Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 15, 2017

When Syria used water as a weapon against Iraq

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:36 pm

(The Baathist Amen Corner is distinguished by its faith in the anti-imperialist credentials of the family dynasty in Damascus, most recently reflected in its blind acceptance of Bashar al-Assad’s accusation that the rebels in Wadi Barada sabotaged the water station supplying Damascus. This excerpt from Musseref Yetim’s “Negotiating  International Water Rights: Resource Conflict in Turkey, Syria and Iraq should convince you that bastards like Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar should not be taken at their word.)

By April 1975, Iraqi-Syrian relations seriously deteriorated over the use of the waters of the Euphrates, yet the conflict had been brewing for some time because of concerns deeply rooted in the strategic, ideological, and political realms. Seale analyzed the situation as follows:

If Damascus and Baghdad had not been so much at odds, they might perhaps have been able to resolve their longstanding dispute over the division of the Euphrates waters (…) Dam-building and irrigation projects in all three countries from the 1960s onwards caused a row to break out over the volume of water each was entitled to […) The squabble over water rights grew into a vast bone of contention, not to be assuaged by mediation attempts, most notably Saudi efforts. From 1975 onwards the two countries began abusing each other over the airways — `fascist right-wing criminal’ was standard invective — arresting each other’s sympathizers, moving troops threateningly to the border, setting off explosions in each other’s capitals.39

The bitter rivalry between the two opposing Ba’ath Parties deepened the tension and distrust between Iraq and Syria.40 Both governments sought to undermine each other and were rightly suspicious of each other’s subversive activities and feared the other one was plotting to bring their downfall. The exclusive nature of domestic political institutions created opportunities to exploit internal tensions arising from ethnic and sectarian divisions. The conflict between the Ba’thist rulers of Syria and Iraq was the main culprit for the failure of negotiations.

The tension between the watercourse states, Syria and Iraq, had been on the rise following the nationalization of the Iraqi Petroleum Company (IPC). The Syrian demand for the increase in royalties in early 1973 and the subsequent closure of the oil pipeline that carried Iraqi oil to the Mediterranean Sea crossing Syrian soil did not help either.41 Furthermore, Iraq signed an agreement with Turkey for the construction of an oil pipeline to transport Iraqi oil throughout Turkish lands to the Mediterranean Sea on 26 August 1973. Not only did Syria lose a substantial amount of oil revenues and alienated Iraq, it also gave Turkey an opportunity to develop its relations with Iraq and to gain a new source of revenue. Disturbed by the Iraqi oil policy, Syria accused Iraq of not following Ba’thist ideology, not keeping its promises about expanding the capacity of the Syrian-Iraqi oil pipeline, and of favoring Turkey — a non-Arab state. Iraq’s good relations with Turkey concerning the Euphrates waters were also source of a concern for Syria. Indeed, Iraq did not express any displeasure throughout the crises towards Turkey and did not include Turkey in its protests of Syria during the 1975 crisis.

Another important source of tension between the two Ba’thist states was Israel. Since 1948, Israel has been a contentious issue among the Arab states. In 1975, Iraq firmly opposed to a partial Middle East agreement and was accusing Syria of being in the process of accepting such a peace agreement with Israel. The last straw in Iraqi accusations took place in May 1975, when Iraq proposed the creation of the ‘Northern Military Front’ against Israel. Iraq’s policy at that time was likely designed to deepen the Ba’th party rule in Iraq and to steer the members of the Iraqi Ba’th Party away from any involvement with Syria.42 Syria responded by charging Iraq with surrendering Arab land to Iran, the betrayal of the Arab people, and deriding Iraqi aid during the October war.43 Furthermore, Syria retaliated by using its newly gained strategic advantage: manipulation of the water flow entering Iraq. Indeed, Syria reduced the water flow entering Iraq first in the spring 1974 and then in 1975, as we have seen. This led to the destruction of 70 percent of Iraq’s winter crops44 and also formed the basis to Iraqi claims of deliberately holding more water in the lake of the Tabqa dam.45 Iraq also charged the Syrian Ba’th party with betrayal of the Ba’th party ideals. The short and long-term repercussions of Syria’s vast usage of the Euphrates water, including the reclamation of 640,000 ha of land,46 the evaporation of the water from the reservoir of the Tabqa dam, and the quality of water that flowed into Iraq, provided Iraq with good justification for its protests. Overall approximately 3 million Iraqi farmers of Shi’i origin suffered economically.47 In some sources, the spread of the Shi’i underground movement, Al-Dawa, has been attributed to this water shortage.48 This highlights a crucial dimension of the water rights conflict: minorities inhabiting the Euphrates and Tigris watercourse. Here one should also note that the majority of the Iraqi army was at the time of Shi’i origin.49

Every development concerning the Euphrates and Tigris water has important repercussions in domestic politics, especially in Iraq and Turkey. Following the Algiers Agreement in March 1975 between Iran and Iraq that helped Iraq to crack down on the Kurdish insurgence in northern Iraq, Syria attempted to instigate Shi’i unrest in order to weaken the Iraqi government’s hold on power by reducing the Euphrates flow. For a number of reasons, Syria interpreted the Algiers agreement as a harmful development. First, Syria’s position in the Arab world as an ardent antagonist of Israel might be undermined, because having settled its protracted dispute with Iran and established stability in northern Iraq, Iraq now had resources at its disposal use against Israel. Iraq had already accused Syria of selling out to Israel and wrongly opposed Syrian disengagement negotiations with Israel. Secondly, .q could undermine the Alawite dominated Ba’th rule by playing on the suspicions of the Sunni Arabs in Syria concerning the indifference of the Alawite regime to the struggle with Israel. At this point, Iraqi allegations ‘re not groundless and appealed to Syrian Sunnis, who were already suspicious of Assad’s regime, developing conspiracy theories about Assad d the collusion between his regime and the Zionists. Iraq and Sunni Arabs Syria justified their claims by arguing that during the 1967 war Israel occupied the Golan Heights without a fight while Assad was the defense mister; furthermore, in 1970 Assad betrayed Palestine by refusing to allow the deployment of the air force in a Syrian expedition to assist the PLO against Jordan; the Assad regime also sabotaged the Iraqi attack against Israel in 1973.

 

January 4, 2017

RT.com report on the rebel sabotage of the Wadi Barada springs

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:17 pm

RT.com has just identified the jihadist who blew up the pumping station in Wadi Barada. He is the infamous leader of the al-Malarki militia that has been funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and East Waziristan. He goes by the name Yossan Miti al-Sami and has reputedly killed and eaten the hearts of 2,386 Syrian soldiers.

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January 3, 2017

Did Syrian rebels sabotage the water supplies of Damascus?

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 9:53 pm

Over the past six years, I have noticed time and time again that a seemingly organized campaign has been mounted to accuse rebels of the kind of atrocity that the regime carries out routinely, with the “false flag” accusation that they used Sarin gas on their own supporters in East Ghouta the most notorious case.

In the latest instance, the Assadists are pushing the line that the rebels in Wadi Barada, a rural suburb northwest of Damascus, have either blown up the water pumps that supply the city with water or contaminated it with diesel fuel to make it undrinkable. Whether it is the clearly deranged Moon of Alabama or “professional” journalists like Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal, they automatically take the side of a dictatorship that has used water as a weapon against rebel-held villages and cities from the very beginning of the war.

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Ben Norton, whose tweet referred his followers to a Reuters article, probably didn’t bother to read the whole thing and was content to use the heading to condemn the rebels. If he wasn’t so lazy and so biased, he might have discovered that the very article undermined his claim: “The rebels in Wadi Barada have allowed government water authority engineers to maintain and operate the pumping station and supply Damascus since they took control of the area in 2012.”

There is also the possibility that indiscriminate barrel bombing might have damaged the water pumping station especially since the Syrian air force has never been noted for careful targeting. When you drop a 50-gallon steel drum filled with dynamite, nails, scrap iron, ball bearings and the like from a thousand feet above ground, accidents will happen. Of course, since the goal is only to kill or maim men, women and children who have the gumption to oppose a mafia state, who can blame Assad when a few of the barrel bombs go astray? Nobody’s perfect.

