Like most people, I’m watching in horror as Iraq disintegrates and the Islamist barbarians of ISIS continue to gain ground. I have no particularly profound insights to offer at the moment, so would recommend readers to check out the ever-reliable Juan Cole at the aptly-titled Informed Comment blog, and one Kyle Orton at this interesting blog, previously unknown to me.
Above, from the left: Charles Glass (freelance journalist), Seymour Hersh (‘investigative’ ‘journalist’), Robert Fisk (Middle East ‘correspondent’ for The Independent), and John Pilger (conspiracy theorist). A panel discussion on “Reporting War” at Low Library Rotunda of Columbia University, April 14, 2006
Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a Syrian writer who spent 16 years in the regime’s prisons. In this exclusive for PULSE, Saleh, who has been described as the “conscience of Syria“, discusses the distorted lens through which most people are viewing the conflict:
By Yassin al-Haj Saleh at the Pulse website:
In the West, Robert Fisk and Seymour Hersh are considered critical journalists. They occupy dissident positions in the English-speaking press. Among Syrians, however, they are viewed very differently.
The problem with their writings on Syria is that it is deeply centered on the West. The purported focus of their analysis – Syria, its people and the current conflict – serves only as backdrop to their commentary where ordinary Syrians are often invisible. For Fisk and Hersh the struggle in Syria is about ancient sects engaged in primordial battle. What really matters for them are the geopolitics of the conflict, specifically where the US fits into this picture.
On the topic of chemical weapons, Fisk and Hersh, completely ignore the antecedents of last summer’s attack on Ghouta .
A reader who relies exclusively on Fisk/Hersh for their understanding of Syria would never know that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons several times before the August 21, 2013 massacre in Ghouta. I was there at the time. I saw victims of sarin gas on two occasions in Eastern Ghouta and I met doctors treating them. The victims were from Jobar, which was hit with chemical weapons in April 2013 and from Harasta, which was hit in May 2013.
It is shocking that investigative journalists such as Fisk and Hersh know nothing about these attacks. They write as if Ghouta was the first time chemical weapons were used in Syria. Their credibility and objectivity is compromised by these omissions.
For these renowned commentators, the entire Middle East is reducible to geopolitical intrigue. There are no people; there is only the White House, the CIA, the British Government, Recep Tayyib Erdogan, the Emir of Qatar, the Iranian regime and of course Bashar Assad and the jihadis.
In Fisk’s myriad articles, one rarely reads about ordinary Syrians (the observation also applies to the late Patrick Seale).
Robert Fisk was once a scourge of American reporters embedding with US forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But he saw no irony in himself embedding with Syria regime forces as they entered Daraya in August 2012.
More than 500 people were killed in a massacre at that time (245 according to Fisk). Who killed them? The rebels, determined Fisk based solely on interviews with regime detainees. Why should local fighters kill hundreds from their own community? Robert Fisk does not provide an answer. Had he spoken to a single citizen without his minders present, he would have learned that they had no doubts about the regime’s responsibility. Indeed, it was an American journalist, Janine di Giovanni, who established that fact shortly thereafter by visiting Daraya on her own.
At the same time when this was happening Human Rights Watch documented ten attacks on bread queues around Aleppo. Fisk did not mention a single one.
During this time Fisk visited a security center in Damascus where he was welcomed by a security official. He was given access to four jihadi fighters, two Syrians and two foreigners. Fisk made a point of mentioning that the prisoners were allowed family visits. As someone who spent 16 years in Assad’s jails and who has firsthand knowledge of these factories of death, I find this claim highly improbable. Fisk’s credulity is risible; he is assisting a shameful attempt to beautify the ugly polices of the House of Assad.
Why has Robert Fisk never attempted to contact people of Eastern Ghouta to ask them what happened there last August? It would have been easy for a person as well-connected as he to convince his friends in the regime, such as Assad’s media adviser Buthaina Shaaban, to facilitate his entrance to the besieged town. He could have met ordinary people for a change without the intimidating presence of regime minders and found out for himself who used the chemical weapons that killed 1466 people, including more than 400 children.
