The Syrian Revolution at the Left Forum

by Louis Proyect on June 12, 2013

First published at Unrepentant Marxist. Edits by The North Star.

I will be posting a journal of the panels I attended at last weekend’s Left Forum in New York City soon including an audio archive (with mixed success, since about one-half of the panels involved Powerpoint slides or other visual material). But today I want to single out a particularly interesting panel discussion that did not allow recordings for security reasons. “Prospects for Syria’s Revolution” was held under the auspices of Haymarket Books, the imprint of the International Socialist Organization.

The first speaker was from the Syrian Freedom Forever blog, an indispensable resource for understanding Syria from a Marxist standpoint. Even though he is presently not based in Syria, the blogger had to have his identity concealed during a Skype video call since it is entirely conceivable that the Baathist goons might want to track him down.

The second speaker was Anand Gopal, who quite simply is the most informed person on the American left about Syria, both theoretically and as a journalist, who has taken great risks to tell the true story of the revolutionary struggle.

To give you an idea of what the Syrian Freedom Forever blogger stands for, here’s an excerpt from a recent blog entry:

The role of the revolutionary is to be on the side and struggle with these popular organizations struggling for freedom and dignity and to radicalize as much as possible the popular movement towards progressive objectives, while fighting against opportunists and reactionary forces opposing popular class interests.

A banner in Homs expressed very well this feeling: The revolution is permanent against the regime and the cheap lackey opposition.

My feeling is that as long as there is one Syrian expressing such a view and arrayed against him are revolutionary governments in Venezuela and Cuba, as well as dozens of leftist websites, and groups like the Stop the War Coalition in Britain, I will stand with him or her against al-Assad and friends.


His talk took the bull by the horns and challenged some of the myths about Baathism that are circulated on the left:

1. Baathism as a Secular Movement

Hafez al-Assad, the current dictator’s father, was responsible for a constitution that stated that only a Muslim could be president doing so in order to placate the Muslim Brotherhood. Under his reign, there were more mosques built in Syria than in Saudi Arabia. When he organized a coup against the leftist military officer Salah Jadid in 1970, he did so on the basis of orienting Syria to conservative Arab states like Jordan and Saudi Arabia. And most importantly, in the early period of the Syrian revolution, his son Bashar al-Assad released Islamist hardliners from prison knowing full well that they would constitute a challenge to the more secular ranks of the democratic opposition. The Daily Star of Lebanon reported on March 19, 2013 that al-Assad “ordered the release of the Islamist prisoners some two years ago”, dovetailing with the Washington Post report of March 27, 2011 that 246 Islamist prisoners had been released from the Sednaya military prison in Damascus.

2. Baathism as a Socialist Movement

In Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf controls 60% of the nation’s wealth. 30% of the population lives under $1 per day, and 60% under$2. The International Monetary Fund has supported every single one of al-Assad’s economic policies and Saudi Arabia is Syria’s primary investor. Under Bashar al-Assad, the economy has evolved away from agriculture into banking and insurance.

You can also consult my own article on “The Economic Contradictions of Syrian Baathism” for more information.

3. Baathism as an Anti-Imperialist Movement

Besides reminding us of Baathist support for Lebanese fascists against the Palestinians, Syrian Freedom Forever made a point that I had been completely unaware of: Hafez al-Assad supported George Bush the senior’s first Gulf War on Saddam Hussein. Bashar al-Assad also had summit meetings with Sarkozy in 2008, with his adviser arch-imperialist Bernard Kouchner in tow. El-Marad, a Lebanese newspaper, reported at the time:

Both leaders held a joint press conference in Damascus following their first session of talks. …

President Assad said that his earlier visit to France and President Sarkozy’s visit to Syria had both strengthened relations between their countries. Noting that France currently holds the presidency of the European Union, Assad said he supported Sarkozy’s efforts to play a more active role in the Arab world, and said he was happy with “a new dynamic” form of European involvement in the region “after many years of absence.”

Meanwhile let’s not forget how Hillary Clinton viewed Bashar al-Assad until facts on the ground made such a statement untenable:

“There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.” – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on “Face the Nation,” March 27, 2011

For people unfamiliar with Anand Gopal’s reporting, the best thing I can do is refer you to his August 2012 Harper’s article titled “Welcome to Free Syria” that convinced me early on that there was a revolution occurring there that the left should get behind, especially this passage :

All around Taftanaz, amid the destruction, rebel councils like this were meeting—twenty-seven in all, and each of them had elected a delegate to sit on the citywide council. They were a sign of a deeper transformation that the revolution had wrought in Syria: Bashar al-Assad once subdued small towns like these with an impressive apparatus of secret police, party hacks, and yes-men; now such control was impossible without an occupation. The Syrian army, however, lacked the numbers to control the hinterlands—it entered, fought, and moved on to the next target. There could be no return to the status quo, it seemed, even if the way forward was unclear.

In the neighboring town of Binnish, I visited the farmers’ council, a body of about a thousand members that set grain prices and adjudicated land disputes. Its leader, an old man I’ll call Abdul Hakim, explained to me that before the revolution, farmers were forced to sell grain to the government at a price that barely covered the cost of production. Following the uprising, the farmers tried to sell directly to the town at almost double the former rates. But locals balked and complained to the citywide council, which then mandated a return to the old prices—which has the farmers disgruntled, but Hakim acknowledged that in this revolution, “we have to give to each as he needs.”

It was a phrase I heard many times, even from landowners and merchants who might otherwise bristle at the revolution’s egalitarian rhetoric—they cannot ignore that many on the front lines come from society’s bottom rungs. At one point in March, the citywide council enforced price controls on rice and heating oil, undoing, locally, the most unpopular economic reforms of the previous decade.

“We have to take from the rich in our village and give to the poor,” Matar told me. He had joined the Taftanaz student committee, the council that plans protests and distributes propaganda, and before April 3 he had helped produce the town’s newspaper, Revolutionary Words. Each week, council members laid out the text and photos on old laptops, sneaked the files into Turkey for printing, and smuggled the finished bundles back into Syria. The newspaper featured everything from frontline reporting to disquisitions on revolutionary morality to histories of the French Revolution. (“This is not an intellectual’s revolution,” Matar said. “This is a popular revolution. We need to give people ideas, theory.”)

The one thing struck me in Anand’s presentation was how the situation had become so militarized in Syria so suddenly. He gave the best analysis I have heard.

To start with, this revolution was rooted in the countryside where the regime’s abandonment of support for the peasantry created mass hatred for the system. But unlike the cities, where an organized working class could mount mass protests even up to and including a general strike in order to put pressure on the regime, the relatively atomized peasantry had to resort to arms almost immediately since this was the only tenable defense.

Very rapidly, those who had access to guns and the money necessary to defend the masses were propelled into the leadership. This meant for the Free Syrian Army that the owner of a cement factory became a top commander —  his access to funds was critical. In a very real sense, Syria was experiencing a kind of bourgeois-democratic revolution. It also explains the rise of the Islamist militias. With money pouring in from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, it gave the jihadists’ clout.

Even though the Islamists have become a major factor in the Syrian struggle, Gopal pointed to the more secular and more democratic-minded mass movement’s willingness to take them on. He referred to the conflicts taking place in Raqqa, the first provincial capital under rebel rule. Even though the Islamists are trying to impose Sharia law and codes that make women second-class citizens, the secular and democratic-minded residents are not intimidated. This passage from a recent New Yorker article shows the give-and-take of the unfolding drama:

Two men in their twenties, called Abu Noor and Abu Abdullah, answered, then called me to the door to greet the man from Jabhat. They were both civilians, but supported the uprising. We stood in the stairwell of the apartment building chatting for a few minutes, and then Abu Abdullah went inside and came back with a flyer bearing Jabhat’s name. It called for replacing the tri-starred flag used by Assad’s opponents since the uprising’s earliest days with a black one bearing the words of the Muslim shahada (“There is no god but God and Muhammad is His messenger”).

“What is this?” Abu Abdullah asked the young Jabhat member. “We were just talking about it, we don’t like it.”

The Jabhat member, who was unarmed, smiled through his face covering. “And what don’t you like about it?” he said. “We are all Muslims, so what is the problem with a flag that bears the shahada?”

“We are not all Muslims,” Abu Noor said. “You and I are but there are Christians here, too. You have insulted them. And besides, what gives you the right to change the symbol of the revolution?”

“We protected the churches,” the Jabhat member said, referring to the city’s two churches, which were left unscathed in the Islamist rebel takeover of the capital. “Let’s not talk out here,” he added. “The neighbors will hear us. Do you have coffee?”

The men walked into the formal living room of the modest five-room apartment. Two older gray-haired men, Abu Moayad and Abu Mohammad, rose from sky-blue couches to greet their guest.

For the next few hours, the men engaged in a combative and highly charged discussion. It was about the black banner, but more than that about the direction the Syrian uprising has taken. The men of the house feared that it had been hijacked by Islamists, led by Jabhat al-Nusra, who saw the fall of the regime as the first step in transforming Syria’s once-cosmopolitan society into a conservative Islamic state. All four men said they wanted an Islamic state, but a moderate one.

A few days earlier, a massive black flag bearing the shahada had been hoisted atop a flagpole in Raqqa city’s main square, in front of the elegant, multi-arched governorate building. “We will become a target for American drone attacks because of the flag—it’s huge,” said Abu Noor, a wiry young man who worked in a pharmacy by day and at night volunteered to guard the post office near his home against looters. “They’ll think we’re extremist Muslims!” (There haven’t been such strikes in Syria yet, though the possibility is much discussed here.)

“There is no moderate Islam or extremist Islam,” the Jabhat member said calmly. “There is only Islam, and Islam is under attack in the West regardless of whether or not we hoist the banner. Do you think they’re waiting for that banner to hit us?” he said.

Abu Mohammad, an older man in a tan leather jacket and a white galabia (a loose, floor-length robe), interjected: “What we’re saying is, put the flag above your outposts, not in the main square of the city. We all pray, we all say, ‘There is no god but God,’ but I will not raise this flag.”

“This is an insult to people who died for the revolutionary flag,” said Abu Abdullah, a former English major at the university.

“We are not forcing anything on anyone,” the Jabhat member said. “We offered it as a choice. We did not take down the revolutionary flags in the city—even though we could have.”

{ 144 comments… read them below or add one }

patrickm June 12, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Western progressives want the Turkish government to arm and assist the Syrian masses as represented by the FSA and not see Assad win the coming battle for Aleppo. Also they have a huge job in protecting the Turkish and Syrian people from the Al Qaeda / Al Nusra thugs that for an example just shot a 14yr old for blasphemy in the streets of Aleppo! No wonder the Iraqi government hates these types that are now bombing away right across both countries! These guys are not about putting flags up, they are about shooting that young rebel! No western leftist ought to be soft peddling what they are all about.

Any pro-war activist wanting the end of Assad’s murderous regime won’t want to see the Turkish anti-war ‘hands-off’ elements shake the will of the Turkish government to press forward into conflict with the Syrian regime either.

Of course pseudolefts, especially the sort that carry on with the Black Block anti-globalisation nonsense, are all banging on about Turkey because there are some large and important demonstrations there at the moment. Kasama for example is like a Pavlov’s dog over tear gas and trunchions anywhere. But the demonstrators haven’t got any demands that can’t be addressed and sorted through, (without conceding to just undemocratic tantrums from the usual pseudoleft suspects), and I bet that the governmment will work through the issues and continue to contest for the mass public support that they undoubtedly still retain. The demonstrations will no doubt continue for awhile but if the government plays this right Turkeys democracy will advance in the more inclusive direction that will isolate the anti-war isolationists of the sort that were abundant at the NY Left forum.

Frankly Turkey has a bourgeois government that has some very big issues to deal with as a terrible war is raging on their border and there is hundreds of thousands of refugees etc..
Naturally, Black Block sorts are on ‘the peoples’ side and would like to see the Turkish government ‘fall’ before the power of the street protests because ‘well that’s what we do’. Well they won’t fall, and it’s up to Turkish progressives (by which I mean genuine progressives not the censoring delusional pseudoleft types swarming at the NY event) to build the electoral opposition that is able to defeat them, not riot till a government is supposed to cave in! No democrat will put up with that, and what is more all grown up’s know it.

This now region-wide conflict is a devilishly complex war but NATO supporting the FSA is the key to ensuring that less revolutionaries die and progress is the eventual outcome. Turkey is a crucial part of that NATO force. 2 civilians and 1 policeman are dead in Turkey from these demos yet we MUST understand that more than that die every hr 24hrs a day 7 days a week over the border!

Apparently the ditherer in chief after having met with his chief bumbler will attempt to make a decision (hint there is now no choice) on arming the FSA this very day. At least the US had some more Patriot systems, aircraft and troops turning up in Jordan last week and obviously there would be a massive effort put into concealing any actual US build up in the region. But Kasama and Carl want them ALL back in the USA and Syria left for the Syrians and others like Iran and Putin and Hezbollah to sort out!! Turkey has plenty like Carl.

