Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 15, 2018

The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left-wing resentment

Filed under: Red-Brown alliance,Syria — louisproyect @ 10:53 pm

​During his recent tour of Europe, disgraced former Trump strategist Steve Bannon declared “Italy is in the lead.”

Amid the historic resurgence of the Italian far right that returned right-wing populist Silvio Berlusconi to prominence, Bannon fantasized about “the ultimate dream” of unifying the anti-establishment Five Star Movement with the far-right League (formerly the Northern League) through a populist movement. Bannon’s international vision of nationalist populist movements is locked into the Kremlin’s geopolitical ideology of a “multipolar world.”

The League is tied through a cooperation pact to Putin’s Russia, and its deputy in charge of relations with foreign parties, Claudio D’Amico, explicitly called for a “multipolar world” in Katehon, a think tank created by fascist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin. Following the ideological line Dugin put forward in his text, Foundations of Geopolitics, Katehon calls for uniting a “Eurasian” bloc in constant struggle against “Atlanticist” countries. For Dugin, the “21st century gamble” is to create a “multipolar” confederation of “Traditionalist” regional empires united under Russian sovereignty that will overthrow the “unipolar” empire of “postmodern” democracies.

Shortly after Putin’s election in 2000, the Kremlin released a set of foreign policy guidelines calling for a “multipolar world order” against the “strengthening tendency towards the formation of a unipolar world under financial and military domination by the United States.” Escalating with the Ukrainian Orange Revolution in 2004, the Kremlin’s production of soft-power networks throughout Europe and the United States involves- think tanksloansforumspropaganda outlets and cooperation agreements with far-right parties like the Austrian Freedom Party and the League. From Russia to Iran to Western Europe and the U.S., this international movement uses conspiracy theories and “gray material” to warp the political spectrum into a populist referendum along “geopolitical” terms set by fascist engagées.

Red and brown polarities

As a recent major report on syncretic networks exposed, the modern fascist movement’s obsession with geopolitics emerged in force amid the post-Cold War antiglobalization movement. In 2002, a front group formed out of the U.S.-based Workers’ World Party known as the International Action Center joined forces with the Assisi-based “Campo Antimperialista.” As Duginists infiltrated the Campo, opening a journal called Eurasia that garnered the influential involvement of Campo participant Costanza Preve, the International Action Center continued their cooperation.

Soon, a similar Russian group called the Anti-Globalist Resistance began to repost the Campo’s dispatches. Sharing support for Milosevic with the Campo and the International Action Center, the Anti-Globalist Resistance emerged simultaneously with the same tendency to fight globalization by linking far-right to hard-left. In 2008, they brought the Campo to Moscow for the third “All-Russia Anti-Globalist Forum,” introduced by long-time U.S. fascist Lyndon LaRouche. The next year’s conference included Duginist leaders like Leonid Savin and retired General Leonid Ivashov, along with LaRouche and Holocaust denier Israel Shamir.

As their work continued, the Campo and Anti-Globalist Resistance drew more anti-globalization activists into their syncretic orbit. In 2012, a group came together at a Campo Antimperialista event in Assisi and developed what would become the Syria Solidarity Movement. The movement’s steering committee came to include top figures from groups from the U.S. hard left, including the Workers World Party, its affiliate, ANSWER and a spinoff of the latter group called the Party of Socialism and Liberation.

After changing their name to the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, the group drew people from the Syria Solidarity Movement’s network to a conference called the “Right of Peoples to Self-Determination and Building a Multipolar World” in 2014. A delegate from the International Action Center attended, along with delegates from another Workers World Party front group called United Anti-War Coalition, including an editor with the Black Agenda Reportnamed Margaret Kimberly. Among the conference’s other attendees were Michael Hill of the neo-Confederate League of the South and the Texas Nationalist Movement, as well as the far-right Republika of Srpska and National Bolshevik Italian Communitarian Party.

The following year, the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia met with a purported Cherokee Nation elder named “Mashu White Feather” and a representative of the Uhuru Movement, also connected to the Black Agenda Report. They then organized a state-funded conference that drew members of the fascist Italian group Millenium, Mutti’s associate Antonio Grego, and a leading member of the far-right Rodina party, as well as representatives of separatist groups like the Texas Nationalist Movement and the Catalan Solidarity for Independence party. The now-notorious troll factory, the Internet Research Agency, would later invite the Texas Nationalist Movement to join an armed, Islamophobic protest launched by the fake “Heart of Texas,” while also inciting counter-protestors.

This network map shows the flow of movement building from parties to front groups to participation in and creation of syncretic coalitions.

The Syria connection

The Syria Solidarity Movement lists on its steering committee a host of syncretic figures like DuginistNavid Nasr and an Australian representative of the fascist-modeled Syrian Social Nationalist Party affiliateMussalaha. Before a report revealed her associations with Global ResearchRon Paul and the right-wing British Constitution Party, conspiracy theorist Vanessa Beeley held a position on the steering committee as well.

As an editor at the alt-right-associated conspiracy theory site, 21stCenturyWire, Beeley’s repeated conspiracy articles attempting to link the White Helmets to al Qaeda and George Soros earned her a visit with Assad in Damascus and senior Russian officials in Moscow; however, they have been thoroughly debunked. A defender of right-wing Hungarian president Viktor Orban, Beeley promotesantisemites like Gilad Atzmon and Dieudonné, even speaking at a conference hosted by the latter in partnership with notorious Holocaust denier Laurent Louis. Regardless, the Syrian Solidarity Movement and the associated Hands Off Syria Coalition recommend Beeley’s work.

Along with members of the Syria Solidarity Movement, delegates who attended the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia’s “Multipolar World” conference sit on the Hands off Syria Coalition’s steering committee. Showing its commitments and affinities, in January 2016, the Hands Off Syria Coalition published a “Multipolar World Against War” statement signed by the leader of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, Alexander Ionov.

Similarly, the Hands Off Syria Coalition website publicizes self-described Marxist, Tim Anderson, who has an interesting record of attending far-right conferences. In 2015, Anderson attended the far-right Brandherd Syrien Congress, and the next year he was at Defend Our Heritage’s Leura Forum, chaired by a leader of far-right party Alternative for Germany. Following that, Anderson’s pet project, Center of Counter Hegemonic Studies, convened a conference that brought in Paul Antonopoulos, an editor for the Duginist website Fort Russ.

The Hands Off Syria Coalition advertises Anderson’s book, The Dirty War on Syria, which is published by syncretic conspiracist site Global Research. Multiple “Research Associates” of Global Research sit on the “scientific committee” of the Campo-linked Duginist journal Geopolitica, and the site lists as its “partner media group” the Voltaire Network. Publishing LaRouchite and Duginist articles, the Voltaire Network boasts the Syrian Social Nationalist Party’s Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs as its Vice President. One of the Voltaire Network’s leading contributors is Mikhail Leontyev, an associate of Dugin who has moved from prominent media personality to the role of spokesman for Russian state oil company, Rosneft. The Syria Solidarity Movement publishes Voltaire Network articles by founder Thierry Meyssan, a contributor to Campo-linked journal Eurasia who associates with Holocaust deniers and open fascists, among others.

Hands Off Syria Coalition steering committee member Issa Chaer joined Meyssan on a panel at the Second New Horizons conference in Iran in 2012. Conference speakers that year included World Workers Party member Caleb Maupin, Alt Right journalist Tim Pool, Holocaust denier Kevin Barrett, and Duginists like Voltaire Network associate Mateusz Piskorski, German editor Manuel Ochsenreiter, Leonid Savin, and Claudio Mutti the leading fascist infiltrator of the Campo Antimperialista. The banner image for last year’s New Horizon features Aleksandr Dugin.

Multipolar propaganda

According to the metrics search engine BuzzSumo, most of the leading articles with the terms “multipolar world” and “multi-polar world” in the title come from an interconnected network of sites, including Global Research, The Duran and Sign of the Times. With an estimated six million unique daily views per month, the biggest and most influential in this network is the Russian state-run media site Sputnik News.

Billing itself as pointing “the way to a multipolar world that respects every country’s national interests, culture, history and traditions,” Sputnik frequently publishes PiskorskiOchsenreiter, Mutti’s fellow Campo infiltrator Tiberio Graziani, commentator Andrew Korybkoand Fort Russ editor Joaquin Flores. Furthermore, Sputnik has joined RT in consistently using dubious sources affiliated with theSyria Solidarity Network to attack the White Helmets and throw doubt on the Assad regime’s war crimes, for instance its use of chemical weapons.

A syncretic hub on Sputnik, anti-imperialist John Wight’s podcast, “Hard Facts,” promotes the same figures associated with the pro-Assad network in the West, including Beeley, Anderson, and Nasr. Perhaps most interestingly, Wight also hosted trans-national far-right figure, Edward Lozansky during the 2016 election and again early the next year.

With more than 30 years of involvement in the U.S. and Russian far right, Lozansky is perhaps most known as the creator of the American University in Moscow. Boasting a number of Fellows involved in pro-Kremlin media outlets like The Duran, RT and Russia Insider, the American University in Moscow appears to be an ideological center in the concerted social media campaign associated with the Internet Research Agency to boost anti-Clinton, pro-Kremlin propaganda in the U.S. Lozansky also hosts conferences with known fascist ideologues and an annual “Russia Forum” featuring far-right politicians and left-wing media operators from Russia and the U.S.

During both of his pro-Putin, pro-Trump interviews with Lozansky on “Hard Facts,” Wight advocated “a multipolar alternative to the unipolar world,” insisting, “we’re talking about a struggle for a multipolar world to replace the unipolarity that has wreaked so much havoc since the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.”

The most important anti-imperialist hub on Sputnik, however, is hosted by Brian Becker, whose fellow party member and brother sits on the steering committee for the Syria Solidarity Movement. The leader of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Becker regularly hosts Fellows of the American University in Moscow on his Sputnik podcast, “Loud & Clear.”

“Loud & Clear”‘s Lozansky-affiliated guests include far-right PR man Jim Jatras, Mark Sleboda of the Dugin-founded Center for Conservative Studies, the Ron Paul Institute’s Daniel McAdams and Alexander Mercouris of the syncretic conspiracist site, The Duran. The program also provides a platform to a variety of explicitly far-right guests, including Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, antisemite Alberto Garcia Watson, alt-right figure Cassandra Fairbanks and militia movement leader Larry Pratt.

Aside from marginal guests, Loud & Clear can bring on some heavy hitters. During his two appearances on “Loud & Clear” in late 2017, bestselling author Max Blumenthal called the red-brown radio show “the finest public affairs programming” and declared, “I am increasingly turning to RT America for sanity.” No stranger to Sputnik, Blumenthal also went on “Hard Facts” that August, claiming that notorious ISIS militant Mohammed Emwazi was ushered into the Syria conflict by the CIA via a “rat line” from Saudi Arabia.

This Venn diagram suggests that certain syncretic groups exist as containers for the intersection of right and left wing groups, ideologies.

Highway to the Grayzone

Around the same time he went on “Loud & Clear,” Blumenthal appeared on Tucker Carlson‘s FOX News show to defend RT — his second time on the far-right show that year. Blumenthal’s RT appearances have been praised by white nationalists like Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr., who murdered three people outside of a Jewish Community Center in 2014, so his courting of the right on FOX drew considerable backlash.

Two months later, Blumenthal offered up a staunch defense of “Russia’s position in the world” to author Robert Wright in an interview on bloggingheads. Admitting that Putin’s Russia remains far from left-wing, Blumenthal justified support for the country’s authoritarian conservative government as “part of the multipolar world.”

“If you believe in a multipolar world,” Blumenthal told Wright, “you believe in détente, you believe in diplomacy.” He specifically mentioned Becker’s Party for Socialism and Liberation and groups like it, arguing that they “tend to get all the major issues right regardless of their ideology or agenda.”