This frame grab from video provided By the Wadi Barada, a Syrian opposition media outlet that is consistent with independent AP reporting, shows the damaged Ain el-Fijeh water processing facility which supply the capital, northwest of Damascus, Syria. Water supplies to Damascus have been largely cut off for nearly two weeks because of fighting between pro-government forces and rebels for control of the main tributary, forcing millions in the Syrian capital to scramble for enough to drink and wash with. The cut-off is a major challenge to the government’s effort throughout the nearly 6-year-old civil war to keep the capital as insulated as possible from the effects of the conflict tearing apart much of the country. (Wadi Barada, via AP)

This frame grab from video provided By the Wadi Barada, a Syrian opposition media outlet that is consistent with independent AP reporting, shows the damaged Ain el-Fijeh water processing facility which supply the capital, northwest of Damascus, Syria. Water supplies to Damascus have been largely cut off for nearly two weeks because of fighting between pro-government forces and rebels for control of the main tributary, forcing millions in the Syrian capital to scramble for enough to drink and wash with. The cut-off is a major challenge to the government’s effort throughout the nearly 6-year-old civil war to keep the capital as insulated as possible from the effects of the conflict tearing apart much of the country. (Wadi Barada, via AP)

For a useful report on Wadi Barada written by a genuine journalist rather than a third-rate propagandist like Norton or Blumenthal, I recommend Alisa Reznick’s “Weaponizing War” in the Boston Review. She makes it abundantly clear why the rebels would be loath to cut off water to Damascus:

Each time rebels have shut off the water supply, they have restored it within a few days, according to Baradawi. He says this is partly because the spring also supplies the Wadi Barada villages along the road to Damascus and opposition-aligned neighborhoods inside the capital. Moreover, the rebels receive a major blow when government forces inevitably retaliate.

“For two days [after the shutoff] the regime was hitting Ain al-Fijah with heavy shelling, dropping barrel bombs and mortars and sending snipers into the mountains,” he said. “Entire buildings were hit with families living in them. It was really barbaric, and it turned the people against the FSA.”

Even after the water flowed again in Damascus, the regime continued to punish Ain al-Fijah. In August, Assad’s forces ordered a blockade, causing garbage services, electricity, and traffic from the capital to cease. Baradawi said only 150 or so students and government workers with business in Damascus were allowed to exit or enter the area; they were prohibited from carrying food and fuel back inside.

“People have started eating leaves,” Baradawi said when we spoke in November. “All the people want now is to find a student going to Damascus who can buy one potato. A kilo of sugar is a dream.”

The blockade also prevents chlorination of the water pumped back to Wadi Barada from the station on Mount Qasioun, sparking a host of sanitation concerns. Cholera and Hepatitis A are currently on the rise as families use untreated water to drink and cook food. Local doctors have documented some three hundred cases of stomach illnesses since the blockade began.

“We can say the regime 100 percent won this one,” Baradawi tells me in resigned tones. The blockade has been so effective that, he believes, residents no longer see the spring as a useful bargaining chip.

There’s another dimension to this story that would likely be of zero interest to either Norton or Blumenthal who are content to see Syria as merely a pawn in the geopolitical chess game. If the USA is playing white, they would cheer on the black player even if he was a combination of Somoza and Batista. Come to think of it, that pretty much describes Bashar al-Assad.

On December 14th, I wrote an article on the economic roots of the Syrian revolution that called attention to the ruling class’s exploitation of water resources that drove the rural poor to rise up. The Middle East Report (MERIP), another worthwhile magazine that would never bother to consider Norton or Blumenthal’s articles publishable and probably not even worth lining a birdcage with, documents how the people of Wadi Barada became part of this movement. According to author Mohammad Raba‘a, a Syrian researcher and journalist, the rural region northwest of Damascus was the typical victim of the mafia/bourgeois state:

But the disaffection with the regime in Wadi Barada is of long standing and rooted in exploitation of the area’s water and land to shore up the regime’s support in Damascus and among privileged strata of Syrian society. Much of the groundwater in the formerly productive farming valley was pumped out to supply the capital city. In the 1970s and 1980s, the regime expropriated vast tracts of land in Wadi Barada, including mountain ridges, “for the public good.” These lands were designated for public buildings such as schools, hospitals or military facilities, but in practice most plots were sold (or given) to high-level officials and businessmen who built private homes.

Over the last year, even as Wadi Barada and environs become war zones, the regime is applying a new version of this old strategy with a series of large-scale tourism developments in the area. In June 2014, for example, the state-run Tishrin newspaper announced that the Ministry of Tourism has licensed a new complex including a four-star hotel and a swimming pool. The complex will cost 3.5 billion Syrian pounds (over $185 million) and cover an area of 10,808 square meters. Tishrin did not mention the names of the investors, the means by which the lands would be obtained or the timeline for the construction. The drive for real estate takes advantage of the growing poverty among the population to acquire valuable land at a fraction of the pre-conflict price.

If Norton and Blumenthal had not become such shallow propagandists, this is the kind of story that they could have written. Both of them could discriminate between good and evil and truth and falsehood once upon a time. Too bad they lost that ability in pursuit of a journalism career inspired apparently by Judith Miller.

January 2, 2017

MRZine: goodbye and good riddance

Filed under: Iran,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:41 pm

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After a decade of pumping out propaganda for the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Baathist dictatorship in Syria, MRZine is no more. In a farewell note, editor Yoshie Furuhashi, who never wrote more than 2 or 3 articles for the online publication and none at all for its parent print magazine Monthly Review, stated that she is being reassigned to do translation for the institution founded by Paul Sweezy 67 years ago as a voice of the independent left.

Furuhashi’s hiring was a perverse act and likely the decision of MR board member John Mage, who like Furuhashi has a scanty publication record. Around the time that she was being considered for this post, she had been at war with subscribers to Marxmail, the mailing list I created in 1998, LBO-Talk, Doug Henwood’s listserv created the same day as mine, and PEN-L, a mailing list geared to economics professors in the spirit of URPE. For Furuhashi, these 3 mailing lists, which were among the most prominent in Marxist cyberspace, only served as a receptacle for her pro-Ahmadinejad messages that came across as leaflets being dropped from an airplane.

Her devotion to the Islamic Republic was the culmination of a several years long disaffection from the American left, including a brief membership in Solidarity. Like many young radicals, the realization that socialist revolution was not around the corner came as a bitter disappointment. Instead of taking the “longer view” of history as articulated by Monthly Review editor Paul Baran, Furuhashi was attracted to the Ahmadinejad presidency like a moth to a flame. Why fritter away your time in a small and isolated socialist group in the USA when you can become a minister without portfolio for a government that she considered even “more socialist” than Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela?

Not everybody at Monthly Review was happy with MRZine turning into something that prefigured the turn toward RT.com on the left. Seven years ago, Barbara Epstein resigned from the MR board because she found the pro-Ahmadinejad material on MRZine unacceptable. Three years earlier 17 Iranians living outside of the country wrote an open letter to Monthly Review with the same complaints. Despite Epstein’s resignation and the open letter, John Mage rejected the idea that MRZine was pro-Ahmadinejad. Of course, as is the case with all such matters, the people who owned Monthly Review were not under any obligation to meet anybody’s expectations. Who knows if Mage or John Bellamy Foster would still regard MRZine as having a diversity of views on Iran and Syria today? If you did a mathematical analysis of the tweets that appeared on its home page, you will find that there about 100 pro-Assad tweets to every one against the dictator. But like I say, freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.

I had the foolish idea ten years ago that MRZine might have functioned in the same spirit as the Guardian (the now defunct American leftist weekly newspaper) and Monthly Review that were both launched around the same time as part of an attempt by the left to reach out beyond the CPUSA’s orbit. Like Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman’s American Socialist, the Monthly Review was not a “line” publication but much more of a forum for the Marxist left to discuss and even debate its differences.

In a NY Times obituary for Paul Sweezy in 2004, John Bellamy Foster is quoted about the original vision of its founder:

“The Monthly Review was attractive to people who were leaving the Communist Party and other sectarian groups,” said John Bellamy Foster, a co-editor of the publication now. “It was and is Marxist, but did not hew to the party line or get into sectarian struggles.”

That might be true to some extent about the magazine but clearly not of MRZine. There certainly was a party line and it certainly did involve itself in sectarian struggles. Everybody understood that Yoshie Furuhashi was the last person in the world to be hired as an editor if the intention was to stay above the fray. Her history was that of a one-person sect that had a program of defending the “axis of resistance” to the point of self-parody. In March of 2011, when Assad’s cops had castrated a 13-year old boy who had been caught protesting the dictatorship and left the dead body on his parents’ doorstep, Furuhashi wrote one of the few articles under her name for MRZine that showed her true colors:

Millions of Syrians rallied all over Syria, pledging loyalty to the country, in support of Bashar al-Assad, on 29 March 2011.  The dialectic of the regime and the opposition in Syria, it is safe to say, is neither like Tunisia and Egypt, nor like Iraq and Libya.