I also note in passing that the same enemy, in the form of the Afghanistan Taliban, beheaded two boys the other day – I wish the Afghan army well and don’t want to see the Afghan people abandoned by NATO with a hands-off policy on this front either, and would like to see a discussion on TNS over the issue! Given the good job these life risking NATO troops did over the issue of Libya I would think that a long overdue rethink is in order over Afghanistan.

If TNS owners think that the issue has already been debated then perhaps they could point me to the debate that was held (that had them convinced that hands-off and troops out now is the best policy for revolutionary minded western leftists to advocate). As an example of a debate that I think ought to be thought about as a preliminary I draw people’s attention to
TNS owners with their pro-intervention stance over Libya and Syria would do well to observe how people DO have their minds changed if they are prepared to front a real debate in front of an objective measurable number of people.

Given said owners are just back from what I presume was an ‘anti-war’ NY Left Forum, it will be good to get a report on any GROUP they discovered that was similarly pro-intervention over Syria. I presume all the identifiable groups had a hands-off Syria stance even if plenty of individuals attending are open to a rethink after Libya was such a positive outcome.

To function as pro-war activists you have to be able to unite with other pro-war activists. It makes no sense to be off spinning your wheels ‘debating’ with the likes of ish over at cult ‘regroupment’ centre; while being determined to put distance between your new position and that of other pro-war revolutionary minded leftists.

The Turkish government may or may not be changed as a result of their next free and fair contest in bourgeois elections. But there are no proposals from anyone in the world let alone on the streets of Turkey to currently step outside the bourgeois system. So the proletariat can’t mobilise (even if it wanted to) and sweep the Turkish ruling-class away just yet.

Nevertheless, the surprise of the Turkish PM was self evident! He is a politician with little connection to the unemployed youth that are now beginning to rightly stir and demand to be included in society. The issue of unemployment is IMV underlying the currently small but militant social unrest. Turkey is right beside Greece and part of the whole European economic turmoil. There is a large mass of Turkish people most particularly youth that no one wants to exploit. They are on the outside of society looking in and that’s what the underlying problem is. Unemployment! The government however will retain the support of the masses up against any Black Block madness provided they concede more democracy as the people are demanding!

Iran is the next domino where the people want rid of a tyranny that they can’t just build an electoral coalition to be rid of in a democratic vote. Iran has the blockage. Iran helps Assad in slaughtering the Syrian democratic revolutionaries. Turkey being a newish bourgeois democracy run by a conservative but reformist government would not suit the young more western type of person (and thats fair enough). So they ought to organise and build even ‘Sawant socialist’ parties and unite with others and contest elections. But the Turkish government as we have just seen with the solid reforms and agreements for the Kurdish peoples’ that constitute such a large section of the Turkish country, are political reformers even if they are conservative. They are the legitimate government and there is a proportional system to work with so proletarian forces currently have a way forward that is not available in Syria, Iran, or just up the road in Putin’s Russia.

Like that point of conception Camejo speaks of it may be that what we are seeing in Iran right now will be looked back on as the start of their part of the revolution that is sweeping tyranny from the world. There appears to be a real political struggle unfolding over the coming election that might change the Iranian state structure and create the new power bases and points of leverage required for the coming revolutionary explosion. Just as Arthur and some other self described revolutionary Marxists were sure the last lot of revolutions were coming years before they exploded – there ought to be no doubt that the next Iranian revolution is also lurking behind the silent lips and sullen faces in the minds of the Iranian masses.

There is a struggle going on at the ruling-class level and reformers are now pitted against a hated government, so if the current widely hated Iranian elite just go in for rigging yet another election then my money would be on an early explosion too big to stop; therefore I expect their current ruling-elite to be on the way out; but… Anyway that’s just a heads up from a western revolutionary communist who is always over optimistic as regards the speed of change with nothing much more than google on this front from me.


Red Blob June 12, 2013 at 7:08 pm

“not riot till a government is supposed to cave in! No democrat will put up with that, and what is more all grown up’s know it.”
Really? That’s whats happening in Turkey? I see demonstrators being set on by police and the result is that more demonstrators turn up.
Afghanistan? You mean that place where the COW forces reignited the Afghan civil war between the Islamic nutters and the warlords.


Aaron Aarons June 15, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Patrick Muldowney writes:

Naturally, Black Block sorts are on ‘the peoples’ side and would like to see the Turkish government ‘fall’ before the power of the street protests because ‘well that’s what we do’. Well they won’t fall, and it’s up to Turkish progressives […] to build the electoral opposition that is able to defeat them, not riot till a government is supposed to cave in! No democrat will put up with that, and what is more all grown up’s know it.

Turkish anti-capitalists and anti-imperialists (the second group includes the first but is somewhat larger) know, as do genuine leftists everywhere, that the bourgeoisie can always manipulate elections so that one or another faction that accepts their domination wins. (In rare cases, such as Haiti, where they can’t, they just ban any real opposition from running.) For leftists, as opposed to pro-imperialist “progressives”, one’s attitude to a government doesn’t depend on whether it can win a majority in elections, but on what local and global class forces it serves.

But one doesn’t have to believe in the left’s capacity to bring down a particular government at a particular time to support direct action of various kinds (strikes, occupations, blockades) to stop such a government from implementing particular attacks on the working class and the poor in general, such as enclosing more public space in the service of capital, or, as in India and many other places, grant resource extraction concessions to foreign (and, occasionally, domestic) plunderers at the expense of peasants and indigenous peoples.


Brian S. June 19, 2013 at 6:27 am

@Aaron. A somewhat over-schematic estimate of the power of capital (the bourgeoisie can’t always manipulate elections to secure the desired outcome – if it could then you could make a fortune betting on elections since you would know the results well ahead of the bookies; but capital can usually reassert its power despite adverse election outcomes through other means.) And I think the left’s tactics need to be modulated when dealing with a government that can claim democratic legitimacy. However, right on for the rest of your argument.


Pham Binh June 28, 2013 at 3:49 pm
byork June 13, 2013 at 5:55 pm

The pseudo-left is not only to the Right of McCain over Syria but now Bill Clinton too.


Aaron Aarons June 15, 2013 at 10:59 am

You “last superposer” pseudo-leftists may or may not be to the right of McCain and Clinton, but your inability to distinguish between “right” and “left” is either a result either of dyslexia, or of being lost in a hall of mirrors.


patrickm June 13, 2013 at 6:19 pm

BTW re current fighting I think this is right;

‘Ahmed al-Ahmed, an activist in Aleppo, said the government’s reinforcements in the north were just a distraction from Homs.

“They’ve turned the world’s attention to watching northern Aleppo and fearing an attack and massacres as happened to our people in Qusair, to get us to forget Homs which is the decisive battle.”‘

Also I note that Obama’s spokesman has confirmed that chemical weapons have been used and that it has changed Obama’s calculation. So with their credibility in tatters it looks like they understand that they will have to (reluctantly) go to war. I hope they also understand that it will require a big effort. No doubt current delay in declaring policy is connected to preparations for action.

We can now expect the pseudoleft groups that turned up at the NY Left forum to show up in the next month in some Neverland gutter chanting ‘No to Assad, No to intervention.’ and looking as isolated as they were when they gathered after 9/11 to start their disgraceful Stop the War Coalition.


Arthur June 14, 2013 at 12:07 am

If there was evidence and argument both ways some time back, it is now utterly clear that the administration is preparing public opinion for action in Syria. The evidence that some others here interpreted as proof that they would not act has in fact turned out to be just confirming “reluctanctly being forced to do something” for the benefit of supporters who don’t like the idea and giving opinion leaders time to get used to it (as well as committing allies to share the burden).

There is now pretty solid commitment from mainstream Republicans as evidenced by this editorial.

So no real danger of partisan obstruction from that camp (as there was over the Balkans).

Its still open as to how long it will take to go how far. Public opinion is still solidly opposed but continuing to draw attention to the situation getting worse results in more people thinking about the issue and that inevitably results in more support for action and less opposition.

What’s urgently needed is not just increased arms supply (already about to happen) but active air support (still only “under consideration” although preparations are clearly under way).

Arguments that the US won’t act are now as silly as the stuff claiming that Jabhat Al Nusra is not part of Al Qaeda. These knee jerk responses to the pseudo-left by simply denying things they claim even when they happen to be true could reasonably be described as “pseudo-leftism in reverse” if that wasn’t such a clumsy expression.

A legacy of the absence of a genuine left for so many decades is that people still have the bad habits picked up from sects whose mission is to convince people that things are going from bad worse and there is nothing much they can do about it. This make people feel far more comfortable “opposing” than “demanding” and “insisting” – especially when it comes to military action.

A continued focus on the ridiculous stuff floating around the pseudoleft means leaving it to the Republicans to take the lead, with their particular direction, in mobilizing opinion in support of action in Syria.

As a minimum first step away from paralysis, could we now at least have an acknowledgement that “it is possible” the US might be preparing to act? It isn’t long since we had active denial here that the Free Syrian Army even wanted air support, yet already that is all over the mass media.

Such an acknowledgment of the possibility is long overdue and would open the way to serious discussion about what we can do to help accelerate that. Denying that it is possible actively hinders both analysis and action.


Brian S. June 14, 2013 at 4:46 am

As so often, Arthur, letting your preconceptions run ahead of the facts. I’m not surprised that the US is preparing to take some action – the circumstances leave it little choice, and the costs of inaction are becoming inescapable. But its far from clear what its going to do or when its going to do it. The Administration seems intent on international consultations before taking any action, and it may feel bound to fall in with the Franco-British committment to the EU to take no action before August. Its even possible that this is just more bluster attempting to secure a negotiation process.
On the balance of probabilities, I think the US will eventually take some action – but it will be phased, and only go beyond supplies of weapons if Asad ups the ante. The key question is what sort of weapons will be supplied – if its only more small arms then that is just a recipe for continuing deadlock. If its something more strategic then it may be of real value. I’m not holding my breath.


Brian S. June 14, 2013 at 4:57 am

PS to Arthur: you say that Free syrian Army demands for air support are “all over the mass media” – obviously I’ve been looking in the wrong places and missed that: can you provide links?


Arthur June 14, 2013 at 5:44 am

As I said its widely reported. It won’t do you any harm to actually take a look around at how the reporting is developing.

PS Of course I am running ahead of the facts. That’s what analysis does. Trailing behind them and not even being aware of what has already happened cannot help anything.


Brian S. June 14, 2013 at 9:53 am

” its widely reported” but you can’t report a specific link. Sounds dodgy to me: anyway you’d better let Google know – they haven’t heard of it either.
Analysis running ahead of the facts = analysis without the relevant facts = substituting abstract ideas for determinate knowledge. Remember the Owl of Minerva.


Pham Binh June 19, 2013 at 9:44 am
Pham Binh June 14, 2013 at 9:45 am

“Arguments that the US won’t act are now as silly as the stuff claiming that Jabhat Al Nusra is not part of Al Qaeda. These knee jerk responses to the pseudo-left by simply denying things they claim even when they happen to be true could reasonably be described as ‘pseudo-leftism in reverse’ if that wasn’t such a clumsy expression.”

“As a minimum first step away from paralysis, could we now at least have an acknowledgement that ‘it is possible’ the US might be preparing to act? It isn’t long since we had active denial here that the Free Syrian Army even wanted air support, yet already that is all over the mass media.”

“Such an acknowledgment of the possibility is long overdue and would open the way to serious discussion about what we can do to help accelerate that. Denying that it is possible actively hinders both analysis and action.”

Of course it is possible, but the reality is that the latest shift in U.S. policy towards the opposition is little more than a face-saving operation. American imperialism has little interest in the triumph of a democratic revolution on Israel’s border and the new trickle of arms into opposition hands (which hasn’t occurred yet) is a reflection of that. Probably they won’t send any through the north since those supply lines are often/usually controlled by Islamists, so we’re looking at operations in and through Jordan.


Arthur June 14, 2013 at 10:17 am

Well both Pham Binh and Brian have now acknowledged that it is possible.

The problem with emphasizing all the limitations and weaknesses is:

1. It ignores the fact that the events compel going further. For example face saving becomes losing face if it isn’t followed up and the regime stays. Experienced politicians don’t do things that attract attention to their weaknesses.

2. If still demobilizes and paralyses action by insisting there is nothing much we can do.


Pham Binh June 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I never denied the possibility of action. I merely point out the conflict of interest between the U.S. and the revolution, something you have yet to do. The U.S. won’t lose face if Assad wins; that’s not the point of the “red line.”


