Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 16, 2017

Syria, Water and the Fall from Eden

Filed under: Syria,water — louisproyect @ 7:05 pm

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According to some scientists, the water that covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface predated the birth of the planet. Its originated as ice particles floating in outer space more than 4.6 billion years ago even before the birth of the sun. When scientists explore the outer regions of space today in the hope of finding an inhabitable planet, one of the first things they look for is the presence of water. For some of the wealthiest and most powerful men on earth, including Tesla’s Elon Musk, they represent the possibility of a refuge from a dying planet where war and environmental destruction threaten a sixth extinction. It is a supreme irony that Syria, which was part of the Fertile Crescent that gave birth to the earliest civilizations, is a microcosm of the very processes that threaten the planet as a whole.

The Euphrates and Tigris rivers that originate in Turkey and flow southeasterly into Syria and Iraq were critical to fostering the growth of early civilization through the use of irrigation that has been a double-edged sword even to this day. Despite serving the needs of agriculture, irrigation leads to salinization and hence the ruin of the very activity it was designed to support. The earliest agricultural collapse in Mesopotamia (ancient Greek meaning between two rivers, specifically the Euphrates and Tigris) occurred around 4000 BC, once again between 1300 and 900 BC, and then once more again around the seventh and eighth centuries AD.

Salinization is a problem for large-scale agriculture based on irrigation but particularly in semi-arid regions like Syria. All naturally occurring water, including from rainfall, contains salts. but it would be much less of a problem in places like Great Britain where heavy rainfalls wash away the salt deposits that remain in the soil from irrigated sources. In Syria, the salt accumulates and forces the farmer to constantly search for fresh supplies, digging deeper and deeper to draw from the groundwater. Like every nation on earth, including the USA, the aquifers are not an inexhaustible supply. Once our Ogallala aquifer is exhausted in the American Midwest, it will take 6,000 years to replenish. In search of groundwater, farmers dig deeper and deeper wells just as energy corporations do in offshore waters such as the Gulf of Mexico when they search for new oil deposits. In the case of both water and oil, such drilling has costs to the environment. Against the threat of “peak oil” (whether the hypothesis is true or not), there are alternative energy sources. On the most fundamental level, there is no alternative to water.

Even if Syria had the same precipitation levels as Great Britain (as it happens, Syria has higher levels than most nations in the Middle East), it would still be facing the same dilemmas that modern agriculture faces everywhere. Monoculture production of cash crops like cotton and wheat (the two largest farming goods in Syria) is heavily dependent on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that can seep into rivers and lakes leading to all sorts of illnesses, including cancer. In volume one of Capital, Marx described the growth of capitalist agriculture as a curse:

All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress toward ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility…Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker.

An examination of the contradictions of Syrian agriculture bears this out in spades. While it is not the only cause of the revolt that began in March 2011, it is an important part of the class divide between the crony capitalists based in Damascus and the rural poor. This includes those who were forced to leave the land and crowd into the neglected neighborhoods of Homs, Aleppo and Damascus itself. One of those suburban areas that became an epicenter of the struggle is Wadi Barada that was newsworthy for putting the water question into sharp relief. As is so often the case with mainstream reporting on Syria, there is very little context to make sense of Assad’s charge that the rebels in Wadi Barada sabotaged Damascus’s water supplies. This accusation has been repeated in hundreds of pro-Assad websites that have ritually used every opportunity to slander the rebels. In writing this article, I hope to supply the context for the still unfolding Wadi Barada events as well as help understand the broader social and economic challenges that Syria faces under continued Baathist rule. This is a dictatorship that has yet come to terms with the water and farming cul-de-sac and surely never will.

In 2007 Transaction Publishers came out with journalist Francesca de Châtel’s Water, Sheikhs and Dam Builders: Stories of People and Water in the Middle East, an indispensable guide to the Syrian story as well as those of other countries in the Middle East and North Africa that in one way or another are pursuing unsustainable water and farming policies. While I strongly recommend purchasing the book, an alternative would be to read the articles on her website that were expanded upon in her book. Trained as an architect, the Dutch journalist lived in Damascus from 2006 until 2010, where she worked as the managing editor and editor-in-chief of Syria Today. While there, she began writing about water issues in Syria and the region.