Moreover, the president of Syria has a weapon in the obligatory media war accompanying any protest in a geopolitical hotspot these days, which neither any other Arab regime nor the Islamic Republic of Iran can claim: his undeniably charming wife Asma.  Perhaps not altogether inconsequential in the age of celebrities.

This was the Furuhashi that had antagonized hundreds if not thousands of subscribers on listserv’s such as Marxmail, LBO-Talk and PEN-L. Her article was pro-regime propaganda and blatantly so, the sort of thing that people like Rick Sterling, Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett have become infamous for. After six years of genocidal=like war, there are more and more articles now that assess the role of this sector of the left. Among them is one written by Santiago Alba Rico, a Spanish-born philosopher and writer based in Tunisia. Titled “Aleppo, the tomb of the left”, it is unsparing in its judgement of the Yoshie Furuhashi’s of the world.

In short, a large part of the Arab, European and Latin American left has sacrificed internationalism to a geostrategic order in which the peoples and their democratic struggles no longer have any friends and in which this left, irrelevant and in retreat now throughout the world, has let the regimes against which the “Arabs” rose up in 2011 advance without resistance. We have understood nothing, we have done nothing to help, we have handed over to the enemy all our weapons, including conscience. After Syria democracy is retreating everywhere. Aleppo is indeed the tomb of the Syrians’ dreams of freedom, but it is also the tomb of the global left. Just when we need it most.

 

December 29, 2016

A conversation with Anthony DiMaggio about Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:59 pm

Anthony DiMaggio

Anthony DiMaggio, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University and long-time contributor to Counterpunch on American politics, wrote an article about Syria on December 28th that is distinguished by its attempt at evenhandedness. Titled “The Pathologies of War: Dual Propaganda Campaigns in Reporting on Syria”, it adopts a “plague on both your houses” stance toward RT.com et al on one side and the American bourgeois media on the other. What is missing unfortunately is any engagement with the reports from those who have taken up the cause of the Syrian rebels such as Robin Yassin-Kassab, Idrees Ahmed, Gilbert Achcar and Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, a Syrian communist who spent 16 years in prison for writing articles critical of the system in the same manner that DiMaggio does on Counterpunch.

I recommend reading the article since it is noteworthy for taking exception to the dominant narrative at Counterpunch put forward by Mike Whitney, Pepe Escobar, Andre Vltchek, Rick Sterling et al. It is not as if Counterpunch is censoring writers critical of Assad; it is more that there are so few of us who have decided that the cause of the Syrian rebels is worth taking up. DiMaggio writes, for example:

Despite the documentation of war crimes and human rights atrocities, pro-Russian, state funded media outlet Russia Today denies responsibility for the attacks. Pro-Russian citizens of the west who indulge in Russian and Syrian government propaganda are given free rein on the network to exonerate these countries from moral condemnation or blame (Wahl, 3/21/14; Bartlett, 12/17/16). Numerous Americans I’ve spoken with on “the left” accept this propaganda, and are willing to accept any claim from countries opposing U.S. military power, no matter how outlandish.  No evidence, no matter how thoroughly documented, is strong enough for them to take seriously if it threatens to harm the image of Putin and the Assadists.

This, needless to say, is a statement that would have been more difficult to put forward a couple of years ago. I suspect that “quantity has become quality”, to put it in crude Marxist terms. There is nothing like a year’s worth of Russian bombing on everything that moves in East Aleppo to focus one’s attention if not break down sobbing.

After raising some concerns with DiMaggio privately about the value of Patrick Cockburn’s reporting, he asked me to provide some detail that would help penetrate the propaganda haze surrounding Syria. In focusing on the part of his article that deals with the alleged problem of pro-rebel propaganda, I will try to differentiate my own Marxist perspective from that of John McCain, Nicholas Kristof, Hillary Clinton or any other bourgeois politician that many on the left amalgamate with my views. I should add that those views are different from many of those who support the rebels, starting with being opposed to no-fly zones and supporting Jill Stein for president in 2016 even though her ideas are obviously in sync with Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Stephen Kinzer, et al.

Turning now to the section of DiMaggio’s article that seeks to debunk the mainstream media’s portrayal of the USA as a disinterested party in the Middle East only concerned with peace and fair play, there a familiar approach that pivots on the use of Wikileaks and a selective reading of the bourgeois press to show that Obama’s real intentions were anything but. He writes that the USA was responsible for helping to destabilize Syria by supplying weapons to the rebels early on despite pretending that it sought “to protect regional order and stability in the Middle East.”

He cites the WSJ:

U.S. officials said the Obama administration is pursuing what amounts to a dual-track strategy, which aims to maintain military pressure on Assad and his Russian and Iranian supporters while U.S. diplomats see if they can ease him from power through negotiations. U.S. officials said the pressure track was meant to complement the diplomatic track by giving the U.S. leverage at the negotiating table.

Despite DiMaggio’s take on the WSJ article as revealing some deep, dark secret, the sad fact is that applying military pressure on Assad in order to ease him from power through negotiations was exactly the strategy Washington hoped would protect “regional order and stability in the Middle East”. Basically, the American ruling class sought the same kind of solution that it sought for Yemen and Egypt when unpopular dictators were eased out of power in order to keep the system intact. As Count Tancredi says in Lampedusa’s “The Leopard”, “For things to remain the same, things will have to change.”

Washington was never opposed to Baathist rule, only to the sort of excesses that had driven the country’s desperate peasantry to rise up. In the spring of 2011, when peaceful protests began taking place in Homs, Daraa, the suburbs of Damascus, Aleppo and elsewhere, Washington hoped that Assad would be forced to resign by members of his inner circle who thought like Tancredi. Instead, he directed his cops and soldiers to begin firing on protests, which led to the formation of militias whose only goal was to protect protestors—not overthrow a government that had a powerful air force and armored divisions. When the USA began arming the rebels in the early period, it was only with an eyedropper. From the very beginning the FSA complained about being inadequately armed. For the full report on the US role in arming the rebels, I recommend Michael Karadjis’s thoroughly researched article on “Yet again on those hoary old allegations that the US has armed the FSA since 2012”.

Karadjis makes the essential point that the USA had to supply light arms such as RPG’s and automatic rifles in order to put itself in the position as a control monitor of arms shipments. Once it had ownership of the pipeline, it could more effectively block the shipment of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that could have ended the war as early as three years ago. He cites an article from the NY Times in 2013 whose title would at first blush indicate that the USA was “destabilizing” Syria: “Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A.” But a careful reading of the article demonstrates that imperialism’s real goal was to put a leash on the opposition:

But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft. Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought.

I would recommend that DiMaggio have a look at the documentary “The Return to Homs” that illustrates what “destabilizing” Syria meant in practice. In 2011 the city’s poor began peacefully protesting Assad only to be shot down in the streets. Young men formed self-defense units that relied on RPG’s and automatic weapons, some obtained from the USA, others from Sunni-dominated states in the region and others on the black market. Once they were capable of preventing slaughter in the streets from Baathist cops and foot soldiers, Assad escalated his attacks on the neighborhoods opposed to his dictatorship. Tank cannons blew holes in tenements killing everybody inside and helicopters began dropping barrel bombs on street markets. In order to stave off such criminal attacks on civilians, the FSA needed anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that they could have received from Libya. And what happened? The CIA organized what amounted to an embargo on heavy weapons and prolonged the misery of Syria’s desperate, poverty-stricken masses.

Next DiMaggio addresses the perennial question of “jihadis” in Syria that has prompted so many to view Assad as a lesser evil even if he has killed far more of his countrymen than any group falling into this category. In fact, Assad militarized the conflict early on since he knew that it would provide an opening for groups with little interest in the democratic aspirations of the protesters in 2011. With support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, such groups could play a role all out of proportion to their actual political support just as ultraright street fighters were able to do in Ukraine during the Euromaidan protests.

DiMaggio quotes one of Clinton’s hacked emails to show how far the USA would go in building up the jihadists: “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 [Middle East] region”.

Well, if someone said this in an email to Hillary Clinton, it does not make it true. The truth is that ISIS gets no support whatsoever from the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia that have funded groups far more willing to take on ISIS than Assad ever did. A cursory glance at the historical record would bear this out in spades, starting with the Daily Star in Lebanon’s January 4, 2014 article “Syria rebels fight back against ISIS”.

