Grim and Grimmer: the Collapse of Syria

by Mark Osborn (AWL) on April 22, 2013

Mark Osborn replies to Pham Binh’s polemic against the AWL position on the conflict in Syria.

“My country is being destroyed. The regime is killing us, many of the opposition fighters are becoming criminals and the world is watching it like a film.” — Ahmad, from Deir ez-Zor (Economist, February 23, 2013)

Pham Binh argues: The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) misunderstands the nature of the Syrian opposition because, firstly, we ignore the continuing secular, peaceful mass demonstrations and, secondly, that we overestimate the degree of influence Islamists have in the opposition movement. Binh argues that there have been relatively few instances of sectarianism among oppositionists; liberated areas are not Islamist tyrannies; we misunderstand the difference between people who are Muslims and people who are Islamists. He sums up that the “AWL’s conclusion that it can support neither side in Syria’s civil war proceeds from the assumption that both sides are equally reactionary… that the choice between Assad’s tyranny and Islamist tyranny is no choice at all.”

Despite the fact that Pham Binh’s article is an honest attempt to engage in a debate on an important question his argument has serious problems in two main respects. First, because he is complacent about Islamism (and ethnic sectarianism) in Syria. Second because he ignores a big part of our case which has nothing to do with Islamists (directly), but which concerns the Marxist attitude to the state and relates directly to what we’ve said in the past about the use of slogans (for example about the slogan ‘Troops Out Now’ in Ireland and Iraq).

The three key points in the AWL national committee resolution quoted by Binh are: given the fragmented and increasingly religiously radical nature of the opposition a victory for the rebels will lead to ethnic cleansing, chaos and warlordism; that if the opposition are able to overrun the Baathist state conditions (both for the welfare of ordinary Syrians and for the possibility of progressive struggle) will be made worse, and so we should avoid slogans which lead to this; as a consequence we would not necessarily denounce a deal between Baathists and oppositionists which we believe might avoid the collapse of Syrian society into chaos.

Given this, I would not accept Binh’s summary of our position.

It might be worth amplifying the point about the state. In the 1980s, for example, we rejected the use of ‘Troops Out’ without a political settlement for the north of Ireland. We had come to see the demand as irresponsible, not because we thought the British state had a progressive role, but because if the central part of the apparatus keeping the lid on the conflict abdicated, the way would be clear to a major escalation of inter-communal conflict. Divisions in the working class would deepen, thousands more would die, Ireland would be repartitioned.

Since that would be a big step backwards, why would we choose to raise a demand that would lead to it?

Although the British state was brutal in Northern Ireland, its withdrawal without agreement between the two antagonistic communities would make matters worse, not better. In Syria, we should understand that although things are very bad (from a humanitarian point of view, and for the possibility of democracy, women’s rights) they could get much, much worse. In a particular Syrian town, at a particular moment, socialists might well favour the victory of the local militia against Assad’s army. But ‘victory for the Syrian opposition’ as a general slogan now has a real meaning that would take the struggle for freedom backwards, not forwards.

To understand why, we need to look at the conditions on the ground.

So where are we now?

There are probably 1,000 armed militias operating in Syria today. These militias have no overarching command structure or anything like one. They are funded by a great many outside groups and governments. Large weapons shipments from Qatar are now going through Turkey and from Saudi via Jordan. The U.S. has a programme to train their own Free Syrian Army (FSA) group underway in northern Jordan.

The militias might have some real or nominal allegiance to the various outside sponsors, but have wide discretion themselves. Alliances inside the country are continually shifting. They are certainly not led by the latest exterior political front, effectively dominated by the Muslim Brothers, the Syrian National Coalition.

The point here is not that Islamists have control of the opposition movement (although their influence is very worrying, substantial, and increasing), but that no one has control of the movement. There is no oppositional force, good or bad, currently capable of replacing the existing state and keeping the country – more or less – together. In fact, Binh doesn’t attempt to argue how the current opposition could get from where it is now to form a democratic state.

The opposition fighters continue to make gains in the north and north east. However the most significant and new fact is the rebel gains made in the south of the country. This, I think, is the beginning of the battle for Damascus. Josh Landis, the U.S. academic, speaking  on Al-Jazeera, argues that Damascus will probably be destroyed in the same way Aleppo has been, and as the military is pushed out the Alawites will fall back, in disarray, to their village heartlands on the coast. If the Alawites lose there – which they will – they will not stick around to find out if the rebel militias, which have not been taking prisoners, will be kind to them. Landis says the three million Alawites will run away, to Lebanon (where they may well spark a new civil war). He likens their likely fate to that of the similar number of Christians killed or driven out of Turkey during World War One.

We might add that other groups – and certainly the Kurds whose freedom is opposed by pretty much every other opposition group – face repression too. It is already happening. There have been battles between PKK Kurdish groups and both Islamists and more secular rebel groups. The most recent fighting has been widespread in Ras al-Ayn on the northern border.


If the struggle develops in this way – and it is not clear what will stop it – Syrian society will collapse. And it will collapse in many different ways – certainly economically and socially. It will probably also be invaded, by Turkey in the north, from Jordan (buffer zones to keep chaos away from these states are already being planned), and possibly by Israel too.

This is what an opposition victory means right now, concretely.

Part of the problem with Binh’s analysis is the relationship he sees between the militias and the previously existing mass movement: “The demonstrators grew tired of being cut down by machine gun fire and took up arms to defend themselves.” In fact the militias in Syria today largely were superimposed on the democratic movement rather than an organic product out of it. The armed groups are certainly not controlled by the mass movement – they have their own command structures, funding, programmes.

On December 23, 2011 we wrote in Solidarity:

“The Syrian demonstrators not only have a right to defend themselves from state violence, they are right to do so. It makes no sense that innocent protesters offer themselves up, week after week, as martyrs to be mown down by the state’s thugs.” But that was a year and a half ago, when the movement had a different character, and the meaning of ‘Victory to the opposition’ (the article’s title) was different. We wrote, “The basic feature of the movement in the country, now, is positive and democratic. It is organised by networks of activists and local co-ordinating committees.”

But even in 2011 we noted:

“The FSA states it is non-sectarian and is simply in favour of freedom. [But] the Free Syrian Army has its own command structure, and the attacks it is launching against regime targets […] are probably independent of the local committees, although some army deserters have clearly been involved in local self-defence.”

And I do not recognise Binh’s description of rebel-controlled areas. Happily Binh tells us that the Islamist judicial bodies that have “sprung up” across the country have not acted in a sectarian manner; liberated areas are governed “fairly effectively by a mix of secular and Islamist elements.” I would suggest that claims that salafi and jihadi sharia courts are not acting in a sectarian way are – at the mildest – unlikely.

There is a substantial amount of chaos already in the country. Four million have no telephones, water, food or fuel. Two million are internally displaced. Thousands of factories, roads, schools, hospitals have been destroyed. Many of the middle class professionals have fled the country. The death rate is increasing (the equivalent number of killings in the U.K., over the two year period of the uprising would be over 190,000). The working class has, essentially, been destroyed with regular work only existing in pockets of regime controlled territory, and provided to regime loyalists to maintain that loyalty; these are not good conditions to build a democracy, even assuming that those with power intend that.