Arthur June 14, 2013 at 4:31 pm

There is always a conflict of interest and it should be kept in mind. But the main conflicts are between the revolution and the Assad regime remaining in power and between the revolution and the Takfiris unleashing sectarian mass murder. On both issues the conflict of interest with US imperialism is primarily a conflict with its inclination to stay out.

The US would obviously lose face if Assad wins. Equally obviously your previous analysis that the “red line” was in fact a “green light” has been proved wrong. I notice that at least you don’t repeat it, as you have with the claim that the US would not lose face if Assad win. But the sooner you start really thinking through what you got wrong and why the sooner you will be able to make accurate analyses that could help end paralysis rather than promoting it.

PS Brian congratulations on your research extending to such obscure sources on the periphery of the mass media as CNN.

BTW I googled “idriss no fly zone” and got “About 1,670,000 results”.

Also BTW, one of them was here:


Pham Binh June 14, 2013 at 4:41 pm

“Equally obviously your previous analysis that the ‘red line’ was in fact a ‘green light’ has been proved wrong.”

You must have me mixed up with someone else:

I never said anything about a “green light,” so obviously I can’t repeat something I never said.

The sooner you stop mixing me up with other people the sooner we can have a productive debate.


Arthur June 14, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Sorry, I did conflate your view with Clay’s


Arthur June 14, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Apology withdrawn you did explicitly claim a “green light” yourself:

and you explicitly endorsed Clay’s view on it:

I was puzzled as to how I could have made that mistake so I checked.

Perhaps you should be more puzzled and do more checking.


Pham Binh June 15, 2013 at 12:36 pm

So I did. Apologies to you.

My understanding of Claiborne’s position and use of the term “green light” was that Obama and Assad have a common interest in suppressing the revolution — if that was the case, I think the U.S. would side with Assad openly and brazenly.

My view was different even though I used the same phrase. I think the U.S. wants to keep as much of the regime sans Assad as possible and so will constantly try to subvert, limit, and blunt the scope and intensity of the democratic revolution as they have and continue to do even now by continuing to block heavy weapons from FSA’s hands and trying to force a negotiated settlement (to no avail).

Assad took Obama’s words and actions as a “green light” and gradually tested “the red line” by using small amounts of CW in limited quantities. I take that to be a vindication rather than a refutation of my analysis. You on the other hand continue to see imperialist “action” to aid the revolution as getting closer and closer without acknowledging or seemingly being aware of how the almost entirely negative role the U.S. has played thus far by adopting the “hands off” “no weapons” policy of the pseudolefts that only benefits Assad.


Arthur June 16, 2013 at 5:48 am

Apology accepted.

I gather Clay’s position is also improving in light of recent very relevant article:

It isn’ necessary to agree on the reasons or extent of US tardiness to agree that it is important now to actually help mobilize public opinion in support of a full “No Fly Zone”.

My view that the current administration are reluctant ditherers being forced to act despite their preference to stay out makes it natural to attach greater importance to mobilizing mainstream public opinion in favour of action. The easier it is for them to act and the harder it is not to act, the faster they will move.

Your view that their interests require preserving as much of the regime as possible tends to encourage fatalism. There isn’t much hope of forcing them to act against their actual interests.

Anyway, it looks like the next major step could be an extremely limited “No Fly Zone” enforced from outside Syrian air space, without actually providing direct air support for revolutionary forces on the ground as in Libya.

That could just be a convenient stepping stone for demobilizing opposition within the Democratic party (and elsewhere), with the (patently ludicrous) pretence that it is not an act of war committing the US to take responsibility for achieving an outcome.

But it could drag on that way for quite a while without actually helping all that much on the ground (your view implies that must continue, mine that it may).

Surely that calls for maximum clarity insisting that full air support is needed, not just a purely token “No Fly Zone”, and rejecting claims that it can’t happen by simply pointing out:

1. It did happen in Libya
2. Things will continue to drag on until it does happpen, so the sooner the better.


patrickm June 15, 2013 at 4:08 am

Pro-war comrades.

We have long agreed that the Syrian peoples’ had no choice but to take up arms and fight this just rebellion through to an end but we have not agreed what that end is, and we really ought to.

From the beginning I have thought that the time would arrive when an enclave would be constructed and our side would begin to use more artillery than the enemy. We are not there yet. But NATO is a very big ally and Assad’s air power must be shut down. So whatever Obama thought last year or a month ago he will have to think differently as McCain is correct; weapons alone provided to the FSA will not do this job.

What is this job?

It has been argued here at TNS over the course of almost a year, that US ruling class interests would match the peoples’ of the regions interests. That has required this tremendously competent self promoter and incompetent POTUS to be politically pushed aside and he be compelled by an overwhelming logic to get the US military working as the central component of NATO to destroy tyranny in Syria despite Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah objections.

Obama wanted the US not to be involved, and was so determined to stay out that he even back tracked over his red line declaration. His position turned to mush.

The French, British, Israeli and the Turkish governments have had to publicly shame him and he has been forced to go to war, even if now openly proxy only.

That means that the other side will now respond. War once joined is fought out and an end must be thought through before a war is joined. BUT what he has thought out as an end does not ‘make it so, number one’.

Marxists that have been thinking about revolution and what the peoples’ require to make it, for upwards of 40years, know a fair bit more about it than that self promoting lawyer and it does not help that he has got some skilled advisers either because he will be getting advice from all sides and he is the decider so almost anything could happen.

War once joined is going to throw up surprises and we pro-war western leftists will cope in our arm chairs. Helping to get NATO fully into the war is the first and big problem for us and we are not even near there yet.

Binh; you have been shown to be wrong so stop and rethink what you have been doing. Why have others got it right yet again! Please review what Arthur has been saying for a year at TNS while you have been dodging and weaving and wobbling about up on that fence. You have now fallen off the fence. Don’t climb back on it.

The revolutionary transformation has cost 90,000+ dead and it is only just starting.

The Syrian part of this revolution has serious international enemies led by Putin, and the Iranian tyranny. There is going to be a G8 meeting next week and Putin will be isolated over this issue that will not stop and let Obama get off the ride. He is on now because it is already regional and all the more ‘imperialist’ governments are voting war.

If Assad creates an enclave he could only hold that by terrorising the rest of Syria. But now Obama has moved the FSA will grow and continue the war. So the best outcome is what Arthur and myself have been advocating from the very earliest days.

I invite you Binh to edit some of the clear statements that were made in debate as it is embarassing to you to have Arthur expose that you don’t even know what you have been saying.

Binh; why on earth do you think that ‘they’ (the US government etc) are telling you the truth? This is war and the job is to conceal all sorts of activities so that our side can stay alive and kill the enemy. I’m currently on NATO’s side and want to remain so for as long as it takes to change NATO or NATO attacks me or my allies.

McCain visited the north remember. He called on arming the people he met! They are not Al Qaeda that both he and I want to see taken on as quickly as possible. Al Qaeda types shot that young rebel and butcher all those Iraqi people with their sectarian bombing every other day so they are also the current enemy.

You can bet your naieve little arse that the weapons are being distributed now and will flow from both directions. Some will fall into counter revolutionary hands so the effort of boots on the ground special forces are now clearly required to ensure that these bastards are dealt with as quickly as the FSA and NATO – including boots – can. Turkey fortunately has large numbers of high quality special forces that can play a very useful role in hunting down al Qaeda sorts and shooting them. That’s what you do with the enemy. Capture or kill them.

I know what I have been saying. War, war and more war in defence of democratic evolution. Revolution only occurs because the other far preferable method becomes blocked and thats why comrades I am a revolutionary. The Assad forces started this and that is why we gather as comrades advocating war.


PatrickSMcNally June 15, 2013 at 9:36 am

“War, war and more war in defence of democratic revolution.”

Have you tried forming some kind of Brigades to travel to Syria and fight? That’s what you should be doing if you’re serious about this.


Aaron Aarons June 15, 2013 at 11:48 am

“Turkey fortunately has large numbers of high quality special forces that can play a very useful role in hunting down al Qaeda sorts and shooting them.”

Fortunately, the ability of the neoliberal Turkish government to intervene in Syria is being hampered by popular resistance to its neoliberalism at home.


Aaron Aarons June 15, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Patrick Muldowney addresses “Pro-war comrades.”

Tell us, Pham Binh and Brian S., whether or not you consider Patrick Muldowney, Arthur Dent and byork to be your comrades. If you don’t, you should publicly set them straight.


Brian S. June 17, 2013 at 11:49 am

Aaron – your short memory never ceases to amaze me. You have accused me of being a co-thinker of Arthur et al several times – and each time I have pointed out that I am more active than you in dissenting from their views. Try checking out my exchanges with Arthur and Co- and you’ll see I don’t need to do any “setting straight”.


Brian S. June 14, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I have never denied that it was possible. Please try to keep up.
While I’m at it, and in the interests of full disclosure, here’s a present for you: while working on something else I came across a rather obscure transcript of a CNN talk show of 28 May in which Salim Idriss was asked if he wanted a no-fly zone and he said yes, although his main emphasis throughout the interview was on access to arms. Not exactly “widely reported” but make of that what you will.


Aaron Aarons June 15, 2013 at 12:07 pm

“No-fly zone” is imperialist newspeak for a “we-fly, we-bomb zone.”


patrickm June 16, 2013 at 1:37 am

What a 24hrs!

Obama has just had a massive shove in the back, from the leader of EGYPT calling for a NFZ. So forget Putin huffing and puffing next week.

A NFZ war is now undoubtedly on the way! It is still not settled yet when and how but a NFZ war IS coming.


a revolution is underway in Iran! The new leader is similar to Morsi in Egypt! This is great! We can now realistically hope that Iran will not go the way of Syria!

People can be sure that NATO is arming the FSA right now.

All the groups that attended the NY Left Forum will I take it claim a moral high ground anti-war stance over. This ground does not exist now any more than it existed last week when the Al Qaeda bombs went off in Iraq!

Both Arthur and I have proposed an action for the few pro-war left that have shown up at TNS. If others who are in favor of the intervention disagree thats fine but they ought to make alternative proposals for us pro-war comrades to consider. Isn’t the job to achieve something?

Pro intervention lefts here at TNS have to propose doing something not just spinning around spitting chips at people who have stood up with you.

Noam and the sects want TNS to fail to develop not me.

When the NATO attacks start we ought to have an agreed position to go public with.


Arthur June 16, 2013 at 5:17 am

Steady on patrick!

Morsi supporting an NFZ is certainly good news (though hardly unexpected and rather tardy). Hopefully the election results in Iran may de-stabilize things there, but the election of a moderate acceptable to the Guardian Council is certainly not comparable to the Egyptian free election and could also help consolidate the regime (I haven’t been following closely and don’t have a view either way, except that its absurd to compare with Egypt).

Also, I don’t agree with urging The North Star to take agreed positions. It serves a useful role enabling debate and should simply be used as an open forum within which people can advocate their positions and concrete organization in support of those positions without first having to reach agreement. Let’s just keep persuading people to organize concrete support for NFZ here and elsewhere.


Pham Binh June 17, 2013 at 10:59 am

“People can be sure that NATO is arming the FSA right now.”

Not according to John McCain and Free Syrian Army general Salem Idris:

Again, you guys are getting ahead of the facts in your zeal for self-vindication.


Arthur June 17, 2013 at 11:41 am

The link you provided indicates official US munitions have not arrived in the day or two since announced (big surprise!). It provides no such indication concerning munitions from other NATO countries.

It’s been pretty obvious a pipeline was being established for some time. Its important to stay ahead of the facts rather than trailing behind responding to them.


Brian S. June 17, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Well, Cameron has recently said that Britain has taken no decision on providing weapons to the Syrian opposition and seems to be promising that any decision will be subject to a vote by Parliament – a vote that he is unlikely to be able to win.). He is also strongly implying that all this is just a tactic to force Asad into negotiations.


Arthur June 17, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Forgot to include links re above:

PS Brian, Cameron’s promise of a Parliamentary vote was June 6:

That is 11 days ago. You really are keen to stay wll behind events rather than anticipating them!

Presumably Camerson was aware then of the impending US announcement, which makes it a lot easier to see him winning the vote.

BTW your link repeats the argument he has been making all along – that failing to arm Syrian democrats helps Al Qaeda and provides no hint whatever that “all this is just a tactic to force Asad into negotiations”.


Brian S. June 17, 2013 at 2:05 pm

@Arthur You posted: ” It provides no such indication concerning munitions from other NATO countries.”
My response cited a recent commment of Cameron that no decision had been made on Britain providing arms. No decision = no arms: see the connection?
On the question of a tactic to force negotiations: this is an edited interview, and the interviewer opens by saying “this is more or less a negotiating tactic, something you wouldn’t want to do, arming the rebels. This obviously a summary of something Cameron has said previously.
If you think that it will be “easy” for him to win a parliamenary vote then you have a unique insight into British politics.


