No Third Camp in Syria

by Pham Binh on May 6, 2013

Mark Osborn’s rejoinder to my critique of Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s (AWL) national committee resolution on Syria repeats many of the mistakes of that resolution and makes new errors such that it is unclear if AWL would support any revolution, any where, under any circumstances.

Osborne charges that “Have Islamists Hijacked Syria’s Democratic Revolution?” has:

“…serious problems in two main respects. First, because [Binh] 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… ‘victory for the Syrian opposition’ as a general slogan now has a real meaning that would take the struggle for freedom backwards, not forwards. … 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. … 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.”

The second charge is a curious one coming from a Marxist because of its decidedly anti-revolutionary implications.

Firstly, it opens the door to giving critical or backhanded support to Syria’s tyrannical fascist state on the grounds that it is a lesser evil for the working class compared to bloody sectarian or communal partition and social calamity.

Secondly, to repudiate revolutions that lead to uncertainty, chaos, hardship, economic dislocation, bloodshed, and increased criminality because the state is smashed is to repudiate revolution as such. While Marx saw revolutions as the locomotive of history, AWL seems to see them as little more than trainwrecks.

In the space of two years, the Russian revolution of 1917 saw the working class nearly destroyed by famine, disease, and economic collapse; the soviet government cut rations for workers to 300 calories per day in 1918; 14 foreign armies invaded and three White armies formed to fight the new government. Economic collapse in the form of de-industrialization was one of the practical consequences of putting all power into the hands of worker and peasant soviets. In material terms, the masses were worse off under soviet rule than under both the Provisional Government and the Tsar.

Would AWL have opposed “all power to the soviets” as a slogan in 1917 on the same basis as it opposes “victory to the Syrian opposition” in 2013? If so, AWL is consistently anti-revolutionary; if not, AWL is anti-revolutionary on an arbitrary, case-by-case basis.

“You can play the Iraq card and the Lebanon card, you can shuffle all the cards you have, but let us tell you Bashar: we, the people, shall arrange the cards the way we want. We shall be the victorious party whatever you do.” — April 26, 2013 Kafranbel, Syria

Confronted with overwhelming evidence that opposition-controlled areas are not the chaotic lawless sectarian Islamist nightmare AWL is certain all of Syria will turn into once the regime is finished, Osborn is forced to buttress AWL’s position with half-truths and flagrant falsehoods.

For example, Osborn mentions conflicts between Kurdish militias and Islamist and Free Syrian Army (FSA) units but omits their cooperation. Readers of his piece would be stunned to learn that the People’s Protection Committees (YPG), the armed component of Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), is collaborating with elements of the FSA to defeat the regime. Such collaboration is the basis for the post-Assad democratic order AWL criticizes me for not pontificating on, as if the matter were up to me to decide and not the forces fighting and organizing on the ground.

Osborne writes:

“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.”

He then provides seven examples, as if individual incidents disprove the opposition’s generally anti-sectarian character. Unfortunately, every example he uses is flawed.

Christian FSA unit in Hama

Example 1 regarding summary executions concerns human rights abuses, not sectarianism. Examples 2, 3, and 4 concern Islamism, not sectarianism. Example 5 is an individual Alawi’s attitude towards the opposition. Example 6 of a door-to-door campaign by Islamists to drive out 80,000 Christians from Homs is almost certainly a lie. Example 7 is a U.N. report lamenting car bombings in Shia and Allawi neighborhoods. The U.N. evidently thinks the opposition sectarian because its military operations are not confined exclusively to Sunni areas. That Osborn repeats this uncritically instead of investigating whether minority neighborhoods are being targeted disproportionately indicates that AWL (like CWI) is forcing the facts to fit the party line rather than deriving the party line from the facts, although a blatant falsehood was used in example 3 for good measure (the claim that a Syrian cleric ruled it legitimate to rape non-Muslim women was exposed as a lie months ago).

Osborne rejects the notion that the makeshift Islamist courts in opposition areas have not acted in a sectarian manner thus far. Based on what? Nothing. He presents not a shred of evidence to contest my claim and simply proclaims this reality to be “unlikely.”

Subjective suppositions with no factual basis are the stock and trade of bourgeois pundits and partisan hacks, not revolutionaries.

Osborne’s first charge concerning my complacency towards Islamism and sectarianism is demonstrably false. In my initial article, I argued that “sectarianism is an ongoing problem for and a constant danger to the revolution.”

How could anyone misconstrue this as complacency?

Furthermore, I argued that progressives abroad should strive might and main to aid secular-democratic forces in Syria to help counterbalance the Islamists and that within Syria these forces should divide the Islamist camp by allying with the moderates who support free elections to fight the extremists who oppose them.

A call to action and a strategy to combat Islamism are hardly signs of complacency.

If anyone is guilty of complacency over Islamism in Syria, it is AWL which limits itself to doom-and-gloom prognostications that can only breed despair, cynicism, and inaction among Syria’s secular democrats when their task is to fight the Islamists for hegemony over the direction and outcome of the fight to destroy the regime as if their lives depend on it – because they do. These forces would do well to adapt Marx’s 1850 strategic line of march to deal with the Islamist forces they find themselves fighting next to today: “The relationship of the revolutionary workers’ party to the petty-bourgeois democrats is this: it cooperates with them against the party which they aim to overthrow; it opposes them wherever they wish to secure their own position.”

Instead of summoning revolutionaries to struggle, AWL summons them to resignation while charging advocates of an activist, Marxist policy of complacency.

The contradictions of AWL’s “revolutionary” defeatism become apparent when we compare Osborne’s rejection of the Marxist stages approach to understanding revolutions with what side AWL says it supports in Syria. As he puts it:

“[W]hen 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 battle over democratic rights is going on now in opposition-held areas (as I stated) and yes, we must take a side. What side does AWL take? Their national committee resolution says, “We specifically back democratic and working-class elements.” Who or what are these elements?

“There may be small groups within the opposition of a democratic and working-class character. They are the people with the key to the future. … If those democratic and working-class groups exist, we don’t know about them.”

So AWL backs a side that in their view does not exist or that exists only in the realm of their imagination rather than in the real, material world. This highlights the fatal flaw of so-called “third camp” politics: between revolution and counter-revolution there is no third way. Insisting otherwise leads inevitably to mysticism and idealism.

Syria’s wage laborers have nothing to lose from the end of the regime but their chains; their interests demand the opposition win.


“There are only 2 sects in Syria: Those who support freedom and those who support the regime. We want a civil and democratic country for all.”

{ 228 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl Davidson May 6, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Bizarre…All this to urge ‘our own’ imperialists to intervene on the side in a civil war it or we deem appropriate to overthrow the government of a sovereign state in the that is no threat to us. When the Shachtmanites did this vis-a-vis Vietnam and Hitchens did it regard the tyrant Saddam, it was roundly denounced as social-imperialist. Bit I guess every generation has to learn certain lessons anew the hard way.

We as a left have zero aid to give Syria directly, save one of two things: to urge Obama to go to war, or to urge him not to go to war. I’ll stick in the latter camp. For the rest of you on the other side, you might read up on the old folk take about B’rer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. One you go down this road, it’s not so easy turning back, even if you want to, and Hitch didn’t, to his everlasting shame, even if rooted in the best of ‘democratic’ and ‘revolutionary’ intentions.


Pham Binh May 6, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I seem to have missed the part of this article that ” urge[d] ‘our own’ imperialists to intervene on the side in a civil war it or we deem appropriate to overthrow the government of a sovereign state in the that is no threat to us.” Can you find it for me?


Arthur May 6, 2013 at 4:23 pm

“…overthrow the government of a sovereign state in the that is no threat to us…”

This is the classical outlook of American isolationists. Unambiguously “us” refers to the USA. It simply isn’t within Carl’s conception of the world to view the people of Syria as part of “we” or to view any sovereign state, no matter how viciously it massacres its people as an enemy that “we” might want to overthrow.


Aaron Aarons May 6, 2013 at 6:48 pm

In a way I almost agree with Arthur Dent here. The biggest problem with Syria since 1970, from a global left point of view, is that it has been so little a threat to the U.S. or its clients and has, at times, aided them in important ways. But it still is, thanks to its alliance with Iran and its support for Hezbollah, an impediment to total domination of the region by the U.S., Israel, and the Sunni monarchies.

Carl Davidson, like the AWL, takes the correct position on imperialist intervention, but for incorrect reasons.


Pham Binh May 6, 2013 at 7:54 pm

You obviously know nothing about AWL’s positions regarding imperialist intervention because they and I were in total agreement on the Libyan revolution after NATO jumped in. Besides, this article and the issues in the exchange involved have zero to do with imperialist intervention (or Bangladesh, for that matter). Tangential comments on unrelated topics will not be approved.


Aaron Aarons May 7, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Maybe my comment (that you apparently blocked) about the Islamists in Bangladesh was only marginally related to this discussion regarding the Islamists in Syria, but my comment above is closely related to the comments made by Carl Davidson and Arthur Dent — comments you did not, apparently, choose to call ‘tangential’ or ‘unrelated’. I have noticed, though, that even directly refuting assertions you yourself make is often, in your opinion, ‘unrelated’.

If there is to be moderation of comments, which may well be appropriate, should it really be done by someone who is heavily involved in the discussion at hand?


Pham Binh May 7, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Again, this article challenging AWL’s characterizations of the Syrian revolution and the forces involved with it has nothing to do with the question of imperialist intervention. I queried Davidson because he too was completely off-topic in this regard.

I don’t have a problem debating that issue, but it belongs in the proper thread, of which there are plenty:

Take your pick.


Aaron Aarons May 7, 2013 at 12:57 pm

I wasn’t writing about imperialist intervention. I was responding to Carl Davidson’s comment and refuting the politics behind it. If I had posted that response anywhere else, it really would have been ‘unrelated’.


Aaron Aarons May 7, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I’m not at all surprised that the AWL supported imperialist intervention in Libya, given both their support for Zionism and their hostility to the Irish Republican struggle against Britain and Protestant supremacy. Rather, I was surprised that they seemed to be against it in Syria.

I’ll admit, though, that I haven’t followed them closely, since I consider them to be hardly more a part of the left than the ‘last superpower’ grouplet is.


Pham Binh May 7, 2013 at 12:41 pm

“Rather, I was surprised that they seemed to be against it in Syria.”

They aren’t.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) May 12, 2013 at 11:31 pm

We as a left have zero aid to give Syria directly, save one of two things: to urge Obama to go to war, or to urge him not to go to war.

So in your view the only thing revolutionaries outside of Syria can do is to try to influence “our own” bourgeois to do something. I guess that leaves activists not in Syria or the US with no options.

Well, if you want to take credit for helping to convince Obama to do nothing in the case of Syria and give me some credit for helping to convince him to provide some air cover for the Libyan Revolution, that is fine with me except it is complete BS. The US imperialist will do what they think is best for them and the US Left will have virtually no influence on that. Obama has adopted a policy of non-intervention in Syria, not because he has come over to your side. You are on the same side on this question because you have come over to his.

Not only is this an incredibly limited view of how activist internationally can support the these revolutions. it is just wrong. Activists around the world have been finding ways to help the Syrian people and their revolution directly in many ways.

For example, when Assad shut down the Internet last week, a lot of technical cadre immediate swung into action and some alternative methods of access were up and running within hours.

This was only the second time Assad has tried to turn off the Internet in Syria. I believe he hasn’t tried it more because he saw how well that tactic worked for Mubarak and Qaddafi. and the reason it didn’t work for them is that there were a lot of activists that didn’t know they were limited to lobbying “their own” bourgeois and took direct action to make sure the communications nets stayed up regardless.

There are many other examples of activist supporting the struggles in MENA but you wouldn’t know about them because you haven’t really bothered to investigate and discover how revolutions can be supported internationally in the 21thC.


bill j May 7, 2013 at 2:49 am

Basically the AWL tail Israeli foreign policy and then dress it up in a kind of “Marxist” language.
Once you know that there’s nothing more to say.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) May 12, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Israel like Assad.


PatrickSMcNally May 7, 2013 at 7:17 am

So supposedly the UN’s Carla del Ponte claims that the Syrian rebels have been using sarin gas. Are there any refutations of this yet or is the matter in limbo?


Arthur May 7, 2013 at 9:49 am

Limbo, though:

1. Unamed US officials have been pointing out that its highly unlikely anybody but regime has capabiity and intention and speculated that motive is political (ie to muddy the waters against intervention).

2. Source of rumour has said it is not a confirmed finding but tentative evidence.

Its theoretically conceivable as Aum Shinrikyo sect used Sarin in Tokyo subway attack and there were reports that Jabhat Al Nusra/Al Qaeda in Iraq attempted to use Sarin in Iraq:

Far more limely to be regime deception and/or Carla del Ponte wanting to be deceived.


Richard Estes May 7, 2013 at 12:21 pm

“Unamed US officials have been pointing out that its highly unlikely anybody but regime has capabiity and intention and speculated that motive is political (ie to muddy the waters against intervention).”

Yeah, we all know how reliable they are.


Pham Binh May 7, 2013 at 12:38 pm

They are right and Carla del Ponte is wrong.

Claiborne’s write-up is definitive:

This is Houla all over again — the lie gets out, the “left” spreads it, the facts contradict the lie, the “left” moves on as if nothing happened or as if they didn’t have a hand in spread the lie.


Richard Estes May 7, 2013 at 6:17 pm

The article is an extensive attack upon the credibility of Carla del Ponte. It tells me very little, except for a link to a blog post by someone I don’t know, as to whether the “unnamed US officials” are right or wrong.

There are difficulties in reportage from Syria that should not be discounted, as noted here in this interview of Rania Abouzeid of Time Magazine:

Similarly, characterizing the conflict as one in which the regime persists solely through terror has it problems, too, as noted by Abouzeid:

“The regime has support – both inside Syria and internationally. Russia, China, Iran and Hizballah are powerful allies that have been assisting the regime through a variety of means, including providing weapons and ammunition, fighting men and military advisors, and political cover.

There are also obviously Syrians who support the regime either because they believe in its Baathist secular ideology, benefit from its patronage or don’t have confidence in Assad’s opponents and fear what may come next. They should not be discounted.

It’s true that Alawites occupy a significant chunk of the upper echelons of the military because the Assads built a formidable clan-based Alawite sub-structure within the security and armed forces. It’s also true that there are many Sunni soldiers still fighting for the regime, as well as men from other sects. The armed forces remain with the regime. Despite the steady flow of defections, we have not seen the large-scale defection of an entire unit for example.

Just a point about sectarianism, recall that when the Syrian uprising kicked off more than two years ago, it was a popular protest against a regime, not a Sunni fight against the country’s Alawite leader. It’s too simplistic to describe this war in purely sectarian terms – as Sunnis vs. Alawites etc.

Having said that, there is a growing sectarian component to the fighting, especially after mass killings like Houla, and most recently Banyas and Bayda. War is dehumanizing, and civil wars tend to magnify differences between people who were once neighbors, by highlighting markers like sect, social class, tribal affiliation, rural vs. urban, town vs. town, as a means to confirm the “otherness” of the enemy. It is ugly, and terribly sad.”

Now, cue Arthur to characterize me as Baathist apologist, as he did last week.


Arthur May 7, 2013 at 8:04 pm

I assume you are referring to my response to your Baathist propaganda about US supported Shia death squads on April 28:

I would not characterize your present observation that there are Syrians who support the regime and that there is a growing sectarian component in the opposition the same way.

Both are true, unlike your relaying propaganda about US supported Shia death squads.

On the other hand, it’s probably not a coincidence that you are inclined to believe stories against opponents of the “secular” Baathists in both Iraq and Syria.

If you want to avoid creating an impression that you might be an apologist for Baathists how about referring to them as the “fascist Baath” rather than as the “secular Baath”?


Richard Estes May 8, 2013 at 1:08 pm

“On the other hand, it’s probably not a coincidence that you are inclined to believe stories against opponents of the “secular” Baathists in both Iraq and Syria.”

This gets really tiresome.


Aaron Aarons May 10, 2013 at 12:23 pm

It’s far from clear that the term, ‘fascism’, that originated with the Italian and European extra-parliamentary right-wing movements, and was then also applied to the militantly imperialist governments that came into existence from the seizure of power by such groups, should be applied to the authoritarian regimes that exist or existed in semi-colonial Syria and Iraq.

But calling the well-documented charges of Shia death squads in the years following the imperialist invasion of Iraq “Baathist propaganda” is typical of the way imperialist mouthpieces dismiss exposures of their crimes.


Pham Binh May 7, 2013 at 8:43 pm

This interview corresponds pretty closely with my views and the arguments I’ve put forward re: Islamism, Western intervention, and the character of the opposition. The pressure not to say anything critical of the opposition is something I experienced as part of OWS because so much attention was already being focused on its myriad of mistakes and shortcomings by the bourgeois press.


Richard Estes May 8, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Interestingly, Abouzeid’s perspective about a post-Assad Syria struck me as somewhat close to yours, as she does not believe that it will be monolithically Islamic in character, although, unlike you, she does not express any prospects for an ongoing, positive transformation:

” . . . . . . The fall of the regime will not be the end. There has long been talk of a “revolution after the revolution,” of infighting within rebel ranks, between warlords vying for power, territory, riches; between groups with ideological, sectarian or ethnic differences; of revenge killings; general lawlessness; a country that is a proxy battleground for the region’s many players. Some of these elements are already present. Inshallah, I am wrong. The Syrian people deserve better, much better.”


Pham Binh May 8, 2013 at 1:44 pm

“…unlike you, she does not express any prospects for an ongoing, positive transformation…”

The two (positive transformation and all the negatives she mentions) are not contradictory; one is not possible without the other.

The biggest and scariest problem isn’t what will happen after Assad in Syria where some form of democratic self-rule is almost inevitable but what will happen in Lebanon once a severely bloodied but nonetheless fanatical Hezbollah that no longer has the direct military and financial support of Damascus comes up against an increasingly confident Sunni Lebanon community buoyed by the end of its nemesis next door.


Richard Estes May 8, 2013 at 2:33 pm

” . . . . . a severely bloodied but nonetheless fanatical Hezbollah that no longer has the direct military and financial support of Damascus.”

Rightly or wrongly, Hezbollah has a mass base among the Shia, and has participated in the Lebanese political process for decades, a process designed along communal, sectarian lines that do not reflect the actual Shia population of the country. Much like Bahrain (as well as the mixed race people of Venezuela), the Shia are also stereotyped by Sunnis and poor, crude and socially inferior. Hezbollah is also known for leading the resistance to the Israeli occupation of the south for decades. Both Hezbollah and March 14 manipulate sectarian conflict, as both promote neoliberal economic policies.

Accordingly any left perspective on Lebanon should take into account the inferior social status and impoverishment of the Shia as a significant factor, instead of evaluating it in geopolitical terms. Supporting March 14 against Hezbollah would be a serious mistake in this regard, but any failure to engage this socioeconomic dimension will probably contribute to a catastrophic outcome.


Pham Binh May 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm
Richard Estes May 8, 2013 at 3:56 pm

even if true (I’ve seen a number of criticisms of Barnard’s coverage, and, note that the by-line is Beirut with no indication that Barnard did anything other than talk on the phone with people from there), this doesn’t dispute any of my analysis, just as the fact that KMT units frequently attacked CCP ones during the united front didn’t discredit the correctness of the policy

if the left follows a policy based upon the kind of geopolitical perspective expressed by Barnard, there is really no need for it, there are plenty of liberals and neo-conservatives who have already occupied the field

beyond this, there is a clear purpose of sectarianism embedded within that perspective, and runs counter to what should be a social, class based perspective from the ground up

supporting March 14 as an ally of the Syrian revolution will only intensify that sectarianism, and place the left on the side of suppressing the poor Shia communities of Lebanon

Pham Binh May 10, 2013 at 11:49 am

No one here has suggested “supporting March 14 as an ally of the Syrian revolution” “against Hezbollah,” so I’m not sure why you keep raising it. The fault lines are where they are regardless of where we’d like them to be. Eventually Hezbollah will either split or be severely debilitated (or both) by pouring its political capital, resources, weapons, and shock troops down Assad’s sinkhole in Syria and their rivals/competitors in Lebanon are bound to take advantage of this new weakness, as will Israel. All the more reason for Hassan Nasrallah to abandon his policy of killing Syrians and Palestinians and thrust his daggers at Israel instead.