Chapter one of her book is titled “The Death of the Garden of Eden”, an allusion to the four rivers mentioned in Genesis, including the Euphrates and Tigris. Since the story of Adam and Eve is likely based on Sumerian mythology, there is little doubt that the Fertile Crescent was a garden of Eden in antiquity. How it fell from grace has little to do with God but the problems of irrigation that have haunted the region for millennia. The epigraph for this chapter that precedes the current crisis has a prophetic quality:

There is no more rain, but there are more and more people. We forget that we are living in the desert here and that more than a quarter of the Syrian population now lives in Damascus. We have no water anymore and our Barada River cries. In the plain, in the Ghuta, it’s the same thing: there used to be five large springs there that fed the crops. They have all dried up.

–Nizar Hussein, agricultural engineer, Barada & Awaj River Authority, Damascus, Syria

The Barada River was indispensable to the rise of Damascus as the crown jewel of the Arab world. Its name is reflected in the tormented suburb Wadi Barada that means Barada Valley. In 1834 a British traveler described Damascus as “a city of hidden palaces, of copses, and gardens, and fountains, and bubbling streams.” The Barada river was “the juice of her life,” a “gushing and ice-cold torrent that tumbles from the snowy sides of Anti-Lebanon” (the mountain range that borders Lebanon and Syria.)

Converging with the Barada River were springs to the north of Damascus, including Ain el Fije that was home to the pumping station allegedly blown up by rebels or tainted by diesel fuel—the story shifts from one Assadist website to another. The various water sources flowed into the city via seven canals that were built during or before Roman presence in the region. For many, the well-watered wonders of the city were paradisiacal.

Today they are much more infernal as de Châtel writes:

I crossed one of the seven canals of the Barada, the Manias. Today its riverbed, which winds between and beneath the medieval town and skirts the thick city walls, little more than an open sewer. A thin sliver of water trickles between garbage and rotting vegetables, and a foul stench rises up from the river.

Now only untreated sewage flows through the canals to irrigate the Ghuta referred to in the epigraph above—the area that housed the very same villages that Assad attacked with Sarin gas in 2013. At the time the Assadists blamed the rebels for an alleged “false flag” incident in the same fashion they are now accused for cutting off Damascus’s water supply.

Today the Barada is no longer used to irrigate the farmlands surrounding Damascus, only to supply the faucets of the city’s burgeoning population. When de Châtel was gathering the material for her book a decade ago, Barada and Ain el Fije had already ceased to meet the needs of Damascus. By the 1990s, the water deficit had risen to 40 percent. In the plains around Damascus, the shortage was felt most acutely by farmers who depended on irrigation, particularly in Ghuta.

The Syrian government hoped to alleviate water shortages in the countryside by persuading farmers to use drip irrigation rather than traditional methods. While it succeeded to some extent on pilot projects, it was constrained by a couple of factors. It required a capital investment that many poorer farmers could not afford and relied on wells that had already begun to run dry. This was felt most keenly by the farmers of Wadi Barada whose water sources had been diverted to Damascus. As these farmers found it more and more difficult to stay afloat economically, they moved into the overcrowded city and thus became another element in the vicious cycle that was impoverishing the countryside and city simultaneously.

For the newly arrived, Damascus bore little resemblance to the glossy image of the city drawn by Assad’s defenders. High-rises sprang up like mushrooms to accommodate families but without proper sanitation, water supplies and ventilation. During the 1980s, half of Damascus lived in squalor. As the city expanded outwards, Ghuta was swept into its maw and began to have the character of Paris’s banlieues. Trees were felled and farmland was turned into empty lots for the cheap housing geared to the poor. One can assume that the fierce resistance of Ghuta to this day stems from such neglect. Accompanying a water department official named Nizar, de Châtel reports on what she saw there:

We drove out of the village and found ourselves in the desert. A few houses were dotted around, slapped together with rough concrete blocks and splatters of cement. They lay in a wasteland: flat, gray soil, barren and infertile. A few pumps could be seen in the fields. But there was no water to pump. “This was the middle of the Ghuta Oasis,” said Nizar. “These were all apricot orchards. As far as the eye could reach. Look at it now!” I asked what the farmers here did now, as there was nothing to live off anymore. “They go to the city to find work. Anywhere. And in the winter they hope and pray for rain.” I was speechless, it seemed unbelievable: acres and acres of desolation, punctuated only by gnarled tree stumps.