But more significantly, ISIS has all the money and arms it ever needed, mostly acquired by driving the oppressive Shi’ite officials, cops and soldiers out of the Sunni regions in Iraq in 2014 that it then replaced with its own medieval rule. I tried to document this in an article that was written in reply to Ben Norton who like Patrick Cockburn relied on the Wikileaks email DiMaggio cites.

My article cites an Amnesty International report that identifies the heavy weaponry ISIS captured from fleeing Shi’ite soldiers in Iraq.

Most armoured fighting vehicles currently in use by IS are Russian-designed or US types captured from Iraqi military stocks. The main battle tanks deployed by IS are the Russian T-54/T-55 and T-62; IS has been able to capture some Chinese Type 69-II tanks and US M1A1M “Abrams” in Iraq. It appears, however, that all captured M1A1M tanks were later destroyed by IS, and there is no evidence of their use in further combat.

Additionally, during the current conflicts in Syria and Iraq, IS has captured hundreds of light ar- moured fighting vehicles of more than a dozen different types that were in service with the Syrian and Iraqi armies. However, the vast majority of light armoured fighting vehicles used by IS fighters comprise only a few models: the Russian BMP-1, MT-LB Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and the US M113A2 Armoured Personnel Carrier, M1117 Armoured Security Vehicle, and up-armoured HM- MWV (Humvee) variants.

Furthermore, ISIS never needed a penny from the Qatari or Saudi governments (which it is a sworn enemy of) or even from wealthy Salafists acting on their own in those kingdoms. When it conquered Sunni cities in Iraq, it emptied the banks of their currency and gold to the tune of a half-billion dollars.

Even if it had not walked off with such a massive stash, it could have kept going on the same basis of any state in the world: through taxation and the sale of oil within territory it controlled. In 2014 the RAND corporation reviewed 200 documents captured from ISIS and concluded that only 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

Finally, there is no engagement in DiMaggio’s article with the all-important question of whether receiving training and arms from the USA and its allies constitutes prima facie evidence of a “destabilizing” presence in the region. If being backed by the USA is a kind of litmus test, I am afraid that we would be forced to condemn Ho Chi Minh for “destabilizing” Asia. While he would eventually find himself locked in a deadly struggle with American imperialism, Ho Chi Minh had no problem connecting with the OSS during WWII as recounted by William Duiker in his 2000 biography “Ho Chi Minh: a Life”:

While Ho Chi Minh was in Paise attempting to revitalize the Dong Minh Hoi, a U.S. military intelligence officer arrived in Kunming to join the OSS unit there. Captain Archimedes “Al” Patti had served in the European Theater until January 1944, when he was transferred to Washington, D.C., and appointed to the Indochina desk at OSS headquarters. A man of considerable swagger and self-confidence, Patti brought to his task a strong sense of history and an abiding distrust of the French and their legacy in colonial areas. It was from the files in Washington, D.C. that he first became aware of the activities of the Vietminh Front and its mysterious leader, Ho Chi Minh.

The next day, Patti arrived at Debao airport, just north of Jingxi, and after consultation with local AGAS representatives, drove into Jingxi, where he met a Vietminh contact at a local restaurant and was driven to see Ho Chi Minh in a small village about six miles out of town. After delicately feeling out his visitor about his identity and political views, Ho described conditions inside Indochina and pointed out that his movement could provide much useful assistance and information to the Allies if it were in possession of modern weapons, ammunition, and means of communication. At the moment, Ho conceded that the movement was dependent upon a limited amount of equipment captured from the enemy. Patti avoided any commitment, but promised to explore the matter. By his own account, Patti was elated.

As Leon Trotsky pointed out in an article written in 1938, you can’t automatically put a minus where the ruling class puts a plus. If that was the case, Lenin never would have gotten on that German train bound for the Finland Station in 1917. Trotsky writes:

In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.

Let us imagine that in the next European war the Belgian proletariat conquers power sooner than the proletariat of France. Undoubtedly Hitler will try to crush the proletarian Belgium. In order to cover up its own flank, the French bourgeois government might find itself compelled to help the Belgian workers’ government with arms. The Belgian Soviets of course reach for these arms with both hands. But actuated by the principle of defeatism, perhaps the French workers ought to block their bourgeoisie from shipping arms to proletarian Belgium? Only direct traitors or out-and-out idiots can reason thus.

Let me conclude with a reference to the very best article on the nature of the Syrian uprising that was never reflected in either RT.com or the NY Times. Very few Western reporters, including Patrick Cockburn, ever took the trouble that my friend Anand Gopal took in 2012 when researching the article titled “Welcome to Free Syria” that appeared in Harpers. Gopal took considerable risk in sneaking across the Syrian border from Turkey in the dark of night to reach the men and women Cockburn has entirely ignored in preference to Damascus hotels and being escorted around by the Baathist military. Gopal writes:

Matar brought me to a mosque that sits next to one of the mass graves. Inside, there were heaps of clothes, boxes of Turkish biscuits, and crates of bottled water. An old bald man with a walrus mustache studied a ledger with intensity while a group of old men around him argued about how much charity they could demand from Taftanaz’s rich to rebuild the town. This was the public-affairs committee, one of the village’s revolutionary councils. The mustached man slammed his hands on the floor and shouted, “This is a revolution of the poor! The rich will have to accept that.” He turned to me and explained, “We’ve gone to every house in town and determined what they need”—he pointed at the ledger—“and compared it with what donations come in. Everything gets recorded and can be seen by the public.”

All around Taftanaz, amid the destruction, rebel councils like this were meeting—twenty-seven in all, and each of them had elected a delegate to sit on the citywide council. They were a sign of a deeper transformation that the revolution had wrought in Syria: Bashar al-Assad once subdued small towns like these with an impressive apparatus of secret police, party hacks, and yes-men; now such control was impossible without an occupation. The Syrian army, however, lacked the numbers to control the hinterlands—it entered, fought, and moved on to the next target. There could be no return to the status quo, it seemed, even if the way forward was unclear.

In the neighboring town of Binnish, I visited the farmers’ council, a body of about a thousand members that set grain prices and adjudicated land disputes. Its leader, an old man I’ll call Abdul Hakim, explained to me that before the revolution, farmers were forced to sell grain to the government at a price that barely covered the cost of production. Following the uprising, the farmers tried to sell directly to the town at almost double the former rates. But locals balked and complained to the citywide council, which then mandated a return to the old prices—which has the farmers disgruntled, but Hakim acknowledged that in this revolution, “we have to give to each as he needs.”

It was a phrase I heard many times, even from landowners and merchants who might otherwise bristle at the revolution’s egalitarian rhetoric—they cannot ignore that many on the front lines come from society’s bottom rungs. At one point in March, the citywide council enforced price controls on rice and heating oil, undoing, locally, the most unpopular economic reforms of the previous decade.

“We have to take from the rich in our village and give to the poor,” Matar told me. He had joined the Taftanaz student committee, the council that plans protests and distributes propaganda, and before April 3 he had helped produce the town’s newspaper, Revolutionary Words. Each week, council members laid out the text and photos on old laptops, sneaked the files into Turkey for printing, and smuggled the finished bundles back into Syria. The newspaper featured everything from frontline reporting to disquisitions on revolutionary morality to histories of the French Revolution. (“This is not an intellectual’s revolution,” Matar said. “This is a popular revolution. We need to give people ideas, theory.”)

It was Gopal’s article that convinced me that the Syrian revolution had to be supported in the same manner that I supported the Vietnamese in 1967 and the Nicaraguans 20 years later. What others on the left decide to do is their own business. I only hope that they at least take the trouble to get all sides of the story before taking up the cause of Bashar al-Assad who was determined to crush the kind of developments Gopal reported on.

December 28, 2016

The Cassiopaea Experiment: the grotesque cult in Assad’s corner

Filed under: cults,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:33 pm

Cult figure Laura Knight-Jadczyk, co-editor of Signs of the Time with Eva Bartlett

When I discovered last week that David Icke was simultaneously a high-profile propagandist for Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal-like war on his own countrymen and an author who writes that a group of shapeshifting reptilian humanoids are conspiring to destroy the planet Earth, my first reaction was stunned disbelief. When I discovered a couple of days ago that a cult with notions just as bizarre as Icke’s was also carrying Assad’s water, it dawned on me that there was a pattern. If you understand the war in Syria as a conspiracy by the West to remove a popular and progressive leader, you would be inclined to see the world in conspiratorial terms generally and be capable of asserting that alien abductions are real.

