George Galloway’s impassioned speech opposing attack on Syria; Parliament Votes NO

by Jay Cables (Drive-By Planet) on August 30, 2013

One of the highlights of the British parliamentary debate on Syria was the rousing speech delivered by Respect Party MP for Bradford West, George Galloway. He delivered with trademark conviction and elan, stating his opposition to any British involvement in an attack on Syria.

This is part of what Galloway had to say:

It is absolutely evident that if it was not for the democratic revolt that has been underway in this House of Commons and outside in the wider public against this war, that the engines in Cyprus would now be revving and the cruise missiles ready to fly this very weekend. Any attempt by the Prime Minister to pretend that he had always all along intended on this course of action is just bunkum.


Only 11% of the public, according to the Daily Telegraph this morning, support Britain becoming involved in a war in Syria. Can ever a British government have imagined sending its men and women to war with the support of just 11% in public opinion?

First, that there is no compelling evidence, to use the leader of the opposition’s words, that the Assad regime is responsible for this crime yet. Not that they are not bad enough to do it. Everybody knows they are bad enough to do it. The question is, are they mad enough to do it?

To launch a chemical weapons attack in Damascus on the very day that a United Nations chemical weapons inspection team arrives in Damascus must be a new definition of madness. And of course if he is that mad, how mad is he going to be once we’ve launched a blizzard of Tomahawk cruise missiles upon his country?

British PM David Cameron lost the parliamentary vote that would have cleared the way for Britain to take part in a military strike on Syria. The coalition government failed in their bid to get the motion passed by 285 to 272 votes.

The Guardian has an excellent as-it-happens live blog that covered the action in parliament for this crucial vote – here.

After the vote Cameron said he would abide by the will of parliament and not authorize military action. In responding to a request for assurances by Labour leader, Ed Miliband, that he would not bypass parliament in order to give the go-ahead for military action, Cameron said:

I can give that assurance. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons.

It is very clear tonight that while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action – I get that and the government will act accordingly.

The memory of the folly that was the invasion of Iraq is still fresh in the minds of many British citizens and parliamentarians. It clearly played a large part in the way this vote came down.

{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

TRPF August 30, 2013 at 10:10 am

Of course Galloway is opposed to a military strike on the Syrian regime. He’s on their payroll:

It’s not surprising that Galloway is a chemical weapons-denier. After the Parliament vote, Assad felt emboldened enough to bomb a playground with something like napalm:

It would be nice to see some actual analysis of the politics of what is going on in Syria (like why did the Obama administration refuse to send the opposition gas masks?) and the coming U.S. airstrikes rather than facile posts like this that lack substance worth discussing.

Robin Yassin-Kassab and Darth Nader have outlined their opposition to the coming airstrikes on an incomparably higher political level than this analysis-free ‘left’ Reuters-ish ‘report.’


Arthur August 30, 2013 at 12:11 pm

It wouldn’t be hard to be at an incomparably higher political level than this analysis free article, but I don’t think either of those two presents a serious argument.

I didn’t notice any argument at all from Robin Yassin-Kassab. Darth Nader acknowldges that the regime has just used chemical weapons and does seem to be on the side of the people. But it simply doesn’t make sense for him to argue that because the US has failed to supply arms when it should have therefore it should also do nothing about the use of chemical attacks. I mean “simply doesn’t make sense” literally (and I mean “literally” literally).

There’s some sort of compulsive tick that makes people write articles opposing “imperialist hypocrisy” that simply don’t make sense.


Arthur August 30, 2013 at 10:46 am

What a “highlight”. Neither Galloway nor this article makes any attempt at arguing:

1. That the Syrian regime has not now started killing thousands of people in Damascus.
2. That even if it has, it should be permitted to continue.

All you do is discredit yourselves by revealing that far from being for “peace” as you pretend you are in favour of a wider war using weapons of mass destruction.

Instead of attempting to convince anybody of anything, you are reduced to cheering at some imagined victory that can at worst add a couple of more weeks of confusion and delay before the action that is necessary and inevitable is eventually taken.

At least the open far rightists like the UK Indepenence Party acknowledge that they don’t give a damn what happens to these “foreigners”. But you take the exactly the same far right position, while pretending to “care”.

The “tankies” have moved on to become supporters of extermination of protests against fascist regimes by chemical weapons.


Pavel Dubrovsky August 30, 2013 at 11:28 am

It’s good to see one of the more vehement cheerleaders of humanitarian aerial bombardment drop the mask and simply come out and say that what the empire wants is inevitable. Points for honesty, if nothing else.


Louis Proyect August 30, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Who the hell is Pavel Dubovsky? What makes him eligible to be an editor? Has he ever written anything of substance? I couldn’t find anything from Google. A pal of C. Derick Varn? The plot both thickens and sickens.


Pavel Dubrovsky August 30, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Who the hell is Louis Proyect? Has he ever done anything that anyone will remember?


Bulgarian Trotskyist September 4, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Yes — for 2.5 years, he has been one of the most shrill “left” (he sickeningly calls himself “The Unrepentant Marxist”) advocates for murderous US-NATO regime change operations in Libya and Syria.

He is foul-mouthed, duplicitous and scurrilous almost beyond imagination and quite possibly on the payroll of the CIA.

Imperialism relies to no small extent upon upper middle-class pieces of human garbage like Proyect to put a “left” gloss on its wars for regional and global domination.

It is beyond pointless to try to engage him in an intelligent and rational debate, as he is only capable and desirous 0f giving profanity-filled and logic-free responses which reveal him to be nothing more than a willing agent for US imperialist barbarism.


Michael Pugliese September 5, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Having been on the receiving end of barbs from LNP myself in the past, some justified, some not (“redbaiting Serbophobe, ” being among the mildest)
I understand the psychological need to hit back. But, this sort of scurrilous reply alleging Langley connections is the kind of polemical overkill that contributes nothing to the debate.