Richard Estes May 10, 2013 at 12:41 pm

This assumes that Hezbollah is actually killing Syrians. For me, Anne Barnard is a particularly poor source for substantiating it because of her own poor reporting practices (coverage from Beirut, excessive dependent upon WINEP sources) as well as the mediocre, ideologically driven journalism of the New York Times. I don’t necessary discount it in all circumstances, but I generally rely upon other sources (the Guardian, for all its flaws, usually sends people to cover stories on site instead of by Twitter, YouTube and cell phone) and only accept New York Times accounts when they are written and sourced in such a way as to justify it. I don’t even visit the site much anymore, I usually encounter Times articles through links posted by others that I consider politically reliable (as I did in this instance with you).

Perhaps, there are other sources that have been posted on these Syria threads that I don’t recall (the Syrian threads are, after all, not my priority here), but, again, I’d like to see something other than Barnard.

As to the larger point, you have a tendency to characterize Hezbollah with sweeping rhetoric, like “nonetheless fanatical Hezbollah”. In fact, Hezbollah is socially and politically sophisticated, and conducts itself in a calculated manner, which explains its mass base, particularly among working class Shia. The challenge for the left is how to reach them. This was always the priority for the CCP during the united front, and it should be the priority now. In Lebanon, as in Iran, the left faces the dilemma of how to persuade the working class to abandon the political parties of Political Islam.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily conflict with support for the Syrian resistance, but it does suggest understanding Hezbollah in light of its history, such as, for example, the fact that it was hostile to Assad and Syria for many years. For this reason, as well as its history of political pragmatism, if Hezbollah is assisting the Syrian military it is therefore unlikely to pour
“its political capital, resources, weapons, and shock troops down Assad’s sinkhole in Syria.” After all, if you can perceive this peril, I would assume that Hezbollah did quite some time ago. Furthermore, to the extent that Hezbollah did dedicate a lot of resources to this effort, I would subjectively interpret it as an indication that Hezbollah had concluded that Assad was going to prevail, and wanted to get credit for being on the winning side at the last minute.

There is a belief that Hezbollah requires the survival of Assad to ensure its survival. For the reasons mentioned here, I don’t share that view.

Lastly, I emphasize March 14, because there is an implication from the criticism of Hezbollah that March 14 would be preferable to Hezbollah, and should be supported for this reason. Given the notorious history of March 14 (the involvement of the Phalange, with its neo-fascist past), that would be a grievous error, as neither will facilitate the objectives of the left. Your comment about to the effect that Hezbollah should focus up0n Israel instead is apt. If Israel intensifies its involvement in Syria, it applies equally to the Syrian government and the Syrian resistance.

Aaron Aarons May 10, 2013 at 1:33 pm

In response to Richard Estes:

Regardless of what thinks of the CCP’s ‘united front’ with the KMT during the Japanese occupation, there is no analogy with anything happening in Syria. In particular, there is absolutely no armed left, anti-capitalist, anti-landlord force in Syria that is analogous to the CCP, while the closest thing in social and political terms to the KMT may be the Syrian government itself. Shia Hezbollah is fighting Sunni-dominated Syrian insurgents for a combination of mostly-defensive sectarian reasons and, probably mainly, for realpolitik, geopolitical, reasons. I see no evidence that Hezbollah is attacking Sunnis in general.

Pham Binh May 12, 2013 at 6:50 am

“This assumes that Hezbollah is actually killing

Who do you think Hezbollah is killing fighting alongside
Assad’s forces in Syria? Israelis?

Brian S. May 8, 2013 at 7:39 am

Thanks for the link Richard. This is one of a series of interviews abu-Khalil is doing with people who have real knowledge of Syria (a previous one was with the jihadist expert Aron Lund) – so far none of them is giving him the answers he would like -but credit to him for giving them air time anyway.
I get the impression Richard that you think the contents of this interview constitute a point agains someone or other on Northstar? Could you explain? Rania Abouzeid is one of the main sources I use in trying to understand Syria, and there’s nothing in this interview that I haven’t said myself either here or in other contexts.
On your response to Clay’s comments on Carla del Ponte’s claims – your reaction looks to me rather blinkered. Del Ponte’s credibility is hardly a side issue, since she is the only person (apart from the Syrian government) to have made such claims. You say that “It tells me very little, except for a link to a blog post by someone I don’t know” So you already knew that the incident del Ponte was referring to was the 19 March Khan al-Assal attack? And yet you are unfamiliar with James Miller of EAWorld View? Something here doesn’t compute.


Richard Estes May 8, 2013 at 1:31 pm

I thought I was referred to the article because it established that the government was responsible for the attack. Whatever one thinks of del Ponte, it doesn’t do that. As for the interview, I was more interested in the overall insight of someone knowledgeable about the situation. I quoted Abouzeid about the pillars of support for the regime, because, if the intention is to get rid of it, her remarks suggest that a political as well as military effort is necessary (much like the CCP outreach during the united front against Japan).

Her statement about the failure of any large-scale military defection is telling. This happened frequently, under admittedly different circumstances, in China in the 1930s. The CCP effort is significant in this context, however, because it refused to paint all supporters of the KMT as “die-hards”, identifying those that it believed could be persuaded to act passively to the CCP’s benefit, act in support of the CCP in certain circumstances while publicly maintaining a posture of KMT affiliation or abandon the KMT entirely. The success of this CCP approach played a prominent role in the later 1949 victory.

Similarly, if the resistance is characterizing all support for Assad as “die-hard”, and therefore requiring armed resistance, it will make this into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whether it is doing so, or whether it is engaging in this sort of sophisticated political effort, I can’t say. But that is why I posted the comment.


Arthur May 8, 2013 at 11:43 pm

Yes, there are huge dangers of sectarian conflict, extending to Lebanon (and Iraq). Presumably the Saudi regime hopes to divert the democratic revolution that also threatens them into a sectarian (and national Arab/Persian) conflict that does not.

This makes Western involvement all the more important. NATO does not have an interest in promoting sectarian conflict.


Matt May 10, 2013 at 4:38 pm

I generally agree with the thrust of Binh’s views as presented here. Two critical points:

– No reference to imperialism(s), as mentioned. This could imply a difference between Binh’s and Arthur’s at least. They both also appear to acknowledge that the involvement of outside powers such as the Gulf/Saudis is essentially reactionary in the promotion of sectarian Islamism. Arthur, though, attempts to jujitsu this into yet another reason to support the intervention of his favorite all-powerful condescending savior, a monolithically conceived “West”, expressing always a unitary interest, as in “NATO does not have an interest in promoting sectarian conflict”. Really, who says? NATO is comprised of various powers with varying interests: The U.S., the western Europeans, the “central Europeans” led by Germany, Turkey. Turkey, probably the outsider playing the most “independent” role, is actively aiding and abetting Islamic sectarianism by working closely with the Gulf States. Among these latter, there is also a divergence of interest expressed in hostility to Egypt-centered “Muslim Brotherhood”-style Islamism by Riyadh, but also the necessity to put distance between those too close to the Al Qaeda style, who are also a political danger to the monarchy. Hence the Gulf states have moved more to the fore than the Saudis here. But the NATO power the U.S. (and Britain) is itself the life and death backer of these very same Gulf states, and the Saudis. A tangled web indeed.

Back to the so-called “West” and NATO, Turkey has been mentioned, Germany is hands off (as it was in Iraq) and the western Euros (Britain, France) and the U.S. are separately jockeying to back their own “winner”, and they may both converge with Turkey in backing a “moderate Islamist” victory. However they both have different relation to Israel. Question is, “which moderate Islamists”? Answer unknown yet. No convergence here. No unity here.

But it is patently false to 1) project a “unity” and 2) to claim on this basis that “they” do “not have an interest in promoting sectarian conflict.” The U.S., a NATO member acting outside of NATO, but within the UN, in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, an act that WRECKED that country, also oversaw a sectarian civil war where it sat back and played “regulator” acting OTOH against any Shia force – such as the Mahdi Army – that sought to redirect sectarian conflict against the U.S. itself, while acting in the same way against Sunnis. The U.S. directly attacked forces aimed at it; it left alone or “refereed” forces aimed at each other. That’s called promoting sectarian conflict – by a NATO power. With UN sanction.

Same in the Soviet-Afghan War. Same in Central America. Same in S.E. Asia. In general Britain and the U.S. have a long long history of promoting sectarian conflict. It was the effing calling card of British imperialism -ARTHUR! So stop your blatant misrepresentation of the historical record, one that continues to be made into the present. Why shouldn’t it be? The “Ulster strategy” continues to be played today, while Pontius Pilate washes his hands, with the all too eager assistance of his body servant, Arthur.

In general, continued ignorance of the relation of Syrian to Iraqi events past and present is still a marked weakness of the Binh POV.

The other is the characterization of the Assad regime as “fascist” I think this is driven more by a moralizing emotionalism than by objectivity. As such it is as dialectically one-sided at those of its erstwhile “counter-hegemonist” opponents on the Left. “Fascism” has a specific meaning as a characterization – otherwise, if ogre-ish killing of a lot of people is the main criterion, then the Stalin regime would, absurdly enough, would have to be characterized as “fascist”, just as liberals do. The negative effects of this approach can already be seen in how its is coloring the view of Hezbollah, in danger of being one-dimensionally demonized as an “enemy” in Syria. But in fact Syria is even more conjoined with Lebanon and Palestine than with Iraq. One can’t both do united front in Lebanon against Israel and oppose the same force in Syria. Problem, problem. The key is that the Assad regime itself has not or is not in any “united front” against Israel. So neutrality on Hezbollah in Syria – and the same policy should be demanded with Hezbollah itself in Syria.


Pham Binh May 10, 2013 at 5:18 pm

@HomsiAnarchist on Assad’s fascism:

Arthur May 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Wrong on all points:

1. The Baath is a lineal descendant of the various movements in Syria that emulated European fascism in the 1930s.

Here’s some pictures of their “steel shirts” giving the fascist salute:

More directly they arose out of the “Syria Committee to Help Iraq” which sent weapons and volunteers to support the pro-Axis coup in Baghdad.

Similar formations in other parts of the region were the Phalange in Lebanon (directly named after Franco’s party in Spain) and Jabotinsky;s Zionist Revisionists in Palestine (now Likud).

2. Sectarians from the gulf (not necessarily the governments) are funding the most sectarian elements, including Al Qaeda. Qatar mainly supports much less sectarian Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey is Sunni but not interested in fanning sectarianism at all. NATO including US actively hostile to sectarianism (also in Iraq – far more Sunnis ended up wanting US forces to stay than Shia when they were told to leave as Sunnis had already lost civil war with Shia and were being protected from death squad revenge attacks by US troops – while the pro-Sadaam pseudleft pretended the opposite).

3. At present there are no plans for foreign troops at all. But any settlement is likely to need them to separate the two sides as has often been necessary elsewhere. Egyptian, Jordanian and Turkish troops might be available. But they are all Sunni (and although Turkey has less scope to interfere and dominate since it is not Arab, it was once the Ottoman ruler). So NATO (or UN) command of any such force could be necessary to reassure Alawites and other minorities.

4. Simple extrapolations from past behaviour are not much help for understanding what’s going on. Neither the British, French, American or Ottoman empires have any hope of ruling these countries and even the Americans are totally convinced about that since Vietnam. (You may not have noticed but they held free elections and withdrew from Iraq as promised).

Aaron Aarons May 12, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Arthur Dent writes:

Neither the British, French, American or Ottoman empires have any hope of ruling these countries and even the Americans are totally convinced about that since Vietnam. (You may not have noticed but they held free elections and withdrew from Iraq as promised).

The U.S. wasn’t trying to rule Vietnam as an open colony, but rather as a ‘democratic’ neo-colony after crushing the left. The attempt turned out to be costly to the U.S. ruling class — politically, militarily and economically. But, thanks to the massive destruction they caused in Vietnam, including the massive destruction caused by the U.S.-backed Chinese invasion of Vietnam in 1979, and the embargo the U.S. was able to impose on that country for decades afterwards, Vietnam was not able to recover from that war and could not maintain its independence of imperialism after the counter-revolutionary collapse of the USSR.

The Vietnam experience didn’t stop the US. from militarily intervening in weaker countries — e.g., directly in Grenada in 1983 and, through proxies, throughout Central America in the 1980’s. They also twice overthrew a reformist left government in Haiti, the second time (in 2004) by just sending in the Marines to kidnap the popular, elected president and drop him off in Central Africa.

So its clear that the U.S. ruling class has, in fact, every intention of ruling, through puppets or clients and to the extent possible, just about every country anywhere in the world, while the lesser imperialist powers do their best to get their share of the benefits, sometimes on their own with U.S. support and sometimes as junior partners of the U.S..

Getting back to Iraq, Arthur Dent, Patrick Muldowney and their ‘leftist’ neocon gang continue to defend imperialist devastation and domination of Iraq by studiously refusing to talk about things like the Bremer Orders, mercenaries, Abu Ghraib, etc., etc.. For them, at least when it serves their purposes, formalities like elections matter a lot more than the nature of actual power. In other words, they are, among other things, exemplars of Parliamentary Cretinism.

Brian S. May 12, 2013 at 2:17 pm

@Richard E: Clay’s article was important because if you do an internet search you will find dozens (probably hundreds) of posts proclaiming that “the UN” has decided that the Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons. Clay’s article is one of the view pieces to counter that misinformation.
On Rania Abouzeid’s interview: my apologies if I misread your intentions.
As I said, I regard Abouzeid as one of the two finest reporters covering Syria. Her responses in this interview provide one of the best short summaries of the Syrian situation.
On the particular issues you raise:
1. Military defections: she notes that while there have been a large number of small group defections (the FSA was built out of them) there have not been any defections “of an entire unit”.This can be explained by the following factors:
a. the Syrian army is built around a sectarian architecture – while the rank-and-file contain many Sunni conscripts most of the operational commanders (Captains and Majors) are Alawite: and these ranks are key to any collective action by military units; b.there is a “dirty” hierarchy – the most brutal actions are carried out by the paramilitary shabiha; then by the professional security detachments; ordinary army units are involved as a last resort, in a support role for attacks on civilians, or for direct combat with opposition fighters.
c. the conscript units are treated as unreliable: on paper the regime has 200 ooo regular soldiers facing an enemy half that size and with vastly inferior weaponry : if the regime could deploy all those forces the opposition wouldn’t last the weekend – but it can’t.
2. the political weakness of the opposition: I agree – but that reflects the context from which they have emerged, This is a country where independent political activity has been largely suppressed for more than a generation. There simply are no individuals in the current generation of oppositionists with real political experience, and few in the older generation. There are perhaps 3 or 4 significant figures in the current Syrian opposition – and only one of those is involved in the leadership of the National Coalition (Suhair Atassi – mentioned by Abouzeid). The armed struggle is a veritable diy “people’s revolution” – most of those leading it were, until two years ago, farmers, shopkeepers, truck drivers, house painters. They have manged to teach themselves quite a bit about military strategy -but they haven’t had a lot of time in which to do serious political thinking. Hopefully that is yet to come.


Pham Binh May 10, 2013 at 11:45 am

A very lengthy audio by Mouaz Moustafa, director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force and board member of the Coalition for a Democratic Syria who has worked on the ground extensively that 1) confirms many of Abouzeid’s observations re: the divides among the Islamists and 2) reinforces what I argued in the hijacking article re: the political character of the Sharia courts, relationships between the armed militias and civilian authorities, and continued non/anti-sectarian nature of the uprising starting at 6:52:


Aaron Aarons June 8, 2013 at 9:42 pm

I’m not unhappy to report that your link to a blatantly Zionist web site doesn’t work.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) May 12, 2013 at 11:49 pm

See my Other Echoes of Iraq in NATO response to WMD in Syria for extensive proof that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons:

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 Sheik 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.

Side effects of chemical weapons reported in Saraqeb, #Idlib RT @syriansmurf: ابن الحرام عبيضرب سراقب بالكيماوي……
— Maryam Saleh (@MaryamSaleh_) April 29, 2013


Brian S. May 8, 2013 at 7:46 am

Another interesting detail that confirms Clay’s analysis – in a recent press conference Russian foreign minister Lavrov stated that the 19 March incidents in the Aleppo vicinity (there seems to be another one in addition to Khan al-Assal) are the object of a formal complaint lodged with the UN by the Syrian government. Indeed, the Commission del Ponte is a member of appears to have been set up in response to that complaint – which makes her off-the-cuff remarks on the matter an even more extraordinary violation of UN investigative protocols.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) May 12, 2013 at 11:39 pm

See my Was Israeli air strike in Syria for Assad’s benefit? and Syria Sarin Blame Game: Is Carla Del Ponte at it again?


Pham Binh May 12, 2013 at 6:49 am

Some solid analysis here:

Mistaken on the Saudi role, the call for a ceasefire, and the sectarian dynamic (the Sunnis who fled Assad’s latest massacre in Banis are now hiding in Christian villages).


Brian S. May 12, 2013 at 11:31 am

The best recent article on Syria by the left: only bettered by Jamie Alinson, Richard Seymour mark II, and, of course, the work on this site. To be fair, the Saudi role was pretty much as described until the US recently persuaded them to shift tack. The stuff on ceasefire is confused. Worth trying to engage them in discussion.


Arthur May 12, 2013 at 11:53 am

Better than I would have expected. But it still has main emphasis that its ok to support the revolution because the US doesn’t really, with more than a hint towards the end that if the US did start air strikes they would revert to “the usual”.


Pham Binh May 15, 2013 at 2:23 pm

We’ve tried to engage “them” in discussion, Brian. Or have you forgotten?

Even so, I’m very grateful that Karadjis hyperlinked The North Star report about the first Christian FSA unit’s formation, especially since a revised version of Karadjis’ article went up at U.S. Socialist Worker which has tens of thousands of daily readers.


Brian S. May 12, 2013 at 9:30 am

An article I missed the first time round, but which still helps puts things in context:
“Tanks: According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ 2011 Military Balance, the Syrian army possesses 4,950 main battle tanks, along with another 4,000 light tanks and armored personnel carriers. The Russian-made T-72 figures in heavily to this force, and Moscow continues to upgrade these tanks for Syria. Russia has already modernized 800 T-72s for the Syrian military under a recent contract, and another 200 tanks are on their way.
” Mortars and shells: Much of the Syrian army’s assault has been conducted through the shelling of urban areas, a strategy particularly liable to result in civilian casualties. … One of the weapons that has been used to devastating effect around the city of Homs is the Russian-made 240mm mortar, the world’s heaviest mortar round. This behemoth can fire a shell containing 280 pounds of high explosives at a target over six miles away — it was designed to destroy enemy fortifications, but can also devastate a civilian building in one shot.


Brian S. May 13, 2013 at 8:34 am

Posted this on the other thread, but probably belonged here.
An article that indicates something about the changing composition of Asad’s military forces. Suggests desparation – but also a dangerous bolstering of the regime.


Pham Binh May 15, 2013 at 3:09 pm

The Islamist militia Al-Sham now has a Catholic in its ranks:

“I’ve had my differences with the church and haven’t attended mass for over a decade,” [Noam Moses Malkeh] said. “The clergy neglected the needs of their flock before the revolution, and as we can see from their position today of either being silent or siding with the regime, it’s clear the church’s leadership doesn’t protect the interest of Christians nor promote the message of Jesus.”

