Putin arrives to speak at a meeting in the Grand Kremlin Palace
Commentators in the mainstream media generally seem unclear about Putin’s strategic objective in Syria – some even claim he hasn’t really got one. Putin, they say, is a brilliant tactician but a poor strategist: keeping the west guessing by springing surprises (as in Eastern Ukraine) is an end in itself, but he has no long-term game plan.
Julian Borger, in a quite well-informed piece in yesterday’s Guardian subscribes to this view, noting that
“What appears to be unfolding goes beyond stabilising Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It looks like an effort, in coordination with Syrian and Iranian-backed ground troops, to inflict a lasting military defeat on the rebel coalition which had succeeded in carving out a growing patch of territory in the north-east.
“Although conducted under the banner of a campaign against Islamic State, the evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of Russian targets have been non-Isis groups, some of them supported by the US, others by Turkey and the Gulf states”
This, you would have thought, gives us a very strong clue as to what Putin’s objective is, but Borger doesn’t seem to see it, concluding his piece thus:
“Putin’s mastery of surprise has put him in the driving seat, but there is little sign so far he knows where he’s going.”
Oh no? I should have thought it’s obvious: destroy the democratic non-Isis opposition forces so that the only significant forces in Syria are Assad and ISIS, thus facing the west with a stark choice, based upon the facts on the ground, as created by Russian imperialism: Assad or Isis? And to fight Isis, you’ll have to do a deal with me, on my terms. It has been reported by a credible source that to achieve this end, Putin has been boosting Isis by encouraging radicalised Russian Muslims to travel to Syria
Mark Leonard, in the current New Statesman spells it out in an excellent article that’s not yet available online (I’ll provide a link when it is). Here’s a key section:
Vladamir Putin’s military intervention is is less about defeating Isis than about establishing himself as the ultimate counter-revolutionary leader.
There is a parallel between Putin’s plans for Syria and the long war he fought in Chechnya from 1999 to 2009. The first war in Chechnya, from 1994 to 1996, was between a moderate, largely secular opposition and the Russian state.
In order to win the second conflict, however, the Kremlin started to marginalise the moderates – starting with the legitimate president Aslan Maskhadov – while at the same time helping the factions that did not obey Maskhadov, and which committed kidnappings and were linked to the Middle East. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, Putin sold the Chechnya war to the west as “a common struggle with Islamic terrorism.” In Syria, a similar dynamic was already in motion – Islamist groups having gained the upper hand over the moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army who helped launch the revolution in 2011 – but now Putin is accelerating it, using familiar tactics.
Russian planes have been targeting all of the anti-Assad groups to ensure that there is no strong, non-ISIS opposition. At the same time it appears as though Moscow has been actively helping Isis to swell its ranks. A report in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed that officers of Putin’s FSB (state security) have encouraged radicalised Muslims from Russia, and particularly the North Caucasus, to go to Syria, opening a “green channel” for travel that has made it possible for at least 2,400 fighters to make the journey (another 2,600 jihadis from central Asia are also believed to be in Syria). The newspaper claims that Russian agents are actively handing out special passports to jihadis to make it easier for them to travel.
As for Putin’s underlying -“philosophical” if you like – motivation, Leonard is equally clear and (for me, at least) convincing:
His biggest fear, I think, is not of colour revolutions in Damascus, nor even in Kyiv. It is of one taking place in Moscow. Putin is still haunted by the winter protests of 2012 that were provoked by his return to the Kremlin as president for a third term.
Much of his foreign policy since has been driven by this experience. In February 2014, when Yanukovych was hounded into exile by protesters in Ukraine, Putin feared he could be vulnerable. If his Syrian gamble does pay off, it might just force the west to realise the benefits of autocratic stability.
NB: this confirms my analysis: ‘Isis seizes ground from Aleppo rebels under cover of Russian airstrikes’.
Paul Canning: ‘Russia painting Crimea’s Tatars as ‘ISIS supporters”
Rest in Power, Grace Lee Boggs
Grace Lee Boggs passed away peacefully on Monday morning aged 100. We are so grateful for the vision of justice and human connection that she gave us and feel incredibly privileged to have been able to share her story with others [writes her namesake, film-maker Grace Lee]
JD adds: In her youth, Grace Lee Boggs was a member of the ‘Shachtmanite’ Workers’ Party and a key figure in the CLR James/Raya Dunayevskaya “Johnson-Forest Tendency”, playing a pioneering role in the development of ‘Third Camp’ revolutionary politics. She remained firmly and actively on the left for the rest of her life, though she moved away from Trotskyism, towards (as I understand it) a more “Third-Worldist’ political philosophy and community activism in Detriot, where she and her auto-worker husband lived from the 1950’s. Anyone who knows more about her is welcome to comment below.
