As he faces questioning in London, the liberal left must accept the significant role the WikiLeaks founder is playing in Trump’s presidential campaign
Donald Trump is the greatest threat to Western civilisation we have faced since the fall of the Berlin Wall. If elected, he threatens to jail his opponent, Hillary Clinton. He is emboldening the cranks and racists of the alt-right and destabilising the American people’s faith in their democratic institutions with his loose talk that the system is “rigged”. And, even though Trump represents a virulent strain of hard-right populism, he is being helped along by a hero of the libertarian left – Julian Assange.
Assange’s alliance with Donald Trump looks, on the face of it, like one of the most unusual political alliances in recent history. The players in this dangerous alliance may share a fondness for the conservative patriarchy of Vladimir Putin’s Russia but, for Assange, Trump is part of his calculations to escape his room in the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge. A presidential pardon may stop him facing jail in the US (though no charges have been brought against him there so far), but it won’t stop his extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations.
Assange’s political influence only remains because too many on the left have made half a decade’s worth of excuses for him.
For a brief moment, Julian Assange looked like the future. The hacker-turned-activist had the vision to co-found WikiLeaks and turn it into the world’s number one whistleblowing platform. He was hailed as the spirit incarnate of the internet; a man willing to face prison to let people know the truth about corruption in their governments and corporations. It is easy to forget how influential WikiLeaks once was.
The organisation had an inner circle of highly skilled data analysts and journalists working across the globe on leaked documents. When WikiLeaks published US embassy cables on President Ben Ali’s pilfering of state assets for shopping trips in Paris, it helped trigger the uprising in Tunisia.
Assange inspired an era of whistleblowing, from Edward Snowden exposing illegal US and UK surveillance, to the Panama Papers that showed the extent of global tax avoidance. Assange was powerful, seemingly above the law, and attracting international attention. A minority of journalists dared ask the question: who can hold the whistleblowers to account?
On 20 August 2010, two women entered a Stockholm police station and asked police to ensure Assange took an HIV test. The women allege that Assange had committed rape and sexual assault, charges Assange denies. He was due to be interviewed by police on 14 October 2010, but instead fled Sweden for London in late September.
Wikileaks accuses unnamed ‘state party’ of cutting Assange’s internet
People around Assange began to trash the reputations of the two women involved saying they were motivated by “malice and money”. Others said the allegations were part of a sinister CIA plot to destroy WikiLeaks. Few of Assange’s celebrity friends were willing to ask the question, what if Assange had committed sexual assault.
The law in Sweden means the charge of sexual assault has already expired and the rape charge will expire in 2020. He is now due to be questioned again by Swedish prosecutors inside the Ecudorian Embassy.
By now, you may have expected a chorus of voices from the liberal-left calling for Assange to return to Sweden to face questioning. If he was innocent, why could he not be questioned on these serious charges? Instead, people made excuses.
The excuses continued when months later, Padraig Reidy and I exposed damning evidence that suggested a close associate of Assange had given top secret US embassy cables to the dictator of Belarus, which may have landed brave democracy activists in prison. At first, we heard nothing. It took a former WikiLeaks staffer, James Ball, to blow the whistle for us to be taken seriously: ironically, now leaks were exposing an apparent cover-up culture at WikiLeaks.
Trump wants Hillary Clinton to take a drugs test
It is because prominent people have made personal and professional excuses for Assange that he feels beyond reproach – even as he alienates those closest to him. Emboldened, Assange is going for his greatest ever prize: the US presidency.
WikiLeaks is leading the attack on Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, with leaks that have so far cost the job of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the former Democrat party chair. Just last Thursday, another 2,000 internal emails from the Clinton campaign were released. And moments after the infamous video of Trump allegedly boasting about groping women was put online, Wikileaks responded with leaked emails of Hillary Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street banks.
Robert Mackey of The Intercept, a site that has done much to give whistleblowers a global voice, says WikiLeaks has “started to look more like the stream of an opposition research firm working mainly to undermine Hillary Clinton than the updates of a non-partisan platform for whistleblowers.”
It seems odd that the world’s most prominent whistleblowing website has leaked nothing on Donald Trump and his mysterious tax records, yet is leaking the personal details of Democrat party donors. It seems highly likely that Wikileaks received these leaked emails from hackers working for the Russian Government.
With ammunition from Wikileaks, Trump is hammering home his case that the first female nominee from a major party for the presidency is unfit for office. Trump has lavished WikiLeaks with praise, telling a rally in Pennsylvania, “I love Wikileaks”.
It is claimed that support for Wikileaks is rising among US right-wingers. FoxNews TV shock jock Sean Hannity went as far telling Assange in a live interview, “I do hope you get free one day.” This is perhaps Assange’s strategy – damage Clinton (who ran the State Department when Assange leaked the embassy cables) to secure a Trump win and a presidential pardon.