“The regime corrupted my church, just as it corrupted the mosque,” he said.


Matt May 16, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Qatar bankrolls Syrian revolt with cash and arms

Confirms competition between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and the front in Jordan as a Saudi conduit. Don’t think Qatari involvement in Libya was all that decisive, but in Syria the scale is proportionally larger. Replete with pics of the usual fat & filthy-rich petro-rentier parasite dictators of those states.

To the Arthur crowd: Why waste breath demanding NATO intervene, when Qatar/Saudis are already doing so? Why not demand that these dictatorships – uh, excuse the inpolite language, I meant “monarchies” – intervene from Jordan? They would only have to kick Assad out of Damascus to end it, not far from the Jordanian border. The Saudis could finally put all that hardware they constantly buy from the U.S. to use, and gain military prestige in the region for the first time to boot, while pushing the Qataris aside. It worked in Bahrain. Iran can’t intervene against the Saudis due to the U.S.

But is boosted Saudi prestige a result revolutionaries can really want?

While we are at it, why not demand Israel deliver the coup-de-grace? They are already threatening to do so. Again, conveniently close to Damascus.


Matt May 16, 2013 at 7:37 pm

There is more – they are starting to get it in Syria:

“Though embraced by the west, the hotel rebels have not won enough support from abroad to endear them to the people and the fighters on the ground. The trench rebels are frustrated – and part of their anger is directed at the west. They see US and European hesitance to back them with deeds, not just words, as a plot to destroy Syria.

“In the town of Suran, near the Turkish border, one official told me that among the lies uttered by the Syrian dictator was an unfortunate truth – his claim of an international conspiracy. “But the conspiracy is not against him, as he says, it’s against all of Syria, to break it as a nation,” he said.”

Yes, the longstanding U.S.-Israeli policy has been to prevent the emergence of any strong and prosperous Arab Levantine state (Lebanon, Syria and Iraq) by undermining their social infrastructure. Until now they have had an ally of convenience in the Saudis / Gulf States, who do not want to see exist any united secular, non-monarchical state in the region.

But both Saudis/Gulf States and Israel are on the horns of a dilemma now. OTOH, for the former there is the prospect of installing a pro-(Saudi or Gulf) regime; for the latter, kicking out an Iranian ally. OTOH, the new (Saudi or Gulf) regime embroiled in a drawn out sectarian civil war a la Iraq (also heating up now again); for Israel the risk that the new regime would be worse (for it) than Assad.

In this context calling on the NATO white knight to save the day is absurd, in the face of a U.S.-Israel veto over its possible actions. Geopolitically this is not Libya.

Given that NATO *cannot* intervene, the call from the interventionist perspective must be for a stepped up Saudi intervention, since the Israelis obviously cannot resolve anything in Syria internally. And if all that is really needed is a no-fly zone, why not the Saudi (and possibly Jordanian) air force:

“As of 2011, Saudi Arabia has around 300 combat aircraft. The kingdom’s combat aircraft are newly acquired Eurofighter Typhoons and upgraded Tornado IDS, F-15 Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle fighter planes. Saudi Arabia has a further 80+ F-15 Eagles on order and an option to buy another 72 Eurofighter Typhoons.”

USAF Mag says it wouldn’t be easy, but then again they have an interest in talking up the difficulties – it also mentions another reason NATO in Europe can’t intervene: they are out of ammo!:


Brian S. May 17, 2013 at 9:34 am

Hi Matt- you regularly get these confident reports from reputable journalists rubbbing shoulders with sundry government contacts and security agencies which neither seem to add up arithmetically or to correspond to news from the ground. We had the same thing over Libya, with all sorts of claims about Qatari involvement.
If the figures quoted by the FT are accurate then the Qataris have spent over $30 000 per rebel fighter in Syria – given that their patronage has only flowed to a portion of the opposition, then it probably works out two or three times that. And that hasn’t meant buying them jet fighters – its all been spent on small arms (and perhaps some subsistence). Yet what we hear on the ground – backed up by video evidence – is that most fighting units are short of ammunition, have to scrabble around to feed themselves, and depend heavily on captured or home-made weapons.
There are 3 possibilities here:
1. All the reports from the ground are lies
2. Assorted government officials and spies tell lies to the western press
3. The money is flowing out of Qatar but disappering before it reaches the Syrian front line.
Well, I put my money on a combination of 2 & 3.


Matt May 17, 2013 at 3:51 pm

So, apparently, does FT reportage:

By Roula Khalaf and Abigail Fielding-Smith, where they recount:

“Mahmoud Marrouch, a young fighter from Liwaa al-Tawhid, the rural Aleppo group that is believed to have been a major recipient of Qatari arms, says Qatar is like the rest of the world – promising weapons but not delivering. What the fighters have, he says, was seized from regime bases, or purchased on the black market. “The Qataris and the Saudis need a green light from America to help us,” he adds.”

And clearly, “America”, aka the U.S.-Israel, have no interest in any green light, and therefore exercise a veto over U.S.-NATO (Britain, France) action, which moreover appears militarily incapable for the time being anyhow. Points:

1) It is obvious that various media outlets have their own agendas to push. In the FT case, it is likely that the critical approach to Qatar reflects a tilt towards the Saudis, and indeed my money is on the U.S. lining up behind the Saudi involvement via Jordan, sidelining Qatar (and Turkey to some extent).

2) I don’t believe that Qatar or anybody else outside has actually “hijacked” the Syrian opposition (and in this connection it is an absurd dogmatism to claim that Qatar had no involvement in the Libyan events – but that is a long way from “hijacking”). On the contrary, the fact that none of the outside factions have been able to dominate the Syrian opposition has likely promoted the increasing fragmentation and disorganization of that opposition. Thus prolonging the civil war.

3) My own agenda here in this context on NS is to a) counter the tendency to abandon geopolitical-economic analysis in general and the critical analysis of imperialism(s) in particular. A symptom of which is the tendency to assume an “internal Syrian” POV in *isolation* from the states of the region and the world (most notoriously with respect to IRAQ(!), right next door and sliding into a new civil war synchronous with the Syrian events). This in fact will make it more difficult to understand the internal Syrian situation;

4) To counter and contradict the “Arthur tendency” in particular, by exposing its depiction of a “white knight” NATO-condescending savior as an absurd dogmatism – never mind its basis in an awful Eurocentric ideology. This is a *different* matter from recognizing the right of a mass opposition in a democratic revolution to call on *whomever* they choose to avoid being slaughtered.

– As Iraq showed – or should have showed us – neither the U.S., acting alone or in a NATO concert – and certainly not with Israel – is capable of installing a post Assad regime both friendly to itself and capable of ending the present destruction. On the contrary, intervention from this side – as both Iraq and Israeli invasions of Lebanon, or their current interventions in Syria show – is only capable of DEEPENING the cycle of destruction, as it has in Iraq and Lebanon. And I believe in Syria it would be worse than Iraq, a large Lebanon;

– on the other hand, either a Qatari or Saudi backed opposition *could* install a regime that could both be friendly to their respective interests and bring an end to the civil war. The sense is that U.S.-Nato is lining up with the Saudis in Jordan to sideline the Qataris. That makes sense because, as I mentioned, the grand strategy of U.S.-Nato and the Saudis and the Israelis is the prevention of a United Arab Federation of States, and yet another Qatari-backed Muslim Brotherhood-style regime alongside Tunisia and (especially) Egypt and Gaza, moves in that direction, however deformed.

So y’all should be rooting for the Saudis (lol, like I said) while preparing for the mass struggle against the new bourgeois regime it installs and backs. I like that prospect too, mainly because I hate the Saudi swine as a main regional obstacle to both revolution, democratic or socialist, and a united Arab federation, and would like to see them get a black eye in what is shaping up to be one of their most high risk endeavors ever.

On this I see eye-to-eye with As’ad AbuKhalil (Angry Arab), whom Phan Binh was wrong to label as “stupid”, for whatever else you think of him, he is an acute parser of the agendas of the Arab media outlets in the region. And unlike too many in the Arab or “Western” world, he doesn’t hesitate to aim his fire at the Saudis, and that is important.


Brian S. May 18, 2013 at 1:23 pm

I haven’t followed the FT’s coverage on Syria closely so I don’t know if it has a “tilt” or not – but I don’t think that news media work in the schematic fashion that you seem to suggest (which would appear to involve the CEO regularly rewriting journalists’ copy).
My impression is that the support provided by Qatar is not in the form of direct arms supplies but cash (mostly $US bills) – so there is no contradiction between them providing support and the groups they support going to the arms dealers. But of course it also greatly increases the risk of major leakages en route.
I’m all in favour of looking at events in Syria (or anywhere else) in a wider context, and take the point that people like me sometimes develop an over-narrow focus (a depth/breadth tradeoff) but I don’t see the Saudis or Qataris playing any seriously independent role in this situation. I concede my ignorance in this area, and don’t quite understand the interests or self-perceptions of these peculiar states. (And I’m not sure they do either).


patrickm May 19, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Matt the western forces are led by Obama and that is a problem. Russia is led by an undemocratic gangster revanchist. China is led by a bunch that would supposedly like every owning class to just stay home and oppress their own people without any outside meddling! Your analysis would have to be very different if McCain were the POTUS. My point is that leaders do matter and there is no clear imperialist policy that is being followed and would be no matter who was the tweedledee /tweedledum leader. But whatever your theories says must be happening France is arming the FSA and so are the British and so is the US, with the body armor, training, night vision goggles and the all important satellite intelligence and all the local ruling classes and ruling elites and the working classes are trapped in the religious backwardness that is the ME. That is not news. What is news is the extent that this religious division is being superseded by the newfangled invention all the way from Greece of voting by the demos.

Matt’s ‘money is on the U.S. lining up behind the Saudi involvement via Jordan, sidelining Qatar (and Turkey to some extent).’ and shows no indication of having observed the just concluded visit of the Turkish PM who was in Washington advocating the imposition of a NFZ that Obama is resisting.

Matt knows what that means because it was spelled out for everybody by the GWB Sec of Def (kept in office by Obama) when the NFZ was mooted for Libya. In short it starts with a very big US attack with cruise missiles etc.

And this is what this class of US politicians are thinking with respect to Israel!

‘Shortly after his retirement from his tenure as Defense Secretary in Summer 2011, during a meeting of the National Security Council Principals Committee, Gates highlighted many of the measures taken by the U.S. to advance Israel’s security during the Obama Administration, including providing access to state of the art weaponry, assisting with the development of missile-defense systems, and sharing high-level intelligence, before expressing his view that the U.S. has received nothing in return from the Israeli government with regards to the peace process. According to senior U.S. administration sources, other officials present offered no rebuttal to Gates’ analysis. This was not the first time Gates publicly expressed frustration with the Netanyahu government, to which he had worked hard to provide wide-scale and deep military cooperation.[79] The Likud party of Israel responded to Gates’ description of Benjamin Netanyahu as a danger to Israel’s future by claiming that most Israelis support the prime minister.[80]

end quote

Just note that there was no rebuttal!

Consider what that means.

Netanyahu in feebly and halfheartedly continuing near fifty years of failed Israeli policies with respect to prosecuting the war for greater Israel has harmed and is continuing to harm vital US ruling class interests. It must be dealt with or the tail wags the dog.

When Obama was at the airport Netanyahu rang Erdogan to apologise! That was very strange to me even by ME standards.

Vital US interests (cross class interests mind) require that;

1. occupied Golan go back to what will emerge as democratic Syria and

2. that the democratic Palestinian State be established basically as conceived in the Geneva Initiative

‘If everything is so good and right, why is there no agreement?

Sheffer: “There is no agreement because the government doesn’t want one. I was Ehud Barak’s advisor for two years. After his failure and change in government, the will to reach an agreement was diminished. Despite that, I am saying that it is easier for a right-wing controlled Israel to bring peace if they wish to. In the last elections, I voted for Livni because she is the only one that put forth peace on the political platform. It is possible to reach an agreement and I say so as someone who fought and commanded troops. Ehud Barak planted the seed of the possibility of dividing Jerusalem, and everyone understands that without that, there will be no peace.”

Obama Has Spoken

The speech by the U.S. President, Barak Obama , during his visit to the country brought renewed optimism. Ten years later, they again believe that we can achieve peace. “For people like me, with the belief in the possibility of co-existence, it gave a sense of optimism,” says Inbar. “The world leader spoke clearly. He gave leadership on the way to model and created the conditions for co-existence. You can live here and not by the sword. With unconditional support from world leaders like Obama, our leadership should seize the opportunity and continue forward. I’m a relentless optimist. In every ray of light, I see the sun. If local leadership will join with the global leadership, I will remind the leadership again that there is a prepared model which was also signed by the Palestinians.”

Mitzna: “My interpretation for this visit is that Obama came to soften the public and the Israeli leadership, and to soften the Prime Minister’s environment, even if not directly the Prime Minister. Now that he has the public sympathy, I want and hope that the next stage will be more active. I kept reminding Tzipi Livni about the Geneva Initiative, and she found interest and asked for me to be alongside her in the consultations. ”

Also A.B. Yehoshua was thrilled about the visit. “The man is inspiring. He seems to be a true friend who wants peace. The question is whether he will be able to operate true influence on the Israeli government. He has now four years in the White House and we hope that what he said in words will translate into action.”

End quote.

Obama is a revolting self promoter and a weak leader who is making a hash of Syria so all the crucial NATO and regions leaders are trying to stiffen his spine while he continues to dither and squirm and it all drags on across our TV screens. He seems overwhelmed by the about face in strategy that he had to deal with in the job of CIC that he is ill-suited for. This show pony is no FDR.

For anyone who can’t work it out Petraeus spelled out loud and clear what harm the oppression of the Palestinian peoples does to vital US interests and Petraeus got to his post by actually leading and being known to lead right across the political spectrum.

Anyway ‘… none of the outside factions have been able to dominate the Syrian opposition [and this according to Matt] has likely promoted the increasing fragmentation and disorganization of that opposition. Thus prolonging the civil war.’

Matt, take a step back and grasp that the Syria people wanted the freedoms enjoyed by the peoples in countries around them – other Arab peoples that were standing up to their tyrants and so forth. The outside provided the heat but the egg was internal to Syria. As is said ‘No amount of outside heat would hatch a rock.’

It would be better Matt if you stop trying to ‘counter the tendency to…’ anything and open your mind to arguments that you have never heard and work with these arguments in the spirit that Ben correctly recommended.

Instead of thinking you have to – counter and contradict … an absurd dogmatism … and an awful Eurocentric ideology – just work on the arguments.

Build on what you agree with already as you are ‘recognizing the right of a mass opposition in a democratic revolution to call on *whomever* they choose to avoid being slaughtered.’ So that means you don’t call them “sell out’s” etc for accepting the assist. I’ll bet you are as disturbed by what you see every day on your TV as I am, so why not step far enough back to find a point of agreement and then try again to search for a united way forward? The hands on or hands off debate has been both broadened and deepened by the existence of this site.

For example there is no ‘united Arab federation’ coming to a ME region near you any time in the foreseeable future. You didn’t get anything like that from this site. Civil war is on the menu and I say western progressives want progress. That progress is being blocked by Assad and his supporters in Russia, Iran and Lebanon and there is no ‘grand strategy of anyone to prevent ‘a United Arab Federation of States’.

Rather than that, after (or now more like while) the peoples of Syria secure their democratic revolution and the guns fall silent the people of Palestine will want to urgently move to the front of the bus. Obama will thus be again exposed and shamed by those oppressed people and US interests set back if the war for greater Israel is not ended.

If a Palestinian state is established during Obama’s last term, then both Saudi and Iranian people are going to be wanting to move to the front of the bus as well. The next three years will tell more than just the tale of whats to become of the current Syrian revolution for basic bourgeois democracy. The Palestinians will unfold their struggle further ad Israel is i a political dead end.

Right now an issue for communists is how to go about smashing the fascist armed forces of Assad. The Turkish PM is wanting NATO led by the US Navy and air force to launch the NFZ aspect of the war. Obama IMV will eventually be forced to act even though he would much rather not.

Progressives want this war specifically designed to silence the fascists artillery in all guises. This will allow the FSA to dominate the battlefield and after horrendous further casualties win this war and start the political process that will still see pressure cooker bombs for years just like in the US or Iraq.


Aaron Aarons May 21, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Patrick Muldowney (directing himself to Matt):

I’ll bet you are as disturbed by what you see every day on your TV as I am

That, in a nutshell, is a big part of what is wrong with the thinking of all the pseudo-left or soft-left pro-imperialist-intervention types: They decide what problems in the world to focus on by watching TV!!


Aaron Aarons May 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Reading this, I find it surprising that Patrick Muldowney has not gotten a job with some ruling-class think tank or other, presuming he hasn’t.

BTW, there’s nothing wrong per se with pressure-cooker bombs, and they’re far more egalitarian than cruise missiles. In the Boston bombing case, though, I find the choice of targets not only unsupportable but suspicious, since there are a lot of legitimate military targets in that area, including weapons research facilities, if the bombers had wanted to make a meaningful protest against U.S. wars against Muslims.


Aaron Aarons May 17, 2013 at 4:56 pm

In any armed conflict between the Syrian state on one side and the Saudi and Jordanian monarchies on the other, leftists and other secularists will support the former.


Brian S. May 18, 2013 at 1:24 pm

@ Aaron. Why? Just out of curiosity.


Aaron Aarons May 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Politically, the Saudi and Syrian states are both repressive. But:

1) Socially, particularly in relation to women but also regarding religious and cultural freedom, Syria is way, way freer than Saudi-occupied Arabia. (Even Iran is far freer than Saudi-occupied Arabia.)

2) The Saudi rulers are the main backers of social and political reaction throughout the Arab world, if not the Moslem world as a whole. In Bahrain and, at least previously, in Yemen, this backing has been military as well as financial and propagandistic.

3) (or 2.5?) The fall of the Saudi monarchy would undermine the dominance of U.S.-led imperialism in the region, perhaps even more than the end of the Zionist entity would. It would certainly weaken U.S./Western control over petroleum.

In the case of Jordan, the main issue is its close ties to the U.S..


Pham Binh June 17, 2013 at 11:35 am

More evidence that the Saudis are arming the democratic-secular moderates around FSA general Salem Idriss:


Brian S. May 18, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Two useful reports on possible divisions between the ” Islamic State in Iraq and al-Shams” (ISIS: which has recently emerged carrying out a sectarian retaliatory execution in Raqa) and JaN: Reuters seems to have intelligence on the ground while al-Tamimi relies on video info. Reuters’ report of unease in JaN ranks is interesting – but I think al-Tamimi’s advice to be cautious about drawing conclusions at this stage is right.


David Berger May 22, 2013 at 8:03 pm

This was originally post on MarxMail by Louis Proyect
“The fact that the Syrian army has withdrawn from the heart of the
country and that the victorious Salafist groups have not pressed their
attack, but instead entered into a revenue-sharing agreement with
Damascus over the oil, show that both sides are satisfied with the
dividing lines.”

Jihadists’ control of Syrian oilfields signals a decisive moment in conflict

Source of funding is helping al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra to sideline
western-backed rebels and reshape the Middle East

by Julian Borger

The stranglehold that Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies have achieved over
Syria’s oilfields signals a decisive moment in the conflict that will
shape the rapidly and violently evolving map of the new Middle East.

The impact is immediately visible. With a new independent source of
funding, the jihadists holding the oilfields between al-Raqqa and Deir
Ezzor are much better equipped than their Sunni rivals, reinforcing the
advantage originally provided by Qatari backing. They have been able to
provide bread and other essentials to the people in the areas under
their control, securing an enduring popular base.

This serves to marginalise the western-backed rebels, the National
Coalition and the Supreme Military Council (SMC), even further. The
blustering claim by the SMC commander, Salim Idriss, that he was going
to muster a 30,000 force to retake the oilfields served only to
undermine his credibility.