As I have pointed out in the past, some of the key Assadist outlets such as Global Research are also committed to 9/11 Truthism. But when I ran into the people behind the Sign of the Times website that like David Icke was all too happy to give Eva Bartlett a platform, it finally became clear to me that the Assadist subculture had bred some truly grotesque creatures out of the conspiracist underground that would repel any sensible person on the left. Not only have dozens of her articles appeared on Signs of the Time; she is also listed as an editor.

I was vaguely aware of sott.net since any number of the imbeciles I have debated over the past 5 years have referred to it as a reliable source of information on the war in Syria. Like Global Research, 21st Century Wire, Canary and Mint News, it is primarily an aggregator of news articles sympathetic to Assad, Iran and the Kremlin.

When I noticed a link to it earlier in the week, I decided to check out its provenance—wondering if it was based in Russia like many of these outlets. In small print at the bottom of the home page you find this: “E-mails sent to Sott.net become the property of Quantum Future Group, Inc (QFG) and may be published without notice.”

Okay, putting on my tinfoil investigative reporting cap, I decided to check out the QFG. They describe themselves innocently enough:

During the the [sic] past hundred years or so, every important idea for social change has been incubated in the nonprofit sector. The struggles for civil rights, for women’s rights, for environmental health, for AIDS treatment, for disabled access, for sustainability, for peace, for family support, for jobs and economic development — these are all ideas that were nurtured and launched through nonprofit organizations that have changed the world. The ideas of the founders and members of Quantum Future Group go to the core of these issues, seeking scientific socio-cultural solutions to the most fundamental problems of humanity.

Nothing wrong with that, I guess.

Looking further as I always do in these instances, I checked out the board of directors. These were the three primary players: Arkadiusz Jadczyk, a physicist with a PhD from a Polish university, his wife Laura Knight-Jadczyk, who attended a community college but lacked a degree, and Joe Quinn, who had an MBA and worked in management before becoming a full-time volunteer for the Quantum Future Group.

Again, no warning signs.

It was only when I went to their Reports page that the plot began to thicken. Ms. Knight-Jadczyk was the author of a forthcoming book titled “Josephus, Pilate and Paul: It’s Just a Matter of Time” that struck me as a bit odd. Meanwhile, her husband had a book titled “Political Ponerology” that struck me as even odder since ponerology is a rather obscure term meaning the study of evil. A quick search on Google revealed that the book had been published by Red Pill Press, which is as you might expect a subsidiary of QFG.

When I went to the Red Pill Press website, that’s when the shit began to hit the fan. Among the books on sale there besides “Political Ponerology” was one called “Manufactured Terror” that was co-authored by the aforementioned Joe Quinn and someone named Niall Bradley and that was described as “banned from Amazon.com”. The book purports to be an investigation of “false flag” incidents, including Sandy Hook where a crazed 20-year old gunman named Adam Lanza killed 20 grade school students and 6 adults working at the school. On Joe Quinn’s blog, he argues that “an elite cabal has existed in the USA for several decades and has been involved in assassinations” and that “it is entirely rational to conclude, on the balance of this collective evidence, that Adam Lanza was not yet another ‘lone gunman’”.

So naturally Eva Bartlett, whose journalism consists mostly of denying that any children were killed in East Aleppo and other outrageous claims, would have an affinity with the likes of Joe Quinn.

There’s also a book for sale there written by fellow QFG board member Laura Knight-Jadczyk titled “The Secret History of the World” that has this blurb:

Conspiracies have existed since the time of Cain and Abel. Facts of history have been altered to support the illusion. The question today is whether a sufficient number of people will see through the deceptions, thus creating a counter-force for positive change – the gold of humanity – during the upcoming times of Macro-Cosmic Quantum Shift. Laura argues convincingly, based on the revelations of the deepest of esoteric secrets, that the present is a time of potential transition, an extraordinary opportunity for individual and collective renewal: a quantum shift of awareness and perception which could see the birth of true creativity in the fields of science, art and spirituality.

What the fuck was a Macro-Cosmic Quantum Shift? Succumbing to my insatiable curiosity about lunatics such as David Icke and the QFG people, I googled “Macro-Cosmic Quantum Shift” and discovered a link to the Cassiopaea Experiment, the bizarre cult that gave birth to the Quantum Future Group that gave spawned Signs of the Time. I now felt like Ripley in “Aliens” after discovering the primal egg-producing creature that had to be destroyed.

Primarily a project of community college drop-out Ms. Knight-Jadczyk, it is described as follows:

Many years of research, experience, and constructive curiosity led to Laura’s experiment in Superluminal Communication that eventually, after two years of experimentation and fine tuning, which included contacts with “dead dudes” (alleged discarnate entities) and deceptive sources posing as higher sources of knowledge, resulted in the Cassiopaean Transmissions. All these years the process has gone through refinement and adjusting all “instruments” for higher accuracy and facilitation of better communication. These communications ARE different from most other channeled information.

Between David Icke’s belief that he was a latter day Jesus Christ assigned the task to save the world and her Superluminal (faster than light) Communication with “dead dudes”, clearly we are in the realm described by Leon Trotsky in “What is National Socialism”: “Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms.”

Like David Icke, Ms. Knight-Jadczyk believes in Extraterrestrials but probably more benign than his reptilian interlopers. In an article titled “The Case for the UFO”, she finds thunderstorms a rather convincing demonstration of visitors from another planet:

In our study of storms we have been driven inexorably to admit that some storms have an artificial aspect, a sort of organic appearance, an air of being manufactured for a purpose and to be carrying out that purpose. We therefore postulate some percentage of artificiality, or intelligence, among that small percentage of storms which suddenly appear in otherwise undisturbed skies, proceed with a purposeful manner, as though concealing something, and discharge peculiar materials. They seem too concentrated, perhaps too directive, to be entirely meteorological in their origins.

I believe that space structures of five to twenty miles diameter are sufficiently large to produce such storms, and there may be elements of purposefulness in so doing, if only for camouflage or concealment.

Evidently, some people find the Jadczyk’s much more impressive than I do, so much so that a cult formed around them. Describing herself as an ex-cult member, Colleen Johnson  spilled the goods on the “Malevolent Alien Abduction Research Web Site” of all places. I have no idea whether Johnson believes in alien abductions but her article is mostly about the shady operations of the QFG, the Cassiopaea Experiment and anything else connected to these people.

Former members that wish to remain anonymous, also claim they were scammed out of large sums of money when the Jadczyk’s suddenly uprooted the Perseus Foundation from New Port Richey, Florida and moved it to France leaving many a bewildered cult member feeling emotionally raped by their experience and financially taken advantage of.

The Jadczyk’s raised well over $100,000.00 to $150,000.00 from a bogus raffle to sell their home (AKA the Perseus Foundation) via PayPal then split with the money, leaving an unverified winner unknown to members but close to Laura. According to 2003 documents the home is still up for sale and a former devoted member lives there as caretaker showing the property. Laura is in legal trouble with fraud and embezzlement if she returns to the USA. Many  ex-members would sue her if they could get her back here.

You can get more of the lurid details from “starspray21” on his or her Newsvine website.

The Background – In 1994 a down and out new age spiritualist named Fred Irland along with a very disturbed woman trained in the science of hypno-therapy and thought manipulation began an experiment where they attempted to “channel” beings from a higher state of consciousness through a ouiji board. The pseudo-scientific séance experiment (or scam) was a “success” and the Cassiopaeans revealed themselves. Subsequently the woman, Ms. Laura Knight Jadczyk, made off with the idea and on her websites does not credit Mr. Irland at all for his part in helping to discover these profitable beings. The beings known as the Cassiopaeans are supposedly “herself in the future” (?) from the distant constellation Orion. Basically the Cassiopaeans are used to promote and validate a certain world view. This world view now forms the foundation of her cult. The world view she promotes claims that we are all under the domination of 4th dimensional evil “overlords of entropy” who feed off of our negative energy and keep the humans on this planet the way a scientist might keep lab rats or the way a farmer might keep livestock. After ditching Mr. Irland, she merged a severely edited version of these crazy Cassiopean ‘transmitions’ with a bastardized and twisted version of the teachings of a French philosopher named Gurdjieff. Then abra cadabra, a cult was born. The ideas of Gurdjieff seem on the face of it to lend credibility to Ms. Knight Jadczyk and her crazy money scheme. But when you look closely you see it for what it is – psychosis parlayed into a very profitable scam.

Don’t these people sound exactly like those that would bond ideologically with “journalist” Eva Bartlett, their fellow editor and scam artist?

 

December 20, 2016

The amulet on David Icke’s sweater

Filed under: Fascism,immigration,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:39 pm

Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the physiology of National Socialism.

