its allies five years earlier.

What’s missing from Naiman’s chronology is the period immediately preceding 2011, when American policy had reversed itself from Bush’s much more aggressive policies. If you look at the two years just before the Arab Spring, there is every indication that Syria had come in from the cold.

On March 26, 2009, Robert Worth wrote an article for the NY Times titled “With Isolation Over, Syria Is Happy to Talk” that was about as far from the spirit of Roebuck’s cable as can be imagined.

Only a year ago, this country’s government was being vilified as a dangerous pariah. The United States and its Arab allies mounted a vigorous campaign to isolate Syria, which they accused of sowing chaos and violence throughout the region through its support for militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Today, Syria seems to be coming in from the cold. A flurry of diplomatic openings with the West and Arab neighbors has raised hopes of a chastened and newly flexible Syrian leadership that could help stabilize the region. But Syria has its own priorities, and a series of upheavals here — including Israel’s recent war in Gaza — make it difficult to say where this new dialogue will lead.

It is not just a matter of the Obama administration’s new policy of engagement. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France led the way with a visit here last September. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was said to be furious at the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, welcomed him warmly in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, this month. Photographs of the two men smiling and shaking hands have been on the front pages of all the major Arab newspapers, along with frequent headlines about the “Arab reconciliation.”

At the root of these changes is Syria’s alliance with Iran. Saudi Arabia and the other major Sunni Arab nations once hoped to push Syria away from Iran through isolation, and now — like President Obama — they appear to be trying sweeter tactics. For the Syrians, the turnabout is proof that their ties with Iran are in fact useful, and accord them an indispensable role as a regional broker. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries “have great stakes in maintaining good relations between Syria and Iran, because at difficult times they will find Syria helping them,” said Faisal Mekdad, Syria’s vice minister of foreign affairs, during an interview here.

The picture accompanying the article speaks louder than a thousand words, including all of those that appeared in Naiman’s stupid article.

Finally, let me conclude with a nod to Chase Madar’s review of “Risk” that appeared in the London Times, which although behind a paywall can be read on Madar’s FB page. Madar is the author of the “The Passion of [Chelsea] Manning: The Story behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower” and would never be confused politically with someone like me. Here is a telling excerpt:

Poitras has been filming Assange for more than six years, from his press conferences to his (elective) confinement in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, after Interpol put out a warrant to question him on sexual assault charges in Sweden. She has turned from in-house video­grapher to critical journalist who has fallen out with Assange (though as she tells it in her voiceover, he asks her not to say that they have fallen out). Poitras has now been attacked by Assange’s lawyers for not allowing their client to review the final cut and for putting him at additional risk by bringing the raw footage to the United States where it might be subpoenaed.

The main narrative arc is how Assange went from being an icon of the global Left to becoming – temporarily, and surreally – the saviour of the American Right. “I love WikiLeaks!”, candidate Donald J. Trump grinned at a campaign rally last October when reading from the emails that some hacker had stolen from the Democratic National Committee and passed on to the website. (Trump mentioned or quoted Wikileaks’s Clinton leaks some 160 times in the last month of his campaign.) Assange, once the scourge of the American nationalist Right for publishing classified logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars as well as a quarter of a million classified State Department cables, suddenly became, in eye-rubbingly oneiric scenes, the bosom ally of Fox News media figures such as Sean Hannity.

Assange’s flirtation with the American Right didn’t stop there. His Twitter feed passed on the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a paedophilia ring in the basement of a Washington, DC pizzeria and he oxygenated rumours that Seth Rich, a young Democratic National Committee intern who was murdered in an apparent botched robbery, had been the source of the DNC leaks – and paid for it with his life. This was eagerly taken up and, despite explicit entreaties to stop spreading the rumour from Rich’s grieving family who had to fend off the vigilante “help” of conspiracy loons, the “story” continued. The story of Julian Assange is in some ways a depressing study in how quickly Enlightenment heroes can turn into conspiracy-freak sideshow acts.