New York Times obit, here
A more detailed appreciation from Comrade Coatesy, here
H/t Daniel R
I’m ashamed to admit that I came late to Phil Woods and have only been listening intently to his superb playing since news of his death, aged 83, came through earlier this week.
He played his final gig on September 4th using an oxygen mask and, before the final number announced that due to emphysema, he was retiring with immediate effect. Due to his extensive work as a session man on pop records, many people who are not particularly into jazz, will have heard his playing without knowing it: he plays the sax solo on Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are, for instance.
But it is as one of the greatest of post-Parker altoists that he will be properly remembered. Here he is on a live recording from 1976 (‘Live From the Showboat’), in truly magisterial form on ‘Cheek To Cheek’, a difficult song not obviously suited to jazz improvisation – but Woods makes it all sound so easy:
Phil Woods (alto) with Harry Leahey, guitar Mike Melillo, piano Steve Gilmore, drums
H/t: Pete Neighbour, who wrote on facebook, “This is one of ‘THE’ Phil Woods tracks… I remember playing this endlessly when I first got it on vinyl; desperately trying to get somewhere near this masterful performance – and failing dismally I hasten to add. My mind struggling with the harmonic complexities that Phil found in this standard….. desperately trying not to copy…but wanting… so, so wanting to be influenced and to let some of his genius seep through my playing. Today, with everyone seemingly accorded ‘superstar status’ to listen to this brings home the meaning of true musical genius. I know all this sounds ‘gushing’……..but….if it does…..I don’t care!”
Above: the anti-EU ‘left’ at the TUC
Accuse any member of the Communist Party or supporter of the Morning Star of being a “Little Englander” or even just a nationalist, over the EU and they’ll get very hot under the collar. Robert Griffiths, general secretary of the CPB recently wrote a self-righteous letter to the New Statesman to complain about the magazine having quoted yours truly describing the MS “plumb[ing] the depths of reactionary Little England nationalism” in its coverage of the EU.
Now, I don’t know for sure whether or not John Boyd is a member of the CPB, but the MS certainly gives him a lot of coverage, regularly printing his anti-EU rants on their letters page, and quoting him approvingly in articles blaming the EU for the decimation of British industry, the undermining of British democracy, the war in Ukraine and the very existence of neoliberal capitalism, etc, etc, etc. Mr Boyd is secretary of the so-called Campaign Against Euro-Federalism, one of a number of interchangeable Stalinist/nationalist anti-EU outfits which evidently meet with the approval of the CPB and the MS.
Yesterday’s Morning Star published Mr Boyd’s latest letter, which I think is worth reproducing for posterity here at Shiraz, if only because letters published in the print edition don’t appear on the MS website. It is a chemically-pure statement of the fanatical, laughably ignorant, and utterly preposterous nationalism and isolationism that lies at the diseased heart the supposedly “left” anti-EU movement. The anti-EU ‘left’ should have this ludicrous, rambling, non-sequitur-ridden missive thrown in their faces at every opportunity. I presume, by the way, that Manu Bazzanu had written a letter attempting to assert elementary socialist internationalism, thus enraging the pro-patriotism Mr Boyd:
The nation state must come first for socialists
MANU BAZZANU (M Star September 25) brushes aside the fundamental importance of nations, nation states and their right to self determination. In fact the signs are that there will be more nation states.
Why side with capitalist interests, the European Union, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and its secret investment court system (ICS/ISDS) whose aims are to cull the powers of national governments, democracy and independence?
The main cause of wars is one nation state’s interference in the internal affairs and right to self-determination of another.
The Middle East is in turmoil, with the resultant mass movement of refugees, because governments of Britain and other countries have used military force to destroy infrastructures, change regimes with no respect for nation states’ governments, the nations or the peoples within them.
The objective of Islamic State (Isis) is to bring about a worldwide caliphate which does not recognise international borders, nation states and a lot more. Readers of the Morning Star vehemently oppose this.
Is it not correct that support that support should be given to a united Ireland where the Irish nation has been struggling for over 800 years to get rid of English imperialism?
Is it wrong for the French Communist Party congress to sing the Marsellaise before the Internationale? That is patriotism and internationalism in the correct order.
Dockers in the past carried out international solidarity with workers in other nation states by refusing to load or unload particular ships. That is just one example of internationalism.
Even within the EU, and in light of the refugee and Eurozone crises, national governments on behalf of their nation states have rocked this reactionary prison-house of nations to its foundations.