I’ve written at length about Obama’s war on whistleblowers and the appalling record of the Democrat party in prosecuting brave Americans who speak out about their government’s human rights abuses. I would support any campaign to prevent Julian Assange’s extradition to the US, where the law would prevent him from running a public interest defence for his disclosures and would likely see him placed in jail alongside Chelsea Manning, who has suffered disgracefully at the hands of the US government.
If Donald Trump becomes US President, it will be in no small way thanks to the efforts of Julian Assange. After they’ve defended Assange against allegations of rape and helping the dictator of Belarus, will the liberal left continue to defend him if he gets Trump elected?
Mike Harris is the founder and director of 89up and the publisher of Little Atoms magazine
These things really happened, that is the thing to keep one’s eye on. They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads — they all happened, and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late – George Orwell, Looking Back At the Spanish War, 1943.
The Foreign Secretary’s comments came after Labour’s Ann Clwyd urged those who care about the plight of Syrian civilians to gather outside Russian embassies across the globe until the country stops its bombing campaign.
Johnson also called for a war crimes investigation into the bombing of an aid convoy last month in which at least 21 people died.
Today host, Sarah Montague, began the segment on Wednesday morning by asking what the Stop the War Coalition was doing to oppose the conflict.
Nineham said: “We are we’re protesting with statements and our information that we’ve put out. We’ve condemned not just Russia but all foreign interventions into what is now an absolutely disastrous and horrible situation for the Syrian people.
“But we were set up as a coalition as a response to 9/11 and in response to the Western, British-supported drive to war back in 2001 and that is our focus.
“There’s a good reason for that…”
Montague interrupted, pointing out “we are in 2016 now” with a conflict raging in which “Aleppo is being destroyed”.
She added: “You have a Labour MP, Ann Clwyd, saying ‘where’s the rage, we should have two million, three million, four million people outside the Russian embassy…’
“Should people demonstrate outside the Russian embassy?”
Nineham replied: “This is not a serious argument being put [forward] by Boris Johnson, he’s characteristically trivialising the situation. If they want to protest outside the Russian embassy, they know where it is.”
When asked if Stop the War would get involved in such demonstrations, Nineham replied: “No we wouldn’t and the reason for that is that our focus is on what our government is doing.
“As I was saying, there’s a very good reason for this because we can make a difference to what Britain does, we can make a difference to what our allies do to a certain extent and we have done.
“But if we have a protest outside the Russian embassy it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to what Putin does because we are in the West and we are in Britain.
“And not only that but a protest outside the Russian embassy would actually contribute to increasing the hysteria and the jingoism that is being whipped up at the minute to go against Russia… being organised by politicians and by the media against Russia to see Russia as the only problem in Syria.”
Montague said: “So you would urge people not to demonstrate against Russia?”
Nineham replied: “We’re not worried about it but what we’re saying is that there’s a hysteria that’s being organised by politicians and by the media against Russia to see Russia as the only problem in Syria.
“The real problem here is you have people who regard themselves as responsible politicians like Andrew Mitchell and John Woodcock and Boris Johnson to a lesser extent who are seriously saying that what Syria needs is more Western bombs, more Western munitions.
“And Andrew Mitchell actually came on this programme yesterday and seriously said it wouldn’t be a problem if RAF fighter pilots attacked Russian planes.”
Nineham went on: “The possibility now presents itself of there being a confrontation for the first time since the Second World War, between Russia and Western powers including Britain.
“And anyone who has a responsibility for peace or the future of the planet quite frankly needs to mobilise against that…”
At this point Montague cut off the interview but Nineham managed to get in a last few words.
“… and that means opposing the West.”
The Stop The War Coalition has now confirmed what many of us have been saying for a long while: the remnant of the group which ten years ago organised big marches against the invasion of Iraq, is now merely a “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” lash-up with Putin, Assad and any reactionary force or regime that happens to find itself in conflict with the West.
The STWC has made a conscious decision not to criticise Assad’s filthy regime. Why? Because in this war Counterfire and Socialist Action (the main political forces within the STWC) are effectively siding with the regime.
Stop the War’s organisers are seriously politically disorientated. And that leaves them sharing platforms with a ridiculous Stalinist, Kamal Majid, and a Syrian academic, Issa Chaer, who when interviewed by the Iranian state’s propaganda outlet, Press TV, said, “I see President Assad as the person who is now uniting the country from all its backgrounds, all factions and all political backgrounds… anybody who calls for President Assad to step down at this stage; would be causing Syria an irreversible destruction.”
Above: Syria Solidarity campaigners outside Stop The War’s conference today
It’s come to something when it takes a Guardian columnist to call the supposed “left”, the lying wretches of the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’ and Jeremy Corbyn to order on their elementary duty towards the people of Aleppo:
We’re watching as Aleppo is destroyed. Where is the rage?
250,000 people live in East Aleppo, including an estimated 100,000 children. These people are not terrorists; they simply don’t want to live under a leader, Assad, who has killed, raped and tortured their kin.