Bulgarian Trotskyist September 5, 2013 at 9:34 pm

I didn’t say he was on the CIA’S payroll — I indicated that, given his uniformly pro-imperialist record over the course of at least the last four-plus years (see, for example, his backing for the neoliberal and pro-Washington Green Movement in Iran following that country’s June of 2009 Presidential election,) it wouldn’t be particularly surprising that he had been receiving $$$ from the American state to put a “left” and even “Marxist” face on its most recent wars of aggression.

The 1999 US-NATO bombing campaign against the former Yugoslavia was itself a criminal act of imperialist banditry, as were NATO’s earlier (in 1994 and 1995) “air strikes” against the Bosnian Serbs and Muslims allied to them (Fikret Abdic’s force.) Clinton should have been impeached (and then jailed) for these exercises in “humanitarian” mass murder, not for getting a blowjob from Monica Lewinsky.

However, categorical opposition to NATO aggression and to NATO’s brutal proxy forces (Tudjman’s far-right Croatian regime, the Muslim fundamentalist Izetbegovic and the KLA in Kosovo) did not mean that Milosevic was an anti-imperialist or a socialist, as he certainly was not.

Proyect’s stance on Libya and Syria is, in fact, quite similar to that of the “leftists” who cheered on Clinton as he bombed and facilitated the ethnic cleansing of Serbs (and their allies) in the mid-to-late 1990s; in all these cases, the pro-war camp is based to no small degree on moralizing. Back then it was “Milosevic is bad … we [meaning the upper middle-class ”left’] have to ‘do something’ [meaning backing imperialism as it murders countless people in a poor country and destroys the infrastructure of that country.”]

Just replace “Milosevic” with “Assad” today (or “Gaddafi” two years ago) and you have Proyect’s current position.

“In politics as in private life there is nothing cheaper than moralizing–nothing cheaper and more useless. Many people, however, find it attractive because it saves them from having to look into the objective mechanism of events.”

Leon Trotsky (during the Balkans Wars of 1912- 1913)


Bulgarian Trotskyist September 7, 2013 at 1:35 am

What I recently tired to post on his page —

Louis Proyect is certainly no Trotskyist, nor is he a Marxist (Trotskyism is modern Marxism.) He is an upper middle-class moralizing “liberal” who, on the vital issues of war and peace, is unquestionably in the same political camp as the imperialist butchers Barack Obama, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, etc., who run the US government.


Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 12:29 pm

You keep imaging plots, Louis. Do you really think everything works like a Trot front–I would imagine that would be proyecting. Both Pavel and I have been working on North Star for six months. We were both selected by Binh and voted on by the editorial staff for leadership. I am sure I will see you slander us in print on your forum soon enough.


Brian S. August 30, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Don’t want to prejudge where the new team is going, and hope that The North Star has a future that closely resemble its past. But to start the new era with this celebration of a charlatan Asad cheer-leader seems to me like a very strange choice.
And Pavel is not doing himself any favours with this dismissive attitude to Louis.


Jon Hoch August 30, 2013 at 2:54 pm

I had honestly never heard of any of the new TNS editors before their “On Hiatus” post. I don’t remember them from their articles. I don’t remember them from the comment section. I don’t remember them from the NSN Facebook group. Honestly, I don’t care if Pham picked these folks. If TNS stands for anything in my book it’s transparency and democracy. And that’s not how this feels.


Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 3:20 pm

We are democratic to our editorial panel. If you look back through the archives starting in March, you will see my name, and my podcast, which has been run on North Star for three months. I cannot help that you were not paying attention. Ismael has been here since a few months after the beginning. Pavel has been part of the editorial panel for a while, but yes, he has not be openly so. So I suppose it would be legitimate to take issue with that.

The NSN has NO relationship to the North Star that I know of, when I was added it two days ago, I noticed that almost NONE of the editors were in it. Holding us accountable for that is silly.

If we were not being transparent, would it not make more sense to just delete your comments instead of fishing them out of the defective spam catcher, and replying to them every few hours.


Jon Hoch August 30, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Well, Pham was a member of the NSN group. I asked him to be the mod of the group. He said he was too busy. I asked him if any of TNS editorial board members would be mods. He said he couldn’t even get you folks to do any editing, so the prospect of getting you to do additional mod work on a Facebook group was out of the question. This conversation was all out in the open of the NSN group. My guess is 15 or so people could vouch Binh said it. The only reason it’s not there anymore is he deleted his account. So much for the behind scenes work you all have been doing. And yeah, I vaguely remember your interviews, but no offense, they all seemed incredibly academic and boring, so I never read them. It seems like no one else did either since they have practically no comments or “likes.”


Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 5:24 pm

” So much for the behind scenes work you all have been doing”

Really? The editorial staff at the time you would have asked that was 16 people–many of whom did not do any work. Now, if you check the masthead, it is six. Binh asked me on because I was one of the people actually doing work on editing and Pavel on because he was working on fixing the back-end of the site. Since you have decided that you know the context of every comment Binh made yet you had no idea who was on the editorial panel, why they were on, who was and was not doing work, and even who accepted your last article (Binh and I jointly wanted to publish it), this pretty much goes against your claim that the North Star (under Binh) stood for transparency and democracy as you understand it and are apparently sole adjudicator of. You see, both things can’t be true. Either your first statement is correct, but then you have to explain why such a “democratic” site had a panel of editors brought on by Binh and Ben who “did nothing” as a whole and why were were two of them given admin access, or your statement is half-right, but you had no idea what was going on so things could not have been “transparent.” Or the third option, the site was having problems and people were doing the best they good to keep things running, we were having staff problems, and Binh and Ben had personal problems. In my mind, Binh is honest man in his politics and a consensus builder, but he did not tell everybody every single blip or hiccup the site had because it did not concern them.

