Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 21, 2016

The numbers game in East Aleppo

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:22 pm


Last night I attended a panel discussion on the siege of East Aleppo that left me depressed and angry, especially as its participants spelled out the terrible beating that hospitals are taking. The event started with a video narrated by Dr. Hatem who is the Director of the Independent Doctor’s Association’s Children’s Hospital. It is not easy to look at the footage of wounded children whose only offense was being forced to live in a city that Assad deemed filled with terrorists. It gave me the same sinking feeling I used to get when I worked at the Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer hospital in the 1980s. When you see a 3-year old kid walking around with a medication bag attached to his or her arm, you wonder how anybody can believe in god. After watching this video about Russian and Baathist atrocities, you can easily end up believing in the existence of Satan.

Now living in the USA, Dr. Abdulaziz spoke about his experiences working as a pediatrician in East Aleppo where the day begins at 7am and ends at 9pm. Doctors not only have to cope with shortages of medication and supplies, they anxiously await the next Russian bunker-buster bomb that can penetrate into a building’s basement, where all medical facilities operate now.

This video conveys the kind of information that was provided by the speakers:

With all of this weighing heavily on my mind this morning, I probably should have not read Pepe Escobar’s article in today’s Counterpunch that argued about the need to throw caution to the wind in the siege of Aleppo since “no more than 30,000 or 40,000 out of an initial population of 300,000” are living there. And since all the rebels in East Aleppo are jihadists, Escobar urges that the final assault on East Aleppo become “hardcore” as if he is describing a Metallica concert rather than blowing up pediatric hospitals:

The SAA, once again, is tremendously overextended. Thus, the method to reconquer East Aleppo is indeed hardcore. There is a humanitarian crisis. There is collateral damage. And this is only the beginning. Because sooner or later the SAA, supported by Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi’ite militias, will have to reconquer East Aleppo with boots on the ground as well – supported by Russian fighter jets.

Would it matter to Escobar if there were 300,000 to 400,000 people living in East Aleppo rather than 1/10th that number? Probably not. This is a guy who would probably be okay with killing 3 to 4 million if it advanced the cause of the BRICS or whatever the fuck ideology this mutt believes in. It certainly isn’t socialism.

But how did that 30,000 to 40,000 number come up in the first place? Even Martin Chulov, who has written useful reports on Syria, accepted that number as a given in a Guardian article: “Those who remain in eastern Aleppo, roughly 40,000 from a prewar population estimated at about a million, have been without electricity or running water for more than a year.” I get how you can ascertain whether there is electricity or running water but was a census taker going door to door to collect such data?

Moon of Alabama, a website that has the same indifference to human suffering as Escobar, makes a point about population reduction as well:

In other siege areas where the rebels gave up to the Syrian government the numbers of people coming out of them were much smaller than the original inhabitants. The numbers were also smaller than all prior estimates. Daraya, near Damascus, originally had some 80,000 inhabitants. The numbers of besieged people in Daraya the UN had given were variously between several ten-thousands and down to 8,000. When the evacuation of Daraya started the Syrian army estimated that 800-1,200 fighters and 4,000 civilians would come out. In the end the numbers of leaving fighters was some 600-700 and less than 2,000 civilians turned up to leave. The area was searched and all had left.

Maybe the best thing would be to rely on the word of Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, who surely would agree with Escobar and MofA on the paltry numbers of people living in East Aleppo. As it happens, Churkin sees it differently. On the inimical RT.com, which surely is as reliable as Escobar and MofA, Churkin is quoted on the numbers game: “Over 200,000 residents of Aleppo are hostages of the Al-Nusra Front and groups allied with it.” Now if you can’t believe the Russian Ambassador to the UN, who can you believe?


October 20, 2016

Eric Draitser’s mea culpa

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 1:59 pm

One cannot exactly be sure why Eric Draitser wrote an article titled “Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence” but it probably marks the first acknowledgement that there are people who oppose the pro-Assad articles that he, Mike Whitney, Pepe Escobar, John Wight, Andre Vltchek, Diana Johnstone, Rick Sterling, Gary Leupp, Jeff Mackler, Paul Larudee, Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett and others have been writing for the past 5 years.