When de Châtel asks Nizar why the government was doing nothing to address the situation in Ghuta, he replied: “1 will tell you a secret: the Arab governments have no idea about long-term planning. They have no vision, no plan. In Syria, we are all sleeping. And maybe, just maybe, the day when the water really runs out and we face a disaster, we will wake up.” One might surmise that Nizar was speaking for most Syrians when he described such a feckless government that not only lacked a vision for the water crisis but the country’s well-being in general.

In a kind of perfect storm, the water crisis reached catastrophic dimensions in 2010 when a drought cut deeply into the country’s already depleted supplies. In 2014, Peter Gleick, the director of the Pacific Institute, a think-tank devoted to water resources, wrote an article titled Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria that considered the possibility that the 2011 revolt was indirectly related to climate change.

Starting in 2006, Syria experienced drought conditions that lasted for the next five years and that was described by one expert as the “worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago.” In July 2008, the Minister of Agriculture candidly admitted to a UN gathering that the drought was “beyond our capabilities as a country to deal with”. Between 2006 and 2009, around 1.3 million Syrians living in the eastern farming belt were hammered by the drought and among them 800,000 lost their livelihoods and basic food support. By late 2011, the UN estimated that the drought grew to affect up to three million people—about one out of seven citizens.

As is generally the case, it is impossible at this point to prove that climate change created a specific catastrophe such as the Syrian drought or the superstorm Sandy that devastated the American northeast in 2012. However, Gleick is a highly credentialed scientist who is in a position to make an informed judgment on what was taking place in Syria. If there was no smoking gun to show that the drought was a product of climate change, there was certainly enough circumstantial evidence to say that Syria’s future was guarded at best. Like the journalist Francesca de Châtel, Gleick honed in on the springs of Ain el Fije:

In a more focused hydrologic assessment, downscaled climate change data from transient experiments with regional climate models were used to assess the potential effects of climate change on water availability in the area of the Figeh spring system near Damascus (Smiatek et al. 2013). This water system is one of the largest springs in the world and serves as the drinking water source for nearly three million people. The analysis focused on differences in annual, seasonal, and monthly temperature, precipitation, and water availability measured as spring discharge between present climate (taken as the 1961–90 average) and two future periods (2021–50 and 2070–99), and identified potentially serious reductions in water availability from increased evapotranspiration demand and decreased precipitation. The relative change in mean discharge for the climate ensemble showed a decrease during the peak flow from March to May of up to 220% in the period 2021–50 and almost 250% in the period 2069–98, compared to the past climatic mean. Decreases of this magnitude would have dramatic effects on local water availability. [emphasis added]

Considering the terrible shape of Damascus’s water today, a decrease of 220% in only four years is a forecast of certain doom. Even under the best of circumstances, such a prognosis requires drastic action and a transformation of the Syrian state that would not be guaranteed of success. We can conclude, however, that the Assad dynasty is the ruling class least capable of solving such problems. As the water department official Nizar put it, “Arab governments have no idea about long-term planning. They have no vision, no plan.”

It is also a crowning irony that the two most militarily powerful countries in the world—the USA and Russia—both have presidents that are solidly in the Baathist corner. If Obama never entertained the possibility of “regime change”, Assad can now rest assured that Trump and Putin have given him their blessings as a fellow combatant in the “war on terror”. In addition to their support for arguably the bloodiest dictator in the 21st century, Trump and Putin are also distinguished as being the most high-profile climate change denialists in the world. Trump has called global warming a “hoax” and Putin is on record as stating that “an increase of two or three degrees wouldn’t be so bad for a northern country like Russia. We could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up.”

