Reblogged from The Syrian Intifada:
By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 23, 2016
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.
The ground offensive is spearheaded, as usual, by Iraqi Shi’a jihadists who were imported by, and are under the command of, the Iranian theocracy. More than one-hundred airstrikes have been launched, and a similar number of civilians massacred. Two centres for the White Helmets have also been hit. There isn’t even time for interviews between the airstrikes.
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.
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From Tendance Coatsey:
The US Socialist Worker (long divorced from its British parent, and the paper of the International Socialist Organization, ISO) has carried an important debate on Syria in the last week.
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution.
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.
This is perhaps a more specifically US stand,
The campist misreadings, however, have led them to the conclusion that the U.S. government is pulling the strings in the rebellion in Syria. Some have gone so far as to argue–absurdly–that the U.S. backs ISIS against Assad. Ironically, this puts the campists in agreement with Donald Trump, who, in his latest ravings, claims that Obama and Clinton were “founders” of ISIS.
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’s John Rees’ states,
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.
In Syria, the revolution has suffered a defeat for the time being. While civil society activists continue to seize every opportunity to assert their goals, their forces have been ravaged by counterrevolution–in the form of the Syria regime and its international allies on the one hand, and the Nusra Front and ISIS, which was particularly eager from the start to target the rebels than regime forces, on the other.
But as Gilbert Achcar argues in his book Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising, this setback, however devastating, comes amid a long period of revolutionary crisis in Syria and the whole region.
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,
Turkish and Syrian socialists issue joint statement against intervention
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.
By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 25, 2016
Originally published at The International Business Times, republished by The Syrian Intifada
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.
Throughout 2012 the Assad regime escalated its response: artillery levelled sections of ancient cities like Homs, helicopter gunships were employed, fighter jets bombed urban centres, and Scud missiles—designed for inter-state warfare—were deployed internally, against civilians.
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.
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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
5. Dr. Munther, Orthopedics
6. Dr. Abu Mohammad, General Surgeon
7. Dr. Abu Abdo, General Surgeon
8. Dr. Abd Al Rahman, Urologic Resident
9. Dr. Abu Tareq, ER Doctor
10. Dr. Farida, OBGYN
11. Dr. Hatem, Hospital Director
12. Dr. Usama, Pediatrician
13. Dr. Abu Zubeir, Pediatrician
14. Dr. Abu Maryam, Pediatric Surgeon
15. Dr. Abo Bakr, Neurologist
THE EU VOTE AND UK POLITICAL FAILURE ON SYRIA
From Syria Solidarity UK
High time 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.
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This post, by Michael Ezra, first appeared at Harry’s Place:
In 2003 I did not just support the Iraq War, I supported an ideology associated with many of the most vocal proponents of that war: neoconservatism. The purpose of this post is not to criticise Tony Blair for his decision to go to war, although one has to admit that Iraq in 2016 is not the liberal democratic paradise of which many had dreamed, but to note that neoconservatism as an ideology is a soiled good.
There is no simple definition of neoconservatism and neoconservative writers have not all sung the exact same tune with the exact same words. In my opinion neoconservatism is about promoting democracy abroad, opposing regimes hostile to American interests, championing American military strength, and not shirking from using that military strength to further these ideals. The dream was a world reshaped in the American image. Neoconservative thinkers believed, as Francis Fukuyama put it, “history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will.” While neoconservatives are interested in more than foreign policy, it is the foreign policy aspect that has dominated discourse. It is that upon which I focus.
The neoconservatives are ideologues. Like other ideologues they believe that their ideology is right in the moral sense. They had, in their own minds, “moral clarity.” George Bush admitted that the book that influenced his view on foreign policy was Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy. Bush also recommended his aides read the book. Sharansky divided the world into two types of countries: free societies and fear societies. He applied a simple test: “Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm? If he can, then that person is living in a free society. If not, it’s a fear society.” (pp.40-41). Sharansky formulated his argument based on his own experiences as a dissident in the Soviet Union. If one lives in a fear society, dissidents are arrested and thrown in prison. Fear societies become repressive and tyrannical. He argued, “There is a universal desire among all peoples not to live in fear.” (p.38) His book is a blue print for overturning every single middle eastern dictatorship, and to do so, if necessary, by force: “The free world should not wait for dictatorial regimes to consent to reform….if we condition reform on the agreement of nondemocratic leaders, it will never come. We must be prepared to move forward over their objections.” (p.278). It is a seductive argument. I was seduced.
With such an ideology, in order to morally justify using force for regime change one does not need a fear society to have Weapons of Mass Destruction that could threaten American interests. Regime change is carried out for the good of the citizens of the living in the regime of fear. Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya informed President Bush that the Iraqi population would welcome American soldiers “with sweets and flowers.” Yet, one could argue, if intervention for the good of the citizens is sufficient, why pick on Iraq rather than any other country? The Weapons of Mass Destruction becomes a way of selling the military action to the population at home. (I am interested in the ideology, not the legality of the war, so there is no need to get into discussions as to United Nations votes and whether Bush and Blair did or did not believe Iraq had WMDs.)
At the time of the so-called Arab Spring the cracks began to appear. When there were huge demonstrations in Egypt against President Mubarak, the neoconservatives cheered on regime change and democracy. The hawks in the Israeli government, thought by many to be in line with the neoconservative ideal, were of a contrary opinion. They had a more realist view. If democracy led to the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of Egypt, they would prefer Mubarak. The Israelis thought the American neoconservatives hopelessly naïve.
Syria has been no better. While President Assad was busy killing his countrymen by the hundreds of thousands, the neoconservatives clamoured for his removal. They wanted America to provide massive military assistance to the so-called moderates opposed to his rule. However, these “moderates” were not necessarily moderate. Besides, it hardly helps either democracy promotion or American interests if weapons that America provided to these so-called “moderates” end up in the hands of the head-choppers of Al Qaeda and ISIS.