As for your claim of “no offense” intended, being disingenuous is silly at best, and reactionary at worse.


Jon Hoch August 30, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Ugh, I give up.

Jon Hoch August 30, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Just for the record, Varn has edited and added a paragraph to his comment since I replied him which I don’t really think is fair play. And sure, it was a bit of a benevolent dictatorship with Pham. I asked who was on the editorial board while I was waiting for my video game piece to go up and got shot down by my fellow commenters for daring to ask. But the thing is, I liked the direction Pham was taking the site in much more than I like the direction you’re taking the site in. While the TNS editorship itself wasn’t democratic and transparent as I would have liked it to be, TNS stood for a broad, inclusive, democratic left, which is a far cry from the academic mumbo jumbo direction you’re pointing it toward.

Deran August 30, 2013 at 3:58 pm

The North Star obviously underwent some sort of Paleo-Leninist coup. And now the grad students are in control. Or, looking at the banality of recent posts, I’m guessing a clique of undergrads have seized power.

It would of course be interesting to read something honest abt how this all went down? But the new Leninists in control are adhering to secretiveness that would make any central committee proud.


Karl Grant August 31, 2013 at 6:00 am

I just came across the Louis Proyect article and detected the same tone in many of the comments here. Deran’s comment here seems to be in the same vein, suggesting a ‘Paleo-Leninist coup’ towards implementing a dictatorship of grad students. I think this line of commentary reflects a valid concern and interest in the future of NS but that framing it in the above terms is an almost willful misunderstanding of the way this blog works.

First, its clear that there was no ‘coup’ as Binh personally announced and briefly explained his resignation. Now unless they’ve got him tied up in a basement, its pretty clear that he stepped down voluntarily.

Second, its equally clear that the most active editors have a certain tone, set of interests, which might seem to some arcane or overly academic for certain audiences. Fair enough- to a point.

But folks are overanalyzing a couple articles, blowing them out of proportion as evidence of some shift in the nature of the website. The website is nothing more than what the readers make it – if no one contributes and the only active layer or those from a particular background then of course it would be shaped by their specific interests. Thats hardly conspiratorial.

Now, as before, articles that show up on the site are the product of readers who make the effort to put forward submissions. Now, as before, the NS is struggling to keep up the quantity of decent, original, material. Can it be helped if the most active layer of contributers and editors are grad students interested in philosophy/cultural marxism, and draw on their forte in order to maintain at least some level of activity on this site and keep it alive?

The only other really active ‘layer/tendency/wing’ are folks exemplified by Abraham Marx, who I think its fair to say hold extremely unorthodox interests within the field of ‘Marxism’, at least as arcane and questionable as any of the cultural marxist material submitted. That the editors continue to give commentators with this tone a voice and space to develop their ideas is a reflection of an openness and commitment to left unity that disproves any the hysterics seemingly being driven by Proyect’s bitterness.

In my view, the best wing of contributors have been those exemplified by Tim Horras and Chris Lowe. Serious activists engaged in innovative projects that contain lessons about how to build a new and relevant left. We need to retain and nurture analysis in this vein to retain the activist character of the NS, consistent with Binh’s experience and background.

Collapsing into mutual denunciations and shrill announcements about a ‘coup’ or some catastrophic shift in the politics of the site is an unpromising regression in my view. It’s all too often that fledgling unity projects are broken by the departure of an initial unifying figure. We relapse into our own tempest in a teapot styles, rereading each new post as evidence of a ‘betrayal’ and moving to quantify the politics behind it within our trusty old frameworks.

This is infantile brothers and sisters, and we need to show we can do better. The best conversations on this site have brought together extremely heterogeneous elements of the left and whatever our understandings of what ‘left unity’ should mean I think what brings us here is that we share the view that these conversations should be taking place in one way or another. Lets prove we can work together and rise above relapsing into the sectarian style of shrill denunciations.

I for one will make more of an effort to put forward contributions, having only recently gaining the bandwidth to do so. Hopefully others will also contribute towards making the website the kind of space the left needs.


Matt September 10, 2013 at 11:29 pm

Galloway, of course, is hardly an objective reference point on this matter.

However, Arthur is to be challenged to write a scientifically sound explanation for his characterization of the Assad regime as “fascist”, to be published on NS. Apparently killing a lot of people is all it takes. There are obvious problems with that.

Arthur is also to be challenged to submit another article explaining how the proposed intervention actually on the agenda will not in fact lengthen the civil war, and thus increase the casualties, not reduce them. In such an article Arthur will have to address the recent experience in Iraq, where a much more extensive intervention produced, not peace, but an extended bloodbath the equal if – in the case of Fallujah – not greater than that of Syria. Here Arthur can explain how white phosphorous, depleted uranium and cluster bombs are not WMD, and ill not be used in the sort of intervention that would actually undo the Assad regime. And to this day Iraq simmers as a bloody conflict zone, not unrelated to events in Syria.

In a third article, Arthur can explain to us leftists how it makes practical political sense to defy the majority public opinion, sick to death of endless wars, that has arisen throughout the NATO countries. Or is the mass majority also “far right”? Apparently the goal of overturning the Assad regime is so all important – it obviously is for the people of Syria – that leftists should refuse to connect up with majority mass opinion in their own countries.