But what would be the impact on Syria if there was an increase of two or three degrees? It would be catastrophic and arguably one even greater than Assad has visited on the country in six years of war. Military conflict can always come to an end but reversing climate change is far more difficult, especially when the USA and Russia are ruled by men who are averse to reducing greenhouse gases.

Until the rise of capitalism (and capitalist agriculture in particular) in the Middle East and North Africa, traditional societies were adept at conserving water. The qanat, a Persian word, was an ancient system of wells and tunnels that delivered groundwater to villages and farms. It originated 3,000 years ago in a region bordering eastern Turkey and Iran. In ensuing centuries, the technique spread as far as China. The rise of Islamic empires is directly related to this engineering breakthrough. As Arab armies swept toward the West, they brought their knowledge of qanat with them. In Morocco, they became known as khettaras and as madjiras in Spain, the etymological origin of Madrid. When Spain colonized the New World, it brought the technology with it—one good thing amidst all the evils. The qanat can be found in Mexico, Chile and even in the early settlement of Los Angeles, a city that is famous for its appropriation of water in an arid terrain—not unlike Damascus.

For the ancient civilizations of the Middle East and North Africa, water was a precious resource that was husbanded mostly for the production of food. There was no concept of agricultural commodities produced for foreign markets. As such, it was much easier to strike a balance between the needs of a city like Cairo or Damascus and that of the countryside where the peasantry dwelled. Water was the source of life, not cash. Water was so precious that the Persian word for irrigation—abad—became part of many city’s names such as Ahmedabad, which means “irrigated by Ahmed”, a notable who funded the creation of a qanat.

The ancient qanats have fallen into disrepair for the most part. They have been replaced by wells and motor pumps that rely on diesel fuel that became ever increasingly more unaffordable for Syria’s peasantry. Unlike the qanat that rested upon a balance between a settled population and an existing resource, the wells that have spread across Syria like locusts leave nothing behind in their wake except cash and saline deposits.

In the final chapter of her book, Francesca de Châtel profiles some people working to solve Syria’s water crisis. Though neither of them are Syrian, they were deeply committed to the country’s future well-being.

A Dutch anthropologist named Joshka Wessels returned to the abandoned qanats to see if she could make them work once again to the advantage of farmers and townspeople. De Châtel accompanied her to Qara, a small village 100 kilometers north of Damascus to examine her projects.

Wessels is supervising a team of construction workers helping to restore a qanat that had fallen into disrepair. Unlike the wells, they do not rely on machinery. Gravity is used to transport water from higher levels, usually from the sides of mountains or hills, to settlements below. Even though the work has not been completed, the village is enjoying twice the supply of water it once had.

Her team has identified ninety abandoned qanats in Syria and she expressed hope that the breakthrough at Qara could be replicated elsewhere. Within four years of the publication of de Châtel’s book, those hopes would be abandoned in the chaos of Assad’s war on his countrymen.

There was another man in Syria who sought to promote a more appropriate technology. Father Paolo dall’Oglio was a Jesuit priest and founder of a religious community grouped around the Monastery of Mar Musa in the north of Damascus. When Father Pablo came to Mar Musa, it was in the grips of desertification owing to overgrazing, exhaustion of groundwater and the other ills that plagued the Syrian countryside.

He accepted that water was in short supply and sought ways to maximize the impact of what could be tapped from the surrounding area. His first approach was “modern”. He dug wells like everybody else but soon discovered that it produced far too little for his needs. To supplement the water from the wells, he built a small retaining dam at the top of the valley where the monastery was located. Working with local plants, the monks at Mar Musa began to restore the traditional plants and fruit in conformity with an eye to environmental sustainability. By 2001 Mar Musa had become a model for the rest of the country. He had come to the conclusion that water was key to Syria’s survival but only if it obeyed this guideline: “The solution to the water problem is to either make it expensive, or to make it scarce. When water flows freely from the tap, it is taken for granted.”