More importantly, as so often in history, control over hydrocarbons has
solidified new lines on the map. The fact that the Syrian army has
withdrawn from the heart of the country and that the victorious Salafist
groups have not pressed their attack, but instead entered into a
revenue-sharing agreement with Damascus over the oil, show that both
sides are satisfied with the dividing lines.

The regime’s forces, made more ethnically pure and more resolute by two
years of Sunni defections, is clearing out an Allawite state along the
Syrian coastal plain. The horrific massacres of Sunni communities in
Baniyas and al-Bayda earlier this month were acts of ethnic cleansing
designed to scare away any remaining Sunni pockets.

With the rise of al-Nusra, meanwhile, the importance of the Syrian-Iraq
border, forged nearly a century ago by Britain and France in the
Sykes-Picot agreement, is eroding fast as Sunni Salafist groups on both
sides find common cause. The executions of Syrian soldiers in a public
square in al-Raqqa were carried out under the black banner of the
Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, a merger between Syrian and Iraqi
al-Qaida affiliates.

While the makings of a Sunni mini-state are emerging in al-Jazira plain,
Upper Mesopotamia, stretching from Turkey to central Iraq, a Kurdish
state is forming to the east, again crystallised with the help of oil.
To the fury of Baghdad, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq
has reportedly struck a deal with Ankara for Turkish state energy
companies to take a stake in the region’s oil and gas fields. The deal
has caused tension with Washington, apparently during the Turkish prime
minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the White House last week.

For Ankara, the aggravation with the US is worth it. A reliable source
of energy is essential for Turkey if it wants to continue to grow and
eventually become the pipeline connection between Europe and the Middle
East. These geostrategic ambitions are the background to Ankara’s
ceasefire with its own Kurdish separatists, the PKK, which has also
cleared the way for side deals with Syria’s Kurds who hold oil and gas
fields in al-Hasakah.

The new map that is emerging from the turmoil may make a lot more
historical and cultural sense than the lines imposed by western
imperialism, but Assad’s fateful decision two years ago to respond to
the Syrian uprising with violence rather than negotiation has meant that
the new Middle East will be even less stable than what came before,
perhaps for a generation at least. And oil has helped stoke the fire.


Brian S. May 23, 2013 at 11:18 am

I wish people wouldn’t post screeds of pasted text when a link would do just as well (maybe with a small excerpt if there’s something that particularly demands our attention). This just overwhelms the thread to no purpose.
On the substance: An interesting piece from Julian Borger who has generally sound views on Syria (reflected in this piece). But I’m not clear what his sources are for the details of the oil story (he’s the Guardian Diplomatic correspondent). I’m sure that access to oil is useful for JaN’s cashflow (and they seem to be intent on hanging on to it) but given the crude refining techniques used I’m not convinced that its the bonanza Borger claims. What’s probably more important is denying the regime access to oil as a revenue source.
Anyway, far more important than any “oil” factor is the current battle for al-Qusayr, on the southern edge of Homs, where the regime is relying heavily on Hezbollah foot soldiers to mount an offensive, and the opposition forces appear to be managing some concentration of their forces, with reinforcements reported arriving from the north.


Pham Binh May 23, 2013 at 11:21 am

When arguments are lacking, screeds are substituted. When sources are lacking, so is any credibility.

Opposition to walls of copy and pasted text duly noted.


jim sharp May 23, 2013 at 1:15 am

David Berger May 22, 2013 at 8:03 pm
dave .b.
This was originally post on MarxMail by Louis Proyect
“The fact that the Syrian army has withdrawn from the heart of the
country and that the victorious Salafist groups have not pressed their
attack, but instead entered into a revenue-sharing agreement with
Damascus over the oil, show that both sides are satisfied with the
dividing lines.”
i note with interest nobody here at TNS seems aware
that in the antipodes we have a mid-easten scholar
worth you taking a butchers look at
arena essay
Arena Magazine
Apr 2013
Tearing Syria Apart by Jeremy Salt
A war is being waged in and on Syria.
Protecting the people from the dictator
is no more than the usual pretext for
attacks on Middle Eastern countries.

Putting Syria Back Together Again by Firas Massouh,
Yoni Molad and Stephen Pascoe A response to Jeremy Salt

Salt Responds

May 2, 2013 – 3:54 pm
Much of what Firas Massouh, Yoni Molad and Steve Pascoe write in response to my article is based on assumptions about how I think and how I frame events which have no relationship to how I do think or frame events.


Pham Binh May 23, 2013 at 9:55 am

Too bad Salt doesn’t provide a shred of evidence to support claims like this: “The United States is now trying to take control of the armed groups by making sure that arms end up in what it regards as the right hands.” The U.S. has not been arming anyone in Syria much less trying to “take control of the armed groups” via arms supplies. If that were the case, why would the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote to arm the rebels?

Truthiness makes for poor journalism.


Aaron Aarons May 23, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Excuse me, Binh, I’m trying to remember which of your gaggle of pro-imperialist-intervention folks was, not long ago, pointing out precisely that the CIA had people in Turkey trying to control what arms got into Syria and who got them? This, as well as your current assertion that “The U.S. has not been arming anyone in Syria” are both consistent with the one sentence you quote from Jeremy Salt, “The United States is now trying to take control of the armed groups by making sure that arms end up in what it regards as the right hands.”

I won’t accuse you of “poor journalism” as much as poor logical argumentation.


Pham Binh May 23, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Saying the U.S. has a role in what arms get into Syrian hands is not what Salt said. Reading comprehension is almost as important being able to accurately represent an opponent’s point of view. I suggest you work on both.


byork May 23, 2013 at 7:09 pm

I agree, Pham Binh. Unless the opposing sides to an argument proceed on the basis of accurately representing one another’s actual point of view, there is little point to debate and argument. As a left-wing supporter of the Iraq war, I found this a constant problem. I was told, for instance, that I had argued that Iraq after Saddam would be a “model democracy” or indeed “a land a milk and honey”. This was a misrepresentation but a necessary one for those who claimed the US would impose a puppet government over the Iraqi people and who now cannot argue against the fact that the overthrow of Ba’ath fascism resulted in a parliamentary democracy, in which people can vote the government out of power at competitive multi-party elections and elect a new one. No-one I know denied that sectarian violence would continue, but we believed that it would gradually abate (notwithstanding occasional outbursts). Iraqi parliamentary democracy is clearly very young and incomplete but the people – in majorities – have voted for it on three occasions now. It is qualitatively superior to the fascism of the old regime, which was returned to power at each ‘election’ with 97% to 99% of the vote.


Pham Binh May 23, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Please use the Iraq thread and not the Syria thread if the bulk of a comment pertains to Iraq. The pseudoleft loves to muddy the issues involved by conflating the two. Let’s not make the same mistake here.


byork May 23, 2013 at 8:30 pm

I just happened to turn on the TV news – ABC-24 in Australia (government station) – and saw the Foreign Minister visiting a Syrian refugee camp. He spoke with a group of women and they urged foreign military intervention. One said that even if it takes ‘world war’, it would be better than what the people have been suffering. To an anti-fascist, who believes in common humanity rather than nationality, their suffering is our suffering. (It’s incredible to me that some individuals at this site can claim to be left-wing and argue the isolationist position that ‘they’ are not ‘us’). Superior military force is required to stop the death toll and to at least reinforce safe haven areas. Pham Binh, I take your point about the appropriate thread for commentary on Iraq but I also believe there are some fairly obvious similarities in the struggles against Ba’athism in Iraq and Syria. And I believe victory will look very similar in both places – a basic start will be competitive multi-party elections in which the currently banned Muslim Brotherhood and Kurdish groups seeking semi-autonomy may freely compete, along with who-knows-who-else. Assad fears the popular will as much as Saddam did.


byork May 23, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Link to ABC report on Australian Foreign Minister in refugee camps in Lebanon:


Aaron Aarons May 24, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Another example of how the pro-imperialist pseudo-left allows the ruling-class media to determine which of the many situations of mass suffering in the world deserve attention, and from what perspective.


David Berger (RED DAVE) May 24, 2013 at 7:48 am

BYORK: I also believe there are some fairly obvious similarities in the struggles against Ba’athism in Iraq and Syria. And I believe victory will look very similar in both places – a basic start will be competitive multi-party elections … .

DAVID BERGER: And here we have it: a conscious, deliberate attempt to rewrite history and make history at the same time. A defensible left-wing postion on Syria, intervention, is used to justify mass murder in Iraq.

I hope that at least one of the pro-Iraq War people shows up at some event at the upcoming Left Forum in New York.


Pham Binh May 24, 2013 at 9:50 am

As I have noted repeatedly, the pseudoleft and pseudoleft-in-reverse have a lot in common politically. Both:

– base their positions today regarding Syria on Iraq 2002-2003.
– mistakenly believe U.S. military action against the Assad regime is coming soon.
– will never shift their positions no matter how much evidence is presented against their stand because their stand is not evidence-based.
– are unable to even account for or deal with evidence that tends to contradict their political line because doing so would be a tacit admission that they could, hypothetically, be mistaken or wrong and therefore open the possibility of changing their position.

A panel with these two forces (really they are two sides of a single methodological coin rather than opposing forces) would be almost as vacuous as those talking head talking point wars they have on CNN.


Arthur May 24, 2013 at 11:28 am

That’s an odd way to discourage debate about Iraq in a thread on Syria.

But I’ll pass as there is another thread in which you could deonstrate how to win a debate on Iraq by presenting evidence instead of boasting about it here.,_hic_salta

As to whether US action against the Assad regime is coming soon, there is evidence in both directions. Either way, it won’t be possible for anyone who formed a strong opinion about whether the US would act or not to avoid changing their opinion based on the evidence of them having acted or not within the next year or so.

But its always a mistake to confuse a “stand” with an analysis.

Even if your view turns out to be correct it appears to rest on an assumption that what’s happening how will continue to happen. So I would only give you credit for having got it right rather than having analysed it correctly. Extrapolation isn’t analysis. Analysis requires more than current evidence. It requires consideration of the underlying forces and interactions and consequences. You have been doing far more declaring than analysing.

It would be useful to have an exchange of views about the significance of events as they occur in making an analysis.

For example the US is currently organizing an international conference with Russia.

That could be taken as a substitute for action or as preparation for action. That depends on understanding the possible outcomes.

Could the conference result in some sort of imposed international settlement with the regime still intact? I don’t see how that would be possible. Too much has happened.

Will it make it harder or easier to mobilize support for action? I think easier. There are a lot of people who need proof that action is a “last resort” rather than a preference (often based on similar views about Iraq to yours, so you should have a better appreciation of this mood and the steps a US government might feel obliged to take to get around it).

What will happen if the US continues to not act? I think the regime will still not be able to win. The war will go on with more refugees and more presure for action and more damage to US interests from not acting. That’s why I think the US will end up acting.

Please try to separate those questions from whether it would have been better if the US stopped delaying and had acted long ago. We are agreed on that (at least my impression is that you agree on that although sometimes you have said things that give a different impression). Declamations about their failure to act quickly enough do not assist analysis of whether or not they will act soon.

David Berger (RED DAVE) May 24, 2013 at 12:03 pm

PHAM BINH: As I have noted repeatedly, the pseudoleft and pseudoleft-in-reverse

DAVID BERGER: Considering that I have a personal history of left-wing activity, including extensive union work, going back over half a century, I’m going to be friendly about it and ask that you not use terms like that with regard to myself as you don’t know what you’re talking about.

PHAM BINH: have a lot in common politically. Both:

– base their positions today regarding Syria on Iraq 2002-2003.

DAVID BERGER: Wrong. I base my position on Syria and Iraq on an analysis of imperialism. And, by the way, you don’t even know what my position on US intervention in Syria is.

PHAM BINH: – mistakenly believe U.S. military action against the Assad regime is coming soon.

DAVID BERGER: I have never expressed any opinion on this matter. Off the top of my head, I wouldn’t look for muchs this weekend.

PHAM BINH: will never shift their positions no matter how much evidence is presented against their stand because their stand is not evidence-based.

DAVID BERGER: You are so full of it, it’s coming out of your ears. As I said above, you don’t know what my position on US intervention in Syria is. So how do you know if I can/will/ did change it?

PHAM BINH: – are unable to even account for or deal with evidence that tends to contradict their political line because doing so would be a tacit admission that they could, hypothetically, be mistaken or wrong and therefore open the possibility of changing their position.

DAVID BERGER: Ignorance is bliss, Binh, so stay the way you are. Again, it’s delightful that you’re pontificating about changing political positions (presumably about imperialism and Syria) and you don’t know what my position is.

PHAM BINH: A panel with these two forces (really they are two sides of a single methodological coin rather than opposing forces) would be almost as vacuous as those talking head talking point wars they have on CNN.

DAVID BERGER: Which just goes to show that you’re afraid of face-to-face confrontations

Aaron Aarons May 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Please point out a single false statement in my comment.


Pham Binh May 23, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Some information re: the regime’s use of chemical weapons against the revolution:

I wonder if Carla Del Ponte thinks the Free Syrian Army employs scientists to keep watch over their vast stockpiles?


Richard Estes May 23, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Given the dispersal of the working class amongst various groupings throughout Lebanon and Syria, what is the resistance strategy to break through these divisions? While Assad, Qatar, Hezbollah, the Saudis and the US all have an interest in perpetuating it, what is the escape route? This strikes me as an important issue. Perhaps it has been covered here before, but, if so, I missed it. Criticism to the effect that Pham is purportedly complacent about Islamicism and ethnic sectarianism is an irrelevant digression.

Accordingly, the extent to which the working class are aligned with Islamicist resistance groups and Hezbollah is a serious problem. Serious, because it, to a lesser degree, is roughly analogous to the working classes of Europe killing themselves under nationalist banners in 1914. While I agree with Aaron Aarons that there are significant factual differences between the Chinese Civil War and this conflict (how could I do otherwise?), the Chinese Civil War is an instructive example the importance of an emphasis upon peasant and worker mobilization. The CCP was aware that they were spread across a number of political allegiances, including the KMT, and undertook policies to pry them away.

Likewise, there are workers who support Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. What is the means by which the resistance intends to reach them? What is the policy for distinguishing between “die hards” and others within the regime and the populace in Assad controlled areas? It has relevance for the entire region, for places like Bahrain, Iraq and Palestine. Similarly, the CCP modulated its land reform and social welfare policies in regions where it had control in order to attain the more important objective of expanding its affluence upon peasants and workers nationally. I get the impression from the blizzard of stories I come across about Syria that there are Islamicist groups that don’t get this.


Aaron Aarons May 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm

One problem with trying to create analogies with the situation in China in the 1930’s and 1940’s is that the CCP was never in an alliance in which some of the most important fighting forces were to the right of the KMT, as some, at least, of the Islamists in Syria are to the right of the Baath.


Richard Estes May 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Is this true? The New Fourth Army in southern and southeastern China aligned itself with armed Daoists and religious sects of various kinds when it suited their purposes of first, resisting the KMT, and then, after the creation of the united front, resisting the Japanese.

But this is a digression. The utility of the Chinese example lies not so much in the specific facts about the manner of its resistance against the Japanese and the KMT, but rather in its emphasis upon the peasants, workers and nationalist intellectuals as its primary constituency, and the implementation of policies for the purpose of reaching them and then mobilizing them in wartime conditions. In Syria, the issue is not so much that the Islamicists are to the right of the Baath, but the extent to which they are constituted with working class elements. Much the same is true of the rightist enemy, Hezbullah.

As a consequence, workers are killing workers in Syria. Hence, my question: what is the escape route, the means by which the revolution will enable workers to organize around their class identity and not their ethnic and sectarian ones? It seems to me that such a strategy requires recognizing which ones can be reached and which ones cannot, instead of treating everyone aligned with the Islamicists or Hezbullah as “die hard”. Again, not having connections with anyone there, I am ignorant as to the extent to which such a strategy is being implemented on the ground.


Arthur May 24, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I don’t have connections either.

Unfortunately it isn’t a communist led revolutionary movement but a bourgeois one and the sectarian influence is strong.

FWIW my impression is that Assad and the Saudis both want sectarianism to prevail, Qatar not as much but still naturally inclined towards sectarianism. US influence on SNC strikes me as being in the opposite direction eg encouraging them to suppress war criminals and more extreme sectarians like Jabhat Al Nusra and to protect Alawites and other minorities.


Pham Binh May 24, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Class and sect are inseparable in Syria, unfortunately. There is no magic bullet to untangle these identities to make both sides completely non/anti-sectarian or to make it a clean, straightforward class-against-class fight. Identity isn’t the problem, the regime that is doing its damndest to turn it into a fully sectarian war is. Only after the democratic revolution fully dethrones the ruling (Alawi) bourgeoisie and destroys its fascist aparatus might we begin to see the developments you seem to be hinting at.

It also didn’t help matters in this regard that the regime killed a lot of Lebanese and Syrian communists in the past few decades.


Brian S. May 25, 2013 at 6:24 am

Class and sect are analytically quite separable – the problem is that class identities aren’t the operative ones in this conflict – although class factors are (as always) at work behind the scenes: the tension in Aleppo between the city’s inhabitants and the FSA, once they opened a front there, are an almost classical case of urban bourgeoisie / rural peasant conflict. Given the weakness of of class identities and the small size of the working class (not very knowledgeable on this – anyone any data?), I prefer to talk of the “popular classes” – which would include the peasantry, and the small petit-bourgeoisie. – who have been the driving force of this struggle.


Aaron Aarons May 25, 2013 at 12:17 am

Richard Estes writes:

[…]what is the escape route, the means by which the revolution will enable workers to organize around their class identity and not their ethnic and sectarian ones? It seems to me that such a strategy requires recognizing which ones can be reached and which ones cannot[…]

The problem with this line of argument is that “the revolution” (or “insurrection” or “uprising”) is a phenomenon, not an actor with subjectivity. It is objectively incapable of having a strategy or of recognizing anything. If you want to talk about strategy for the “revolution” that you support, you need to figure out what conscious actors you are addressing yourself to.


Richard Estes May 25, 2013 at 12:30 am

actually, I haven’t supported intervention in Syria for reasons that I explained here quite some time ago, specifically, the prospect that Syria could degenerate into a situation similar to what transpired in Lebanon in the 1980s, or, even worse, Algeria in the 1990s

hence, I have not characterized all supporters of the regime as fascist, just as I would not characterize all participants in the resistance as Islamicist, because the working class is spread across most, if not all, groups of combatants

I mention this not to argue the point again with Pham, Brian S. and others as we did thoroughly that time, but merely to point out that my position is different than what you believe

your observation is a good one, but the conflict, whatever one wants to call it, is a fact, thus my concern about how to cut across the lines of ethnic and sectarian conflict because it strikes me as essential to avoid a catastrophe greater than what is transpiring in Syria today


Aaron Aarons May 25, 2013 at 12:29 pm

If you, Richard, are replying to me, then let me try to clarify a few things:

1) I was not arguing for or against calling what is happening in Syria a “revolution”.

2) I was not referring to whatever position you might have on either intervention or on calling it a “revolution”.

3) You partially repeat what I was criticizing you for when you express your “concern about how to cut across the lines of ethnic and sectarian conflict” without addressing that concern, even nominally, to any subject (actor) in the conflict that could act on that concern. But at least you didn’t repeat your original error of assigning such subjectivity to “the revolution”.


Brian S. May 25, 2013 at 6:33 am

For once we agree, Aaron – but “class” is also a structural rather than an agent category. Real historical agents emerge out of class contexts, and will be influenced by them in various ways (including providing a reference point for organised groups aspiring to political leadership) – but they will also be cross-class in character as well.
As I’ve said, I prefer to think in terms of the “popular classes”, which have provided the main anti-autocratic forces across the Arab spring.


Arthur May 24, 2013 at 5:31 pm

I thought you were replying to what I wrote following “It would be useful to have an exchange of views about the significance of events as they occur in making an analysis…”.