In a refreshing break from the “Assad or the country burns” mentality of the ultra-Baathist stance of someone like Bartlett or Sterling, Draitser issues a mea culpa:

But what does it mean to oppose the war? Does it mean that we should be opposing just Russian and Syrian bombs being dropped? Does it mean that only US-Saudi-Turkey-Israeli supplied weapons are doing the killing? Sadly, these too are not rhetorical questions as so many on the Left, including many self-described anti-imperialists, have positioned themselves as hawks in a war that has utterly devastated the country. It seems that many, myself included up to a point, have gotten so enveloped in the embrace of partisanship in this war that we have forgotten that our responsibility is to the people of Syria and to peace and justice.

If you’re supportive of Assad then it’s a certainty that you’ve chosen to ignore or downplay the horrific violence of the bombings, the brutality of the torture chambers, and other unspeakable atrocities (I admit that I have often strayed too far into the latter) out of a desire to uphold the nominally anti-imperialist position.

And how about the refugees? I’ve seen the fascist talking points spouted by many fake “anti-imperialists” who with one breath proclaim their commitment to peace and justice, and with another demonize and scapegoat Syrian refugees whose politics don’t align with the pro-Assad position. Words like “traitors,” “cowards,” and “terrorists,” are shamefully applied to ordinary Syrians fleeing to Europe and elsewhere in hopes of saving their families. Indeed, it is precisely this narrative that is at the core of the white supremacist, fascist ideology that underlies a significant amount of the support base for Assad and his allies (see David Duke, David Icke, Alexander Dugin, Brother Nathanel, Alex Jones, Mimi al-Laham, Ken O’Keefe, and on and on and on). I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true, and too many of the pro-Assad camp have willfully ignored this fundamental point.

I ask these questions as someone who took a firmly pro-Assad position from the very beginning, someone who felt (as I, and many others, still do) that Syria, like Libya, was a victim of US-NATO-GCC-Israel imperialism and that, as such, it should be defended. And while I still uphold that resistance, I also have enough humility to know that, in doing so, I abandoned other core beliefs such as defense of ALL oppressed people, including the ones with politics I reject.

The questions alluded to in the paragraph immediately above are as follows:

  • Were this the 1980s one wonders whether they’d be saying the same things about the “revolutionary” contras in Central America who, like the so-called rebels in Syria, were also backed with US weapons, money, and training. How about the mujahideen in Afghanistan?
  • And what about those foreign fighters fleeing Syria? Are they revolutionaries when they go back to Libya and engage in human trafficking for profit? Or to Chechnya to smuggle Afghan heroin? Or to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else?
  • What will you be doing when Hillary’s fire burns and cauldron bubbles? Will you continue to ignore the material reality of this war in favor of the chimera of a revolution betrayed? Put simply: will you be supporting US imperialism in the name of the “revolution”?

As it happens, I am pretty well qualified to answer the first question about the contras since I was the president of the board of Tecnica that supplied volunteers to Nicaragua including the engineer who supervised the repair of the electrical grid that contras were continuously blowing up. After another engineer named Ben Linder was murdered by contras in 1987 while working on a small-scale hydroelectric dam in northern Nicaragua that was a Tecnica-sponsored project, our volunteers took over for Ben after his death. So I know a thing or two about opposing the contras.

However, there is a big difference between the Nicaraguan contras and the FSA. The contras were trying to return Somoza type rule to Nicaragua while the FSA was trying to overthrow Syria’s Somoza. I choose my words carefully here since the crony capitalism of Bashar al-Assad has much in common with Somoza’s dictatorship in which connections to the dictatorship could have enormous economic rewards.

Unfortunately, Draitser has a very poor grasp of class relations inside Syria and like many of his cohorts prefers to write about the conflict between hegemonic blocs rather than about Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, who controlled 60 percent of the Syrian economy and bled dry the nation’s poor workers and farmers just as Somoza’s cronies did in Nicaragua. It was the greed of men like Makhlouf that caused the uprising not a Western plot to undermine the BRICS–his primary worry.