We are currently subjects of the British monarchy, but this does not preclude writing English, Scottish and Welsh patriotic national anthems. They should reflect the national patriotic history and aspirations, clearing us of a few obstacles!
JOHN BOYD, Secretary, Campaign Against Euro-Federalism
Above: ‘Stop The War’ placards outside US embassy, June 2013
30 Sept 2015: A Russian general asked the U.S. to remove its planes from Syrian airspace Wednesday, just hours before Russian airstrikes began there.
The Russian three-star general, who was part of the newly formed intelligence cell with Iraq, Iran, and the Syrian government, arrived in Baghdad at 9 a.m. local time and informed U.S. officials that Russian strikes would be starting imminently—and that the U.S. should refrain from conducting strikes and move any personnel out. The only notice the U.S. received about his visit was a phone call one hour earlier.
The Russian strikes were centered about the city of Homs, according to initial accounts in the local press and in social media. That’s significant, because Homs is not known to be an ISIS stronghold (CNN)
The leaders of the Stop The War Coalition claim to be against all interventions into Syria (without a UN mandate) … so we can expect a, STW-organised demo outside the Russian embassy any day now, eh ..?
Above: Trident nuclear submarine patrolling (Getty Images)
Jeremy Corbyn has suffered his first defeat as Labour leader: and it’s been Unite and the GMB who’ve brought it about.
The decision by delegates at the Party conference not to have a debate on Trident came about because Unite and the GMB, with tens of thousands of their members’ jobs dependent upon the renewal of the nuclear weapons system, made it clear that they’d vote against any anti- Trident resolution.
Today’s Morning Star front page headline declared ‘Dismay As Trident Vote Is Blocked’ while the story beneath quoted CND’s Kate Hudson, at some length, decrying the decision as “bitterly disappointing, not just for the Labour delegates and members who wanted to see that debate take place, but for many, many others round the country who wanted to see Labour stand up unequivocally against the government’s determination to rearm Britain with nuclear weapons … Failure of Labour to change its policy means that in spring next year , when the government seeks Parliament’s approval for Trident’s replacement, Labour policy will be on the wrong side … Labour will give the Tory government a blank cheque for nuclear rearmament.”
Tucked away at the end of the Star‘s article is a brief reference to the role of Unite, the paper’s main funder: ‘Setting out his opposition to unilateralism, Unite leader Len McCluskey said: “I understand the moral case and the huge cost of replacing Trident, especially in this era of austerity, but the important thing for us is jobs and the defence of communities.”
The embarrassment of the Morning Star aside, the significance of the votes of Unite and the other major unions on this issue, is that they seem to be reverting to their traditional role as bastions of right wing pragmatism, against the leftist idealism of much of the Party’s rank and file (although, having said that, only 7.1% of constituency delegates voted for a debate on Trident). It also points to the failure of the anti-Trident left to deal effectively with the questions of jobs: Unite and the GMB in reality regard Trident as a massive job creation scheme and so far (beyond vague references to the Lucas Alternative Plan of the 1970’s) the left has failed to come up with a convincing answer.
Meanwhile the GMB’s recently-knighted buffoon of a general secretary, ‘Sir’ Paul Kenny has lined up with Labour’s Europhobes (some of the most right wing people in the Party) in urging the Party to “keep its options open” on EU membership and, in fact, campaign for withdrawal if Cameron’s renegotiation results in any weakening of British workers’ rights – quite how leaving the EU will prevent the Tories attacking workers’ rights in Britain is not explained by Kenny or his europhobic friends. In fact, Corbyn’s recent clarification on Europe (stating that he “cannot envisage” Labour campaigning for withdrawal and that the Party will re-instate any workers’ rights bargained away by Cameron) is plainly the only rational left-wing position.
For all his fake-left posturing, Kenny’s position on Europe (like his position on Trident) is, objectively, an attack on Corbyn … from the right.
It’s time for Corbyn’s supporters to start organising seriously in the unions.
“What I tried to do for both sides is to give them a way out with some form of dignity otherwise they wouldn’t lay their arms down.
“And can I just say this, because this has been raised with me time and time again – I accept it was a mistake to use those words, but actually if it contributed towards saving one life, or preventing someone else being maimed it was worth doing, because we did hold on to the peace process.
“There was a real risk of the republican movement splitting and some of them continuing the armed process. If I gave offence, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart I apologise, I apologise.”
