Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 24, 2016


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



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

John Wight

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

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

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

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

September 19, 2016

Requiem for Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 11:17 pm

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

September 6, 2016

The counter-offensive against Ashley Smith

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:13 pm

Ashley Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


September 5, 2016

Refugees: a guide to modern left “Solidarity”

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:35 pm

refugees syria left

Turkey, Rebels, Kurds & Assad in northern Syria: Contradictions in moves towards regional counterrevolutionary alliance

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 1:03 am

By Michael Karadjis (An abridged version of this article appeared in ‘The New Arab’ under the title ‘Tensions tried and loyalties tested in northern Syria’, at One week the United States rushed to …

Source: Turkey, Rebels, Kurds & Assad in northern Syria: Contradictions in moves towards regional counterrevolutionary alliance

August 26, 2016

Deciphering Omran Daqneesh

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:02 pm

Adam Johnson, a staff member of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, has an editorial in the latest Nation Magazine titled “Pundits, Decrying the Horrors of War in Aleppo, Demand Expanded War” that warns about the possibility of the Omran Daqneesh photo being exploited by people such as Nicholas Kristof and Joe Scarborough to persuade Obama to create a no-fly zone that might lead to a confrontation with Russia, as if Obama had any interest at this point in removing Assad. As the Rand Corporation advised the Pentagon early on, the worst possible outcome for American interests in Syria would be the removal of Assad.

Johnson also brings up Libya as an example of what would happen to Syria if a NATO intervention was repeated. Considering the fact that Libya’s homicide rate was 902 up to this point in 2016, one imagines that people living in Darayya and East Aleppo might welcome such an intervention. If you read the article carefully, you will get the real message, however. For Johnson the worst consequence of a Libyan-type intervention is that it would produce a “failed state” under jihadist control. It would be much better to have someone like Assad in power, even if he has killed seven times as many of his countrymen as ISIS. After all, it is much better to be die from a secular-minded barrel bomb than a religious fanatic’s sword.

Furthermore, for all of his baleful warnings about the need to stop American intervention, there is not a single word in the article about the intervention that is taking place right now against ISIS and one that would be escalated against Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the rebranded al-Nusra. The USA has already bombed al-Nusra using the excuse that a group called Khorasan has been conspiring to launch 9/11 type attacks in the USA, even though such a group likely does not even exist. If and when the Syrian rebels took their marching orders from John Kerry to physically separate themselves from al-Nusra, that would give the F-16s free rein to blow the group to smithereens, even if involved massive collateral damage to civilians as is happening now in ISIS-controlled areas.

This is not the first time that Adam Johnson has written an article about how the USA might exploit the image of a Syrian boy to launch a George W. Bush style “regime change” operation. On September 5, 2015, he penned an article titled “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the ‘Do Something’ Lie” that was essentially the same as the latest except focused on the three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, one of many drowning victims trying to cross the Mediterranean in the hope of escaping the Baathist hell. And like the latest article, it is mainly written to make the case for Assad as a lesser evil: “If the West removes Assad, then what? Will the tens of thousands of radical, medieval wahabbists that have flooded in simply go away?” Has Adam Johnson ever noticed that these wahabbists had a de facto non-aggression pact with Assad? He probably did but like all Baathist propagandists, he chose not to acknowledge it. I suppose that’s what you might expect from someone like Rick Sterling or Mike Whitney but when it comes from a member of FAIR that was created to offer an alternate to the mainstream media, it is quite disappointing. One must conclude that Johnson is okay with mainstream reporting as long as the provenance is Russian.

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise to see Johnson’s Islamophobic drivel in The Nation, considering the tilt toward the Kremlin engineered by the husband-and-wife tandem of Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen. Cohen has been a regular guest on the John Bachelor radio show on WABC for quite some time, where he offers up RT.com talking points that the ultraright host seems to lap up. Given the fondness for Putin in a wide swath of the ultraright, including Donald Trump, such a pairing is not that atypical. Stanley Heller, a peace activist, must have taken plenty of Dramamine before listening to the latest Cohen-Bachelor tête-à-tête so we must tip our hat to him for reproducing some of the more eye-opening quotes from the Sovietologist professor emeritus. Cohen told Bachelor:

Who do you think will come to power in Damascus? The best scenario is the chaos in Libya that came after Mrs. Clinton thought it was a great idea to assassinate Qaddafi. This is the worst scenario, and this is what the Russians believe: it’s either Assad in Damascus or the Islamic State in Damascus.

In other words, Cohen said in two sentences exactly what Adam Johnson was trying to say in thousands of words. Less is better, especially when it is bullshit.

Cohen followed up with this gem of political analysis: “I can tell you that Israel accepts that alternative and they are supporting Russia. They don’t want the Islamic State in Damascus, Israel doesn’t.” That must have closed the deal with John Bachelor whose most frequent guest besides Cohen is Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations who makes Alan Dershowitz sound like Norman Finkelstein by comparison.