Brian S. September 11, 2013 at 11:25 am

@Matt. As you will be aware, I have views very different from Arthur’s on most matters. I also regard his use of the term “fascist” in unscientific and unhelpful. But I also think that a debate over labels is hardly a key issue in the circumstances.
Your final paragraph, however, I must dissent from. It seems to be saying that the job of the left is to “connect up with majority mass opinion” whatever that opinion may be. If you have engaged with “mass opinion” in the Syria debate, you will know that it is highly contradictory – sure there is a deep scepticism about US policy and a distrust of own-country political leaders deriving in particular from their deception over Iraq – both positive forces; but there are also strong strands of parochialism, isolationism, poor knowledge of the situation, and islamophobia. So yes, I do think that the goal of overturning the Asad Regime is sufficiently important to engage and challenge mass opinion when it is steered by these forces to turn a blind eye to what is happening in Syria and to substitute parochial introspection for solidarity with a people in struggle.
Anything else is sheer oportunism – a quality displayed in abundance by the western anti-war movements.


A August 30, 2013 at 11:00 am

Right, and Pham Binh resigned for “personal” reasons.


C. Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 11:44 am

Conspiracy mongering. You guys are really good at it–but I suppose when you are politically irrelevant for five decades or more, you really do not have much else to do. Frankly, grow up. Binh asked the current editorial staff on. No one couped him. You can ask him personally if you like.


Brian S. August 30, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Ditto for my comment about Pavel above.


A August 30, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Well, after Pham Binh stepped down (days before the apparent attack on Syria), the new editors moved immediately to distance themselves from his views (even highlighting George Galloway). That’s just an observation — far from “conspiracy mongering”.

Whatever one thinks of Binh’s writing, it would have been interesting to read him navigate this Syrian situation (with his previous “empty threat” analysis clearly wrong). Instead, he “steps down” (hides?) right when the US aircraft carriers get moving, with North Star pulling an about-face to align themselves with the “hands off Syria” folks.


Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 1:10 pm

We are not aligning with anything–Binh had a policy of publishing pieces he did not agree with and did not make the magazine take his line. He was explicit abut that fact. Nor we have a unified line on Syria, I personally am highly skeptical of both Binh and Galloway on this point, and, in general, I think Galloway has politics which some of the most problematic of the left anywhere in the world, but we have a mission of inclusion which we take seriously even if some of readers do not.


Louis Proyect August 30, 2013 at 1:18 pm

We are not aligning with anything–Binh had a policy of publishing pieces he did not agree with and did not make the magazine take his line.

Well, about a month ago I was going to interview Robin Yassin-Kassab, a Syrian who grew up in London, for the North Star. Binh told me that my questions did not pass muster with the other editors because they were too “soft”, like Charlie Rose interviewing Bill Gates or something. I didn’t think too much about it at the time but now…


Richard Estes August 30, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Proyect has an interesting crosspost on Syria that I found worthwhile:

Actually, if there was a conspiracy theory here, which I don’t believe, I would say that the editors selected a Galloway piece, instead of others, such as the Proyect one, to have the opposition to military intervention represented by an extremely problematic person with a lot of baggage.


Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 1:39 pm

We posted this in the context of UK news. We have a few more coming out in the next week on both sides of this debate, and then unless, something happens, we hope to lay this horse to rest.


Louis Proyect August 30, 2013 at 1:49 pm

I will say something with some certainty. Unless this website has a strong POV, it will wither on the vine. Frankly, I wouldn’t even mind if it staked out a position diametrically opposed to Binh’s if it was lively. What I am having trouble understanding is exactly what C. Derick Varn thinks about anything in particular. His interviews reflect a rather catholic range of interests, which is commendable. However, people flocked to this website because they were focused above all on the question of how to move forward. While Binh was opposed to “Leninism”, he was for a Leninist vanguard party, just as Camejo was. The question, of course, was how to reach that goal. If North Star ends up as an aggregator of “interesting” articles, it might be of some interest but I doubt that it will have the urgency it once had.


Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Which is fair, I am also for an educational notion of the vanguard party in conjunction with class independence, although I link that more to Kautsky than to Lenin. (And is the only think Kautsky was useful for in my book).


Pavel Dubrovsky August 30, 2013 at 2:38 pm

I think we all share a focus on how to move forward – that was precisely what attracted us to working together with Binh on the North Star in the first place and it is what has kept us all here. Many of us have also seen what does not work, from our own personal experience. Many of us are also located in countries other than the US. We will be most definitely be looking at what works in different places and what lessons can be shared amongst the international Marxisant left currents: whether they are social democratic, anarchist or ultraleft – the article we reposted from Novara Media was an attempt to do that, by showing how the British left can learn from some of the organisational forms being adopted by the so-called progressive Democratic left in the US. We expect to post more material of that nature, such as the excellent article on party building in the US.


Steve Owens September 1, 2013 at 1:56 am

That open letter on Syria was excellent pointing out how Western leftists are so US focused. I support its thrust in that we should be focusing on Syria.


Brian S. August 30, 2013 at 2:33 pm

I watched Galloway’s “impassioned speech” as it was delivered and it was nothing of the sort: just the usual two-faced rant. Started with a ritual denunciation of Asad (bad but not mad) then slid into a full-scale apology for the regime. High point was when a Tory MP interrupted him to say that he had been told by constituents that Galloway had been on Iranian PressTV saying that Israel had supplied chemical materials to “al Qaeda” for the attack. Galloway denied this:
Checking it out, RT certainly reports him saying this: And there is a video of him apparently saying it going the rounds:
Not really much of a proletarian hero.


Brian S. August 30, 2013 at 3:59 pm

By the way, if you want to read a couple of British MPs speeches which may not match Galloway on the oratory index but at least have the merit of being informed and sincere, try
Meg Munn:
Mike Gapes:


Ravi August 30, 2013 at 2:41 pm

If the debate in the UK parliament is anything to go by, the general public here is far more cynical than the politicians on the approval “in principle” to support military action. In reports on two different polls the British public kept citing Iraq and the “dodgy dossier” from intelligence services that allowed the Blair government to take Britain to war. However don’t get too carried away with Galloway’s characterisation of the “revolt of the commons”. Scepticism about the government’s justification for preparing for military action or even the public’s suspicion of the motives for interfering in overseas conflict will not stop the drive to war.