Blumenthal was not as clear of a spokesperson for Kremlin geopolitics before he appeared at the same RT gala as disgraced former National Security advisor Michael Flynn and the Green Party’s Jill Stein in December 2015. During that occasion, he joined a panel called “Infowar: Will there be a winner” alongside Alt Right anti-Semite Charles Bausman of Russia Insider. A month later, Blumenthal’s pro-Kremlin position crystalized with the founding of the Grayzone Project.

Grayzone is a collaborative project also featuring journalist Benjamin Norton, who cosigned the Hands Off Syria Coalition’s points of unity statement along with Beeley and others. After going on “Loud & Clear” with Duginist Mark Sleboda and Infowars regularRay McGovern, Norton plugged the Party for Socialism and Liberation on a podcast episode titled “Hands off Syria.” With other Grayzone contributors, Norton has been criticized for downplaying war crimesand helping publicize false theories about rebels contaminatingDamascus’s water supply.

When reached for comment by email, Norton retorted, “I know your goal is to outlandishly smear anyone who opposes US imperialism and is to the left of the Clintons as a ‘crypto-fascist,’ while NATO supports actual fascists whom you care little about.”

Grayzone is perhaps best known for Blumenthal’s controversial two-part article attacking the White Helmets, which brought accusations of plagiarism from Beeley. Grayzone contributor Rania Khalek had, Beeley insisted, “pumped me for information on the [White Helmets] and then Max wrote the article.”

While Blumenthal may have repeated some of Beeley’s theories, Beeley cannot be seen as a credible source. Regardless, Khalek has since used a questionable interview sourced from Beeley as evidence that the White Helmets “were deeply embedded in al Qaeda.”

Grayzone recently announced their move from independent news site AlterNet to The Real News Network, a left-wing site with a penchant for 9/11 truther inquiries. Neither Blumenthal nor Khalek responded to efforts to reach them for comment.

Right uses left

Through its amplification of an interlinked, multi-centered network organized around institutions like Lozansky’s American University in Moscow and the Voltaire Network and conferences like Moscow’s “Multi-Polar World” and Tehran’s “New Horizons,” syncretic networks associated with Dugin’s Eurasianist ideology have combined distortions and ambiguities into a geopolitical narrative meant to confuse audiences and promote authoritarian populist opposition to liberalism.

The “gray measures” used to deny the Kremlin’s influence operations may seem dubious when delivered through channels like Sputnik that are, themselves, political technologies of far-right political influence. When cycled through “narrative laundering” of secondary and tertiary networks enhanced by trolls and coordinated influence operations, however, propaganda is “graywashed” of its dubious sources and presented as cutting-edge journalism.

As shown with Figure 3, think tanks like Katehon and connected Russian Institute for Strategic Studies develop strategies for media spin and online promotion through influence groups and botnets. These think tanks engage in feedback loops with Russian state media channels and linked syncretic news sites, amplified through social media with the help of botnets, and eventually reaching more legitimate sources often freed of their dubious sourcing. The results are explored by a recent study from Data and Society called Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online: “Online communities are increasingly turning to conspiracy-driven news sources, whose sensationalist claims are then covered by the mainstream media, which exposes more of the public to these ideas, and so on.”

A conceptual model made in Vensim intended to present the workings of “Graywashing.”

The problem with multipolarism, aside from assuming polarity as a useful prescription, may be that it supports not the emergence of Russia as a world power but the rise of the Kremlin’s authoritarian conservative political ideology. In this, multipolarists tend to support other authoritarian regimes and movements from Iran to Syria to Italy. Although anti-imperialists may believe that these measures land them on the right side of history, taking stock of the fascist movement suggests that the strategy of opposing a liberal order through red-brown populist collaboration makes the left a willing accomplice.


The letter that Max Blumenthal’s lawyer sent to SPLC

Filed under: Red-Brown alliance,Syria — louisproyect @ 12:49 am

(Before William A. Moran II became an attorney, he was an editor at Sputnik. The photo below is from his law firm’s website. Many years ago, when I was in the Socialist Workers Party, Gerry Healy’s sect began publishing articles accusing our leaders of being FBI agents, a charge you can still find on WSWS.org. We responded by answering them in our newspaper since Marxist principles exclude resolving such disputes in the bourgeois courts. Blumenthal and Khalek never claimed to be Marxists but a worm like Ben Norton, who was in the ISO at one point in his sorry life, still throws the Marxist rhetoric around. When Patrick Lawrence and Andrew Spannaus took exception to me labeling them as Assadists, they told me that they would be looking into the possibility of suing me for libel just like this jerk William Moran II did. Spannaus is an ex-member of LaRouche’s cult that used to launch nuisance suits against his critics. Given the two degrees of separation between Blumenthal and enemies of the left, I can’t say I am surprised by his move against SPLC. Answering Andrew Reid Ross politically would be above his pay grade.)



Re. Notice and demand for preservation of documents and electronically stored information in the care. custody, control or possession of SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER, ALEXANDER REID ROSS. CHARLES DAVIS, MUHAMMAD IDREES AHMAD and WAYNE WAKELAND.

To Whom It May Concern:

I have been engaged by MAX BLUMENTHAL to assess imminent legal action against your organization and other entities in relation libelous statements in an article titled: “The Multipolar Spin. How Fascists Operationalize Left-Wing Resentment” appearing on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Watch” biog. The purpose of this correspondence is to demand that the Southern Poverty Law Center and its agents, employees, directors, officers, attorneys and representatives both past and present – preserve all documents, tangible things and electronically stored information (“ESI”) that are potentially relevant to MAX BLUMENTHAL including research, editorial notes, conversations, and other communications of (both to and from) ALEXANDER REID ROSS related to the publication of the above mentioned article including but not limited to correspondence sent to and received from CHARLES DAVIS and MUHAMMAD IDREES AHMAD.

This notice and demand for preservation extends beyond ESI related to SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER’S relationship to any named co-conspirator and with MAX BLUMENTHAL.

Preservation includes, but is not limited to, NOT destroying, NOT concealing, and NOT altering any paper or electronic files and other data generated by and/or stored on your computers and storage media, or any other electronic data, such as voicemail or text message.

As used in this document, “you” and “your” refers to each of the TARGETS identified in this notice including SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER, ALEXANDER REID ROSS. CHARLES DAVIS, MUHAMMAD IDREES AHMAD and WAYNE WAKELAND as well as their employees, agents, directors, officers and attorneys

YOU should anticipate that much of the information subject to disclosure, responsive to discovery. and/or evidence in this matter is stored on your current and former computer systems, and other media and devices, including, but not limited to personal digital assistants, voice messaging systems, online repositories and cellphones or smartphones.

Electronically stored information must be afforded the broadest possible definition. It includes, by way of example and not as an exclusive list, potentially relevant electronically, magnetically or optically stored information such as:

Digital or analog communications, both sent and received, whether internally or externally; Digital or analog electronic files, including “deleted” files and file fragments, stored in machine-readable format on magnetic, optical, or other storage media, including thumb droves, hard droves, floppy disks used by your computers and their backup media (e.g., other hard drives, backup tapes, floppies, Jaz cartridges, CD•ROMs) or otherwise, whether such files have been reduced to paper printouts or not, computer system, removing their ESI systems, media and devices from service and properly sequestering and protecting them may be an appropriate and cost-effective preservation step. In the event you deem it impractical to sequester systems, media and devices, we believe that the breadth of preservation required, coupled with the model numbers of systems implicated, dictates forensically sound imaging of the systems, media and devices is expedient and cost effective.

We anticipate the need for forensic examination of one or more of these systems and the presence of relevant evidence in forensically accessible areas of the drives. Therefore, you employ forensically sound ESI preservation methods. Failure to use such methods poses a significant threat of spoliation and data loss. By “forensically sound” we mean duplication, for purposes of preservation, of all data stored on the evidence media while employing a proper chain of custody and using tools and methods that make no changes to the evidence and support authentication of the duplicate as a true and complete bit-for-bit image of the original. A forensically sound preservation method guards against changes to metadata evidence and preserves all parts of the electronic evidence, including in the so-called “unallocated clusters,” holding deleted files.

Preservation Protocols

I intend to work with you to form an agreement regarding an acceptable protocol of forensically sound preservation. If you will promptly disclose the preservation protocol you intend to employ, perhaps we can identify any points of disagreement and resolve them.

Do Not Delay Preservation

I am available to discuss reasonable preservation steps; however, you should not defer preservation steps pending our discussions if ESI will be lost or corrupted as a consequence of delay. If the failure to preserve potentially relevant evidence results in the corruption, loss or delay in the production of evidence to which we are entitled, such failure would constitute spoliation of evidence, for which my client will not hesitate to seek sanctions and appropriate remedies including application of the adverse inference with regard to issues adversely affected by spoliation.

Attorney-Client Privilege

Nothing in this request should be construed as interfering with or impairing the attorney-client privilege of SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER, ALEXANDER REID ROSS, CHARLES DAVIS, MUHAMMAD IDREES AHMAD and WAYNE WAKELAND as well as their employees and agents. That said, the burden in claiming that any information or communication is entitled to attorney-client privilege rests with the party asserting privilege and therefore communications, documents and data relevant to this litigation should be retained.

I look forward to receiving your call to discuss the matters raised in this notice and demand.

Respectfully, William Moran II – Partner Hawgood, Hawgood & Moran

March 12, 2018

Max Blumenthal and the Streisand Effect

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 4:46 pm

On the Southern Poverty Law Center, this rather odd statement can be read:

Yesterday, Friday, March 9, we published an article entitled “The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left-wing resentment.” After receiving some concerns about the article from Max Blumenthal that evening, we took it down, pending further review.

The article was written by Alexander Reid Ross as a follow-up to earlier articles for SPLC titled “The Internet Research Agency: behind the shadowy network that meddled in the 2016 Elections” and “The far-right influence in pro-Kremlin media and political networks”.  Subsequent to the removal of the latest, the other two have been removed as well.

The three articles are all focused on the real problem we face from Putin, which is much less about the 2016 elections that Clinton was mostly responsible for subverting, than it is about his outreach to the American left. If our main goal is to overthrow American capitalism, how do we reconcile that with the growing ties between those viewing themselves as radicals and a regime that is promoting fascism everywhere in the world, including the USA.

Ross is not the only investigative reporter looking at these ties. In a book-length post on the Ravings of a Radical Vagabond blog titled “An Investigation Into Red-Brown Alliances: Third Positionism, Russia, Ukraine, Syria, And The Western Left”, you can discover the same kind of research that Ross credits in the deleted article that can still be read here. (Make sure to adjust the embedded links since they concatenate the web archive URL, where it is located, with the original URL’s.)

Despite the SPLC’s massive treasury based on donations made by wealthy liberals, I doubt that they will be publishing the article even after its dubious “review”. Most people surmise that Max Blumenthal, who is the main target of Ross’s article, has threatened legal action that we can assume his daddy Sidney will support. Sidney is not that rich (only $4 million according to some analysts) but his ties to American liberal elite circles would certainly make those same elites at SPLC think twice about antagonizing.

Since the purging of Ross’s article has touched a nerve, there is every possibility that more people are reading it than would have been the case if Max Blumenthal had simply ignored it. Someone described this as the Streisand Effect as Wikipedia described it:

The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet. It is an example of psychological reactance, wherein once people are aware that some information is being kept from them, their motivation to access and spread it is increased.

It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose 2003 attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently drew further public attention to it. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters to suppress files, websites, and even numbers. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity and media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, often being widely mirrored on the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.

Why was Blumenthal so worked up about Ross’s piece?