Leon Trotsky, “What is National Socialism”, (June, 1933)

This month there were meetings in San Francisco and Oakland featuring “journalist” Eva Bartlett and Veterans for Peace leader Gerry Condon about their trip to government-controlled parts of Aleppo with a “brief intro” by Jeff Mackler of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC). UNAC had joined ANSWER and the International Action Center (IAC) in co-sponsoring this Baathist love-fest.

Mackler is also the leader of Socialist Action, a tiny Trotskyist sect that aspires to reconstruct James P. Cannon’s Socialist Workers Party. He is also one of the people who convinced me to join the SWP’s youth group in 1967. Like Workers World Party (WWP) that runs the IAC and the Party of Socialism and Liberation (PSL) that runs ANSWER, Mackler’s group operates on a Manichean understanding of world politics. Divided between the “evil” West and the “good” anti-imperialist realm, there is little room for contradiction. In 1938 Leon Trotsky wrote an article “Learn to Think” that addressed the Jeff Macklers of his day. This sums it up:

In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.

I wonder what Mackler would have said in his introductory remarks about Eva Bartlett, who along with Vanessa Beeley and Rick Sterling serve on the steering committee of the misnamed Syria Solidarity Movement and constitute the openly Assadist wing of the left. While most on the left view Assad as a lesser evil to the “jihadists”, Bartlett and her cohorts are a virtual fan club.

As should be obvious at this point in history, people like Bartlett—nominally on the left—share their pro-Assad agenda with open supporters of fascism such as David Duke and Aleksander Dugin, the Russian ideologue who has close ties to the Kremlin.

I have been aware of Bartlett’s rancid propagandizing for some time now but was curious to follow up on a lead that showed up on my FB timeline about Bartlett having the gall to make appearances on the David Icke show. Who and what was David Icke?

I suppose that he might be described as Britain’s Alex Jones but that would only be scratching the surface. He has a website titled “David Icke: exposing the Dreamworld” that would naturally pose the question about what exactly the “dreamworld” is. In 2010 Icke wrote a book titled “Human Race Get Off Your Knees: The Lion Sleeps No More” that according to Wikipedia advances the proposition that “the Earth and collective human mind are manipulated from the Moon, a spacecraft and inter-dimensional portal controlled by the reptilians.”

reptilians

These reptilians spawned something called the Babylonian Brotherhood, practically interchangeable with the Illuminati, that were a mixture of ET’s and humans, sort of like the creatures who used to bedevil Mulder and Scully on the X-Files except that Icke believed that they were real. In an interview with The Scotsman in January 30, 2006 titled “The Royal Family are bloodsucking alien lizards”, he made it clear that he wasn’t referring to Queen Elizabeth and company in metaphorical terms:

Mr Icke, 53, claims the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are shape-shifters who drink human blood to look like us.

And the father-of-three says a race of half-human, half-alien creatures has infiltrated all the world’s key power positions.

He claims the US president, George W Bush, and his father, the former president, George Bush, are both giant lizards who change into humans.

Mr Icke, a professional speaker who has published 16 books, believes that the alien hybrids were behind the “murders” of Princess Diana and John F Kennedy, as well as the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

He claims the only reason that the public cannot see this is because we are obsessed by popular culture, such as EastEnders and Coronation Street, and Page Three girls.

On his website, Icke has an interview with one William Mills Tompkins who is described as “one of the most important witnesses to come forward revealing details about the Secret Space Program and human interactions with ETs. He details the German alliances with Reptilians and Dracos, the infiltration of NASA by these beings as well as the positive contribution by the Nordics to our secret space program over decades since at least the 1920s and perhaps earlier.”

Around a decade ago I was contacted by someone from either RT.com or Iran’s Press TV (can’t remember which) about making an appearance. I said no thanks and left it at that. As shitty as my reputation was on the left, I still held myself above Russian and Iranian propaganda outlets. I can sort of understand why Bartlett would be making frequent appearances there but why David Icke?

If Icke was just some wacko writing books that sounded like the plot of a science fiction novel written under the combined influence of LSD and rheumatic fever, you might think that the connection with Bartlett did not have that much political significance. But as it turns out, Icke is as tuned in to the Baathist fascist death cult as he is in to Reptilians from outer space. His website is studded with crossposted articles from Assad’s propaganda machine, including the usual “false flag” material that pervades this netherworld like shit stains in the crotch of one’s underwear.

Bartlett’s appearances on Icke’s website originate on something called “The Richie Allen Show”, an Infowars-like radio streaming show that has featured David Duke in a debate with the host about racial identity. I am not sure how much of a debate that could have been given the nativist cesspool Icke has constructed.

In 1994, Icke came out with a book titled “The Robots’ Rebellion” that endorsed the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, an anti-Semitic book that inspired pogroms in Czarist Russia. More recently, he has joined with the European nativist movements such as UKIP and France’s National Front in viewing immigration as a threat to white European identity. He appeared on Infowars in 2014 to share his hostility toward refugees from war and poverty with Jones, who has provided a platform for Donald Trump on occasion.

In 1991, Icke was in the habit of wearing turquois clothing because it was the color of “purity”. At the time he saw himself as a latter-day Jesus Christ and was fond of making predictions about the end of the world that failed to materialize.

This interview shattered his reputation at the time, such as it was, and he retreated into private life. After some years, he resurfaced as the typical European fascist ideologue who is as bent on scapegoating immigrants as Hitler was of the Jews.

Some of you might know of Bill Weinberg who was the host of an interesting show on WBAI called Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade for 20 years. In 2011, he resigned from WBAI because he thought it was adapting to rightwing, conspiracist shows especially around 9/11 theories. Called on the carpet from station management for criticizing such shows on his own program, Weinberg promised to refrain. But he could not keep silent when the station began airing comments by Icke. The NY Times reported on Weinberg’s departure:

“The output of the lugubrious mini-industry which has sprung up around 9/11 conspiranoia has become increasingly toxic over the passing years,” Mr. Weinberg said on the air. “The most innocent of the DVDs and books are just poorly researched, merely exchanging the rigid dogma of the ‘official story’ for another rigid dogma, no more founded in empiricism or objectivity. But, not surprisingly, lots of creepy right-wing types have got on board, using 9/11 as the proverbial thin end of a wedge.”

This sort of toxic sludge can be found in a number of Assadist websites that combine 9/11 theories with unending and often ludicrous attempts to smear Syrian rebels as perpetrators of “false flag” incidents, including VoltaireNet, Off-Guardian and Global Research. That they overlap with outright fascist platforms such as Infowars and David Icke’s website should have provoked some soul-searching long ago. Unfortunately, these people sold their soul to the devil long ago and will likely continue to cheer on mass murder and ethnic cleansing for the foreseeable future.

Maybe there’s hope that at least one pro-Assad activist has their number. Sukant Chandan has been a forceful opponent of the Brexit-inspired nativism that has led to attacks on immigrants, singling out Dugin, Alex Jones, David Icke and “The Syrian Girl” by name:

Will be interesting to note how many people are following Dugin or taking his money in my networks. Please do indicate if this is the case. If you don’t appreciate what Dugin and his ideology is, then you are in danger for falling for this far right colonial shit as something ‘radical’.

This problem of far right ideologies parading as ‘radical’ is present all around us, it manifests in David Icke, Alex Jones, Mimi Laham [the Syrian Girl who has argued that Syrians are Aryan not Arab], and others: they all sound slightly different to each other but its the same framework of adopting and internalising European fascist thought.

Dugin is a far right Russian leader, he adopts the European imperialist fascist/far right ideology and transplants it onto Asia, especially Eurasia and postures this as some kind of defence and ‘radicalism’. I believe in a Eurasian anti-imperialist strategy, but not this, and I am wholly in counter opposition to this. His ideological approach is to argue that basically this ‘Eurasianists’ can ally with the people of the Middle East against basically the USA, and seeks to and does ally with the far right across europe.

This Dugin shit basically intends to force Eurasian peoples into a European white supremacist framework, and this is also an anti-African and anti-Asian ideology, as it just leaves out African and Asian people for the most, my hunch is cos it hates them unless they adopt this European far right framework of self identifying themselves politically and culturally.

I doubt that we are on the eve of anything like the fascist totalitarianism that descended upon Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal in the 1920s and 30s but there is little doubt that fascist ideology is spreading across the entire world. As Trotsky pointed out in his 1933 article, we are dealing with people who have inexhaustible reserves “of darkness, ignorance, and savagery”.