Back in the run up to the last attack on Iraq then there were far too many in the anti-war camp who wanted to wait for UN approval before launching military forces. The UN search for WMDs back then should have been irrelevant to whether support for aggression against another country was justified. The findings of the UN today one way or another should not influence our attitude on the drive to war, consequently it shouldn’t form part of our argument as it leaves us hostage to fortune.

If they do find evidence that Assad’s regime had used nerve gas – we should still oppose the west’s military aggression! It will not help the people of Syria and should be resisted whatever justification they come out with.


Ravi August 30, 2013 at 2:41 pm

If the debate in the UK parliament is anything to go by, the general public here is far more cynical than the politicians on the approval “in principle” to support military action. In reports on two different polls the British public kept citing Iraq and the “dodgy dossier” from intelligence services that allowed the Blair government to take Britain to war. However don’t get too carried away with Galloway’s characterisation of the “revolt of the commons”. Scepticism about the government’s justification for preparing for military action or even the public’s suspicion of the motives for interfering in overseas conflict will not stop the drive to war.

Back in the run up to the last attack on Iraq then there were far too many in the anti-war camp who wanted to wait for UN approval before launching military forces. The UN search for WMDs back then should have been irrelevant to whether support for aggression against another country was justified. The findings of the UN today one way or another should not influence our attitude on the drive to war, consequently it shouldn’t form part of our argument as it leaves us hostage to fortune.

If they do find evidence that Assad’s regime had used nerve gas – we should still oppose the west’s military aggression! It will not help the people of Syria and should be resisted whatever justification they come out with.


Richard Estes August 30, 2013 at 3:03 pm

For my perspective in opposition to the airstrikes, you can go here:


Brian S. August 30, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Hi Ravi – I don’t think that’s really true: the MPs from all parties were also very sceptical about giving Cameron an open mandate – hence the defeat of both motions. And Iraq was widely and bitterly cited in the debate (with a lot of “born again” sceptics who had supported the Iraq invasion now dissenting – especially among the Tories).
The discussion of how to respond to Asad’s atrocities is another debate – but the “no intervention at any price”position looks to me like a licence to Asad to carry on the killing. And I don’t hear anything from the anti-war movement about “helping the people of Syria”. As my new hero, Mike Gapes MP put it on Twitter:
“See the misnamed so called Stop the War coalition are protesting . Where was their protest at Syrian regime atrocities and 100,000 dead?”
What do you propose?


Ravi August 31, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I was making the point that the vote was still pretty close 285 against government approving action “in principle” , still 272 for the motion though. That is much closer than the country at large. Even that broader cynicism will not stop the momentum towards military strikes if they keep piling on the moral case.

On BBC Radio 4 this morning a spokesman for Save The Children was talking about the children who had suffered extensive skin burns from chemical weapons dropped by the regime. Even if the US has detailed information of where the Syrian regime launched its weapons from and were planning to target just them. I would not support it.

I am one of those “knee-jerk” anti imperialists who just would not trust a western power to have a positive impact through military intervention, however horrific the situation on the ground. They will not stop there. It is not making apologies for Assad or anyone else, western missiles just won’t help. Offering humanitarian assistance yes. Airstrikes no.

Simple – but it is what guides my attitude to these conflicts.


Brian S. August 31, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Hi Ravi – There’s a debate to be had here. You might like to take a look at the post by Michael Pugliese below on the statement from 3 left groups and the link in my comment on it to see the discussion that is developing among people who have positions not dissimilar to yours.
I’m also not in favour of the proposed strikes – because I think they are empty gestures that are unlikely to have any positive impact. I would certainly favour a situation in which the Asad regime as brought down by the power of the Syrian people alone. But we have to deal with the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be. That means compromises have to be struck. If there are forms of action that western states are prepared to take which save lives and/or hasten the downfall of the regime then we shouldn’t dismiss them out of hand. Its no use just saying abstractly “they won’t help” – we need to make a concrete assessment of the potential gains vs the costs. Humanitarian aid is fine – but it amounts to bandaging the wounds and burying the dead caused by Asad’s bombardments. Wouldn’t it be better to address the cause rather than the symptoms?


Ravi August 31, 2013 at 11:32 pm

That still assumes that you put some trust in the American or British state to act in some progressive way. It doesn’t even have to be military intervention that screws things up. It was Germany’s courting of Croatia that exacerbated the tensions caused by regional differences in the levels of wealth and development within the former Yugoslavia that led to its break up and war. As soon as outside powers start acting as brokers for factions within a country you harden positions and intensify conflict. If people are left to sort out their own affairs they are less likely to push as far as they can get until some settlement is reached.

Outside powers acting as sponsors or supporters just make these countries an arena for moral or political power plays. That helps nobody.

It is not if Saddam was any better than Assad, but the west go in there take him out, create a power vacuum in which they are then forced to oversee a transition with no end to the internal conflict in sight even after they withdraw.

A genuinely popular movement within the country with whatever compromises have to be cobbled together are more likely to meet the needs of the population than a settlement imposed from the outside however benevolent the intentions.

And I don’t trust them to be that benevolent. If US or British troops are not hailed as liberators by everybody in the countries they occupy, their record is not that inspiring that we should have confidence in them today. Even if all they do is arm opposition elements in Syria now, would you trust the US or Britain to stop there if things did not go to plan. I know I wouldn’t . And things rarely go to plan in conflict situations.