Speaking of the BRICS, Draitser has called attention to the “destabilization of the ANC-led government in South Africa” that “continues as political forces align to remove President Jacob Zuma” in a Global Research article (where else?). If “stability” means gunning down striking workers in Marikana, I am all for “destabilization”. Indeed, you might as well ask if the striking workers were like the Nicaragua contras since apparently any challenge to oligarchies within the BRICS hegemonic bloc is tantamount to supporting imperialism. Does this kind of Manicheanism have anything to do with Marxism? With the zero engagement with class relations in the articles of people like Mike Whitney et al, apparently not.

In terms of “foreign fighters fleeing Syria”, I suppose this is a reference to ISIS since by all accounts every other armed group is made up of people born and raised in Syria. Oh, just to clarify. I exclude the government’s armed groups that now consists of Hizbollah from Lebanon, Iranians, Russians, Iraqis Shia militias and impoverished Afghans who became mercenaries out of desperation.

This sort of baiting question is what you might expect from someone like Draitser who obviously has a need to make an amalgam between ISIS, al-Qaeda and the admittedly wide range of rebels in Syria who, excluding the FSA, to one degree or another incorporate Islamist politics. Speaking of the FSA, Draitser has referred to it as being composed of “terrorist elements” so perhaps it is only logical that he lumps it in with ISIS. I should add that except for this rather unsubstantiated claim, he has never written anything about the FSA or the wide range of unarmed groups that remain in the country fighting for democracy and social justice. That would only interfere with his geopolitical chess game narrative that reduces them to pawns.

Finally, on the question of American imperialism and “regime change”. Like Ashley Smith, I am opposed to American intervention period, which includes no-fly zones. I am opposed to Western air attacks in Syria, Yugoslavia, and Iraq. Furthermore, I would have even been opposed to them in Germany during WWII, no matter that Draitser’s co-thinker John Wight supported barrel bombing as the moral equivalent of bombing Dresden–god help us.

My opposition to aerial bombing and US military boots on the ground flows from my analysis of American imperialism that remains one of my lingering Trotskyist influences. James P. Cannon and other SWP leaders went to prison in 1941 for opposing WWII and their example still inspires me. Beyond that, I view bombing as a war crime in and of itself as I pointed out in an article about Sven Lindqvist’s “A History of Bombing”. Lindqvist wrote:

The first person to step forward and openly acknowledge what the others were hiding was the Italian Giulio Douhet. He arrived as a young cadet in Torino, the capital of the Italian auto industry, and wrote his first book on the military use of motor vehicles (1902). In 1910 he published a book on the problems of the air force, and in 1912 he was appointed chief of the newly formed air squadron in Torino. The next year he and Gianni Caproni constructed the first heavy bomber, a tri-engine monster created to make bombardment from the air the dominant form of attack.

When the World War broke out, Douhet became famous for his criticism of the way the war was conducted and his impassioned pleading for the use of the heavy bomber. The generals were enraged, and Douhet was relieved of his post and court-martialed.

Following the Italian brass, I advocate that any head of state that uses aerial bombardment be put in prison. This includes Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin. It also includes Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton if she uses American air power to enforce a NFZ.

Let me wrap up with some questions to Eric Draitser:

  1. After Assad bombed a Douma marketplace in August 2015 that resulted in the death of more than 100 civilians, you wrote an article casting doubt on the Syrian dictatorship’s culpability.  You pose an “alternative theory”, namely that “the Syrian military carried out an airstrike in the rebel stronghold town of Douma, and that the strike hit its target, a building housing a terrorist faction long since known to be in the city.” If the target was a building where a terrorist faction hung out sort of like Hamas in Gaza, how do you explain the photographs and video below? If there was pinpoint targeting, it must be same kind the IDF uses in Gaza.

  1. As someone who claims that the rebels gassed themselves in East Ghouta as a false flag operation to provoke regime change, how do you explain the failure of such cold-bloodedly devilish counter-revolutionaries to launch Sarin gas attacks on Damascus or any other government-controlled areas henceforth? These are obviously powerful weapons so why have they failed to exploit them? Are they afraid of being denounced by Vanessa Beeley?
  2. Finally, in August 2013 you wrote an article linking the “red line” rhetoric over the Sarin gas attacks as the opening salvo of a proxy war on Iran. Surely, you have become aware that at exactly the time that Obama was warning Assad about an intervention, he was in the first stages of a rapprochement with Iran. In fact, despite your frequent warnings about regime change, even as late as August 2016, there is ample evidence that this was never Obama’s intention as the NY Times reported on October 22nd 2013, just when the “red lines” rhetoric had fooled everybody writing for Counterpunch or Global Research except maybe me. The Times article stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.”