In another Tweet, Blumenthal characterizes it as part of a new “red scare” and has referred to past articles tying him to the Kremlin’s propaganda offensives over Syria, Ukraine, etc. as “red-baiting”. McCarthyite, a red scare, red-baiting? People were red-baited in the 1950s because they signed a petition supporting the Spanish Republic in 1938 and even lost jobs. Meanwhile, people all across the political spectrum write articles in praise of Bashar al-Assad without consequence, from Stephen Kinzer in the Boston Globe to David Bromwich in the NY Review of Books. Does Bromwich have to worry about being fired from Yale because of this?

When a “red” supports war criminals like Putin and Assad, the only thing they have to fear is getting attacked by an anarchist like Alexander Reid Ross or a Marxist like me, something that poses no risk to their tawdry careers.  What rankles Blumenthal is being exposed as being on the same side of the barricades as Pamela Geller, David Duke and Richard Spencer–all of them Assad propagandists just like him. It is all driven by an Islamophobia that sees the clean-shaven Bashar al-Assad as the Middle East’s best hope.

You have to ask why Blumenthal gets the red carpet treatment on the Tucker Carlson show unlike other leftists who get baited mercilessly. What is going on? You can ask the same question about how Stephen F. Cohen became one of WABC radio show arch-conservative host John Batchelor’s favorites. The three most frequent guests on the Batchelor show are Cohen, Sebastian Gorka and Malcolm Hoenlein, the one-time executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization and about as rabid a Zionist you can find.

Perhaps the bigger question is whether there is anything particularly “red” about Blumenthal himself. The main topic Ross addresses in his purged article is the shared preference for a “multipolar” world by outright fascists like Aleksandr Dugin and people supposedly on the left like Blumenthal. In websites such as Global Research and Katehon, there is zero interest in world revolution. They are preoccupied with defending Russian and to some extent Chinese foreign policy because it reduces American power. In its most naked formulation, it devolves into a defense of the Russian takeover of Crimea because it had to protect strategic military interests on its border. Does that ring a bell? It should because that was the same excuse JFK made for the Cuban missile crisis. Indeed, even Noam Chomsky acknowledged Russia’s right to bully Ukraine on this basis.

Socialists, on the other hand, don’t approve of either JFK or Putin’s neocolonial trampling on the rights of weaker nations. People like Max Blumenthal have zero interest in socialism. Their opposition to imperialism is a reductionist one viewing any struggle against the USA as progressive, whether it is Fidel Castro standing up to JFK or Bashar al-Assad standing up to Barack Obama. Since Obama feared the Syrian rebels more than the Baathists, his “support” for the FSA consisted of light arms that could have easily been purchased on the black market (and was) but also positioning the CIA on the borders of Syria to make sure that anti-aircraft missiles did not reach the FSA. If the CIA had minded its own business, the war probably would have ended in 2014.

Fundamentally, Blumenthal et al function in the same way as the Daily Worker did in the 1930s but without any regard for the class distinctions that at least explained how a CPer might have been doing wrong with the best of intentions. That’s a whole lot better than his doing wrong with the worst of intentions.


March 9, 2018

The left and East Ghouta

Filed under: Counterpunch,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:58 pm
East Ghouta
COUNTERPUNCH, March 9, 2018

While reports filter out of East Ghouta about suffering on a massive scale reminiscent of the siege of Leningrad in 1941, some on the left support Assad’s war crimes because they see them as necessary for winning the war on terror just as Germans supported the war on Bolshevism back then.

Three of Assad’s leading defenders are associated with Alternet’s Gray Zone, a project initiated by Max Blumenthal who was soon joined by Ben Norton and Rania Khalek in churning out talking points for the Baathist dictatorship. Perhaps the rumor mill’s whispers are correct that the Gray Zone has gotten the axe. That would explain why the three have used other mediums to defend a harsh but necessary siege.

Continue reading

February 24, 2018

The Rojava Illusion

Filed under: Kurd,Syria — louisproyect @ 9:17 pm

Yesterday I was appalled to read a NY Times article titled “Syrian Militias Enter Afrin, Dealing a Setback to Turkey” that began:

Militias loyal to the Syrian government swept into the northwestern enclave of Afrin on Thursday in support of Kurdish militias, reclaiming the territory and stealing a march on Turkish forces that have been battling toward the city for nearly a month.

Television broadcasts and social media postings showed crowds celebrating in the main square of the city of Afrin, waving flags and holding posters of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is imprisoned in Turkey on terrorism charges.

The photo accompanying the article said it all:

While I have become inured to Syrian Kurds making realpolitik type alliances for the past six years, I was still stunned to see them holding aloft a photo of man who systematically bombs hospitals. Does a non-aggression pact with Syria’s blood-soaked family dynast entail holding up his portrait? I certainly understood the need for the USSR to sign a non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939 but would that require the Communist press to curtail its attacks on the Nazi persecution of Jews? Um, come to think of it, that did happen…

I suppose that this is not totally unexpected. Until September 2017, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) was led by Salih Muslim who is on record as believing that unless Assad was part of Syria’s solution, 2 million Alawites would die. Evidently he was unaware of how the hard-core supporters of Assad had painted graffiti “Either Assad or the Country Burns” all across the country. Just two weeks after Assad had launched a Sarin gas attack in East Ghouta that cost the lives of up to 1,729 people, Salih Muslim told Reuters that it was a false flag aimed at framing Assad and provoking an international reaction. In other words, there was nothing to distinguish him from the Vanessa Beeleys of the world.

For some on the left, this is just a peccadillo. The Greenleft Weekly that is edited and written by long-time members of the Trotskyist movement in Australia is utterly devoted to the Rojava cause as reflected by the appearance of well over 200 articles that are breathlessly enthusiastic while the fight to overthrow Assad is largely dismissed as jihadist in nature. Even the FSA, which has been largely eliminated because of a genocidal-like air war, gets reduced to a militia made up of warlords and brigands.

On the very day that the NY Times article about Assadist militias rescuing the anarchist paradise appeared, a Greenleft supporter posted an article by Tony Iltis to Marxmail. Titled “As Syria’s conflict intensifies, where do democratic hopes lie?”, it echoes Greenleft’s hatred of Islamic-based militias, referring to “the degeneration of much of the FSA into right-wing Islamist militias”, including those that are being bombed to hell in East Ghouta. By contrast, the Rojava experiment was capable of “uniting all nationalities in Syria, even gaining increasing adherence from the Arab majority.” Unlike the areas under control of women-hating jihadists, Rojava was feminist, democratic and committed to a cooperative-based economy.

Leaving aside the unlikelihood of Rojava becoming a model for the rest of Syria instead of the Gaza-like protectorates of the FSA or the plebian Islamist militias that were united on a class basis against an oligarchy that had destroyed agrarian society, there is little hard analysis of the anarchist dream represented by Rojava. It is understandable why Graeber and anarchists in general look to it as living model of their dreams. But for the people at Greenleft, isn’t there any interest in taking up the question of what amounts to an age-old debate on the left about whether such locally-based co-operatives can ever lead to socialism? Apparently not.

For all practical purposes, Greenleft’s line on Rojava is identical to that of David Graeber, a high-profile anarchist and number one defender of the Kurdish application of Murray Bookchin’s theories.

If Graeber and his friends at Greenleft never bothered to consider the possibility that co-operatives were a dead end except for small-scale enterprises in Park Slope, Brooklyn or within a post-capitalist society like Cuba, where they could complement the main engines of publicly owned firms, there was ample evidence that Bookchin himself was growing doubtful. In an article by Janet Biehl, his long-time collaborator, there’s a critique that has apparently not been reflected in all of the Rojava rhapsodizing. She writes:

In the 1970s, many American radicals formed cooperatives, which they hoped could constitute an alternative to large corporations and ultimately replace them. Bookchin welcomed this development, but as the decade wore on, he noticed that more and more those once-radical economic units were absorbed into the capitalist economy. While cooperatives’ internal structures remained admirable, he thought that in the marketplace they could become simply another kind of small enterprise with their own particularistic interests, competing with other enterprises, even with other cooperatives.

You can find an interview with Graeber on Co-Operative Economy, a website that describes itself as follows:

The co-operative movement in North Syria, known colloquially as Rojava (meaning “West” in Kurdish) is thriving.

In Rojava, a revolution is taking place, based on the political model of Democratic Confederalism, and within this system, co-operatives play an integral part in reshaping the economy. People here are taking collective control of their lives and workplaces.

In Bakur, (the predominantly Kurdish region which lies within Turkey’s border) co-operatives have been set up within a similar model of democratic autonomy, despite the ongoing military repression by the state of Turkey.

I invite the Greenleft people and anybody else on the left who can’t tell the difference between anarchism and Marxism to read the interview since Graeber clearly does.

It seems that Graeber’s father fought in the Spanish Civil War and that one of the things he learned from him is that anybody who doesn’t work with his or her hands is superfluous. “And in fact, my father was in Barcelona when it was run by an anarchist principle. They just got rid of white collar workers, and sure enough they discovered these were basically bullshit jobs, that they didn’t make any difference if they weren’t there.” Well, I was in Nicaragua in the late 80s—a country trying to implement socialist policies under very difficult conditions—and can assure you that engineers, programmers, economists and other white-collar professionals were desperately needed. If they were doing “bullshit jobs”, that was not what we heard from Daniel Ortega. One supposes that Nicaragua would have been better off it had tried to implement libertarian municipalism rather than state ownership and planning but then again Somoza would have thrown the practitioners out of helicopters before they got very far.

Graeber has a rather quaint way of expressing the difference between Marxism and anarchism. People like Somoza or Assad don’t mind if Marxists say things like “I hate you, I want to overthrow you” nearly as much as what the anarchists say: “You guys are ridiculous and unnecessary.” Gosh, where did I go wrong? Instead of joining the SWP in the (vain) hope of making a revolution in the USA, I should have gone up to Vermont and started a maple syrup co-operative. That would have saved me the trouble of reading all that stuff about revolutionary struggles in Cuba or Vietnam and eventually figuring out that the SWP was right in its ultimate goal but totally fucked-up in the way it went about it.

Showing that he has read his Bakunin, Graeber puts it this way: “When those Marxists come, the police will still be there. There are probably going to be more of them, right? Anarchists come, the whole structure will be changed. People will be told that it’s completely unnecessary.” Oh, I see. With Rojava chugging along, the police will disappear. What a relief to everybody except the families of the 13,000 men who were secretly hanged in Syrian prisons without even a trial.

Here’s Graeber summing up the Rojava experiment:

They run the cities. It’s a country of a real economy; it’s a poor one and they’re under embargo. But there are people driving cars, there is traffic rules, there’s workshops and factories producing things, there’s farms. It does all the things you have in a normal society. Roads have to be maintained.

But essentially, what they have done is created … it’s very interesting. I’ve said, I’ve described it as a dual power situation, but this is the first time in human history, I think, where you have a dual power situation where the same guy set up both sides. So they have a thing that looks like a government; it’s got a parliament, it’s got ministers. They pass legislation.

For me, “dual power” refers to what takes place under revolutionary conditions. For example, in the country Graeber’s father fought in, there really was a dual-power situation. Vast portions of the country were producing food and manufactured goods on farms and factories after ousting the bosses. Were those bosses the white-collar people Graeber was referring to? If so, he needs to familiarize himself with Marxist theories of social class, if I can be so presumptuous. A computer programmer working for Michael Bloomberg are not members of the same class. Been there, done that.

In order to regain control of the country, Franco used his air force and powerful military to destroy the militias and regular troops who defended worker and farmer owned and controlled property. Any resemblance between what took place in Spain and now in Rojava is purely coincidental.

