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WATCH: FROM ALLY TO ACCOMPLICE

March 8, 2017

Another experimental animated short from Indie Grits alum (and 2014 Helen Hill award winner) Kelly Gallagher:

“‘To-day at last we know: John Brown was right.’ -W.E.B. Du Bois. This film is an experimental essay in three movements that explores the importance of being more than an ‘ally’ in struggle, by sharing histories of committed accomplices John Brown, Marilyn Buck, and others. The film also delves into the history of the landscape and former prairie that was the earth on which Brown’s militants trained. In the face of exploitation of people and destruction of land, radical struggle cultivates new life.”

 

 

FURTHER READING:

Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex

WATCH: More Dangerous Than a Thousand Rioters: The Revolutionary Life of Lucy Parsons

March 7, 2017

 

An experimental animated short from Indie Grits alum (and 2014 Helen Hill award winner) Kelly Gallagher:

“In these difficult times, I find myself turning to a woefully underappreciated and under-studied woman named Lucy Parsons.

Parsons was an organizer first and foremost, and she led an inspiring life of revolutionary struggle and solidarity. As a woman of color who was married to a famous white male anarchist, she is often unfairly and frustratingly overlooked in many labor histories. Born in the early 1850s, Parsons moved to Chicago as an adult, where her politics radicalized as she witnessed the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. Parsons began writing for several socialist and anarchist publications while supporting her family as a dressmaker, while also organizing garment workers across Chicago. Parsons would go on to become one of the most powerful voices in the labor movement, helping to found the legendary Industrial Workers of the World. She spent her entire life fighting for the rights of the disenfranchised.

I made this short animated-documentary, as a celebration for and appreciation of Lucy Parsons—but mostly I made it because if we are to find a way forward out of the mess that is coming our way, we will need to actively seek out revolutionary heroes who struggled before us. Those who risked their lives for struggle every day—those who fought tirelessly against the ruling class and the rule of capital.” [Source: The Nation]

 

NEW BOOK RELEASE: Under the Mask of Philanthropy

March 3, 2017

 

“Superb and unsurpassed.” — Christian Parenti

“Michael Barker’s historically grounded critique of those most pernicious of political forces, the philanthropic foundations, is superb and unsurpassed. Everyone who is serious about a rebuilt Left that can win should read this book. As Barker shows masterfully the foundations exist to confuse, deflect, and channel away the wrath of the people. By muddying the intellectual waters foundations have been as damaging as police spies and company thugs. They operate by the logic Machiavelli explained, ‘you may hold the fortresses, yet they will not save you if the people hate you…’ Thus the foundations defend capitalism by placating, ameliorating, confusing, and fomenting division.”— Christian Parenti, author of Lockdown America:  Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis

underfrontcover

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Why it is Time to Move On from MoveOn.org and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex

Black Agenda Report

February 21, 2017

by Danny Haiphong

The revolution will not be subsidized — but well-funded facsimiles of “movements” dominate the political landscape of the U.S. “Left.” MoveOn.org “prides itself for exposing the corporate ties of the Republicans but is perfectly content with the corporate ties of the Democratic Party.” And Black Lives Matter “drew significant interest from a consortium of non-profits after receiving millions from the Ford Foundation and Google in 2015 and 2016.”

The non-profit industrial complex has become an omnipresent feature of US society. Soon after college, it became increasingly clear to me that non-profits made up the majority of employment and activist opportunities for college-educated youth. My first employment opportunity came within the private non-profit LIFT, which partnered with a number of monopoly corporations to provide social service assistance on a volunteer basis. Like Teach for America, LIFT utilized college volunteers with little to no training and gave post-graduate students AmeriCorps stipends to supervise volunteers in place of professional social workers. After three months of grueling hours and little pay, it was time to leave LIFT and try something new.The next stop was a Community Action Program (CAP). CAP agencies have their roots in the first wave of non-profits as legal entities in the United States. They sprouted from federal funds administered by the War on Poverty programs of the Lyndon Johnson era. These agencies provided essential anti-poverty services and were often run by community members themselves. However, the purpose behind CAP agencies was far from benevolent. Johnson and his ruling class masters sought to subvert and break the independent character of the Black liberation and anti-imperialist movements of the period by turning “tax-eaters” (Black Americans) into “tax-payers.” The underlying motivation of non-profits to turn revolutionary movements into lucrative career opportunities has existed since their inception.

This is not to say that non-profits have not gone through significant changes since the War on Poverty. In the last forty years of neo-liberal capitalist crisis, CAP agencies have become nearly non-existent due to a shortage of federal funds. Housing programs have suffered chronic underfunding as a result of consistent reductions in the size of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), beginning in the Reagan era. HUD was stripped of 77 percent of its budget authority from 1978-1983. The CAP agency that I worked for eventually shut its doors due to a default in a private bank loan in 2014. The loan was taken out to keep the agency viable in the midst of dwindling federal and state funds. Hundreds of homeless individuals and families lost vital housing assistance and thousands more lost access to emergency transportation, food, and legal services.

The demise of CAP agencies stems from the shift in federal responsibilities to the private non-profit sector as part of the US capitalist state’s drive to maximize the profits of the ruling class in the neo-liberal era. This can be seen in the massive scab labor force produced by Teach for America, bankrolled by Goldman Sachs. It is also apparent in the correlation between the increase of non-profits in the arena of homelessness and the reduction of available public housing units in cities across the country. Non-profits give corporate donors an avenue to receive additional tax-free privileges with an added public relations boost. Much of the money donated is returned two-fold through tax breaks and further speculation in the housing, education, and healthcare sectors increasingly made possible by an environment of privatization.

Non-profits have also been deployed by their ruling class funders to privatize social movements. An array of tax-exempt organizations has arisen to channel popular resistance into acceptable means of protest. During Occupy Wall Street, the non-governmental organization (NGO) CANVAS took center stage at many of the New York City rallies. The Black Lives Matter movement drew significant interest from a consortium of non-profits after receiving millions from the Ford Foundation and Google in 2015 and 2016. These interventions have blunted the messaging and activities of organizations sucked into the non-profit industry while leaving genuine activists without the resources to sustain consistent political activity.

The influence of the non-profit industrial complex is evident in the protests against President Donald Trump. The non-profit MoveOn.org has taken on a leadership role in the protests. This author attended a local sanctuary city rally where every sign carried by protesters possessed the “MoveOn.org” label. It is clear that the folks at MoveOn.Org have been playing a key role in the resistance against Trump. But who is behind the MoveOn.org brand and whose interests does the organization serve?

A cursory look into the organization’s finances indicates that MoveOn.org is a loyal servant of the Democratic Party. The organization’s finances from 2015 include large donations of over 250,000 from the organization “J Street” and billionaire Cari Tuna. J Street is a Zionist organization dedicated to developing liberal acceptance to the settler occupation of Palestine among college students. Tuna’s fortunes derive from her marital partnership with co-founder of Facebook Dustin Moskovitz. Tuna spends most of her time as a “philanthropist.” Her donations include a hefty 20 million dollars to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, which was distributed among a consortium of Clinton affiliated PACs. In addition, MoveOn.org is also financed by billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundation. Soros, despite the conspiratorial machinations regarding his political influence, is well-known around the world as a sponsor of “color revolutions” dedicated to the overthrow of governments that resist the penetration of US monopoly capitalism.

Non-profits are ultimately bound by the interests of their funders. MoveOn.org is no different. The organization’s Democratic Party funding sources have one goal and one goal only: to regain Democratic Party control of all three branches of governance in Washington. First, they hope to remove Trump in order to credit the organization with a temporary, albeit symbolic, victory for the Democrats. The next step is to win control of Congress in 2018. The interests of those supplying funds to non-profits like MoveOn.org are not aligned with the interests of oppressed and working people regardless of how the organization is advertised.

In fact, because big corporate donors control the terms and conditions of “social movement” non-profits, any social movements led by these institutions represent a threat to the independent political power of exploited and oppressed people. MoveOn.org’s mission to transfer power back to the Democratic Party is a familiar act, one that is repeated whenever the Republican Party regains Presidential and Congressional control of the state. Their big corporate donors possess zero interest in stopping the bipartisan crimes carried out by Washington. No petitions have been filed by the folks at MoveOn.org for reparations to nations, such as Libya and Syria, which were completely destroyed by the Democratic Party. MoveOn.org prides itself for exposing the corporate ties of the Republicans but is perfectly content with the corporate ties of the Democratic Party.