Proceeding now from the ridiculous to the ridiculouser, we are confronted once again by the “false flag” analysis that has cropped up repeatedly on the left every time the Assad dictatorship is charged with one atrocity or another. It got started very early on when Baathist snipers began firing on peaceful protests. Some on the left, speaking liberally, claimed that it was actually Mossad or CIA operatives on the rooftop who were doing the killing as a way of creating bad publicity that would legitimize a “humanitarian intervention” triggered by a Nicholas Kristof op-ed piece. For example, Webster Tarpley, a certifiably psychotic ex-member of Lyndon Larouche’s fascist cult, wrote an article about the sniper attacks for RT.com titled ‘CIA, MI6 and Mossad: Together against Syria’ that might serve as a template for everything that has followed.

The latest examples revolve around the photo of Omran Daqneesh, which the further reaches of the Baathist amen corner believe is staged. Simon Wood wrote about this in a CounterPunch article that basically reprised an article on the Off-Guardian website that was created to counter what they see as the Guardian’s bad journalism. Instead of doing their own reporting, Off-Guardian functions mostly as an aggregator of RT.com reporting and other outlets tapped in to the conspiracy theory veins of Global Research, Moon of Alabama, et al.

Titled “MSM using pro-al Nusra ‘media center’ as source for war-propaganda”, the unsigned Off-Guardian article starts off by referring to Omran and his family “allegedly” sustaining minor cuts and bruises when their building was “allegedly” bombed by pro-Assad forces. It notes that an AP report that was picked up by the Guardian and other “pro-intervention” newspapers admitted that “neither he nor the rest of his family sustained anything but superficial cuts and bruises.”

Unsurprisingly, the Off-Guardian missed the point of the photo entirely. There are thousands of photos of maimed corpses from places like Homs, Darayya and East Aleppo that I have seen over the past five years but only this one went viral in the bourgeois press. It became iconic because the boy has a lost and forlorn expression on his face, not because he was missing a limb. For reasons that would be lost on someone as crass as the Off-Guardian author, it resonated with people in the media business because they have children. He was a “stunned and weary-looking boy” as the AP put it, not the victim of major injuries. People reacted to the photo because of its poignancy. In a way, the photo was widely disseminated for the same reason that the African-American woman in a long, flowing dress facing the cops in Baton Rouge was. It captured the imagination of the public. Since I doubt that the people associated with Off-Guardian have an clue about the power of imagery, it follows that they would try to use the fact that the boy only had minor injuries as proof of a “false flag”. These people are predictable, if nothing else.

We must add, however, that Off-Guardian did not bother to correct the lead paragraph that referred to Omran and his family sustaining nothing but “superficial cuts and bruises.” In fact, the boy’s 10-year-old brother Ali died the next day from injuries received from the Russian bombing attack but why would they want to update their article whose sole intention was to serve up Baathist propaganda? And they have the chutzpah to set themselves up as superior to the Guardian.

Things go downhill rapidly in the article. It condemns the Aleppo Media Center for taking the photo as it wrote favorably about al-Nusra killing some Baathist soldiers. I suppose if I lived in a city that had been reduced to rubble through barrel bombs and missile attacks, I might celebrate the killing of soldiers on the side of those responsible for the death of so many children like Ali Daqneesh.

Without actually coming out and calling the incident staged, Off-Guardian finds something fishy going on:

We’re also a bit curious about why the AP report claim the video was made Wednesday night, when it was uploaded to Twitter at 13:52 BST Wednesday afternoon, which would equate with 15:52 in Aleppo. Is this a time-zone anomaly? But then there’s the added confusion of the Tweet itself, which seems to say pretty clearly that the vid was made on Sunday evening.

For others even more shameless than Off-Guardian, that’s exactly the charge. The Moon of Alabama, which is about as ghoulish as any Baathist website out there, not only fixates on the time discrepancy but offers up other evidence of a conspiracy: “The amount of red colored substance on the boy and the man do not correspond to the amount one would expect from even a minor head wound. There are also no bandages applied or anything else that could have been used to stop an actual head wound from bleeding.” Where in god’s name do these people come from? No matter what problems Bertolt Brecht had ideologically, I am sure he would be disgusted to see how a song from “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”, a sardonic musical about the rise of Hitler, would end up as the title of a website that makes excuses for the genocidal regime in Damascus.

Finally, there is a desperate attempt to smear the Aleppo Media Center as somehow being connected with the beheading of a Palestinian youth named Abdullah Issa because one of its members Mahmoud Raslan had been identified as the photographer. Since Raslan had been photographed with Nour al-Din al-Zenki, some of whose members committed the war crime, the Baathist amen corner was anxious to tarnish anybody involved with the photograph.

However, there was a bit of a problem. According to the Guardian it was not Raslan who was responsible for the viral photo but another member of the Aleppo Media Center, a videographer named Mustafa al-Sarout. Indeed, the “photo” was not a photo at all but a screen shot of the video as the Guardian article makes clear.

Even though Raslan was not necessarily the photographer, Off-Guardian made the amalgam between the Aleppo Media Center and Nour al-Din al-Zenki the following day in an article titled “An ID for ‘Mahmoud Raslan’”, who is portrayed as a member of Nour al-Din al-Zenki. Leaving aside the uncertainty as to who took the photo, is it really necessary to discredit the photo because of who took it?

We don’t know what Raslan’s connection is to Nour al-Din al-Zenki, other than that he appears in the same photo with some of its fighters–in all likelihood before the beheading. Maybe he should have been able to predict the war crime taking place in the future as depicted in the movie “Minority Report”.