On Wednesday the Syrian military warned these civilians to flee or meet their “inevitable fate.” Russian and Syrian airstrikes are targeting hospitals, schools, bakeries, and underground shelters. This policy of deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime that will cause trauma for generations.
The leaders of Britain, America, Russia, Iran, etc. have done nothing to protect Syria’s civilians; it falls to us who do care to organise and speak out on their behalf.
Please join us to call for an immediate end to the bombing in Aleppo and a properly enforced UN ceasefire.
Syria is the worst war of this decade, even of this bloody century so far.
Photo: Injured being treated in Aleppo, 25 September 2016, via @HadiAlabdallah.
From a call with Aleppo local council yesterday: SyriaUK:How are you?
Aleppo Council: This situation is the worst we have ever seen, a never ending nightmare, shelling is non-stop throughout the night when there’s no electricity or lights, people are unable to sleep. We also get shelled in the day, but less frequently.The bunker buster missiles used are causing massive shock waves; some buildings are collapsing without being targeted due to the effects of shock waves. These missiles are particularly designed to target underground shelters, so people have nowhere to hide. We woke up yesterday to a building that fell purely because of shock waves, forty people died.
To make matters worse, we are under siege, the markets are empty and we have nothing at all.
How can we help? What would you like us to do?
The whole world knows about what is going on in Aleppo, it is no secret. There was a special UN session about Aleppo today and world leaders kept rehashing the same lines. We know they do not care and will do nothing, but maybe if the general public are aware they would pressure their governments to do something. Make them aware how many types of bombs and missiles are being used against us. We are being shelled with five different types of bombs and missiles: napalm; phosphorous; cluster; barrel bombs; and bunker buster bombs.
SYRIAN GROUPS IN THE UK CALL FOR AIRCRAFT TRACKING, AIRDROPS, AND A NO-BOMBING ZONE
On Monday night an air attack by pro Assad forces destroyed a Red Crescent aid convoy and killed at least 12 people including Omar Barakat, Red Crescent director in Orem al-Kubra, Aleppo province.
The convoy had travelled from regime held territory into opposition territory so was known to the regime. A video released by the Russian Ministry of Defence prior to the attack appears to show that the aid convoy was under Russian drone surveillance at some point before it was hit by an airstrike.
Both Russia and the Assad regime have denied responsibility.
The only area to receive UN aid today Tuesday was regime-held Deir Ezzor by World Food Programme airdrop. Deir Ezzor has received regular airdrops for months now (107 WFP airdrops up to 31 August) while no opposition held area has received a single one despite a UK-proposed and ISSG-agreed deadline of 1 June for airdrops and air bridges to several besieged communities.
The events around yesterday’s aid convoy bombing show the need for aircraft tracking, airdrops, and a no-bombing zone in Syria.
ON AIRCRAFT TRACKING, we have recently been briefing Foreign Office and DfID officials on this option. The UK has the ability to track flights from Assad regime and Russian air bases in Syria at a distance of 400 km. Tracking and publicly reporting aircraft responsible for attacks on civilians would begin to bring a measure of accountability for breaches of UN resolutions, and would help identify command responsibility for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The need for this is clearly illustrated by Russian and Assad regime denials over yesterday’s aid convoy bombing.
ON AIRDROPS, the UK has the experience and the capacity to airdrop food and medical aid to besieged communities from its bases in Cyprus. The UK has the military might to deter attacks on its aircraft. Suitable partners on the ground are available through UOSSM, Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, and others to coordinate drop zones and aid distribution.
ON A NO-BOMBING ZONE, it is approaching a year now since Jo Cox set out the case in Parliament for ‘deterring the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilians in Syria through the willingness to consider the prudent and limited use of force.’
A no-bombing zone does not require boots on the ground; does not require air patrols in Syrian airspace; does not require bombing Syrian air defences; does not require coming into armed conflict with Russia.
A no-bombing zone requires giving the Assad regime an ultimatum to stop air attacks against civilians, and then answering any subsequent air attacks with carefully targeted strikes against Assad regime military assets. It is a measured, proportionate proposal to save countless lives and open the door to peace.
We have heard the ‘no military solution’ mantra repeated about Syria for over five years. We need a political solution, but diplomacy without pressure has failed again and again to deliver a political solution, and all that time the Assad regime backed by Russia has continued military action against Syria’s civilian population, driving people to flee and destroying any hope for an inclusive political settlement.
It is time to learn from over five years of failure and act to end the killing in Syria.
The UK has the ability to track flights from Assad regime and Russian air bases in Syria at a distance of 400 km. Tracking and publicly reporting aircraft responsible for attacks on civilians would begin to bring a measure of accountability for breaches of UN resolutions, and would help identify command responsibility for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The deeply problematic attempted Syrian ceasefire agreement between the United States and Russia last week never really took hold and was finally torn asunder on Monday by Russia and the regime of Bashar al-Assad blitzing an aid convoy and launching massive, indiscriminate aerial attacks on rebel-held areas in Aleppo. Last night, the pro-Assad coalition commenced a renewed assault on Aleppo actually as the parties met to discuss putting the ceasefire back online.