I probably wouldn’t have bothered to write this article unless the news of Assadist militias coming to the aid of Rojova as East Ghouta was being pounded into oblivion had not appeared on the same day in the NY Times. The contrast was enough to make me scream. Before concluding with some thoughts on the Kurdish question, let me recommend some critiques of Rojava written by people not in any way affiliated with the Turkish state. I understand that people like Graeber and the Greenleft tend to think that anybody critical of Rojava is an Erdogan stooge but there’s nothing much I can do about that.

Andrea Glioti is a Arabic-speaking, freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Open Democracy and other reputable publications about the region since 2010. In a piece for Al-Jazeera titled “Rojava: A libertarian myth under scrutiny”, he argues that the equal political representation of all ethno-religious components–Arabs, Kurds and Christians—is not really that much different than what obtains in Lebanon. He is particularly concerned about how the Arab representation since it relies on tribal leaders such as Shaykh Humaydi Daham al-Jarba, who was a supporter of the dictatorship. Al-Jabra was the head of Jaysh al-Karama, a pro-government Arab militia that insisted that Bashar al-Assad was the only legitimate Syrian president.

Libcom.org, an anarchist website, has been following the Rojava experiment but with a lot more circumspection than Graeber or Greenleft. For example, on May 17, 2016 Gilles Dauvé and T.L. posted an article titled “Rojava: reality and rhetoric” that blasts Abdullah Ocalan for being an opportunist: “In the days when it claimed to be part of world socialism, it [the PKK] had no time for heretics like Pannekoek or Mattick, and went for successful Marxism-Leninism. When it espouses libertarianism, it does not take after Makhno, and prefers an acceptable version, probably the most moderate of all today, the Bookchin doctrine, that spices 19th century municipal socialism with self-administration and ecology.”

The authors have a particular quarrel with Graeber who wrote that “the Rojavans have it quite easy in class terms because the real bourgeoisie, such as it was in a mostly very agricultural region, took off with the collapse of the Baath regime.” They remind him:

Graeber mistakes a class for the persons it is composed of. Of course class is flesh and blood, but it is a lot more, it is made of social relations. The bourgeoisie does not vanish from an area which bourgeois individuals have fled. At the time of the Paris Commune, the ruling class left the city but its power structure was perpetuated during those two months: in the vaults of the Banque de France and their millions of francs the communards made no attempt to confiscate, and fundamentally in the continuation of the money economy and of wage-labour. In Rojava, there is no sign that the lower classes have done away with the market economy and the wage system.

If that is true of the Paris Commune, it will be a thousand times truer of Rojava. If after Assad finishes off the Sunni rebels, he will be free to turn his attention to the Kurds. While they do not pose the same kind of threat to his dictatorship, he will want to be sure to bring every square inch of his country under Baathist control. Not only will Rojova be subject to economic strangulation, it will be at the mercy of the Syrian air force that will be as vicious as Erdogan’s. Unlike the Kurds in Iraq, the economic foundations of Rojova are quite weak. Sooner or later, the strains being put on it will sharpen class differences among the Kurds. When an economy is being throttled, it tends to divide people along class lines. While the Kurdish elite has little in common with Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, it has its own interests to preserve.

But I identify most closely with Alex de Jong has written for Jacobin. De Jong is the is editor of Grenzeloos, the journal of the Dutch section of the Fourth International, and quite a capable Marxist thinker. His article is titled “The Rojava Project” and structured around a review of Meredith Tax’s “A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State”.

De Jong has made some points about Kurdish politics in Syria that have largely gone unnoticed:

Tax writes that, in 2004, the “PYD was involved in organizing the first major uprising of Syrian Kurds,” the Qamishli uprising. Here, she overstates the party’s role: it would be more correct to say that no party organized this spontaneous protest against anti-Kurdish violence and oppression. Granted, the PYD played an important role supporting the protests after they started, as did some of the other more militant Syrian-Kurdish groups such as the Yekîtî (Unity) party. But after the uprising was put down, new groups, critical of both the PYD and the Syrian state, formed.

One, the Kurdish Youth Movement, which largely consisted of teenagers, tried to launch the first armed resistance against the Baath regime. They accused the PYD of working with the state.

The Kurdish Future Movement, also founded after Qamishli, likewise rejects the PYD for its alleged collaboration. This group crossed one of the regime’s red lines by working with Arab opposition forces. From the beginning of the revolution, it has called for nothing less than the government’s fall. In July 2011, the movement’s figurehead Mashaal Tammo declared dialogue impossible: “You simply cannot speak with a regime that kills its own population.”

A Road Unforeseen unfortunately downplays Tammo, describing him as “an activist who wanted the Kurds to stay in the Syrian National Council.” This leaves out Tammo’s important role in Kurdish politics. After his murder in October 2011, fifty thousand people in Qamishli attended his funeral; other large demonstrations took place in Aleppo, Latakia, and Hasaka.

Tax writes that accusations that the PYD was involved in Tammo’s assassination have been proven false, citing documents published by Saudi news channel Al-Arabiya that show the Assad regime ordered the hit.

Unfortunately, things are not so clear. Shortly before his death, Tammo claimed that the regime and the PYD jointly planned an attempt on his life, seeing him as a common enemy. The PYD first blamed Tammo’s death on the Turkish government, then later on the Assad regime. The Kurdish Future Movement, greatly weakened by its leader’s death, still holds PYD responsible.

Tax describes these accusations as part of an “anti-Rojava narrative” circulating among “Western governments and NGOs.” But the PKK’s history of connivance with the Baathist state, as sketched above, has made many people — Arabs, as well as Kurds — distrustful. Further, recent instances of PYD-sanctioned political repression are not so easily waved aside. There have been multiple protests against the party in Rojava. To its credit, the Rojava administration has apologized for these abuses and tried to make amends.

It is understandable why so much of the left, including the Marxists who write for Greenleft, would admire the PYD and Rojova. Against a backdrop of sectarian slaughter with Assad on one side and jihadist militias on the other, Rojova is a breath of fresh air, a kind of oasis. It is a place where Yazidis and others fleeing terrorism and bombing can find refuge. It is also a place where generally it is possible to speak freely and to enjoy a modest and secure existence.

But in making a pact with the devil, the Kurdish leadership will eventually have to reckon with him. In the best of all possible worlds, the national question in Syria would have been addressed in the same fashion as it was in Czarist Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1917. Kurds would have won the right to full autonomy and its language and other forms of national identity fully respected. Baathism, largely modeled on Stalinist practices, was hostile to such rights using the bastardized formulations of the CPs.

When the Arab Spring broke out in Syria, an experienced revolutionary socialist leadership would have prioritized Kurdish demands and made absolutely sure that it earned the trust of an oppressed nationality on a continuous basis.

Instead, the Kurds were confronted by a Syrian National Coalition that was dominated by Muslim Brotherhood figures that shared the prejudices of the Baathist dictatorship. The Kurds were represented on the SNC by members of the Kurdish National Council that was loyal to the tribal leaders in Iraq and hardly representative of the more radical leaders of the PYD. Eventually, the PYD decided that the SNC was a waste of time and carved out a deal with Assad.

Ideally, the Kurds, the educated middle-class of Damascus, the rural poor, the enlightened Alawites would have come together around a democratic and economically progressive program and demolished the Baathist dictatorship through sheer force of numbers. Assad, however, calculated that by militarizing the conflict he would be able to draw in backward Sunni states and local reactionaries into an armed struggle that he could exploit through “secularist” demagogy and brute force.

Since 2011, one of my main interests has been to answer the lies of the Assadist left. But it has also been to maintain contact with the Syrian left, including a FB friend who is in Idlib now working for material aid to a struggling population. He was a law student in East Aleppo who was driven from the city in the same that he facing being expelled from Idlib now. He is a leftist and a person of uncommon decency. It is my hope that such people all across the Middle East and North Africa will come out of this human disaster and constitute the vanguard of the region’s rebirth on a more humane and rational basis. This means confronting the state and its repressive forces and defeating it. If it was choice between maintaining my ties to such people and forsaking those with a left that defended Assad or even waffled on that question, I’ll stick with that one Syrian. In his hands and those of others who think and act like him that the future rests.


February 13, 2018

Ben Norton cooks the books

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:02 pm

Once you decide to become an Assadist propagandist, it is like selling your soul to the devil. If Faust sought infinite knowledge,  a job with AlterNet or Salon seems rather cheap by comparison. Ben Norton is a case in point.

In an article for The Real News, Norton uses all sorts of dodgy journalistic tricks to make the case for Assad. Like AlterNet, TruthDig, et al, the Real News is a bully pulpit for Assadists with Ray McGovern, Lawrence Wilkerson, et al, making frequent appearances. With over 100 articles turned up by a search for “Syria”, not a single one challenges the Assadist propaganda machine.

The goal of Norton’s article is to prove that the USA sought regime change in Syria by “following the money”. He writes:

The United States spent at least $12 billion in Syria-related military and civilian expenses in the four years from 2014 through 2017, according to the former U.S. ambassador to the country.

This $12 billion is in addition to the billions more spent to pursue regime change in Syria in the previous three years, after war broke out in 2011.

To start with, Norton makes no attempt to document the “the billions more spent to pursue regime change in Syria in the previous three years, after war broke out in 2011”. It is common knowledge that the USA spent money through two different programs, one out of the Pentagon and one out of the CIA that only began in 2013. It is a sign of Norton’s dodgy reporting that he does not bother to identify where “the billions” were coming from unless they were part of an underground, illegal network like Oliver North set up for the Nicaraguan contras. This was not Obama’s style, especially since he held the rebels in contempt from the beginning.

So let’s take a look at that $12 billion and see why it failed to make a dent in the Assadist killing machine. Most of it was actually spent on humanitarian aid that Norton considered part of the “regime change” agenda, just like the White Helmets:

Ford also reported that the U.S. spent $7.7 billion in humanitarian aid efforts in Syria in those same four years. This figure cannot be excluded from the overall cost of the U.S. regime change mission, however, because U.S. spending on humanitarian aid in Syria has often been explicitly politicized.

Did the USA spend nearly $8 billion dollars on humanitarian aid in Syria? That’s a lot of dough and it hardly made a difference, as far as I can tell. All you need to do is check all the articles on starvation conditions in places like East Aleppo, East Ghouta, and Idlib where such aid could not be distributed for obvious reasons.

If you go to the Department of State website, you’ll get a proper accounting for the funds. Of that $7.7 billion, less than half of that was spent in Syria. Most went to refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Does this Assadist propagandist really think that the people living in tents in Lebanon were a threat to the regime with its barrel bombs and poison gas? I suppose anything is possible with such a sick mind.

The $7.7 billion is not distributed by American agencies, needless to say. But even the UN, that does operate in Syria with other NGO’s, admits that it has not had access to “hard-to-reach” places, including East Ghouta. Since Norton blames the “extremist” rebels for carrying out a “false flag” attack there, I suppose he is pleased that people in East Ghouta are being reduced to Auschwitz like conditions. In November, Reuters reported that they are so short of food that they are eating trash, fainting from hunger and forcing their children to eat on alternate days. Meanwhile, Norton gets paid to write propaganda describing such suffering as necessary to prevent al-Qaeda from invading Park Slope.

Once you subtract the $7.7 billion, you end up $4.3 billion that supposedly went to weapons and material aid for fighters in programs mounted by the Pentagon and the CIA’s Timber Sycamore. You might as well subtract the $500 million that the Pentagon spent since it would only be allocated to rebels who signed a contract that they would not fight against Assad’s military and only target ISIS.

As for remainder doled out by the CIA, it paid for everything except MANPAD’s. In fact, the CIA created border guards in collaboration with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to keep the Libyan-supplied weapons out of the hands of rebels. If the CIA had kept its AK-47s that could be bought cheaply on the black market and simply gotten out of the way, the war would have likely ended in 2015 by turning Syria into a graveyard for MIGs.