Steve Owens September 1, 2013 at 1:41 am

Ravi there is no need to place trust in the American or British state to act in some progressive way. I think we should always be suspect of their motivation.
You argue that people should be left to to sort out their own affairs. This is ok but this is never the case.
Large numbers of Syrians took to the streets to protest for basic democratic rights.
Assad answered these protests with bullets.
Assad started the slaughter as his father had done before him.
The only difference this time is that large sections of the Syrian army have gone onto the side of the people.
Assad is propped up by the support that he receives from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.
Take away his international support and he would fall immediately.
There are two sides to this fight. On one side we have a dictator and on the other side we have people who in the main want a democratic Syria.
When Assad is gone another struggle will erupt between anti Assad democrats and anti Assad anti democrats (many from outside Syria)
The Syrian National Council have been pleading for support. So far Obama has offered weapons and delivered none. Obama is now offering a symbolic military attack. Our outrage should be toward Obama for doing nothing rather than towards Obama because he might do something maybe someday.
PS I submitted a comment a couple of days ago on this thread but it never appeared not even as awaiting moderation.


Brian S. September 5, 2013 at 1:39 pm

@ Ravi. I endorse Steve’s comments below. It is not a matter of having confidence in western states, but of recognising that the imperialist order has internal contradictions which can sometimes be taken advantage of. Succesful revolutions have nearly always done (or tried to do) that. I agree with you entirely that relying on western states alone to overthrow Asad would be disasterous. But that’s not going to happen anyway – no western power has the stomach for another Iraq. But where you have a major indigenous liberation movement the equation is very different – there is scope for accepting external support without allowing external forces to take control of the whole process.


Michael Pugliese August 30, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Matthew Offord, a Conservative, asks Galloway if it is true that he said on Iranian TV that the Israelis supplied the Syrians with chemical weapons. (Galloway denies having said this, according to this right-wing Israeli site, , video from PressTV, of Galloway making that charge. )
More from,
Here are some more extracts from George Galloway’s speech earlier. I’ve taken the quotes from the Press Association. (By Galloway standards, it was relatively low-octane, but it was still one of the highlights of the debate.)

The Syrian rebels definitely had sarin gas because they were caught with it by the Turkish government …” Alluding to these reports, , , , more see, . ) Blogs with a conspiracy theory bent, such as also speculated on this youtube video,–fk ,”Syria – Rebels using chemicals weapons.” , translation of the video, . I suspect the video is Syrian regime black propaganda disinformation , . Proyect has commented on Moon Over Alabama blog here, , , .


Michael Pugliese August 30, 2013 at 5:18 pm

This is a joint statement supported by the International Socialist Network, Socialist Resistance and Workers Power.

The defeat of the government pro-war resolution in Parliament is important. Even though Labour voted against the Tory motion, it too had submitted a pro-war resolution, albeit calling for a pause until after the report from the UN weapons inspectors. That resolution was also defeated. These votes reflect the anti-war mood in Britain. But as far as the USA is concerned, the threat of war is still on the agenda possibly using bases in Britain.

The regime of Bashar al-Assad is every day carrying out more massacres of increasing cruelty against the people of Syria, whether it be the bombing of civilian areas or the use of chemical weapons. Two years into the uprising against the dictatorship, over 100,000 have died, two million are refugees and many more are “displaced” out of a population of just 20 million. This tragedy fills us with horror and rage.

We continue to extend our solidarity to the movement for democracy in Syria. We pay tribute to all those who have lost their lives in the fight against the brutal dictatorship and to all those who are continuing to resist.

But, the hypocrisy of imperialist countries also makes us angry. They bear the primary responsibility in the tragedy and in allowing the murderous Assad dictatorship to remain in power by allowing the rebellion to be starved of arms whilst Assad is supplied by Russia and Iran. They wring their hands at the plight of the Syrian people but deny them the means to defend themselves.<SNIP, More @

No to imperialist intervention.
Solidarity with the revolution against the Assad dictatorship.
Let the people of Syria determine their own future, free from foreign intervention.

This statement will be distributed as a leaflet at tomorrow's Stop the War national demonstration in London.


Brian S. August 31, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Re Statement on Syria: appears to be an important step forward, in that it at least calls for solidarity with the Syrian revolution (something Stop the War have not only failed to do but at several points cut across). Also very good to see involvement of the ISN.
Its worth following Michael’s link above to the full text, which clarifies a number of points. For example on arming the rebels: “We believe that the people of Syria should be enabled to free themselves from the Assad dictatorship. For their struggle to be successful, they should receive all the necessary material aid, including arms and humanitarian assistance, without conditions imposed by the West.”
However there are still several points of confusion: most people would consider supplying arms a form of “intervention” – including Stop the War, who they are continuing to work with/in. See the recent statement of their principal spokesperson, “Instead of threatening to attack and pouring arms into the country, America and Britain should stop blocking attempts to find a political solution to the Syrian civil war.”
This is going to be a difficult circle to square: However some members of ISN are seriously engaging with the issues:


byork August 30, 2013 at 7:00 pm

From the Palestinian site ‘Beyond compromise: Resistance until liberation and return’: “A Palestinian who can’t see the parallels between what Israel did to Palestinians and what Assad is doing to his own people is simply blind”.

Full article here:


Michael Pugliese September 1, 2013 at 5:20 am

We Stand Behind the Syrian People’s Revolution – No to Foreign Intervention Statement by: Revolutionary Socialists (Egypt) – Revolutionary Left Current (Syria) – Union of Communists (Iraq) – Al-Mounadil-a (Morocco) – Socialist Forum (Lebanon)
Published on Saturday 31 August 2013


Brian S. September 5, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Good to see a common initiative by these organisations. And nice to see the rediscovery of the obligation for international solidarity continuing to grow. But it is a bit of a muddle: not very well informed and not very logical. It criticises international players for not supporting the Syrian popular struggle, and then insists on “no intervention” without differentiating forms of intervention. As so often, it tries to cover this confusion with rhetorical bombast – “Break open the arms depots” -what in god’s name is that supposed to mean, and who is supposed to do it?