Ignoring local sources of information on the conflict in Syria seems to be a standard practice among many in the West, especially among left wing and liberal commentators. This speaks volumes about their ideological bias. Their dogmatic self-assurance with its veneer of professionalism is not substantively different than the obscurantist self-righteousness of the jihadis.
The Hersh/Fisk narrative unfolds in a historical vacuum: it tells you nothing about the history and character of the regime. You will not learn that the regime has used collective punishment as a policy since the very beginning of the Syrian revolt. That it has used fighter jets, barrel bombs and scud missiles against civilians to cow them; that it has invited foreigners from Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and other countries to assist in the slaughter.
Nor will you learn about a flourishing death industry in the very places to which Fisk is a welcome visitor. Three months ago he penned an article about Assad’s systematic killing of the detainees in his dungeons, but Fisk reported on this topic in a way that gives us a biopsy of his professional conscience.
Fisk prefaces his report on the regime’s atrocities by warning readers about the horrors that may soon exist “if the insurrection against Bashar al-Assad succeeds.” For most, the significant fact about the photos was the industrial scale killings inside Assad’s jails that they evidenced. But Fisk appeared more obsessed with the timing of the photos, as they appeared a day before the Geneva 2 Conference. Fisk may have been reminded of Nazi Germany by the horrific fate of the 11,000 prisoners, but he still found occasion to expatiate at length about Qatar, whose “royal family viscerally hates Bashar al-Assad”, for funding the investigation. For Fisk, the atrocities were a mere detail in a larger conspiracy whose real victim was Assad’s regime.
To the uninitiated, Fisk’s article might convey the impression that those 11,000 were all that were killed by Assad’s regime and the 20,000 killed in Hama in 1982 were all that that were killed by his father’s. The actual number of victims is eleven times as many for Assad and twice as many for his father. Moreover, these figures ignore the tens of thousands arrested, tortured, and jailed, and the millions who have been humiliated by this regime
By methodically ignoring the Syrian people and by focusing on Al Qaeda, Robert Fisk and Seymour Hersh have done us all a huge disservice. The perspective on Syria portrayed by these writers is exactly the view of Syria that Bashaar Assad wants the rest of the world to see.
- Yassin al-Haj Saleh (born in Raqqa in 1961) is one of Syria’s most prominent political dissidents. In 1980, when he was studying medicine in Aleppo, he was imprisoned for his membership in a pro-democracy group and remained behind bars until 1996. He writes on political, social and cultural subjects relating to Syria and the Arab world for several Arab newspapers and journals outside of Syria, and regularly contributes to the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, the Egyptian leftist magazine Al-Bosla, and the Syrian online periodical The Republic. Among Saleh’s books (all in Arabic) are Syria in the Shadow: Glimpses Inside the Black Box (2009), Walking on One Foot (2011), a collection of 52 essays written between 2006 and 2010, Salvation O Boys: 16 Years in Syrian Prisons (2012), The Myths of the Others: A Critique of Contemporary Islam and a Critique of the Critique (2012), and Deliverance or Destruction? Syria at a Crossroads (2014). In 2012 he was granted the Prince Claus Award as “a tribute to the Syrian people and the Syrian revolution”. He was not able to collect the award, as he was living in hiding in the underground in Damascus.
H/t: Gene at That Place
Recently George Monbiot compared the foreign jihadists in Syria to the International Brigade in Spain.
What was said about the International Brigade – that every one of them who came back wrote a book?
If they didn’t write books, they certainly read them via the Left Book Club. They were serious minded comrades who led a rough life in Spain in devotion to their cause
If their modern counterpart are the likes who join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) then intellectual standards have slipped.