So my question is why you continue to write articles about “regime change” after nearly six years of Assad’s scorched earth policies that goes unanswered by the USA. Isn’t it possible that Obama had simply acted on the recommendation of the RAND corporation that “Regime collapse, while not considered a likely outcome, was perceived to be the worst possible outcome for U.S. strategic interests”?

October 16, 2016

Saudi Arabia, Syria and the smoking gun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Wikipedia reports:

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

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

October 8, 2016

Italian fascists storm exhibit on Assadist torture chambers

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 4:49 pm


October 4, 2016

A Syrian responds to Max Blumenthal

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:07 pm

(Posted to FB by Marcell Shehwaro, pictured above)

Where are the Syrians in Max’s Speech?

I read Max’s article which aims to open our eyes to the dangerous hidden reality behind The Syria Campaign. I read it over and over and all I felt was a combination of patronisation and humiliation in detail after detail… Beginning with the focus on who took the photo of Omran and who published it and neglecting the fact that what happened to Omran did actually happen and the boy really was bombed. But of course this detail is marginal… just as marginal as all other Syrian men and women in that piece of writing. All of us are marginal details.

More important now is how to help the killer escape by spreading doubts around all the human rights violations they committed.

My organization is one of the 73 organizations that signed on to suspending cooperation with the UN. The decision was taken and planned as per the following steps. Months and days of dysfunctional coordination with the UN as a result of the political ties of the UN’s offices in Damascus. Let alone the grave failure, that the UN admits to, of dealing with the sieges. The Syrian anger towards this topic was portrayed through many responses, actions, banners and campaigns such as United Nothing. All those are purely Syrians but it seems not important enough for Mr. Blumenthal to mention.

We internally shared the statement, which was drafted by Syrian humanitarian organizations, for endorsement. We even objected to the mild language of the statement which some described as nice and friendly. After the internal agreement of the drafting organizations, which apparently it’s not convincing to the writer that the Syrian organizations have a decision-making mechanism, we shared the statement publicly for wider endorsement.

Of course Mr. Max is able to judge and knows better than all of us that we as Syrians have been influenced to shape our opinions! We have been “spurred” to sign!

We are mislead, absent, easily manipulated.

This is how Syrian organisations are portrayed in the article.

On the no-fly zone and regime change. Here comes a more irritating speech. Early 2012, I wrote a “silly’ blog under the title “10 reasons why I am against no-fly zone”.

I wrote all possible and expected reasons in relation to sovereignty, imperialism and so on.

I was “naive” back then to think there were global civilian protection mechanisms that will prevent us from tending to such solution ie; no-fly zone. I used to think that airstrikes will never be part of the regime response against people. I had the luxury to do so as by then we were not bombarded at from the sky yet.

Until today I regret that feeling of luxury.

Yes Max, The Syria Campaign say we need a no-fly zone and it is because it echoes what Syrians call for day and night.

Yes we want the shelling to stop. We want the aerial bombardment to stop. Which is until this moment just a small detail in your article.

Yes the Russian and Assad airstrikes target Syrians, their hospitals and schools.

But this article is not about that small detail that takes the lives of hundreds every day.

This one is about how dare an “advocacy” project for Syrians to convey Syrian messages to the world!!

Yes Max we do want a no-fly zone because two of our education staff were injured last week. Maybe because the manager of our education office in Aleppo has to face a decision whether to close schools and deprive children of their right to education or open schools and risk their safety and lives.

Because once we had to discuss a real decision, and not imagined, on what is the “normal” ij number of airstrikes where we would continue to operate civil and humanitarian activities and when do we cross the “Ok” number.

Because hospitals are underground. Because schools are now underground.

They brought us bunker buster bombs you know. I looked this word up in your article. It doesn’t sound that important.

Bunker buster bomb that destroys schools and hospitals and even shelters.