July 8, 2017

Phosphorus, phosphates, organophosphates and phospine

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:44 pm

The Assadist narratives on the Khan Sheikhoun sarin gas incident of April 4, 2017 have fallen into two categories. The first, similar to that put forward around the East Ghouta attack of August 21, 2013, claims that it was a “false flag” incident in which rebels gassed their own supporters to open the door for a “regime change” operation. The second, which has been put forward by various agencies and individuals such as Seymour Hersh, was that a legitimate bombing attack on a jihadist headquarters accidentally struck some materials that produced toxic fumes that killed 80 people and injured 600. For some such as Hersh, the materials were either relatively benign such as chlorine used to cleanse corpses in keeping with Islamic burial guidelines or fertilizers containing organophosphates—the same chemical compound that sarin gas is based on. (It happens that Muslims use soap and that it is pesticides that contain organophosphates, not fertilizers.) Others claim that the jihadist warehouse was a chemical weapons factory that incorporated phosphorus-based chemicals that were never intended to be used as pesticides or fertilizer but only to kill people—sarin gas on the cheap, so to speak.

When I noticed Hersh’s gaffe about fertilizer that his fact-checker Scott Ritter somehow managed to gloss over, I decided to take a closer look at the phosphorus/phosphate/organophosphate question since it is easy to get confused over the differences.

The first reference to organophosphates was made by ex-military intelligence Colonel Patrick Lang just three days after the attack and hewed closely to Hersh’s account. Lang said that the Russians briefed the USA that the attack would take place and that it was aimed at jihadist headquarters. Lang states:

The Syrian Air Force hit the target with conventional weapons. All involved expected to see a massive secondary explosion. That did not happen. Instead, smoke, chemical smoke, began billowing from the site. It turns out that the Islamic rebels used that site to store chemicals, not sarin, that were deadly. The chemicals included organic phosphates and chlorine and they followed the wind and killed civilians. [emphasis added]

Lawrence Wilkerson, an aide to Colin Powell who we are supposed to trust because he “learned” hard lessons from his boss’s role in fostering a “false flag” narrative about Saddam’s WMD’s, told essentially the same story but with a fudge factor:

And this warehouse was alleged to have ISIS supply [sic] in it and indeed it probably did. And some of these supplies were precursors for chemicals (or possibly an alternative they were phosphates for fertilizing)… Conventional bombs hit the warehouse and the wind dispersed these ingredients and killed some people.”

If they were “phosphates for fertilizing”, there was about as much possibility of transforming them into nerve gas as there was an alchemist turning lead into gold.

Then there is Scott Ritter, an WMD inspector who rose to glory for his opposition to Colin Powell’s bogus warnings. Unfortunately, he is turning in his own Powell-like performance to defend wrongly a Baathist dictator. Maybe he learned how to sling the bullshit from studying Powell’s UN speech that greased the slids for the invasion of Iraq.

In an April 9, 2017 Huffington Post article, Ritter wrote that the jihadists were building their own WMD’s with a combination of white phosphorus and chlorine that had been used already when they controlled East Aleppo. So when a bomb was dropped on their lair, it accidentally produced a toxic cloud from chemicals they had planned to use against the pluralist and democratic government in Damascus that has received an average of 98 percent of the vote ever since Hafez al-Assad seized power in a coup.

It is not exactly clear why white phosphorus would kill anybody in sarin gas like fashion since when it is not used to burn people through aerial bombardment, it is used mainly to produce smoke that can help to conceal troop movements. GlobalSecurity.org states that “Casualties from WP [white phosphorus] smoke have not occurred in combat operations” and that “irritation of the eyes and irritation of the mucous membranes are the most commonly seen injuries.”

As far as Ritter’s claim that rebels used white phosphorus/chlorine gas weaponry in East Aleppo, that is one only made by Syria, Iran and Russia. So it is not very surprising that he takes their word over what Trump calls “the fake news”.