“their discourse is notably different from that of their fellow mujahideen from Muslim countries. Although these Western fighters, like their counterparts, focus a great deal on death and on their desire for martyrdom and the accompanying rewards of the akhira (hereafter), many of them also seem keen on enjoying life in the dunya (i.e. in this world) until martyrdom arrives. Many of the Westerners speak of jihad as “fun,” stressing the thrills of life on the front (gunfights, jeep rides, etc), as well as the availability of leisure activity and the access to many aspects of modern life. They also emphasize the perks of jihad and taking war booty – good eating and free use of appropriated luxury accommodations and cars – and all this without having to give up the gadgets and even the same snack foods that they enjoyed back home.
In fact, the jihad fighters from the West bring with them the lifestyle and youth culture with which they grew up. This is expressed particularly in their references to rap culture – such as the violence-steeped music of rapper Tupac Shakur (one jihadi even created and shared a humorous montage showing the non-Muslim Tupac with a cross on his chest “hanging out” with Osama bin Laden) – or references to violent video games like “Call of Duty.” These influences, which are flagrantly alien to traditional Islamic culture, appear repeatedly in their discourse. These fighters do not perceive their duty as requiring them to abandon all aspects of the lifestyle to which they are accustomed.
Furthermore, in contrast to jihad in the Islamic tradition, which is a religious duty carried out solely to express devotion to Allah and the Muslim community, many of these young jihad fighters from the West are making it personal, focusing on their own actions and glorifying their own role in it – as can be seen from the selfies, Instagram photos, and the like that they share and circulate. Their heavy use of Photoshop and other software to enhance images is another practice borrowed from Western Internet culture, as is their writing, with its abbreviations and alternative spellings punctuated by exclamation marks. This combination of Islamic and Western aspects has the effect of making their da’wa more accessible and appealing to young people living in the West.”
Fortunately these fascist dickheads are burning their passports, so with any luck they won’t come back to the place where these were issued.
Assad’s friends and supporters on the Stalinist and semi-Stalinist “left” have had little - in most cases nothing – to say about the report accusing his regime of the “systematic killing,” with photographic evidence of torture and starvation, of about 11,000 detainees.
When the Guardian and CNN broke the story on Wednesday, they made no secret of the fact that the report had been commissioned by the government of Qatar, which of course backs the rebels: I expected Assad’s western supporters and apologists to use this to attack the report’s credibility, even though the three authors are all former war crimes prosecutors with impeccable records, and their main source, “Caesar” provided photographic evidence that experts have pronounced genuine beyond reasonable doubt.
In fact, Assad’s UK supporters – the Morning Star, and the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’ - have said simply nothing. One would like to think this was the result of embarrassment and shame. But these people know no shame. The truth is, they simply don’t care, and are betting on their man eventually winning. One doesn’t have to harbour illusions in the rebels (we at Shiraz certainly don’t) to be revolted by the degeneracy of a “left” that can give de facto support to this butcher, and turn a blind eye to killing and torture on an industrial scale.
One exception is the unabashed Assad supporter John Wight over at the miss-named Socialist Unity blog: this preposterous male model, jew-baiter and failed bit-part actor makes no secret of his panting, Gallowayesque admiration for tyrants and strong-men, and wallows in his world of conspiracy-theories. But at least (unlike his gaffer Nooman) he makes no secret of his love for the mass-murderer Assad, and – against all the evidence – simply refuses to accept the findings of the report.
I’ve received this, and would urge you all to respond:
Since you’re the type of person who believes no child should be left without an education, we’re writing to you with an important update on the crisis of Syrian refugee children. Back in September, A World at School delivered a petition at the United Nations calling on world leaders to provide education for nearly 400,000 Syrian children exiled in Lebanon.
Since then, leaders have developed a plan to deliver education in the worst refugee crisis since World War II. The plan is now ready to go and on Wednesday, major international donors will be asked to pledge their support for humanitarian relief to help victims of the Syrian conflict.
Now we need you to send a message to the international donor community to make the plan reality and get these children back to school.
Join our Thunderclap this Tuesday to call for swift action.
It can be done. Public support has put the issue on the table and pressure is growing for immediate action. We need you to remind the world’s leaders why they have to do something NOW.