More likely, given the tight quarters of East Aleppo where activists and fighters and civilians live in constrained spaces under continuous air attacks from Syrian and Russian jets and are forced to rely on each other for survival, does it come as any big surprise that Raslan might have been seen in such a photo?

Basically Off-Guardian, Moon of Alabama, Simon Cross, Adam Johnson and every other person writing Baathist propaganda made up their mind in 2011 that Bashar al-Assad was “one of us”, a progressive nationalist standing up for democracy, secularism and economic development against hordes of what Johnson called “radical, medieval wahabbists”. Anything that goes against that ideological agenda has to be swept under the rug whether it is the death of Omran Daqneesh’s brother or the de facto alliance between Assad and the “radical, medieval wahabbists” against Syrians seeking nothing more than the right to express themselves freely and to not be victimized by a mafia bourgeoisie that had the same relationship to the Assad dynasty as the Nicaraguan rich had to Somoza.

Missing from the conspiracy-minded bullshit from Adam Johnson et al is any acknowledgement of the class relations that led to the uprising, a dynamic that owed much more to economic inequality than how to interpret the Quran. Let me conclude with an article I keep coming back to and which helped shape my thinking on Syria early on:

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

Successive years of scant rainfall and drought after 2003 produced massive rural in-migration to the cities — more than 1 million people had moved by 2009 — widening the social and regional gaps still further. Major cities, such as Damascus and Aleppo, absorbed that migration more easily than smaller ones, which were increasingly starved of infrastructural investment. Provincial cities like Dir‘a, Idlib, Homs and Hama, along with their hinterlands, are now the main battlegrounds of the rebellion. Those living in rural areas have seen their livelihoods gutted by reduction of subsidies, disinvestment and the effects of urbanization, as well as decades of corrupt authoritarian rule. The Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings motivated them to express their discontent openly and together.

There have been no significant defections, however, from the ranks of big business, at least not in Damascus and Aleppo. It is not just presidential blood relatives like Makhlouf who have remained loyal. Other major players hailing from the above families have stood firm by the regime, financing its orchestrated mass rallies and public relations campaigns, as well as helping to float the Syrian currency. Most malcontents limit themselves to spiriting capital out of the country and expressing private wishes for regime change. Those who do back the uprising do it quietly and extremely carefully, highlighting the fealty of their counterparts.

The moguls know very well that their fate is bound up with that of the regime by virtue of intertwined investments and also their years of self-enrichment at regime behest. To switch sides would thus be an enormous gamble on the opposition’s forbearance. Big business’ support is not solely responsible for the regime’s resilience, but it would have been difficult for the regime to hold out in Damascus and Aleppo had these monied interests explicitly thrown their lot in with the protesters. The regime-business alliance took shape over decades, and it is unlikely to snap until the very last moment. Public defections by big businessmen would be a fair indicator that the regime’s days are numbered. Until then, all eyes are on the battlefield.




Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 1:26 am

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 9.18.37 PM

What Darayya looks like now

The Guardian:
The surrender and evacuation of the Damascus suburb after a brutal four-year siege is a devastating blow to opposition morale and a long-sought prize for Assad. Weeks of intense bombardment, which activists claim included napalm attacks, has finally overwhelmed rebels.

“They make a desert and call it peace”.

August 25, 2016

Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:28 pm

Ashley Smith explains what’s at stake in a critical test for the international left.

Destruction caused during the siege of AleppoDestruction caused during the siege of Aleppo

THE SYRIAN Revolution has tested the left internationally by posing a blunt question: Which side are you on? Do you support the popular struggle against dictatorship and for democracy? Or are you with Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, his imperial backer Russia, his regional ally Iran and Iran’s proxies like Hezbollah from Lebanon?

Tragically, too many have failed this test.

read full article

August 19, 2016

N+1, Syria and the Democratic Party

Filed under: journalism,Syria,two-party system — louisproyect @ 10:27 pm

Nikil Saval, N+1 co-editor

Although not so nearly as well-known as Jacobin, N+1 has been mentioned in tandem with it as the voice of millennial hipster Marxism. For example, Columbia PhD student Timothy Shenk, who is intimately familiar with the terrain, wrote an article in the Nation Magazine titled “Thomas Piketty and Millennial Marxists on the Scourge of Inequality” that states:

Cloaked in the moral authority of Occupy and connected by networks stitched together during those hectic days in 2011, a contingent of young journalists speaking through venues both new and old, all of them based in New York City—Jacobin, n+1, Dissent and occasionally this magazine, among others—have begun to make careers as Marxist intellectuals.

Well, who wouldn’t want a career as a Marxist intellectual unless you were someone like the young Max Horkheimer who wrote: “a revolutionary career does not lead to banquets and honorary titles, interesting research and professorial wages. It leads to misery, disgrace, ingratitude, prison and a voyage into the unknown, illuminated by only an almost superhuman belief”? The older Horkheimer, of course, discovered that banquets and honorary titles were not so bad after all.

While the Nation and Dissent could not be possibly be mistaken as millennial, they certainly have provided a roost for that contingent of young journalists trying to make careers as Marxist intellectuals. Furthermore, as should be obvious by the time you finish reading this article, young and old Marxist intellectual careerists making the rounds in the four magazines are in total agreement over Syria and the Democratic Party.