Since your reply was not in fact responsive to what I wrote at all, I put quotation marks around your “analysis”.

Now I am wondering whether you were responding to it at all. Either way I see no point in repeating it. Its up to you whether you want to actually analyse or just proclaim.

A responsive analysis would for example show how attracting worldwide attention to the situation in Syria with an international conference assists a US objective of keeping the regime rather than, as I suggested, increasing the pressure for action. In particular you would need to explain how a negotiated settlement that kept the regime in place would actually be a possible as result of such a conference.

Even if I am “wilfully blind” there may be others who would benefit from an actual explanation of your reasoning since not everyone sees what you see.


Pham Binh May 24, 2013 at 7:26 pm

So you think the U.S. (which has refused to arm the FSA) and Russia (which arms Assad every day) are uniting to draw attention to the situation in Syria as a precursor to action against the regime??

The reason I don’t think what you’ve posted is analytical is because it is descriptive. You’ve made no attempt to explain what outcome the U.S. wants to achieve in Syria, why officials say they want the regime intact, why they have acted so differently in this case compared to Libya — again, dithering, delaying, and reluctance don’t constitute rigorous analysis that adequately takes all of the above into account. Until you do, your analysis is mostly just erroneous suppositions and wishful thinking.


Richard Estes May 24, 2013 at 7:50 pm

The US has already had plenty of opportunities to intervene in Syria if it were so inclined.


PatrickSMcNally May 24, 2013 at 8:08 pm

On this point I sort have to go with Arthur, the jury is still out. Whatever may or may not happen, one should avoid the Alex Jones mentality of casting everything in the framework of a preformed plot. When neoconservatives gathered at Netanyahu’s prompting in 1996 and made their report on “A Clean Break” they laid out the program which the Bush adminbistration would adopt. There is no such similar program behind these events of the Arab Spring and its sequel. The Obama administration is not really planning things in a controlled manner but is simply responding to events in an effort to minimize the exposure of US impotence. Maybe that can best be accomplished by brokering a peace in Syria. Or maybe by a rapid strike. Or maybe by something else. The point is that the Obama administration has simply not decided and is not really in a position to make a clear decision on this. So a lot of variables are up in the air.


Arthur May 25, 2013 at 2:06 pm

1. I’m not sure what outcome the current US administration realistically hopes to achieve in Syria but I think they would prefer not to be shown up as completely irrelevant, prefer to see the regime gone and prefer not to see terrorists strengthened – all constrained by desperately not wanting to commit much US blood and treasure. What matters is not what they want but what circumstances will require them to prevent. Its clearly against US interests for the war to drag on with millions of refugees and spread into a regional war between the sects and its clearly against US interests for Al Qaeda to acquire a new base.

2. Given those US interests, which arealso interests anybody even mildly progressive has in common with the US, my analysis is that they will eventually have to act. That’s becaue there is no possibility of the regime stabilizing even if that was what they hoped for (which in my view is not the case), and neither is there any possibility of the regime being conclusively defeated without international intervention. Therefore things will continue to get worse from the US viewpoint as well a from ours and support for intervention will continue to grow until it succeeds.

3. They acted much faster in Libya:

a) because it was more urgent (Gaddafi was about to crush the revolution in Benghazi within days, which would have been a major encouragement for the other autocracies and set back the whole Arab spring) – wheras Assad has no hope of actuallly ending the Syrian revolution and the US doesn’t regard the fact that he can still kill a lot of people as urgently as we do.

b) because Syria has real air defences which only the US has a capability to suppress efficiently, whereas Denmark, France, Britain and Italy were able to initiate assistance to Libya without having to wait for Obama to do his dithering and “lead from behind”. The US is much more willing to attack regimes that don’t have strong defences.

4. A major inhibiting factor is the sectarian division in Syria, and its regional implications. This was not a factor in Libya.

5. Re Russia, I don’t think they have any vital strategic interest in preserving the regime that are nor outweighed by other interests. They have been obstructive to assert their importance and express their annoyance at the way the US and NATO blatantly used to a Security Council resolution authorizing protection of civilians as a basis for an air war to topple a regime. I think the international conference will help Russia to affirm its importance without having to continue to obstruct.

6. Re officials saying they want the regime intact. I’ve only seen two sorts of reports:

a) unamed “officials” confirming the widely held view that it was a terrible mistake to completely smash the Baathist state in Iraq and that especially since they don’t want to commit any troops or funds for Syria they want functioning government services maintained – as in Egypt. I don’t think they will get much of a say in what the Syrians do with the regime – as in Libya.

b) authoritative announcements that they are against Syria disintegrating into sectarians statelets. This is a real danger with indications of the regime “ethnically cleansing” Sunnis from a potential Alawi coastal enclave (and Takfiris administering areas in the north).


patrickm May 25, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Delegates from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States just met with delegates from Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan ‘right up on the front line’ in Amman to send the strongest signal possible without actually mobilizing armed forces and issuing an ultimatum to Assad.

I think governments in the ME and those of the major western powers of the bygone imperialist period have not been as idle over the last couple of years as the US under Obama and events are tending to have a rhythm such that war requires their political involvement rather than their involvement leading to war.
They have already said to Assad that he personally must go, and are saying to Assad’s base support – times almost up – because we are going to start to heavily assist the forces that oppose you and after we do that those forces will have little or no interest in doing a deal for some considerable time if ever.

This meeting was supposed to give a real sense of a last chance of a political solution that’s being offered to the Assad side with the clear proviso that Assad personally can no longer involve himself in any government at all. But it also has an unreal ‘vibe’ about it to me. In the same way as Binh is stuck with a curious belief that has the US ruling elite trying to prevent a revolutionary transformation of Syria rather than cope with the real complexity of a situation that has Al Qaeda forces (that the US are rightly at war with) mixed up with those revolutionaries like the FSA that are fighting Assad with the obvious support of NATO.


Pham Binh May 25, 2013 at 5:21 pm

If the U.S. was so worried about AQ in Syria and supportive of the revolution they would have armed the secular elements of FSA in 2011 to forestall the “jihadization” of the fight in 2012. What’s curious is that you can’t see this obvious fact.


byork May 24, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Pham Binh says: “They’ve been fighting against democratic movements and backing tyrants in the region since WW2 and their policy in Syria from day 1 of the revolution in 2011 has been entirely consistent with that historical policy and will remain so for the forseeable future (decades)”. But this is wrong. Iraq – and Libya – proves it wrong. If the US was pursuing a strategy of opposing democratic movements and propping up dictators in the region, why would it have overthrown the Ba’athists in Iraq, and why would it have supported the Libyans? We disagree over motives (mainly because you seem oblivious to the actual debates and thinking and shifts within and among the foreign policy decision-makers and prefer to fall back on the ‘security’ of abstraction and dogma) but the fact remains that the US policy changed, was not consistent with previous propping up, when it resolved to overthrow the tyrants ruling Iraq and Libya. In 2005, in Cairo, Condoleezza Rice gave a speech which received very ltitle publicity but which stands as one of the most significant speeches by a US Secretary of State in a long time. She said that the US had been wrong in seeking security for itself by supporting dictatorships, that it had been wrong for 60 years, and that it now supported democratic aspiration. Iraq and Libya are both consistent with that very radical break from previous established thinking. It is extraordinary that the content of this speech can be ignored or glibly dismissed – she directed it at the tyrants of the region, not as an attempt to fool Tariq Ali and John Pilger. I don’t know whether the US will invade in any direct military way in Syria but my money is on them eventually providing hardware to the democrats within the resistance.


Pham Binh May 24, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Exceptions to the rule (not going to derail the thread with yet another Iraq debate).

The key is to untangle what is in the interests of the ruling class (or what they think is in their interest, which isn’t easy), and then figure out the twists, turns, and occasional policy reversals that occur as they struggle to pursue those interests to the best of their ability. During the Cold War, the U.S. was stridently anti-communist — until Nixon made nice with Mao and the U.S. gave nonlethal aid (food) to Pol Pot when the Vietnamese government toppled his regime in Cambodia. Did those actions mean the U.S. dropped its historically anti-communist orientation? No.

Imperialists aren’t dogmatic leftists, applying 1 rule or 1 tactic to every situation regardless of context. This is why it’s important to analyze every individual case as best we can. Laziness helps no one and there’s nothing worse than know-nothing “leftism.”


Richard Estes May 24, 2013 at 7:47 pm

“She said that the US had been wrong in seeking security for itself by supporting dictatorships, that it had been wrong for 60 years, and that it now supported democratic aspiration. Iraq and Libya are both consistent with that very radical break from previous established thinking. It is extraordinary that the content of this speech can be ignored or glibly dismissed – she directed it at the tyrants of the region, not as an attempt to fool Tariq Ali and John Pilger.”

Really? So, she included the rulers of Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Yemen as well?

Or, was it just a more contemporary warmed over version of Jeanne Kirkpatrick?


Aaron Aarons May 25, 2013 at 12:45 am

You couldn’t resist tacking an attack on people to your left onto your valid reply to someone, byork, who is on your right, could you, Binh? Consistent leftists do analyze every individual case as best we can, given the limitations on our resources and sources of information, but we do it so as to better fight the global imperialist enemy in each and every situation, and not to look for ways to conciliate that enemy.


Pham Binh May 25, 2013 at 7:34 am

The enemy is not the same in each and every situation and to say so contradicts any pretense at case by case analysis. That’s exactly why I attack pseudolefts and pseudolefts-in-reverse — you two use the same faulty method, except where your focus is always imperialism, theirs is fascism.


patrickm May 25, 2013 at 8:10 am

That would rule out any support for a Molotov-Ribbentrop pact then!
Hint try again.


Pham Binh May 25, 2013 at 1:56 pm

It does no such thing. Try again.


patrickm May 25, 2013 at 4:28 pm

According to you my focus is always fascism as I have a faulty method that does not in each and every situation work out who the enemy of the day is by case by case analysis. According to you I am from a school of such faulty thinking. If that were true, then I would not approve of Stalin’s leadership at the time of the pact of non aggression with the fascists.

Do you and I both support the WW2 united front and collective security policies of the ML school? Do you reject the now common ‘left’ sect tradition on WW2 that Kasama types hold too? I think you do and would like to be systematic in nailing down our differences. No one is ever in any doubt about my views, and yet I can’t say the same in your case.

We came to agreement over the issue of Libya once you came over the fence and rejected a never ever unite with the bourgeois position no? You hold a view that you think is still very different to mine because you know many Libyan people called for help, and so you claim that fact changes the rules that would be otherwise – hands off and let them do it themselves.

I think we are in agreement on Mali intervention as well because it would seem to be covered by your above – they asked for help thinking – as the people of Mali as far as I can tell were glad of the help once it turned up. But really we had no way of knowing what they were calling for in the wilds of Mali. We had to make a call. Do you support the French intervention?

We are in agreement over 2/3rds of this planet and how to share it and go about our lives without piracy and I think there ought to be an explicit statement on this, as people might forget.

I have never got you to agree over collective security policy wrt to the defense of Kuwait and you appear to have the standard do nothing attitude of the troops out brigade on that one. I find that very peculiar as I can’t see why terrorizing a crew and stealing a ship is wrong in your view but terrorizing and stealing a country does not require the same navies to get to work. It would seem to be an important enough issue to warrant a detailed discussion and the issue nailed down so that everyone was clear why you think the Libyans have the right to an assist because you know they wanted it but that the people of Kuwait did not deserve an assist because somehow you can’t work out that they wanted it also!

You see I like to work case by case. People like Red Blob do not, but he says he does. At the time (after Kuwait was liberated) RB opposed the NFZ over the Kurds and then years later he had to change as he realized that the new issue of Libya where he supported NATO making revolutionary war contradicted the old opposition to the NFZ over the Kurds ( a people you have come to know about constituting almost 1:5 of the Iraqi peoples that advanced on the Baathists in full support of the COW as you now know). He says that as the facts change then he changes his views. I say the facts didn’t change at all and he knows this. I say his position unwound. Now I think like RB you ought to make it clear that you support in retrospect the NFZ over the Kurds if you do.

Communists ought to be able to reach agreement on such simple things.


Pham Binh May 25, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Constantly or only focusing on anti-fascism is a different problem from agreeing not to kill Hitler today so you can take a better shot tomorrow when it is more advantageous.


Pham Binh May 25, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Sorry but having grown up politically in the Trotsky school of sect-ification, I know nothing about Marxist-Leninism and collective security. Carl Davidson mentioned stuff about it in his vain attempts to convince me that internationalism and isolationism are the same thing and that I’m making the same mistake by taking sides in Syria as he did when his organization sided with Pol Pot in the 1980s (!!!) but he didn’t really delve into the issues. He did mention 5 principles of cooperation by someone whose name escapes me which I plan on looking into when I have more time.

And I know even less about Mali.


Aaron Aarons May 25, 2013 at 12:49 pm

The main enemy, as I see it, is a global capitalist class, led by its bankers, resource extractors and arms merchants, that is plundering the planet and its peoples. Just as in a global war like the ones in 1914-1918 and 1939-1949, the participants in the struggle against their main enemy, while analyzing every local situation with its particularities, always, at least if they are fully committed to their side, do so in the framework of working to defeat the main enemy.


Pham Binh May 25, 2013 at 1:55 pm

“Global capitalist class” is an abstraction. There is no such thing as a global ruling class, capitalist or otherwise. Again, you skip over national and local specifities.


Aaron Aarons June 6, 2013 at 1:47 am

If ‘“Global capitalist class” is an abstraction’, it is, at least for those from a Marxist tradition, a more concrete abstraction than are concepts like “the Syrian revolution”, “Democracy”, “the Arab Spring”, etc..


Aaron Aarons June 7, 2013 at 9:53 am

The main enemy of humanity is capitalism as embodied, at least since 1945, in the U.S.-centered global capitalist class and its military, financial and political institutions. This is even more unambiguously true than is the assertion that the main enemy of humanity between 1939 and 1945 was the German state and ruling class and its allies. (It was not, BYW, the abstraction called ‘fascism’.)

OTOH, you, Binh, have no conception of a global struggle, while the neocons like Arthur Dent and Patrick Muldowney are simply on the wrong side of the global virtual barricades.


Pham Binh June 7, 2013 at 10:01 am

And you have no conception of how global struggle plays out in nation-states like Syria. Syrian fascist capitalism versus the working, bourgeois, and petty-bourgeois classes and the side you take is…. against an abstract imperialism, perhaps even Kautsky’s old “ultra imperialism” even. Laughable if it weren’t so sad.


PatrickSMcNally May 24, 2013 at 7:58 pm

“She said the US had been wrong …”

Lots of people said that Roosevelt had been wrong in giving so much aid to Stalin. They even pointed to the foolish way that the US/UK had allowed the USSR to float charges that the Nazis had been behind Katyn during the Nuremburg trials. This is what a shift in policy frequently involves, a disassociation from previous imperial policies. Beyond that, what is new here?


byork May 24, 2013 at 8:29 pm

What is new is that the position of the Left for the previous 60 years had been implicitly accepted as correct by a US Secrteary of State! The region’s autocrats did not like the new approach outlined in her speech any more than they liked the overthrow of Iraqi fascism and the establishment of bourgeois democracy there. The ‘Kissingerists’ also didn’t like the new approach – they prefered to keep supporting the dictators. The region’s thugs knew the writing was on the wall for them and strongly opposed either the war itself or the parliamentary democracy that was its outcome. Binh at least seems to take the speech seriously and I agree that interests need to be untangled; though since Iraq it is hard to find an example of the pre-2003 strategy being implemented. The overthrow of fascism in Iraq was an historically huge turning-point for the region, as was its replacement with parliamentary elections, government elected by the people. If it is an exception to the rule, then – wow! – what an exception!! Since then, the US has hardly been intervening on the side of dictators. The current Ditherer-in-Chief is not exactly supporting them either, though not taking the kind of strong action that could be taken. The question is: where does the Left stand when the US helps overhtrow the dictators who any leftist would not just oppose but loathe? In keeping to this Syrian thread, were the US to openly intervene at the request of the democratic forces in Syria, what would change? Would the Left then support Assad? Hardly! We’d rejoice in his overthrow and continue our solidarity (for what it’s worth) with the Syrian people in their struggle for democracy.


Richard Estes May 24, 2013 at 11:03 pm

“What is new is that the position of the Left for the previous 60 years had been implicitly accepted as correct by a US Secrteary of State! . . . . . Since then, the US has hardly been intervening on the side of dictators.”

The US coordinates its policies with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain. It is aligned with regimes that ruthlessly suppress any form of dissent. Apparently, you don’t consider them dictatorships, perhaps, because they could be construed as a modern variation of feudalism. There is no question, as noted by Aaron Aarons, that, for all their terrible faults, the formerly Baathist regime of Iraq and the current one in Syria are superior to those of the Gulf States, primarily because of their relatively more egalitarian social policies, especially in regard to women.

Or, to put it more simply, repressive regimes where women can drive, educate themselves, work as professionals and, if they want to do so, divorce their spouses, are preferable to ones in which women are subjugated to men. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the left should support either, merely that it should recognize obvious social realities.

Beyond this, your analysis is devoid of any left features. It is essentially a reflection of two competing strands within American imperialism. Both are known for emphasizing that dictatorships are what they say they are or aren’t, much like groups are moved on and off the State Department’s terrorism list whenever it suits US purposes to do so. Indeed, there is nothing new here.


byork May 24, 2013 at 11:58 pm

The left features of my analysis are an identification and solidarity with the oppressed, those on the receiving end. I would not protest against US involvement in supporting groups opposed to the regimes you mention. However, you would oppose it on “anti-imperialist” grounds. That’s the difference between us. The Saudi prince was present at Condi’s speech in 2005 – he got the message, even if you haven’t. Under the paleao-cons to whom your view is so close, the Iraqis would have been left under Saddam’s rule and Gadaffi would still be oppressing the Libyans. It’s true that Bush jr showed less resolve in his final term, and it remains to be seen how much more slaughter Obama will tolerate in Syria.


Richard Estes May 25, 2013 at 12:01 am

“The Saudi prince was present at Condi’s speech in 2005 – he got the message, even if you haven’t.”

I guess when the objective is to put a leftist gloss on neoconservative policies, there is no alternative but to tell fables of this kind.


PatrickSMcNally May 25, 2013 at 6:28 am

Did you have any response back in the 1970s when Alexander Solzhenitsyn declared his support for the US in Vietnam? Solzhenitsyn maintained that his 12 years in the Gulag gave him a better perspective for understanding what was at stake in Vietnam than any of the peaceniks roaming around on US college campuses. Did you agree with him, ignore him or have some other response?


Aaron Aarons June 6, 2013 at 1:16 am

Maybe Solzhenitsyn should have spent decades in United Snakes prisons, most of it in solitary confinement, as many Black Panthers and other Black radicals have. He then might have wished to be back in the ‘Gulag’.

And many of us knew during the American War against Vietnam that the Vietnamese Stalinists were not nice guys, and had murdered revolutionaries in the fall of 1945 as part of their attempt to continue their popular front with Western imperialism after the defeat of Japan. But we supported them against the United Snakes anyway, because of their social nature as mostly-peasant-based anti-capitalist revolutionaries and because the defeat of U.S. imperialism was as important then as it is now.


Brian S. May 25, 2013 at 6:48 am

And of course this notion of the US previously seeking dictators everywhere is historical nonsense – the US, at least since FDR, generally preferred bourgeois democracies as long as they were submissive to US interests . They lived quite happily with a succession of post-war Christian Democratic governments in Latin America until Allende came along. And of course even imperialists are constrained by the political contexts in which they are operating and what is politically feasible in a given situation.
I don’t see any change in this established approach.


Arthur May 25, 2013 at 1:21 pm

1. Actually the US mainly supported “gorilla” dictators in Latin America, long before Allende. The shift in policy towards accepting democracy came much earlier in Latin America than in the Arab world (following end of Cold War) but certainly long after Allende.