Today’s NY Times reported that the fascist Freedom Party in Austria that was founded in the 1950s by ex-Nazis and narrowly lost the recent election to a Green Party candidate has worked out a cooperation agreement with Putin and also met with Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s designated national security adviser.

Putin assigned Sergei Zheleznyak, a deputy to his party’s general secretary, to hammer out an agreement with the Austrian fascists who he welcomed at United Russia’s party headquarters. The NY Times stated that Mr. Zheleznyak specifically mentioned Europe’s “migration crisis” as a field for cooperation.

Keep your powder dry, comrades. We are in for a stormy ride.

December 14, 2016

The economic roots of the Syrian revolution

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 10:56 pm

With the major media and the leftwing of the Internet flooded with articles interpreting the fall of East Aleppo as a decisive Baathist victory and likely the end of the Syrian revolution, an article on the roots of the revolution might seem behind the curve. However, the contradictions of the Syrian economy that led to a revolt in 2011 have only deepened over the past five years and will likely keep the country locked in violent conflict until they are resolved. Despite the vain hopes of the pro-Assad left that the country can return to a development model advanced in the name of socialism, the outlook for Syria is extremely bleak as long as the country is locked into global capitalist property relations. For that matter, all our futures are bleak on that score, even in the most prosperous imperialist nations. Waking up to that reality is admittedly very difficult for a left that is lagging behind world historical developments that make socialism—real socialism—more necessary than ever.

The material for this article will be drawn from sources that have only become available recently:

  1. A chapter in volume one of the newly published Syria: from Reform to Revolt, edited by Raymond Hinnebusch and Tina Zintl, titled “The End of the World: Drought and Agrarian Transformation in Northeast Syria (2007-2010)” by Myrian Ababsa, who is a research fellow in social geography at the French Institute for the Near East in Amman.
  2. Dara Conduit’s article The Patterns of Syrian Uprising: Comparing Hama in 1980–1982 and Homs in 2011 that appears in the latest issue of the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 44:1. Conduit is a PhD candidate at Monash University working on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
  3. Shamel Azmeh’s article Syria’s Passage to Conflict: The End of the “Developmental Rentier Fix” and the Consolidation of New Elite Rule that appears in the latest issue of Politics & Society, Vol. 44(4). He is a lecturer in International Development at the University of Bath where his research focuses on the interaction between international trade agreements and flows of products, capital, and workers through global production networks/value chains.

As might be expected, Conduit and Azmeh’s articles are behind a paywall. If you would like to read them or Ababsa’s chapter, contact me at lnp3@panix.com

Does it seem a bit odd that such articles have only begun to appear five years into a war that has polarized world politics, including that on the left? Azmeh puts it this way:

Syria’s descent into conflict is receiving growing scholarly attention. On their own, the sectarian and geopolitical interpretations of the Syrian conflict provide us with little understanding of the roots of the conflict. Recent studies have started to unpack the political economic and socioeconomics aspects of the conflict, highlighting issues such as the economic reforms in the 2000s, rising inequality, and climate change. This article aims to contribute to this growing literature by placing these issues in a broader analysis of Syria’s political and economic institutions.

I concur with this completely. Although my knowledge of the Middle East does not begin to approach that of the authors listed above, from the very start I sought out “a broader analysis of Syria’s political and economic institutions” finding Bassam Haddad and Gilbert Achcar essential. Unfortunately for most of the left, anything beyond “sectarian and geopolitical interpretations” was to be gingerly avoided. No matter how hard I tried to convince old friends and comrades to read what the Syrian left had to say, it was to no avail. Why try to understand class relations in Syria when John McCain or Samantha Power were on record as being for Assad’s removal?

There has been nothing (unfortunately) like a solidarity movement for the Syrian revolution as there was for revolutionary movements in Central America in the 1980s. Back then, I tried to get up to speed as rapidly as possible after joining the Committee in Solidarity with El Salvador and later when serving on the board of Tecnica. I read Robert Armstrong, George Black and found Robert G. Williams particularly useful. Williams made the case that an expanding fast food market created a demand for beef that Somoza and his cattle ranching henchmen met by throwing peasants off their land. While I have always understood that it was mainly the rural poor who rebelled against Assad, it was only after reading the three articles above that it became crystal-clear that the power and endurance of the struggle against the Baathists has much more in common with the Central American struggles against latifundias in the 1980s. That so much of the left is unable to understand this indicates a decline in Marxist thinking that could be very well related to the weakness of the left in general. If we line up on the wrong side of the barricades in a struggle between the rural poor and oligarchs in Syria, how can we possibly begin to provide a class struggle leadership in the USA, Britain or any other advanced capitalist country?

Understanding Syria economically means first of all understanding the importance of agriculture. While there is a tendency to see all countries in the Middle East as arid, Syria has depended for many years on agricultural exports. Under Ottoman rule, Sunni sheikhs owned vast land holdings and enjoyed a feudal-like grip on the peasants.

To start with, the state ruled by Hafez al-Assad was committed to raising the standard of living in the countryside as a way of providing a social base for a dictatorship. While not disposed (obviously) to break with capitalist property relations, he adopted measures that had a surface resemblance to traditional Soviet type states from radical land reform that encroached upon the traditional elites to promoting heavy state ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, especially oil as Azmeh states:

Nonetheless, to maintain the stability of the new regime, Assad had to deliver on the socioeconomic front, especially in rural areas that were the main constituency of the Ba’ath party. During the 1970s in particular, Assad expanded the state-led developmental model in Syria. This included large investment in state-owned enterprises; large public infrastructure projects such as dams, roads, and energy projects; investments in agriculture; a large expansion in spending on health and education; and a large electrification program in rural areas. It also included the gradual expansion of a large subsidies system that covered basic food products, energy, agricultural inputs, fertilizers, and machinery. These changes ushered in a rapid expansion in agricultural production.

Funding for development came from a variety of sources, including oil. Starting in 1968, Syria became an oil exporter utilizing a recently completed pipeline connecting the relatively oil-rich northeast fields to the Mediterranean port of Tartous. Another source was aid from wealthy states in the region and the Soviet Union. Billions of dollars helped to create jobs in the public sector, provide health services, guarantee free education, and ensure that working people had access to cheap energy and food. With respect to food, state support for farmers made sure that “strategic” crops like cotton were available for export and that food for the dinner table could be depended on.

With such emoluments in place, they could guarantee social peace especially when the secret police could be relied upon to pick up malcontents and heave them into a jail cell where they would be tortured for months and even years. In addition, nominally independent institutions like political parties, trade unions, student associations and women’s groups were depoliticized by attaching them to the Baathist machine and depoliticizing them. Clearly, Assad the elder had studied the USSR in the same way that fellow Baathist Saddam Hussein kept the collected works of Stalin on his bookshelf.

Unfortunately, this state of affairs was not sustainable over the long haul. While the “peak oil” hypothesis is debatable, there is no debating the fact that there was a limited supply of oil in Syria while the population continued to grow. Between 1970 and 2011, it expanded from 6.1 million to 22 million. The end of the Cold War also punished Syria by cutting off a source of external funding and a market for its exports, particularly agricultural.

Hafez Al-Assad was convinced that neoliberal reforms were needed but bureaucratic inertia and private sector suspicion of the “socialist” government’s intent kept them limited in scale. When his son took over in 2000, the Baathist elites were ready to dump “socialism”, such as it was, and join the rest of the capitalist world in letting free markets reign (as long as it was understood that those with connections to the inner sanctum were given the inside track.)

Bashar al-Assad was confronted by harsh realities. By the end of the decade, Syria was destined to become an oil importer. In 2004, Nibras Al-Fadel, an economic adviser to Assad, told the newspaper Al-Hayat:

The factors that make economic reforms in Syria inevitable are mainly internal. . . . the first issue is the pressure on the labour market which is not going to subside for the next ten years at least. Absorbing this pressure will require a growth rate of 6 percent at least which is double the current rate. At the same time, the exhaustion of oil reserves and Syria becoming a net oil importer will mean, with other factors remaining equal, a drop in GDP, living standards, and in the revenues of the state. Thus, the current economic trends are going in a direction that is opposite to what is needed and this is a time-bomb in the heart of the Syrian economy and society. We only have few years to dismantle this bomb.

Using the kind of double-talk associated with Middle East strongmen, Assad announced the introduction of a “social market economy” in 2005 that drew from the neoliberal bag of tricks including the promotion of foreign investment, liberalizing trade and ending subsidies for workers and for farmers. Medical care was now fee-based and a ceiling put on public employment. Despite Assad’s reputation on the left as an enemy of “globalization, the EU is Syria’s largest trading partner with €3.6 billion worth of EU goods exports to Syria and €3.5 billion of Syrian exports to the EU.