For example, a new report – whose authors include the U.K.’s Department for International Development – details conditions in Aleppo, which has been an open battleground since July 2012. The survey is an analysis of 52 neighbourhoods (from 125 in the city).

The report on Aleppo states that 10,800 people have been killed, 4,500 people are missing, 511,900 people are internally displaced, one million people have left. The education system has collapsed; 26 of the 52 areas have not had electricity for six months; only four out of the city’s seven hospitals are functioning; 2.2 million people are in danger of not having enough to eat; 240,000 do not have enough access to water.

Factories have been stripped, either by owners, or militias (some of whom died fighting each other over the spoils). There is no work outside the militarised structures. Basic food and fuel are rare or impossibly expensive. Because the U.N. relief operations work with the government’s permission, aid goes to areas under regime control. Opposition areas are often subjected to indiscriminate regime bombing.

The BBC adds to the picture:

“It is widely believed in Aleppo that the bread shortage was caused by the FSA stealing flour to sell elsewhere. An FSA officer confirmed as much… None of the FSA brigades – all accusing each other of looting – trusted anyone else.

“Now the shopkeepers, farmers and small businessmen of the countryside are in charge in large parts of the city. ‘Free Aleppo’ has eight-hour bread queues, power cuts, children scavenging for rubbish to burn and trees in the parks all cut down for firewood.” The BBC also report large numbers of people being ‘arrested’ – in reality abducted for ransom – often dressed up in political language by the militia responsible.

Part of the appeal of some of the harder-line Islamists is that they are seen as more honest. The FSA affiliated Northern Farouq brigade, recently in serious conflict with Al-Nusra Front, the local al-Qaeda affiliate, apparently traffics cement, fuel and even drugs.

Obviously the situation in the liberated areas has an impact on activists and their organisations. For example, the oppositionist writer Hajj-Saleh, who is in hiding in Damascus, offers a bleak assessment of the local structures (March 2013): “Conditions in the society of the revolution […are not] promising. [There are] widespread signs of dissolution, damage to social ties, the spread of violence and use of violence to settle diverse scores or for private profit. The forms of self-organisation do not meet needs in most areas, as the elements of dissolution, fragmentation, and selfishness are more present and influential than those of healing, cooperation, and joint action.”

Now of course the gross, systematic sectarian outrages and war crimes committed by the regime have not been simply mirrored by the opposition. That is true. And Binh assures us there have been no massacres carried out by the opposition. Which is not quite true and not equivalent to saying the opposition is not sectarian. Take a small number of recent examples:

  1. Human Rights Watch reports: “Armed opposition group destroyed a Shia place of worship in Idlib governorate, and two Christian churches in Latakia governorate were looted.”  And: “a dozen extrajudicial and summary executions [were carried out] by opposition forces and [there is] torture and mistreatment in opposition-run detention facilities.”

  2. CNN interviewed Abu Mariam, a former political prisoner and now an activist in Aleppo. He was flogged by an Islamist militia for “crimes against Islam” and, later, hospitalised by another armed group when he tried to stop them robbing a neighbourhood shop.

  3. A video (see Syria Comment site) shows a victim of a Sharia court in Raqqa. He has been horribly beaten for – essentially – having the wrong girlfriend. The Washington Times reports a ruling from a salafi cleric, Sheikh Yasir al-Ajlawni, that it is legitimate for those fighting for an Islamic state in Syria to rape non-Muslim women.

  4. The Syrian Human Rights Observatory reported in March: “For the third day in a row, protests erupted in Mayadeen [rebel-held town in eastern Syria] calling on the Al-Nusra Front to leave the town.” The Islamists had set up a sharia court and religious police force. “The protests are an important indicator that people in eastern Syria – where people do not have a culture of religious extremism – do not welcome the imposition of religious law,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

  5. An interesting report recently released is an analysis of the attitudes of Alawites in the Homs area (The Alawaite Dilemma, Aziz Nakkash, March 13, 2013). In April 2011 one young Alawite man said he joined a large demonstration against the regime in the main square. He remembers that on this occasion, the “secret service people were brutal with the demonstrators. And that same night, they started shooting at people”. Soon afterwards, he remembers hearing loud appeals to jihad coming from the minarets of mosques – which to Alawites meant a holy war against them. He says, “Suddenly I became scared and I changed my mind, as I realized that what was happening was no longer a revolution”.

  6. Of the 80,000 Christians in Homs almost all have left, some apparently after a door-to-door campaign by Islamists.

  7. The UNHCR conclude that the “conflict has become overtly sectarian in nature.” “The Commission has received credible reports of anti-Government armed groups attacking Alawites and other pro-Government minority communities. One interviewee, an FSA fighter in Latakia, detailed how, upon capturing Government forces, the Sunni captives were imprisoned while Alawites were immediately executed. On 30 October, a bomb exploded near an important Shia shrine outside of Damascus, killing and injuring several people. On 6 November, a car bomb exploded in the Alawite neighbourhood of Hai al-Wuroud in the north-west of Damascus, reportedly killing ten people.” The report suggests that communities are retreating into communal organisations.

This process should be familiar to anyone who has looked – for example – at the break-up of Yugoslavia. In such circumstances the reasonable, secular or cosmopolitan-minded majority are marginalised. The political pace is set by the communalists and bigots, and once begun the mass of people, feeling they have no choice, fall back to their communities for safety. Communalism is strengthened and a poisonous retreat begins strengthening mean, narrow ethnic-sectarian and religious identity at the expense of more rational social relations.

Binh assures us that, on demonstrations, calls for a Caliphate are “not terribly popular,” and Islamist slogans for the weekly Friday protests are regularly defeated by thousands of votes. Now if this is true as stated – and our knowledge is limited, and restricted to English language sources – good. And no one would argue that the opposition is one reactionary mass – far from it. But, again, the problem in Syria is that the way the struggle is being played out, the people voting against Islamism are not the people who will decide. The decisions will be made by those that control the guns.

Binh makes a big fuss about the AWL’s supposed confusion between Islam and Islamism. I don’t think we have given any reason to suppose we confuse the two. Our national committee motion says we oppose all manifestation of Islamism, not all manifestations of Islam.

Binh writes, “God is great” in response to fighter planes bombing Aleppo university is simply the equivalent of our “God help us!” watching the planes hit the Twin Towers. That might even be true, but there’s a little polemical slight-of-hand here, and especially writing “God” in English, because I don’t agree that the militia fighters’ shouts of “Allahu Akbar,” or calls made from Sunni mosques for jihad, are more-or-less meaningless, or are consequence-free (even if some of those chanting don’t understand these calls as being politically loaded). To understand the point, imagine living in a Christian village and hearing the fighters’ calls from the outskirts.

Binh says such shouts are a sign of resistance and defiance. No doubt. But in the name of what, since the resistance is not just negative.

Binh notes that “mosques and Friday prayers have been irreplaceable vehicles for mobilising the masses.” Irreplaceable? Really? And again, these places are used to organise against our enemy – but not necessarily in the way that we would positively choose. Honestly, has the left learnt nothing from Khomeini and Iran? In Iran in 1978, the mosques were important organising centres against the Shah but left their positive and reactionary print on the political shape of the opposition. Khomeini reassured us that he was for women’s rights and democracy, and he lied. Our job is not to take the Islamists’ word for their reasonable intentions but to learn from history, to agitate, and to warn.

