Tariq Ali on Syria: an exemplar of smug political bankruptcy

September 11, 2013 at 8:19 am (Andrew Coates, intellectuals, Middle East, publications, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged, Syria)

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?

His conclusion?

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


  1. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    a) A LOT of us fell for Yeltsin – I can well remember him being fawned over by virtually the entire Sovietology establishment at a packed London meeting at SSES in I presume around 1989.

    Would actually be interested to know what Socialist Organiser (or whatever they were at that point) had to say about him when he was still in opposition.

    b) Again a lot of us have voted Lib Dem for tactical reasons or in my case because I joined Labour and started standing in my own ward myself no other bugger would nominate themselves against the Tory.

    What to my mind is unforgivable was to continue voting Lib Dem after the coup against Kennedy (a better man lying blind drunk face down in a pool of his own vomit than any of his colleagues sober) and the publication of the Orange Book – so all the Wheens and Le Carres and Monbiots who signed that 2010 election letter are to me beyond the pale.

    So how did Tariq vote in 2010?

    c) I suppose one should be grateful to see that ‘Islamism’ as an actual pejorative – or at least something that people should not ‘tolerate’ for too long – seems to be working its way back into the pseudo-left lexicon.

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Should of course have been ‘until I joined Labour’

      • adubcheck67 said,

        Not being a native English speaker,
        I miss the point of the “a better man…” comparison/metaphor
        about Charles Kennedy.
        Do you have a bad or good opinion of him ?
        I agree with the rest of your comment, particularly the c) paragraph

      • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

        In English saying someone you like or approve of is a better man drunk (or with some other disability) than someone else that you don’t like is when they are sober (or otherwise not disabled) is a fairly common expression.

        Kennedy was while as a Liberal Democrat a hopeless bourgeois centrist certainly on the left of his party and by most accounts a fairly decent chap.

        And for its worth it was during Kennedy’s leadership that Tariq Ali voted Lib-Dem in 2005 – as did a number of other people who could point to the party being in policy terms rather to the left of New Labour at that point.

        (Although of course what they really cared about was Iraq on which I incidentally thought Kennedy was wrong and Blair right…)

        However Kennedy was also an alcoholic whose increasing problems with controlling his addiction were affecting his performance as leader – which became the pretext for removing him and replacing him (after a spell where an elderly placeholder did the job) with the right-wing Nick Clegg.

        So my figure of speech was mostly positive about Kennedy.

      • adubcheck67 said,

        Thank you very much for taking the time to write me a detailed answer.
        It’s not so frequent on the internet as it should be.
        I learned a new English figure of speech = I’m glad.
        I should have guessed the meaning quickly…

        Though I had a positive opinion of Kennedy, it was formed through
        the reading of Italian leftist newspapers like “il Manifesto”:
        so I didn’t know about his addiction to alcohol because I didn’t have first hand news about English politics.
        Not knowing this detail left me a bit puzzled about the expression,
        as you can understand.
        I’m very sorry for him, because it’s a terrible thing both to be an alcoholic and to be removed from one’s job or position.
        I consider myself very lucky to be a straight-edge nondrinker,
        and Nick Clegg confirms to be a wretched MoFo

      • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

        British politics used to be considerably more forgiving – arguably in fact too forgiving – of purely personal failings.

        The 1950s and 1960s Labour politician George Brown was for instance regularly to be found blind drunk on the streets of London and even did TV and radio interviews when visibly worse for wear (coining the term ‘tired and emotional’ as another useful euphemism for drunkenness as on one such occasion this was how his aides explained his performance) – but remained a senior cabinet minister and spokesman of his party for many years.

        And Winston Churchill was it seems rarely completely sober – which also appears to have been true of Margaret Thatcher after a certain point on most days.

        But now we have a 24/7 news cycle and the media are obsessed with personalities rather than politics the old rules no longer apply and Kennedy’s habitual drunkenness could not be covered up or laughed off as it would have been 20 or 30 years earlier.

        His big mistake however was not admitting that he had a problem at all and repeatedly lying about it – had he confessed and sought treatment a wave of public sympathy might well have kept him as leader in which case we might have seen a rather different result in 2010.

        And he is still an MP – although it seems frequently absent from Parliament for suspect both ‘health’ and political reasons – and was sober enough today to announce on radio that he is opposed to his and the Conservative party’s bedroom tax.

  2. jimmy glesga said,

    There are no democratic forces in Syria. The pretend democratic Syrians are living it up in the US and Europe and are just the paid patsies for western propoganda.

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