Michael Pugliese September 1, 2013 at 10:20 am

Welcoming the vote of the British Parliament while supporting the Syrian uprising
GILBERT ACHCAR 31 August 2013


Brian S. September 5, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Very good piece – should be widely read, although I think it underestimates the down side of the public debate: for most of the British public, I fear, Syria has now been “dealt with” and the milk of human kindness is unlikely to flow in that direction for some time.


Anthony Abdo September 7, 2013 at 4:57 am

Nice to see that the censorship that was so prevalent previously on this site seems to have finally been rejected and replaced by dissension now being allowed.


Aaron Aarons September 7, 2013 at 9:09 am

[From, with lines reordered for grouping, and with my totals of groupings in square brackets:]

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented 110,371 casualties since the beginning of the uprisings in 18/3/2011, from the first casualty in Dera’a, up till 31/08/2013.

Civilians: 40,146. Including 5,833 children and 3,905 women.

Rebel fighters: 15,992.
Defected soldiers and officers: 2,128.
Rebel fighters (most of which are non-Syrian and others are unidentified): 3,730.
[Total: 21,850]

Regular soldiers and officers: 27,654.
Popular : committees, National defence forces, Shabiha and pro-regime informers: 17,824.
Fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah: 171
[Total: 45,649]

Unidentified casualties (documented by pictures and footages): 2,726.

Presuming that ‘casualties’ means ‘fatalities’, then, according to the figures provided by this major pro-opposition web site, over 40% of the deaths in the Syrian conflict so far have been of pro-government fighters and ‘informers’. Another 20% have been of anti-government armed combatants, and, since well over 75% of the civilians killed were adult men, it is likely that thousands of these ‘civilians’, including at least some women, were active participants in the rebellion who weren’t wearing uniforms or otherwise identifiable as such after their deaths.

This data, if at all accurate, hardly squares with the picture we are being presented of a government wantonly slaughtering a defenseless civilian population. See also:


Brian S. September 7, 2013 at 1:01 pm

There’s a debate over the reliability of SOHR figures: I generally defend them for their local reports but have doubts over their stats. They are a very small operation with a separate network and its likely that they tend to under-report.
“Casualties” does not usually mean “fatalities” (it includes wounded) – but this may just be loose language by SOHR.
I don’t know how many civilian deaths you require to achieve “wanton slaughter” but I would think 40 000 is a pretty good candidate – and regardless of numbers we have clear evidence of Syrian regime methods – aerial and artillery bombardment of civilian populations; slaughter of villagers by paramilitiaries; and now the probable large scale use of chemical weapons.
The figures I consider the most reliable (and the ones I use in public discussions) are those gathered by the Violations Documentation Center (also opposition linked) – They report 54 500 civilian opposition deaths: 41 600 men; 5100 women; 7800 children. Plus 17 700 opposition non-civilian deaths.
Their tally of regime military deaths is 11 400.
However the tally of regime fatalities is a guessing game – the regime doesn’t publish any figures, and opposition groups obviously can’t go around carrying out surveys.
As you can see the biggest discrepancy between SOHR figures and VDC is in the area of regime fatalities. The reason for this is the SOHR suddenly claimed a few months ago to have found a group of informants in Latakia who could provide regime figures from that area, and added that to their statistics . They’ve never provided any explanation of how these figures are gathered, and given what we know about the logistics of the conflict they seem highly improbable. The VDC figures make more sense.


Aaron Aarons September 7, 2013 at 8:01 pm

The figures of 41 600 men, 5100 women, and 7800 children for “civilian opposition deaths” would indicate that most of those men, who constitute over 3/4 of those “civilian opposition deaths”, did not die in “aerial and artillery bombardment of civilian populations; slaughter of villagers by paramilitiaries; and now the probable [sic!] large scale use of chemical weapons”, since such methods would kill members of the three demographics in rough proportion to their numbers, perhaps killing even fewer men because many of them would be away fighting or carrying out traditionally male public activities. So there has to be another explanation for the majority of allegedly “civilian opposition” deaths.

Also, there is plenty of reason to question the “probable large scale use of chemical weapons”. See, for example, these articles by Gareth Porter:
How Intelligence Was Twisted to Support an Attack on Syria:
In Rush to Strike Syria, US Tried to Derail UN Probe:


Brian S. September 8, 2013 at 4:50 pm

@aaron. My list of Syrian regime methods of killing people was indicative not exhaustive. Widespread use of snipers to target civilians; rounding up people in raids on opposition towns and villages and sweeps at checkpoints (both often targetted at young men). If you want to see an example of what the latter can do take a look at (and take a look at the rest of the photos too).
VDC suggests a bit over half the civilian male deaths are due to these sort of operations whereas the number of females killed in these is small. But the VDC database is there for anyone to consult – so if you want to explore this further keep me posted.
You won’t be surprised to know that I am examining the chemical weapons issue in depth – in my view the evidence of regime culpability is extremely strong and. But I don’t expect you to take my word for it. The two stories you link to don’t really challenge this – they’re about the incompetent presentation of intelligence by the US government (a view I agree with – and the British are worse) and the idiocy of trying to by-pass the UN inspection (although that’s unlikely to definitively resolve the question of who did it).


Aaron Aarons September 9, 2013 at 6:54 am

“The two stories you link to [… are …] about the incompetent presentation of intelligence by the US government […] and the idiocy of trying to by-pass the UN inspection […]”

It’s not an incompetent presentation, but a misleading one. And, considering the resources they have to “get it right” if they want to, a deliberately misleading one.

Let’s not forget that those working to remove Assad, particularly the Saudis and various right-wing Sunni fanatics, are at least as repressive and murderous as the Syrian regime. (If the Saudis haven’t killed as many people, it’s because they haven’t had to.) I have no doubt that they would kill some people with Sarin and/or contaminate the scene of bombings and shellings with it, since they are hell-bent on undermining Iran by taking down Syria.