It is important to mention that despite claims that Timber Sycamore supplied anti-tank TOW missiles to the rebels, there was little indication that they were received until 2015. A 2013 NY Times article describes the reality:

Through the fall, the Qatari Air Force cargo fleet became even more busy, running flights almost every other day in October. 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. [emphasis added] These complaints continue.

“Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” said Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province.

I have heard Assad supporters justify the blockade against MANPADs on the basis that they can be used against civilian airliners (even though most fly above their range) but why would the USA interfere with the shipment of TOWs if it was so hell-bent on regime change?

Two years alter, TOW missiles became available but only from Saudi Arabia that plausibly was acting on its own. They proved so devastating that there were genuine fears that Assad’s days were numbered, especially after the Southern Front of the FSA overran a major air base near Dara’a in June of that year. This evidently persuaded the Russians to intervene in September. You might remember that the combined firepower of the Syrian and Russian air force was initially directed against everyone except ISIS.

Clearly, it was Russia, Iran, Hizbollah, Iraqi sectarian Shi’ite brigades and Afghan mercenaries that finally broke the back of the revolutionary resistance. This is a Pyrrhic victory. Syria is rapidly running out of oil and water, so much so that even if had been at peace for the past six years, it would still be in a deep economic/ecological crisis. This is compounded by massive infrastructure destruction that will require billions to replace but that the West has little interest in supplying. This leaves it to oil rentier states like Russia and Iran to step into the breach. Given the economic woes of both countries, it is doubtful that Syria will be anything except what Tacitus described: “To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.”



February 5, 2018

Fact-checking the latest propaganda rolling off the Assadist assembly-line

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 9:23 pm

Judith Miller and Christopher Hitchens: forerunners of today’s Assadist propagandists

One of the most off-putting things about Assadist propaganda is that it advertises itself as a corrective to the “mainstream media” even as its purveyors adopt the journalistic norms of Judith Miller. What explains the cavalier attitude toward the truth? To a large extent, it is a function of deep-seated Islamophobia that is rooted in 9/11. Back then, Christopher Hitchens earned the contempt for most of us on the left for his close ties to the Bush administration. Even if it was becoming obvious that the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was based on a mountain of lies, Hitchens gave the Bush administration a free pass because he saw al-Qaeda as the greatest threat to “Western Civilization” since Adolph Hitler.

Today, there is a virtual army of journalists who combine the shoddy journalism of Judith Miller and the virulent Islamophobia of Christopher Hitchens on behalf of a new crusade against the “Salafist menace”. But instead of serving as the lapdog of George W. Bush, they operate as cogs in the propaganda machine for the Kremlin and the Baathist state. Their hatred for “jihadism” runs so deep that they justify the bombing of hospitals in Idlib because Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra) has a foothold there. The ability of many leftists to lament the war crimes in Yemen and now in Afrin while cheering on Russian and Syrian mass murder is a defect in the kind of movement we have become, showing the same kind of cynical “ends justify the means” mindset that destroyed the Stalinized Communist Party.

Two recent examples illustrate how low the Assadist left has sunk. The first is an article in Viewpoint by Patrick Higgins titled “The Enemy at Home: U.S. Imperialism in Syria” that invokes Karl Liebknecht’s call for opposition to WWI. Hasn’t Higgins any idea that opposition to WWI in the USA back then would land you in prison as Eugene V. Debs discovered? Today, opposition to a Bush-style American intervention in Syria is universal, spanning from Higgins on the left to Henry Kissinger and David Duke on the right.

As is customarily the case, as long as Higgins writes about American foreign policy exclusive of Syria, there is not much to quibble with. Most of it is what you’d read in Noam Chomsky or Alexander Cockburn. Or, for that matter, what I wrote about Vietnam, Nicaragua, Palestine or Iraq over the years.

It is only when he gets to Syria that the propaganda kicks in.

Higgins argues that the war in Syria is the culmination of a policy that began during Eisenhower’s administration to contain Arab radicalism, particularly of the type Nasser represented. Making the case that the Baathist state is inimical to American interests in the region would by necessity omit any reference to Hafez al-Assad becoming part of the coalition to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1991. The Baathist dictator’s support for American imperialism paid dividends as the Chicago Tribune reported:

A year ago Syria, which always has aspired to a leadership role in Arab affairs, was isolated and resented by most of its neighbors. Now it has forged an alliance with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and has joined with Egypt in providing the bulk of the troops for a new Arab peacekeeping force in the Persian Gulf region.

It has received about $2.5 billion in assistance from the Gulf States and Japan, and its role in the peacekeeping force promises another sizable windfall.

So, imagine that. Assad the father cuts deals with Mubarak and the Saudis in cahoots with the USA and this is what “Arab radicalism” amounts to? Oh, did I mention that Kuwait is not mentioned once in Higgins’s article?

Like many others who profess support for the Palestinian cause, Higgins credits the Syrian dictatorship for backing Hezbollah’s resistance to Israel in 2006 even if it is impossible for him to sweep under the rug how it allied with Israel against the PLO in Lebanon.

Once again, this is a highly selective version of Syrian-Palestinian relations. Search for a reference to Gaza or Hamas in his article and you will come up empty just as was the case with Kuwait. He cannot admit that Hamas has condemned Russian and Syrian war crimes in East Aleppo. When Russian and Syrian jets were bombing hospitals, Hamas issued a statement that said: “We are following with great pain what is happening in Aleppo and the horrific massacres, murders and genocide its people are going through, and condemn it entirely.” Unlike Higgins, Hamas was not persuaded by the need to bomb hospitals because they were treating 4-year olds with broken bones who might grow up one day to become “terrorists”. When Syria dropped leaflets in East Aleppo to demand that the citizenry repudiate terrorism in the way that IDF did in Gaza City, Hamas could not help identifying with the victims of the “war on terror”.

In a journalistic maneuver that would have been too crass for Judith Miller to employ, Higgins claims that weaponry supplied to rebels in Syria were “diverted” to al-Nusra. As is often the case when I click the link to an article such as this, it is not what it was supposed to be saying. Maybe Higgins did not read past the Reuters article headline: U.S.-trained Syrian rebels gave equipment to Nusra: U.S. military. However, when you continue reading the article, you will learn that the weapons were surrendered in order to gain safe passage. This is like saying shopkeepers used to “give” protection money to the Mafia as if the consequences for refusing such payments would have been nothing but a slap on the wrist rather than a bullet in the head.

To make the case that the rebels were “Salafists” from the beginning, Higgins cites a Pentagon report that appears on the rightwing Judicial Watch website and that has been cited by a thousand other Assadist propagandists. However, in 2012 the dominant force in Syria was the FSA that would soon begin to clash with ISIS as it had with al-Nusra on occasion. To really make sense of the relationship of forces in Syria, you’d have to do more than write a brief report that was never official policy and that was also heavily redacted.

In May of 2013, the Center for American Progress issued a report estimating that the FSA had 50,000 fighters as opposed to al-Nusra’s 6,000. Another report from Charles Lister around this time estimates ISIS and al-Nusra’s combined forces to be 12,000 (I would have put ISIS into a separate category altogether since it had little interest in the goals of the Arab Spring, even less so than al-Nusra), while all other rebel groups amounted to 88,000. Perhaps Higgins has his own estimates but I doubt that someone who relies on the specious Judicial Watch report has any interest in that.

Higgins has the audacity to compare US bombing in Syria to that which occurred during the Vietnam war. This is truly astonishing. The USA dropped more than 3 times the tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than it dropped during all of WWII. And what was an example of US bombing in Syria? The only examples that Higgins could dredge up was a mortar attack on a trade fair in Damascus last August that killed 6 people and a suicide bombing there 3 months earlier that killed 31. This is on one side of the ledger and on the other you have artillery, missiles, barrel bombing and Sarin gas attacks that have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. Talk about putting your fingers on the scales of justice.

As it happens, Higgins wrote essentially the same article for Jacobin in 2015 before it switched gears editorially to oppose Assad. To a large extent, Max Ajl was responsible for Assadist propaganda when he was a member of the editorial board. That kind of garbage disappeared after he got the boot. Now that he is on Viewpoint’s editorial board, we can expect the same kind of Islamophobic junk to appear. We might even assume that he will recruit the same scoundrels he used to line up for Jacobin.

On December 2, 2017, I wrote about Ajl’s conversation with fellow Assadist Justin Podhur about his departure from Jacobin. The oddest thing about their wound-licking session is their outlandish exaggeration of the power that is wielded by people like me, Gilbert Achcar, the ISO, New Politics and the new Jacobin over the Syria debate. Podhur put it this way:

And I think that feeling is something that I have personally been feeling for a really long time – guilty, muted, fumbling, silenced – about opposing imperialism, especially in Syria, and it’s been really confusing for me. And so for you to write that…I felt a lot of relief reading that somebody else felt that way.

This is truly astonishing. You have Alternet, Truthdig, CommonDreams, The Nation, the Boston Globe (via Stephen Kinzer), the LRB, the NYRB, 90 percent of the articles on CounterPunch, and countless other bloggers and websites making the same arguments as Ajl and Higgins and they feel “silenced”? Maybe what is irking them is that there are still a few lonely voices that don’t buy their crap. It wasn’t enough that Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton were bribed into write Assadist propaganda. Speaking for myself, I’d rather be water-boarded than justify bombing hospitals.

Unlike Higgins, who was an obscure graduate student with little to show either as a journalist or activist, Daniel Lazare has written some important stuff, including two books on the American constitution. But like all these good people from Seymour Hersh to Patrick Cockburn, he turned into Mr. Hyde after 2011.

In a Truthdig article titled “Jacobin Is Fueling the Lies About Syria”, Lazare hyper-ventilates on the post-Ajl Jacobin:

Syria has generated more lies than any United States action since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That’s why Jacobin Magazine, the self-proclaimed “leading voice of the American left,” is so important. Readers need it to help cut through the dense fog of mendacity billowing forth out of Washington.

Correction: That’s why Jacobin should be important. In fact, the magazine/website has echoed U.S. propaganda on Syria and in some cases even exceeded it.

Like Higgins, Lazare makes claims that are not backed up by the articles he links to in support of those claims. For example, he writes that “Jacobin has attacked the Assad regime for dwelling excessively on rebel atrocities against Christians, Shiites and other minorities” but when you go to the article in question, which is an interview with Yasser Munif, you can find nothing remotely connected to this. Just go to the article and look for anything about the Assad regime being attacked in such a manner. If you can find it, I will donate $1,000 to the Moon of Alabama’s next fund-drive.

Lazare misses the good old days when Jacobin was publishing Patrick Higgins. That’s a laugh. His 2015 article was even a worse case of yellow journalism than his Viewpoint piece. I would refer you to my commentary on it here. He tells his readers that the rebels were bloodthirsty jihadists from the beginning, referring to a BBC article that connects them to the death of 120 Baathist cops in 2011. What he fails to tell you, however, is that the BBC was simply reporting what state television said. Covering this up is just what you’d expect from a shameless propagandist like Patrick Higgins.

Lazare is upset that Jacobin questioned whether Obama was for “regime change”. Maybe he hadn’t read the October 22, 2013 N.Y. Times article that made this crystal clear, written when worries over a looming war with Syria were at their height. It 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.”

This is not to speak of the Atlantic Magazine interviews that Jeffrey Goldberg conducted with Obama in 2016. Once again the clash with Samantha Power is cited:

At the outset of the Syrian uprising, in early 2011, Power argued that the rebels, drawn from the ranks of ordinary citizens, deserved America’s enthusiastic support. Others noted that the rebels were farmers and doctors and carpenters, comparing these revolutionaries to the men who won America’s war for independence.