Arthur June 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm

1. I didn’t say it will be “easy” to win a parliamentary vote. I said:

“Presumably Camerson was aware then of the impending US announcement, which makes it a lot easier to see him winning the vote.”

My view is that there is considerable reluctance to get involved among “opinion leaders” in both US and UK and this needs to be understood in analysing the behaviour of their decision makers. It makes sense for them to carefully prepare public opinion.

eg. Cameron helps make it easier for Obama by announcing British view on chemical weapons and support for arming FSA.

Obama can then demonstrate his preference for “leading from behind” by following the British (and French) lead, preserving his reputation among supporters as “the anti-Bush”.

Cameron can promise a parliamentary vote. (Unlikely before August) knowing that by then British opposition will be undercut by the fact of American arms officially flowing.

Meanwhile French and Belgium anti-aircraft rockets have already been supplied for a couple of months and visible preparations are being made by both UK and US from Jordan.

2. The connection I see between “no decision” and “no arms” is the usual one. That covert operations precede rather than follow official “decisions” and public announcements. Arms don’t move from Croatia to Syria without help and official decisions don’t get announced without preparing public opinion.

3. Cameron explicitly rejected the proposition put to him by the interviewer that it was just a tactic to get Assad to negotiate. You hearing that as “obviously a summary” of Cameron’s position indicates the extent to which you are letting your pre-conceptions get in the way of simple observation of events that have already happened, let alone forecasting of future events.

4. Feel free to congratulate yourself on having a better insight on British parliamentary politics than me if there has been no vote in support of sending arms by October.

Pham Binh June 17, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Wrong, it indicates that Idriss has heard not a word about supposed incoming weapons shipments. You really think it would take more than three days to get ammunition into Free Syrian Army (FSA) hands from the Turkish or Jordanian border given all the U.S. and allied military hardware, munitions, and logistics in the region? Also, what do you make of the continued refusal to supply desperately needed heavy anti-armor anti-air weapons to the FSA by Obama?


Arthur June 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Yes, I dont have your faith in the speed and efficiency of US logistics.

Not yet sure what to make of continued failure to supply more than light weapons. Don’t have much confidence in speed and efficiency of US political decision making either,

Suspect they still don’t have any great sense of urgency and are more concerned about preserving their political base in the US (which is overwhelmingly isolationist) and therefore inclined to gradualism getting people used to a new war commitment rather than stirring up the political opposition.

No way to be sure what’s going on. What I remain confident of is my view from way back that events will force more involvement because dithering will be counter-productive to US interests as well as to revolutionary interess.

Cameron has spelled out an argument about their common interests in not leaving a gap for Al Qaeda that is bound to overcome the reluctance in the end.

BTW re “heavy” weapons. A major aspect of the distinction from light weapons is that they do require significant training and logistics (which appears to be well underway in Jordan as well as Turkey). Use of indirect fire weapons in urban areas requires high levels of fire discipline if one hopes to reduce civilian casualties rather than increase them.


Pham Binh June 17, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Obama gave a speech announcing NATO operations in Libya on March 18.

On March 19, those operations began.

The imperialists can act pretty quickly when they want to. In the Syrian case, they don’t want to and will do as little as possible for reasons I’ve already outlined. I agree with you that it is a foolish waste of time to try to convince them to act against their vital interests.

Arthur June 17, 2013 at 4:28 pm

You are missing the point that they move quickly when its easy and slowly when its difficult.

Libyan regime had no significant air defence capability and was internationally isolated so there was political cover from UN Security Council and Arab League.

“Syria’s air defense network at the start of the civil war ranked among
the most capable and dense in the world, perhaps second only to
North Korea’s and Russia’s. These multilayered defenses and the threat
of Scud-launched chemical weapons were two major concerns during
the interagency debate over a US-led no-fly zone. Located primarily
along the Damascus-Homs-Aleppo corridor (see fig. 1) and the Medi-
terranean coast, the overlapping coverage of missiles and radars con-
sisted of approximately 650 static air defense sites, the most worri-
some of which housed the SA-5 “Gammon,” having a range of 165
nautical miles and an altitude capability of 100,000 feet. Syrian plat-
forms also included more than 300 mobile air-defense systems, the
most capable of which included the newer SA-11s and SA-17s as well as
the antistealth and anti-cruise-missile SA-22s. The downing of a Turk-
ish F-4E fighter near Latakia on 22 June—although the cause of the
crash remains unknown—enhanced the perceived lethality of al-
Assad’s air defense system.”

As patrickm pointed out long ago Syria is going to involve a major war.

Pham Binh July 15, 2013 at 11:48 am
Arthur June 17, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Indeed a few minutes after the above comment you linked from another thread to a report about France and Belgium supplying anti-aircraft rockets (via Saudis) and paying for their transport to the region a couple of months ago. You chose to focus on just the Saudis in your zeal for not noticing things.


Pham Binh June 17, 2013 at 12:54 pm

No, I brought up the Saudis because it is commonly and falsely claimed that they are arming Jabhat al-Nusrah and other extremists.


Arthur June 17, 2013 at 1:04 pm

1. Point is you should notice France and Belgium have been supplying anti-aircraft rockets for months when insisting “you guys are getting ahead of the facts” about NATO (countries) already supplying arms.

2. Re the separate point you were making about Saudis. The common claims fail to distinguish between official Saudi government support, which naturally don’t go to their enemy, Al Qaeda, and the unoficial support from rich Saudis, which does.

PS Links forgotton for “above” were of coursse intended to appear below rather than above the related comment.


Brian S. June 17, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Hi Athur – I gather from the geometry that this comment is directed to Binh – but could you also give me directions to whatever it is you are talking about.


Arthur June 17, 2013 at 2:00 pm

“Observations on the Air War in Syria” from a USAF Lt Colonel this April provides some very useful background, with an interesting comparison to Guernica.

PS Brian, yes just ignore the indentation and sequence and read this subthread chronologically by timestamps from:


byork June 14, 2013 at 2:54 am

It would seem that United States “direct military aid, including arms” to the ‘moderate’ (democratic) forces of resistance in Syria is close at hand. The Ditherer-in-Chief is moving. From The Independent (today, 14 June):


Red Blob June 14, 2013 at 10:07 am
jim sharp June 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm

red blob & neither can i resist
Obama’s Monica moment
The moral edifice of Barack Obama’s presidency has been exposed today as a pack of lies amid desperate war moves to divert attention from the cesspool of the Edward Snowden secrecy leaks. Obama’s ploy on military intervention in Syria is the death-knell to the “audacity of hope”, and much like Bill Clinton’s use of Afghanistan as flak for the Monica Lewinsky scandal could have unintended consequences.
– M K Bhadrakumar (Jun 14, ’13)


Pham Binh June 15, 2013 at 11:56 am

Not sure where this leaves Arthur and co., but the U.S. ain’t sending heavy anti-tank or anti-air weapons, just rifles and ammo:


Aaron Aarons June 15, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Binh points out, “the U.S. ain’t sending heavy anti-tank or anti-air weapons.” It’s almost certainly because they’re afraid those weapons might be used against Israel, the Shia-dominated government of Iraq, or even against U.S. and Western aviation. As for Iraq, though, it’s not at all obvious which side of the largely-U.S.-created sectarian divide in that country the U.S. will patronize tomorrow, or next week, or next month or next year.


Juan Jose June 16, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Proyect, along with his co-thinkers at the are shrill and consistent proponents of imperialist war; they were so in Libya (whose “revolution” has really meant the destruction and descent into chaos, poverty and misery of that country) and they are so now in Syria.

Their absurd posture as “leftists” and “Marxists” notwithstanding, Proyect, the ISO, Pham Binh et. al. are members of the upper middle-class psuedo-left who, in the final analysis, are closer in their social position and outlook to their own imperialist bourgeoisie than to the working class. They are profoundly reactionary elements whose fact-free and lie-filled arguments are — the requisite and ever-more transparent “left” rhetoric notwithstanding — essentially identical to those being advanced by John McCain and Lindsey Graham.


Pham Binh June 17, 2013 at 10:14 am

The weirdest thing about Socialist Equality Party/ commenters is that their criticisms always follow the same script:

– Conflate the opinions of myself, Proyect, The North Star, the Democratic/Republican Party, and the Saudis.
– Label myself and Proyect middle-class radicals/leftists or petty-bourgeois socialists.

You can see what I mean if you look at their older comments:

It makes me wonder if they assign their new members to come and leave these cookie cutter comments or is that the extent/nature of their politics that they produce the same cut-and-dried answers to every question?

Whatever the case may be, people should be aware that the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) and its seemingly legit website are run by millionaire socialist David North and that both outfits are virulently anti-union:!topic/alt.politics.socialism.trotsky/TFJcucyNTuI

SEP and ran vitriolic attacks on Karen Lewis and the leadership of the Chicago Teachers’ Union during the 2012 strike that makes the stuff they say about me seem mild in comparison. You can read some of the pushback they got from that here:

With a method like this, it’s easy to see why the SEP polled a whopping 1,139 votes in the 2012 presidential elections. Bravo, comrades!


Red Blob June 17, 2013 at 7:24 am

Juan you are obviously a serious revolutionary. The people that post here are obviously not. I think that you must have many many more important revolutionary things to do than post at this site. My suggestion is that you spend your time on revolutionary stuff and ignore this counter revolutionary site.


Arthur June 17, 2013 at 11:53 am

The French New Anti-capitalist Party has a clear statement demanding action and denouncing French government for lagging behind. This is a hopeful sign that a genuine broad left may be starting to re-emerge. Translation via the trackbacklink below (which does not agree):

15th of June.

Alongside other European governments, the French state always finds good reasons not to deliver weapons, especially the air defence and anti-tank rockets demanded by the Syrian people who are bombarded daily. The French government’s response way to shake this off, and, without giving any specific response, to favour ”serious negotiations for peace” in Geneva. This leaves Assad strengthened by its Russian, Iranian and Lebanese allies and ready to accelerate its criminal offensive against his own people.

In this twisted game the fundamentalist Gulf monarchies are supplying weapons – by drips . They thus give arguments to the Western powers (to whom they are allied against the “terrorist threat”), and Bashar al-Assad is making the civil war into a sectarian religious – confessional – struggle.

To top it all, while Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon welcome over a million and a half refugees the French government has restored the need for a transit visa for Syrians. This helps prevent their escape from death.

Faced with this situation, the responsibility of the international workers’ and democratic movement to demand that our governments immediately provide weapons to the Free Syrian Army, which should be obliged to defend the Syrian revolution.

Justified mistrust of any direct imperialist intervention should not lead to the abandonment of the Syrian people, but to the demand for the democratic control of supplies and aid, including a greatly increased level of humanitarian assistance.

Our responsibility is to immediately provide all possible assistance to the insurgents, from our civil society to their civil society, and to defend Syrian refugees who manage to get into ‘fortress’ Europe.

Jacques Babel

(Rendered into idiomatic English)


Andrew Coates June 18, 2013 at 8:50 am

Comment on this when I posted on the Forum des marxistes révolutionnaires (NPA aligned Forum).

“je l’espère n’est pas la position officielle du NPA

I hope this is not the Official NPA position.

Those of us who begin from the wishes of the Syrian masses, and support the democratic movement, wonder, seriously wonder, how anybody can back what is effectively throwing petrol on the flames of an unfolding, horrific, civil war.


Pham Binh June 18, 2013 at 9:29 am

Combatting counter-revolutions usually ends up being pretty horrific. Should we just throw our hands up and quit when the going gets tough?


Arthur June 18, 2013 at 9:40 am

Well, its obviously a simple fact that some who claim to support the democratic movement do explicitly support one side in a horrific civil war while others don’t.

This is a separate problem from the pseudoleftists who openly or not oppose the democratic movement. I assume that Andrew Coates is genuinely perplexed.

The answer I think is that those who are “horrified” have less understanding of the connection betweeen democratic revolution and “horrific civil war”. Generally regimes that emerged from horrific civil wars are anxious to discourage further upheaval (the “uninterrupted revolution” favoured by communists) and strongly promote an ideology that democracy is closely associated with peaceful and orderly respect for the new authorities. This hypocrisy is particularly noticeable in English speaking countries were the ruling bourgeoise were so embarassed by the (really and truly “horrific”) English Civil War that they had to invite a Dutch army to remove their King the next time that was necessary in order to preserve their official doctrine against further revolutions. After the American War of Indpendence the (really and truly “horrific”) American Civil War was presented as defence of “States Rights” on one side and defence of “the Union” on the other.

Naturally the official ideology against civil war greatly influences many people who do genuinely support the democratic movement.

The horrific civil wars in England and America ended when the reactionary forces were militarilily defeated. The civil war in Syria “unfolded” a couple of years ago. It will become more, not less “horrific” the longer it drags on. The only plausible ending to the horror is the destruction of the regime that launched a civil war against its people. The idea of a compromise is as ludicrous as the objections by Charles that a King could not be tried for treason against his people.