As readers of my blog will certainly know, Jacobin has been a primary venue of Assadist propaganda. In numerous articles, there are warnings about “regime change” in Syria that would have you believe that Barack Obama was getting ready to intervene in Bush-like fashion to put the rebels in power. Does it matter that it only took three months after Bush and his gang began talking about the need to invade Iraq in January 2003 for the invasion to take place while a war in Syria now goes on for more than five years and no such action has occurred under Obama? Probably not.

Unlike Jacobin, N+1 has been pretty good on Syria with a 2011 article making the case that a genuine revolution was unfolding and one four years later that put the blame on the Baathists for the suffering of Palestinians in Yarmouk. They are both very much worth reading and did not prepare me for an article that appeared in the Spring 2016 edition titled “Bernie’s World”. Stung by what struck me as the kind of material that would appear in Jacobin, I wrote a blog post and cc’d the editors who asked if they could print an edited version as a letter in the Fall 2016 edition with their reply. I am now reproducing excerpts from “Bernie’s World”, my edited reply, their rejoinder and concluding with my rejoinder to theirs.

1. Bernie’s World

(The full version of the N+1 piece can be read at https://nplusonemag.com/issue-25/the-intellectual-situation/bernies-world/. Emphasis added throughout).

But on one significant topic — American foreign policy — Sanders has remained flat-footed. In December, after the shootings in San Bernardino by self-declared supporters of the Islamic State returned the war on terror to the center of the campaign, Sanders refused to answer questions about ISIS and seemed annoyed that reporters had raised the issue at all. On the Syrian conflict he has been at sea. At that month’s Democratic debate he bizarrely referred to Jordan’s King Abdullah as a “hero,” and in January he called Abdullah “one of the few heroes in a very unheroic place.” One doesn’t often hear democratic socialists go out of their way to praise hereditary dictators. Sanders has gone further out of his way, repeatedly suggesting that the US strengthen its ties to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. “They have got to start putting some skin in the game,” he said in one debate, the theory being that these countries will put up the money and the troops needed to combat extremism in the Middle East, diminishing the American role and thus the opportunity for American malfeasance. Of course the problem is the opposite: both Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two of the US’s strongest and least salubrious allies, are already putting lots of money into the Syrian conflict, much of it going to al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (also supported by the US) and the Islamic State.

What’s missing isn’t the anti-imperialist Sanders. It’s the antiwar movement he was once part of, and which no longer exists.

ONE REASON WHY the Sixties antiwar movement continues to be a source of both nostalgia and inspiration for the left is that it had genuine radical potential. Having begun as a movement to stop a war, it nearly became a wholesale revolution that reshaped American politics and foreign policy. It was John Kerry, speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, who best summed up the movement’s aims: “So when thirty years from now our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say ‘Vietnam’ and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.” That turning never took place: thirty years after Kerry’s speech, the war on terror commenced in earnest. Kerry voted in 2001 along with his colleagues Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to invade Afghanistan, and in 2002 with Clinton again to invade Iraq. Just as Kerry abjured his antiwar past as the 2004 presidential candidate — he ran as a war hero, not an antiwar hero — the movement, in the long run, fell far short of its hopes.

But as Daniel Schlozman details in When Movements Anchor Parties, the antiwar movement failed both to anchor itself within the party structure and to create a lasting alternative coalition. No national elected official came out of the movement. On its own, the movement fragmented and radicalized, beset by Nixon’s repression on the one hand and by faltering strategies on the other. The distinction from the labor movement in the 1930s is enormous. At that time, organized labor, gaining in strength and numbers, weighed working outside the Democratic Party against negotiating with the party for legislative gains and legitimacy. Labor chose the latter strategy. The result was the passage of the National Labor Relations Act and the election of officials who declined to send in troops when workers occupied factories. (This is not to diminish the costs, over time, of being so close to the Democratic Party and blandishments of power, but the benefits were significant.) Nothing comparable occurred with the antiwar movement. By the time its electoral reforms delivered a candidate — George McGovern of McGovern-Fraser — it was too spent a force to work with the candidate. In 1972, McGovern suffered what was then the worst electoral defeat of the postwar era, until Mondale outdid him in 1984.

2. My letter

(I should start off by saying that N+1 butchered my original blog piece to such an extent that it was practically robbed of its meaning. I suppose that they did this to save space and admittedly it was my mistake to give them permission to run the letter but I urge you to read the original here.)

Dear Editors,

I was rather disappointed with your editorial statement on foreign policy (“Bernie’s World”), which repeated many of the talking points of the “anti-imperialist” left about Syria. One can certainly understand why the editors would fall short on Syria. With so many other smart magazines publishing articles that could have been lifted from RT.com, it is difficult to swim against the stream. After all, who would want to be associated with a struggle against Bashar al-Assad, who in his genial clean-shaven and well-groomed manner seems to be much more like us than the unfathomable, bearded Allahu akbar–yelling men in fatigues who would surely launch an attack on the American homeland if given half a chance? If Vogue was willing to run a profile on the Syrian president and his lovely wife a while back, who are we to quibble? After all, being photogenic compensates for bombing hospitals.