Obama flipped this plea on its head. “When you have a professional army,” he once told me, “that is well armed and sponsored by two large states”—Iran and Russia—“who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict …” He paused. “The notion that we could have—in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces—changed the equation on the ground there was never true.” The message Obama telegraphed in speeches and interviews was clear: He would not end up like the second President Bush—a president who became tragically overextended in the Middle East, whose decisions filled the wards of Walter Reed with grievously wounded soldiers, who was helpless to stop the obliteration of his reputation, even when he recalibrated his policies in his second term. Obama would say privately that the first task of an American president in the post-Bush international arena was “Don’t do stupid shit.”

Lazare explains Syria’s war as the outcome of religious Sunni resentment toward a leader who even Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami considered “genuinely popular” with most Syrians. These are the co-authors of “Burning Country” whose meeting at Columbia University was trolled by Lazare. I suppose that Lazare assumed that people would not go out and buy their book to judge the accuracy of his citation. As it happens, the book—happily—can now be read online and in the context that Lazare slyly omitted. The authors were referring to the hopes of some that Assad would respond positively to the earliest protests in 2011:

Some even thought the popular protests would be welcomed by Bashaar as ammunition in his presumed struggle against regime hardliners. After all, the man was genuinely popular. Perhaps – after allowing  non-sectarian and non-ethnic parties to operate openly – he could  even have won a real election, and gone down in history as hero of  the democratic transition.

In other words, the authors were referring to what some thought. I suppose by this criterion, Assad was the most popular president in modern history, routinely getting 98% of the vote. That “some” might have been 25% of the country or maybe even 40% but we’ll never know since door to door polling would have been about as possible as a television station that challenged a system that relied on prison, torture, murder and beatings for a stability based on fear.

For Robin Yassin-Kassab’s reaction to Lazare’s intervention, I recommend this:

We heard some strange things, but were only once confronted by a highly aggressive, profoundly ignorant and prejudiced white man. This was during our talk at Columbia University, New York. This character was the first to put up his hand after our presentations. He’d been glaring, particularly at Leila, throughout the talks.

He was almost spitting with anger. How could Leila describe Iran as a prime generator of sectarianism, he wanted to know, when everyone knew it was Saudi Arabia? He himself knew for sure that Syria’s 2011 protest movement was entirely made up of Sunnis, and that they were calling for the blood of the Alawis and Christians from the first day. He knew that all the Christians and Alawis and Druze had demonstrated for Assad. He named a French commentator as evidence for this (Fabrice someone?), and expressed admiration for Patrick Cockburn, who I’d criticised in my talk.

And so he encapsulated some of the worst characteristics of this pro-fascist ‘left’ that has run so badly aground. The lack of detail, and useless binarism, of the Iran/Saudi comment; the orientalism and Islamophobia of the rest; the anger born of a sense of entitlement to narrate other people’s struggles; and the reliance on French and Irish commentators rather than on Syrian revolutionary voices. Neither Leila nor I claim to be Syrian revolutionary voices, but we have interviewed many Syrian revolutionaries, including many from Christian and Alawi backgrounds, who were part of the protest movement from the start. In my answer I mentioned them, and also towns like Yabroud, with a very high proportion of ‘religious minorities’, which liberated themselves from Assad’s forces and set up free local councils and Free Army militias instead. The angry man tutted and spat through my answer. At least two Syrian Christians were in the room, rolling their eyes as he spat.

Leila was disturbed by him. I told her not to dwell on it. The man was so emotionally overwrought he probably had mental problems, like so many in this city. But afterwards we learnt that the angry man is a Stalinist ‘intellectual’, that he writes for the ugly magazine Jacobin, and that his name is Daniel Lazare.

If Lazare’s analysis rests on shaky foundations, his writing is just as badly in need of a watchful editor that the well-endowed Truthdig’s editors were unable to catch. He cites a book “Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam” as proof of the U.S.’s evil intentions. The author? None other than Richard Dreyfus [sic, it is actually Dreyfuss], the star of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” who was recently charged with sexual harassment? Nope. Lazare meant Robert Dreyfuss, who is as hysterically obsessed with al-Qaeda as Lazare or Higgins.

Like Higgins’s 2015 Jacobin article, Lazare insists that the rebels were bloodthirsty jihadists from the start:

The claim that protesters turned to violence only after the regime used deadly force is belied by an Israeli TV report in March 2011 that protesters had killed seven soldiers in Dera’a and set fire to the local courthouse and Baath Party headquarters.

Naturally, Lazare fails to mention that four protestors were killed and another 100 were wounded days before the retaliation took place. If you want to see why peaceful protestors decided that they had enough, watch this:

Naturally, Lazare begins to wind down his article with an endorsement of Robert Fisk’s reporting from Syria, where he has  been continuously embedded with the Syrian army just as CNN was embedded in the U.S. military during the war in Iraq. Fisk’s reporting has been so atrocious that the word “Fisking” was invented to describe his habitual distortions and lies.

On February 2nd, Fisk told his Independent readers: “I have to say, however, that after a 2,000-mile tour over much of Syria, I have – for the first time in recent months – seen neither a single Hezbollah member or Iranian revolutionary guard. And since Western leaders believe Syria is swamped with Iranians, this is interesting.”

But on January 3rd, Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah was quite clear that his troops were in Syria.

The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group said on Wednesday the Syrian war, now in its seventh year, will be finished in one or two years at most.

In an interview with Lebanon’s pro-Iran al-Mayadeen channel, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also said Israeli strikes on Hezbollah positions in Syria did not, and will not, prevent supplies of weapons reaching the group.

You can read the whole thing here: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/five-things-you-may-have-missed-nasrallah-s-interview-372610417.

So, if Robert Fisk didn’t see any Hezbollah fighters in Syria, maybe he should get checked for cataracts. As for Daniel Lazare and Patrick Higgins, they are clearly beyond help.

January 29, 2018

Taking stock of Robert Parry (1949-2018)

Filed under: journalism,Syria,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:54 pm

Yesterday, Nat Parry announced the death of his father Robert Parry on Consortium News, a website he created in 1995 as an alternative to the mainstream news. While Robert Parry had announced to his readers on December 31, 2017 that a stroke would inhibit his ability to provide the kind of content to which they had become accustomed, the underlying ailment responsible for his untimely death was cancer of the pancreas that he had unknowingly been suffering from for the past 4 to 5 years.

Nat Parry’s article summarizes his father’s considerable accomplishments that date back to Reagan’s war against the Sandinistas. I recommend it as an indication of a career that any journalist could be proud of, as long as the cut-off date is 2011 or so.

He credits his father with digging beneath “the reality of the chemical attack in Syria in 2013” and for defying the mainstream media’s consensus on Putin and the war in Ukraine. We are told that:

Bob regretted that, increasingly, “the American people and the West in general are carefully shielded from hearing the ‘other side of the story.’” Indeed, he said that to even suggest that there might be another side to the story is enough to get someone branded as an apologist for Vladimir Putin or a “Kremlin stooge.”

This reduction of the parameters of the discussion on these matters to Robert Parry on one side and the NY Times and Washington Post on the other is a bit of a Hobson’s choice. As bad as the bourgeois press is with its inside-the-beltway mindset, are we any better off with the inside-the-Kremlin orientation of a whole range of highly respected leftwing reporters since 2011, including Parry, Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, Seymour Hersh and Stephen Kinzer? Neither the mainstream media nor the “anti-imperialist” websites like Consortium News could take the trouble to learn and write about the people Obama dismissed as “farmers or dentists or maybe some radio reporters who didn’t have a lot of experience fighting”. Obama, his supporters in the bourgeois press, and Robert Parry all failed to engage with the humanity of those who find themselves on the opposite side of the barricades from Putin or Assad.

I have my own ideas of how that should have been done and credit my friend Anand Gopal with doing the kind of reporting that never would have occurred to the much more well-known figures above. Harper’s published Gopal’s article “Welcome to Free Syria” in August 2012 . Unlike Cockburn or Fisk, he was not embedded in the Syrian army. Instead, he was transported from Turkey into Syria in a car that “avoided the highway and hopscotched from village to village along back roads.” With his mobile-phone system disabled, it was impossible to know about government troop movements and the location of army checkpoints.

The pay-off was being able to interview people who Obama never had any intention of putting into power. Just consider how they saw themselves and how similar they were to those rising up in the Arab Spring as well as the Occupy movement in the USA:

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.”)

Except for Anand Gopal’s article and those written by the Syrian left, including Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila al-Shami, and Joseph Daher, this was a perspective utterly missing in Parry et al. Instead, we were expected to choose between the mainstream media that featured articles on Assad’s brutality and Parry’s attempts to minimize or deny it. Syrian voices were omitted.

Parry could have been less interested in the people of a shithole like Binnish. Like most men who had made careers at Newsweek, Time, the NY Times, and the Washington Post, his focus was on “foreign policy”. Syria was just some real estate that the USA and its rivals were quarrelling over. On April 29, 2013, he expressed dismay over Obama’s failure to enter negotiations with Assad:

In 2012, there appeared to be a chance for a breakthrough both in talks with Iran over its nuclear program and with Syria’s Assad regime over a power-sharing arrangement with the country’s disaffected Sunni majority. Some people involved in those initiatives thought that after the U.S. election, a victorious Obama would have the political space to make concessions as well as demands. Then, when nothing happened, some thought he was waiting to install a new national security team and didn’t want to risk Senate obstruction of his nominations.

That disaffected majority was hardly worth Parry’s consideration since it was made up of “murderous Sunni fundamentalists.” How did he know that the Sunnis were so evil? Well, he read it in the N.Y. Times. So, you see, the mainstream media is to be shunned unless it serves your own ideological preconceptions.

Only five months after he wrote his article, he became just another Assadist propagandist claiming that Assad was innocent of the charge of killing over a thousand people in East Ghouta in a sarin gas attack. Shockingly enough, Parry backed up his claims by citing Carla Del Ponte, a UN functionary that Alexander Cockburn charged with running a kangaroo court to prosecute Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes. If that wasn’t the bottom of the barrel, Parry sunk even lower to rely on the allegations found in former Defense Department official F. Michael Maloof’s article for World Net Daily (WND), which alleged that the rebels used sarin gas on their own supporters. I guess you can say that WND.com is an alternative to the Washington Post but what kind?

WND was founded in 1997 by “birther” Joseph Farah as part of the Western Journalism Center that he formed 6 years earlier. Besides WND, the Western Journalism Center created NewsMax, another ultraright outlet. If you are looking for comparisons, they should be grouped with Breitbart News. Besides Maloof’s dubious reporting on sarin gas, WND had run a six-part series claiming that soybean consumption causes homosexuality as well as one that pointed to a secret 20-point Muslim plan “for conquering the United States by 2020.”

As for Maloof, a Mother Jones investigation revealed that he was key to providing a fake story that helped paved the way for the invasion of Iraq in 2002. When Maloof worked for the neoconservative warmonger Richard Perle, he cooked up evidence that the Soviet Union was stealing Western technology. And this is the guy that Robert Parry wanted us to trust?

Turning to Ukraine, it is just as bad—maybe worse. This time it was the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014 over Ukraine. He even tied the two “false flag” incidents to each other:

Despite doubts within the U.S. intelligence community, the Obama administration and the mainstream U.S. news media are charging off toward another rush to judgment blaming Ukrainian rebels and the Russian government for the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines plane, much as occurred last summer regarding a still-mysterious sarin gas attack in Syria.

Like Seymour Hersh, Parry refers to unnamed spooks in the “intelligence community”. Who knows? Maybe the aforementioned F. Michael Maloof was one of them.

Demonstrating a laughable departure from the rigorous norms of investigative reporting, Parry wrote:

According to a source briefed on the tentative findings, the soldiers manning the battery appeared to be wearing Ukrainian uniforms and may have been drinking, since what looked like beer bottles were scattered around the site.