The problem with neoconservatism is therefore stark. Despite the view of the neoconservatives that the vast majority of people would far prefer a free democratic society than a dictatorship, when given a chance for the type of democracy that the neoconservatives have in mind, citizens of countries do not necessarily take it. Moreover, while the ideological position of believing you are right might be fine in theory, the empirical reality might be vastly different. One should not ignore what is patently obvious: neoconservatism is the God that failed. The neoconservatives need to be mugged by reality.
Jo Cox was both a dedicated constituency MP and a true internationalist. This is what she said in Parliament on 3 May this year about Aleppo, the betrayal of Syria and our duty to refugee children:
Jonathan Steel, the former Moscow correspondent of the Guardian, is one of a group of foreign correspondents (Robert Fisk and Patrick Coburn being two other notables) who use their professional reputations to boost Putin, Assad the Iranian regime and Hezbullah. Naturally, they are much beloved of the “anti-imperialist” liberal-left, conspiracy theorists everywhere and the so-called Stop The War Coalition.
Steele once accused Muslims who opposed Islamist rule in Tunisia of ‘Islamophobia’. He’s also written a spirited defense of the ‘tragically misunderstood’ Robert Mugabe and has even urged the West to make nice towards the regime in North Korea. Not surprisingly considering the ideological package he shows fealty towards, he’s also warned darkly of the Zionist influence on the U.S. media.
Like Fisk, Coburn, Tariq Ali and Seymour Hersh, Steele is a contributor to the London Review of Books, which seems to favour their brand of pro-Putin apologia in its political coverage. An article by Steel in the 21 April 2016 issue of the LRB, though superficially objective and even scholarly, in fact gave pretty much uncritical support to the official Russian version of events in Syria.
However, a letter in the present issue of the LRB from former International Marxist Group member Brian Slocock puts Steele in his place with regards to the real human cost and the true political objective of Putin’s bombing campaign; a letter from one Omar Naqib on Steele’s claim that the US and French military campaigns in Syria had ‘no basis in international law’ is also worth reading:
Putin in Syria
Jonathan Steele seems intent on downplaying the extent of civilian casualties resulting from Russia’s intensive bombing of Syria (LRB, 21 April). He cites an article published in the German news magazine Focus on 5 March, which reported that a leaked Nato document characterised the Russian bombing as ‘precise and efficient’. ‘Precise and efficient’ at doing what? Steele doesn’t tell us, but the Focus article does: it tells us that the Nato document calculates that only 20 per cent of Russian sorties were directed at Islamic State targets, then goes on to quote the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights to the effect that Russian operations resulted in more than 1700 deaths, including those of 423 children.
Steele draws on another source – Airwars – for data on the victims of coalition bombings, but passes over its monitoring of Russian operations. In a report entitled ‘Reckless Disregard for Civilian Lives’, Airwars estimates that from 30 September to 31 December, ‘between 1098 and 1450 non-combatants died in 192 separate Russian events.’ Russia has, it says, ‘systematically targeted civilian neighbourhoods and civilian infrastructure – including water plants, wells, marketplaces, bakeries, food depots and aid convoys … Russia and the coalition report carrying out a similar number of armed sorties. Yet civilian fatalities from Russian strikes were six times higher … more civilians appear to have been killed by Russia in the three months to 31 December than from all credibly reported coalition civilian fatality events since August 2014.’
Carrying the body count forward to February this year, the Violations Documentation Centre (the statistical source of choice for serious Syria-watchers) produces a final figure of 1989 civilian deaths, 486 of them children, as a result of the Russian bombing campaign.
Jonathan Steele writes that before obtaining UN Security Council backing, the United States and France’s initial military campaigns in Syria had ‘no basis in international law’. In fact both governments notified the Security Council that they were acting in defence of Iraq, which had requested their assistance to eradicate IS safe havens in northern Syria. The US also claimed it was acting in self-defence even though, unlike Iraq, it had never been attacked by Islamic State.
Although controversial, there is growing recognition in international law that states can (and do) use force in self-defence against terrorist groups operating out of countries whose governments are unwilling or unable to neutralise the group themselves. In justifying its operation, the US referred to the Assad government’s inability to tackle IS.
This right is by no means universally accepted, but a key indicator of whether a right exists in international law is how other states react when a government asserts the right in question: the only countries that objected to the legality of the US and French campaigns were Syria’s allies, Iran and Russia.
From Syria Solidarity UK (posted 28th April):
The killing of Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz
Via The Syria Campaign on Facebook
I am Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.
Last night, 27 staff and patients were killed in an airstrike on Al Quds Hospital nearby. My friend Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz (pictured), the city’s most qualified paediatrician, was killed in the attack.
He used to work at our Children’s Hospital during the day and then he’d go to Al Quds Hospital to attend to emergencies overnight.
Dr Maaz and I used to spend six hours a day together. He was friendly, kind and he used to joke a lot with the whole staff. He was the loveliest doctor in our hospital.
I’m in Turkey now, and he was supposed to visit his family here after I returned to Aleppo. He hadn’t seen them in four months.
Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients. Hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.
Days before Dr Maaz’s life was taken, an airstrike hit only 200 metres away from our hospital. When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.
Like so many others, Dr Maaz was killed for saving lives. Today we remember Dr Maaz’s humanity and his bravery. Please share his story so others may know what medics in Aleppo and across Syria are facing.
The situation today is critical – Aleppo may soon come under siege. We need the world to be watching.
Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts,
March With Medics Under Fire
Saturday 7th May at 2pm, Trafalgar Square, London.
Facebook event page.
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