So when Binh writes that there are two phases of the Syrian revolution, one where we side with all the opposition to Assad, and a second where the opposition will divide over women, minorities and democracy, he’s wrong in several respects. Firstly, because the battle over democratic rights is going on now – it is something for us to take sides on now, not in the future. Secondly, because he says the division will put us on the same side as the Muslim Brothers (who favour elections) against the more extreme jihadis and salafists. The idea of the Muslim Brothers acting as a force for democracy can be dismissed quickly by anyone honestly looking at Hamas’ behaviour in Gaza where they have built a one-party, religious state which is intolerant of women’s rights, all manifestations of criticism and self-organisation, unions, opposition political parties and other religions.

The situation now in Syria is grim. We can’t escape that reality by imagining conditions and the opposition political forces are better than they really are.

Mayor Mohammad Khairullah amid

the destruction of Aleppo on April 7 during his relief trip.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) April 22, 2013 at 8:33 pm

AWL thinks its time for the Syrian Revolution to throw in the towel and they will do every thing they can to paint a grim picture of its prospects and a damning picture of the revolutionary forces to prove it.

We can get a sense of what side they objectively are on by noting that their line of discourse leads to magnifying every opposition defect, accepting many of the regime and imperialists premises and predicting that worst case outcomes are inevitable.

They start with a counter-revolutionary take on the revolutionary process:

many of the opposition fighters are becoming criminals

This is a slander against those who joined the revolution early and an willful misrepresentation of the revolutionary process. To wit:

The revolution can always be expected to draw the most far sighted and most moral adherents in the beginning. I have no doubt that those first 200 SAA soliders who first defected and formed the FSA, when ordered to fire on Syrian protesters, acted for the most noble of reasons. They were clearly putting the interests of their nation, their class and all of humanity ahead of self-interests.

Revolutions are always started by such people, and they will remain its backbone, but latter on and especially on the eve of the revolution’s success, it can be expected to attract a much lower stratum of peoples. No doubt, the FSA stills needs and will accept every defector it can get, but now it must deal with the reality that those defecting now may not be the most noble of soldiers and may be joining the FSA because they can see the writing on the walls.

The problem is not that those who have been fighting Assad for over a year now are suddenly turning into criminals. The problem is that the revolution is becoming so successful that even criminals are joining its ranks.

This is still a problem that begs a solution, but it is not a problem that is unique to Syria, it is a problem of all revolutions without exception. To reject the Syrian revolution on that basis is to reject all revolutions.

a victory for the rebels will lead to ethnic cleansing, chaos and warlordism

Thanks, I was wondering if Assad was telling the truth but my crystal ball is broken.

if the opposition are able to overrun the Baathist state conditions (both for the welfare of ordinary Syrians and for the possibility of progressive struggle) will be made worse

But they don’t say worse than what. Worst than this?

One day in the fall of 2012, Syrian government troops brought a young Free Syrian Army soldier’s fiancée, sisters, mother, and female neighbors to the Syrian prison in which he was being held. One by one, he said, they were raped in front of him.

So they recommend against support for the revolution:

we should avoid slogans which lead to this

This being the overthrow of the Assad regime and the victory of the revolution.

In Syria, we should understand that although things are very bad (from a humanitarian point of view, and for the possibility of democracy, women’s rights) they could get much, much worse.

Worst than this:

Syrian forces’ use of cluster munitions in residential areas is causing mounting civilian casualties, Human Rights Watch said today. An initial review of available information has identified at least 119 locations across Syria where at least 156 cluster bombs have been used in the past six months.

Worst than this??

The Syrian regime has fired up to 90 Scud-type ballistic missiles into residential areas in the last two months

Worst than this???

EXTREMELY URGENT | 400 people were slaughtered by the #Assad regime today in the #Damascus Suburb of Jadeedit Artooz in one of the WORST MASSACRES TO DATE. HUNDREDS of innocent children and woman were killed by knives and had their bodies BURNED.

Their problem is not with Assad’s fighters, its with the opposition figthers:

There are probably 1,000 armed militias operating in Syria today. These militias have no overarching command structure or anything like one.

This goes to the very nature of people’s revolutionary war. There are probably a 100,000 armed militiamen [ thuwar – revolutionaries ] whose loyalties are as fluid as their individual opinion of good leadership.

On the other hand, the unjust side of a revolutionary war always has an overarching command structure.

the latest exterior political front, effectively dominated by the Muslim Brothers, the Syrian National Coalition.

Which just elected George Sabra, a socialist and not a member of the MB, as it’s president.

Josh Landis is wrong, quoting him settles nothing beyond proving that he said something. For example, he said this, which tells volumes about his political perspective:

JUNE 5, 2012 – Let’s be clear: Washington is pursuing regime change by civil war in Syria.

Another statement not supported by the facts.

If the struggle develops in this way – and it is not clear what will stop it – Syrian society will collapse. And it will collapse in many different ways – certainly economically and socially. It will probably also be invaded, by Turkey in the north, from Jordan (buffer zones to keep chaos away from these states are already being planned), and possibly by Israel too.

This is what an opposition victory means right now, concretely.

No. That is pure speculation on their part. But this is not. This is fact:

What an opposition victory means right now, concretely is that Assad’s Scuds will stop falling on cities, Assad’s air force will stop dropping Russian cluster bombs on neighborhoods and Hezbullah will stop slaughtering people.

In fact the militias in Syria today largely were superimposed on the democratic movement rather than an organic product out of it.

BS, or more politely – not supported by facts in evidence.

There is a substantial amount of chaos already in the country. Four million have no telephones, water, food or fuel. Two million are internally displaced. Thousands of factories, roads, schools, hospitals have been destroyed. Many of the middle class professionals have fled the country. The death rate is increasing

Clearly it has been the gov’t application of force that has cause most of this damage. Revolutionaries will blame the gov’t for resisting change with violence, government supporters will blame the revolutionaries for forcing the government to defend itself.

The working class has, essentially, been destroyed with regular work only existing in pockets of regime controlled territory, and provided to regime loyalists to maintain that loyalty.

WTF??? So one is a member of the working class only while holding down a job? By leaving a regime controlled job and joining a revolutionary militias you have a) left the working class and b) helped to destroy it?

So the revolutionary process will destroy the working class, long before it achieves victory, let along socialism, unless in can maintain “regular work” during the revolution. And AWL knows this how?

Defending their position leads them to listing every opposition abuse or wrong doing they can find, then exaggerating those while belittling regime atrocities. For example:

Of the 80,000 Christians in Homs almost all have left, some apparently after a door-to-door campaign by Islamists.

Leaves a certain impression although most likely the bulk of the Christians have left Homs for the same reason the town has been largely cleared out of everybody, 18 months of Assad shelling. See for example Syria: deserted Homs is testament to crushing power of Assad’s fury The Telegraph 02 March 2012.

While the regime commits massacres everyday, they want to argue with Binh over whether the opposition has ever committed a massacre, like if they can prove the opposition has committed a massacre, they can disavow support for the revolution.