No, this is Parry and not Onion.com. I love the bit about beer bottles scattered around the site. You’d think that he would have mentioned vodka in order to make it sound more plausible. Those Ukrainian troops were just like Bluto and Otter getting into trouble in “Animal House”. They must have gotten loaded and shot down a civilian airliner.

Parry also casted doubt on the possibility that the separatists had a ground to air missile capable of reaching the plane. Supposedly, they had MANPAD’s that were only capable of bringing down low-flying airplanes or helicopters. But in fact, just days before the Flight 17 shoot-down, a separatist missile had brought down a Ukrainian military transport, an AN-26 that was flying four miles above the ground and well beyond the reach of a MANPAD.

All of this demonstrates that one of the greatest collateral damages of the past seven years of conflict in Syria and Ukraine, besides the loss of lives, is its tendency to turn accomplished investigative reporters into shoddy propagandists.

After Trump’s election, Parry posed the question whether Trump would decide to be a great president in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt or someone more of the caliber of Calvin Coolidge. I am not sure whether Parry’s illness had some effect on his ability to clearly assess Donald Trump but it had already been established by then that Trump was a shameless liar who treated his workers like slaves. In 1980, he used undocumented Polish workers to clear the future site of Trump Tower, forcing them to work 12-hour shifts in unsafe conditions and paying them $4 per hour. To imagine that someone with a record like Trump could have been anything like FDR was as much a failure to do the proper job of an investigative reporter as was his articles on sarin gas and Flight 17. If Parry had read David Cay Johnson, he could have never considered this in the realm of possibility.

It is too bad that Parry did not retire in 2011. A book could be written about the decline of investigative journalism over the past 6 years. Let’s hope that the next generation of reporters can take their cue from Anand Gopal who is continuing in the tradition of the pre-2011 Robert Parry as well as all the other journalists who I held in great esteem until the awful assault on the truth and humanity that began under the combined power of Assad and Putin’s air force and their respective propaganda machines.

December 12, 2017

A look at recent Assadist propaganda

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:07 pm

Patrick Lawrence

Two articles have surfaced recently that deserve commentary from those plucky few of us who have not joined Robert Fisk, Stephen Kinzer, David Bromwich, David Duke and millions of other intellectuals, journalists, politicians and self-described anti-imperialists in rallying around Bashar al-Assad. Years ago, when I first joined the Trotskyist movement, old friends from my bohemian days used to tell me that my new-found radicalism was some sort of psychological overcompensation related to unresolved issues with my mother that a therapist could help me overcome. Do I have the same problem today? Is my objection to MIG’s bombing hospitals a neurotic symptom? If so, I prefer to live with it.

On November 26th, Salon published an article by Patrick Lawrence titled “The war is over in Syria, and America lost” that as the title indicates sums up the sentiments of the aforementioned Assadist camp. Apparently, there must have been some complaints to editor Andrew O’Hehir over the far too candid wording and was recaptioned in a day or two as “American policy totally failed in Syria — let’s be thankful”. Nothing changed besides this. Even the ghoulish photo of Assad and Putin remained.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving Day, just 3 days before his article appeared, Lawrence was thankful that Donald Trump joined him, Fisk, Kinzer, Bromwich, Duke et al in dumping Obama’s “regime change” policies and seeing eye to eye with an ultraright racist who keeps people up at night worrying about nuclear war with North Korea. Good old Donald Trump has seen the light. Yes, he has screwed poor people, backed Roy Moore to the hilt, opened up national parks to drilling, retweeted Britain First’s Islamophobic videos and generally been Salon magazine’s worst nightmare. But on Syria, he warms the cockles of Lawrence’s heart.

Showing an utter incomprehension about the reactionary character of the Assad-Putin axis, Lawrence also cheers on the reorientation of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and even Israel to the Putin-Assad axis. “For what it is worth — and I cannot evaluate this — even Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, includes Putin in his loop since the outcome in Syria became evident some months ago.” He cannot evaluate this? Okay, let’s do it for him. Israel is also drawing closer to Saudi Arabia as this Jerusalem Post article points out. Both powers might still be hostile to Iran but nonetheless agree that the Arab Spring was “destabilizing and unleashed dangerous forces”.

So, we have a commonality of interests between Trump, Putin, Assad, Turkey, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia about the need to keep Assad in power. If Lawrence weren’t a half-assed, has-been “investigative journalist” resting on his laurels like Fisk, Cockburn and Hersh, he’d understand that there is a class explanation for this. These powers seek stability in the Middle East in order to create fertile ground for capitalist investment. The poor, rural, and often religious rebels who took up arms against Assad 6 years ago were an inconvenience to powers that were in fact happy to be seen shaking hands with Assad over one deal or another in 2010 before the uppity rebels spoiled everything. Here’s just one example from dozens of photo ops:

Writing for the Nation last January, Lawrence was giddy with excitement over signs that Trump had dispensed with the “liberal, postwar order” that had produced “regime change” operations repeatedly. He was confident that a new détente with Putin could usher in a new world of peace and harmony between nations. His analysis was closely linked to that of the degraded Stephen F. Cohen whose wife Katrina vanden Heuvel was chief editor at the liberal magazine.

One supposes that the Nation and Salon got what they bargained for when they signed Lawrence up. On August 9th, a Lawrence article about Russiagate relied on the word of VIPS, a group of ex-spooks led by Ray McGovern that has defended every murderous step taken by Assad, including the sarin gas attacks. Not long after the article appeared, vanden Heuvel wrote an editor’s note that appeared above the article stating, “As part of the editing process, however, we should have made certain that several of the article’s conclusions were presented as possibilities, not as certainties.” In other words, the editors failed to do their due diligence when Lawrence’s bullshit crossed their desk. Even some of the spooks differed sharply from the report issued in their name. “This VIPS memo was hastily written based on a flawed analysis of third-party analyses and then thrown against the wall, waiting to see if it would stick.”

Hastily written and based on a flawed analysis? That sounds like 99 percent of the crap that is written on Putin and Assad’s behalf.

In trying to absolve Russia of hacking Clinton’s email (and who cares if they did) by establishing it as an inside job, Lawrence resorted to a technology-steeped analysis that showed him to be as inept as Theodore Postol or Seymour Hersh are on the chemistry of sarin gas. Relying on an “expert” only known as Forensicator, Lawrence wrote, “1,976 megabytes of data were downloaded from the DNC’s server. The operation took 87 seconds. This yields a transfer rate of 22.7 megabytes per second.” This was supposedly much too fast for any Russian hacker sneaking into Clinton’s email server. The VIPS dissidents pointed out that data transfer rates across the Internet from far-off locales can reach that speed and even exceed it while a server sitting in the same room as a client computer can be slower. Even the Forensicator was forced to issue a correction.

Finally, Ray McGovern, who Lawrence relied upon for his shoddy article, is not too particular about who he schmoozes with. In fact, before the article appeared in the Nation, McGovern gave an interview to the crypto-fascist and terminally obscurantist LarouchePAC making the same arguments.

Max Abrahms

John Glaser

Next we turn to Max Abrahms who co-authored LA Times op-ed with John Glaser titled “The pundits were wrong about Assad and the Islamic State”. I am familiar with Abrahms’s Assadist propaganda but had not stumbled across Glaser before. It turns out he is a staff member of the Cato Institute who has an M.A. in International Security from George Mason University. Did you know that Koch Industries’ executive vice president for public policy, Rich Fink, heads two Koch-funded programs at the school? Nice.

Like Patrick Lawrence and David Duke, Glaser is dead-set against “interventionism”, even going so far as to bad-mouth Trump for not breaking with the “liberal, postwar order” that Lawrence predicted he would. While being opposed to America’s wars overseas, Glaser has no problem with the war on the poor inside its borders (and Chile, I guess) as his valentine to Milton Friedman would indicate.

The gist of the article is to point out the error of neoconservatives like Max Boot who argued that ISIS could not be defeated as long as Assad was in power. While I have nothing in common with Max Boot, did he really argue that vanquishing the Islamic State was futile unless the U.S. also moved to depose the “Alawite regime in Damascus” as the article alleges? If you take the trouble to track down Boot’s article, which is unlinked in the article, you’ll see a somewhat different formulation: “The president also needs to do a better job of mobilizing support from Sunnis in Iraq and Syria, as well as from Turkey, by showing that he is intent on deposing not only ISIS but also the equally murderous Alawite regime in Damascus.” In other words, defeating Assad was not a precondition for defeating ISIS. Did Abrahms and Glaser think that LA Times readers would not fact-check them? What arrogant pricks.

They also claim that reports of Assad avoiding military confrontations with ISIS were false. They refer to numerous engagements that clearly did take place but only within the context of an all-out war on ISIS jointly coordinated by the USA and Russia. Before Obama made fighting against ISIS his sole interest in Syria, there were clear indications of a united front between Assad and ISIS against the Syrian rebels.

Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center’s (JTIC), hardly a citadel of pro-rebel sentiment, took note of the non-aggression pact that was obvious to everybody outside of the Assadist old boys network:

Forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State fighters (IS) in Syria appear to be avoiding each other on battlefield, as they focus their efforts fighting other groups in the war-torn country, data published by NBC news suggests.

Two out of three attacks carried out by IS militants in Syria this year targeted other non-state groups, according to data by Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center’s (JTIC).

The figures suggest that IS and Assad’s forces are mostly “ignoring each other,” said Matthew Henman, head of JTIC.

“They both recognize there’s a mutual benefit in crushing other groups,” Henman said.

Only 13 percent of the militants’ attacks during the same period — this year through Nov. 21 — targeted Syrian security forces.

Most of the article consists of academic political science blather but this particular sentence is worth noting: “The Realist paradigm reminds us that the U.S. need not share the same ideology of a nasty international actor to countenance working with him against a mutual foe.” This obviously is another way of saying that Assad was a lesser evil to ISIS even though you have to wonder what criterion the authors are using. This table dated January 7, 2015 will give you a good idea who is producing mass murder on an industrial scale:

Finally, it must be noted that Ben Norton, Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek have cited Max Abrahms in their Assadist propaganda since he shares their obsession with the jihadist threat. This is the same Max Abrahms who is on record as saying things like “Clearly, Palestinian society still places greater value on maintaining peace with the terrorists than with Israel” and “To staunch the bleeding from Israel’s July 2000 openhandedness, the Israel Defense Forces used an iron fist. Operation Defensive Shield, initiated in March 2002, brought the fight to the terrorists by deploying massive numbers of troops to the West Bank. This was language terrorists could understand. Evidently, it worked.”

And these three are supposedly pro-Palestinian? God help us.


December 2, 2017

Young Assadist academics nursing their wounds

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:53 pm

Justin Podur

Max Ajl

One of the most depressing things about the six years of war in Syria, besides the obvious destruction of life and property, is the trail of intellectual damage left behind by investigative journalists, leftist leaders, and academics who bend the truth or outright lie in order to defend the mafia state. History will certainly remember people such as Seymour Hersh, Theodore Postol, and Tariq Ali as being ethically and intellectually challenged no matter how virtuous they were in the past.

While by no means as well-known as such figures, there are two young scholars who have been carrying Assad’s water since the war began. Justin Podur is an associate professor at York University, where he likely developed ties to Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin of Socialist Register. He has been an outspoken defender of the dictatorship and perhaps the person responsible for posting tweets in the name of Panitch and Gindin’s Socialist Project gloating over Assad’s recent military victories—or the victories of the Russian air force on his behalf. When I complained publicly about such vile material bearing the imprimatur of people like Panitch and Gindin, I was told by Gindin that I should have taken it up with him privately. Perhaps so, but I was deeply troubled by the failure of Socialist Project leaders to monitor a Twitter account in their name and implicitly their failure to stay on top of what was happening in Syria. It is regrettable that in six years of war, not a single article about Syria has appeared in Socialist Register, New Left Review or Monthly Review. Perhaps that is a blessing in disguise since if trouble had been taken to publish one, chances are that the analysis would have been amiss.