The result of delaying the military support that should have been extended to the revolutionary side in the Syrian civil war long ago is that there will probably be a further miitary conflict with the Takfiri elements who have benefited and there may need to be international protection of the defeated minority against sectarian revenge. Withholding arms from the democratic forces is in fact EFFECTIVELY THROWING FLAMES ON BOTH THE PRESENT AND LIKELY SUBSEQUENT HORRIFIC CIVIL WARS, WITH A GROWING DANGER OF ENGULFING THE WHOLE REGION IN A SUNNI-SHIA WAR.


Jon Hoch June 17, 2013 at 11:59 am


So again, I know nothing about Syria. And I guess it makes me sad to see a disagreement tear socialists apart when they share 90% of the same ideas on other topics. Maybe Syria is an important enough topic to justify that. I honestly don’t know.

But all this ad hominem attack on socialists class background seems pretty silly to me. I mean didn’t Engels own a mill? If so, he wasn’t middle class, if by which you mean a white collar worker, he was a capitalist! And wasn’t he able to make significant contributions to the class struggle? Haven’t there been lots of “class traitors” like him?


Juan Jose June 17, 2013 at 2:06 pm

That class constitutes, in the final analysis, the decisive sociological and political category is a — perhaps THE — most fundamental concept or ABC of Marxism.

Of course, not every single individual from within the top 10% of the income /wealth hierarchy in the West, or even from the top 1% and the upper reaches of the top 1% of said hierarchy, is going to be a supporter of their own imperialist bourgeoisie as it launches criminal war after criminal war of aggression; however, to deny the fundamental importance of class in shaping the ideologies of different sections of the population is to deny the importance of Marxism itself.

With the fervent, lying blood-curdling calls for “humanitarian” war by Pham Binh, the so-called “Unrepentant Marxist” Louis Proyect and the similarly grotesquely misnamed “International Socialist Organization” (ISO) in the US and the “New Anti-Capitalist Party” (NPA) from France, we see the evolution of an entire social layer. In the West (though not only) we have witnessed massive increases in socio-economic inequality over the last 4 decades or so; the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and the subsequent bailout of the financial elite and the application of round after round of capitalist austerity have further and greatly exacerbated the underlying inequalities between, on the one hand, the top 1% and the upper reaches thereof and, on the other hand, the bottom 80 – 90% of the population. The distance between the 90 – 98 percentiles and the working-class majority has also greatly widened in recent years.

The upper middle-class pseudo-left — represented by the ISO, the NPA, this site, Proyect, etc — has moved steadily to the right — i.e. closer to its own bourgeois ruling class — since the crisis which erupted in 2008 with Lehman Brother’s bankruptcy. The ISO, like Proyect, opposed (albeit in a confused way) NATO aggression against the former Yugoslavia in 1999; they, again in a non-Marxist manner, did oppose the “humanitarian” lies being put out by NATO to “justify” the pulverization of a poor country (the former Yugoslavia) by the imperialist powers within the NATO alliance.

Now, the ISO, Proyect, etc. are aggressively promoting the same lies in relation to Syria; they did so in relation to Libya in 2011 and, at least Proyect (and quite possibly the ISO, too) backed the “Green Movement,” an aggressively neo-liberal and relatively pro-US movement of the upper middle-class in Iran in 2009.

War in Syria — and elsewhere — is the ultimate test of political tendencies; in fact, the German Social Democracy’s support for their own bourgeoisie’s entrance into World War I led Lenin and the Bolsheviks to break irrevocably from the 2nd International and found the 3rd.

The main issue in Syria is not the Assad regime, but the nature of US imperialism. The upper middle-class pseudo-left types have emerged as the most aggressive, unhinged and deceitful proponents of US bombing of Syria; in this way, they are proving their fundamental loyalty to their own ruling class.

Marx wrote that the liberation of the working class is the opera of the working class itself; he didn’t write: “and if, at the moment, the working class is not about to overthrow ‘its own’ bourgeoisie, the revolutionary tasks can and should be subcontracted out to US bomber planes and right-wing Islamist militias which are, in fundamental terms, nothing but proxies of the imperialist bourgeoisie from the West.”


Richard Estes June 17, 2013 at 3:39 pm

While not accepting your broad, hostile characterization of the people who support intervention in Syria (as if Louis Proyect and Pham Binh have any responsibililty for the neoliberalism of the past 40 years), your analogy with World War I is apt. Just as the working class slaughtered itself across the continent, it is now slaughtering itself in Syria. The working class is spread across all actors in this conflict, indeed, Hizbollah may be the closest thing to a working class participant. given that the Shia in Lebanon is more working class than the Sunni. When I inquired as to the nature of the resistance to Assad here a few weeks ago, someone told me that he would characterize them “popular forces”. I took that an indication as to the extent to which the analysis in support of intervention in Syria had become disengaged from any Marxist perspective about the situation.

The tragedy is that the Shia working class in Lebanon, and now, if reports are to be believed, in Syria, too, aligns itself with a sectarian organization like Hizbullah and a dictator like Assad. This disintegration of the left is the sad consequence of the success of the Iranian revolution as noted by As’ad Abukhalil today. I don’t see how supporting the FSA and advocating for US and EU assistance for it is going to address that, if anything, it is going to make situation worse, by aligning the conflict in accordance with the sectarian lines imposed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Bahrain, eastern Saudi Arabia, Iran and Lebanon. In all of these places, the Shia are predominately working class, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar working assiduously to prevent them from linking up with the Sunni brethren.


Brian S. June 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm

“When I inquired as to the nature of the resistance to Assad here a few weeks ago, someone told me that he would characterize them “popular forces” I took that an indication as to the extent to which the analysis in support of intervention in Syria had become disengaged from any Marxist perspective about the situation.”
That’s ME: but for me its an attempt to go beyond the empty-headed, class reductionist formalism that has illegitimately claimed the “Marxist” (and Lenininst) mantle for too long.
The social forces involved in the Syrian struggle – as in many democratic revolutions – are an amalgam of peasants, rural and urban petitit-bourgoisie, workers, students, and urban professionals. That’s probably a pretty good cross-section of Syrian society. If you have a clearer class analysis of Syrian society and the political disposition of the different social forces – don’t be shy, please let us know.


Richard Estes June 18, 2013 at 1:03 pm

The class structure of the Middle East is well known, with the Shia represented amongst the working class and poorer classes more so than the Sunni. This is true in Lebanon, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. As for Syria, here is something that I found pretty readily through a quick search, others are welcome to search as well:

“Although Christian Arabs, Armenians, and some Shia are represented among Syria’s business class, the vast majority are Sunni.”

Yet proponents of intervention in Syria would make war upon the Shia in the hope of a democratic Syria down the road that would provide opportunities for the left and the working class down the road. It would align itself with Sunni sectarians like Saudi Arabia and Qatar with the expectation of overcoming them after the defeat of Assad. As I said, I don’t believe that intensifying conflict with the Shia is a way to bring the working class of the Middle East together.


Arthur June 18, 2013 at 1:15 pm

The sectarian aspect will intensity the longer the non-sectarian forces of the NATO countries stay out and leave it to Sunni jihadis to respond to the sectarian war waged by the sectarian regime in Syria.

It is blindlingly obvious that NATO countries will be LESS inclined to support sectarian conflict with the Shia.

This isn’t difficult to understand. If you actually gave a damn rather than activel seeking for a pretended “class analysis” behind your pre-disposition you would have thought about it and seen the obvious without needing to have it pointed out to you. I suspect you don’t actually give a damn, so pointing out the obvious won’t make any difference to you.


Pham Binh June 18, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Richard and I don’t agree on this question but if he didn’t give a damn, he wouldn’t take the time to post on the issue. He’s not guilty of the cheap shot point-scoring disguised as substantive engagement we usually see from certain commenters.


Arthur June 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Point taken. I withdraw the assumption and will reserve judgment.


Richard Estes June 18, 2013 at 5:52 pm

“It is blindlingly obvious that NATO countries will be LESS inclined to support sectarian conflict with the Shia.”

The US, NATO, Qatar, Saudi Arabia (and dare one say it, Israel) are allies. Any differences in terms of supporting sectarian conflict are only a matter of degree. One need only look at US policy towards Iran, Bahrain and Lebanon to understand this.


Arthur June 18, 2013 at 7:29 pm

One need only look at US policy in Iraq to understand the opposite.


1. US policy towards Bahrain is craven and incoherent rather than a result of hostility to Shia.

2. US policy towards Iran is anti-regime rather than anti-Shia. (BTW historically they are to blame for encouraging the mullahs into politics to help bring down the Mossadegh regime and replace it with the Shah, although the only current relevance of that is the resulting Shia clericalists hostility to US on realizing that they were just used and pushed aside – as with the Sunni jihadis who went to Afghanistan).

3, In Lebanon, at least appearances favour your assuption. In my view the US actually favoured Hezbollah entering into government, unlike Israel and some of the leaders of the other sects, but it isn’t worth arguing about that here.

4. Israel’s ostentatious siding with Sunnis against the Shia is basically phony, including ridiculous pretense that Hamas was puppet of Iran. Naturally they would like them to fight each other instead of fighting Israel and they have adopted Iran as their “existentential enemy conveniently far away since the war for Greater Israel is a flop and they are going to have to reach some compromise with the Palestinians. The Sunni certainly have no trust for Israel and are not even mildly impressed by the Syrian regime’s claims to resistance leadership and heroism. (On that point the Palestinian National Council celebrated when Syrian planes were shot down during the Lebanese civil war, even though they had been shot down by Israelis. That reflected no alliance with Israel but the simple fact that the Baathists and their allies were killing more Palestinians than the Zionists were while also trying to take over their movement).

Turkey is certainly Sunni but not particularly sectarian. Other NATO countries have the major advantage of no real stake in the region and its feuds. (French colonial rule did help the Allawis to power to keep down the majority but that is more a positive in the Allawis trusting their protection against revenge) than a concern to Sunnis who are keen for French support as in Libya,

Finally it is obvious that the NATO countries have no interest in or capability of ruling Syria long term. There was a lot of Sunni claims to the contrary over Iraq but the simple reality now understood in the region is that tthe US and Britain left as soon as they were asked to do so by a freely elected government (and with Sunnis more worried about that departyre, wanting them to stay longer for protection despite the Baathist claims of a sinister US Persian alliance).


Brian S. June 18, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Richard – you can’t talk about “the class structure” of an entire region, as if there weren’t important differentiations shaped by history, the structure of particular economies, and the role of different states and regimes. Of sourse the “vast majority of the Syrian business class is Sunni” – the vast majority of Syrian society is Sunni! But to say that say that the Syrian business class is primarily Sunni is not the same thing as saying that the Sunni population is predominantly bourgeois. And if you are attempting to calculate the economic weight of different demographic groups you don’t do it by counting heads – you need to look at what they own and control. The Syrian regime has over the last 20 years shifted an enormous amount of economic power from the traditional Sunni business class (the so-called “bazaar merchants”) to their own entourage. A good index of where economic power lies in third world countries is who holds the mobile phone franchise – (a veritable license to print money) – in the case of Syria it is Rami Makhlouf – an Asad family member who has a vast network of business interests, largely built on state patronage. This is not a class society – its a CLIQUE society, built around sectarian and familial allegiances.
You talk about the “working class and poorer classes” – absolutely right ,we need flexible categories like this to understand these kinds of social structures (is a petty street trader with a subsistence income, a builder who works by the day, a truck driver who is paid by the load, working class or petit bourgeois?) . But what then, is wrong with my “popular classes” – which covers exactly the same ground. But however you label them, these are the social groups who provide the main social base of the armed opposition.
However you go on to abandon class categories and define the Syrian conflict purely in terms of rival sects (throwing politics out of the window along with class). This is not a “war on the Shia”. Certainly sectarianism has played a role in the conflict first and foremost on the regime side – insitutionalisng its own sectarian gangs into a paramilitary force, carrying out sectarian massacres, and increasingly appealing for foreign support (from Lebanon and Iraq) on the basis of sectarianism.
Tragically, we are starting to see this reciprocated by some forces on the opposition side, encouraged by external Sunni sectarians. But the principle root of sectarianism in Syria is the regime – and the only way to defeat sectarianism is through the downfall of that regime.


Pham Binh June 19, 2013 at 9:28 am

Hezbollah guns down young Shia activist in Lebanon for being pro-Syrian revolution:

Hezbollah is a big part of the problem, not part of the solution.


Louis Proyect June 17, 2013 at 5:08 pm

So amusing to see the Coyoacan complex at work and even more so from an anonymous troll. These sorts of pronunciamentos were once quite common on the left back in the 1980s and 90s but hearing them now only brings a smile to my face as if watching John Travolta dancing to the accompaniment of “Staying Alive”.