The editors are generally OK with Sanders except on foreign policy. They fret over his suggestion that the US strengthen its ties to Saudi Arabia and Qatar since the two countries are major donors to “the al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (also supported by the US) and the Islamic State.” In fact, Qatar insisted that it would only give money to al-Nusra if the group severed its ties to al Qaeda. When negotiations broke down in 2015, the group continued to finance its own militias in Syria the way it always has, through donations by sympathizers in various Sunni countries, including Qatar. Does this mean that Qatar backs al-Nusra? Only in the sense that the US backed the Irish Republican Army in the 1970s when most of its funding came from US citizens, living especially in Boston’s South End. Nor does the US support al-Nusra. The country has bombed the group repeatedly, always making the excuse that it was after the Khorasan — a nonexistent group that supposedly had plans to launch September 11–type attacks in America.

The editors also criticize the Vietnam antiwar movement for failing to “anchor itself within the party structure,” a clear reference to becoming a wing of the Democratic party. In 1937, when Chicago steelworkers went on strike, Mayor Edward Kelly — a Democratic “friend of labor” who was backed by the Communist party and as such would ostensibly be loath to attack workers — ordered an attack by the cops that left ten people dead. The antiwar movement kept the Democratic party at arm’s length because it was led by the Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers party, who had a much more class-based understanding of the Democrats than the CPUSA. The CP, which worked with the SWP and the pacifists in a kind of tripartite coalition, was always trying to get the coalition to follow the Democrats’ lead. If it had been successful, there never would have been a Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam or any other mass demonstration. You can take my word on that.

— Louis Proyect

3. The editor replies

Louis Proyect writes that we and others on the left are insufficiently willing to confront Bashar al-Assad because we have been duped by his haircut and a Vogue puff piece that described the dictator and his wife as “wildly democratic.” Not only do we not think that “being photogenic compensates for bombing hospitals” — we don’t think this of Obama, either — we can’t find any liberal or left-wing writer who thinks of Assad as “genial.” With their profile, Vogue’s editors executed a flawless caricature of themselves as clueless fashionistas, and that is how the profile was received everywhere. The reaction was so overwhelmingly negative that the piece was taken down from the magazine’s website.

Is the idea that we are “appeasing” Assad? That was the idea the last time the US foreign policy establishment began to dream of ousting a Middle Eastern dictator. In a kind of ritual humiliation, liberals and leftists were required, like kids reciting the Bill of Rights in class, to demonstrate that they understood Saddam’s crimes against humanity before they could voice any objection to America’s military involvement in the region. That we might still be subject to this ritual isn’t surprising, but it is a bummer.

That the US has bombed al Nusra Front groups in Syria on occasion does not mean the US hasn’t also supported al Nusra on occasion. Alternately supporting and attacking various groups and figures (among them, Saddam Hussein) is a recurring motif in the history of US’s military involvement in the Middle East. And while Qatar may also have had a falling-out with the group in 2015, a report from last December described a prisoner swap between al Nusra and Lebanon that Qatari officials encouraged by giving al Nusra $25 million. The US has also tracked shipments of Qatari arms directed to the Islamist groups that further destabilized Libya in the wake of the Western intervention there. Qatar’s relationship with al Nusra has had its ups and downs, but the country has long served as a key source of funds and materials for extremists in the region.

With respect to Bernie Sanders, Proyect does not voice an objection to our claim that for all the candidate’s galvanizing rhetoric on domestic policy, there remains too little distance between his foreign policy views and those of the Democratic party mainstream, especially with respect to the use of force. His efforts to make the party platform use the word occupation when discussing Palestine are welcome, but in the immediate aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting, his campaign tweeted, “From what is now known, this was a terrorist act by an ISIS sympathizer. That despicable and barbaric organization must be destroyed.” But Omar Mateen had no real connection to ISIS — he sympathized with the group like Richard Ramirez, the “Night Stalker,” sympathized with Satan. To watch Sanders fall back on this bogus war-on-terror logic is to see the full impoverishment of the Democratic party’s foreign policy thought. Proyect says that the Vietnam-era antiwar movement had good reasons to keep its distance from the party, that to engage more fully would have prevented even a single mass demonstration from taking place. That may be true, and yet the movement’s failure to make a more permanent place for itself in the country’s party politics during the postwar years is a failure — one we hope can be remedied soon.

4. The last word

Perhaps as a result of being fatigued from having made the same arguments dozens of times over the past five years, I did not develop them this go round to the extent where the N+1 editor understood what I was driving at. So let me try again.

The Vogue article was scheduled to appear in the March 2011 issue, the very month when the protests began taking place and when Hillary Clinton was disposed to call Assad a “reformer”. As it happens, the only place where it can be read now is on Gawker, reason enough to hate Peter Thiel for destroying such a fearless website.

It was unfortunate that I focused on the appearance of the Assads when the article was much more about their supposed political assets:

Neither of them believes in charity for the sake of charity. “We have the Iraqi refugees,” says the president. “Everybody is talking about it as a political problem or as welfare, charity. I say it’s neither—it’s about cultural philosophy. We have to help them. That’s why the first thing I did is to allow the Iraqis to go into schools. If they don’t have an education, they will go back as a bomb, in every way: terrorism, extremism, drug dealers, crime. If I have a secular and balanced neighbor, I will be safe.”