The other young scholar is Max Ajl, who is a Ph.D. student at Cornell and whose views on Syria are identical to Podur’s. The two are part of a loose network of Assadists made up of bright young things including Rania Khalek, Ben Norton, and Max Blumenthal. Unlike the latter two just named, Podur and Ajl never needed to cover their tracks. They have been ardent defenders of the war criminal and oligarch from day one.

Yesterday, in doing some research totally unrelated to Syria, I stumbled across Ajl’s name. Out of curiosity, I googled it to see what he was up to and discovered a truly eye-opening conversation that Podur conducted with him on April 29, 2017, as part of something called the Ossington Circle podcast series. It likely gets its name from an avenue in Toronto near York University.

As is the case with Khalek and Norton who have issued similar complaints, Ajl feels wounded by people like me calling him an Assadist. (Blumenthal could care less, probably because he is mostly into the Assadist thing for the money as the trip to Russia on RT’s dime might have indicated.) Podur has a caption at the beginning of the interview: “In this episode of The Ossington Circle, academic, activist, and editor at Jadaliyya Max Ajl discusses the destruction of Syria and the vitriol directed at leftists and Palestine activists who have opposed intervention in Syria.”

Opposed intervention? As I told a long-time Marxmail subscriber and member of the Israeli CP this morning who has the same Assadist POV as the two, “All of us oppose foreign intervention in Syria–starting with me. The USA has to stop bombing Iraq and Syria, as does Russia. Same applies to Israel. The Syrians have to determine their own destiny, not combatants from Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Or from ISIS’s foreign fighters. In fact, if Assad had to rely exclusively on Syrians to do his fighting–including jet pilots, he would have been toppled in 2012.”

It seems that Podur feels “guilty, muted, fumbling, silenced – about opposing imperialism, especially in Syria” and that it’s been “really confusing” for him. And who is responsible for him being hounded into oblivion like Leon Trotsky in the 1930s? It turns out to be Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

When Qatar launched Al Jazeera, who could have predicted that it would end up making life unbearable for the young associate professor and his dissertation student pal. You, see, there was a devious trick behind Al Jazeera. It gained admiration for its stance on Palestine but its real agenda was to advance the foreign policy goals of the reactionary oil sheiks against Syria, Libya, Iran and any other state in the region that dared to stand up to imperialism. Agreeing with Podur, Ajl offers this summary of what has happened:

And so, what we can see since 2011, are a variety of almost formulaic attacks on the left in Syria: “the left isn’t doing this on Syria”; “the left is all Putinites”; “the left is supporting genocide”; “the left has a double standard”; “the left should supply the same standard of Palestine to the Syrian conflict”; “the left is inadequately supporting the revolution”. And at the same time, we have so-called news coverage saying that whatever is occurring in Syria has no foreign help, is not getting support from the US government, there are no sectarian elements, and so forth.

When Ajl refers to news coverage not referring to foreign fighters in Syria, I wonder what newspaper he has been reading. Assuming that Cornell has Lexis-Nexis, he could have made a search on Syria and “foreign fighter” and discovered 990 articles. Here are 10 right off the top:

Assuming that Ajl is smart enough to have become accepted into a school as prestigious as Cornell, how could he come up with something so inarticulate as “the left isn’t doing this on Syria”? What is this supposed to mean? Doing this? Doing what? If he wanted to accurately describe what people like me have been writing, the words would have been: “The majority of the left has been writing propaganda for Assad”. For example, in a Telesur article Ajl wrote in 2015, he claims that “it is Europe which freely exports reactionaries to Syria.” At the time I responded:

I paused over this passage and wondered what Ajl had in mind. Was he saying that the European security forces were lining up fanatics to go build the caliphate that is beheading Christians? I tried to imagine a cop at the airport security gate in Orly spotting a guy in black fatigues with a turban on his head and a beard down to his belly-button. After he pulls him aside for interrogation, the guy shows him an official letter from the Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure stating that he had been cleared to wreak havoc in Syria. After seeing this, the cop pats him on the back and sends him on his way.

Ajl complains about Al Jazeera’s bias. It opposed Assad but was “basically silent” about Bahrain during the Arab Spring. Just as you can check Lexis-Nexis on Syria and foreign fighters, you can go to Al Jazeera’s website and do a search on Bahrain and 2011. These are just some of the articles that show up:

I only hope he has more rigorous standards when it comes to his dissertation.

Ajl also resents how people like me (or perhaps me specifically) refer to Assadists like him viewing Syria within the context of a geopolitical chess game. Yes, it is true that this is exactly how most of the left approaches the dictatorship in Damascus. To paraphrase FDR, Assad might be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch if our means the BRICS, the good guys in the cold war, and the Manichean anti-imperialism of sects like the Party for Socialism and Liberation or the Socialist Equality Party.

That’s not the way Ajl sees things. Instead, “it’s about things like state sovereignty – that’s the entire framework of the post-Nazi international juridical order and it’s meant to actually prevent wars of aggression and to allow states to be sovereign, and for political movements to feel that that state sovereignty has social and political meaning.”

Sovereignty? Who the fuck is he kidding? Hafez al-Assad came to power through a military coup and a family dynasty has been ruling Syria since 1970. Yes, we oppose imperialism invading a country to topple a dictator like Manuel Noriega or Saddam Hussein but when an outside power like Russia shores up the Baathist family dynasty, how does that serve Syria’s sovereignty? For true sovereignty to have been respected, there should have never been outside powers meddling in Syria even if they were “invited in” by the dictatorship. That, of course, applied to South Vietnam in the early 60s just as much as it applied to Syria.

For Ajl, any talk about Russian or Iranian intervention in Syria being on the same plane as what the USA did in Indochina is to be rejected. Showing his deep grasp (at least in his mind) of Leninist theory, he writes:

To talk about who is or isn’t imperialist isn’t a question of describing who is or isn’t intervening in Syria, or if you don’t like them or don’t like the side they’re supporting. It should be a theoretical category. It should be a theoretical category that derives from what was going on before, and be used to interpret it and make sense of it, not just opportunistically deployed in order to justify whatever side one’s on.

 So one can go back to 1917 – or earlier – and talk about Lenin’s theory of imperialism or export of capital, and in that case, Russia is not exporting capital to Syria – at the current moment, Iran is expending capital in order to support the Syrian government: there’s loans, I think there are oil shipments that are ongoing. Both countries are supporting the Syrian treasury, extending large credit lines. Calling a post-colonial state – no matter what one wants to say about its political and social track record post-1970 – that called on allied forces to support the state institutions doesn’t strike me as imperialism by any understanding of the word, especially if one actually looks and tries to understand why both Russia and Iran have actually supported it.

The truth is that even if you accept Ajl’s rather superficial understanding of imperialism, this has little bearing on how to judge what Iran and Russia have been up to. For all of the talk about Syria’s sovereignty, there is zero engagement with the country’s class divisions. You really have to scratch your head when it comes to Podur and Ajl’s utter indifference to the economic structures in Syria that have fueled the rebellion. Since Ajl serves an editor at Bassam Haddad’s Jadaliyya, you’d think he might have taken the trouble to read what its founder once wrote about the material conditions that led to the revolt in a MERIP article:

After Bashar al-Asad succeeded his father in 2000, the architects of Syria’s economic policy sought to reverse the downturn by liberalizing the economy further, for instance by reducing state subsidies. Private banks were permitted for the first time in nearly 40 years and a stock market was on the drawing board. After 2005, the state-business bonds were strengthened by the announcement of the Social Market Economy, a mixture of state and market approaches that ultimately privileged the market, but a market without robust institutions or accountability. Again, the regime had consolidated its alliance with big business at the expense of smaller businesses as well as the Syrian majority who depended on the state for services, subsidies and welfare. It had perpetuated cronyism, but dressed it in new garb. Families associated with the regime in one way or another came to dominate the private sector, in addition to exercising considerable control over public economic assets. These clans include the Asads and Makhloufs, but also the Shalish, al-Hassan, Najib, Hamsho, Hambouba, Shawkat and al-As‘ad families, to name a few. The reconstituted business community, which now included regime officials, close supporters and a thick sliver of the traditional bourgeoisie, effected a deeper (and, for the regime, more dangerous) polarization of Syrian society along lines of income and region.

Maybe people like Podur and Ajl should reintroduce the term capitalism into their political vocabulary. After all, Lenin did not consider it as a system different from capitalism but only its highest stage.

I learned from the podcast how Max Ajl got the boot from Jacobin, another oozing psychic sore for the young scholar. It seems that when Ajl was the Mideast editor at Jacobin and responsible for the dreck that appeared there from people like Patrick Higgins and Asa Winstanley, he was being “pestered” by a Palestinian professor named Bashir Abu-Manneh to publish Gilbert Achcar. If I had known about this, I would have advised Bashir not to waste his time since this was equivalent to asking Rupert Murdoch to hire Robert Reich to write op-ed columns for the NY Post.

Supposedly this must have gotten Bashir so worked up that “he helped orchestrate a kind of soft coup d’etat” against him at Jacobin. Hmm. Interesting. I never knew the particulars on how Ajl got axed but I was glad to see him go. I obviously don’t have any inside knowledge about what happened there but I suspect that it was more likely that the ISO had influenced Bhaskar Sunkara to reverse the magazine’s rancid position on Syria. As you probably know, the ISO has had a significant presence on the magazine—and thank god for that.

Perhaps Ajl’s grudge got the better of him since he accused Bashir of ending his book on “The Palestinian Novel” with a call for rousing up “support for the US destruction of Syria.” That’s quite a charge but a false one as I found out from Bashir this morning after alerting him to this slander. He sent me a copy of the only reference to Syria in that chapter. You judge for yourself whether Ajl was correct or lying like a rug.

Ajl sees himself as a member of a bloodied but unbowed anti-imperialist minority that has been silenced by the pro-revolution left. As he saw it, his role was to identify what the American government was doing and come out against it. In doing so, he was accused of “denying Arab agency”.

Podur asked how it felt to be told to “shut up” by the likes of me. Ajl replied:

“Yeah, it means “Shut up”, and the people saying “shut up” have been emerging from the woodwork since 2011. They want people to shut up, and that’s the basic agenda.

You can only be left in utter astonishment by people like him and others (Rania Khalek in particular) sounding like they were Leon Trotsky trying to tell the truth about the USSR in 1939 against a sea of Stalinist lies. The truth is just the opposite. Except for Jacobin (which has pretty much dropped the ball on Syria), the ISO, New Politics, and my blog or Clay Claiborne’s, nobody on the left has supported the struggle against Assad.

Let me conclude with a list off the top of my head of magazines and individuals that agree with the two young and wounded academics. (I hope it isn’t fatal.)

  • The Nation
  • Consortium News
  • Alternet
  • Salon
  • Monthly Review
  • London Review of Books
  • New York Review of Books
  • Patrick Cockburn
  • Seymour Hersh
  • Theodore Postol
  • Robert Fisk
  • David Bromwich
  • Tariq Ali
  • Charles Glass
  • Jeffrey Sachs
  • Stephen Kinzer
  • Gareth Porter

I am reminded of the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Princess and the Pea”. A prince was looking for a bride but only a true princess would do. So he had a test. He piled 20 mattresses on a bed and a pea underneath the one on the bottom. Princesses tried out the bed and those who slept soundly were cast aside. It was only the last one who complained about the pea making her so uncomfortable that she could not sleep that became his bride. He concluded that any woman with such a low tolerance for annoyance would be a genuine princess.

We are the peas and Max Ajl is the princess.

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