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The Democratic Party is the party of Wall Street and war. Obama’s two-term Presidency clarified the Democratic Party’s commitment to US imperialism. MoveOn.org had nothing to say about Wall Street’s cumbersome donations to the Obama campaign or how the Democratic Party facilitated the largest wealth transfer to the 1 percent in US history. MoveOn.org didn’t condemn Obama’s war on whistle blowers nor did it advocate for single payer healthcare when the Democratic Party held majorities in Congress. Neither Obama’s “Grand Bargain” to cut Social Security and Medicare nor his national assault on public education compelled MoveOn.org to take any action against its Democratic Party sugar daddies.

The case of the non-profit MoveOn.org provides an in-depth look into the broader function of non-profit industrial complex. While some individual non-profits administer vital services to the poor and working class, the non-profit industrial complex as a whole possesses a parasitic agenda. That agenda is to break the independent character of working class mobilization and organization, not develop it. Non-profits do this by turning resistance into a career opportunity managed and funded by the 1 percent. The development of an independent, working class-centered movement will require a mass rejection of non-profit funds and structures. Let us remember this as MoveOn.org continues to mobilize its base against the increasingly unstable Trump Administration.

[Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at wakeupriseup1990(at)gmail.com]

Further Reading:

Inducing Consent: MoveOn.org

Avaaz: Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War | Part II

WATCH: Oscar Winner White Helmets Hand in Hand with Al Qaeda

The Wall Will Fall

February 4, 2017

by Vanessa Beeley

 

Oscar Award White Helmets

 

The following video is a compilation of testimonies taken from Syrian civilians, finally liberated from almost five years of Nusra Front-led terrorist occupation of all districts of East Aleppo. The unadulterated, unedited, uncensored voices of the Syrian people, released from Nusra Front aka Al Qaeda jail in East Aleppo, finally given a platform instead of corporate media’s terrorist propaganda amplification and “regime change” narrative monopoly.

I was in East Aleppo during its final liberation from Nusra Front-led extremism and during the lead up to Christmas until the 27th December. I witnessed the emaciated civilians arriving at the Jebrin registration centre to receive food, hot drinks and medical treatment. Medical treatment that the Nusra Front dominated, extremist groups, had refused them. We saw a young boy whose foot was missing, he told us that he had received no attention for his wounds prior to arriving in Jebrin. He had been injured in a terrorist mortar attack on the district he had been living in.

I was in East Aleppo between the 9th and the 14th December when the majority of the districts were liberated. Every civilian I spoke to said the White Helmets were effectively Nusra Front’s civil defence. Some said they “occasionally” helped civilians but then qualified by adding that their priority was the “armed groups”.

The content of this video also exposes the #FakeNews peddlers, Channel 4, who have consistently acted as “cheerleaders” for Nusra Front-led terrorism in Syria. Where were they when the civilians were free and their voices could be heard condemning the “rebels” that Channel 4 and so many other corporate media promoted as “freedom fighters”.

This video is not only a further exposure of the truth about the multi-million dollar NATO & Gulf state funded fraudulent White Helmets, it is also a testament to the honour, the integrity and the fortitude of the Syrian people, who despite all they had suffered and endured during the almost five year terrorist occupation, came out resilient and determined to rebuild their shattered lives. Watch:

 

[Author Vanessa Beeley is a contributor to 21WIRE, and since 2011, she has spent most of her time in the Middle East reporting on events there – as a independent researcher, writer, photographer and peace activist. She is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Syria Solidarity Movement, and a volunteer with the Global Campaign to Return to Palestine. See more of her work at her blog The Wall Will Fall.]

Further Reading:

UPDATED: White Helmets are Denied Entry into US, Hollywood Dreams Over

 

Bringing Liquidity to Life: Markets for Ecosystem Services and the New Political Economy of Extinction

Research Gate

January 2016

by Jeremy Walker

 

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The Last Rhino. Artist John Gledhill [Source]

Abstract

This chapter attempts to situate the rise of market-based conservation policy, and its associated theoretical and policy frameworks such The Economics of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services within a wider history of what might be termed financialisation. Outlining a new chapter in the long history of ontological adjustment of ecological science to dominant accounts of political economy, this chapter explores the emergence of a novel political economy of extinction. This can be analysed in the transformations of theory: the reframing of the sixth extinction crisis within the neoliberal idiom of ‘natural capital’ and ‘ecosystem services’ reflects a history of the reprocessing of political and scientific ecological discourse in order to better accommodate it to reigning economic doctrines. TEEB and other articulations of market-based conservation do little to question the dominant economic theory that has licensed the financialisation of social, political and economic life and led to our current global economic crisis. As a species of power, it can also be analysed in the social connections of the corporate boardroom: where the professional authority, executive expertise, epistemic frameworks and political projects of senior conservation ecologists increasingly converge with those of the worlds most powerful bankers.

Bringing Liquidity to Life: Markets for Ecosystem Services and the New Political Economy of Extinction

Download full-text PDF

[Jeremy Walker is Lecturer in Environment, Culture and Society in the Social and Political Sciences Program. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts  from  the University of New South Wales,  a BA Communications (Social Inquiry, Hons) from UTS, and a PhD (History and Philosophy of Science) from UTS. Prior to his appointment at UTS he taught at the Dept. of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney.]

Human Rights Industry Protects Imperialism

Black Agenda Report

February 15, 2017

When so-called Human Rights organizations are financed by the one percent they dependably echo the priorities and prejudices of their influential sponsors.  So it is that Amnesty International is an energetic source of war propaganda on behalf of US imperial efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere. Their “report” of a supposed “human slaughterhouse” operated by the Syrian regime is the latest installment in a campaign to justify US intervention in the Middle East.

Humanity is in desperate need of individuals and organizations to speak up for their right to live free from the threat of state violence. Instead we have a human rights industrial complex which speaks for the powerful and tells lies in order to justify their aggressions. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are at the top of this infamous list. They have a pattern and practice of giving cover for regime change schemes hatched by the United States, NATO partners and gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty International recently released a report “Human Slaughterhouse: Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison Syria” which claimed that the Syrian government executed between 5,000 and 13,000 people over a five-year period. The report is based on anonymous sources outside of Syria, hearsay, and the dubious use of satellite photos reminiscent of Colin Powell’s performance at the United Nations in 2003. There is plenty of hyperbolic language like “slaughterhouse” and “extermination” but scant evidence of the serious charges being made.

Human Rights Watch joined the fray just days later, with claims that the Syrian government used chlorine gas against civilians fleeing Aleppo. Once again, the claims had little evidence, just mud thrown against a wall in the hope that some of it will stick. It is the al Nusra front which attacked the Aleppo refugees as they struggled to get within the Syrian army lines. One day there is a report on execution, another day chemical weapons, barrel bombs the next day and so on. These phony organizations never mention that the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria was brought about by western intervention and its head chopping jihadist allies.

The Syrian war isn’t over, but that government and its allies are winning and they will determine the future of that nation. It is Russia, Turkey and Iran who are convening peace talks between Syria and the opposition and that is why the effort to discredit them goes on.

Beginning in 2011 the United States used a tried and true method of getting support for imperialism. A foreign leader is accused of being a tyrant who terrorizes his nation. The claims silence critics, get buy in from corporate media and cynical politicians and ultimately lead to death at the hands of the so-called saviors. There are 9 million Syrian refugees precisely because of collusion between the west and its gulf monarchy allies. The suffering of the civilian population is the fault of these parties and it is only the determination of the Syrians and help from their allies which prevented it from going the way of Libya.

Now that the jihadists are on the run and their one-time backer Turkey has switched sides, the jig is up. But the imperialists will not go away quietly. That is why Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reappear at a crucial moment.

New president Donald Trump is quite literally a wild card. During his campaign he claimed he would not support regime change but his personality and policy are erratic. It is never clear what he means or wants. His staff are equally amateurish and the direction of American foreign policy is anyone’s guess. One day he wants better relations with Russia and the next he makes a futile demand that it return Crimea to its neo-Nazi overlords. But republicans and democrats in the war party are quite clear on their plans. They are not giving up in their quest for hegemony and they need all the credibility they can get. Enter Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to provide propaganda at just the right moment.