On April 13, 2017 Gareth Porter, who was as ardent in his support for Pol Pot in the 1970s as he is today for Bashar al-Assad, told Truthout readers that it was not necessarily sarin gas that was used in Khan Sheikhoun. He came close to Ritter’s account but identified phosphine rather than white phosphorus as the smoking gun. He stated, “Both the Syrian Army and the Al-Nusra Front fighters in the Aleppo area, moreover, had abundant stocks of phosphine-producing smoke munitions in 2013” and that “phosphine-producing munitions can be lethal if humans are exposed in confined space”. Well, I don’t know how Porter defines confined space but by all accounts the toxic cloud swept across several miles. Maybe the jihadists were funded by the Rothschild bank to put a huge glass dome over the village to make sure that the “false flag” worked. Who knows?

Chemically, phosphine is produced by combining white phosphorus with sodium or potassium hydroxide in laboratory conditions. As is the case with Ritter’s accusation, there are no news accounts of phosphine weaponry being used in Aleppo by either Assad or rebels—not even by Sputnik news. Maybe it was a dream he had.

Let’s assume that in his confusion that Hersh meant to say “in many pesticides” rather than “in many fertilizers” in his Die Welt article.

The range of symptoms is, however, 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.

That still doesn’t pass the smell test as a chemistry PhD student specializing in biochemical weapons argued on BellingCat: “The most potent organophosphate pesticide, TEPP, is 10x less toxic than sarin. Parathion/E605 is 100-1000x less toxic. Neither is stored in bulk because neither is needed in huge quantities to cover an entire field.”

While I am no chemist by any stretch of the imagination, I would encourage others to spend several hours as I did trying to sort out the differences between all these terms that include “phos”.

  1. Phosphorus: This is an element that is key to human health. In fact, it is the second most prevalent element in your body next to calcium. In nature it exists in two forms: white and red. White phosphorus emits a slight glow when it is exposed to oxygen and hence has the prefix “phos”, which means light in Greek. As it is the second most common element in the human body, a German alchemist Hennig Brand extracted it from urine in an experiment in 1669. Even if he was an alchemist by profession, he was ten times as rigorous as the charlatans alluded to above.
  2. Phosphates: These are chemical compounds that contain phosphorus and are one of the key ingredients of fertilizers (the others are nitrogen and potassium compounds). It is also being used in Flint, Michigan to reduce the amount of lead that can get into pipes by building up what is called “mineral scale” that inhibits lead build-up.
  3. Organophosphates: This group of chemicals includes sarin gas as well as one called chlorpyrifos that was marketed by Dow Chemical under the brand names Lorsban (for agriculture) and Dursban (for residences) until the EPA banned it in 1996 because it was found to cause nerve damage to children. It probably comes as no surprise to learn that the new head of the EPA has overruled the ban and that is now legal again. The NY Times wrote that the ruling is more consequential than his “rolling back Obama administration rules related to coal-burning power plants and climate change”. With Dursban now for sale again in the USA and Trump giving Russia free rein in Syria, it won’t be long before chemically-induced fatalities will spike in both countries.
  4. Phosphines: The most practical use of phosphine is as a fumigant to get rid of rats and in minute quantities as a doping agent in electronic circuitry. Don’t interpret my reference to rats and doping to reflect on Gareth Porter.

Finally, in terms of whether bombing a warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun could have killed 80 people and wounded 600 as a result of a bomb dropped on pesticides containing organophosphates, it is worth mentioning that an accident such as this did occur not so long ago:

On November 1, 1986 there was an explosion and fire in the Sandoz chemical company in Basel, Switzerland that contained a virtual  cornucopia of organophosphates, tons of the stuff including propetamphos, parathion, disulfoton, thiometon, etrimphos and fenitrothion–all in pure form rather than the diluted commercial pesticides that were presumably stored in the Khan Sheikhoun warehouse. A huge cloud ascended over the city. Casualties? None. Fourteen firefighters were treated for exposure to the chemicals in a local hospital. Not a single one died.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.