I don’t know what their motivation is, maybe they just want to build unity with the rest of the bankrupt Left.

That just about all their position amounts to.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) April 22, 2013 at 11:41 pm

AWL says:

There are probably 1,000 armed militias operating in Syria today. These militias have no overarching command structure or anything like one.

We heard similar complaints from the Left about the revolutionary armed forces of the Libyan Revolution.

I think this comes from the history of the great revolutions of the 20th century which features a single party leadership and a unified military command.

There is a lot to be said for that. But that’s not how revolutions are being made in the 21th century. Looking at first the Libyan and now the Syrian revolutionary wars, I would say they are following something like the Open Source or Free Software model of organization.

I believe that what is developing in real time in these movements of the 21st century will prove to be even more advanced.

Without going into much detail about that model of organization, let me just say that it is a communist model that has come to dominate the software world and the Internet. It is based on an intellectual property model known as “copy-left” and could be well described as a 1,000 software developer groups or “militias” and these militias have no overarching command structure or anything like one. And yet they have made Google possible, they have made “the cloud” possible, they have made smart phone possible, they have produced the stuff that runs the Internet.

Another way to looked at these militias is that they are something like armed occupy groups in a revolutionary situation.

And there are threads that connect all these things.

Free Software forms and methods informed both the Arab Spring organizations and the Occupy organizations, both indirectly and through the influence of open source hackers [ WikiLeaks, Anonymous ]. Experience of activists supporting Libyan revolution gave birth to Occupy [Anonymous] all of which has influenced the Syrian Revolution.

And the media made this possible, the Internet, was itself a product of the Open Source movement.


Arthur April 23, 2013 at 11:38 am

1. I agree with the AWL’s reasons for opposition to “Troops Out Now” in Northern Ireland. But there is no analogy whatever with Syria. Those reasons are grounds for advocating an international occupation. But instead the AWL is advocating a compromise with the regime.

2. I also agree that the dangers of sectarian bloodbaths etc should not be underestimated. But those are good reasons for accelerating the defeat of the regime that created those conditions. The longer it remains the worse the aftermath will be.

3. They are also good reasons for direct military intervention, as in Northern Ireland. But that isn’t what the AWL is advocating.

4. The position does smell like seeking to avoid a break with the pseudoleft by adopting a position where you can still be on speaking terms with them while not actually siding with them.


Brian S. April 23, 2013 at 1:58 pm

I want to comment on two aspects of this piece by the AWL:

1. The factual picture of the situation in Syria that they present (and the sources they use).

2. The political conclusions that they draw from this.

The AWL says that the current situation in Syria “is grim. We can’t escape that reality by imagining conditions and the opposition political forces are better than they really are.” In my view that is right — we need to shed any romanticisation of the situation that assumes that nothing has changed in the character and relation of forces over the last two years and deal with SYRIA AS IT IS.

But the AWL enthusiastically embrace the opposite error – imagining conditions and the opposition forces are WORSE than they really are. (The lesson surely is to stop imagining and start STUDYING.)

Let’s take one example: They say “Binh assures us there have been no massacres carried out by the opposition. Which is not quite true and not equivalent to saying the opposition is not sectarian. Take a small number of recent examples…”

They then offer 7 “recent examples” to refute Binh’s “not quite true” claim. However, not one of these even remotely resembles a “massacre” — indeed, only 4 involve overt actions by rebel forces, and the combined death toll of these four incidents is precisely – 0. Sure, two are oppressive acts of brutality by Islamist forces – but each involving one victim.

The remaining 2 examples are a sad comment on the AWL’s methodology.

1. They state: “The Washington Times reports a ruling from a salafi cleric, Sheikh Yasir al-Ajlawni, that it is legitimate for those fighting for an Islamic state in Syria to rape non-Muslim women.” However, the article in question makes it clear that they are lifting the story from Human Events (“Powerful Conservative Voices”). It turns out to be by professional Islamophobe Raymond Ibrahim (Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center).

This story was propagated across Islamophobe/ rightwing networks, even managing to penetrate a few legitimate outlets like Alternet: “On January 2, AlterNet was one of several outlets that published what turned out to be an article based on a false report. We apologize to our readers for the error.… What’s extraordinary and depressing is that a slew of Web sites picked up the story and ran with it, some claiming legitimacy because others had posted it and clearly no one bothered to do some basic fact-checking. … Perhaps Western journalists are so ignorant of Islam and the cultures in the Middle East that they are willing to believe anything. It’s nothing new — after all, Western notions of the East were always immured in sexual decadence and the allure of harems. That was a trademark of the patronizing Orientalism of the past. Today we have a phobic version of Orientalism — expecting and only seeing and reporting the bad and the ugly. It’s not just ignorance that fans these flames. The Syrian war is being manipulated by all sides and if journalists and their Web sites want to be taken seriously, they need to be bit more savvy about who’s who on the net.”

Words that AWL should take on board – and I await their “apology to our readers for the error.” before I am prepared to take them seriously.

2. Nor is this an isolated slip by the AWL: “Of the 80,000 Christians in Homs almost all have left, some apparently after a door-to-door campaign by Islamists.” A claim that derives from the notorious regime shill: Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix (a source which documents the real pressures on Homs Christians, rather than Mother Agnes’ & the SWL’s “imaginings”.

On the AWL’a political logic:

They say – “the battle over democratic rights is going on now – it is something for us to take sides on now”.

Absolutely right: and what “side” do AWL take ? To abandon the struggle and leave the opposition democrats on their own.

One way of approaching this is to imagine that we have a group of comrades who are on the ground in this “grim” situation. What would we be advising them to do? Pack their bags and catch the next bus for Antakya? (the AWL solution — or maybe that’s to hoist the white flag and look for someone on the other side who wants to “negotiate”)? Or stay in the fight and link up with the non-sectarian and democratic forces ?

To get a balanced perspective on the situation in Syria, I would suggest looking at the regular videos provided by of demonstrations in Syria organised by the civilian opposition e.g. – 200+ each week; and to get a sense of their political complexion count the number of Syrian civil opposition flags and the number of shahada (black jihadi) flags. (Note the half dozen or so that take as their theme the islamist-sectarian concern [NOT] with the protection of Syrian archaeological heritage).

And to see what is going on in communities under the “Al Qaeda” heel” try


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) April 23, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Al-Nusra Front, the local al-Qaeda affiliate

This strikes me as a very dangerous position for anyone on the Left to take.

As a matter of fact, it kisses the ass of imperialism.

First and foremost, al-Qaeda is a brand name promoted by US imperialism. Since the 1st great depression, capitalism has required war expenditures to keep it afloat. War expenditures require enemies. After the fall of the USSR and they didn’t have “communism” to kick around, the “War on [Islamic] Terror” was invented and not as a properly proportioned response to a real but minor threat, but as the new raison d’etre for the whole military industrial complex.

After 911 was blamed on bin Laden and al Qaeda, a whole publicity campaign, complete with mythology was developed around al Qaeda [ maybe ~300 guys? ] as the newest replacement threat to Western civilization. That campaign was about a lot of things US imperialism needed anyway, new military expenditures, curtailment of rights, increased militarization of the police and the whole society, but it was sold based on the al-Qaeda threat.