But what I found in your article that foreigners want a No Fly Zone. How dare they!!!

Dear Max, if you had listened to Syrians. If you just had assumed that we exist and do have opinions, maybe you would have figured out how we reached this point.

How do we live every day based on Whatsapp ringtone bringing the news of the location of each attack and who are the casualties.

Syrians there live on military air forces planes rhythm, wondering are we going to be bombed during the day only? Shall we work at night? Instead. No shall we do early mornings.

The Russians and the regime which you are discomforted with our will to topple are now working full time job. Day and night. We die. The simple logic is that we want to live. They attack us using air force. We want airstrikes to stop. Don’t you think this is logical?

It is not because we are emotional people. All people across the world, I believe, don’t want to be attacked by air force. This is something common, no?

While discussing toppling the Regime it seems that you are missing some points dear Max. Let me make things clear for you. In 2011 we revolted against one of the toughest dictatorships. We called for freedom and for democracy. We as syrians, for sure if you managed to believe me, want democracy, we want the end of arrests, incommunicado arbitrary detention and shooting at peaceful demonstrations. We want the end of chemical attacks and Bunker buster bombs. We dream of change. Changing this regime, the same regime you referred to revolting against as a coup over a democratically elected government and not as a people’s will to restore its rights. Wait maybe you know better than us about our affairs.

Yes sir, The Syria Campaign as an advocacy group in support of us Syrians does say a lot of what we say over and over which no one listens to. Maybe this is considered political to you but I can see you are trying to take things to a level that is very dangerous for us Syrians. Not only as Syrians but you are undermining the activist movements across the world by painting democracy as a political issue. Hence justice, equality, freedom, and impunity become political issues that civil society activist should not get invloved in. This makes dictators happy while we work like doves of peace.

Yes Mr. Max, we syrians suffer daily from patronization over our advocacy as when we say Bashar Al Assad is killing us, our “supporters” rephrase to “ Syrians are being killed, Syrians were attacked, Syrians are starved”. The perpetrators are passive in that discourse.

Another example that comes to mind. We say:

“We want the shelling to stop so we can move on with our struggle for democracy”. Becomes “Syrians want the war to end so they can go back to peace.”

Our asks are trimmed or toned so we don’t disrupt anyone with such an ugly form of patronization. This what has forced us to see the need to define advocacy. Is it teaching Syrians what they should want while they face death everyday? Or conveying Syrian messages and voices to the world?

I will not even bother to comment on the White Helmets accusation. They have enough of the hallelujah of Syrian women every time they reach an airstrike site rushing to save people. In addition to cheers from children that they have saved and those are even more honoring than Nobel peace prizes even if I really hope they get it. We are just happy and proud as the White Helmets are from us.

Ah wait who are we? We are invisible in your article at the end. So no worries.

The Green Party and Syria

Filed under: Green Party,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:38 pm


Over the past five years, I have written 204 articles about Syria in the hopes that I might convince the left to support the Syrian rebels. The Syrian revolution is our generation’s version of the Spanish Civil War. Unlike the 1930s, however, much of the left today is backing the Syrian equivalent of General Francisco Franco’s fascist military in Spain.

Given my commitment to the struggle against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, many of my friends and colleagues wonder why I am supporting the Green Party candidacy of Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka, whose positions on Syria are exactly those I have been writing against for the past five years. The time has come to explain this paradox, but, before doing so, it would be useful to examine closely what Stein and Baraka have said on the Syria issue, if for no other reason than to confront the actual record.

The Left’s Syria Problem

To understand support for Assad on the left, it helps to think diagrammatically, in terms of concentric circles. The innermost circle belongs to people like Professor Tim Anderson, an Australian who is one of Assad’s most hard-core, Western leftist supporters. In circles closer to the middle, you have people like Baraka, Patrick Cockburn, Seymour Hersh, and others who would likely admit that Assad is a neoliberal who has collaborated with the CIA in torturing abductees (the facts are undeniable), but see him as a lesser evil to the “jihadists.” Close to the outer edges, you have someone like Stein, who likely never gave much thought to Syrian realities, but has relied on what she has read from those closer to the middle circles, in places like CounterPunch, Salon, The Nation, the London Review of Books, and ZNet. (If these references to concentric circles reminds you of Dante’s Inferno, I cannot blame you.)