Besides being a champion of environmental justice, Father Paolo was a partisan of the Syrian revolution. Assad exiled him in 2012 for his advocacy. Ignoring threats to his life and safety, he returned to Syria a year later only to be kidnapped and likely killed by ISIS in Raqqa, the capital of its bogus Caliphate.

Turning now to more recent events, we must consider Wadi Barada as the final and most brutal convergence of water and warfare.

On December 24, 2016, a bomb destroyed the water station there that was fed by the Ain al-Fija spring referred to above. The Assad dictatorship has accused the rebels of setting off the bomb as the ultimate terrorist tactic while they blame Syrian aerial bombardment for the damage. The best appraisal of who is at fault can be found on the BellingCat website of Elliot Higgins that relies on still photos and videos meant to demonstrate that the water station was the “collateral damage” of Syrian aerial bombardment.

As is so often the case with regime propaganda, there have been conflicting accusations against the rebels who either poured diesel fuel into the water supplies to make it undrinkable or set off a bomb to cut it off at the source. More recently the diesel contamination has not been alluded to in government propaganda.

Obviously, the goal should be to repair the water station as soon as possible to get the water flowing again. With government control of Wadi Barada, it would seem reasonable that maintenance crews would be welcome by both sides in the conflict because everybody must understand that without water they are doomed.

That being said, the Wadi Barada Media Center Facebook page points to disturbing signs that the dictatorship does not consider this the higher priority. Although it is in Arabic, an activist named Amr Sahali has taken the trouble to summarize the latest findings there:

Maintenance teams were sent in by the regime, under an agreement with the rebels, to repair the spring four days ago. The Wadi Barada Media Centre has been reporting throughout this time that whenever the teams go in, the regime starts bombing again and they flee. One of the maintenance teams’ cars was damaged and another was burned by the regime’s bombing – these are the same maintenance teams sent in by the regime. Basically, the regime-sent maintenance teams are being protected by the rebels and attacked by the regime. This info isn’t enough for a complete rebuttal of course, but it’s useful to have. There are English language reports about this on their page (you’ll have to scroll down) and videos showing the teams at work and the burning car: https://www.facebook.com/Wadi.Barada

When the Syrian revolution began, Assad’s supporters warned: “Assad or we burn country”. With the slow exhaustion of water that helped to fuel the uprising and now the much more aggressive and total assault on the water supply for 1.6 million Damascenes, it appears that their dark prophecy is finally taking place.

 

February 11, 2017

Patrick Cockburn, Charles Glass and the fake news from Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:46 pm

Patrick Cockburn

When Patrick Cockburn sets himself up as a critic of “fake news” from Syria, you are reminded of Donald Trump castigating CNN or the New York Times. In a February 2nd LRB article titled “Who supplies the news? Patrick Cockburn on misreporting in Syria and Iraq”, you can expect the worst as the LRB has been a prime purveyor of Assadist propaganda as I pointed out in an article submitted to Critical Muslim that was not published because it risked violating Britain’s draconian libel laws. In the first paragraph of Cockburn’s article we read:

NBC news reported that more than forty civilians had been burned alive by government troops, vaguely sourcing the story to ‘the Arab media’. Another widely publicised story – it made headlines everywhere from the Daily Express to the New York Times – was that twenty women had committed suicide on the same morning to avoid being raped by the arriving soldiers, the source in this case being a well-known insurgent, Abdullah Othman, in a one-sentence quote given to the Daily Beast.

It would be helpful if Cockburn supplied the date for the NBC news article that appears to be the one cited by the regrettable Rania Khalek in her FAIR article making the same points as his. Anybody who has spent much time reading such people will recognize that the same talking points get circulated like a sexually transmitted disease. Her article “In Syria, Western Media Cheer Al Qaeda” written for the pro-Assad FAIR alluded to this:

NBC News (12/13/16) reported that “scores of civilians were burned alive by regime forces.” The source for this accusation was unspecified “reports from Arab media.”

If you go to the actual NBC News article, you will find this caveat:

Arab media reported that scores of civilians were burned alive by regime forces, although this was not confirmed by observers at the Aleppo Media Center or the U.K.-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights.