Brian S. September 9, 2013 at 11:47 am

@Aaron you can label them how you want, but the point is neither of these stories detract from the content of the evidence against the regime.
The Saudis may well be as potentially repressive as you say, but they are not directly present on the ground. And its highly unlikely that anyone they provide weapons to would do anything like this. The right-wing Sunni fanatics you refer to have links to al-Qaeda, and are actually dreading a US invasion (because they think they may be targetted) not trying to encourage it.
And its not just a matter of scattering a bit of Sarin on the ground to confuse the UN weapons inspectors: there are abundant testimonies from those who were affected by the attack, media activists who went to the scene to record it (many of whom died in the course of doing this,) those who treated them, and material samples from those who died. There are also several remains of the projectiles that delivered the sarin – the photos of which some people are using to reconstruct the likely trajectory and therefore probable point of origin.


Michael Pugliese September 9, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Brian, would be interested in your comments on this paper, ‘Syria Contextualized: The Numbers Game,” by Musa al-Gharbi, in the Middle East Quarterly. He is a co-author of this new piece on the Counterpunch webpg., “‘Flooding the Zone’ with Bullshit on Syria,’ which has a # of embedded hyperlinked links, I’d also like your comments on. .


Michael Pugliese September 9, 2013 at 10:02 pm

“Syria Contextualized: The Numbers Game,” by Musa al-Gharbi, in the Middle East Quarterly.


Brian S. September 10, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Hi Michael – its difficult to deal with everything these pieces raise in a post, but on some key issues:
1. “Flooding the Zone” is a classic piece of propaganda – it rounds up a series of stories conspiracy theorists have floated in recent months, knits them together, stirs in added distortions, and then tops it off with “evidence” drawn from Iraq, Afghanistan, six year old reports, etc. Some highlights:
It sidesteps what is involved in saying that the rebels lack the capacity to have carried out this attack: its not about their ability to manufacture chemical agents but their capacity to deliver them in a manner corresponding to the attacks – synchronised multiple strikes hitting in some cases areas miles apart.
He says (referring to an earlier accusation ) “the United Nations experts … ordered their own investigation. Subsequently, Carla del Ponte, the chief UN investigator, declared the evidence her team had gathered suggested strongly that it was the rebels who used the sarin gas in the disputed attacks” A classic amalgam – Del Ponte had nothing to do with the chemical weapons investigation – she belongs to a team concerned with human rights abuses (and the other members of the team dissociated themselves from her statement).
The article also has little understanding of the geography or military situation in the area. It treats Ghouta as if its a single centre – but its a large area that contains several towns. Its crude (and snobbish) attempt at a “class warfare” analysis (amalgamating Aleppo with Ghouta) is ludicrous – this was not an attack on Damascus upper class areas but on popular (and pro-opposition) settlements in a sharply contested region on the outskirts of the city.
It claims “the attack was carried out on an area which was actually under government control at the time, rather than a rebel-held area.” referring to “this region, largely under its[the regime’s] domain, on this particular population that overwhelmingly supports the government” Oh yeah, then why why were these towns being shelled by the Syrian army both at the time of the attack and in the following days? For the real disposition in the area see
This crude distortion of the facts typifies the article and its author.
2. “Syria Contexualised” is in an academic journal (which must have low standards of peer review) so its a little less crude, but is cut from the same cloth:
* He discusses the statistics of Syrian fatalities without referring to the most authoritative source – the VDC – which indicates that 65% of the deaths have been of civilians (for more on this see my discussion with Aaron above).
* He says that the May 2012 parliamentary elections “occurred in the presence of UN observers” – this manages to avoid being a lie by a hair’s breadth: UN ceasefire observers were in the country at the time – but they were not observing the elections (in fact Ban ki-Moon made a statement denouncing the elections).
* He draws on the old canard of the Doha poll “the last major scientific poll conducted in Syria was carried out by the Doha Debates” – wrong on all counts (as you, Michael, astutely pointed out in July last year) Strangely he fails to quote the strongest index of Asad’s popularity – the fact that the won 98% of the vote with a 97% turnout in the 2007 Presidential election (perhaps it sounds too like North Korea)
* On FSA strength he claims that ” Recent intelligence reports indicate that the number may be closer to 30,000 (including foreign fighters)” – citing a source that was a year old when he wrote the article, and doesn’t contain that figure. In fact a report written 3 months later by the same author states “The insurgency has expanded to an estimated 40,000 men as of late May 2012”.
I could go through this article sentence by sentence pointing out similar distortions in every one- but that would be boring for both of us. If you have any specific questions let me know.


Brian S. September 10, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Report just out from Human Rights watch – Bears out everything I’ve been seeing and a quick look suggests they nail Asad pretty defintively for the chemical weapons attack. Look at the map on p.1 for the “smoking gun”


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Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 5:42 pm

On what, exactly? What is done is done. You can read us and contribute, or you can choose not to. I really would like you to contribute, but I don’t like all the personal second guessing in public over things you really don’t know that much about, and I am being pretty open,in public, talking to you about.


Derick Varn August 30, 2013 at 5:52 pm

I am editing my comments because I think about what I am saying. I am not, however, editing yours. Which would be unfair play.

“I liked the direction Pham was taking the site in much more than I like the direction you’re taking the site in. ”

Which is fair.

“While the TNS editorship itself wasn’t democratic and transparent as I would have liked it to be, TNS stood for a broad, inclusive, democratic left, which is a far cry from the academic mumbo jumbo direction you’re pointing it toward.”

Which is anti-intellectual.

But the funny thing I am noticing about all this talk about “broad” and “inclusive”–broad and inclusive includes both you and that “academic mumbo jumbo.” There is space for both, but you seem somewhat intolerant of that fact.


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