It had been surreal that it was the U.S. insisting that “The ceasefire is not dead”. What it exposed was the lack of Western will to restrain the Assad regime, which al-Qaeda, especially, is exploiting, offering its services in the fight against Assad, and building a sustainable presence in Syria that will threaten the West for many years to come.
A Misconceived Ceasefire
The agreement between the U.S. and Russia, and its attendant political process, were inherently misconceived, strengthening Assad, whose murderous policies have—quite deliberately—provided the ideal context for the growth of extremist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
The ceasefire had been intended to last seven days, during which regime jets would cease murdering civilians and attacking mainstream armed opposition groups, and there would be free access for humanitarian supplies. After this “sustained” period of calm the U.S. and Russia would launch joint airstrikes against al-Qaeda in Syria, the recently rebranded Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS).
The proposal—if it worked to the letter—would have eliminated an important part of the insurgency. Since the agreement contained no provision for bolstering mainstream rebels and no mechanism to prevent or punish the regime for anything, there was nothing to stop the pro-regime coalition from continuing to commit atrocities as JFS was degraded, nor making military gains against a weakened insurgency once JFS was gone.
While JFS’s destruction would have neutralized the insurrection as a strategic threat to the regime, it would not have brought peace. It would have removed all incentive for the regime to negotiate a political settlement, yet the regime’s chronic capacity problems would have left it unable to pacify the whole country. In these conditions, the most radical insurgent forces, who would be the ones prepared to fight on, would have been strengthened, condemning Syria to a permanent war in which terrorists could find haven.
The eradicate-JFS-without-replacing-its-capabilities part of the plan was understandably rejected by the Syrian opposition, which officially accepted the ceasefire element of the U.S.-Russia deal. Unfortunately even the ceasefire provisions never came to pass. Around 150 people were killed by the pro-Assad coalition during the ceasefire and not a single aid delivery was permitted to any of the regime-besieged areas.
On Monday, an aid convoy of eighteen trucks finally did move over the Turkish border into Aleppo, loaded with aid for 78,000 people. It was obliterated by Russian jets, who had been tracking it for at least two hours, its contents destroyed, and thirty-one civilians and staff killed. Indiscriminate bombing of rebel-held areas all over Aleppo also recommenced, bringing the ceasefire in any real world sense to an end.
Russia Directs the Political Process
By the time the political process began in December 2015, the Russian intervention had altered the balance of power so the regime was ascendant, and enabled the Russians to subvert the whole process, transforming it from one about the terms of Assad’s departure to the terms of his continuation in power. The U.S. was pushing for a unity government between the regime, with Assad still at the helm, and the rebels that turned its guns on the Islamic State. For the rebels this was surrender by another name.
The attempted ceasefire in February was preceded by a lessening of support for the rebellion as the U.S. and allies lived up to their obligation to de-escalate. The pro-regime coalition used this as cover to advance against Aleppo City, cutting off its supply lines to Turkey. The pro-regime then ostensibly accepted the ceasefire, using the rebels’ restraint to consolidate their gains, while continuing to prepare further offensives and to brazenly continue assaults in key strategic zones. The ceasefire irretrievably collapsed in May when al-Qaeda led a full-scale counter-offensive in Aleppo, but in reality the ceasefire had been over in all-but-name for many weeks because of the pro-regime coalition’s continued attacks.
This time around the ceasefire was once again on de facto Russian terms and the regime faced no threat of enforceable sanction for violations of the agreement. It has also been evident for several weeks that the regime was building up for an offensive in Aleppo and the only question in Moscow about the ceasefire was whether the pro-regime coalition needed the fiction of one to allow preparations to be completed, or had no further need of this smokescreen and were able to conduct the offensive. The answer is now in.
From around midday yesterday, in Aleppo, the pro-Assad coalition commenced its heaviest wave of airstrikes for months. One resident said it was “as if the [Russian and Assad regime] planes are trying to compensate for all the days they didn’t drop bombs”. Last night the Assad regime announced a full-scale offensive as Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with his Russian counterpart. Kerry is said to have found out about this from one of the wire services. Since then the gates of hell have opened.
Since al-Qaeda argued, from the beginning, that the political process was a conspiracy against the revolution, which would cajole the rebels into joining an interim government that served Western counter-terrorism priorities but had no care for the people and would leave them under Assad’s heel, they have come out of this period with a lot of credibility.