Do yourself a favor and Google “Aleppo Media Center” and you will discover that Khalek’s co-thinkers at 21st Century Wire, the Off-Guardian, Global Research and Moon of Alabama all consider it to be strictly al-Nusra. So, if you are inclined to put a minus where al-Nusra puts a plus, couldn’t you say that it was confirmed that scores of civilians were burned alive? After all, that’s the way these people think. As far as the Syria Observatory for Human Rights is concerned, this is supposedly another pro-jihadist outfit so you get the picture by now. If it didn’t pass muster with these two sources, why would Cockburn and Khalek even bother to refer to this unsubstantiated report? I think I know. It is meant to deflect attention from the much easier to verify reports about East Aleppo being bombed into oblivion.

In terms of the NY Times report on twenty women committing suicide to avoid being raped by the arriving soldiers, you must wonder once again why Cockburn did not bother to supply a link or even a date. I can’t blame him. If he did, you would find out that the item was not in the newspaper of record but in a blog post of something called Women in the World that has a rather tenuous connection to the Times. It is a LLC corporation founded in 2010 whose main purpose is to hold yearly conferences on women’s empowerment. The women who write for it are not on the NY Times payroll and do not speak in the paper’s name.

Cockburn obviously sought to convey the idea that this unsubstantiated tale of women killing themselves was written by a Times reporter to buttress his argument that there was a shit storm of “fake news” about East Aleppo. The only shit I see flying around is his own.

Cockburn admits that 85 civilians were executed by forces loyal to Assad but derides a comparison with real atrocities:

But it remains a gross exaggeration to compare the events in East Aleppo – as journalists and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic did in December – with the mass slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994 or more than 7000 in Srebrenica in 1995.

I am not sure who is going around making such a comparison but the facts speak for themselves. A half-million have been killed in Syria and more than half the country has been forced to flee their homes. If there is a more brutal regime in this century than Assad’s, I would be hard put to name it.

Cockburn does admit that East Aleppo has been the target of indiscriminate Russian and Syrian air strikes but tries to balance that devastation with the fact that there were between 8000 and 10,000 rebel fighters in East Aleppo. Sure, everybody knows that when terrorists are immersed in a civilian population, there is no reason to turn pacifist. The proper comparison is with the IDF that resorts to the same kind of aerial bombardment of Gaza to destroy Hamas, which had the temerity to hide out in apartment buildings. It would have been best for the fighters in East Aleppo to assemble in some open field far from East Aleppo and wave their jihadist flags so that the MIGs would have a much easier job of exterminating them without collateral damage.

He points out that when the residents of East Aleppo were offered a choice over where they would go after the Baathists took over, most decided to go to government controlled territory. This was proof in his eyes that they were afraid of the jihadists in rebel-controlled territory like Idlib that would behead them for smoking cigarettes and the like. How silly of some people to conclude that Idlib was avoided because it was being bombed back into the stone age as well. A few weeks ago, I got a FB message from a law student who had been driven out of East Aleppo and had relocated to Idlib—probably because he was a known enemy of the dictatorship (why else would he have sent me a FB friend request?) and would have been murdered by Assad’s goons in Damascus. Not long after he got there, he broke a leg fleeing from a Russian bombing attack rather than a jihadist intent on beheading him for a failure to follow sharia law.

Charles Glass

Turning to another high-toned purveyor of Assadist propaganda that was included in my Critical Muslim article, there’s the NY Review of Books that has had the reputation of being in line with Samantha Power who has written many “humanitarian intervention” articles for them over the years. When it comes to Syria, however, the friends of Obama who run the magazine were much more inclined to feature pro-Assad hacks like Charles Glass who has a piece in the latest issue titled “How Assad is Winning”.

Glass was a reporter for such outlets as ABC News, where he was the Mideast correspondent between 1983 and 1993, and Newsweek. So where does he get the balls to lecture about guerrilla warfare as if he were John Reed who rode with Pancho Villa? He pontificates:

In both cases, opposition fighters failed to shield people from the regime’s sieges and assaults as well as the misbehavior of their own “rogue elements.” Rather than wage a mobile guerrilla war and build a solid coalition within the population, they occupied land they could not hold.