Pham Binh June 19, 2013 at 11:54 am

You’re right that being determines consciousness. Apply that insight to the Socialist Equality Party:‎


David Berger (RED DAVE) June 19, 2013 at 7:50 pm

(1) I don’t know what group, if any, you belong to, but I strongly suggest that you tone down the 1930s Third Period rhetoric. You are all over the place with your assertion, historical allusions and charges. (It would take days to refute all your historical errors.)

One point I will refute about present politics. I have been in touch with a prominent member of the ISO in New York, and he informs me that the ISO does not support US intervention in Syria.


Arthur June 17, 2013 at 3:22 pm

BTW its worth studying the opinion polls to understand why the US administration wants to commit as gradually as possible. There is still little public support:

A lot of work needs to be done to change those figures and we should be figuring out how to do it.


Arthur June 18, 2013 at 11:31 am

This analysis of recent polls from a Democrat think tank suggests a plausible approach the US administration may (continue to) follow for shifting public opinion. The link to most recent poll (that actually came after and mentioned Obama administration’s decision) confirms there is significantly more opposition among people who aren’t following the news than those who are, so support is likely to increase, but it will certainly need lots of work, including from us.

” What if you get a little more vivid, and instead of saying he’s using the chemical weapons against “anti-government groups” but against civilians? A CNN poll from April did just that: “If the United States were able to present evidence that convinced you that the Syrian government has chemical weapons and has used them to kill civilians in that country, do you think the U.S. would or would not be justified in using military action against the Syrian government?” It found a full 66 percent saying the U.S. would be justified in taking military action, which is not exactly the same thing as saying they U.S. should take military action, but it still looks like broad support.

So what you have are polls that show support for some kind of military action in Syria ranging from 20 percent all the way up to 66 percent. What does that mean for the Obama administration? They’d probably look at all these results and say that while the public starts out pretty skeptical of any kind of military involvement in Syria, you can get them to go along, at least for a while, if you make the right argument.”

Also, while I’m at it, here’s a view from Edward Luttvak, who represents the more viciously cynical “realist” wing of American foreign policy establishment and who I think is a lot closer to viewing the fundamental interests of US imperialism as being opposed to the Syrian revolution than the Obama administration is:

Note the:

1. (resigned) aceptance that the administration IS going to arm the rebels (and ambiguous reluctance rather than vigorous opposition to a “No Fly Zone”)
2. Reasonably plausible advice that Turkey as well as Qatar and Saudi aren’t actually going to be much more help, and that army reservists who helped arm Sunni tribes in Iraq against Al Qaeda will be more helpful than CIA in sorting out who should be armed.
3. Ludicrously out of date prejudices that Russia still matters.
4. Declamations at the very end about “whatever happens” preserving the sate – backed by precisely nothing more than a proposed threat that otherwise “all aid will be cut off”. As author of a well known manual for CIA coups, Luttvak knows very well that states are maintained by armed forces rather than proclamations about “aid”. Such “going through the motions” by someone who could reasonably be expected to champion the position that Pham Binh attributes to US imperialism as a whole shows how little traction the old policies actually have.


Richard Estes June 17, 2013 at 3:52 pm

OT: given past exhortations on this site for material assistance (as with Hurricane Sandy, for example), I came across this appeal for gas masks and medical supplies for Turkish protesters. I can’t confirm its authencity, but highlight it to show an opportunity for the left to take immediate concrete action:

If you are not comfortable with this one, others can probably be found pretty readily.


Juan Jose June 17, 2013 at 11:05 pm

The notion that the NATO-backed Syrian “rebels” are carrying out a (progressive) “revolution” would be amusing if the consequences of the petty-bourgeois pseudo-left auxiliaries of the western imperialist bourgeoisie (the “Left” Party in Germany, the “New Anti-Capitalist Party” in France, the “International Socialist Organization” in the US, the “Socialist Workers Party” in the UK) pushing it wouldn’t be so grave.

The Syrian people — and especially the working-class and the rural poor — oppose Assad for his pro-capitalist economic policies and the dictatorial nature of his regime. That having been said, an overwhelming majority of them are even more hostile to the armed bands of Islamic extremists glorified by John McCain, Lindsey Graham and the upper middle-class “leftists” who are furious about the fact that Obama hasn’t yet given the order for the “humanitarian” bombing of Syria to commence.

“After two years of civil war, support for the regime of
Syrian President Bashar Assad was said to have sharply increased.

NATO has been studying data that told of a sharp rise in support for
Assad. The data, compiled by Western-sponsored activists and organizations,
showed that a majority of Syrians were alarmed by the Al Qaida takeover of
the Sunni revolt and preferred to return to Assad, Middle East Newsline reported.

“The people are sick of the war and hate the jihadists more than Assad,”
a Western source familiar with the data said. “Assad is winning the war
mostly because the people are cooperating with him against the rebels.”

The data, relayed to NATO over the last month, asserted that 70 percent
of Syrians support the Assad regime. Another 20 percent were deemed neutral and the remaining 10 percent expressed support for the rebels.”

“Suppose a respectable opinion poll found that most Syrians are in favour of Bashar al-Assad remaining as president, would that not be major news? Especially as the finding would go against the dominant narrative about the Syrian crisis, and the media considers the unexpected more newsworthy than the obvious.

Alas, not in every case. When coverage of an unfolding drama ceases to be fair and turns into a propaganda weapon, inconvenient facts get suppressed. So it is with the results of a recent YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates, funded by the Qatar Foundation. Qatar’s royal family has taken one of the most hawkish lines against Assad – the emir has just called for Arab troops to intervene – so it was good that The Doha Debates published the poll on its website. The pity is that it was ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go.

The key finding was that while most Arabs outside Syria feel the president should resign, attitudes in the country are different. Some 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay, motivated by fear of civil war – a spectre that is not theoretical as it is for those who live outside Syria’s borders. What is less good news for the Assad regime is that the poll also found that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he must usher in free elections in the near future. Assad claims he is about to do that, a point he has repeated in his latest speeches. But it is vital that he publishes the election law as soon as possible, permits political parties and makes a commitment to allow independent monitors to watch the poll. ”


byork June 18, 2013 at 12:41 am

Well, Juan, in that case Assad would have nothing to lose by allowing for free and fair genuinely competitive elections. He could remove the ban on certain parties, and stand before the people in an election that could remove him. Of course, he will not do that… for fairly obvious reasons. The Syrian people may not like the al-Qaida types but they embrace the pro-democracy forces. They want an end to the violence imposed on them from above, literally, by Assad and they want a democratic future. So, presumably you’d support free and fair elections including particiation by those parties currently prohibited. Or would you?


Pham Binh June 18, 2013 at 9:33 am

I don’t think he even read the links he posted.


Pham Binh June 18, 2013 at 9:33 am

1. First link is not a poll, it’s quantified hearsay. “The sources said no formal polling was taken in Syria…” as the article states.

2. Second link refers to a phone poll in which 98 Syrians participated in (see: 55% of 98 Syrians is a grand total of 53 Syrians who want Assad to stay.

Pathetic, even for SEP.


Juan Jose June 18, 2013 at 12:25 pm

1.) This information didn’t appear on the Socialist Equality Party’s (SEP’s) website, the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS.)

2.) From a majority support (undoubtedly as the lesser evil) of roughly 55% back in early 2012, Assad’s backing (again, clearly as the lesser evil in comparison with the “rebels” backed by such progressive and democratic regimes as the Saudi and Qatari monarchies, as well as by all manner of pseudo-lefts like the types who control this site,) has apparently grown in the interim to something like 70%.

3.) The “rebels” demand Assad’s departure as a precondition for any negotiations, an untenable position given the fact that they are losing the war. For what it’s worth, Presidential elections are scheduled for 2014 in Syria and Assad may run in them. The referendum for the organization of such elections was held after the beginning of the rebellion in 2011, and more than half of eligible Syrians voted in favor of the Assad government’s proposals.

4.) Whatever the precise numbers, it is clear that the “rebels” have far less support inside of Syria than does Assad, which explains why — all the weapons, money, training and support they’re receiving from NATO, the Gulf monarchies, indirectly from Israel, etc — they’re losing the war.

5.) The fact that the right-wing Sunni-chauvinist “rebels” praised as revolutionaries by the pseudo-left are losing the war also explains why the West is now further ramping up its intervention into Syria / support for them.


byork June 19, 2013 at 3:57 am

Juan Jose is pretty much the ‘voice of Assad’ at this site. In point 4, he asserts “it is clear” the regime is more popular than the rebels inside Syria. Well, actually it’s not. But what gets me is the way he, and others with whom I’ve been in this kind of debate for a decade now, have such a problem with basic democracy. By that, I mean the right of a people to have a choice in which party they put their trust, through their vote, in free and fair elections. Time and again, those I have come to regard as pseudo-leftists cannot give a straight answer on this elementary question in the fight against fascism. Juan Jose has not answered the direct question in my post of June 18th. What’s the problem? A leftist simply says, “Yes! We are the reliable democrats! We support the people’s right to exercise a vote in free and fair competitive elections! This also is a way of keeping fascism at bay!” There are big implications in this for those who want to see a C21st left-wing movement with a mass base, or at least a serious audience, and a plausible set of ideas and policies. The democratic aspirations of humanity has moved things beyond the one-party state, be it in the old Iraq, the old Libya, or the current Syria, Cuba, and China.


Pham Binh June 19, 2013 at 4:13 am

The Socialist Equality Party doesn’t practice democracy in its internal life so why should Assad’s Syria?


Brian S. June 19, 2013 at 8:11 am

Juan: read the posts above – wherever these claims come from they are without foundation.
Let’s summarise this conflict: the regime has (at least on paper) more than twice the military manpower of the rebels, a total monopoly of airpower (which it uses freely against both military targets and civilian population centres), a near complete monopoly of armour (again widely used), and a similar near monopoly of heavy artillery and ballistic missiles (ditto). Despite that fact it has lost control of more than half the country, and Asad is unable to trust his own army to the point where he now has to depend on foreign sectarian militias to do his serious fighting. Who is looking popular now?


Pham Binh June 19, 2013 at 4:59 pm

“The ‘rebels’ demand Assad’s departure as a precondition for any negotiations, an untenable position given the fact that they are losing the war.”

It’s about as untenable as demanding that the Tsar step down. Brush up on your Lenin and Trotsky and see what they had to see about democracy versus autocracy.


Brian S. June 18, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Juan: The first story you link to leads to a chain of sources that make this claim with no documentation – however they make it clear that this was not based on any polling (not really the time for standing on the street corner with your clipboard in Syria at the moment) but is the views of various people someone or other was in touch with (many of them “aid workers”).
For rthe definitive picking apart of this particular piece of disinfomtation check out (second post down).
On the second link – talk of being behind the times!-This story is almost 18 months old and it hasn’t improved with age. it has been exposed definitively by several sources – the BBC and Northstar (maybe someone can provide a link for Juan so he doesn’t have to over-exert himself in the search). We’ve read the Doha debates report, analysed the statistics, and demonstrated that what this poll proves is that there are 97 people in Syria (actually 98 due to rounding) who support Asad – ok, I’ll give you that. And your point is?
I’m afraid if you want to play Asad apologist on this site you’ll need to up your game – we know all the tricks.


Michael Pugliese June 18, 2013 at 12:32 pm
Arthur June 18, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Here’s the permanent direct link to the definitive refutation for future reference:

BTW not for the benefit of the particular robot poster that posted the current repetition of this garbage but for ease in responding to the future repetitions by other automated robotic liars.

PS Personally I am more and more attracted to the 1930s expresions “fascist hyenas” and “jackals” which I used to think were quaintly inappropriate. But “automated robotic liars” perhaps has a more acceptable and modern resonance.


Brian S. June 18, 2013 at 6:46 pm

There’s apparently an extended communique from the G8 on Syria, but I’ve not been able to find the full text. If anyone locates it please post details.
The best summary I’ve seen is probably
There seems to be as many interpretations of its significance and their are interpreters, and I’m reluctant to form a firm view without more info – including how its being spun by the various parties. But it looks to me as if things may be heading for the diplomatic swamp.


Arthur June 18, 2013 at 8:19 pm

para 7, and 82-88 (uninteresting)

It’s really not hard to learn to google efficiently eg:
g8 syria “full text”

BTW a good continuously updated feed on Syria is:

Great for procrastinating but a bit like drininking from a firehose.


Brian S. June 19, 2013 at 6:37 am

Yes, Arthur, that had crossed my mind. But, despite your efficient googling this isn’t the text in question (but thanks for the effort) It seems clear from the various news articles that there is a more extensive declaration on Syria that includes references to a” transitional government” and possibly to “combatting extremism” – neither of which are in this short summary paragraph in the general declaration. Maybe if we both try again our joint efficiency can track it down.