Al-Qaeda has adopted a strategy of embedding itself into the rebellion, making itself militarily necessary for the opposition and thereby shielding its jihadist agenda behind revolutionary actors whose only intention is to topple a regime that threatens them and their families. The Western refusal to empower the mainstream rebellion allowed al-Qaeda the space to do this and to make decoupling its own fate from the rebellion more difficult. The attempted ceasefires have made this worse by providing cover for regime advances that consciously weaken the moderate rebels, increasing the dependency, in an effort to make the conflict binary between the regime and the jihadists. With the rebranding—the supposed “split” from al-Qaeda—being baptised by breaking the siege of Aleppo, which the U.S. said it was powerless to do, and modifications in behaviour on the ground, al-Qaeda is even winning over former sceptics.
It’s a sad fact that Western policy has failed to defend a single Syrian inside Syria from murder by its outlaw government and its foreign life-support system, nor shown any willingness to work toward the only viable solution for security and peace: the removal of the Assad regime. A peace settlement from here is only viable if the West is willing to confront the Assad regime, to forcefully limit its ability to commit mass-murder and to change battlefield dynamics against it. The continued Western fiction that the ceasefire remains or can be revived or is the “only show in town,” as Boris Johnson put it, is a clear statement that the West has no such will, and has taken the decision to continue on a path whose results are now known.
Allowing Assad free rein, as current policy does, protracts the war. The regime and its supporters have no intention of abiding by conditions that limit their capacity to subdue the insurgency, but they are unable to complete that task. What the pro-regime coalition can do is continue with their chosen tactics in the attempt, collective punishment and mass-displacement, which leave a desperate population amenable to appeals from anybody who can help. Al-Qaeda will continue to fill this void for as long as it is allowed to.
By fostering a vanguardist co-dependency, taking on the population’s concerns as its own and working toward them, al-Qaeda is able to use that population to protect itself and to push its ideology among them, working toward socializing people into its vision of an Islamic state and co-opting the rebellion. Leaving al-Qaeda as the only viable actor for protecting civilians from the Assad regime and its allies is creating a dangerously durable future base for Islamist terrorism.
Open letter to Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for President of the United States in the 2016 election
Dear Dr. Stein,
We are writing to you in the spirit of green values and principles, which include fighting for a sustainable future, defending the environment and human rights, and engaging in international solidarity. We are also writing to you as eco-activists, women and mothers.
In November of this year, you will face an important challenge which will have an impact all over the world, even far away from US borders. As Russian eco-activists, we are following the US presidential election with curiosity and fear. Curiosity for your democratic system and fear for the impact that the result of this election could have on our lives and the lives of our children.
As environmentalists and human rights defenders, we often support Green candidates all over the world when they run for local, national or continental election. However, we are asking ourselves if we can support your candidature for the Presidency of the United States of America. We have carefully read your program and your website and we have to admit that we are deeply shocked by the position you expressed during your visit to Moscow and your meeting with Mr. Vladimir Putin.
During the last few years, Russian authorities have continued the destruction of the rich and unique Russian environment. The Kremlin is heavily contributing to global climate change and the destruction of global biodiversity by over-using Russian natural resources and promoting unsafe nuclear energy. Corruption and anti-democratic behavior of the current Russian government has also led to negative impacts on Russia’s unique forests and natural heritage. Russian eco-activists and human rights defenders are also facing an increasingly repressive system which was constructed under Putin’s regime. The list of the victims of this system is unfortunately becoming longer and longer. Russian environmentalist Yevgeniy Vitishko spent 22 months in prison for a non-violent action. Journalist Mikhail Beketov was violently attacked in 2008, suffered serious injuries, and died in 2013. Our personal cases are also symbolic: because of our activism, and in order to protect our children, we were both forced to leave Russia and to seek political asylum in the European Union.
After your visit to Moscow and your meeting with Vladimir Putin you said that “the world deserve[s] a new commitment to collaborative dialogue between our governments to avert disastrous wars for geopolitical domination, destruction of the climate, and cascading injustices that promote violence and terrorism.” We agree with you. But how can this new “collaborative dialogue” be possible when Mr. Putin has deliberately built a system based on corruption, injustice, falsification of elections, and violation of human rights and international law? How is it possible to have a discussion with Mr. Putin and not mention, not even once, the fate of Russian political prisoners, or the attacks against Russian journalists, artists, and environmentalists? Is it fair to speak with him about “geopolitics” and not mention new Russian laws against freedom of speech, restrictions on NGOs and activists, or the shameful law that forbids “homosexual propaganda”?
By silencing Putin’s crimes you are silencing our struggle. By shaking his hand and failing to criticize his regime you are becoming his accomplice. By forgetting what international solidarity means you are insulting the Russian environmental movement.
Dr. Stein, you still have several weeks before the elections in order to clarify your position on the anti-democratic and anti-environmental elements of Putin’s regime. We sincerely hope that our voices will be heard and that our questions will not go unanswered
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.
From the very beginning of Syria’s revolution–even before the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front some years later–a whole section of the left opposed the popular uprising against the Assad dictatorship that began in early 2011, part of the Arab Spring wave of popular rebellions against dictatorship and repression.