If they were at all serious in their stated goal of giving voice to the abused, they could use their ample resources to criticize the United States domestically and around the world. When president George Bush instigated the invasion or Iraq in 1991 they repeated the fable of soldiers killing babies in incubators. They never explained or apologized for their actions. They continued their awful partnership in 2011 when they provided cover for the Obama administration’s attack on and destruction of Libya.

Neither organization will denounce the American carceral state, the world’s worst. They might attack the modern-day police slave patrol which kills three people every day. They could ask why the United States has an implicit right to decide that Libya or Syria or Somalia can be destroyed and their populations be forced to suffer. But taking on those issues would be in defiance of their true mission, creating the conditions necessary to allow the United States to commit aggressions without fear of public opposition.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are not friendly to the people of the world. They pick on the weak and the targets of imperialist attack and tell lies on behalf of those who violate human rights on a mass scale. Despite playing a lead role in the Syrian disaster, the United States was invited to be an observer at the upcoming peace talks. Enter AI and HRW to help make sure that if the Trump administration should participate, it won’t be making any changes they need worry about. The human rights industrial complex is dependably on the side of the evil doers and their dirty deeds.

 

[Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley (at)BlackAgendaReport.com]

WATCH: Yejide Orunmila – Surviving the White Women’s March on Washington

February 11, 2017

 

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Angela Peoples holding sign (Kevin Banatte)

 

“Yejide Orunmila, president of ANWO (African National Women’s Organization) and member of the Uhuru Movement examines the (white) Women’s March on Washington, and explains the political opportunism of feminism and the complicity of white women in the oppression of African women. The Uhuru Movement is led by the African People’s Socialist Party. The Uhuru Solidarity Movement is the organization of white people created by and working under the leadership of APSP, to go into the white community and win reparations for African liberation and self determination. uhurusolidarity.org” [Courtesy of Uhuru Solidarity]

To further demonstrate the whiteness of the Women’s March on Washington, we juxtapose a third video featured by “RISE Travel, LLC”. RISE travel the latest trend in the travel industry. A new agency that markets/brands (corporate) activism as experience (“select your experience”), specializing in connecting clients with organized luxury bus tours, etc.  for NGO marches and events (such as the upcoming People’s Climate March).

 

 

As featured on the Rise Travel website:

 

 

Further Reading:

Imperialist Underpinnings of the Women’s March on Washington

Women’s March in Canada Shuts Out Black Lives Matter:

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Womens-March-in-Canada-Shuts-out-Black-Lives-Matter–20170122-0014.html

 

 

Standing Rock: Profusion, Collusion & Big Money Profits: Addendum

From White House to Media Whiteout

 

February 9, 2017

 

The following is an addendum to the 6-part series: Standing Rock: Profusion, Collusion & Big Money Profits by Cory Morningstar with Forrest Palmer

Standing Rock Investigative Report Series [Further Reading]:  Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6

 

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From left: Jodi Gillette; parents Dave Archambault I and Betty Archambault; the Obamas; brother Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; sisters Billi Hornbeck and Sunshine Archambault Carlow; and sister-in-law Nicole Thunder Hawk Archambault. (Photo Pete Souza, White House)

In May of 2015 Jodi Gillette (Bush Fellow, 2002) stepped down from her position as a White House senior policy advisor to take on the same role in a private capacity for Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry, LLP, a national law firm “devoted to representing Native American interests in a variety of legal areas.” Although this was not mentioned in the national media, this recent maneuver exposes the allegiances and alliances of those who are leaders in the Standing Rock opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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Above: Jodi Gillette featured on the cover of B Magazine from the Bush Foundation. Second Issue,  2015, STANDING ROCK STRONG: JODI GILLETTE

Previous to her current position in the private sector, Gillette, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, was hired by Obama for the United States to oversee statewide operations of the First American voting efforts (the North Dakota First American Vote campaign) in 2008. Following this, Gillette served as Associate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House between 2009 t0 2010. Subsequently, Gillette joined the U.S. Department of the Interior as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in 2011 and was named Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council in 2012. [Source]

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“Jodi Gillette, a senior policy advisor, and her family pose with President Barack Obama.” Courtesy White House

Unbeknownst to the general public, Jodi Gillette’s full name is Jodi Archambault Gillette – sister of David Archambault – elected as Chairman of the Standing Rock Tribal Council on September 25, 2013. Although these conflicting relationships between elite power structures and the land defenders on the frontlines is rather glaring, it is omitted by all media. As media serves as a key apparatus in insulating elite power, one can safely assume this is a deliberate omission rather than a simple oversight.

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About the series:

“In crushing detail and shining a floodlight on the history of the co-optation of Indigenous struggles since the pivotal year of 2010, Cory Morningstar has put together this series to give deep context to the events at and around Standing Rock. Most vitally, this series contrasts the tiny amounts of money spent at the grassroots against the vast sums spent at the ‘business’ end of the non-profit industrial complex where personal data helps behavior-change B-corporation executives exercise the will of corporate philanthropists, corporations, and imperialist governments.

 

In this “age of peak spectacle” Morningstar and Forrest Palmer present the invisiblization of crude-via-rail and the manipulations of Warren Buffett and his BNSF empire while showing that not all water is treated as precious, not all pipelines get scrutiny, and not all Indigenous land needs to be treated as sacred if it doesn’t serve the interests of the non-profit industrial complex and those brands that maximize profits through Dave Matthews concerts. You will find stunning passages of clarity in each of part of this series which includes indispensable details of political context and networked hegemony for any true fireball activist.” — Activist Michael Swifte

 

Standing Rock: Profusion, Collusion & Big Money Profits [Part 1]

Standing Rock: Profusion, Collusion & Big Money Profits [Part 2]

Standing Rock: Profusion, Collusion & Big Money Profits [Part 3]

Standing Rock: Profusion, Collusion & Big Money Profits [Part 4]

Standing Rock: Profusion, Collusion & Big Money Profits [Part 5]

Standing Rock: Profusion, Collusion & Big Money Profits [Part 6 | Conclusion]

 

 

 

The Revolutionary Distemper in Syria That Wasn’t

What’s Left

October 22, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

 

“Apparently, the US Left has yet to figure out that Washington doesn’t try to overthrow neoliberals. If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were a devotee of the Washington Consensus–as Counterpunch’s Eric Draitser seems to believe–the United States government wouldn’t have been calling since 2003 for Assad to step down. Nor would it be overseeing the Islamist guerilla war against his government; it would be protecting him.”

 

There is a shibboleth in some circles that, as Eric Draitser put it in a recent Counterpunch article, the uprising in Syria “began as a response to the Syrian government’s neoliberal policies and brutality,” and that “the revolutionary content of the rebel side in Syria has been sidelined by a hodgepodge of Saudi and Qatari-financed jihadists.” This theory appears, as far as I can tell, to be based on argument by assertion, not evidence.

Forthcoming April 2017 from Baraka Books.

Forthcoming April 2017 from Baraka Books.

A review of press reports in the weeks immediately preceding and following the mid-March 2011 outbreak of riots in Daraa—usually recognized as the beginning of the uprising—offers no indication that Syria was in the grips of a revolutionary distemper, whether anti-neo-liberal or otherwise. On the contrary, reporters representing Time magazine and the New York Times referred to the government as having broad support, of critics conceding that Assad was popular, and of Syrians exhibiting little interest in protest. At the same time, they described the unrest as a series of riots involving hundreds, and not thousands or tens of thousands of people, guided by a largely Islamist agenda and exhibiting a violent character.

Time magazine reported that two jihadist groups that would later play lead roles in the insurgency, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, were already in operation on the eve of the riots, while a mere three months earlier, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood voiced “their hope for a civil revolt in Syria.” The Muslim Brothers, who had decades earlier declared a blood feud with Syria’s ruling Ba’athist Party, objecting violently to the party’s secularism, had been embroiled in a life and death struggle with secular Arab nationalists since the 1960s, and had engaged in street battles with Ba’athist partisans from the late 1940s. (In one such battle, Hafez al-Assad, the current president’s father, who himself would serve as president from 1970 to 2000, was knifed by a Muslim Brother adversary.) The Brotherhood’s leaders, beginning in 2007, met frequently with the US State Department and the US National Security Council, as well as with the US government-funded Middle East Partnership Initiative, which had taken on the overt role of funding overseas overthrow organizations—a task the CIA had previously done covertly.