After the invasion and bombing of at least one country was justified because of the existence on its soil of a non-government armed group numbering in the hundreds with the words “al Qaeda” it became well established as a brand name.

Since it is a secret organization, what exactly al-Qaeda is as a real organization with a specific membership engaged in specific operations can be open to wide speculation and discussion. Whatever the reality is, the vast majority of those who hear the term al Qaeda are responding to the mythology, the branding.

It gets even more murky when it comes of “affiliates of al Qaeda” or “links to al Qaeda.” What does that mean? These are newspeak terms.

Anwar al-Awlaki was a US citizen, he and his 16 year old son were killed by drone strikes but it was okay because Obama said they were al Qaeda, never mine the truth.

Generally, political relationships between allied groups are a bit more complex than the simple mind will allow. I know some that used the site Occupy Together and the inter-occupy conference calls to prove that all the occupy groups were “linked” and part of one grand conspiracy. I mean now really.

So AQI, AQIM become branding tools to justify military action and expansion by the NATO imperialism regardless of the real level of threat.

Now JAN is clearly lead by a reactionary Sunni ideology not unlike al Qaeda and therefore should be opposed, based on those politics, like al Qaeda, but the need for it to be branded as al Qaeda is a requirement solely of US imperialism.

Obama has provided almost nothing beyond fine words in the struggle against the Assad dictatorship, with whom he was running joint torture sites until recently btw, now he is preparing the US public for drone strikes against Assad’s opposition, specifically JAN.

1st he put JAN on the terrorist blacklist. Since JAN hasn’t killed anyone from the US or did anything in the US, this has rested entirely on this so-called al-Qaeda affiliation.

Now the exchange between a leader in ISI and JAN last week raised more questions than it answered for most close observers of Islamists groups in the region.

No such confusion will be found among the imperialist promoters of the “al Qeada” brand. They could admit to only one interpretation or translation, they had the “admission” they were looking for to promote Assad’s cause worldwide:

Al-Nusra Front, the local al-Qaeda affiliate


Arthur April 23, 2013 at 2:15 pm

It doesn’t promote Assad’s cause world wide. It promotes the British government argument for arming other elements in the resistance quickly.


Brian S. April 23, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Or possible US preparations for drone strikes.


Arthur April 24, 2013 at 6:44 am

If they did strike JAN it would commit them to involvement in the war against the regime and provide political cover against the strong oppositin to any such involvement.

Although that’s an interesting thought I see no sign of any such inclination. The only talk of drone strikes I’ve seen are fantasies from the usual suspects.


Brian S. April 24, 2013 at 8:57 am

Doesn’t follow: any such strikes would be over specific issues like access to chemical weapons. But I agree it isn’t likely in the present situation – but certainly not out of the question after the fall of the regime, when the US will be keen to recover some leverage, and there could well be tensions between the exile leadership and the forces on the ground – especially the militias.


Matt April 24, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Bottom line is the U.S. in particular is not going to do anything to cross its Gulf-Saudi clients. That will be even more true *after* the fall of the Assad regime, when it will favor the imposition of a Gulf-backed “moderate Islamic” regime, so long as it is free of the “Al Qaeda” branding taint, to spare the U.S. both the propaganda embarrassment *and* the result in Iraq, where they ended up with a Iran-friendly, Gulf-unfriendly regime.

And “Al Qaeda”- like knockoffs are not reducible (and thus dismissible) as mere figments of U.S. propaganda. It is naive in the extreme to dismiss all democratic-secular objections as “islamophobia” in a tactic to avoid thinking about this as a very real problem in a post Assad Syria. Furthermore imperialism will only intervene on condition of converting this into a sectarian conflict where they will back the “moderate Islamist” Gulf/Saudi promoted factions. (And any “analogy” with N. Ireland doesn’t apply at all).

Promotion of sectarian conflict is the Landis POS POV, note how the other two in the Al Jazzera interview, otherwise diametrically opposed to one another, both agreed against Landis on *this* point. Landis’ raises the specter that an all out Lebanon-like sectarian conflict would pose a “problem” for Israel and imperialism. I call bullshit on that: that is their preferred solution if Assad has to go, what do they care if Syrian society is destroyed in the process. It was the same with Iraq, where Landis also BS’ed about the “boots on the ground” acting “to prevent sectarian conflict”. Really, you mean the U.S. wasn’t acting to promote sectarian war? Landis sucks, don’t listen to him.

And the inference that the U.S. is somehow trying to “save” the Assad regime is totally wrong – they care no more about Assad than they did Gaddafi. See above.

Finally, can you all at least now admit that there was never any chance that Syria could have followed the Libyan path, despite almost identical responses by their respective dictators? There was no chance to promote sectarian conflict in Libya – there is plenty in Syria. And that is what they are working to do.

Not impressed with a take-down of the phony “anti-imperialist” left that seeks to become their “oppositional” mirror image in method. Not much dialectical thought there.


Brian S. April 25, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Hi Matt – Don’t follow all this. ” There was no chance to promote sectarian conflict in Libya – there is plenty in Syria. And that is what they are working to do.” Who is the “they” here?


Pham Binh April 25, 2013 at 2:50 pm

He also seems to be unaware of the fact that the Saudis are arming secular-democratic factions as well:


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) April 25, 2013 at 5:46 pm

What always seems to be missing from the charges that “the Saudis” of “Qatar” are arming “the rebels” is any differentiation between the gov’ts and rich Saudis and Qatar’s (and other Arabs) who are funding opposition groups on their own for a variety of reasons, mostly humanitarian.


Pham Binh April 24, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Anyone persuaded in the least by AWL’s response should check out this video report back from Mayor Mohammad Khairullah:


Bill Kerr April 29, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Not following the Syrian conflict in detail but thought this article was worth reading. It’s behind a firewall so I’ll post it here in full rather than a link:

WMD brinkmanship on the rise over Syria
From: AP April 30, 2013 12:00AM

THE instances in which chemical weapons are alleged to have been used in Syria were purportedly small in scale: nothing along the lines of Saddam Hussein’s 1988 attack in Kurdish Iraq that killed thousands.

That raises the question of who would stand to gain as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the opposition trade blame for the alleged attacks, and proof remains elusive.

Analysts say the answer could lie in the past – the regime has a pattern of gradually introducing a weapon to the conflict to test the international community’s response. The US said last week that intelligence indicated the Syrian military had likely used sarin, a deadly nerve agent, on at least two occasions in the civil war, echoing similar assessments from Israel, France and Britain.

Syria’s rebels accuse the regime of using chemical weapons on at least four occasions, while the government denies the charges and says opposition fighters have used chemical agents in a bid to frame it.

But using chemical weapons to try to force foreign intervention would be a huge gamble for the opposition, and one that could easily backfire.

It undoubtedly would taint the rebellion in the eyes of the international community and seriously strain its credibility.

Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Gulf Research Centre in Geneva, said it also would be difficult for the rebels to successfully employ chemical agents.

“It’s very difficult to weaponise chemical weapons,” he said. “It needs a special warhead, for the artillery a special fuse.”

In the chaos of Syria’s civil war, pinning down definitive proof on the alleged use of weapons of mass destruction is a tricky task with high stakes.