2. The policy of opposing democracy in the Arab world continued long after the Cold War ended. It imploded with 911.


Aaron Aarons June 6, 2013 at 1:57 am

Generally, as in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc., domestic and imperialist elites could only afford to allow formal democracy after the left had been crushed and the working class, peasants, and indigenous traumatized enough to bow before the dictates of capital. Bourgeois democracy is usually the end product of successful capitalist counter-revolution.


Louis Proyect June 6, 2013 at 8:28 am

Bourgeois democracy is usually the end product of successful capitalist counter-revolution.

This is just a formula for supporting dictators in the time-dishonored model of Global Research, PSL, WWP, and Voltairenet.


Aaron Aarons June 7, 2013 at 12:15 pm

As usual, Louis, you don’t deal with the actual arguments of people to your left, which nowadays means almost any self-described socialists, communists, or anarchists except those of ‘the last superpower” groupuscule. I guess we should be thankful that you aren’t allowed to engage here in the cruder ad hominem attacks that you generally resorted to (and perhaps still resort to — I haven’t looked much) on your own blog.


Aaron Aarons May 25, 2013 at 1:40 pm

byork writes:
“[Condoleezza Rice] said that the US had been wrong in seeking security for itself by supporting dictatorships, that it had been wrong for 60 years, and that it now supported democratic aspiration.”
“What is new is that the position of the Left for the previous 60 years had been implicitly accepted as correct by a US Secrteary of State!”

The genuine left never supported, doesn’t support, and will not support any strategy that the imperialist U.S. uses to seek security for itself, regardless of whether, when or where that strategy involves the U.S. support of electoral democracy, open dictatorship, death-squad democracy or some other variant. When the U.S. supported various dictators, or, for that matter, elected governments, the reason for the left to fight them was, at least in part, the fact that they were doing things that would earn them the support of the U.S. ruling class.

Byork also writes, “[…]it remains to be seen how much more slaughter Obama will tolerate in Syria.” But what genuine leftist would ever concede to the CEO of the U.S. empire the right to tolerate, or not tolerate, anything?


byork May 28, 2013 at 3:20 am

The pseudo-left is way to the Right of John McCain.

“We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation.” – leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, 28 May 2013.

Full report here:


Pham Binh May 28, 2013 at 11:12 am

Oh goody! Not:
“While we have no immediate plans to send arms to Syria, it gives us the flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate and worsen,” [British foreign secretary William Hague] said.

So much for Western imperialist military aid to the Syrian revolution in the near future.


byork May 28, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Binh, Isn’t a shift from a position of definitely no arms to the possibility (‘flexibility’) to supply them a positive development? Isn’t it (possibly) paving the way – preparing – for such necessary support? Neither of us can know but if I was a Syrian rebel, I’d be hoping… (and I’d be very pleased with McCain’s visit as it might pressure Obama).


Pham Binh May 28, 2013 at 7:09 pm

If someone driving a car to the right turns on the left turn signal, has the car changed direction? A Marxist would say no, a pseudo-left-in-reverse would become escstatic that things are finally moving his way and seize on this “important development” as a means of self-vindication.

See the difference?


byork May 28, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Binh, as usual I find my point of view misrepresented – I am not “ecstatic”. I think it’s a positive development in the left-wing direction I favour, namely, the arming of the Syrian rebels by the EU etc. Time will tell whether this happens and I actually said that neither of us can know with certainty at this stage. ‘Self-vindication’ doesn’t come into it, though if you take a definite stance on this, saying that it definitely won’t happen, then you will have egg on your face if the western imperialists do supply arms to the rebels. And you will need to reconsider the bigger picture too.


Pham Binh May 28, 2013 at 8:02 pm

As I told Patrick, I’ll be happy if I’m wrong. My face is the least of my concerns when the lives of revolutionary Syrian are on the line, although it sure beats having blood on my hands for advocating “hands off Assad.”


Aaron Aarons May 29, 2013 at 4:09 pm

The genuine, anti-imperialist left doesn’t advocate “hands off Assad.” We advocate:

Hands Off the World!

Anyway, it’s kind of fun watching the two factions of the pro-imperialist pseudo-left arguing with each other about if, when, and how their White Savior (perhaps including the one in blackface) will come to the rescue.

The genuine left looks at how the lives of literally billions, of human beings, and of the biosphere they depend on for sustenance, are being negatively impacted every minute of every day, and tens of thousands killed every day, by the active intervention of the U.S and allied imperialists. Meanwhile our pseudo-lefts (hard and soft varieties) would strengthen those imperialists by focusing attention on one unusual group of victims whose problems can’t be blamed directly on U.S.-centered imperialism.


Red Blob June 6, 2013 at 9:44 am

Aaron can I ask you a question about your hands off the world approach.
1944 Warsaw. With the Red Army on the out skirts of Warsaw, with Radio Moscow urging the people of Warsaw to rise up, with the Germans threatening to round up all adult male Poles the Polish Home Army launch an attack on the German forces and the fierce house to house goes on for 63 days. The Red Army has an air base 5 minutes flying time from Warsaw but they refuse to assist the Home Army in any way. The Imperialist air forces of Britain, South Africa and the USA do fly right across occupied Europe but the planes carry so much fuel that they can carry little in the way of supplies and the Red Army refuses almost until the end to allow allied planes the right to land and refuel.
Now my question to you is that given your “hands off the world” position would you have sided with Stalin and been happy to see the Home Army destroyed rather than break your principled position of “hands off the world” and supported that arsehole Churchill in his efforts to supply the Poles with food and weapons?


Aaron Aarons June 6, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I’m not sure exactly how I would have dealt with the role of Western imperialism in World War II. But I certainly would have opposed the bombing of German working-class housing, as in Hamburg in 1943, and certain other targets, like most of the City of Dresden in 1945.

As for Warsaw in 1944, I haven’t studied that piece of history, but I’d be interested to know what the Arthur Dent-Patrick Muldowney-byork crowd here have to say about it, given their enthusiastic support both for Stalin and for his alliance with Western imperialism after 22 June 1941.

Anyway, none of this has anything to do with a consistent left opposition to U.S. imperialism since the defeat of Germany in May, 1945.


Red Blob June 6, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Absolutely agree that the bombings of Hamburg,Dresden, Tokyo ect ect were all war crimes.
Not interested in what the people you mention thought about Warsaw.
Im interested in what you think because you hold this “hands off the world” position whereas I think that there are specific instances where it is correct for people to seek help from a “lesser evil” I picked the example of Warsaw because its a good example.
The modern parallel is obvious if you think that the people of Warsaw were worth helping it may lead you to think that the people of Syria are worth helping no matter where that help comes from.

Aaron Aarons June 7, 2013 at 1:08 pm

There are many millions of people in the world who could be helped by a change in behavior by the Western imperialists and their clients that would involve no military action by those imperialists. For example, the U.S., along with its co-conspirators (mainly Canada and France), could pay reparations to the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Haitians who are living in horrible conditions after the 2004 kidnapping of the elected left-populist President, the 2010 earthquake and the subsequent cholera epidemic brought in by U.S.-imposed U.N. occupation troops. Those reparations could include materials for housing, and water purification and sewage treatment systems, together with technical experts to train Haitians (paid by those imperialists) to install and run such systems.

These are just a few of the perhaps thousands of things that could be demanded of the U.S. and its junior partners that don’t implicitly or explicitly contribute to the legitimation of U.S. and Western imperialism.

Red Blob June 7, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Aaron in your post of june 7 @1.08 you say that “There are millions of people that could be helped ect ect” but that is not the argument. The argument is people in Syria demonstrated for democratic rights and the regimen answered with bullets as they have before. The people to their credit answered those bullets with resistance and members of the regimens army started to go over to the peoples side. So we have a democratic revolution underway, with the well armed dictatorship and the poorly armed democrats. The leadership of the democratic forces have pleaded for assistance and your response is that “There are many millions of people in the world who could be helped…..ect ect ” Honestly this attitude. You think that asking for US support will legitimize US and Western imperialism. Really you would rather see revolutionary democrats gunned down than compromise your anti imperialist principles.

Aaron Aarons June 8, 2013 at 12:34 am

I don’t find phrases like “the people”, “democratic forces” or “democratic revolution” meaningful or useful in analyzing the situation in Syria. And I don’t see the U.S.-led imperialists arming any side that I would support in that or probably any other conflict in the world since 1945.

And I still want to know the justification for supposed leftists in the anglophone imperialist countries focusing all their attention on the Syrian government and ignoring all the places in the world, like Haiti and, even more, the Congo, where those imperialist countries — their militaries, their banksters, their mineral looters, their seekers after cheap labor, etc. — are royally screwing the people.

Oh, and lest I forget, there’s always the growing threat to the world from the the increasing depth and breadth of the U.S. National Security State. That’s what a real left would be focusing on.

Red Blob June 8, 2013 at 2:06 am

OK Ill take your points in reverse order
4 Depth and breadth of US National Security State. I will happily join with you in arguing that all developed countries spend way too much money on weapons and happily support campaigns for reduced military spending.
3 We should focus on other issues like Haiti and Congo. Again happy to contribute to those discussions but this is the thread about Syria
2 Yeah history is all in favor of US being on the wrong side but right now there is a real chance that Western Imperial powers might just respond by arming democrats rather than the despots, all in their own interest granted but just like Imperial France helping out George Washington it wasn’t altruism
1 Finally you don’t like terms such as “the people” “democratic forces” and “democratic revolution”
OK maybe we can agree on different terms
We can say one side is lead by a unelected person whose army has a history of shooting unarmed citizens when they gather in groups and suggest democratic reforms (sort of an Arab Spring sort of thing)
On the other side we can say that it is composed of people who peacefully demonstrated and moved into resistance mode after the unelected persons army started shooting them.
We can also say that the spokes people for these people have continually argued in favor of a democratic outcome.
There are clearly 2 sides to the civil war in Syria the only question for us to answer is (you can see this coming a mile away)
Which side are we on?

David Berger (RED DAVE) June 8, 2013 at 3:35 pm

RED BLOB: OK Ill take your points in reverse order

4 Depth and breadth of US National Security State. I will happily join with you in arguing that all developed countries spend way too much money on weapons and happily support campaigns for reduced military spending.

DAVID BERGER: This is a liberal critique, at best, and shows where you are coming from politically. It is not a matter of “all developed countries.” It is a matter of the world’s most powerful, imperialist state, that demonstrates, over and over again, its willingness to engage in imperialist domination and mass murder.

The Left in the US does not call for “reduced military spending.” It calls for disarmament.

RED BLOB: 3 We should focus on other issues like Haiti and Congo. Again happy to contribute to those discussions but this is the thread about Syria.

DAVID BERGER: Fine, except you and your ilk don’t seem to contribute to any other discussions, except Iraq. For example, have you ever discussed Afghanistan?

RED BLOB: 2 Yeah history is all in favor of US being on the wrong side

DAVID BERGER: It’s not a matter of “history.” As Marx said, “History does nothing, it “possesses no immense wealth”, it “wages no battles”. It is man, real, living man who does all that, who possesses and fights; “history” is not, as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims.” To which we might add: “The history of all hitherto existing society (2) is the history of class struggles.”

In other words, we’re not deal with the perspective of “history,” but the perspective of class. And from the perspective of class, with very few exceptions, the US is always on the wrong side.

RED BLOB: but right now there is a real chance that Western Imperial powers might just respond by arming democrats rather than the despots

DAVID BERGER: If it serves their interests, they will. If it serves their interests not to, they won’t. The question will be: What is the class interest of the bourgeosie? And the use of the term “democrats,” for Marxists, is an iffy thing.

RED BLOB: all in their own interest granted but just like Imperial France helping out George Washington it wasn’t altruism.

DAVID BERGER: Just a point of history, France was a “colonial” power, not an imperialist power.

RED BLOB: 1 Finally you don’t like terms such as “the people” “democratic forces” and “democratic revolution”

OK maybe we can agree on different terms

We can say one side is lead by a unelected person whose army has a history of shooting unarmed citizens when they gather in groups and suggest democratic reforms (sort of an Arab Spring sort of thing)

On the other side we can say that it is composed of people who peacefully demonstrated and moved into resistance mode after the unelected persons army started shooting them.

We can also say that the spokes people for these people have continually argued in favor of a democratic outcome.

There are clearly 2 sides to the civil war in Syria the only question for us to answer is (you can see this coming a mile away)

Which side are we on?

DAVID BERGER: Ducking the issue of whether or not at this point the opposition to Assad is “in favor of a democratic outcome,” we have to consider: can the US contribute to that outcome? I think that, given the US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the answer is: probably not.

We can, on the Left, call for the US to arm the rebels, but that ducks two questions: first, which groups among the rebels, unless this isn’t an important question. And second, is the US likely to arm groups “in favor of a democratic outcome”?

To the first question, I think that, given the experiences of the Arab Spring this is a crucial issue. To the second question, I think that the answer is, based on the behavior of US imperialism in the past, clearly no.

Red Blob June 8, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Red Dave
“The Left in the US does not call for “reduced military spending.” It calls for disarmament.”
Well Dave such a rigid view of how to engage in discussion might gives us an idea about why the “left” only talks to itself.
DAVID BERGER: Fine, except you and your ilk don’t seem to contribute to any other discussions, except Iraq. For example, have you ever discussed Afghanistan?
My ilk? I had no idea I even had an ilk. Excellent I now have an ilk.
That we are talking on a thread about Syria must be proof in itself that I will talk about something other than Iraq. As to Afghanistan my position has always been one of opposition to sending troops or planes or drones to Afghanistan.
Thank you for the correction about France not being an Imperial power.
Dave towards the end of your reply you argue that the US probably and then clearly cant make a positive contribution to the situation in Syria.
Thats your honest assessment but it is not the assessment of the leaders of the Syrian revolution. They are saying please we need help. Now I can support your position of hands off or I can support the calls of the people whose actual lives are on the line.
Now weapons could be sent to the FSA and I’m sure that some will go to people who are not democrats but that’s a problem for the FSA to sort out.
Just an aside when the democratic forces were fighting Franco in Spain and the US was refusing to send the democratic forces weapons did the “left” rally to the side of “hands off Spain” or did we have another view?

David Berger (RED DAVE) June 8, 2013 at 9:42 pm

DAVID BERGER: The Left in the US does not call for “reduced military spending.” It calls for disarmament.”

RED BLOB: Well Dave such a rigid view of how to engage in discussion might gives us an idea about why the “left” only talks to itself.

DAVID BERGER: We don’t speak only to ourselves, so it’s time to let that idea, that too many people around here like to bat around, go.

DAVID BERGER: Fine, except you and your ilk don’t seem to contribute to any other discussions, except Iraq. For example, have you ever discussed Afghanistan?

RED BLOB: My ilk? I had no idea I even had an ilk. Excellent I now have an ilk.

DAVID BERGER: Enjoy your ilk.

RED BLOB: That we are talking on a thread about Syria must be proof in itself that I will talk about something other than Iraq. As to Afghanistan my position has always been one of opposition to sending troops or planes or drones to Afghanistan.

DAVID BERGER: I will assume, then, unlike your fellow ilks, that you were opposed to the US invasion of Afghanistan.

RED BLOB: Thank you for the correction about France not being an Imperial power.

DAVID BERGER: It’s worthwhile getting these things straight.

RED BLOB: Dave towards the end of your reply you argue that the US probably and then clearly cant make a positive contribution to the situation in Syria.

DAVID BERGER: That’s correct.

RED BLOB: Thats your honest assessment but it is not the assessment of the leaders of the Syrian revolution.

DAVID BERGER: Ho Chi Minh asked for US help in the 1940s. In retrospect, it wasn’t a cool idea. Just because a group makes a demand doesn’t mean we have to support them.

RED BLOB: They are saying please we need help.

DAVID BERGER: And it’s by no means the clear the US is capable of helping them. It is much more likely to make things worse.

RED BLOB: Now I can support your position of hands off or I can support the calls of the people whose actual lives are on the line.

DAVID BERGER: Before you support either position, I suggest you study the history of imperialism. The US does not invade countries to help.

RED BLOB: Now weapons could be sent to the FSA and I’m sure that some will go to people who are not democrats but that’s a problem for the FSA to sort out.

DAVID BERGER: Uhh, Comrade, that’s the whole point that “some will go to people who are not democrats.” And it’s not just a problem for the FSA because it just might be that that “problem” destroys them.

RED BLOB: Just an aside when the democratic forces were fighting Franco in Spain and the US was refusing to send the democratic forces weapons did the “left” rally to the side of “hands off Spain” or did we have another view?

DAVID BERGER: The Left knew full fucking well that Roosevelt wasn’t going to send aid to the Republic. (Avoiding the question of whether or not the Left should have been calling for aid to the Republic.) That call was by its nature a transitional demand.

I strongly suggest that you spend some time studying US imperialism and its wars. Here’s a good place to start:…0.0…1ac.1.15.heirloom-hp.7pW3Mng_Jto

Red Blob June 8, 2013 at 10:47 pm

DAVID BERGER: “Before you support either position, I suggest you study the history of imperialism. The US does not invade countries to help.”
Dave I’m not suggesting that the US invade Syria. If they did I would be against that just as I was against the invasion of Iraq.
That is not the argument.
The argument is, when a dictator backed with Russian weapons and a foreign militia is killing poorly armed rebels who in the main are rallying behind the banner of democracy, what should the left do? Should the left support the positions taken by the rebellions leadership or should the left take the position of hands off which as things currently sit is the position of Assad, Putin and Obama.
(it’s obvious that Assad and Putin only want hands off for the rebels not hands off for the Assad loyalists)

Red Blob June 9, 2013 at 4:05 am

Dave thanks for the suggestion that I read War is a racket. When I first came across that book some 20 years ago I found it interesting.
What I also found interesting was
Leon Trotsky’s piece called Learn to Think
A Friendly Suggestion to Certain Ultra Leftists
heres an excerpt
Let us assume that rebellion breaks out tomorrow in the French colony of Algeria under the banner of national independence and that the Italian government, motivated by its own imperialist interests, prepares to send weapons to the rebels. What should the attitude of the Italian workers be in this case? I have purposely taken an example of rebellion against a democratic imperialism with intervention on the side of the rebels from a fascist imperialism. Should the Italian workers prevent the shipping of arms to the Algerians? Let any ultra-leftists dare answer this question in the affirmative. Every revolutionist, together with the Italian workers and the rebellious Algerians, would spurn such an answer with indignation. Even if a general maritime strike broke out in fascist Italy at the same time, even in this case the strikers should make an exception in favor of those ships carrying aid to the colonial slaves in revolt; otherwise they would be no more than wretched trade unionists – not proletarian revolutionists.
As you can see Trotsky sides with the oppressed and treats the politics in Italy and France as secondary matters.

PatrickSMcNally June 9, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Trotsky was describing a time when Algeria was a colony of France. Syria today is not a Russian or Chinese colony. Many of the sharpest frictions in Syria today are a consequence of Syria moving towards a closer association with neo-liberalism in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. I would say that this current situation is not like Trotsky’s hypothetical case of Mussolini aiding Algerian rebels for his own selfish reasons.

Yes, Lenin took aid from Kaiser Wilhelm II. But he despised the German Social Democrats for voting for war credits. Lenin’s willingness to accept a train ride from the Kaiser was not a vindication of Noske, Ebert et al.