Washington had conspired to purge Arab nationalist influence from Syria as early as the mid-1950s, when Kermit Roosevelt, who engineered the overthrow of Iran’s prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh for nationalizing his country’s oil industry, plotted with British intelligence to stir up the Muslim Brothers to overthrow a triumvirate of Arab nationalist and communist leaders in Damascus who Washington and London perceived as threatening Western economic interests in the Middle East.

Washington funnelled arms to Brotherhood mujahedeen in the 1980s to wage urban guerrilla warfare against Hafez al-Assad, who hardliners in Washington called an “Arab communist.” His son, Bashar, continued the Arab nationalists’ commitment to unity (of the Arab nation), independence, and (Arab) socialism. These goals guided the Syrian state—as they had done the Arab nationalist states of Libya under Muammar Gaddafi and Iraq under Saddam. All three states were targeted by Washington for the same reason: their Arab nationalist commitments clashed fundamentally with the US imperialist agenda of US global leadership.

Bashar al-Assad’s refusal to renounce Arab nationalist ideology dismayed Washington, which complained about his socialism, the third part of the Ba’athists’ holy trinity of values. Plans to oust Assad—based in part on his failure to embrace Washington’s neo-liberalism—were already in preparation in Washington by 2003, if not earlier. If Assad was championing neo-liberalism, as Draitser and others contend, it somehow escaped the notice of Washington and Wall Street, which complained about “socialist” Syria and the country’s decidedly anti-neoliberal economic policies.

A Death Feud Heats Up With US Assistance

In late January 2011, a page was created on Facebook called The Syrian Revolution 2011. It announced that a “Day of Rage” would be held on February 4 and 5. [1] The protests “fizzled,” reported Time. The Day of Rage amounted to a Day of Indifference. Moreover, the connection to Syria was tenuous. Most of the chants shouted by the few protesters who attended were about Libya, demanding that Muammar Gaddafi—whose government was under siege by Islamist insurrectionists—step down. Plans were set for new protests on March 4 and March 5, but they too garnered little support. [2]

Time’s correspondent Rania Abouzeid attributed the failure of the protest organizers to draw significant support to the fact that most Syrians were not opposed to their government. Assad had a favorable reputation, especially among the two-thirds of the population under 30 years of age, and his government’s policies were widely supported. “Even critics concede that Assad is popular and considered close to the country’s huge youth cohort, both emotionally, ideologically and, of course, chronologically,” Abouzeid reported, adding that unlike “the ousted pro-American leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, Assad’s hostile foreign policy toward Israel, strident support for Palestinians and the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah are in line with popular Syrian sentiment.” Assad, in other words, had legitimacy. The Time correspondent added that Assad’s “driving himself to the Umayyad Mosque in February to take part in prayers to mark the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, and strolling through the crowded Souq Al-Hamidiyah marketplace with a low security profile” had “helped to endear him, personally, to the public.” [3]

This depiction of the Syrian president—a leader endeared to the public, ideologically in sync with popular Syrian sentiment—clashed starkly with the discourse that would emerge shortly after the eruption of violent protests in the Syrian town of Daraa less than two weeks later, and would become implanted in the discourse of US leftists, including Draitser. But on the eve of the signal Daraa events, Syria was being remarked upon for its quietude. No one “expects mass uprisings in Syria,” Abouzeid reported, “and, despite a show of dissent every now and then, very few want to participate.” [4] A Syrian youth told Time: “There is a lot of government help for the youth. They give us free books, free schools, free universities.” (Hardly the picture of the neo-liberal state Draitser paints.) She continued: “Why should there be a revolution? There’s maybe a one percent chance.” [5] The New York Times shared this view. Syria, the newspaper reported, “seemed immune to the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab world.” [6] Syria was distemper-free.

But on March 17, there was a violent uprising in Daraa. There are conflicting accounts of who or what sparked it. Time reported that the “rebellion in Daraa was provoked by the arrest of a handful of youths for daubing a wall with anti-regime graffiti.” [7] The Independent’s Robert Fisk offered a slightly different version. He reported that “government intelligence officers beat and killed several boys who had scrawled anti-government graffiti on the walls of the city.” [8] Another account holds that the factor that sparked the uprising in Daraa that day was extreme and disproportionate use of force by Syrian security forces in response to demonstrations against the boys’ arrest. There “were some youngsters printing some graffiti on the wall, and they were imprisoned, and as their parents wanted them back, the security forces really struck back very, very tough.” [9] Another account, from the Syrian government, denies that any of this happened. Five years after the event, Assad told an interviewer that it “didn’t happen. It was only propaganda. I mean, we heard about them, we never saw those children that have been taken to prison that time. So, it was only a fallacious narrative.”[10]

But if there was disagreement about what sparked the uprising, there was little disagreement that the uprising was violent. The New York Times reported that “Protesters set fire to the ruling Ba’ath Party’s headquarters and other government buildings…and clashed with police….In addition to the party headquarters, protesters burned the town’s main courthouse and a branch of the SyriaTel phone company.” [11] Time added that protesters set fire to the governor’s office, as well as to a branch office of a second cellphone company. [12] The Syrian government’s news agency, SANA, posted photographs of burning vehicles on its Web site. [13] Clearly, this wasn’t a peaceful demonstration, as it would be later depicted. Nor was it a mass uprising. Time reported that the demonstrators numbered in the hundreds, not thousands or tens of thousands. [14]

Assad reacted immediately to the Daraa ructions, announcing “a series of reforms, including a salary increase for public workers, greater freedom for the news media and political parties, and a reconsideration of the emergency rule,” [15] a war-time restriction on political and civil liberties, invoked because Syria was officially at war with Israel. Before the end of April, the government would rescind “the country’s 48-year-old emergency law” and abolish “the Supreme State Security Court.” [16]

Why did the government make these concessions? Because that’s what the Daraa protesters demanded. Protesters “gathered in and around Omari mosque in Daraa, chanting their demands: the release of all political prisoners…the abolition of Syria’s 48-year emergency law; more freedoms; and an end to pervasive corruption.” [17] These demands were consistent with the call, articulated in early February on The Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page “to end the state of emergency in Syria and end corruption.” [18] A demand to release all political prisoners was also made in a letter signed by clerics posted on Facebook. The clerics’ demands included lifting the “state of emergency law, releasing all political detainees, halting harassment by the security forces and combating corruption.” [19] Releasing political detainees would amount to releasing jihadists, or, to use a designation current in the West, “terrorists.” The State Department had acknowledged that political Islam was the main opposition in Syria [20]; jihadists made up the principal section of oppositionists likely to be incarcerated. Clerics demanding that Damascus release all political prisoners was equal in effect to the Islamic State demanding that Washington, Paris, and London release all Islamists detained in US, French and British prisons on terrorism charges. This wasn’t a demand for jobs and greater democracy, but a demand for the release from prison of activists inspired by the goal of bringing about an Islamic state in Syria. The call to lift the emergency law, similarly, appeared to have little to do with fostering democracy and more to do with expanding the room for jihadists and their collaborators to organize opposition to the secular state.

A week after the outbreak of violence in Daraa, Time’s Rania Abouzeid reported that “there do not appear to be widespread calls for the fall of the regime or the removal of the relatively popular President.” [21] Indeed, the demands issued by the protesters and clerics had not included calls for Assad to step down. And Syrians were rallying to Assad. “There were counterdemonstrations in the capital in support of the President,” [22] reportedly far exceeding in number the hundreds of protesters who turned out in Daraa to burn buildings and cars and clash with police. [23]

By April 9—less than a month after the Daraa events—Time reported that a string of protests had broken out and that Islam was playing a prominent role in them. For anyone who was conversant with the decades-long succession of strikes, demonstrations, riots, and insurrections the Muslim Brotherhood had organized against what it deemed the “infidel” Ba’athist government, this looked like history repeating itself. The protests weren‘t reaching a critical mass. On the contrary, the government continued to enjoy “the loyalty” of “a large part of the population,” reported Time. [24]

Islamists played a lead role in drafting the Damascus Declaration in the mid-2000s, which demanded regime change. [25] In 2007, the Muslim Brothers, the archetypal Sunni political Islamist movement, which inspired Al-Qaeda and its progeny, Jabhat al Nusra and Islamic State, teamed up with a former Syrian vice-president to found the National Salvation Front. The front met frequently with the US State Department and the US National Security Council, as well as with the US government-funded Middle East Partnership Initiative, [26] which did openly what the CIA once did covertly, namely, funnel money and expertise to fifth columnists in countries whose governments Washington opposed.