Since then, they have turned a blind eye to Assad’s massacre of some 400,000 Syrians, and his regime’s use of barrel bombs, chemical weapons and barbaric sieges of cities like Aleppo. Today, 11 million people–half the country’s population–have been displaced, with the Assad regime responsible for the lion’s share of the death and destruction.
The author criticises the “campist” belief that, ” there is only one imperialist power in the world–the U.S.–and that it is an all-powerful manipulator of international events.”
The U.S. does remain the world’s dominant imperialist power, but as a result of its failed war in Iraq and other factors, it has suffered a relative decline in strength. Washington is now challenged internationally by imperialist rivals like China and Russia, as well as regional powers. In this new imperial order, the U.S. is less capable of controlling world events–it fears popular revolt all the more.
One of the most striking paragraphs is the following,
A genuine internationalist left must stand with Syria’s popular resistance to Assad, which began as a nonviolent uprising against the dictatorship–and against intervention by American and Russian imperialism, as well as by the region’s main powers.
This stands in clear contrast to the entire strategy of groups in the UK, notably the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) , which claims not to “take sides”.
The STWC has never supported the Assad regime. Just as we never supported the Taliban, Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gaddafi. Only in the minds of ‘them or us’ pretend patriots does the opposition to our own government’s wars mean support for dictators or terrorists. Our case has always been that war will worsen the problem and not solve it. We were right in that analysis in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
There is no group, in other words, that they do stand with.
This is Smith’s conclusion,
No one committed to solidarity with the Syrian struggle can align themselves with either wing of the U.S. imperial establishment. Instead, the left must reject imperialism in any form, including Russia’s.
Rather than look to imperialist powers or dictatorial regimes in either camp, the left should stand for workers’ struggle across borders and in defense of oppressed nations and their fight for self-determination.
The task of the international left today is to oppose intervention by any of the imperialist and regional powers, reject the tyranny of the Assad regime itself, demand the opening of the borders to those fleeing the violence and chaos, collaborate with Syrian revolutionaries–and win people away from campism to the politics of international solidarity from below.
There is nothing specific about the Kurdish YPD and their alliances, nothing specific about the very special threat to progressives and democrats posed by Islamic State, – with all the international echoes that Jihadism poses.
Some will welcome (despite scepticism about how it will work out) US backing for the democratic Kurdish forces and be concerned about Turkish intervention.
Others will point to the specific threat created by the Jihaist genociders of Daesh and the international volunteers for their death squads not least from Europe.
The debate that the article has caused has unfortunately focused on the role of the US rather than such issues. One reader commented, ” “Assad must go!” is the mantra not of the left, but of the Western imperialists.” Another states, “no to U.S. militarism being used to put in place a government that becomes a U.S. pawn.”
Perhaps the UK SWP reflects this debate by publishing the following today,
The US, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and all the others must keep their hands off Syria.
All support given to the Baas [Assad] regime must be stopped in order for the war to come to an end.
The Syrian people must decide their own future.
Turkey must immediately cease military operations in Syria, stop its enmity against the Kurds, and open its borders to Syrian refugees.
We call all the revolutionary Syrian forces to unify their struggle against: the dictatorship, the foreigners regional and imperialist interventions, and against the reactionary forces.
We believe that the victory of Syrian people on all these counter revolutionary forces, demand the unity of all the revolutionary forces of all the Syrians.
Long live peace, long live the revolution!
Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (Turkey)
Revolutionary Left Current (Syria)
Now the this Blog has serious disagreements with the ISO, not least on issues which cross over to this searing problem, such as its refusal to back secularists, like the French ligue de droits de l’homme, in France, against both Islamist and Nationalist-racist bigotry.
But this debate is highly welcome.
Details on quite how anybody is going to stop foreign intervention in Syria and help the Syrian democratic cause win is perhaps too much to ask.
This week, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed what everyone already suspected: the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad had lied repeatedly about its adherence to a deal worked out in 2013, under which it would surrender its chemical weapons of mass destruction (CWMD).
The Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with peaceful protests. By the end of the year, the Assad regime’s unrestrained brutality—which saw the murder of 5,000 people—provoked a militarised response as the population took up arms to defend itself.
This strategy of collective punishment and mass-displacement as a means to suppress the uprising culminated with the Assad regime unleashing chemical weapons against civilians, probably first doing so in December 2012.
President Obama said in August 2012: “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus.” In December 2012, Obama reiterated the threat, saying the use of CWMD would bring “consequences”.
But Assad repeatedly used nerve agents and other CWMD over the next six months, without consequence. In June 2013, the US publicly stated that Assad had used CWMD and the “consequence” would be the first provision of “military support” to the rebellion. But this lethal aid only started arriving in September 2013—after a massive CWMD attack.