While ignorance is no defense in a court of law, Stein is neither better nor worse than the vast majority of the left, which has made up its mind that the U.S. government is actively seeking regime change in Syria. Like most on the left, Stein sees Syria’s problems largely as an outcome of American intervention on the side of “extremist” groups funded by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Steeped in this belief, Stein issued a foolish statement on November 2, 2015, opposing American ground troops in Syria and accusing President Barack Obama of trying to engineer “regime change” in the country. In her statement, she urged the U.S. government to work with Syria, Russia, and Iran “to restore all of Syria to control by the government rather than Jihadi rebels.”

Unfortunately, Stein seems not to know that the Syrian uprising was sparked by suffering created by the Assad government. Even if Islamist groups have tried to hijack the uprising since then, the genie cannot be stuffed back into the bottle.

Unlike Stein, who superficially parrots the left’s prevailing “anti-intervention” viewpoint, Baraka’s Baathist sympathies are far more pronounced. Indeed, if he were the one running for president, I would not support his candidacy.

read full article

October 3, 2016

Max Blumenthal follows Ben Norton down the bloody primrose path

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

Max Blumenthal

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



September 24, 2016


Filed under: mechanical anti-imperialism,Syria,war — louisproyect @ 1:17 pm



However just as the war crime of the allied firebombing of Dresden in 1945 did not invalidate the war against European fascism then, neither does the atrocity of Syrian barrel bombs invalidate the war against its Middle East equivalent today. When the survival of a country and its culture and history is at stake, war can never be anything else but ugly, which is why the sooner it is brought to a conclusion in Syria the better.

John Wight

Syria’s war escalated abruptly on Friday as government forces and their Russian allies launched ferocious aerial assaults on opposition-held areas of Aleppo amid threats of a big ground offensive, while efforts at the United Nations to revive a cease-fire appeared to collapse.

Repeated airstrikes that obliterated buildings and engulfed neighborhoods in flames killed about 100 people in Aleppo, the divided northern Syrian city that has epitomized the horrors of the war, turning the brief cease-fire of last week and hopes for humanitarian relief into faint memories. The bombings knocked out running water to an estimated two million people, the United Nations said.

“It is the worst day that we’ve had for a very long time,” said James Le Mesurier, the head of Mayday Rescue, which trains Syrian rescue workers. “They are calling it Dresden-esque.”

NY Times, ‘Doomsday Today in Aleppo’: Assad and Russian Forces Bombard City, September 24, 2016

September 19, 2016

Requiem for Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 11:17 pm

This is absolutely brilliant agitprop. Watch the film and then make a contribution to these comrades for their peerless contribution to Syrian solidarity.

September 6, 2016

The counter-offensive against Ashley Smith

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:13 pm

Ashley Smith

Like vampires drawing the shades, the Baathist amen corner is doing the best it can to discredit Ashley Smith’s illuminating article on Syria that appeared in the August 26th CounterPunch. The first salvo was from Off-Guardian, the website that has the chutzpah to “correct” the liberal British newspaper by serving up unhealthy dollops of RT.com. One imagines that they are okay with 21 journalists being killed since Putin took power in 2000 because as everybody knows they were trying to subvert the public order and we can’t have that.

Next up was Vanessa Beeley who is infamous for her attacks on the White Helmets that she regards as the advance guard of a NATO “regime change” operation in Syria. Like most of these nitwits, she would probably be warning about an invasion until every last Syrian opponent of Assad, either armed or unarmed, had been exterminated. Her article not only trashes Smith but Terry Burke and Andy Berman who have also written articles calling attention to the obvious, namely that certain “leftists” have the same relationship to Assad that an earlier generation had to Joseph Stalin. That earlier generation could at least be excused for believing rather irrationally that it was defending socialism. But the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party of Bashar al-Assad? That’s like being taken in by the National Socialist German Workers Party of Adolph Hitler. There’s more to socialism than a word, after all.