McDonnell was honest, straightforward and (I thought) convincing on last night’s Question Time. In stark contrast to his boss in July, when asked perfectly reasonable questions about his warm words towards Hamas and Hezbollah:
John Rees of Stop the War Coalition flanked by Cage representatives, making excuses for ‘Jihadi John’ earlier this year
I personally find it extraordinary that any sane person could have any moral or political objection to the British government’s killing of ISIS fascists. The organisations that have been bleating about this – CND, Reprieve and Stop The War, have long since exposed themselves as outfits who will sympathise with any forces, no matter how barbaric, who oppose the ‘West.’ At least Reprieve is in business to mount legal challenges to the government when it believes human rights are a stake (though they seem mightily selective about whose human rights they’re concerned with); but what the hell is CND doing commenting on this issue? As for the misnamed Stop The War Coalition – we all know that they operate on the basis of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and will ally with some of the vilest organisations and individuals on the planet, in the name of supposed “anti-imperialism.”
But what about the legal grounds for the killings? Leading legal blogger Carl Gardner opines that the action was probably legal, but acknowledges that it’s not entirely clear-cut:
Some would argue that an armed attack has to be by a State, or attributable to one, before the UK can defend itself. Here, the RAF’s attack violated Syrian sovereignty but Khan’s plans, whatever they were, can’t obviously be blamed on the Syrian regime. But I don’t think this is a strong argument against the UK .
In any event, the insistence that self-defence can only be invoked against sovereign states seems to me unreal after 9/11. Either international law on the use of force is an ass, unfit for purpose in the 21st century; or its principles must be capable of application to today’s real threats to peace and security. I think the latter.
Read the rest of Gardner’s opinion here
March 1939: German-Jewish refugee children arrive at Southampton on the US liner Manhattan as part of the Kindertransport programme(Fox Photos/Getty Images)
October 1950: Latvian refugees arrive in Penzance after escaping from a Baltic port(Fox Photos/Getty Images)
November 1956: The first of 2,500 Hungarian refugees offered settlement in Britain arrive at Blackbushe airport in Hampshire(Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
September 1971: Vietnamese war orphans travel on a coach on their way from London Airport (Heathrow) to the Pestalozzi Children’s Village in Sussex(Central Press/Getty Images)
October 1978: A group of Vietnamese boat people hold a large banner saying, “Our Gratitude to Elisabeth II and the English people for hospitality to the Vietnamese refugees”(Colin Davey/Evening Standard/Getty Images)
April 1999: Well-wishers wait to greet Kosovar refugees at Leeds Bradford airport(Reuters)
September 2015: Syrian boy lies dead in the surf near Bodrum, Turkey (Reuters)
David Cameron: “I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees” (see: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/02/david-cameron-migration-crisis-will-not-be-solved-by-uk-taking-in-more-refugees)
Above: yesterday’s Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling newspaper. The headline accompanying the picture of Cameron translates as “The slackers of Europe – they take far fewer refugees than they could.” First among the slackers, says Bild, is “Great Britain – it has so far taken 114 refugees for every one million residents, one third of the EU average. For comparison, Germany has taken 905 per million population and Hungary 3,322.”
Cameron’s increasingly xenophobic stance, as he seeks to appease the anti-EU Tory right and fend off UKIP, should be a warning to the anti-EU idiot-left: however you may wriggle and squirm, you’re giving “left” cover to some of the most reactionary forces in British politics. The forthcoming referendum is, in reality, going to be a vote on immigration, with the anti-EU forces standing for isolationism, little-Englandism and (in some cases)outright racism.
The principled left should stand for more European integration, not less. The following letter was sent to the Morning Star on 31 July, but (perhaps unsurprisingly) not published:
Dear Morning Star,
It is obvious that the only possibility of resolving the present migration crisis in a fair, humane and rational manner will involve more European co-operation, solidarity and integration.
Migrants should be allocated between EU member states on the basis of a country’s wealth, size and number of those of the same heritage already settled in a given country. This approach would involve abandoning the Dublin accord (which requires refugees to seek asylum in the first EU country they enter) and arranging any resettlement immediately after the application is made, to ensure a family or individual isn’t wrenched away from somewhere they’ve come to regard as home. It would almost certainly have to happen before an application is either approved or rejected, with all the difficulties that entails for cross-border information sharing and language barriers. It would also mean countries that have previously experienced low levels of immigration having to accept more.
As has been shown by both the deal forced on the Greeks and the unsuccessful attempt to establish such an agreement earlier this year, such solidarity is not always forthcoming: more EU integration is the only possible way forward. The main reason the British government would oppose any such arrangement is that it would mean taking in more people. For all the cost to the economy of Operation Stack and policing the tunnel, the Tories put cutting immigration figures and being seen to oppose European integration ahead of seeking a rational and humane solution. The anti-EU left need to take note.