Red Blob June 9, 2013 at 7:08 pm

PatrickSMcNally, The point of citing Trotsky wasn’t to say look here Trotsky dealt with the exact same situation. The point I was making was that Trotsky supported assisting a progressive movement in Algeria even if the help came from Fascist Italy. The parallel is of people supporting a progressive movement in Syria even if the help comes from the imperialist countries of NATO.
Where do you get the idea that I’m saying that Lenin accepting German help was an endorsement of Ebert and Noske. Lenin made it quiet clear that if those men approached the train he would give them a piece of his mind where as if Lieberniech approached the train he would have a civil conversation with him. Lenin stressed that his politics was marked by compromise. He would always compromise a smaller principle to gain a greater advantage. Strangely I’m no big fan of Lenin or Trotsky but in this matter I think they were spot on and your position is a caricature of Socialism. (harsh words I know but they have to be said)

PatrickSMcNally June 9, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Well, Ebert & Noske were the equivalents for their era of people who today spend time calling for the US to intervene in Syria. Kautsky even wrote up a tract where he argued that the toppling of the Czar would be a good thing. Lenin would have agreed with the latter point, but still was enraged by Kautsky’s attempt to use this as a way of legitimizing the German war effort.

Red Blob June 10, 2013 at 12:04 am

PatrickSMcNally there is just no comparison between my position and the position taken by the German Social Democratic Party at the outbreak of ww1
They were backing their government in an imperialist world war.
I am arguing that a rebellious group of democratically minded Syrians be given what they demand IE weapons and a no fly zone.
They are not arguing for anyone to come and fight the revolution on their behalf. They, like the revolutionaries in Libya are asking not to be left to the mercy of murderous dictators.
There is a revolution going on in Syria, the revolutionaries need weapons, could you give me a list of places that you would find acceptable for them to access those weapons from.

Aaron Aarons June 9, 2013 at 12:07 am

Red Blob writes, “[…]there is a real chance that Western Imperial powers might just respond by arming democrats rather than the despots, all in their own interest[…]”

And, it is in their interests as the dominant imperialist bloc, then their enemies, of which I consider myself one, should not be supporting it.


Red Blob June 9, 2013 at 12:27 am

Aaron, when Lenin accepted the support of German imperialists to get to Russia would you have been amongst those principled revolutionaries who argued that he should not get on the train?
In the 1920’s with the USSR in famine would you have been amongst the principled revolutionaries that would have refused food aid from the imperialist USA?
In the Spanish civil war the USSR gave military aid to the Republic, refuse again?
During ww2 the USA gave aid to the USSR refuse again?
During ww2 the USA gave aid to the Viet Minh refuse again?
I agree with you that we should have principles. Our principles should be to advance the cause of the oppressed even when it upsets our previously held ideas.

Aaron Aarons June 10, 2013 at 12:02 am

I have made it clear over and over again here that I consider the situation of a world conflict between two imperialist blocs, as in 1939 to 1945, to be very different from a world situation where one bloc is overwhelmingly dominant militarily and in other ways, and is therefore the main enemy of present and future human and planetary well being.

In every example you give now of things that happened between 1917 and 1945, I would agree with your position, if with certain caveats that are secondary to the main point. I also support the Indian National Army’s haven taken arms from Japan, though I believe they went way too far in coordinating their struggle with that of Japanese imperialism. A case can also be made for Iraqi nationalists having accepted aid from the Axis when they rebelled against a pro-British government in 1941, but I don’t know enough about the details of that situation to decide whether they were simply acting as nationalists or as actual supporters of Naziism and/or Fascism.

Red Blob June 10, 2013 at 12:22 am

Aaron I agree that there is one currently one dominant military power in the world today.
There is also one democratic revolution in the balance today.
How can we let our anti imperialist principles stop us from aiding a democratic revolution.
I think that you have trouble recognizing that a democratic revolution is happening. Maybe you do think that a democratic revolution is happening but that it somehow doesn’t raise itself to a standard that you could support. Maybe you only support socialist revolutions and wars of national liberation. Maybe that’s our real problem the Syrian struggle is below the level that you could support.

Aaron Aarons June 10, 2013 at 12:17 am

byork writes: “The pseudo-left is way to the Right of John McCain.”

It seems that you pro-imperialist pseudo-leftists are so close politically to John McCain that it doesn’t really matter if you are to his left or his right.


Pham Binh May 31, 2013 at 3:49 pm

On the subject of terrorism: Oh brothers, we are against every group, every idea, and every weapon that wants to destroy the social fabric of Syria. We are against every Takfiri idea, to be frank. We are against any idea that calls for blood, and that carries its ideas to the people with steel and fire, by using terrorism and compulsion. The holy Quran states “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” We are an open and tolerant society, and these ideas cannot exist among us.

However, we will not allow the exploitation of the issue over and over again, as was done with the ploy of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which destroyed Iraq. We will not allow nor accept the presence of extremist groups in Syria to be used as a ploy to destroy Syria. The blood of the Syrian people is more precious than all foreign statements, and the decision the Syrian people make will be made by the Syrian people alone.

In regards to those groups that carry alien and extremist views, we say to those states that support them with hundreds of millions of dollars rather than supporting our people, withdraw your groups, there will be no terrorists amongst our people.

The blood of people is more precious than anything. There are youth as young as flowers that are being pushed to our country so that their country can get rid of them. I’m speaking frankly now. There are innocent, devout and pure people who are severely dedicated, who put their souls in their palms for the sake of defending this great, oppressed people. There are states that spend hundreds of millions of dollars in order to send these people to Syria for the purpose of getting rid of them, not for the love of Syria nor for the love of Jihad. — March 29, 2013 statement of Moaz al-Khatib, president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. Translation by Darth Nader.


Aaron Aarons June 1, 2013 at 11:30 am

The “last superpower” group (Arthur Dent, Patrick Muldowney, byork, Bill Kerr, et al.) have made it clear that they do, in fact, support the U.S./NATO occupation of Afghanistan. They also deny human-induced climate change/global warming and generally support the capitalist devastation of the planet in the name of “progress”.

I haven’t found any position they have taken on any issue since the 1980’s that involves siding with workers and peasants against the U.S.-led global capitalist elite. When they do attack leading factions of Western capital, it is for not being sufficiently aggressively imperialist, as in the case of Syria!


David Berger (RED DAVE) June 1, 2013 at 1:23 pm

AARON AARONS: I haven’t found any position [the “last superpower” group has] taken on any issue since the 1980′s that involves siding with workers and peasants against the U.S.-led global capitalist elite. When they do attack leading factions of Western capital, it is for not being sufficiently aggressively imperialist, as in the case of Syria!

DAVID BERGER: I am all for dialogue on the Left, regroupment, convergence, whatever you want to call it. But at a certain point we have to ask: dialogue, regroup, converge with who?

At a certain point, a line has to be drawn? Should this website be open to members of the Tea Party, to out-and-out Democrats. My perspective on regroupment has always been that it will be worked out in practice, with the relationship of the working class in motion.

AARON AARONS: I haven’t found any position [the “last superpower” group has] taken on any issue since the 1980′s that involves siding with workers and peasants against the U.S.-led global capitalist elite.

DAVID BERGER: When I see or hear of these people at a May Day demonstration, marching under their own banner, or on a picket line, or at an Occupy meeting, I’ll have a dialog.


David Berger (RED DAVE) June 1, 2013 at 4:31 pm

If anyone has any clarification on this, it would be appreciated.

There has been a lot of brouhaha in the media that one of the men who was photographed with McCain was actually one of the kidnappers of a group of people, who may or may not have been religious pilgrims, several months ago. Now, it turns out that this person was not one of the kidnappers. Yes or no?

Be that it may, it does seem that, in fact, McCain did meet with the new leadership of the Northern Storm Brigade, which carried out the kidnapping. Is this one of the groups the US is supposed to arm?


Pham Binh June 1, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Wait, what’s wrong with kidnapping enemy soldiers from foreign lands who’ve invaded your country to help keep a murderous, rampaging fascist dictator in power?

Why shouldn’t this brigade be armed? The Syrian Emergency Task Force activist who arranged the meeting works with moderates and secular democrats and has actually brokered agreements between the head of the powerful conservative Islamist al-Sham brigade and religious leaders of Syria’s Christian community (I posted the link in this thread to his presentation at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy contains a wealth of on-the-ground stories of these developments). These agreements protect Christians political and religious rights and autonomy and allow for secular courts to operate without being viewed as competitors/rivals to the ad hoc Sharia courts now operating in liberated areas, a very good thing for all parties.

What’s the problem here?


David Berger (RED DAVE) June 1, 2013 at 5:33 pm

PHAM BINH: Wait, what’s wrong with kidnapping enemy soldiers from foreign lands who’ve invaded your country to help keep a murderous, rampaging fascist dictator in power?

DAVID BERGER: Your rhetoric aside, please note that I was asking a[n] (only slightly loaded) question.


Why shouldn’t this brigade be armed?

DAVID BERGER: Well, maybe because they have reactionary politics.

PHAM BINH: The Syrian Emergency Task Force activist who arranged the meeting works with moderates and secular democrats and has actually brokered agreements between the head of the powerful conservative Islamist al-Sham brigade and religious leaders of Syria’s Christian community (I posted the link in this thread to his presentation at the Washington Institute for Near East policy contains a wealth of on-the-ground stories of these developments).

DAVID BERGER: Which say nothing about the politics of the Northern Storm Brigade and whether or not they should be armed.

PHAM BINH: What’s the problem here?

DAVID BERGER: The problem is that the politics of none of these groups are clear and to call for the US to arm them, given the politics of imperialism, remains a very dangerous proposition. It may, in fact, be the correct position. But in the absence of clear definitions and clear statements about the outcome of this struggle, there seems to be much too much enthusiasm for calling for intervention by the US.

The differences between, for example, the US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, and intervention in Syria, needs to be clarified.

People here at the North Star are tossing out the names of one political group or another, and characterizing these groups based, in my opinion, on a large amount of wish fulfillment.

And the fact that a group is floating around here that supports not only US intervention in Syria but, using the same politics, justifies the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, does not make the political issues involved here particularly obvious.


Pham Binh June 1, 2013 at 6:01 pm

There’s nothing “rhetorical” about armed soldiers coming invading your country to kill you for trying to topple your tyrant. And here I thought you had a problem with foreign intervention?

According to you, everyone on this site except for yourself has reactionary politics. You are welcome to email the brigade and ask them what their line on the Democratic Party is.

I would like to see the articles you refer to posted on NS that call for U.S. intervention. Why you and so many others are so obsessed with denouncing a handful of Australians who have failed to convince anyone of anything about Iraq in 10 years as if anyone has been swayed by their inanity is beyond me.


David Berger (RED DAVE) June 1, 2013 at 9:06 pm

PHAM BINH: There’s nothing “rhetorical” about armed soldiers coming invading your country to kill you for trying to topple your tyrant. And here I thought you had a problem with foreign intervention?

DAVID BERGER: You’re so anxious to beat your gums that you fail to notice, or to acknowledge, that I was asking a question. Which you didn’t answer.

PHAM BINH: According to you, everyone on this site except for yourself has reactionary politics. You are welcome to email the brigade and ask them what their line on the Democratic Party is.

DAVID BERGER: Why don’t you do what you’re supposed to do in addressing this issue and try to clarify things, instead of speculating and fantasizing about the politics of various groups.

PHAM BINH: I would like to see the articles you refer to posted on NS that call for U.S. intervention.

DAVID BERGER: Basically, a call for the US to arm the rebels amounts to intervention.

PHAM BINH: Why you and so many others are so obsessed with denouncing a handful of Australians who have failed to convince anyone of anything about Iraq in 10 years as if anyone has been swayed by their inanity is beyond me.

DAVID BERGER: Why they’re permitted to post here since they aren’t socialists is beyond me.


Brian S. June 9, 2013 at 7:33 am

@David B. “maybe because they have reactionary politics” – are you saying that they DO have reactionary politics or that they MIGHT have reactionary politics? If the former, what is your evidence? If the latter, do you really propose to determine your attitude towards people fighting a brutal regime on the basis of what you think they might think?
On your earlier question regarding McCain’s visit and Northern Storm -its obvious that this story is an amalgam cobbled together to discredit the McCain visit. The internet repeated mantra that he was photographed with the “kidnappers” seems unfounded: the “incriminating” evidence is the presence in some photos of McCain of Mohammed Nour, who seems to take photos for the batallion (including, allegedly photos of those kidnapped); so unless they are claiming that the kidnapping was carried out with nothing more than an SLR this seems like a tendentious extrapolation. None of the original reports (as opposed to the internet-heated repetitions) claim that he was in contact with Northern Storm military figures.


Brian S. June 9, 2013 at 7:47 am

CORRECTION to the above: I’ve just checked Elizabeth O’Bagy’s twitter feed and she states that Northern Storm “hosted” the McCain visit – so I guess its safe to assume that they would have been included in the discussion of militay issues. She says :
“Asifat al-Shamal hosted him in Syria, but he met with commanders from many different brigade, 20 in total.”


Pham Binh June 2, 2013 at 10:57 pm

A very rigorous evidence-based discussion of the contradictions of the “anti-imperialist” line on Syria that also deals with the “Saudi Arabia=U.S.” crap:


Pham Binh June 5, 2013 at 2:04 pm

All the imperialist weapons and ammo Arthur and patricksm promised is on its way after the end of the arms embargo on the Free Syrian Army is now making a huge difference on the battlefield:


Arthur June 5, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Your emphatic claim the EU embargo would remain (because that is consistent with the rest of your analysis) was refuted within days, immediately after I suggested it would be refuted within weeks. It is understandable that you would be slightly miffed about that, but this sort of response is really childish.

Nobody made at any predictions that Quasayr would be hold or that weapons would arrive quickly. That is simply because there was no basis to do so. Whereas you have no hesitation “predicting” that things will remain as they are based on the “evidence” that things are as they are.


Pham Binh June 5, 2013 at 8:38 pm

So where are the weapons if the embargo is over?


David Ellis June 7, 2013 at 5:07 am

I see the Gramscian Stalinists (StWC, Counterfire, etc) who include the leader of Russian imperialism and the mass murdering head of the Syrian semi-colonial state in their `anti-imperialist hegemony’ are holding a demonstration against the non-existent Western intervention on 15 June. These people should be branded with infamy if not with something a little stronger.

The Syrian rebels, as a legitimate part of the Arab Spring, have a right if not a duty to acquire arms from where ever they can. Whilst Assad has been supplied liberally and freely by Russia including now SAMs that make it impossible for the West to create a no-fly zone (they’ll be glad because they conceded Syria to the Russian sphere anyway) the rebels have been subject to an EU arms embargo of more than 800 days and the only reason the possibility of them getting arms is now being mooted is to pressurise Assad into `peace’ talks.


Sandwich Artist #456894560435035 June 8, 2013 at 8:04 pm

The “rebels” in Syria, without any significant base of support from within that country’s population, are getting their asses kicked; that is clearly why neither on this page, nor on Louis Proyect’s grotesquely misnamed and similarly pseudo-left, pro-imperialist blog “The Unrepentant Marxist” have any articles appeared about the war in Syria for some time. The only thing that can save these murderous sock-puppets of imperialism is a massive bombing campaign carried out by NATO, alongside a further increase in arms shipments from the NATO-allied Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. In other words, “we have to destroy Syria in order to save it.”


Pham Binh June 8, 2013 at 8:30 pm

You gloat over the Free Syrian Army’s tactical withdrawal from Qusayr thanks to foreign invasion from Lebanon as if Assad has succeeded in smashing the people and winning the country back. The only one destroying Syria in order to save himself is Assad.

Someone who opposes intervention as a matter of principle should be demanding Russia and Iran stop arming Assad and getting all Iranian and Hezbollah boots on the ground out of Syria but being principled isn’t your strong suit. Stick to making sandwiches.


Red Blob June 8, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Dear Sandwich A have you got any evidence that the rebels are “without any significant base of support from within that country’s population,”
You also say that they are getting their asses kicked as of that was an indicator of their support level (now I love those cute little donkeys as much as anyone) but history is full of good causes that got creamed because the bad guys had more weapons IE Chile, E Timor, Spain, Bahrain, Palestine.


Louis Proyect June 8, 2013 at 9:27 pm

The “rebels” in Syria, without any significant base of support from within that country’s population, are getting their asses kicked

It’s not often that you get football fans posting here.


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Pham Binh May 24, 2013 at 2:04 pm

This is beginning to sound like the Neverland rhetoric re: war on Iran. How many years will go by before either pseudos and their antipodes realize they erred re: military action? They’re at 10, you’re at 2 and counting. You’ll never catch up, but only because they had a head start.

My analysis on the so-called “red line” ( has held up rather well and underpins why I think you and your comrades who supported the invasion of Iraq are dead wrong about the prospect of U.S. military action against the Assad regime in Syria. You labor under the illusion that eventually U.S. imperialism will get involved in a “swamp draining” operation in Syria in some form, but Iraq ain’t Syria. They have said openly that they want the regime intact sans Assad. All of their actions and inactions have been consistent with that basic aim because without that state machine who will hold back the Palestians and keep Syrian guns on the Golan quiet? The last thing they want is a popular, democratic government in Damascus. They’ve been fighting against democratic movements and backing tyrants in the region since WW2 and their policy in Syria from day 1 of the revolution in 2011 has been entirely consistent with that historical policy and will remain so for the forseeable future (decades). What you take as dithering and reluctance by Obama is actually conscious, deliberate, and completely consistent with their interests.

So my reading is that the U.S. will not take action to bring down the regime it wants to save; it might move in with some forces to keep sarin out of the hands of Jabhat al-Nusrah and other like-minded groups, but we are years away from that because the regime is dying very, very slowly thanks to the foreign intervention the pseudos never take action against — boots on the ground from Iran and Hezbollah, tons of Russian heavy weapons and money. In the short term, we are more likely to see drone attacks on JaN and similar outfits — the U.S. is continually collecting intel on them from its FSA contacts and making other preparations to carry them out.

These peace talks are based on the common interest between Russian and American imperialisms in seeing the regime survive the revolution intact. Assad has already dismissed these talks, so of course they will come to nothing. Assad’s dismissal is a reflection of his new-found confidence due to the recent advances his forces have made in the south which were only possible because the weapons and ammo supply to the FSA from abroad “mysteriously” dried up. This is probably the U.S.’s way of pressuring the opposition to sue for peace since those supply lines run through U.S. allies Turkey and Jordan. If Assad’s new offensive fails to make major headway (as I believe it will), I think the ammo lines will re-open to the FSA and the U.S. will finally start contemplating how to pursue its interests in a post-regime Syria. In the meantime, the U.S. and E.U. arms embargo will continue.


Arthur May 24, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Your “analysis” also explains why you denounced support for NATO helping overthrow the Libyan regime as “cruise missile marxists”. But it isn’t consistent with you having subsequently changed your mind. If what what you say is true then, for exactly the same purely abstract and general “historical” reasons the US could not have helped overthrow the Libyan regime.

If the US wanted to help the regime survive it would make more sense to simply ignore what’s happening rather than focusing world attention on it with an international conference.


Arthur May 25, 2013 at 1:11 pm

“In the meantime, the U.S. and E.U. arms embargo will continue.”

Ok, let’s review that particular prediction in a couple of weeks. Not much point arguing about it now.

Britain and France are proposing exemption of the Syrian opposition from the EU arms embargo NEXT WEEK (May 31) and US DIPLOMATS ARE SUPPORTING THEM.


patrickm May 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Binh Putin thinks you are wrong! The Russian thug is going to send more air defense weapons. Assad thinks you are wrong and he wants those weapons systems not to fight against people that have no air force. I think that you are not very experienced and being new to this pro-war left you might want to give a bit more of a frank exchange and answer a bit more when you are challenged. You have many years of contact with anti-war types like hands off Carl and Mike and so on and you now reject their anti McCain hysteria. Your quite happy that McCain is putting the pressure on Obama. Your glad that the Patriots are in place and that the Turkish PM is calling for war, because you know that calling for a NFZ over Syria is calling for war. If NATO gets directly involved it will be a big war that the Russian gangster wants to make bigger! Obama has been busy pushing re-set buttons and other such drivel instead of getting the A10’s working at smashing another fascist army. He wants to do as little as possible but 30 days will be up in 30 days and look what happened to your possition over the last couple of days. Are you interested in trying to get a pro-war left article supporting McCain in the MSM?