Right, as if you could ward off MIGs with an AK-47 or an RPG. The only way that the people could have been shielded was if the CIA had not intervened to block MANPADs from entering Syria.

Glass’s fundamental premise in this article is that “The government, with its known record of harsh human rights abuses including torture, demonstrated more flexibility than its opponents.” By flexibility, he means that it could act as both soft cop and hard cop. If rebels and their civilian supporters accepted a “deal” (ie. surrender), they’d be spared; otherwise the barrel bombs would keep falling. You wonder how the liberal editors could read Glass’s manure and not see right through it. The soft cop and the hard cop were the same person. You keep dropping barrel bombs until the obstinate rebels cried uncle. It was the same strategy Reagan used against the Sandinistas, after all.

The remainder of the article is a report from what Glass is honest enough to describe as a “Potemkin Village” where the rebels and civilians who have cried uncle can be spared from future torment:

The camp, which the regime must regard as a “Potemkin village” to attract other rebels to accept amnesties, was achieving a kind of normality in an abnormal environment. The children attend school in Harjallah, and they receive remedial lessons in mathematics, Arabic, and English to make up for four years of lost education. “Fifteen women are giving birth,” Dib said. “There will be a wedding for five couples in two days.”

I left Dib’s office to walk through the camp. Four women sitting on the doorstep of a house invited me inside for coffee, as they would have done with a stranger in any Syrian village. My hostess was Ghousoum al-Ghazi, the thirty-three-year-old wife of a farmer whose two children followed us in. Her friend, fifty-four-year-old Ruweida Abdel Majid Naccache, came as well and asked me to sit on a cushion. The house had one bedroom, a bathroom, and a modest front room with a kitchen built into the far wall. Paper-thin mats marked “UNHCR” for the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees covered the freshly washed floor. Mrs. al-Ghazi told me she had moved into the house on August 26, weeks before the final surrender, when civilians were fleeing Daraya. “We were very hungry,” she said. “There was fighting every day. The children were afraid at first. Then they got used to it.”

Mrs. Naccache recalled life in Daraya: “When there was an airplane, we fled to a shelter. It was just a hole in the ground. We stayed like that for five years. I was there when they besieged the town. I lost a lot of weight. There was no food. Here we are living in heaven.”

So this is how Assad is winning the war. You bomb, starve and terrorize an obdurate anti-Assad population until they agree to surrender their arms and move to a pacified refugee camp where they live like they are “in heaven”. (You can bet that an Assadist handler was watching over the interview to make sure that this is the sort of thing Glass would hear.)

Glass called it a Potemkin Village. There’s another word for them: strategic hamlets. The USA herded Vietnamese peasants into them to deprive the NLF of its base of support. Despite this, the American puppets lost in the long run in the same way that Assad will fall as well. No matter the “freshly washed floor” and the remedial lessons in mathematics. Syrians will never forget how they suffered under Assad. As long as the penalty for opposing the regime is torture or death, there will be an unquenchable desire for freedom by any means necessary. This is obviously something a reporter for ABC and Newsweek will never understand.

January 15, 2017

When Syria used water as a weapon against Iraq

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:36 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

January 4, 2017

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

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:17 pm

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

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January 3, 2017

Did Syrian rebels sabotage the water supplies of Damascus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 2, 2017

MRZine: goodbye and good riddance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

December 29, 2016

A conversation with Anthony DiMaggio about Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:59 pm

Anthony DiMaggio

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

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

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

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

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

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

He cites the WSJ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DiMaggio quotes one of Clinton’s hacked emails to show how far the USA would go in building up the jihadists: “we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the [Middle East] region”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing wrong with that, I guess.

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

Again, no warning signs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

December 20, 2016

The amulet on David Icke’s sweater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

reptilians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 14, 2016

The economic roots of the Syrian revolution

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 10:56 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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