By 2009, just two years before the eruption of unrest throughout the Arab world, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood denounced the Arab nationalist government of Bashar al-Assad as a foreign and hostile element in Syrian society which needed to be eliminated. According to the group’s thinking, the Alawite community, to which Assad belonged, and which the Brothers regarded as heretics, used secular Arab nationalism as a cover to furtively advance a sectarian agenda to destroy Syria from within by oppressing “true” (i.e., Sunni) Muslims. In the name of Islam, the heretical regime would have to be overthrown. [27]

A mere three months before the 2011 outbreak of violence in Syria, scholar Liad Porat wrote a brief for the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, based at Brandeis University. “The movement’s leaders,” the scholar concluded, “continue to voice their hope for a civil revolt in Syria, wherein ‘the Syrian people will perform its duty and liberate Syria from the tyrannical and corrupt regime.’” The Brotherhood stressed that it was engaged in a fight to the death with the secular Arab nationalist government of Bashar al-Assad. A political accommodation with the government was impossible because its leaders were not part of the Sunni Muslim Syrian nation. Membership in the Syrian nation was limited to true Muslims, the Brothers contended, and not Alawite heretics who embraced such foreign un-Islamic creeds as secular Arab nationalism. [28]

That the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood played a key role in the uprising that erupted three months later was confirmed in 2012 by the US Defense Intelligence Agency. A leaked report from the agency said that the insurgency was sectarian and led by the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the forerunner of Islamic State. The report went on to say that the insurgents were supported by the West, Arab Gulf oil monarchies and Turkey. The analysis correctly predicted the establishment of a “Salafist principality,” an Islamic state, in Eastern Syria, noting that this was desired by the insurgency’s foreign backers, who wanted to see the secular Arab nationalists isolated and cut-off from Iran. [29]

Documents prepared by US Congress researchers in 2005 revealed that the US government was actively weighing regime change in Syria long before the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, challenging the view that US support for the Syrian rebels was based on allegiance to a “democratic uprising” and showing that it was simply an extension of a long-standing policy of seeking to topple the government in Damascus. Indeed, the researchers acknowledged that the US government’s motivation to overthrow the secular Arab nationalist government in Damascus was unrelated to democracy promotion in the Middle East. In point of fact, they noted that Washington’s preference was for secular dictatorships (Egypt) and monarchies (Jordan and Saudi Arabia.) The impetus for pursuing regime change, according to the researchers, was a desire to sweep away an impediment to the achievement of US goals in the Middle East related to strengthening Israel, consolidating US domination of Iraq, and fostering open market, free enterprise economies. Democracy was never a consideration. [30] If Assad was promoting neo-liberal policies in Syria, as Draitser contends, it’s difficult to understand why Washington cited Syria’s refusal to embrace the US agenda of open markets and free enterprise as a reason to change Syria’s government.

To underscore the point that the protests lacked broad popular support, on April 22, more than a month after the Daraa riot, the New York Times’ Anthony Shadid reported that “the protests, so far, seemed to fall short of the popular upheaval of revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.” In other words, more than a month after only hundreds—and not thousands or tens of thousands—of protesters rioted in Daraa, there was no sign in Syria of a popular Arab Spring upheaval. The uprising remained a limited, prominently, Islamist affair. By contrast, there had been huge demonstrations in Damascus in support of—not against—the government, Assad remained popular, and, according to Shadid, the government commanded the loyalty of “Christian and heterodox Muslim sects.” [31] Shadid wasn’t the only Western journalist who reported that Alawites, Ismailis, Druze and Christians were strongly backing the government. Times’ Rania Abouzeid observed that the Ba’athists “could claim the backing of Syria’s substantial minority groups.” [32]

The reality that the Syrian government commanded the loyalty of Christian and heterodox Muslim sects, as the New York Times’ Shadid reported, suggested that Syria’s religious minorities recognized something about the uprising that the Western press under-reported (and revolutionary socialists in the United States missed), namely, that it was driven by a sectarian Sunni Islamist agenda which, if brought to fruition, would have unpleasant consequences for anyone who wasn’t considered a “true” Muslim. For this reason, Alawites, Ismailis, Druze and Christians lined up with the Ba’athists who sought to bridge sectarian divisions as part of their programmatic commitment to fostering Arab unity. The slogan “Alawis to the grave and Christians to Beirut!” chanted during demonstrations in those early days” [33] only confirmed the point that the uprising was a continuation of the death feud that Sunni political Islam had vowed to wage against the secular Arab nationalist government, and was not a mass upheaval for democracy or against neo-liberalism. If indeed it was any of these things, how would we explain that a thirst for democracy and opposition to neo-liberalism were present only in the Sunni community and absent in those of religious minorities? Surely, a democratic deficit and neoliberal tyranny, if they were present at all and acted as triggers of a revolutionary upsurge, would have crossed religious lines. That Alawites, Ismailis, Druze and Christians didn’t demonstrate, and that riots were Sunni-based with Islamist content, points strongly to the insurrection, from the very beginning, representing the recrudescence of the long running Sunni jihadist campaign against Ba’athist secularism.

“From the very beginning the Assad government said it was engaged in a fight with militant Islamists.” [34] The long history of Islamist uprisings against Ba’athism prior to 2011 certainly suggested this was very likely the case, and the way in which the uprising subsequently unfolded, as an Islamist-led war against the secular state, only strengthened the view. Other evidence, both positive and negative, corroborated Assad’s contention that the Syrian state was under attack by jihadists (just as it had been many other times in the past.) The negative evidence, that the uprising wasn’t a popular upheaval against an unpopular government, was inhered in Western media reports which showed that Syria’s Arab nationalist government was popular and commanded the loyalty of the population.

By contrast, anti-government demonstrations, riots and protests were small-scale, attracting far fewer people than did a mass demonstration in Damascus in support of the government, and certainly not on the order of the popular upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia. What’s more, the protesters’ demands centered on the release of political prisoners (mainly jihadists) and the lifting of war-time restrictions on the expression of political dissent, not calls for Assad to step down or change the government’s economic policies. The positive evidence came from Western news media accounts which showed that Islam played a prominent role in the riots. Also, while it was widely believed that armed Islamist groups only entered the fray subsequent to the initial spring 2011 riots—and in doing so “hijacked” a “popular uprising”— in point of fact, two jihadist groups which played a prominent role in the post-2011 armed revolt against secular Arab nationalism, Ahrar- al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, were both active at the beginning of 2011. Ahrar al-Sham “started working on forming brigades…well before mid-March, 2011, when the” Daraa riot occurred, according to Time. [35] Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, “was unknown until late January 2012, when it announced its formation… [but] it was active for months before then.” [36]

Another piece of evidence that is consistent with the view that militant Islam played a role in the uprisings very early on—or, at the very least, that the protests were violent from the beginning—is that `”there were signs from the very start that armed groups were involved.” The journalist and author Robert Fisk recalled seeing a tape from “the very early days of the ‘rising’ showing men with pistols and Kalashnikovs in a Daraa demonstration.” He recalls another event, in May 2011, when “an Al Jazeera crew filmed armed men shooting at Syrian troops a few hundred metres from the northern border with Lebanon but the channel declined to air the footage.” [37] Even US officials, who were hostile to the Syrian government and might be expected to challenge Damascus’s view that it was embroiled in a fight with armed rebels “acknowledged that the demonstrations weren’t peaceful and that some protesters were armed.” [38] By September, Syrian authorities were reporting that they had lost more than 500 police officers and soldiers, killed by guerillas. [39] By late October, the number had more than doubled. [40] In less than a year, the uprising had gone from the burning of Ba’ath Party buildings and government officers and clashes with police, to guerrilla warfare, involving methods that would be labeled “terrorism” were they undertaken against Western targets.