In the early part of Assad’s reign as family dynast, conditions favored his reforms. Oil prices, at an all-time high, meant that countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia were eager to pour billions into the tourist trade, real estate, leisure activities, communications, and financial services—exactly the kind of enterprises that made Baathist insiders like Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf fabulously wealthy.

It was the growth of quite impressive “improvements” to Damascus that must have wowed Baathist tools such as Charles Glass and Robert Fisk. Shamel Azmeh writes:

Government spending on infrastructure reflected the bias toward the areas where such projects will be located. In Damascus, investments increased in the rich areas of the city such as Mazzeh, Dummar, Kafar Souseh, Malki, and Yafour, including traffic tunnels, improvements to roads and pavements, “beautification” projects including tree-lined streets, green lawns (highly unsuitable to hot summers in the semiarid climate of Damascus), new multicolor night lighting systems, among other accessories. In the absence of investments in public transportation, such spending favored car owners. Whereas cars were a state-controlled “luxury” good in earlier periods, the liberalization of imports led, between 2003 and 2007, to a 122 percent increase in the number of private cars in Syria—although from a low base—almost half in the city of Damascus. At the same time, the number of public transport buses did not increase. Controlling the exclusive dealership rights for key car companies became an important area of competition for the new economic elite.

Such changes impressed the media in Syria that became the dictator’s handmaidens. Journalist Ibrahim H’Medi wrote in 2006: “Syria no longer looks like Cuba or North Korea”. Not surprisingly, it was such changes that endeared the Assads to Vogue Magazine that was all set to publish an article titled “A Rose in the Desert” that begins:

Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic–the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.” She is the first lady of Syria.

Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East, possibly because, as the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors.” It’s a secular country where women earn as much as men and the Muslim veil is forbidden in universities, a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings, but its shadow zones are deep and dark.

One supposes that Monthly Review’s Yoshie Furuhashi was swept off her feet by the couple’s animal magnetism since she wrote not long after the Arab Spring began in Syria: “the president of Syria has a weapon in the obligatory media war accompanying any protest in a geopolitical hotspot these days, which neither any other Arab regime nor the Islamic Republic of Iran can claim: his undeniably charming wife Asma. Perhaps not altogether inconsequential in the age of celebrities.”

Things might have been going great in Damascus but in the hinterlands, not so well.

Myrian Ababsa’s chapter in Syria: from Reform to Revolt is focused on the northeastern provinces of Raqqa, Hassaka and Deir ez-Zor (collectively known as the Jezira), the poorest regions of Syria where most of the country’s farmers were impacted by a severe drought and government assaults on the social gains implemented in the early 70s.

Constituting 40 percent of Syrian territory, the Jezira produced 70 percent of the wheat. In the 1950s, it enjoyed something of a boom as Aleppo merchants invested in the cotton industry. Just as is the case with cotton farming everywhere, irrigation without draining the land and monoculture led to the impoverishment of the soil.

The drought that began in 2007 only increased the already existing misery. Up to 75 percent of the farmers in the Jezira suffered total crop failure of the sort that John Steinbeck depicted in “Grapes of Wrath”. Since wheat production relied on underground wells, a shortage of rain led to an increase in the price of a well. In Raqqa, the cost of a new well in 2001 was 16,000 euros—well beyond the capability of a small farmer to afford.

Herdsmen were also impacted. With insufficient water for cattle and goats, livestock had to be sold at 60 percent below cost. As fodder prices rose by 75 percent in January 2008, the flocks were decimated by half.

Not only were agricultural supports removed by the dictatorship; fuel was no longer subsidized. The price for a gallon of gasoline rose by 350 percent. This meant that motor pumps, so essential to drawing water from underground wells, became difficult to afford. All in all, the economic institutions that had been created by Hafez Al-Assad and abolished by his son came together in a perfect storm with the advent of a crippling drought.

The conditions of life in the Jezira could not be more distinct from the paradise enjoyed by the Damascus yuppies—both Alawite and Sunni—that were benefiting from a neoliberal boom. Ababsa writes:

The drought put an end to decades of development in the fields of health and education in the Jezira, and the sanitary situation became dramatic. In 2009, 42 percent of Raqqa governorate suffered from anemia owing to a shortage of dairy products, vegetables, and fruit. Malnutrition among pregnant women and children under five doubled between 2007 and 2009. To complicate matters, vegetable and fruit growers in dry northern Syria used polluted river water to irrigate their crops, causing out breaks of food poisoning among consumers, according to environmental and medical experts. Experts pointed out that the problem stemmed from sewage and chemicals allowed to reach rivers in rural areas near Aleppo, Lattakia, and Raqqa.

As they were suffering from malnutrition and lack of income, small. scale farmers and herders and landless peasants stopped sending their children to school. According to a UN needs assessment, enrollment in some schools in eastern Syria decreased by 70 percent after April 2008. This decrease reversed decades of literacy efforts and school creation in the Jezira, where the illiteracy rates were the highest in the country: 38.3 percent in Raqqa governorate, 35.1 percent in Hassaka governorate, and 34.8 percent in Deir ez-Zor governorate. More than a third of the active population was illiterate, including more than half of the female active population. Between 160 and 220 villages were abandoned in Hassaka governorate. The wells dried up and the population could not afford to bring water from private tankers at a cost of 2,000 SYP per month (about 30 euros).

When the latter-day versions of the Joad family left their farms and migrated to the cities, they tended to end up in the suburbs of Aleppo or Damascus where they struggled to find employment or entered the informal economy—in other words peddling fruit on the street. Or perhaps they would seek refuge in a city like Homs that was in the agricultural heartland and hardly a city to be profiled in Vogue magazine. Dara Conduit takes a close look at what happened in Homs after the influx of new residents with barely a pot to piss in.

Homs is Syria’s third largest city, midway between Damascus and Aleppo. It is the capital of the Homs Governorate, which has played a major role in agriculture. It contributed 79 percent of almond production and 23 percent of poultry. The Homs Chamber of Commerce proudly referred to itself as the breadbasket of Syria.

It was in Homs that Assad’s economic restructuring had its greatest and most damaging impact. As the largest capital of a drought-affected province, it became a major destination from both the west and from the Jezira to the east. Conduit reports that Homs was the third poorest province in the country and the capital city strained under the pressures of a massive influx of the desperate and the practically homeless. Between 2008 and July 2009, the government provided food assistance to 3037 affected households. Researchers discovered that six percent more residents of Homs were unable to cover basic food expenses than the average Syrian rate.

So naturally, Homs would be on the leading edge of the revolution as Conduit writes:

As a result, the unrest in Homs began in suburbs that had absorbed new rural migrants displaced from the country’s north-east or the wider province. These were urban areas once part of agricultural land and now surrounding the historic city. The clear demarcation of suburbs in Homs by socioeconomic and religious grouping made the city’s dynamics easily observable. Data on the frequency of protests between 28 September and 28 October 2011 showed that the suburbs on the city’s fringe experienced ‘near daily’ protests, including Al-Waer, Bab al-Amr, Inshaat, Ghouta, Deir Ba’albeh, Bayadeh and Khaldiyeh. Bab al-Amr was once an agricultural area on the outskirts of the city that grew most of the city’s fruit trees. By 2011, it was a ‘slum’ on the urban fringe that became ‘synonymous with the revolution’. Azzawi observed of Bab al-Amr: ‘the people there are very poor and very vulnerable, they feel that this regime put them so badly below the edge of poverty. So they are the real powers that are moving the acts of uprising in Homs’. The only exception to this pattern was Bab Houd, within the walls of Homs’ old city, which also experienced protest. The evidence therefore implies that those involved in the initial protests in Homs at the start of the 2011 uprising were citizens largely excluded from the Syrian social contract.

It is exactly people such as this, the poor and displaced rural folk who streamed into the suburbs of Damascus, Aleppo and Homs in the hope of finding a roof over their heads and food on their table who became the social base of the Syrian revolution.

God help us when so much of the left is clapping like trained seals when Russian bombers destroy their hospitals and force them to run through gauntlets of Hizbollah and Iranian militias that stand over them like the Wehrmacht soldiers stood over the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto. Comrades, we are in deep trouble when the left lacks the ability to discriminate between right and wrong and between the oppressor and the oppressed. It is time to build a new left that has once and for all learned to put the Stalinist legacy into the ashbin of history where it belongs.

October 21, 2016

The numbers game in East Aleppo

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:22 pm

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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”?

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