US President Barack Obama has said any use of chemical arms – or the transfer of stockpiles to terrorists – would cross a “red line” and carry “enormous consequences”.

Already, the White House’s announcement that the Syrian regime appears to have used chemical arms has ratcheted up the pressure on Mr Obama to move forcefully. He has sought to temper expectations of a quick US response, saying too little is known about the alleged attacks to take action now.

Analysts suggest that a limited introduction of the weapons, with little ostensible military gain, could be an attempt by the Syrian government to test the West’s resolve while retaining the veil of plausible deniability.

This approach also would allow foreign powers eager to avoid a costly intervention in Syria to remain on the sidelines, while opening the door for the regime to use the weapons down the road.

“If it’s testing the water, and we’re going to turn a blind eye, it could be used widely, repeatedly,” Mr Alani said.

“If you are silent once, you will be silent twice.”

The slow introduction of a weapon to gauge the West’s response fits a pattern of behaviour the Assad regime has demonstrated since the uprising began in March 2011, according to Joseph Holliday, a Syria analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

When largely peaceful protesters initially took to the streets, the regime responded with small arms fire and a wave of arrests. As the government ramped up its violent crackdown, the opposition began to take up arms in late 2011, prompting yet another escalation in force by the regime.

Early last year, government troops began using their heavy weapons, first in a relatively restrained manner on military targets.

“Once they could confirm that there wasn’t going to be a major reaction from the West, they were able to expand the use of artillery,” Mr Holliday said.

By the northern summer last year, government troops were pounding rebellious neighbourhoods with tank fire, field cannons and mortars, but the rebellion was stronger than ever, prompting Mr Assad to turn to his air force, and the regime’s fighter jets and helicopter gunships began to strike military targets in rural areas.

After the government was satisfied that the international community wasn’t going to impose a no-fly zone like NATO did in Libya, Mr Assad unleashed the full might of his air power.

“It all fits the pattern of being able to do this incrementally,” Mr Holliday said.

Syria has never confirmed it has chemical weapons. But it is believed to possess substantial stockpiles of mustard gas and nerve agents, including sarin.

Concern rose last summer when then Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told a news conference that Damascus would use chemical or biological weapons only in case of foreign attack, not against its own people. The ministry then tried to blur the issue, saying it had never acknowledged having such arms.

Weapons of mass destruction are generally viewed as a deterrent against foreign attack and their use a sign of desperation. But Assad appears far from desperate and in fact is operating from a position of relative strength.

While much of northern Syria has fallen to the rebels, the government’s hold on Damascus is firm and its forces have been on the offensive in the capital’s suburbs and in the countryside near the border with Lebanon. In the northwest, regime troops recently opened up a key supply road to soldiers fighting in the embattled city of Aleppo.

Two of the alleged attacks the Syrian opposition blames on the regime took place in and around Aleppo: one in Khan al-Assal west of the city on March 19, and another in the contested Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhood on April 13. The other alleged instances were in Homs on December 23 and in the village of Otaybah outside Damascus on March 19. It is not clear exactly how many people died in those attacks because of the scarcity of credible information.

Opposition activists have posted videos and pictures online of alleged victims of the attacks foaming at the mouth or with blister burns, symptoms consistent with chemical weapons attacks but also other munitions. The Syrian state news agency, after one attack it blamed on rebels, published photos of casualties. None showed signs of physical injuries. Both sides in the civil war, which has killed more than 70,000 people, have tried to use the issue to sway international opinion and look certain to continue that policy.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) April 29, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Funny you should post that, as I just posted this to my blog. I think it will answer all your questions on this subject:

Other Echos of Iraq in NATO response to WMD in Syria

“I will kill them all with chemical weapons. Who is going to say anything? The international community? F*ck them!”
– Al Majid, Saddam Hussein’s Kurdish genocide point man | 26 May 1987

Ever since US President Barack Obama issued his first warning to the Syrian government that the use of chemical weapons in the civil war was a “red-line” that might provoke a US military response, and even more so after reported use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against the opposition in December, March and April, there have been many commentators that have heard echoes of US President George Bush’s false charges that Saddam Hussein was harboring chemical weapons, the excuse what was used to justify an imperialist war against Iraq, in the current discussion of Syria and chemical weapons.

This report from the NY Times reflects that perspective:

The White House cited the Iraq war to justify its wariness of taking action against another Arab country on the basis of incomplete or potentially inaccurate assessments of its weapons of mass destruction. The press secretary, Jay Carney, said the White House would “look at the past for guidance when it comes to the need to be very serious about gathering all the facts, establishing chain of custody, linking evidence of the use of chemical weapons to specific incidents and actions taken by the regime.”

Why this is a false comparison

There are two very fundamental errors made by almost everyone making this comparison. 1) Saddam Hussein was charged with possession of chemical weapons, whereas Bashar al-Assad is being charge with using them to kill Syrians in the present moment. 2) In the past two years Bashar al-Assad has killed tens of thousands of Syrian civilians with many other weapons of mass destruction including cluster bombs, artillery bombardment, air strikes, helicopter gunships and ballistic missiles, there was no such human slaughter taking place when Bush and company were making their charges of simple possession.

To make this simplistic comparison. i.e. false charges of WMD in Iraq circa 2003 and questionable charges of WMD in Syria now, without considering these two factors, means comparing apples to oranges. It means talking utter nonsense while mass murder is taking place.

The fact that the charge here is use and not possession, that it is alleged that people have been murdered by the Assad regime with chemical weapons at a time when he is clearly on a mass murder spree, means that to raise Bush’s false charges against Hussein as a warning against doing anything to stop the ongoing slaughter in Syria is, in fact, to support that slaughter.

Using this false comparison the international “community” has danced around Assad’s use of chemical weapons and even after four attacks killing scores of people and a mountain of other evidence, Obama in now saying that he wants to be absolutely, positively, sure that Assad has used chemical weapons before he declares that his red-line has been crossed. Since there is no serious question as to whether Assad is committing mass murder with just about everything else, this preoccupation with chemical weapons turns into something of a macabre fetish. Consider what we know already.

Evidence of Assad’s Chemical Weapons Use

On Saturday, another of Assad’s ex-generals has said he was ordered to use chemical weapons against the Free Syrian Army. The general, who foiled this ordered chemical attack and defected 15 March 2013, was interviewed by al Arabia: More…


Joe Vaughan May 7, 2013 at 10:07 am

A small but necessary correction:

The Internet owes its origins to ARPANET/DARPANET in the late 1960s. While the National Science Foundation played a major role in the U.S., so did the Defense Department.

The World-Wide Web, which as everybody knows is not the same thing as the Internet per se, came much later (1989). While the free software movement began roughly with Richard Stallman’s GNU (“GNU is Not Unix”) project in 1983, the term “open source” (which is also not precisely the same thing as “free and open software”) did not come into general use until 1998. The original impetus to the Web’s “openness” came from the need among established scientists (e.g. at CERN) to share data among a community, not from rebellious individuals in service to revolution.

For that matter, Stallman himself got his start in a DARPA-funded lab at MIT and would flunk almost any Marxism test you might care to administer.