Assad would later complain that:

“Everything we said in Syria at the beginning of the crisis they say later. They said it’s peaceful, we said it’s not peaceful, they’re killing – these demonstrators, that they called them peaceful demonstrators – have killed policemen. Then it became militants. They said yes, it’s militants. We said it’s militants, it’s terrorism. They said no, it’s not terrorism. Then when they say it’s terrorism, we say it’s Al Qaeda, they say no, it’s not Al Qaeda. So, whatever we said, they say later.” [41]

The “Syrian uprising,” wrote the Middle East specialist Patrick Seale, “should be seen as only the latest, if by far the most violent, episode in the long war between Islamists and Ba’athists, which dates back to the founding of the secular Ba‘ath Party in the 1940s. The struggle between them is by now little short of a death-feud.” [42] “It is striking,” Seale continued, citing Aron Lund, who had written a report for the Swedish Institute of International Affairs on Syrian Jihadism, “that virtually all the members of the various armed insurgent groups are Sunni Arabs; that the fighting has been largely restricted to Sunni Arab areas only, whereas areas inhabited by Alawis, Druze or Christians have remained passive or supportive of the regime; that defections from the regime are nearly 100 per cent Sunni; that money, arms and volunteers are pouring in from Islamic states or from pro-Islamic organisations and individuals; and that religion is the insurgent movement’s most important common denominator.” [43]

Brutality as a Trigger?

Is it reasonable to believe that the use of force by the Syrian state sparked the guerrilla war which broke out soon after?

It strains belief that an over-reaction by security forces to a challenge to government authority in the Syrian town of Daraa (if indeed an over-reaction occurred) could spark a major war, involving scores of states, and mobilizing jihadists from scores of countries. A slew of discordant facts would have to be ignored to begin to give this theory even a soupcon of credibility.

First, we would have to overlook the reality that the Assad government was popular and viewed as legitimate. A case might be made that an overbearing response by a highly unpopular government to a trivial challenge to its authority might have provided the spark that was needed to ignite a popular insurrection, but notwithstanding US president Barack Obama’s insistence that Assad lacked legitimacy, there’s no evidence that Syria, in March 2011, was a powder keg of popular anti-government resentment ready to explode. As Time’s Rania Abouzeid reported on the eve of the Daraa riot, “Even critics concede that Assad is popular” [44] and “no one expects mass uprisings in Syria and, despite a show of dissent every now and then, very few want to participate.” [45]

Second, we would have to discount the fact that the Daraa riot involved only hundreds of participants, hardly a mass uprising, and the protests that followed similarly failed to garner a critical mass, as Time’s Nicholas Blanford reported.[46] Similarly, the New York Times’ Anthony Shadid found no evidence that there was a popular upheaval in Syria, even more than a month after the Daraa riot.[47] What was going on, contrary to Washington-propagated rhetoric about the Arab Spring breaking out in Syria, was that jihadists were engaged in a campaign of guerilla warfare against Syrian security forces, and had, by October, taken the lives of more than a thousand police officers and soldiers.

Third, we would have to close our eyes to the fact that the US government, with its British ally, had drawn up plans in 1956 to provoke a war in Syria by enlisting the Muslim Brotherhood to instigate internal uprisings. [48] The Daraa riot and subsequent armed clashes with police and soldiers resembled the plan which regime change specialist Kermit Roosevelt had prepared. That’s not to say that the CIA dusted off Roosevelt’s proposal and recycled it for use in 2011; only that the plot showed that Washington and London were capable of planning a destabilization operation involving a Muslim Brotherhood-led insurrection to bring about regime change in Syria.

We would also have to ignore the events of February 1982, when the Muslim Brothers seized control of Hama, Syria’s fourth largest city. Hama was the epicenter of Sunni fundamentalism in Syria, and a major base of operations for the jihadist fighters. Galvanized by a false report that Assad had been overthrown, Muslim Brothers went on a gleeful blood-soaked rampage throughout the city, attacking police stations and murdering Ba’ath Party leaders and their families, along with government officials and soldiers. In some cases, victims were decapitated [49] a practice which would be resurrected decades later by Islamic State fighters. Every Ba’athist official in Hama was murdered. [50]

The Hama events of 1982 are usually remembered in the West (if they’re remembered at all), not for the atrocities carried out by the Islamists, but for the Syrian army’s response, which, as would be expected of any army, involved the use of force to restore sovereign control over the territory seized by the insurrectionists. Thousands of troops were dispatched to take Hama back from the Muslim Brothers. Former US State Department official William R. Polk described the aftermath of the Syrian army assault on Hama as resembling that of the US assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004, [51] (the difference, of course, being that the Syrian army was acting legitimately within its own sovereign territory while the US military was acting illegitimately as an occupying force to quell opposition to its occupation.) How many died in the Hama assault, however, remains a matter of dispute. The figures vary. “An early report in Time said that 1,000 were killed. Most observers estimated that 5,000 people died. Israeli sources and the Muslim Brotherhood”—sworn enemies of the secular Arab nationalists who therefore had an interest in exaggerating the casualty toll—“both charged that the death toll passed 20,000.” [52] Robert Dreyfus, who has written on the West’s collaboration with political Islam, argues that Western sources deliberately exaggerated the death toll in order to demonize the Ba’athists as ruthless killers, and that the Ba’athists went along with the deception in order to intimidate the Muslim Brotherhood. [53]

As the Syrian army sorted through the rubble of Hama in the aftermath of the assault, evidence was found that foreign governments had provided Hama’s insurrectionists with money, arms, and communications equipment. Polk writes that:

“Assad saw foreign troublemakers at work among his people. This, after all, was the emotional and political legacy of colonial rule—a legacy painfully evident in most of the post-colonial world, but one that is almost unnoticed in the Western world. And the legacy is not a myth. It is a reality that, often years after events occur, we can verify with official papers. Hafez al-Assad did not need to wait for leaks of documents: his intelligence services and international journalists turned up dozens of attempts by conservative, oil-rich Arab countries, the United States, and Israel to subvert his government. Most engaged in ‘dirty tricks,’ propaganda, or infusions of money, but it was noteworthy that in the 1982 Hama uprising, more than 15,000 foreign-supplied machine guns were captured, along with prisoners including Jordanian- and CIA-trained paramilitary forces (much like the jihadists who appear so much in media accounts of 2013 Syria). And what he saw in Syria was confirmed by what he learned about Western regime-changing elsewhere. He certainly knew of the CIA attempt to murder President Nasser of Egypt and the Anglo-American overthrow of the government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.” [54]

In his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that “the Hama massacre could be understood as, ‘The natural reaction of a modernizing politician in a relatively new nation state trying to stave off retrogressive—in this case, Islamic fundamentalists—elements aiming to undermine everything he has achieved in the way of building Syria into a 20th century secular republic. That is also why,” continued Friedman, that “if someone had been able to take an objective opinion poll in Syria after the Hama massacre, Assad’s treatment of the rebellion probably would have won substantial approval, even among Sunni Muslims.” [55]

The outbreak of a Sunni Islamist jihad against the Syrian government in the 1980s challenges the view that militant Sunni Islam in the Levant is an outcome of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and the pro-Shi’a sectarian policies of the US occupation authorities. This view is historically myopic, blind to the decades-long existence of Sunni political Islam as a significant force in Levantine politics. From the moment Syria achieved formal independence from France after World War II, through the decades that followed in the 20th century, and into the next century, the main contending forces in Syria were secular Arab nationalism and political Islam. As journalist Patrick Cockburn wrote in 2016, “the Syrian armed opposition is dominated by Isis, al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.” The “only alternative to (secular Arab nationalist) rule is the Islamists.” [56] This has long been the case.