When Angelina Jolie came with Brad Pitt for the United Nations in 2009, she was impressed by the first lady’s efforts to encourage empowerment among Iraqi and Palestinian refugees but alarmed by the Assads’ idea of safety.

“My husband was driving us all to lunch,” says Asma al-Assad, “and out of the corner of my eye I could see Brad Pitt was fidgeting. I turned around and asked, ‘Is anything wrong?’ ”

“Where’s your security?” asked Pitt.

“So I started teasing him—‘See that old woman on the street? That’s one of them! And that old guy crossing the road?

That’s the other one!’ ” They both laugh.

The president joins in the punch line: “Brad Pitt wanted to send his security guards here to come and get some training!”

In fact, Vogue was simply expressing the dominant viewpoint of the mainstream media in the years just prior to 2011 when Assad unleashed the dogs of war. For example, on March 6, 2009, the Guardian reported:

Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, has good reason to be pleased. Barely a day goes by without a western politician or envoy knocking on his palace door. Europeans, led by the hyperactive Nicolas Sarkozy, have been doing it for months. News that two high-level representatives of the Obama administration are heading for Damascus means that Assad’s visitors are getting steadily more important.

Hillary Clinton’s announcement of the impending arrival of officials from the state department and national security council (message: they’re on the same side under this president) was the moment the Syrians have been waiting for – more than the secretary of state’s carefully choreographed public handshake with the influential foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, at the Gaza donors conference in Egypt this week.

In terms of  N+1 being unable to find any liberal or left-wing writer who thinks of Assad as “genial”, maybe it is better to analogize the Syrian civil war with the 2016 American elections, one in which the choice is between a “lesser evil” and the dreaded alternative. It is doubtful that anybody on the left, at least that part of it occupied by N+1 and Jacobin is concerned, would consider Hillary Clinton as the second coming of FDR as Obama was mistakenly heralded in 2008 but she is accepted as the lesser evil to Donald Trump unless you are like some CounterPunch contributors such as Andre Vltchek or Paul Craig Roberts.

Essentially, this is how Assad is regarded, as a lesser evil to the Syrian rebels who are reduced to a homogenous glob of Sharia-law supporting head choppers. If Stephen Kinzer would likely never apply the adjective “genial” to Assad, he is still capable of writing articles with the title “On Syria, Thank You Russia” on February 12, 2016. Charles Glass has a particular skill at articulating the lesser evil perspective and even verges on accepting Assad as the greater good in the NY Review of Books, a journal that caters to elite liberal opinion:

The only forces fighting with success against the Assad regime are Sunni Muslim holy warriors who are destroying all that was best in Syria: its mosaic of different sects and ethnic communities—including Christians, Druze, Turkmen, Yazidis, and Kurds, along with Alawites and Sunni Arabs—its heritage of ancient monuments, its ancient manuscripts and Sumerian tablets, its industrial and social infrastructure, and its tolerance of different social customs. “The worst thing is not the violence,” the Armenian Orthodox primate of Syria, Bishop Armash Nalbandian, told me. “It is this new hatred.”

You get the same sort of thing from Jeffrey Sachs and David Bromwich but there’s no point in citing them since I don’t want to induce the same sort of fatigue that I experience writing about Syria.

The N+1 editors feel that I am subjecting them to some sort of ritual in which they are required to denounce Assad, like a “moment of hate” scene from Orwell’s “1984”. If they got that impression, I must apologize since that was not my intention. I only wanted to take exception to their notion that Turkey and Saudi Arabia were backing al-Nusra and ISIS.

I don’t want to waste any bandwidth in exploring this topic at any length and would simply refer you once again to Sam Charles Hamad’s article that I cited in my blog article and repeat what I wrote:

I recommend two new books on Syria that will clarify the role of such jihadist groups in Syria. One is titled “Burning Country” co-authored by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami. The other is “Khiyana”, a collection of articles including one by me but the more relevant one is titled “The Rise of Daesh”, written by Sam Charles Hamad. His research is thoroughgoing and essential for getting past the stereotypes of Saudi Arabia being Dr. Frankenstein to the monster of ISIS:

One of the forces that received generous Saudi funding was the secular nationalist FSA-affiliate Liwa Shuhada Suriya (Syrian Martyrs’ Brigade) led by Jamal Maarouf. Far from Saudi’s funding Daesh when the FSA and Qatar and the Turkish funded Islamic Front launched an offensive against Daesh it was led by a FSA coalition called the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front led by Jamal Maarouf. The weapons they used against Daesh on the frontlines were paid for by Saudi Arabia.

The only hard line Salafist group that Saudi has funded is Jaish al-Islam (the Army of Islam) which was a merger of several different Salafi forces initiated by Saudi’s to attempt to deflect both Syrian and foreign Salafi recruits away from the growing threat of Jabhat an-Nusra (which at that time was still what Daesh called itself in Syria before its split). The reason for this was that Jabhat al-Nusra, as with all al-Qaeda ‘franchises’, espouses a virulent and violent anti-Saudi theology and politics.