The origins of what we now call “the internet,” in short, stem from the needs of well-funded and very Establishment researchers, not from bands of technological rebels in the service of revolution. It has come to fruition among some of the hottest contradictions in modern society.

There may in fact be something revolutionary in the kind of data and source-code sharing that is currently being roped awkwardly into the corporatist and statist corral of the modern “Internet”–just as there might be in social media if social media did not have such glaring potential for surveillance and the manipulation of thought and behavior on a mass scale.

But this is not as linear a development as the technologically naive among us would like it to be.

Not the least of the ironies is that “free and open” together with the buzzword “agile” are now being used as tools to further many of the anti-worker initiatives of the corporatist Austerity initiatives.


Arthur May 7, 2013 at 7:44 pm

There was strong early radical leftist involvement from Vietnam movement in Silicon Valley and early BBSes eg People’s Computer Company and “Community Memory”. See early issues of Dr Dobbs, Creative Computing and even Byte magazine.

Young engineers at ARPANET had pretty free rein. TCP/IP protocols were designed to route around bean counters (attempts to impose teleco style tariffs) and taken up by ISPs buying wholesale leased lines to bypass teleco retail data tariffs.

Free Software does involve an unambiguously communist mode of production (“from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”) even though many activists have illusions about capitalism with libertarian politics (Stallman has left politics).

Use for surveillance is a major problem that activists should be aware of. But overwhelming effect has been to enable less manipulated thought and behaviour than with just the mass media.


Arthur April 30, 2013 at 7:10 am

Hope there will be a new thread for recent developments soon. Meanwhile I’ll join Bill in using this Syria thread.

Not clear what’s happening yet, especially as I haven’t been following closely enough. My take on the way the chemical news is being handled is that it points towards the US government actually doing something more serious eg open weapons supply and possibly no fly zone/air capaign.

Basis for that is rule of thumb that they usually give the opposite impression to what they are doing. eg When not doing much they highlighted “non-lethal” aid, “red line” and recognition of SNC to reduce pressure for them to do more (while still preparing for the possibility of doing more).

If that was still the intention I think they would be flatly denying there has been use of chemical weapons. By emphasizing need to study evidence carefully and not jump to hasty conclusions while repeating the “red line” they are preparing public opinion for actually doing something and especially confirming to their base that Obama is still the “anti-Bush” who isn’t going to rely on phony intelligence and is reluctant rather than keen to get involved.

After all chemical tests for use of sarin from samples are conclusive and suggestions it might have come from rebels would be an accusation against closely allied Qatari and Saudi intelligence agencies who would be the only people who could plausibly supply sarin for the purpose of provoking US conflict with Assad. So emphasizing weighing evidence and not jumping to conclusions only gives them a short delay. (Suggestion that rebels could have got it from Assad stocks would be both wildly implausible and emphasize need for urgent involvement to avoid Al Qaeda acuiring WMDs).

Also other media reports have emphasized that Syrian air defenses are a major obstacle to No Fly Zone (unlike Libya). This is true, insofar as No Fly Zone is euphemism for air war campaign as in Libya, but again tends to prepare public opinion for what would have to be a major air campaign likely to include some US and substantial Syrian cvilian casualties. The mobile air defence rockets are likely to be located in urban areas. With adequate intelligence about them from FSA they should be able to take them out, but not without civilian casualties.

Even with 99% suppression of defences they would have to expect some US planes shot down in subsequent air campaign as some defences can be hidden in reserve. If they weren’t contemplating it they wouldn’t want to play up how disinclined the US is to take on anybody that can fight back.

On the other hand, conceivably they could just be “sending a message” to Assad that his probing how much they will tolerate use of chemical weapons will produce a response if it goes further. In that case all he needs to do is stop using them.

An intermediate possibility is that they could fairly easily establish a non-euphemistic No Fly Zone without follow up air campaign. That would not involve extensive civilian casualties or US losses (eg expensive cruise missile strikes on air bases without attempting to take out the mobile air defence rockets in urban areas).

That is the sort of half measure that Obama might incline towards – would not be decisive enough to end it, but still a major step towards actualy ending it and likely to have a huge impact on morale of both sides at relatively low cost to US.


Red Blob April 30, 2013 at 9:16 am

The Syrian opposition have been calling for no fly zones to be implemented over Syria and if anyone with a plane decided to do this I would be supportive but I think that there are some real problems ahead for anyone who tries.
NATO was surprisingly stretched by providing a no fly zone over Libya and my lay reading of the situation is that Libya’s air defenses were not as formidable as those in Iraq (pre invasion) despite the US having continually degraded Iraq’s air defenses between Gulf wars 1 and 2.
Syria’s air defenses have not been degraded and after Israel bombed the Syrian nuclear plant Syria has put some serious money into air defense and they have some state of the art Surface to Air missiles (just a thought)


Pham Binh April 30, 2013 at 9:27 am

The Israelis flew in and out of Syria for an airstrike completely untouched back in January:


Arthur April 30, 2013 at 9:44 am

One surprise sortie isn’t the same as establishing air superiority to provide ground support as in Libya.

I agree with Red Blob that NATO took surprisingly long in Libya while Syria really does have a serious air defence that Libya did not. US and other NATO forces are EXTREMELY sensitive to casualties and will take their time thoroughly suppressing every possible air defence to minimize their own air force losses at the expense of both prolonging the war and “collateral damage” to civilians near suspected air defence sites.


Pham Binh April 30, 2013 at 10:52 am

A Libya-style operation in Syria to help the revolution win is not in their interests. We are more likely to see drone strikes on Jabhat al-Nusrah than strikes on Assad’s forces (I have a suspicion the pseudoleft’s rabid isolationism will be strangely muted if this happens since most of them really want Assad to crush the revolution).


Clay Claiborne April 30, 2013 at 10:41 am

I think you have got it all wrong. Assad is starting to ramp up the use of chemical weapons and the question we need to concern ourselves is what are we, the Left, going to do about this re-introduction of chemical death and a tool of mass suppression.

Are we going to support that re-introduction with so much “Just like Iraq” talk. I’ve had my say here


Pham Binh April 30, 2013 at 11:39 am

“But there’s a reason that the U.S. hasn’t already started the flow of arms. Foreign policy officials haven’t yet figured out how to make sure that the arms flow only to the opposition elements that they support. This is extremely challenging given that the Syrian opposition is so disparate and, in many cases, highly localized.

“For the Obama administration, the questions are these: Will arming the rebellion end up boosting al-Qaeda elements that have sought to involve themselves in the conflict with the hope of emerging with more influence? Or will the popular movement push aside the former regime elements that the U.S. hopes will set up a new state friendly to U.S. interests?

“However these unresolved issues play out, aggressive talk of U.S. military intervention in Washington should raise alarm bells. U.S. intervention, if it happens, won’t advance the cause of freedom in Syria–just as it hasn’t in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere. Syria’s fate must be decided by its own people, free from U.S. interference that invariably comes with strings attached.”

Lenin forbid imperialism “interfere” with counter-revolution…


Arthur April 30, 2013 at 11:46 am

Ok, I’ll stick my neck out. From latest news reports I think its becoming more clear that US will do something significant.