Brian S. June 19, 2013 at 9:51 am

Acccording to the State Department, the G8 Syria Communique is “lengthy” so it may be stuck getting multi-lingual texts agreed before official release. But the press seems to have no trouble getting preliminary versions. Here’s one of the fullest summaries:
“A joint communique issued Tuesday by the G-8 powers-—the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia—”strongly” endorsed plans for the Syria peace conference to be held “as soon as possible,” to “implement fully the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012, which sets out a number of key steps beginning with agreement on a transitional governing body with full executive powers, formed by mutual consent,” the document states.
“We remain committed to achieving a political solution to the crisis based on a vision for a united, inclusive and democratic Syria,”
The document calls for the al Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front to leave Syria, but does not call on the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Syria. It also does not mention Bashar al-Assad even once.
American officials pointed to its call for a transition body with full executive authority to be established out of the Geneva meeting as an important area of Russian-western consensus, as well as its demand that Syria give the United Nations access to investigate alleged chemical weapons use.
“There’s agreement with the Russians that there needs to be a path to political transition, that the status quo is unacceptable, and what needs to be focused on is stability for the Syrian people,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told journalists at the State Department press briefing Tuesday.
“Our position… is there is no role for Assad in Syria,” Psaki said. “However, there is a [place] for those in the regime who are willing to accept the end of Assad’s reign and work for a better future for Syria.”
The Administration is playing things very close to its chest, but the sense I get from browsing various sources is that there is a lot of rowing back by all parties from earlier pledges of military support to the Syrian opposition. I guess people in the US will have seen Obama’s lengthy interview with Charlie Rose on PBS, just prior to G8.


Arthur June 19, 2013 at 11:45 am

The link I provided is the full 24pp document. I listed ALL relevant paragraph numbers to save others the trouble of searching or getting stuck at the brief summary.

Transitional government is in para 84, extremists in para 86.


Brian S. June 19, 2013 at 1:48 pm

My humblest apologies, Arthur. Teach me to read things through – haste has always been my greatest flaw. But you confused me by apparently designating paras 82-88 as “uninteresting” (but maybe you only meant para 88)


Arthur June 19, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I meant that the whole document is uinteresting.


Pham Binh June 19, 2013 at 11:53 am

I don’t waste my time parsing these communiques since nobody remembers them 1-2 months down the road. No amount of scheming or negotiating is going to produce the regime sans Assad outcome their interests dictate they prefer.


Arthur June 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm

True enough. But those involved experience that directly so are unlikely to be less aware of it than you are. Your assumption that they are trying to do what they say they are trying to do but that you know cannot be done is logically incoherent.


Pham Binh June 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Hence the reason the reason for their incoherent policy, which you have continually mislabelled “dithering.”


Brian S. June 19, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I don’t agree: what’s important here is not the text itself, which is something of a pro forma document that will probably not play any further role, but the insight it gives into the thinking of the authors/signatories s and what they are prepared to compromise over and how they are prepared to redefine the situation in the course of interaction. The US desparately wants some kind of international consensus before acting, preferably involving the Russians – and this gives us some idea of what ground they are prepared to give in order to achieve that. The one-sided provision on the “destruction and expulsion” not only of al Qaeda but of “any other non-state actors linked to terrorism” is highly symptomatic.
Moreover this document revives another – the original Geneva communique – which could easily have been dismissed in the same way, but may well come back to haunt the proceedings either now or shortly down the road. They may have enormous difficulty securing a regime-lite solution, but that doesnn’t mean that they won’t try — or that they won’t wreak serious political damage in the trying.


Arthur June 19, 2013 at 2:38 pm

I agree that it is necessary to look at such documents. But multilateral documents tend to be even less informative than politicians speeches. Contending think tank reports provide better hints about internal debates, perceived interests and constraints etc. The G8 document struck me as not shedding much light. The article I cited on a USAF officer’s analysis of Syrian air defenses did strike me as shedding some light.

Certainly the US wants some sort of consensus, which requires the Russians and that is probably what the G8 document is about. But that is mainly an oddity of this paricular administration having been elected as the “anti-Bush”. Ultimately it doesn’t change what is possible and what is necessary.

I really don’t understand how any serious analysis can conclude both that a regime lite solution is impossible and that this is the actual rather than declaratory policy. Still I suppose some people are used to thinking like that about international issues – eg insanity as explanation for US policy in Iraq, or, less bizarre, but equally unhelpful for understanding what is going on “strategic interests”.


Brian S. June 19, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Well, it depends what you are looking to shed light on. Its clearly not a direct insight into the intentions of any single actor, given its multilateral character, but multilateral interactions are important in the contemporary world, and, this does give some access to them. Think tanks and leaks from within the establishment may give an idea of wish-lists and calculations, but documents like this give a sense of what the negotiating framework of different actors is.
I assume your strictures about the regime-lite solution are directed at Binh. And I agree that its not an clearly formulated intention at the present time. But there is a clear drift towards it (as the documents indicate ) – and that has a logic in the context of several factors: the desire to secure a multilateral solution to the problem; anxiety over the influence of jihadist forces (which provides a nice fusion of perceived “strategic interests”, domestic politics, multilateral bargaining , and bridge-building towards the regime: hence its growing prominence in western discourse). It would be difficult in the current situation to realise it; but it could take on a different status in a future conjuncture.
Treating imperialist state policy processes as driven by universal rational thought is just the other side of the coin as regarding them as “insane”. Assessments of strategic interests are always an important part of the equation, as are internal divvisions, external pressures, and multilateral interactions. That can lead to all sorts of behaviours which don’t fit into the “rationality” box.


Arthur June 19, 2013 at 4:48 pm

The regime is behaving the way it is because it cannot survive without doing so.

A “lite” version that had lost its leader could not last as long as the south Vietnamese regime after US troops withdrew. The regime knows it and the other players all know it. Therefore it would be very odd if anyone who matters actually had it as a goal rather than a subject of declarations.


Pham Binh June 19, 2013 at 4:55 pm

I think if Assad was killed today the fighting would go on for another 3-5 years even without a U.S. arms embargo. The U.S. goal is not just having the regime without Assad but also to stop the fighting, i.e. the revolution from continuing to unfold.

I think the popular/class basis of Syrian fascism is much deeper than what it’s Libyan counterpart was, and the very uprooting of the regime in Damascus is proving this as Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Iran have been drawn into the fight to one degree or another.

Arthur June 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm

So how do you imagine the US envisages the fighting stops without the regime being defeated?

Brian S. June 19, 2013 at 7:17 pm

@Arthur and Binh. This regime is very personalist in its political architecture, and I think its class foundations decayed after the break up of the bloc with the Sunni bourgeosie, leaving it centred on a clique. Its institutional pillars – like the military and the security services – are also permeated by sectarianism. I’m not sure about the character of the state bureaucracy, but it doesn’t seem to play much independent role. This leaves it much closer to the Gaddafi regime than, say, Egypt. So in that respect I’m closer to Arthur’s position.
I agree that the regime would most probably disintegrate once Asad left the scene,but it could take some time to do that and have a fairly messy death agony in the process.
I don’t think the western chancelleries understand the nature of this regime and are quite capable of blundering in to incompetent policy adventures.
The (shared) western vision of how the fighting would be ended is: an agreement for Asad to step down; the creation of a power-sharing transition government with both opposition figures and second-line members of the existing regime,based on the existing bureaucracy, and some kind of agreement between the two armed forces. Eventually leading to something that looks like free elections. They might be prepared to lift the condition that Asad has to go (the Zimbabwe model) but I doubt that Asad would agree.
Obviously enough holes to make an excellent sieve in this plan – but, as I said, that doesn’t stop external actors buying in to it and making a mess in its pursuit.
For the most part it will depend on the military relation of forces – if it evolves against the opposition, there might be some room to try an impose it on them; if it evolves against the regime, the west certainly hopes that it will start to crack open – and in extremis that might prove to be right.

Pham Binh June 19, 2013 at 4:02 pm

“…the White House has lifted an unofficial embargo on its Gulf allies sending heavy weapons to the rebels.”

Can we all (except for Juan) join together in celebrating the end of U.S. intervention that choked off the weapons supply to the Free Syrian Army?


Brian S. June 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm

I concur – great news. I’ve seen the video of the destruction of a regime Russian tank that is linked to just below this story and its an impressive confirmation.


Pham Binh June 21, 2013 at 10:21 am
Brian S. June 23, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Latest on arms supplies – looks as if the US still has its hand on the tap:


patrickm June 23, 2013 at 1:48 pm

It’s crap; the two are Germany and Italy!


Brian S. June 23, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Maybe: although they seem to have agreed the final communique. But that’s not the point. What is –
“Sources within the insurgency have given EA a possible explanation for the tension and confusion: while Saudi Arabia has built up large stockpiles of arms and ammunition for the Free Syrian Army, the US blocked shipments until last Thursday.”


Arthur June 23, 2013 at 2:39 am

Just wanted to pass on this piece in the New Republic as an example of the sort of mainstream liberal position it should be possible to unite with in helping to mobilize public opinion:

Also while I’m at it, here’s some support for an NFZ from Wesley Clark (who was stridently hostile to the Iraq war):


Pham Binh June 28, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Revolutionary Kafranbel’s website:

Amazing photos and banners in English!


David Berger (RED DAVE) July 9, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Okay, here is an opportunity for those of you who favor US intervention in Syria to show what you’re made of. Tomorrow, there will be demos all over the country, but especially in New York, opposing US intervention.

If you have the courage of your convictions, and you think the Left is wrong on this issue, why not show up with a leaflet or, even better, stage a counter-demonstration.


Wed., July 10 • 5:30 pm • NYC DEMO
NO U.S./NATO & Israeli War ON SYRIA
Times Square Army Recruiting Station
200 W. 43rd St.

Part of Nationally Coordinated Days of Action

The White House’s June 13th announcement that it would begin directly supplying arms to the opposition in Syria is a dramatic escalation of the U.S./NATO war against that country. Thousands of U.S. troops and intelligence personnel are training opposition forces and coordinating operations in Turkey and Jordan. Israel, the recipient of more than $3 billion annually in U.S. military aid, has carried out heavy bombing raids against Syria. The Pentagon has developed plans for a “no-fly” zone over Syria, threatening a new U.S. air war.

The pretext for this escalation is the assertion, presented without any actual evidence, that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in the conflict that has been raging for more than two years. Like their predecessors, President Obama and other top U.S. officials pretend to be concerned about “democracy” and “human rights” in Syria, but their closest allies in the campaign against Syria are police-state, absolute monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Just as the false claim of “weapons of mass destruction” was used as justification for the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, the allegations that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian military is meant to mask the real motives of Washington and its allies. Their aim is to carry out “regime change,” as part of the drive to create a “new Middle East.”

The invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S.-backed Israeli war in Lebanon in 2006, the 2011 NATO bombing of Libya, the now-escalating war in Syria and the growing threats against Iran are part of a coordinated regional effort by the United States, Britain and France to dominate this oil-rich and strategic region.

The U.S. government cuts basic services and has eliminated hundreds of thousands of public sector workers jobs in the last three years in the name of a discredited austerity which has destroyed the economy, but has unlimited billions available for wars of aggression and NSA [National Security Agency] surveillance of almost every American.

We join together to call for National Days of Action, June 28 – July 17, 2013, to demand:
Stop the U.S./NATO/Israeli war & forms of intervention against Syria!
Self-determination free from outside intervention for the Syrian people!
Fund people’s needs, not the military!
U.S. Out of the Middle East!


David Berger (RED DAVE) July 12, 2013 at 9:38 pm


Cairo – An al-Qaeda-linked group has killed a senior commander in the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), said an FSA official on Friday, an act set to widen rifts between rival moderate and radical groups fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.


Pham Binh July 13, 2013 at 10:21 am

Bill Weinberg’s excellent take down of United National Antiwar Coalition’s (UNAC) latest pro-Assad statement:


Brian S. July 13, 2013 at 10:43 am

Good statement – nice to see someone knows which way is up.


Arthur July 13, 2013 at 11:20 am


Because I have been in opposition to all the sorts of groups that sign such statements for many years I do not have any real “feel” for how views are or are not shifting in the circles I have had nothing to do with.

My impression from the existance of this site (and a little earlier from support for Libya by Juan Cole, Gilbert Achar and others) is that some shift could be beginning.

I would be interested to know from people who have had more connection with and interest in those circles, whether a breakup is now starting to accelerate?


Brian S. July 25, 2013 at 5:59 am

Excellent initiative by the UK Guardian to provide extensive coverage of the Syrian refugees: taking online questions to be passed on to refugee interviewees.


lomo August 5, 2013 at 4:34 am

(sorry posted under wrong place, reposting)

Your heroes advance.

Another round of FSA and Al Nusra attacks Kurdish communities. More ethnic and sectarian violence. Although this time, the communities are defended by the Syrian branch of the Kurdish Workers Party.