Finally, we would also have to ignore the fact that US strategists had planned since 2003, and possibly as early as 2001, to force Assad and his secular Arab nationalist ideology from power, and was funding the Syrian opposition, including Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups, from 2005. Accordingly, Washington had been driving toward the overthrow of the Assad government with the goal of de-Ba’athifying Syria. An Islamist-led guerilla struggle against Syria’s secular Arab nationalists would have unfolded, regardless of whether the Syrian government’s response at Daraa was excessive or not. The game was already in play, and a pretext was being sought. Daraa provided it. Thus, the idea that the arrest of two boys in Daraa for painting anti-government graffiti on a wall could provoke a major conflict is as believable as the notion that WWI was caused by nothing more than the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Socialist Syria

Socialism can be defined in many ways, but if it is defined as public-ownership of the commanding heights of the economy accompanied by economic planning, then Syria under its 1973 and 2012 constitutions clearly meets the definition of socialism. However, the Syrian Arab Republic had never been a working-class socialist state, of the category Marxists would recognize. It was, instead, an Arab socialist state inspired by the goal of achieving Arab political independence and overcoming the legacy of the Arab nation’s underdevelopment. The framers of the constitution saw socialism as a means to achieve national liberation and economic development. “The march toward the establishment of a socialist order,” the 1973 constitution’s framers wrote, is a “fundamental necessity for mobilizing the potentialities of the Arab masses in their battle with Zionism and imperialism.” Marxist socialism concerned itself with the struggle between an exploiting owning class and exploited working class, while Arab socialism addressed the struggle between exploiting and exploited nations. While these two different socialisms operated at different levels of exploitation, the distinctions were of no moment for Westerns banks, corporations and major investors as they cast their gaze across the globe in pursuit of profit. Socialism was against the profit-making interests of US industrial and financial capital, whether it was aimed at ending the exploitation of the working class or overcoming the imperialist oppression of national groups.

Ba’ath socialism had long irritated Washington. The Ba’athist state had exercised considerable influence over the Syrian economy, through ownership of enterprises, subsidies to privately-owned domestic firms, limits on foreign investment, and restrictions on imports. The Ba’athists regarded these measures as necessary economic tools of a post-colonial state trying to wrest its economic life from the grips of former colonial powers and to chart a course of development free from the domination of foreign interests.

Washington’s goals, however, were obviously antithetical. It didn’t want Syria to nurture its industry and zealously guard its independence, but to serve the interests of the bankers and major investors who truly mattered in the United States, by opening Syrian labor to exploitation and Syria’s land and natural resources to foreign ownership. Our agenda, the Obama Administration had declared in 2015, “is focused on lowering tariffs on American products, breaking down barriers to our goods and services, and setting higher standards to level the playing field for American…firms.”[57] This was hardly a new agenda, but had been the agenda of US foreign policy for decades. Damascus wasn’t falling into line behind a Washington that insisted that it could and would “lead the global economy.”[58]

Hardliners in Washington had considered Hafez al-Assad an Arab communist, [59] and US officials considered his son, Bashar, an ideologue who couldn’t bring himself to abandon the third pillar of the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party’s program: socialism. The US State Department complained that Syria had “failed to join an increasingly interconnected global economy,” which is to say, had failed to turn over its state-owned enterprises to private investors, among them Wall Street financial interests. The US State Department also expressed dissatisfaction that “ideological reasons” had prevented Assad from liberalizing Syria’s economy, that “privatization of government enterprises was still not widespread,” and that the economy “remains highly controlled by the government.” [60] Clearly, Assad hadn’t learned what Washington had dubbed the “lessons of history,” namely, that “market economies, not command-and-control economies with the heavy hand of government, are the best.” [61] By drafting a constitution that mandated that the government maintain a role in guiding the economy on behalf of Syrian interests, and that the Syrian government would not make Syrians work for the interests of Western banks, corporations, and investors, Assad was asserting Syrian independence against Washington’s agenda of “opening markets and leveling the playing field for American….businesses abroad.” [62]

On top of this, Assad underscored his allegiance to socialist values against what Washington had once called the “moral imperative” of “economic freedom,” [63] by writing social rights into the constitution: security against sickness, disability and old age; access to health care; and free education at all levels. These rights would continue to be placed beyond the easy reach of legislators and politicians who could sacrifice them on the altar of creating a low-tax, foreign-investment-friendly business climate. As a further affront against Washington’s pro-business orthodoxy, the constitution committed the state to progressive taxation.

Finally, the Ba’athist leader included in his updated constitution a provision that had been introduced by his father in 1973, a step toward real, genuine democracy—a provision which decision-makers in Washington, with their myriad connections to the banking and corporate worlds, could hardly tolerate. The constitution would require that at minimum half the members of the People’s Assembly be drawn from the ranks of peasants and workers.

If Assad was a neo-liberal, he certainly was one of the world’s oddest devotees of the ideology.

Drought?

A final point on the origins of the violent uprising in 2011: Some social scientists and analysts have drawn on a study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences to suggest that “drought played a role in the Syrian unrest.” According to this view, drought “caused crop failures that led to the migration of as many as 1.5 million people from rural to urban areas.” This, in combination with an influx of refugees from Iraq, intensified competition for scarce jobs in urban areas, making Syria a cauldron of social and economic tension ready to boil over. [64] The argument sounds reasonable, even “scientific,” but the phenomenon it seeks to explain—mass upheaval in Syria—never happened. As we’ve seen, a review of Western press coverage found no reference to mass upheaval. On the contrary, reporters who expected to find a mass upheaval were surprised that they didn’t find one. Instead, Western journalists found Syria to be surprisingly quiet. Demonstrations called by organizers of the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page fizzled. Critics conceded that Assad was popular. Reporters could find no one who believed a revolt was imminent. Even a month after the Daraa incident—which involved only hundreds of protesters, dwarfed by the tens of thousands of Syrians who demonstrated in Damascus in support of the government—the New York Times reporter on the ground, Anthony Shadid, could find no sign in Syria of the mass upheavals of Tunisia and Egypt. In early February 2011, “Omar Nashabe, a long-time Syria watcher and correspondent for the Beirut-based Arabic daily Al-Ahkbar” told Time that “Syrians may be afflicted by poverty that stalks 14% of its population combined with an estimated 20% unemployment rate, but Assad still has his credibility.” [65]

That the government commanded popular support was affirmed when the British survey firm YouGov published a poll in late 2011 showing that 55 percent of Syrians wanted Assad to stay. The poll received almost no mention in the Western media, prompting the British journalist Jonathan Steele to ask: “Suppose a respectable opinion poll found that most Syrians are in favor of Bashar al-Assad remaining as president, would that not be major news?” Steele described the poll findings as “inconvenient facts” which were” suppressed “because Western media coverage of the events in Syria had ceased “to be fair” and had turned into “a propaganda weapon.”[66]

Sloganeering in Lieu of Politics and Analysis

Draitser can be faulted, not only for propagating an argument made by assertion, based on no evidence, but for substituting slogans for politics and analysis. In his October 20 Counterpunch article, Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence, he argues that the defining goals of Leftism ought to be the pursuit of peace and justice, as if these are two inseparable qualities, which are never in opposition. That peace and justice may, at times, be antithetical, is illustrated in the following conversation between Australian journalist Richard Carleton and Ghassan Kanafani, a Palestinian writer, novelist and revolutionary. [67]

C: ‘Why won’t your organization engage in peace talks with the Israelis?’

K: ‘You don’t mean exactly “peace talks”. You mean capitulation. Surrendering.

C: ‘Why not just talk?’

K: ‘Talk to whom?’

C: ‘Talk to the Israeli leaders.’

K: ‘That is kind of a conversation between the sword and the neck, you mean?’

C: ‘Well, if there are no swords and no guns in the room, you could still talk.’

K: ‘No. I have never seen any talk between a colonialist and a national liberation movement.’

C: ‘But despite this, why not talk?’

K: ‘Talk about what?’

C: ‘Talk about the possibility of not fighting.’

K: ‘Not fighting for what?’

C: ‘No fighting at all. No matter what for.’

K: ‘People usually fight for something. And they stop fighting for something. So you can’t even tell me why we should speak about what. Why should we talk about stopping to fight?’

C: ‘Talk to stop fighting to stop the death and the misery, the destruction and the pain.’

K: ‘The misery and the destruction the pain and the death of whom?’

C: ‘Of Palestinians. Of Israelis. Of Arabs.’

K: ‘Of the Palestinian people who are uprooted, thrown in the camps, living in starvation, killed for twenty years and forbidden to use even the name “Palestinians”?’

C: ‘They are better that way than dead though.’

K: ‘Maybe to you. But to us, it’s not. To us, to liberate our country, to have dignity, to have respect, to have our mere human rights is something as essential as life itself.