On 21 August 2013, the Assad regime used sarin nerve agent to massacre more than 1,400 people in the Damascus suburbs of Ghouta. President Obama was set to launch a round of airstrikes—the French had prepared jets to join the attack—against Assad’s military and unconventional weapons sites when the matter was halted, put to a vote in Congress, and then abandoned completely for a “deal” with Russia, which in the administration’s telling meant Assad surrendered the CWMD he had heretofore denied possessing in exchange for the strikes being called off.
The reality was rather different. Obama had never intended to enforce his “red line”—it was a bluff that got called. Additionally, Obama had begun secret talks with Iran on the nuclear deal and from late 2012 Tehran had effectively taken control in regime-held areas of Syria. A conflict with Iran in Syria might derail the President’s legacy project.
The president’s signalling, therefore, was not that he would use force unless Assad gave up his CWMD: the stated aim was to punish Assad and uphold an international norm. The signal instead was that the President would take any available option to avoid doing what he did not want to, and Moscow provided the decommissioning of Assad’s stockpiles as a fig leaf.
Assad was made a partner in disarmament, extending him some legitimacy, as the Russians had wanted. The West was made complicit in campaigns of atrocity that were passed off as the regime “taking steps to secure” the exit routes for the CWMD, and Assad was, despite all reassurances to the contrary, handed “a license to kill with conventional weapons“. The effect on the moderate and Western-supported rebels was “devastating,” and radicalism on all sides was given a boost.
For this extreme price, Assad was not even disarmed of his CWMD—a sideshow in terms of what was inflicting the casualties. In June 2014, all declared CWMD was removed. This was, said President Obama, a demonstration that “the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences”.
That October, OPCW found four secret CWMD facilities, one of them a production site. By summer 2015 it was clear in open-source that Assad had retained some CWMD, and US intelligence confirmed this in early 2016. Meanwhile, Assad began the routine use of alternate chemical weapons against Syrians, notably chlorine. A separate, simultaneous OPCW investigation has documented eight of these atrocities by the regime.
There have been no consequence for Assad trading sarin for chlorine—nor for the barrel bombs, incendiary weapons, starvation sieges, airstrikes, and use of death squads that have destroyed a country and ignited a region-wide war that has killed half-a-million people.
When asked about his decision to stand back from military strikes against Assad in 2013, President Obama said he was “very proud of this moment”. The US has all-but abandoned the stated regime-change policy, and is instead inching ever-closer to an accommodation that keeps Assad in place. The Russians managed, via their intervention, to turn the peace process inside-out: from a means of transitioning Assad out to a discussion about the terms on which he could stay.
That process was jointly killed earlier this year by Assad and al-Qaeda making the ceasefire untenable. But without an alteration in the balance-of-power on the ground in favour of the mainstream armed opposition, the terms of the discussion will remain the regime’s whenever the next round takes place.
The failure to punish Assad at the time for the Ghouta chemical massacre has done irreparable harm to one of the few international norms left, contributed beyond calculation to the radicalisation of Syria and the rise of anti-Western sentiments, and the course of events since has underlined the lesson that such criminality pays. It is now widely agreed—even by parts of the Turkish government, probably the most hawkishly anti-Assad—that Assad will to have some role in a “transition”. The contrast to the autocrats who were not prepared to kill on this scale and thus fell from power is stark.
It can also be guaranteed that just as Assad strung out the disarmament process so that he was always necessary—eternally disarming and never quite disarmed—any transition in Syria overseen by the dictator will be one in which Assad is always going and never actually gone.
Devastation at M2 hospital in Aleppo after government air strikes (@aboali_majed)
The few doctors remaining in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo have written an open letter to US President Barack Obama begging him to intervene against the war crimes being committed by the Assad regime and its sponsor, Putin. It is not clear whether the doctors are calling for a diplomatic or military intervention.
Last month, the Syrian Army took control of the last road into the city with the help of Russian air strikes.
Most of the doctors who remain in the city have urged Mr Obama to intervene and create a zone to Aleppo’s east which is protected from airstrikes.
They have also called for “international action to ensure Aleppo is never besieged again”.
The letter in full:
Dear President Obama,
We are 15 of the last doctors serving the remaining 300,000 citizens of eastern Aleppo. Regime troops have sought to surround and blockade the entire east of the city. Their losses have meant that a trickle of food has made its way into eastern Aleppo for the first time in weeks. Whether we live or die seems to be dependent on the ebbs and flows of the battlefield.
We have seen no effort on behalf of the United States to lift the siege or even use its influence to push the parties to protect civilians.
For five years, we have faced death from above on a daily basis. But we now face death from all around. For five years, we have borne witness as countless patients, friends and colleagues suffered violent, tormented deaths. For five years, the world has stood by and remarked how ‘complicated’ Syria is, while doing little to protect us. Recent offers of evacuation from the regime and Russia have sounded like thinly-veiled threats to residents – flee now or face annihilation ?
Last month, there were 42 attacks on medical facilities in Syria, 15 of which were hospitals in which we work. Right now, there is an attack on a medical facility every 17 hours. At this rate, our medical services in Aleppo could be completely destroyed in a month, leaving 300,000 people to die.