We cannot let up. More than 5,000 young people are fleeing the conflict each week into Lebanon alone. Without education they face becoming a lost generation.
Click here and help make A World at School a reality for Syrian children.
PS: Join the Youth Education Crisis Committee Google Hangout this January 15 to learn more about how to create @aworldatschool for #childrenofsyria: http://bit.ly/KFCYeN
Thanks to Comrade Coatesy and also Bob from Brockley for drawing this bizarre business to my attention. You don’t need to be a supporter of the Syrian rebels (certainly, neither Coatesy nor us at Shiraz are) to be appalled at people like Newman’s Socialist Unity blog and Rees’ Stop the War pimping for Assad’s fascistic regime. The following comes from Tendance Coatesy:
Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix will not be attending the Stop the War Coalition’s International Anti-War Conference on the 30th of November.
It seems that two speakers due to speak at the event – Owen Jones and Jeremy Scahill – threatened not to come unless her invitation was withdrawn.
The Stop the War Coalition announced on Saturday,
Over the last few days a campaign has developed over the invitation we extended to Mother Agnes — a nun from Syria, who leads a campaign called Mussalaha (Reconciliation) — to speak in London at the International Anti-War Conference on 30 November organised by Stop the War Coalition.
Mother Agnes has now withdrawn from speaking at the conference.
In inviting speakers to participate in its events, Stop the War has never sought to endorse all their views. We have always provided a platform for a diversity of opinions within a broad anti-war perspective.
John Wight of Socialist Unity writes today,
She has been demonised by her detractors as a ‘pro regime stooge’ due to her support for Assad and his government. But why wouldn’t she? As with the majority of Syrians who support their government – and none more so than Syria’s various minority communities – she understands that the only force capable of preventing her country being turned into a killing field by western and Saudi backed savages is the Syrian Government, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies.
The BBC reports on Mother Agnès-Mariam (Extracts)
In recent weeks she has become the focus of media attention because of her attempt to prove to the world that Syrian opposition activists fabricated the videos showing victims of the Damascus chemical attack.
She argues the horrifying scenes – of men, women and children either dead or dying from inhaling sarin gas – which caused such international outrage were stage-managed.
The BBC’s Richard Galpin spoke to Mother Agnes.
Mother Superior Agnes Mariam de la Croix sprinkles blessings liberally over our conversation.
I’ve phoned her to request an interview about her strange role as an analyst of the chemical weapons attack in Damascus.
In her most startling conclusion she alleges some of the people seen in the videos are in fact women and children abducted by rebels from minority Alawite areas of the country. President Bashar al-Assad and his family belong to this community.
The BBC asks, “So how credible are the claims made by Mother Agnes which have been so eagerly seized upon by Moscow as it still tries to save the Assad regime?”
There’s just no basis for the claims advanced by Mother Agnes,” says Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, which has produced many detailed reports on Syria.
“She is not a professional video forensic analyst… we have found no evidence to indicate any of the videos were fabricated.”
One by one, Mr Bouckaert rejected the claims, saying:
- There were tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the Ghouta area of Damascus, according to very regular reports received by Human Rights Watch
- Children were often sleeping in the basements of buildings in significant concentrations because of the intense shelling and that is why so many died (Sarin gas accumulates at low levels)
- The dead and those injured in the chemical attack were moved from place to place and room to room both at the clinics and ultimately for burial
- There were many men and women who were victims of the attacks. But there were separate rooms for the bodies of children, men and women so they could be washed for burial
- Almost all of the victims have been buried
Human rights researchers have spoken to the relatives of Alawite women and children abducted by rebels. None of them said they had recognised their loved ones in the gas attack videos
It is perhaps not a coincidence that arch-conspiracy theorist lunatics Lyndon LaRouche’s group have diffused (November the 14th) a video of an interview with Mother Agnès-Mariam.
Bob from Brockley has been following this controversy closely.