By snipping this material, N+1 lets itself off the hook with a breezy reassurance that “That the US has bombed al Nusra Front groups in Syria on occasion does not mean the US hasn’t also supported al Nusra on occasion.” Whatever. Just tell that to the people of East Aleppo who are now being bombed by F-16s according to some reports because they are harboring the rebranded al-Nusra in the same way that Israeli F-16s bombed Gaza’s schools because they were a haven for Hamas.

Finally, let me turn to the question of the Democratic Party. I have no idea who wrote the reply to my letter but there is a good chance that it was co-editor Nikil Saval, who wrote a book titled “Office Space: The Cubicle Dweller’s History of the American Workplace”.

It seems that Saval was a big-time Sanderista, reporting on his volunteer work for the campaign in the same issue where my letter appeared. Dated April 5th, it is a 7000 word (!) journal titled “Canvassing” about his experiences going door-to-door for Sanders in Philadelphia, where he makes his home.

Saval writes that Sanders is “the first candidate in two generations who is not a neoliberal, the first in decades to call himself a socialist, running as a Democrat but, bless him, not one”. In fact, Sanders registered as a Democrat in 2015 but why quibble. With respect to him calling himself a socialist, so did François Hollande who runs France in the same way that Hillary Clinton will run the USA. It was pretty much precluded that Sanders would ever get the opportunity Hollande got to impose a neoliberal agenda but at least he has the distinction of endorsing Clinton’s right to do so. Everybody knows that allowing Goldman Sachs to have its way beats the gas chambers Donald Trump has in store for Marxist intellectual careerists.

Saval also admits to canvassing for Obama but can’t remember what he said in his favor. Hmm. Repressed memories?

Saval seems to have a thing about the appearance of the people he is canvassing. Is that why he was so insistent on clearing the air on the Vogue article? I hope not. He refers to an elderly woman sucking “from a limp cigarette”, her “open mouth revealing a stretch of missing teeth.” He also meets a “75-year-old toothless Italian American with a buzz cut.” Jeez, I am glad I got a dental implant before going out to Brooklyn for an N+1 cocktail party. The buzz cut, however, I’ll stick with.

After putting up with some frustrating experiences, Saval hits pay dirt:

A 75-year-old white woman who arrives at the door with her two East Asian grandchildren, whom she asks to let me know who she voted for. “BERNIE SANDERS!” they cry in unison, and mawkishly enough I choke back tears. I suddenly feel as if an era of my life were passing. I leave half my packet unfinished and head back to the house.

Well, not being in a position to know the publication schedule of N+1, I wonder if Saval would be as thrilled today as he was when he wrote this article. The Sanderistas gave their hero a hard time at the Democratic Party convention last month for kowtowing to the Clinton campaign. I won’t begrudge Saval for sticking with the Sanders “political revolution” to the bitter end. If it brought him tears of joy, god bless him. It is hard enough being a revolutionary socialist so I can empathize with someone seeking change through the Democratic Party, a fool’s errand if there ever was one.

August 10, 2016

Jill Stein, the South Front and the lesser evil

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:58 pm

For the past month or so, I have seen vitriolic attacks on Jill Stein from people I am close to on the question of Syria. I have already dealt with the question of whether Syria should be a litmus test for the Green Party but want to look at the question from a different angle now, namely how it is that she came to embrace a position that my pro-Syrian revolution friends label as “pro-fascist”. Like the friends of the Hillary Clinton campaign pouring over every Jill Stein speech looking for “anti-science” pandering, there is now a concerted effort by Syrian solidarity activists to discover evidence of this “pro-fascism” in her every utterance. The latest discoveries are that she attended an RT.com conference in Moscow in December, had dinner with Putin when she was there, and that her VP candidate has been writing some truly awful stuff about Syria.

With respect to RT.com, it has published 105 articles in praise of Jill Stein so naturally she might have accepted an invitation to their conference. Since she has given no evidence that she has a mastery of the Syrian struggle and only reflects the left consensus, it is probably unrealistic to think that she would have turned down the invitation.

As for Ajamu Baraka, my guess is that he will be speaking mostly about domestic politics rather than Syria in his various speaking engagements but that can’t be guaranteed. However, it is quite likely that if he says anything about “regime change” and the jihadist threat, he will be preaching to the choir. Is there any reason to think that there will be people in the audience who have somehow learned to think outside the box when it comes to Syria, especially when their understanding of the country is likely drawn from The Nation, ZNet, Salon, CounterPunch, Consortium News, WBAI news, and countless other zines and print publications that have been making the same points as Baraka for the past five years? It baffles me that anybody could think otherwise.

I was reminded of how left opinion is shaped when I stumbled across a website called South Front this morning when trying to find out the latest news about the battle for Aleppo.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 10.42.39 AM

In a nutshell, this is just one more website that is pushing the Kremlin/Baathist agenda. The first thing I did was look up the domain. Unsurprisingly, it is registered in Russia.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 10.44.32 AM

But what is somewhat surprising is how a website based in Russia can put out a product that is so professional looking and whose articles are obviously written by people whose first language is English. And if it is not the case, it written by Russians who have been trained to write exactly like they were.