It was only a week or so ago that the “rebels” rounded up hundreds of Kurdish civilians, threatening to kill them if the Kurds did not agree to a prisoner exchange.

Can someone post some managed pictures of some smiling children holding up some signs directed at Western liberals? Pham Binh, you got anymore of those? I need to feel warm and fuzzy again about the FSA again.


Louis Proyect August 5, 2013 at 8:19 am

Odd to see this business about the Kurds crop up here and now. One imagines that a Baathist apologist like “lomo” would have never said a peep about this:

(New York, March 19, 2004) — The Syrian government should take immediate steps to curb excessive use of force and halt mass arrests in its response to unrest in Kurdish areas of the country, Human Rights Watch said today.

At least 30 people were killed and more than 160 were injured in days of clashes that began March 12 at a stadium in Qamishli, a largely Kurdish city in northeastern Syria, according to accounts from Syrian Kurdish sources and press reports. Kurdish sources have stated that security forces used live ammunition against unarmed Kurdish civilians almost immediately after clashes erupted in Qamishli at a soccer match between Kurdish fans of the local team and Arab supporters of a visiting team from the city of Deir al-Zor. The international press reported that nine people were killed on March 12. The unrest spread to other Kurdish towns along the northern border with Turkey, and then to Damascus and Aleppo.

“Syria’s Kurds have endured decades of severe discrimination under Ba’ath party rule,” said Joe Stork, acting executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “They have legitimate human rights grievances that the government should urgently address. Repression will only fuel resentment and political tension.”


At any rate, one imagines that if the Baathist dictatorship succeeds in stamping out the armed resistance, the peace that ensues will return to the status quo ante, one in which Kurds are denied their rights.

In terms of the clashes taking place in the North, it should be obvious to anybody who reads this blog that its editors identify with this viewpoint even if this troll wants to superimpose another:

We, the Damascus revolutionary coordination, condemn the actions of some battalions and of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) against our people the Kurds and demand the transfer of their battle to and against the Syrian regime in Damascus and in the besieged cities. These groups should leave the areas with a Kurdish presence being attacked under Islamic slogans and the execution of suicide operations that serve agendas of countries that do not want Syria’s stability, the Kurds are an ancient people and they were among the first participants in the revolution

These acts brought a state of anxiety in the region, and increased the fears and apprehensions of its children because of the bad intentions of those armed groups who were angered from its relative stability and peaceful coexistence between its components.
Kurds are our brothers in blood and our partners in the homeland ..

We also demand the release of detainees from the people in these battalions and call on the leadership of the National Coalition for the forces of the revolution and the leadership of the Free Syrian Army to lift the lid on all those who are covered by them, and engage in acts detrimental to the Syrian revolution and its objectives, but serve its enemies, including the regime itself, we also appeal to the children of the Kurdish people and to all the people of the Jazira to increase their vigilance and solidarity to protect their area and their children and who they are, and remain loyal to the noble objectives to which throb the peaceful revolution, a revolution of freedom and dignity.

Long live an eternal free Syria


Brian S. August 5, 2013 at 11:09 am

Almost all sections of the Syrian opposition have something of a blindspot when it comes to the Kurdish question, and it is a weak point of the Syrian revolution. But what sensationalist articles like the one linked to above ignore is the fact that the Kurds themselves are sharply divided, and significant Kurdish forces are either components of or aligned with the FSA.
The conflict in Ras al-Ain / Serekaniye is a long standing one. I don’t know what Iomo means by “Although this time, the communities are defended by the Syrian branch of the Kurdish Workers Party.” The YPG has always been a key player in these situations.
And, of course, Northstar has covered them from the start :


Brian S. August 5, 2013 at 11:40 am

Father Paolo dall’Oglio – a staunch ally of the Syrian Revolution and campaigner for inter-communal cooperation in Syria has been kidnapped in Raqa by ISIS while seeking to mediate between the Islamist groups and the Kurds. There are rumours of his death, but so far only rumours. An extraordinarily principled and courageous person – I can only hope that his resourcefulness and the popular support he has in the area will prevent the worst from happening.


Brian S. August 5, 2013 at 11:51 am

A powerful statement from Father dall’Oglio:
And a video interview (unfortunately poor sound quality – but worth the effort) which systematically exposes the claims of the regime:


Pham Binh August 5, 2013 at 12:30 pm

It’s not odd — these pro-Assad trolls only pop up when something happens they can use to slam the FSA and then promptly disappear when either their accusations turn out to be entirely fabricated or in this case one-sided. Anyone who isn’t an ignorant idiot knows that the FSA is not a unified force but a popular militia, especially in northern Syria where the Islamists are so strong they’ve effectively split the FSA so one part of the FSA occasionally fights Kurdish militias alongside Islamists while another fights the regime alongside the Kurdish militias.

When lomo sheds his cowardice and tells us what side he’s on in Syria, then we can have an honest discussion instead of gutter sniping.


Sandwich Artist #456894560435035 August 26, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Along with the ISO in the US, the “New Anti-Capitalist Party” in France, the “Left” Party in Germany, the SWP in the UK, you, Louis Proyect, Pham Binh and all of your co-“thinkers,” have done your jobs as “left” and “Marxist” cheerleader for US imperialism’s war drive against first Libya and now Syria extremely well.

From a real political and moral standpoint, the blood of thousands of people is on your hands.

Rot in hell, you criminal, warmongering scumbags.


Michael Pugliese August 27, 2013 at 1:54 am

How sections of the left came to abandon Syria

As with the destruction we have already seen, the ramifications of global superpowers throwing further fuel onto the fires of the current humanitarian tragedy in Syria is likely to be disastrous. The tragedy of Syria has been spawned out of decades of colonial rule, followed by competing imperialist powers arming and funding both an oppressive and undemocratic regime and regional powers who are hostile to it. The only truly peaceful solution for Syria is one where such intervention and exploitation from forces outside are removed entirely. In this context it would seem that there is a very clear and obvious position for the left internationally to take, and this has not really changed since the initial uprisings against the regime: we should stand against all global powers who wish to intervene, escalate or benefit from this crisis, including those who are already intervening and propping up the current regime. This of course should go hand in hand with offering solidarity with those who are seeking real democracy, who are opposed to and are under attack by their callous dictatorship. On the surface this seems to be a principled perspective which the left should have no problem finding agreement on, yet sadly this is where a lot have got it so abominably wrong.

This was seen to be the case early on in the uprising for some influential figures in the anti-war movement. Often politically astute commentators such as Tariq Ali and Seumas Milne started writing off the opposition movement as ultimately hijacked by imperialism; this was well before the conflict fully descended into the armed civil war that exists today. Neither thought it was important to focus on the already ongoing imperialist intervention from Russia and others in support of the regime. Responding to this in a thorough analysis of the balance of forces on the ground last year, Richard Seymour highlighted how absurd it was that sections of the left were branding a relatively unprofessional and poorly armed opposition born out of a genuine popular revolt as merely forces for imperialism, while well-trained and heavily armed regime forces were slaughtering them in any confrontation. This essentially led to a bleak situation where leading figures on the left simply wouldn’t comment on Syria except when there was a perceived threat of Western intervention. A heavily armed and funded dictator went on massacring a popular revolt, and all the horrors which attach themselves to armed conflict amounted, and many on the left simply remained silent.

Leading figures in the Stop the War Coalition at times attempted to justify this silence by talking about the situation as if it were merely a war between the dominant US empire and anti-imperialist forces. They dismissed the significance of other global powers and their differing interests, and even more problematically the mass popular protests against the regime which was of course the initial catalyst for the conflict. John Rees, for instance, suggested that the central dominant power in the region is US imperialism alone, particularly through the power held by its allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He suggested that as a result, movements on the ground – which he accepted were popular and rooted from below – are essentially limited in what they could achieve; they can either be against Western intervention or in support of Western intervention and this is how we should judge them. In making this point he placed a purist demand on those struggling against Assad: “Make it clear that (you) are opposed to Assad but also opposed to Western intervention and…also oppose those within the Syrian revolution who are calling for and taking arms from Western imperialism.”

These demands were flawed for a number of clear reasons, and behind them lay a dubious and perhaps pernicious regard for the people of Syria. Firstly on the issue of the overarching dominance of the US empire, I have already discussed how this is not the only imperialist interest in the region: in the case of Syria in terms of directly material contributions to the current conflict, the US, Britain and France’s involvement is clearly far less than the economic and military support provided to the regime by Russia. It is of course true that the US has a strong grip over the region as a whole, particularly through its economic ties with the Gulf States, and notably Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime has of course been able to play a reactionary role throughout the Arab Spring, especially in Bahrain where it has used its military and economic weight to crush the uprising, and along with the US it has taken a position of support for the opposition in Syria. However, to suggest that Saudi support signifies complete dominance is to ignore important complexities in the geopolitics of the region. As Richard Seymour argued in a response to Rees, “these sub-imperialisms have interests of their own which, while tendentially confluent with the strategy of the US, follow their own internal dynamics”. To give evidence of this he highlights how the Saudi regime initially backed Assad against the opposition but later switched sides as their direct interests changed. To argue that Saudi Arabia is merely a US bastion in the Middle East would therefore appear to be contradicted by their sometimes different approaches. The fact that the Saudi regime has close ties with sections of the opposition far from signifies US control over the opposition as a whole. More @


Arthur August 27, 2013 at 7:27 am

I gather this is still the most recent thread on Syria.

I’m still stuck with concentrating on studies and don’t like posting comments when not sure of being able to substantively engage with responses. Unfortunately that looks like continuing for weeks or months. I haven’t had time to keep up with North Star but have still been following events in both Egypt and Syria closely.

Hope there will be a new thread on Syria soon.

My quick take on current events is that the administration will aim to pander to the continuing desire of its base and most “public opinion” to do as little as possible with just a token “punitive” strike, but will actually take steps that prepare for much deeper involvement.

Just throwing cruise missiles randomly will look very Clintonesque.

Minimal action that would make any kind of military sense but still be presented as minimal would be a serious degradation of command and control and other air defence capabilities.

As the hostile opinion makers warn, that does pave the way for the US getting more involved, without actually accomplishing much. But as the situation continues to get worse, the US will have to get more involved so paving the way for that does actually accomplish something.

Point still is that things are not just goint to remain static. As with Egypt things will continue to get worse until the old autocracies are all defeated. The overwhelming backlash against supporting destabilizing democratic revolution from the conservative US foreign policy establishment and its pseudoleft echoes cannot and will not change the necessities that arise from that underlying reality.


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Pham Binh June 19, 2013 at 6:41 pm

A negotiated settlement, which they’ve been pushing for years now. Geneva is what, round 35?


Arthur June 20, 2013 at 4:28 am

Don’t confuse between proposals for a negotiated settlement with a transitional government and preservation of a milder version of the regime without Assad.

With or without Assad the regime cannot survive if its opponents are allowed to operate. A transitional government would reflect its defeat.


Brian S. June 20, 2013 at 6:12 am

Again, Arthur, I’m not a million miles from your view; but there are several variants of what a “transitional government” would look like.(It looks to me as if the Zimbabwe model is lurking in the wings somewhere.) The G8 declaration and its Geneva predecessor make it fairly clear that what is being proposed is a power-sharing executive sitting on top of the old state machine – AND “This includes the military forces and security services”. The inclusion of the latter is quite extraordinary (I can’t believe that its only there because of Russian insistence) and seems to me a pretty clear indicator that the western signatories simply don’t understand the nature of the regime. There is a naive presumption that such an executive authority could control and reign in this state apparatus. As I say full of holes; but still with considerable scope for fomenting confusion and damage.
I think there are two things we need to watch for:
1. what is the nature of the weaponry making it through to the opposition forces – in particular are there any effective anti-aircraft weapons (that would show a serious committment to assisting opposition gains as opposed to maintaining the military status quo)
2. how much effort is put in by the US to getting a Geneva 2 conference off the ground – is this just for show or are they seriously committed to going through this process (for one reason or another).


Pham Binh June 20, 2013 at 11:42 am
Brian S. June 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Sounds about right to me. Don’t know what to make of Idriss – US advisors like O’Bagy are pushing him bigtime, but for a view from the frontline (from someone I take seriously) see (although I would note that Aqidi is a bit contradictory – scathing on the SMC – “They’re detached from reality” but says he’s in regular contact with Idriss.


Brian S. June 21, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I’m not sure how the military struggle is shaping up, but the Syrian opposition is certainly getting its act together very effectively: photos and videos from today’s Friday demonstrations are already in the Twittersphere: here’s one of my favourites:


Pham Binh July 9, 2013 at 11:40 am

Still no U.S. weapons:

It’s been how many weeks since the so-called shift in U.S. policy now?


Pham Binh July 11, 2013 at 10:22 am
Brian S. July 11, 2013 at 10:39 am

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