He comments (yesterday),
Her invitation provoked outrage from Syrians and supporters of the Syrian revolution, as “Mother Agnes” has been a widely disseminated mouthpiece for the Assad regime’s propaganda, including vigorously denying some of Assad’s war crimes. (Of pictures of dead children in Ghouta, for example, she claims they are only sleeping.) Her lies are widely promoted by Russian media sources, by Christian news agencies, and by the LaRouche network. There are also live allegations about her own involvement in war crimes, and in the regime murder of journalists. Below the fold, I have pasted some information about her, but some good starting points are Linux Beach, Democratic Revolution, and Pulse.
The Stop the War Coalition could do without this kind of “opinion” amongst its “diversity”.
Exactly 40 years ago, the Syrian and Egyptian ruling classes launched the third Arab war against Israel (I include in that, the 1967 defensive pre-emptive strike by Israel). Initially, Egypt and Syria had some success, but, eventually, Israel with considerable US support, beat them back. There is no doubt that Syria and Egypt were the aggressors, but Uri Avnery (below) adds some background and context:
Above: Moshe Dayan with Golda Meir at the Front
I AM sitting here writing this article 39 years to the minute from that moment when the sirens started screaming, announcing the beginning of the war.
A minute before, total quiet reigned, as it does now. No traffic, no activity in the street, except a few children riding bicycles. Yom Kippur, the holiest day for Jews, reigned supreme. And then…
Inevitably, the memory starts to work.
THIS YEAR, many new documents were released for publication. Critical books and articles are abundant.
The universal culprits are Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan.
They have been blamed before, right from the day after the war, but only for superficial military offences, known as The Default. The default was failing to mobilize the reserves, and not moving the tanks to the front in time, in spite of the many signs that Egypt and Syria were about to attack.
Now, for the first time, the real Grand Default is being explored: the political background of the war. The findings have a direct bearing on what is happening now.
IT TRANSPIRES that in February 1973, eight months before the war, Anwar Sadat sent his trusted aide, Hafez Ismail, to the almighty US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
Above: Uri (left) talks to Sadat
He offered the immediate start of peace negotiations with Israel. There was one condition and one date: all of Sinai, up to the international border, had to be returned to Egypt without any Israeli settlements, and the agreement had to be achieved by September, at the latest.
Kissinger liked the proposal and transmitted it at once to the Israeli ambassador, Yitzhak Rabin, who was just about to finish his term in office. Rabin, of course, immediately informed the Prime Minister, Golda Meir.
She rejected the offer out of hand. There ensued a heated conversation between the ambassador and the Prime Minister. Rabin, who was very close to Kissinger, was in favor of accepting the offer.
Golda treated the whole initiative as just another Arab trick to induce her to give up the Sinai Peninsula and remove the settlements built on Egyptian territory.
After all, the real purpose of these settlements – including the shining white new town, Yamit – was precisely to prevent the return of the entire peninsula to Egypt. Neither she nor Dayan dreamed of giving up Sinai. Dayan had already made the infamous statement that he preferred “Sharm al-Sheik without peace to peace without Sharm al-Sheik”.
Sharm al-Sheik, which had already been re-baptised with the Hebrew name Ophira, is located near the southern tip of the peninsula, not far from the oil wells, which Dayan was also loath to give up.
Even before the new disclosures, the fact that Sadat had made several peace overtures was no secret. Sadat had indicated his willingness to reach an agreement in his dealings with the UN mediator Dr. Gunnar Jarring, whose endeavors had already become a joke in Israel.
Before that, the previous Egyptian President, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, had invited Nahum Goldman, the President of the World Jewish Congress (and for a time President of the World Zionist Organization) to meet him in Cairo.
Golda had prevented that meeting, and when the fact became known there was a storm of protest in Israel, including a famous letter from a group of 12th-graders saying that it would be hard for them to serve in the army.
All these Egyptian initiatives could be waved aside as political maneuvers. But an official message by Sadat to the Secretary of State could not. So, remembering the lesson of the Goldman incident, Golda decided to keep the whole thing secret.
THUS AN incredible situation was created. This fateful initiative, which could have effected an historic turning point, was brought to the knowledge of two people only: Moshe Dayan and Israel Galili.