Beeley’s article appeared on the 21st Century Wire, an outlet that describes itself as being inspired by Zero Hedge. That makes perfect sense, of course, since one of Zero Hedge’s three contributors quit recently, complaining “I can’t be a 24-hour cheerleader for Hezbollah, Moscow, Tehran, Beijing, and Trump anymore. It’s wrong. Period. I know it gets you views now, but it will kill your brand over the long run. This isn’t a revolution. It’s a joke.”

I hadn’t planned on responding to the counter-offensive but Rick Sterling’s article in today’s CounterPunch was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It is really unbelievable. This guy has written 18 articles defending Assad compared to the one by Ashley Smith and he is squealing like a stuck pig. It is even more grotesque when you consider that the ratio overall on CounterPunch is probably a hundred to one favoring Assad, with people like Sterling, Mike Whitney, Pepe Escobar, Andre Vltchek, John Wight, et al, repeating the same talking points.

Imagine if the ratio was reversed. Jeff St. Clair trips out on some bad LSD and is visited by three Syrian ghosts. Afterwards in Ebenezer Scrooge fashion he begins publishing Sam Charles Hamad, Idrees Ahmad and Michael Karadjis instead of the Baathist amen corner. One day deciding that some balance was necessary, he publishes a Rick Sterling article. Does anybody in their right mind think that any of us would raise the kind of stink that he, Beeley and Off-Guardian raise? Their defensiveness is just a reflection of their ideological insecurity. I wouldn’t want to find myself in the position of defending a snake like Assad but they seem to thrive on it. Some conspiracy-minded people might think they are getting paid to write such crap but I think the best explanation is political confusion rooted in the Stalinist tradition. In their case, the disease is terminal.

Sterling’s article begins with the one and only correction that might have been made to Smith’s, his reference to Assad’s “massacre of some 400,000 Syrians”. In fact that is the total number killed on either side, whether combatant or non-combatant. In my view, it would be very difficult to ascertain the exact number of casualties given the chaotic situation but nonetheless one thing can be stated with certainty. The responsibility for this horrible blood-letting rests on Assad’s shoulders. When his snipers fired on peaceful protests in 2011, the opposition was left with no alternative except to defend itself. This point is obviously moot in Sterling’s eyes since Assad could do no wrong. Tell that to the parents of the 13-year old protestor Hamza al-Khateeb who was picked up by Assad’s cops in Darayya in May 2011 and whose dead body was left on his parents’ doorstep with bullet wounds in both arms, burns across his body, a broken neck, and his genitals cut off.

As expected, Sterling blames the rebels for the Ghouta sarin gas attack citing Robert Parry and Seymour Hersh as experts. Since both Parry and Hersh are diehard supporters of the Syrian government, it is a bit hard to take this seriously. Instead of going into tedious detail refuting the absurdity of their reporting, let’s just consider this. Taking them at their word, the Syrian rebels had the capability of launching rockets at long distances that carried poison gas capable of killing thousands of people in 2013 but only used them in a “false flag” operation to spur regime change.

These are the same rebels vilified by Sterling as capable of unspeakable evil because of their “Salafist” beliefs. And since 2013 they haven’t fired any missiles at government-held territory? We are told by Sterling and company that the rebels cut off the head of a 12-year old Palestinian boy just for fun and now they won’t use sarin-laden rockets to devastating effect? Something doesn’t add up here and it certainly isn’t the articles of Sterling, Parry, Hersh and company.

Next he admits that Assad took part in the CIA extraordinary rendition program but seems to excuse it because Maher Arar, one of its victims, received an official apology and $10 million from the Canadian government that was part of the abduction. The real question, of course, is why an “anti-imperialist” government would ever work with the CIA—something that is beyond Sterling’s pay grade to explain.

From there it is on to Sterling’s clumsy attempt to depict the so-called Caesar photos documenting 11,000 of Assad’s torture victims as bogus. I already dealt with this matter on March 2016. Sterling tries to discredit the Syrian who smuggled out the photos by pointing out that the chairman of the investigating committee was a Syracuse professor and everybody knows that at this college “the CIA actively recruits new officers despite student resistance.” So in the previous paragraph Sterling has nothing to say about Assad collaborating with the CIA to torture abductees while in the next one he introduces a red herring about Syracuse University that has nothing to do with the photographs of mutilated Syrians who were abducted into the same torture chambers as Maher Arar. Unbelievable.