It makes no sense for Obama to keep repeating that it does like the red line has been breached but he’s not rushing to conclusions or action unless there HAS already been a decision to act. The effect is clearly to focus public attention on the issue in a way that can only be extremely damaging to his government if it does not act.

Public opinion is still appalling with only 24% of Americans saying the US has a responsibility to act. BUT that is an increase of 4% in just one month AND it was before news re chemicals got wide publicity. Of the 10% who say they are following news about Syria closely about equal numbers already support and oppose taking action.

So by attracting attention to the issue Obama is clearly going to accelerate the growth in public support for action. It would be surprisingly stupid for an experienced politician to do that accidentally.

Of course its still possible that “action” could be something useless – like a strike just on chemical sites. But that wouldn’t make much sense either.

Anyway now’s a good time to be actively mobilizing public opinion for action. People are more likely to pay attention than before.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) April 30, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Maybe you consider the fact that continuing to claim Assad hasn’t used chemicals was no longer a defensible position? Obama can’t afford to look too out of touch with reality.

I mean what would it look like if he continued to claim not chemical attacks? Hell, there was another one just yesterday. From my blog:

Evidence of Assad’s Chemical Weapons Use

On Saturday, another of Assad’s ex-generals has said he was ordered to use chemical weapons against the Free Syrian Army. The general, who foiled this ordered chemical attack and defected 15 March 2013, was interviewed by al Arabia:

A former army general from the chemical weapons branch, Zahir al-Sakit, said he was instructed to use chemical weapons during a regime battle with the FSA in the southwestern area of Hauran.

He is the second defecting general to claim that he had been ordered to use chemical weapons. On Christmas day last year, Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, at the time the highest ranking member of Assad’s army to defect, did so and he brought with him a gift for the revolution, confirmation that the Syrian Army did use chemical weapons in Homs earlier in December 2012.

We are not talking about some shadowy “Curveball” here. These are officers with a history in the SAA, people the press can interview and their testimony is backed up by a lot of other evidence.

This type of testimony, which is generally neglected, is extremely important because unlike soil samples, videos of victims or even doctor’s diagnoses, it establishes firmly who is using chemical weapons in Syria.

Timeline of Syrian Chemical Attacks

In early December 2012 the FSA started reporting the finding of disturbing amounts of chemical warfare suites and gas masks in the military depots they were seizing.

Also the first week of December, US intelligence reported that Assad had been moving his chemical weapons around and even loading sarin gas into bombs. The White House reissued Obama’s “red-line” warning but dropped the prohibition against the “movement” of “a whole bunch of chemical weapons.”

22 December 2012 | The first use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against its own people took place in Homs. Seven people were killed when a poisonous gas was sprayed in the rebel-held al-Bayyada neighborhood. This use was confirmed by video tapes, witness and doctor testimony and the general who defected days later because he saw things were going where he couldn’t. Obama pretended not to see this first crossing of his red-line even while, in secret, his own State department was saying there was a “compelling case” that Assad’s military forces had used a deadly form of poison gas. In public the White House was saying it had concluded that Assad had not used chemical weapons in Homs.

19 March 2013 | Two attacks appear to have taken place on this day; in Khan al-Assal, a village west of Aleppo and in Ateibeh, a village outside of Damascus. There has been a lot of video testimony and evidence posted about the attack in Ateibeh. For example a man in a clinic bed reported:

“Missiles came and they exploded, and they discharged something like water, but it was dark. It emitted a very foul smell.”

Ateibeh is an area that had already been heavily bombed by the regime in the past two years, an unknown number were killed by chemicals in this attack.

The attack on Khan al-Assal, southwest of Aleppo was a chlorine smelling gas according to this report. Naturally the Assad regime blamed the rebels. Time reported:

The attack killed 31 people, including 10 soldiers, and wounded scores more. In the immediate aftermath, the Syrian government and the opposition traded accusations. The government claimed that “terrorists,” its term for the rebels that have been fighting the regime for two years, had fired a “missile containing a chemical substance” at the village of Khan al-Asal in retaliation for their support of the government. Kasem Saad Eddine, spokesperson for the opposition military council of Aleppo, accused the government of attacking its own people in order to smear the opposition.

13 April 2013 | Two woman and two children died and 16 others affected after two gas bombs where dropped from an army helicopter in Sheikn Maqsoud, Aleppo. While the death toll from this most recent use of chemicals was small, it represented a major escalations of the “In your face factor” because no one but the government is flying helicopters in Syria. It also represents the introduction of a new delivery system. This also produced a lot of video evidence including this, this and this.

Now there is also a bit of physical evident if Times of London reports that soil samples smuggled out of Syria tested positive for sarin are true. The tests were done by UK government scientists at Porton Down after they were retrieve through a MI6 convert mission.

Update 29 April 2013 | Reports of a new possible chemical attack are coming in no sooner than this blog is published. Activists have reported what appears to be a chemical attack in Saraqib, an opposition town in Idlib province. Some of the victims are being treated in Turkey. The cannisters dropped appear to be the same type dropped in Sheikh Maghsoud, Aleppo. EAWorldView has excellent running coverage on this.


Arthur April 30, 2013 at 2:24 pm

“Maybe you consider the fact that continuing to claim Assad hasn’t used chemicals was no longer a defensible position? Obama can’t afford to look too out of touch with reality.”

Point is that he is actually attracting attention by responding personally – calling Putin etc etc. Would leave comments about it to underlings and say as little as possible if intending to do nothing.


Brian S. May 1, 2013 at 9:41 am

I also mentioned in a post last December a report from Le Monde of a use of some sort of chemical agent on 30 November in Daraya. It does look like the regime has been probing and experimenting with them for some time.


Arthur April 30, 2013 at 11:59 am

How about drafting some sort of joint public statement of leftists in support of action for public circulation? Please start a drafting thread (and perhaps a separate organizing thread for suggestions re people and groups to get on board by participation in the drafting).

Should be short and very sharp.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) April 30, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Does anybody know what would be involved in taking out Scud launch facilities? Is it something that could be done with missiles, avoiding the need to take out all air defences or endangering US lives?

I believe the opposition is already demanding this. Maybe this is something we should support.


Pham Binh April 30, 2013 at 1:05 pm

I don’t think they are easy to hit because they look mobile, not too big, and easily hidden:

On the other hand, capturing them can only help:


Pham Binh April 30, 2013 at 1:28 pm

The fact that the Western anti-interventionists are not out in the streets demanding the CIA lift its heavy arms blockade on the Free Syrian Army shows that they have no problem with intervention by U.S. imperialism in the Syrian civil war provided that such intervention helps rather than hurts the Assad regime. They won’t be marching if/when the U.S. uses drones to hit Jabhat al-Nusrah either.


Arthur April 30, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Seriously, they don’t have anybody much to march with.


Arthur May 1, 2013 at 9:02 am

I just came across this 2006 article again and thought others here might find it interesting.


prianikoff May 3, 2013 at 5:15 am
Pham Binh May 3, 2013 at 5:40 am

There seems to be a typo. She spelled Russia with only two of its letters — US.


Pham Binh May 3, 2013 at 2:43 pm

On the so-called super-imposition of armed groups on the peaceful revolution:
“I was witness to the fact that the revolution did not take up arms voluntarily.” — Samar Yazbek


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