The role of the latter needs explanation. Galili was the eminence grise of Golda, as well as of her predecessor, Levy Eshkol. I knew Galili quite well, and never understood where his renown as a brilliant strategist came from.
Already before the founding of the state, he was the leading light of the illegal Haganah military organization. As a member of a kibbutz, he was officially a socialist but in reality a hardline nationalist. It was he who had the brilliant idea of putting the settlements on Egyptian soil, in order to make the return of northern Sinai impossible.
So the Sadat initiative was known only to Golda, Dayan, Galili and Rabin and Rabin’s successor in Washington, Simcha Dinitz, a nobody who was Golda’s lackey.
Incredible as it may sound, the Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, Rabin’s direct boss, was not informed. Nor were all the other ministers, the Chief of Staff and the other leaders of the armed forces, including the Chiefs of Army Intelligence, as well as the chiefs of the Shin Bet and the Mossad. It was a state secret.
There was no debate about it – neither public nor secret. September came and passed, and on October 6th Sadat’s troops struck across the canal and achieved a world-shaking surprise success (as did the Syrians on the Golan Heights.)
As a direct result of Golda’s Grand Default 2693 Israeli soldiers died, 7251 were wounded and 314 were taken prisoner (along with the tens of thousands of Egyptian and Syrian casualties).
THIS WEEK, several Israeli commentators bemoaned the total silence of the media and the politicians at the time.
Well, not quite total. Several months before the war, in a speech in the Knesset, I warned Golda Meir that if the Sinai was not returned very soon, Sadat would start a war to break the impasse.
I knew what I was talking about. I had, of course, no idea about the Ismail mission, but in May 1973 I took part in a peace conference in Bologna. The Egyptian delegation was led by Khalid Muhyi al-Din, a member of the original group of Free Officers who made the 1952 revolution.
During the conference, he took me aside and told me in confidence that if the Sinai was not returned by September, Sadat would start a war. Sadat had no illusions of victory, he said, but hoped that a war would compel the US and Israel to start negotiations for the return of Sinai.
My warning was completely ignored by the media. They, like Golda, held the Egyptian army in abysmal contempt and considered Sadat a nincompoop. The idea that the Egyptians would dare to attack the invincible Israeli army seemed ridiculous.
The media adored Golda. So did the whole world, especially feminists. A famous poster showed her face with the inscription: “But can she type?” In reality, Golda was a very primitive person, ignorant and obstinate.
My magazine, Haolam Hazeh, attacked her practically every week, and so did I in the Knesset. She paid me the unique compliment of publicly declaring that she was ready to “mount the barricades” to get me out of the Knesset.
Ours was a voice crying in the wilderness, but at least we fulfilled one function: In her ‘March of Folly”, Barbara Tuchman stipulated that a policy could be branded as folly only if there had been at least one voice warning against it in real time.
Perhaps even Golda would have reconsidered if she had not been surrounded by journalists and politicians singing her praises, celebrating her wisdom and courage and applauding every one of her stupid pronouncements.
THE SAME type of people, even some of the very same people, are now doing the same with Binyamin Netanyahu.
Again, we are staring the same Grand Default in the face.
Again, a group of two or three are deciding the fate of the nation. Netanyahu and Ehud Barak alone make all the decisions, “keeping their cards close to their chest”. Attack Iran or not? Politicians and generals are kept in the dark. Bibi and Ehud know best. No need for any other input.
But more revealing than the blood-curdling threats on Iran is the total silence about Palestine. Palestinian peace offers are ignored, as were those of Sadat in those days. The ten-year old Arab Peace Initiative, supported by all the Arab and all the Muslim states, does not exist.
Again, settlements are put up and expanded, in order to make the return of the occupied territories impossible. Let’s remember all those who claimed, in those days, that the occupation of Sinai was “irreversible”. Who would dare to remove Yamit?