For most people unfamiliar with the logistics and economics of websites, it might be easy to take South Front for granted but I can tell you that this is an expensive proposition both in financial and human resources terms. The website would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to maintain, if not more. Meanwhile, pro-Syrian revolution websites are run on a shoestring and count on people like me to supply content. If some rich bastard in the USA had given me that kind of money back in 2011, I could have put together a website that might have not only competed with the Baathist amen corner but crushed it. But what is the likelihood that a hedge fund billionaire would have funded a website that took up the cause of scruffy, bearded, Quran-citing, poverty-stricken rural folk who fight alongside al-Qaeda militias when it suits them? This is not to speak of the American government whose main goal was to keep the rebels on a tight leash so that a neoliberal government sans Assad could be cobbled together in Syria as Michael Karadjis pointed out in an essential article in the New Arab.

I am afraid that those who are so ready to dismiss Jill Stein as “pro-fascist” have delusions that Hillary Clinton would step into the breach and come to the aid of the Syrian rebels. People somehow have forgotten that Clinton is a cynical politician who counts Henry Kissinger as a major source of wisdom on foreign policy. She does not act on principle but on the dictates of the billionaires who run the country who paid her handsomely for her tawdry speaking engagements. She will say and do things for their benefits, not for those of the Syrian people. To get an idea of how “flexible” she is, all you need to do is pay attention to what she said in a February 26, 2012 interview with CBS’s Wyatt Andrews:

WYATT ANDREWS, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the violence continuing in Syria and Assad refusing to allow medicine to reach the injured, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview with CBS News argues the United States is doing what it can, but within limits.

CLINTON: I am incredibly sympathetic to the calls that somebody do something, but it is also important to stop and ask what that is and who`s going to do it.

ANDREWS: What to do about Assad was supposed to be answered last Friday when a global conference called “Friends of Syria” again demanded that Assad step aside. But several Arab countries starting with the Saudis argued for action to arm the Syrian resistance. The Obama administration is resisting that.

ANDREWS: The U.S. has repeatedly said that it`s reluctant to support the direct army of the dissidents, why?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, we really don`t know who it is that would be armed.

ANDREWS: Specifically, the administration fears that arms will wind up in the hands of terrorists including al Qaeda.

CLINTON: We know al Qaeda, Zawahiri is supporting the opposition in Syria. Are we supporting al Qaeda in Syria? Hamas is now supporting the opposition, are we supporting Hamas in Syria?

So I think, Wyatt, you know despite the great pleas that we hear from those people who are being ruthlessly assaulted by Assad. If you are a military planner or if you are a secretary of state and you`re trying to figure out do you have the elements of an opposition that is actually viable, we don`t see that.

In contrast to Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein stakes out positions on the basis of principle even if unfortunately the position is based on an incomplete understanding of history and politics. If you spent five years reading Salon, Counterpunch and The Nation and had never heard of Robin Yassin-Kassab or Idrees Ahmad let alone read them, what are the chances that you would have developed an analysis that favored a rebel victory over Assad?

Back in 1965, when I first faced the draft, my thinking on the Vietnam war was foggy at best. I hated Communism, or at least what I had been told about it, but never considered the possibility that the NLF’s cause was just. It took a full year of debate and discussion with an SWP member at the New School in New York to convince me that the USA had violated the Vietnamese right to self-determination and that the NLF were patriots fighting an occupying power.

And then it took another year for him to convince me that socialism was a more rational and just system than capitalism. What if I had not run into him? There was a good chance that my ideas about Vietnam and socialism would have remained as they were, even if my mind would have never been changed on the existential question of staying out of the army. My main goal in life was to read novels, smoke marijuana and listen to jazz. Politics? No thanks.

I really wonder whether most of my pro-Syrian revolution comrades have given much thought to how their thinking evolved about Syria. It is obvious that someone like Robin Yassin-Kassab, who is Syrian, would have come to the right outlook since he knows people from his homeland who were being brutalized by the dictatorship and could read authoritative analyses in the original Arabic.

Speaking for myself, it took a while to wrap my head around this question since I had, like most CounterPunch readers, seen American intervention in the Middle East after 2011 in the same way I saw Iraq in 2003—just another case of meddling that had to be resisted. I should add that I remain anti-intervention but along a different axis, namely opposed to CIA efforts to keep MANPAD’s out of the hands of the rebels.

Accepting the self-evident bankruptcy of the Green Party’s official position on Syria raises the question of its relevancy to the ongoing struggle to create a party of the left in the USA. For some of the British comrades who are outspokenly against Jill Stein, there seems to be little interest in the key question facing the left in the USA, namely how to build a party of the left. If Syria is a litmus test, then we have to wait until the Greens adopt a new position that is unlikely to happen given the ideological balance of forces in the USA, to a large extent one that has the Kremlin’s fingers on the scale. For all of the uproar over a “new McCarthyism” about Trump and Putin, there is plenty of evidence that the Kremlin does use RT.com, South Front, and other outlets to shape American public opinion.

In the long run, the only way to combat these ideas is to build a left that is predicated on the idea of working class internationalism and solidarity with the oppressed. Unfortunately, the left has been afflicted by a tendency to consider the nation-state as an instrument of struggle rather than the working class and its allies. Someone like Jill Stein’s vision of peace and global progress is based on the idea that Russia is a lesser evil to the USA. How ironic that a politician who has so effectively rebutted the idea that we need to choose a lesser evil on election day can turn around and apply in effect the same discredited logic to vote for Vladimir Putin.

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