To which values the US Left should devote itself when peace and justice are in conflict, Draitser doesn’t say. His invocation of the slogan “peace and justice” as the desired defining mission of the US Left seems to be nothing more than an invitation for Leftists to abandon politics in favor of embarking on a mission of becoming beautiful souls, above the sordid conflicts which plague humanity—never taking a side, except that of the angels. His assertion that “no state or group has the best interests of Syrians at heart” is almost too silly to warrant comment. How would he know? One can’t help but get the impression that he believes that he, and the US Left, alone among the groups and states of the world, know what’s best for the “Syrian people.” Which may be why he opines that the responsibility of the US Left, “is to the people of Syria,” as if the people of Syria are an undifferentiated mass with uniform interests and agendas. Syrians en masse include both secularists and political Islamists, who have irreconcilable views of how the state ought to be organized, who have been locked in a death feud for more than half a century—one helped along, on the Islamist side, by his own government. Syrians en masse include those who favor integration into the US Empire, and those who are against it; those who collaborate with US imperialists and those who refuse to. In this perspective, what does it mean, to say the US Left has a responsibility to the people of Syria? Which people of Syria?

I would have thought that the responsibility of the US Left is to working people of the United States, not the people of Syria. And I would have imagined, as well, that the US Left would regard its responsibilities to include disseminating a rigorous, evidence-based political analysis of how the US economic elite uses the apparatus of the US state to advance its interests at the expense of both domestic and foreign populations. How does Washington’s long war on Syria affect the working people of America? That’s what Draitser ought to be talking about.

My book Washington’s Long War on Syria is forthcoming April 2017.

NOTES

1 Aryn Baker, “Syria is not Egypt, but might it one day be Tunisia?,” Time, February 4, 2011

2 Rania Abouzeid, “The Syrian style of repression: Thugs and lectures,” Time, February 27, 2011

3 Rania Abouzeid, “Sitting pretty in Syria: Why few go backing Bashar,” Time, March 6, 2011

4 Rania Abouzeid, “The youth of Syria: the rebels are on pause,” Time, March 6, 2011.

5 Rania Abouzeid, “The youth of Syria: the rebels are on pause,” Time, March 6, 2011

6 “Officers fire on crowd as Syrian protests grow,” The New York Times, March 20, 2011

7 Nicholas Blanford, “Can the Syrian regime divide and conquer its opposition?,” Time, April 9, 2011

8 Robert Fisk, “Welcome to Dera’a, Syria’s graveyard of terrorists,” The Independent, July 6. 2016

9 President Assad to ARD TV: Terrorists breached cessation of hostilities agreement from the very first hour, Syrian Army refrained from retaliating,” SANA, March 1, 2016

10 Ibid

11 “Officers fire on crowd as Syrian protests grow,” The New York Times, March 20, 2011

12 Rania Abouzeid, “Arab Spring: Is a revolution starting up in Syria?” Time, March 20, 2011; Rania Abouzeid, “Syria’s revolt: How graffiti stirred an uprising,” Time, March 22, 2011

13 “Officers fire on crowd as Syrian protests grow,” The New York Times, March 20, 2011

14 Rania Abouzeid, “Arab Spring: Is a revolution starting up in Syria?,” Time, March 20, 2011

15 “Thousands march to protest Syria killings”, The New York Times, March 24, 2011

16 Rania Abouzeid, “Assad and reform: Damned if he does, doomed if he doesn’t,” Time, April 22, 2011

17 “Officers fire on crowd as Syrian protests grow,” The New York Times, March 20, 2011

18 Aryn Baker, “Syria is not Egypt, but might it one day be Tunisia?,” Time, February 4, 2011

19 Nicholas Blanford, “Can the Syrian regime divide and conquer its opposition?” Time, April 9, 2011.

20 Alfred B. Prados and Jeremy M. Sharp, “Syria: Political Conditions and Relations with the United States After the Iraq War,” Congressional Research Service, February 28, 2005

21 Rania Abouzeid, “Syria’s Friday of dignity becomes a day of death,” Time, March 25, 2011

22 Rania Abouzeid, “Syria’s Friday of dignity becomes a day of death,” Time, March 25, 2011

23 “Syrie: un autre eclarage du conflict qui dure depuis 5 ans, BeCuriousTV , » May 23, 2016, http://www.globalresearch.ca/syria-aleppo-doctor-demolishes-imperialist-propaganda-and-media-warmongering/5531157

24 Nicholas Blanford, “Can the Syrian regime divide and conquer its opposition?” Time, April 9, 2011

25 Jay Solomon, “To check Syria, U.S. explores bond with Muslim Brothers,” The Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2007

26 Ibid

27 Liad Porat, “The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the Asad Regime,” Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University, December 2010, No. 47

28 Ibid

29 http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf

30 Alfred B. Prados and Jeremy M. Sharp, “Syria: Political Conditions and Relations with the United States After the Iraq War,” Congressional Research Service, February 28, 2005.

31 Anthony Shadid, “Security forces kill dozens in uprisings around Syria”, The New York Times, April 22, 2011

32 Rania Abouzeid, “Syria’s Friday of dignity becomes a day of death,” Time, March 25, 2011

33 Fabrice Balanche, “The Alawi Community and the Syria Crisis Middle East Institute, May 14, 2015

34 Anthony Shadid, “Syria broadens deadly crackdown on protesters”, The New York Times, May 8, 2011

35 Rania Abouzeid, “Meet the Islamist militants fighting alongside Syria’s rebels,” Time, July 26, 2012

36 Rania Abouzeid, “Interview with official of Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria’s Islamist militia group,” Time, Dec 25, 2015

37 Robert Fisk, “Syrian civil war: West failed to factor in Bashar al-Assad’s Iranian backers as the conflict developed,” The Independent, March 13, 2016

38 Anthony Shadid, “Syria broadens deadly crackdown on protesters”, The New York Times, May 8, 2011

39 Nada Bakri, “Syria allows Red Cross officials to visit prison”, The New York Times, September 5, 2011

40 Nada Bakri, “Syrian opposition calls for protection from crackdown”, The New York Times, October 25, 2011

41 President al-Assad to Portuguese State TV: International system failed to accomplish its duty… Western officials have no desire to combat terrorism, SANA, March 5, 2015

42 Patrick Seale, “Syria’s long war,” Middle East Online, September 26, 2012

43 Ibid

44 Rania Abouzeid, “Sitting pretty in Syria: Why few go backing Bashar,” Time, March 6, 2011

45 Rania Abouzeid, “The youth of Syria: the rebels are on pause,” Time, March 6, 2011

46 “Can the Syrian regime divide and conquer its opposition?” Time, April 9, 2011

47 Anthony Shadid, “Security forces kill dozens in uprisings around Syria”, The New York Times, April 22, 2011

48 Ben Fenton, “Macmillan backed Syria assassination plot,” The Guardian, September 27, 2003

49 Robert Fisk, “Conspiracy of silence in the Arab world,” The Independent, February 9, 2007

50 Robert Dreyfus, Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Fundamentalist Islam, Holt, 2005, p. 205

51 William R. Polk, “Understanding Syria: From pre-civil war to post-Assad,” The Atlantic, December 10, 2013

52 Dreyfus

53 Dreyfus

54 William R. Polk, “Understanding Syria: From pre-civil war to post-Assad,” The Atlantic, December 10, 2013

55 Quoted in Nikolas Van Dam, The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society under Asad and the Ba’ath Party, I.B. Taurus, 2011

56 Patrick Cockburn, “Confused about the US response to Isis in Syria? Look to the CIA’s relationship with Saudi Arabia,” The Independent, June 17, 2016

57 National Security Strategy, February 2015

58 Ibid

59 Robert Baer, Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, Three Rivers Press, 2003, p. 123

60 US State Department website. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm#econ. Accessed February 8, 2012

61 The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September 2002

62 National Security Strategy, February 2015

63 The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, March 2006

64 Henry Fountain, “Researchers link Syrian conflict to drought made worse by climate change,” The New York Times, March 2, 2015

65 Aryn Baker, “Syria is not Egypt, but might it one day be Tunisia?,” Time, February 4, 2011

66 Jonathan Steele, “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from western media,” The Guardian, January 17, 2012

67 “Full transcript: Classic video interview with Comrade Ghassan Kanafani re-surfaces,” PFLP, October 17, 2016, http://pflp.ps/english/2016/10/17/full-transcript-classic-video-interview-with-comrade-ghassan-kanafani-re-surfaces/

 

[Stephen Gowans is a Canadian writer and political activist based in Ottawa, Canada.]