Again, multitudes of flatterers, media stars and politicians compete with each other in adulation of “Bibi, King of Israel”. How smoothly he can talk in American English! How convincing his speeches in the UN and the US Senate!
Well, Golda, with her 200 words of bad Hebrew and primitive American, was much more convincing, and she enjoyed the adulation of the whole Western world.
And at least she had the sense not to challenge the incumbent American president (Richard Nixon) during an election campaign.
IN THOSE days, I called our government “the ship of fools”. Our current government is worse, much worse.
Golda and Dayan led us to disaster. After the war, their war, they were kicked out – not by elections, not by any committee of inquiry, but by the grassroots mass protests that racked the country.
Bibi and Ehud are leading us to another, far worse, disaster. Some day, they will be kicked out by the same people who adore them now – if they survive.
Highgate Sage Ali Speaks on Syria.
By Andrew Coates (reblogged with some very minor changes and a new title from Tendance Coatsey)
In his latest foray (LRB 28th of August) Tariq summed up [his view of] the Syrian situation:
The aim of the ‘limited war’ as set out by the United States and its European vassals is simple. The Syrian regime was slowly re-establishing its control over the country against the opposition armed by the West and its tributary states in the region (Saudi Arabia and Qatar). This situation required correction. The opposition in this depressing civil war needed to be strengthened militarily and psychologically.
Ie: the present war is essentially driven by anti-Iranian forces,
Ever since the war and occupation of Iraq, the Arab world has been divided between Sunni and Shia components. Backing the targeting of Syria are two old friends: Saudi Arabia and Israel. Both want the regime in Iran destroyed. The Saudis for factional reasons, the Israelis because they’re desperate to exterminate Hizbullah. That’s the endgame they have in sight and Washington, after resisting for a bit, is playing ball again. Bombing Syria is the first step.
In lines that may well have been an attempt to rival Dean Swift he outlined the position of the United Kingdom:
It’s foolish to get too worked up about Britain. It’s a vassal state, de facto governed by a National Government that includes Parliamentary Labour. Its political parties have accepted permanently situating themselves in the ‘posterior of the White House’. Cameron was gung-ho for a war some months ago. When the US went cold on the idea, Downing Street shut up. Now they’re back in action with little Ed saying that he backs the war ‘reluctantly’, the most pathetic of positions. Conservative backbenchers are putting up a stiffer resistance. Will more Tories vote against than Labour? We shall see.
Ali [had earlier] described how his position evolved until September 2012 as follows (in Counterpunch),
From the very beginning, I have openly and publicly supported the popular uprising against the family-run Baathist outfit that rules Damascus.
But, as in Egypt, once the euphoria of the uprising and its success in getting rid of a hated despot evaporates, politics emerge. What is the strongest political force in Syrian politics today? Who would be the largest party in parliament when free elections take place? Probably the Muslim Brothers and in that case the experience will be educative since neo-liberalism and the US alliance are the corner-stone of the Turkish model that Morsi and other colleagues in the region seek to emulate. For half of the last century, Arab nationalists, socialists, communists and others were locked in a battle with the Muslim Brothers for hegemony in the Arab world. We may not like it (and I certainly don’t), but that battle has been won by the Brotherhood. Their future will depend on their ability to deliver social change. The Egyptian and Syrian working class have played a huge part in both uprisings. Will they tolerate neo-liberal secularism or Islamism for too long?
A NATO intervention would install a semi-puppet government. As I argued in the case of Libya once NATO entered the fray: whoever wins the people will lose. It would be the same in Syria. On this I am in total accord with the statement of the Syrian Local Coordinating Committees published on 29 August 2011.
What will happen if the present situation continues? An ugly stalemate. The model that comes to mind is Algeria after the military, backed strongly by France and its Western allies, intervened to stop the second round of an election in which the FIS were going to win. This resulted in an attritional civil war with mass atrocities carried out by both sides while the masses retreated to an embittered passivity.