Moving right along, Sterling makes the case that Assad is actually quite popular, referring to a Jonathan Steele article that commented on a 2012 poll, which indicated that 55 percent of Syrians wanted him to remain in power. Actually Steele’s article was not very accurate. In fact, the number was based on 98 people who lived in Damascus and who responded to an online survey. Since at the time only 18 percent of Syrians had Internet access, it is hard to take such figures seriously. The polling company admitted that the poll was not intended to be representative of all Syrians. Pollsters, including them, believe that any survey based on less than a thousand people cannot be expected to produce accurate results. Then again, people like Sterling are not very interested in accuracy so naturally he would swear by its findings.

Further proof of Assad’s popularity was supposedly his victory in the 2014 elections when he racked up 88.7 percent of the vote. Well, he ran virtually unopposed but why would that matter if you were staging a demonstration election? Even Robert Fisk was not taken in by this charade, informing Independent readers:

Twenty-four candidates originally presented themselves for the presidency but they were whinnied down to the lonely three for the elections, including – deus ex machina – Bashar himself. So will historians interpret all this as a political punch by the president to match the military victories which his armies – including rather a lot of Hezbollah fighters and Iranian Revolutionary Guards – have clocked up?

In terms of “socialist” Syria, Sterling sounds like he has visited one Potemkin Village too many: “Syria was largely self-sufficient with a semi-socialist state apparatus including free health-care, free education and large industries 51% owned by the state.” When Bashar al-Assad’s father was running the show, some of this might have sounded plausible even if you take into account that state ownership is not the same thing as socialism.

But when the son took over the family dynasty, new policies in line with IMF wisdom were instituted. Foreign investment was encouraged and neoliberalism became the order of the day. Unemployment reached 20 percent and subsidies were cut off to those most in need—the rural poor.

Those that had connections to the family dynasty did extraordinarily well. Rami Makhlouf, Assad’s cousin, controls foreign investment completely. He also owns Syriatel, the largest telecommunications company in the country. The Financial Times estimates that he controls 60% of the Syrian economy, with a focus on telecommunications, oil and gas, construction, banking, airlines and retail. The Makhloufs have come up in the investigations around the Panama Papers. If your idea of socialism is a mafia state with the wealthiest man hiding his assets in tax havens, you obviously haven’t been reading Karl Marx. In fact I doubt that Sterling has ever read Marx or Engels by the way he refers to Syria as “semi-socialist”. Countries are never “semi-socialist”. They are capitalist with welfare state provisions but Syria dispensed with them early on in Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Reese Erlich, a journalist whose latest book is regarded by some supporters of the Syrian revolution as a backhanded defense of the Baathist dictatorship, sized up the Syrian economy in October 28, 2011 as one hardly corresponding to Sterling’s Hallmark Card version of “semi-socialism”:

Syria’s big business elite is closely intertwined with the ruling Baath Party through financial and family ties. Disloyalty to the government can mean not only loss of lucrative government contracts, but political isolation and even jail.

Conflicting attitudes towards the Assad government date back to economic changes that began in 2004, when Syria shifted from a centrally managed economy to a more privatized one. The business elite benefited as the government allowed creation of private banks, insurance companies, and an airline.

The growth of large corporations in turn spurred creation of small-and medium-sized companies such as the marketing firm owned by Rana Issa. Government policies created economic growth and loyalty among business leaders.

But the new liberalization policy also amplified Syria’s system of crony capitalism, leading to charges of widespread corruption.

Demonstrators have singled out Rami Makhlouf, for example, a cousin of President Assad and owner of the country’s largest cell phone company. Critics say he’s made tens of millions of dollars due to family connections.

Bouthaina Shaaban, a top adviser to the president, admits that corruption remains a serious problem in Syria. “Rami Makhlouf isn’t the only one who made money in the past period,” she says in an interview at the presidential palace. “There are many people, big capitalists, who made a lot of money.”

That’s the reality of Syria today: barrel bombs and people making a lot of money. That a section of the left ended up serving as its hired guns is something that history will judge harshly.


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