Pham Binh May 24, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Instead of contesting my analysis with your own, you use quotes around “analysis” and change the subject to Libya. Pseudoleft-in-reverse indeed.

If the U.S. wanted to help end the regime, they would have acted as they did in Libya or at least provided arms directly. They can’t ignore the regime’s demise and so they hope to draw both side into a negotiated settlement to save it. All of this is obvious except to the willfully blind.


Arthur May 24, 2013 at 4:26 pm

The distinction you are missing is between what they should have done and what they would have done.

They should have acted long ago.

In a world where everyone does what they should do and when they should do it, your method of “analysis” would work.


Pham Binh May 24, 2013 at 4:40 pm

The U.S. has done exactly what it should have given the interests of its ruling class.

I have yet to hear any analysis from you. Quotation marks and sarcasm don’t cut it.


Brian S. May 26, 2013 at 7:01 am

Well, its not looking very good for the amending of the EU arms embargo, but we’ll have to see. But the embargo is a bit of a red herring – even if it were amended there’s no guarantee that it would be followed by significant assistance to the armed opposition. After all, the US is not affected by EU policy, so there’s been nothing to prevent them from providing weapons if that’s what they wanted. In my view the proposal to amend EU policy is a device to apply pressure on the regime – a diplomatic far more than a military move, at least at this stage.
Its also important to keep an eye on the manoeuvres around “Geneva 2”. It may never take place, but if it does it will raise the question of what sort of solution the US is prepared to settle for in order to recover control of what it sees as a highly problematic situation both domestically and internationally. The danger is that they will be prepared to underwrite some sort of “transition” formula that leaves the regime effectively in control, ostensibly for a “transition period” but in reality much longer. (A Zimbabwe type solution.) Asad is highly unlikely to accept this – but there will be vigorous maneouvres, led by the Russians, to make it appear that it is the opposition and not the regime that is obstructing a solution. That will be one of the main axes of the public debate in the coming weeks.


Arthur May 27, 2013 at 6:55 pm
Pham Binh May 30, 2013 at 11:21 am

For the record, Idriss is in favor of a no-fly zone:
“What we want from the U.S. government is to take the decision to support the Syrian revolution with weapons and ammunition, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft weapons,” Idris said. “Of course we want a no-fly zone and we ask for strategic strikes against Hezbollah both inside Lebanon and inside Syria.”

An interview with Emergency Task Force Executive Director Mouaz Moustafa who arranged the trip:

Moustafa did a really excellent presentation on what civilian governance is like in liberated areas. Well worth listening to for anyone who is serious about studying what is actually going on on the ground there:


Brian S. May 28, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Yes, good news: but I understand that Britain and France agreed not to actually send any weapons until August – placing the immediate emphasis on the diplomatic process.


Pham Binh May 31, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Embargo continues:

“Britain’s Foreign Office insists that no final decision on whether to arm the rebels has yet been made. But a senior UK diplomat told the Financial Times that Britain could be in a position to arm the rebels this summer if, as many expect, the planned peace conference in Geneva fails to make headway.

‘The precise timing has not yet been finalised and no decision has yet been taken. But we are likely to be … shipping arms to the rebels by August,’ the official said. ‘What I expect is that over the next two or three months western powers will move low-grade arms supplies in bulk to the rebels. The rebels need ammunition, and a lot of it, just to keep fighting.’”


Pham Binh May 28, 2013 at 1:32 pm

It’s a good thing these pseudos-in-reverse aren’t leading the Syrian revolution. They’d be trying to feed their units empty promises from imperialists bent on controlling and limiting the democratic revolution rather than helping it. “Next week, a no-fly zone guys! The Turkish PM is pushing for it! True story!”


patrickm May 28, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Brian; ending the arms embargo required a political effort so naturally something had to be given to satisfy those who did not want to end that embargo and naturally it is both a diplomatic and a military issue. What has been given is the opportunity for something to come out of the meeting forced on Putin who is the biggest blockage as he bluffs the spineless.

Deploying the Patriot missile batteries and the German and US troops etc., all those months ago was both as well. That is the nature of this very complicated war that the western bourgeois are slowly and reluctantly being drawn into. IMV Israel is not so easily bluffed by Putin.

Do you remember…

Brian S. August 9, 2012 at 2:07 pm
Arthur, I note that you say “demanding air strikes in support of democratic revolution in Syria, which neither Republicans nor Democrats support YET). I presume that means you expect one or other of them to do so eventually, and that it will apply for the whole of your phrase – ie that they will be “supporting democratic revolution”. It looks as if you’re expecting it to be more likely that you’ll find your allies among Republicans.
This seems to be entirely in keeping with the views expressed earlier by patrickm on this site and over on

The McCain trip is interesting no?

I have wanted all manner of people from outside Syria to get involved in bringing down the Assad tyranny for about 2 years just not Al Qaeda sorts but they are involved now in a big way and their Iraqi brothers are terror bombing every other day!

(See when Brendon and Chav took me to task over Libya and how I responded by actually answering them )

I say from my own experience (and it continues) that this style of open honest approach has been missing from anything that presents as leftist for decades and that is not how to behave in an exchange of views with fellow pro-war advocates. We are all wanting our capitalist governments to get involved in a war of liberation.

For example the stance over the collective security defense of Kuwait is so stunningly different when that stance is now contrasted to the same person offering support for the NATO war of liberation that was fought in Libya for Libyans by people that also came from all manner of countries and then went home is mind-bogglingly strange to me. No one is obliged to re-visit their previous positions but the hands off opponents can see how strange this is.

There are even people who think themselves left and support Iraqi fascism annexing Kuwait in the anti-war camp, and that is beyond me but that camp was opposed in words only and wanted nothing done! We all remember the low point of ‘No to Saddam, No to intervention’. Oil this oil that. While fascist aggression was stopped by the US led UN forces.

Why U.S. imperialism is not clearly understood (despite the horrendous warts) to have played a positive role in WW2 followed by a shockingly negative role in Korea and then in Vietnam is no fault of the communist tradition I have emerged from. We go case by case and yet we have young activists like Binh not understanding that – after almost a year of exchanging views. And what do we get from Brian the idea keeps being floated and sinking that we are naive. Well I suppose I might be. But the U.S. now has a major leader speaking up for arming the FSA and he is John McCain.

Wars are complicated undertakings and the current crop of bourgeois political leaders in NATO are not much cop that is for sure! But the Turks, British, French and now Israel have been able to think through the issues faster than Obama.

A NFZ means war and that will not be over parts of Syria but over all of Syria. All Assad’s air-craft have to be grounded and destroyed once this starts. Carl could probably give us casualty estimates when he speaks at the Left Forum – the current 80,000 will no double double and he will want the horrendous war stopped and the US troops out now! That Left Forum is going to see some solid discussion about who is supporting exactly what at the moment.

Years ago the ruling-elite of the U.S. had no red line drawn when Saddam mass murdered entire villages out of existence and (giving my side more casualties in one day than the COW suffered in the entire war against Iraqi fascism). Now McCain is insisting that Obama ought to know that his pinkish line has been crossed while Obama continues to allow the frog to be boiled.

In my experience and as this thread demonstrates it really requires the teach in activities that Carl remembers from the old days when a real left knew how to learn in open, honest debate against alternative views.

For example IMV a theory of imperialism that passed itself off as Leninism has collapsed on people.

That the US ruling elite policy option for the Middle East North Africa (MENA) was a genuine policy option for their ruling class is not understood at all. It became a religion for the revolutionary generation of the 60’ies that the realists had the only policies that the imperialist US could choose. But that was not the case.

Both the ascending and descending U.S. imperialism as it went from admin to admin blocked progress in the whole region of the MENA for essentially the whole period after WW2 till 9/11 blew back in not the realists faces – when the left always said that they were following rotten to the core policies that they should stop following the left meant it. It did blow back in their faces.

Then on 9/11 they had war dumped on them almost on the very spot where the Left Forum will gather. The tiny circle that make U.S. policy especially when the country is at war, went through a genuine teach in at the war cabinet level of policy formation. They took everyone’s (in that cabinet) strategic views into account and planned a strategy to win a war! That is what real political leaders get up to when the country is at war. Obama reminded people that they are still at war now just the other day. That would be the one against Al Qaeda and their mates and he is not just talking about the good war over in Afghanistan.

McCain is right to get the pressure on Obama to back the Islamist troops that he was filmed with from the FSA. Why no proposal for a statement of support from the left? Why no good spirit shown when going public in the MSM is proposed?


Brian S. May 28, 2013 at 3:13 pm

I never thought I’d find myself relieved by the arrival of Jabhat al-Nusra somewhere, but I confess that is my reaction to the news that they’ve broken through the SAA cordon and entered Qusair from the North.


Pham Binh May 28, 2013 at 4:14 pm

I’m glad they aren’t waiting for the imperialists to act or writing pro-McCain articles.


Aaron Aarons June 6, 2013 at 1:01 am

I hope that Jabhat al-Nusra arrived in Qusair in time to be captured or wiped out by Hezbollah and the Syrian army.


Pham Binh May 28, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Putin is a mad dog killer arming a mad dog killer in Syria — why should I believe a word either of them says?

When I see some American weapons in Syrian hands, I’ll change my mind, but not before.

Nothing happened to my position in the last couple of days. A conference was held. Solemn words were spoken. And the FSA continued to receive no guns or ammo from the imperialist West.

After 30 days, we’ll see if you or I am right about whether or not the U.S. sends military aid. You’ve been wrong since 2011, but maybe you’ll be right. If you are, I’ll be glad.


Aaron Aarons May 29, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing hysterical commentary in the capitalist media in response to the downing of Western imperialist warplanes over Syria. And one can hope that some of those Russian anti-aircraft missiles get through to Hezbollah in Lebanon.


Arthur May 28, 2013 at 8:20 pm

It may take longer than 30 days. But we already know:

1. Your confident assertion “In the meantime, the U.S. and E.U. arms embargo will continue.” was proved wrong within a few days.

2. Instead of being glad about that, or even just having the good grace to acknowledge you got it wrong, you proceed to dismiss the relevance of what you had brought up yourself before.

Start analysing the forces at work and the direction of movement instead of looking for evidence that “nothing changes” and making periodic announcements that changes that might appear to be happening mean nothing.


Pham Binh May 28, 2013 at 9:29 pm

If you have any evidence of E.U. weapons/ammo in Syria now, let’s see it. You can’t kill fascists with credit or IOUs.


Pham Binh June 1, 2013 at 3:08 pm

More evidence against the pseudos-left-in-reverse whose hope that Obama will intervene against Assad springs eternal:

“From the administration perspective… the only thing
that will work in this situation is the ‘negotiated
settlement,’ and so that is where this White House
wants to keep it,” said a second State Department
official. “There appears to be no interest in doing any
next steps, and so this is sort of a fallback because the
next step is not something that they are willing to

No Plan B has emerged in discussions with Washington
diplomats about what to do should the peace talks fail
to end the savage two-year conflict. The other options
before the White House, according to this official, “are
all problematic, they are all not easy and from where I sit there really is not interest in being involved. Period.”

“It is a policy of containment, non-intervention at all
costs,” said the first State Department official. “Short of
sarin gas being lobbed at Tel Aviv, we are not going to


Pham Binh May 29, 2013 at 4:49 pm

A Turkish plane was shot down by Assad long ago.

Strike three for you on this topic.


Pham Binh May 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm

You act like I was referring to you personally in talking about trends on the left. Wake up. Neither I nor anyone else cares what your position is on Syria.


Pham Binh June 7, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Brown lives and voices don’t count for much unless they’re “fighting imperialism” I guess.


Aaron Aarons June 8, 2013 at 9:20 pm

For Pham Binh and his North Star comrades, “Brown lives and voices don’t count for much unless” they can be used to undermine principled leftist anti-imperialism. Which is why we don’t see much, if anything at all, from them about Haiti, the Congo, South Africa, India, Bangladesh, et al..


Pham Binh June 9, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Some people have learned what to think rather than how to think.


patrickm June 9, 2013 at 9:28 pm

TNS is distinguished from anti-war sites because its owners had been anti-war activists and then supported NATO war making (after the event) over Libya.

The owners of TNS stand opposed to their former anti-war comrades over the current war in Syria and that war is no longer – if it ever was – a purely civil war.

So as regards Syria, TNS ought to be thought of as a pro-war site after the stand the owners have taken against Noam Chomsky style hands-off calls.

Chomsky has not backed down over Libya and is consistent AFAIK on Syria. Like the owners of this site I want to see weapons delivered to the FSA. I want
much more than that but I don’t complain at that ‘meddling’ in the affairs of Syria.

Disputes about how the Syrian war can be supported, or even if it is in NATO
ruling-elites’ interests to fight on the side of Syrian peoples’ can be expected by pro-war activists, but they remain disputes that time will resolve as practice unfolds. At the next milestone event I will remain supportive of weapons and training and so forth being delivered to the FSA, and Carl and Noam will remain calling for hands-off. So the effort IMV at your NY Left Forum ought to have been to produce a TNS leaflet with a clear pro-war position and see what debate could be generated from that effort to mix with the ‘old crowd’.

Assad’s forces may make a blunder and at some point kill in such a manner that almost everyone understands that the red line is crossed. If that happened then possibly even Carl will take a WW2 unite with McCain stand, instead of just falling silent as the anti-war lot are progressively doing. Of course anti-war formations are not relevant to the extent that they do go silent but those that work to keep the pro-war left silent are a problem. They can be out flanked in the MSM but they can’t be defeated at their own events like the NY Left Forum. They are organisationally incapable of changing as we saw over Libya.

I have never thought that this war (Syrian front) would be better fought under any theory that has emerged out of the 21st C anti-war movement.

Now…clearly the expectations that the US ruling-elite would discover that
supporting the war effort of the Syrian masses – as they struggle to rid
themselves of the Assad tyranny and introduce a ‘basic’ bourgeois democracy
is in US ruling class interests have been met. Clearly these policy
positions are now being met by the Republican party hate figure of all
manner of anti-war activist John McCain.

McCain is saying that the US under Obama is stumbling on the big picture
and is many months and 40,000 dead behind events as they appear to the governments of the region (from my POV Obama is years behind). McCain is now calling for measures that I have wanted to see all along. McCain is on the same track as the Turks and the British etc. Obama is being dragged along and has been giving all the wrong signals to the enemies of the revolution but he is the elected king of the USA.

All of Assad’s efforts are going into the formation of a new reduced Syria
and the constant destruction and partial control of liberated Syria.
Clearly the UN will prove useless in bringing Assad’s regime to an end. Just
as clearly Assad can not regain total control of the old Syria. The
enclave is being formed and so the force that can and will want it
destroyed will be being built every day in liberated Syria. Only seriously large
and technically advanced armed forces could be able to destroy the armed forces of the enclave and occupy it in any short run sense.

Liberated Syria wants be free of Assad’s air, sea and land attacks, but if
it is then it will work for a growth in power and eventually those involved will seek to overrun any authoritarian enclave and clear up the political problem that will always remain unresolved otherwise. IMV the country can’t be divided because Damascus will be contested and eventually decide the issue. The regions peoples’ are in their masses young, mobilizing and willing – if not exactly prepared – to fight.

No wonder the anti-war activists are confused. A very large war of
intervention is the best way forward and I am obliged to agree with
McCain’s minimal proposals to arm the rebels.

Where are the carrier task forces being notably sailed? Where are the
US marines and publicized NATO special forces forward deployments? Where is the unmistakeable effort to build a Coalition of the Willing that is forming.

Clearly the forces have now shaped up. Putin IMV will try to keep
the enclave and whatever happens he wants the peoples’ of the ME to pay a
high price for achieving a progress that exposes his regime for what it
is. I don’t think he can change the direction of the masses that are
fighting in the Syrian civil war and I think it is already now a regional

I am concerned that this pro-war stand on Syria by TNS owners is being lost
sight of. This is now a sharp division that has obvious meaning for the
left forum event as Noam Chomsky will run a hands-off line; either the owners
continue to work with Carl, Mike and the main speaker Noam etc., in an
anti-imperialist focused anti-war movement that calls for no help to the
Syrians, or they continue on as pro-war advocates supportive of Syrian
peoples’ uniting with others also wanting to see them obtain weapons etc., from NATO.

This Left Forum event ought to have been a ‘watershed’ event for the owners of TNS. Issues of war and peace divide people and despite the past and various attitudes to other wars, it is only the present that people ought to divide over. The current pro-war activist must unite to do some work.

It is a given that the support of the pro-war western left is to the extent that those peoples’ fighting in Syria are united behind FSA type demands. I believe that is the current starting point rather than some view about WW2 or whatever else informs mine or others thinking.

NATO including the US is playing a role now and will play more or less of a
role as the war unfolds. Whatever that role is right now both the owners
and myself want more done and so does John McCain. That much I am clear

I think that the owners would be glad if NATO were to disregard Putin and
make war under similar conditions in Syria as was made in Libya ending the Assad tyranny. That would require a big war effort as this regime is not going down without a very great struggle and the death toll is now about 85,000.

IMV NATO is waging a low level undeclared war against Assad now. The US
sending night vision goggles; body armour; medical supplies; training and
with other western governments caring for refugees and providing that very
important INTEL is not anywhere near what people at TNS would want but it is
still on the correct side of the ledger.

If and when NATO makes obvious war against the Assad regime those of us
supporting the Syrian revolution – and thinking this through at TNS – that
claim to be western progressives and revolutionary leftists of whatever
stripe can’t say that the end result will eventually be an independent
country because Syria might break-up and or a regional war may be unfolding
as part of the process. ‘Ethnic’ cleansing style sectarian division might
begin to plumb the current depths of the human savagery that we have seen
unleashed as a deliberate policy by both Al Qaeda, Baathists and various
others with little love for democracy like Sadr over the last ten years.

The owners of TNS can at this point review events and conclude that their
grasp of the way events are unfolding is sounder than mine but that won’t
alter the fact that we are both advocating for more war directed at ending
the Assad regime.

The retention of a non democratic enclave is now on the agenda. The
Western anti-war elements led by Noam Chomsky etc., attending the NY Left Forum will argue for cease fire when the enclave is under attack. But the attack must be pressed home or that very active anti-democratic enclave will remain as part of the world’s regimes that can’t be changed in a peaceful manner and in surviving it would strengthen all the others.

TNS only exists because the anti-war position was systematically rejected
and unity established with a pro-war left viewpoint over Libya. That view
carries through to the war in Syria in that the owners are well known for
supporting the revolutionaries as led by the FSA that has a supportable
revolutionary position.

Both the owners and myself want to see arms and ammunition added to the
material that various NATO countries already deliver to Syrian peoples’ and
I am pleased to be not surprised that McCain wants arms delivered as well.
Anything anti-war that is at the NY Left Forum ought to be challenged as a
priority to spitting chips at people who think differently about how other
wars started and why they did, though we should freely and openly honestly and in an above board manner discuss these other historical issues, but they remain history and Syria is today.

However, a bottom line is that there must be open support for the Iraqi
authorities in dealing with the Al Qaeda sectarian killers in 2013 just as
there is for supporting the also not perfect FSA.

Making war on Al Qaeda is part and parcel of what the left does as a way of life! If we can’t do it ourselves we will always support others while we retain our views on how to do it best.

Pro Assad elements are ‘beyond the pale’ here at TNS yet common in the
US anti-war milieu and I imagine that having changed their view the owners of TNS would puzzle a bit at the failure of others from their previous circles to not change theirs and would be mystified like me as to why those with views expressed now as pro Assad ‘anti-imperialism’ would think themselves progressive in any way. As displayed in comments here clearly they (the still active anti-war elements) are not interested in uniting at even the low level of bourgeois democracy so building beyond that does not warrant any consideration at all.


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