This is why I continue to insist that even at this late stage a negotiated solution is the best possible way to get rid of Assad and his henchmen. Pressure from Teheran, Moscow and Beijing might help achieve this sooner than the military posturing of Sultan Erdogan, his Saudi allies and their surrogates in Syria.
ln criticising this position. the Syrian Leftist site, Syrian Freedom for Ever, claimed that:
“TARIQ ALI says we are witnessing in Syria a new form of re-colonisation by the West, like we have already seen in Iraq and in Libya.
Many of the people who first rose against the Assad regime in Syria have been sidelined, leaving the Syrian people with limited choices, neither of which they want: either a Western imposed regime, “composed of sundry Syrians who work for the western intelligence agencies”, or the Assad regime.
The only way forward, in the interests of all Syrians, says Ali, is negotiation and discussion. But it is now obvious that the West is not going to let that happen because they are backing the opposition groups who are against any negotiation.”
What remains of this at present?
With greater confidence Ali now observes that:
Every single Western intervention in the Arab world and its surrounds has made the conditions worse. The raids being planned by the Pentagon and its subsidiaries in Nato are likely to follow the same pattern.
Having, in the past, praised Boris Yeltsin as a democratic socialist (1) , and voting Liberal Democrat in the 2005 General Election (2), Tariq Ali is famed on the left for his canny nose for the Zeitgeist: that is, his capacity for getting things completely wrong.
The Morsi outcome could be classed in the thick file of Ali’s efforts in this direction.
Now that said many of us will find that Ali’s geopolitical analysis fairly convincing (Robert Fisk says as much).
That he was wrong about the British Parliament and Labour’s willingness to defy Washington puts him the company of thousands, to no disgrace.
Vassals, little Ed, posteriors, and pathetic as they all may be, they didn’t act in the predicted way.
They may continue to show some independence, though this is less certain.
But there is not a word in Ali’s analysis about the fate of the Syrian democrats opposed to Assad.
Or how any democratic forces can be supported.
Not a dicky bird.
That really sticks in the craw.
(1) Ali’s Revolution From Above: Where Is the Soviet Union Going? (1988) is also dedicated to Yeltsin, whose “political courage has made him an important symbol throughout the country.”
(2) “In the tightly fought battle for the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency, the Liberal Democrats have received the support of prominent writer and film maker Tariq Ali, who says he will be backing the party in the forthcoming General Election. Mr Ali, who lives in the constituency, is a long-time critic of the Government over the war in Iraq” (here). The Liberal Lynne Featherstone, won the constituency
Above: it’s almost as though they like each other
Most decent people will, instinctively, welcome Putin’s proposal that Assad places his chemical weapons under some kind of international control. Anything that makes an escalation of the conflict less likely can only be A Good Thing. Whether the proposal actually comes to anything is, of course, highly doubtful.
Juan Cole (http://www.juancole.com/2013/09/congress-embarrassing-themselves.html), as usual, carries a pretty shrewd analysis of what’s going on, noting that Putin has (for whatever reason) helped Obama “avoid the most embarrassing defeat in congress on a major international issue since that body told Woodrow Wilson where he could stick his League of Nations.”
However, it seems to me that Cole is a little too willing to give credit to Putin (Cole of course is a liberal-leftist, but the right-wing media, like Fox News, are taking the much same line). After all, the proposal came initially from John Kerry, even if it was an off-the-cuff remark. And Cole’s dismissal of Obama’s claim that the Putin initiative “would not have come about without his own sabre-rattling” seems to be a dismissal of something that’s merely a self-evident statement of fact.
Of course, Assad (against all the evidence) has still not admitted to having used chemical weapons in Ghouta on 21 August, though Putin now seems (de facto, at least) to accept that even if Assad didn’t personally order the atrocity, elements within the Syrian army were responsible.
If the Syrian rebels were supportable, we’d be calling for their victory over the mass-murderer Assad. But they’re not, so we can’t. The best we can realistically hope for is a compromise between the rebels and the regime: as Cole argues, when both sides are sufficiently exhausted, there may be the sort of agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war in 1989. Not ideal, but probably the least-bad option going.