What pains us most, as doctors, is choosing who will live and who will die. Young children are sometimes brought into our emergency rooms so badly injured that we have to prioritize those with better chances, or simply don’t have the equipment to help them. Two weeks ago, four newborn babies gasping for air suffocated to death after a blast cut the oxygen supply to their incubators. Gasping for air, their lives ended before they had really begun.
Despite the horror, we choose to be here. We took a pledge to help those in need.
Our dedication to this pledge is absolute. Some of us were visiting our families when we heard the city was being besieged. So we rushed back – some on foot because the roads were too dangerous. Because without us even more of our friends and neighbors will die. We have a duty to remain and help.
Continued US inaction to protect the civilians of Syria means that our plight is being wilfully tolerated by those in the international corridors of power. The burden of responsibility for the crimes of the Syrian government and its Russian ally must therefore be shared by those, including the United States, who allow them to continue.
Unless a permanent lifeline to Aleppo is opened it will be only a matter of time until we are again surrounded by regime troops, hunger takes hold and hospitals’ supplies run completely dry. Death has seemed increasingly inescapable. We do not need to tell you that the systematic targeting of hospitals by Syrian regime and Russian warplanes is a war crime. We do not need to tell you that they are committing atrocities in Aleppo.
We do not need tears or sympathy or even prayers, we need your action. Prove that you are the friend of Syrians.
1. Dr. Abu Al Baraa, Pediatrician
2. Dr. Abu Tiem, Pediatrician
3. Dr. Hamza, Manager
4. Dr. Yahya, Pediatrician and head of Nutrition Program
Hightime to right a shared legacy of failure on Syria.
Reasons for the UK’s narrow vote to leave the EU are many. One is Syria: Both the Leave campaign and UKIP connected fears over immigration to the Syrian crisis. Assad’s war against Syria’s population has created the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.
In or out of the EU, we have a duty to care for refugees. We also need to understand that this refugee crisis is not caused by EU rules on free movement; it’s caused by the failure of world leaders, including Britain’s leaders, to stop Assad.
Inaction has consequences. At every point when world leaders failed to act against Assad, the impact of the Syrian crisis on the world increased. The failure of British Government and Opposition leaders on the EU vote is in part a consequence of their failure on Syria, but this story doesn’t end with today’s result. Without action, Syria’s crisis will continue to impact on us all.
Leaders failed to act in October 2011 when Syrians took to the streets calling for a no-fly zone.
By the end of 2011 there were 8,000 Syrian refugees in the region.
Leaders failed to act in 2012 when journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed reporting from the horror of besieged Homs.
By the end of 2012, there were nearly half a million Syrian refugees.
Leaders failed to act in 2013 when the Assad regime massacred as many as 1,700 civilians in one morning with chemical weapons. That August, there were 1.8 million registered Syrian refugees.
Also in 2013, the UK failed to act when the Free Syrian Army faced attacks by ISIS forces infiltrating from Iraq. Instead of strengthening the FSA to withstand this new threat, UK MPs denied moderate forces the means to defend themselves.
By the end of 2013, there were 2.3 million registered Syrian refugees.
Leaders failed to act in 2014 as the Assad regime ignored UN resolutions on barrel bombing, on torturing and besieging civilians. Diplomacy without military pressure only emboldened Assad to continue the slaughter.
By the end of 2014, there were 3.7 million Syrian refugees.
Leaders failed to act in 2015 as Russia joined Assad in bombing hospitals, humanitarian aid convoys, and rescue workers, and Syrians were denied any means to defend themselves.
By the end of 2015, there were over 4.5 million Syrian refugees.
Now the UK Government is failing to act as Assad breaks ceasefire agreements and breaks deadlines on letting aid into besieged communities. The UK has failed to deliver on airdrops. The UK has failed to apply serious pressure to stop Assad’s bombs.
There are now 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the region. There are many millions more displaced inside Syria. Just over a million Syrians have applied for asylum in Europe, but that is a fraction of the total who have fled their homes.
The refugee crisis is just one impact of Assad’s war on Syrians. Voting to leave the European Union won’t insulate Britain from further effects of Syria’s man-made disaster. This crisis can’t be contained and must be brought to an end, and it can only end with the end of Assad.
Act now. Break the sieges. Stop the bombs. Stop the torture. Stop Assad.
Also well worth reading: The Forces besieging Aleppo are counting on our indifference by Natalie Nougayrèdehere
Click this link to sign the petition “Publish the identity of aircraft used to bomb hospitals in Syria”: On 29 July, unidentified aircraft bombed a maternity hospital in Syria supported by Save the Children. As part of the Coalition against Daesh, the UK has data on military aircraft flights in Syria. Where data can identify aircraft used to bomb hospitals, the UK should publish their identity. Click this link to sign the petition: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/163507/sponsors/6aWOOhfAYS8h4xNCgH