Syria: A Chemical Romance

by Matthijs Krul on September 9, 2013

All empires produce the same lies. That their enemies (ever changing) are barbarians; that they defend civilization, honor, and morality against the latter’s outrages; that they provide the necessary peace and stability for a world that would fall into chaos absent their muscle; and that any action is justified to this end, however apparently remote from these lofty goals, because of the need to maintain the empire’s ‘credibility’ in the face of its domestic and foreign opposition. This credibility, of course, has nothing to do with what one normally understands by that. It is not a matter of being honest or truthful or transparent in one’s dealings. Empires are never any of these things: a tyrant can be an important ally one day and a cruel enemy of humanity the next, like the erstwhile ruler of Iraq. One can declare that the tyrant of Syria has crossed an internationally recognized moral line by the alleged use of chemical weapons, when one has repeatedly done the same. One can decry the Assad government as oppressive and violent, which it certainly is, and that it kills civilians on a large scale when threatened, which it certainly does, and yet see no harm in an absolute monarchy doing precisely the same thing with the active support of the empire.

Why then care about the empire’s moral denunciations, one way or the other? Empires have no morality, in the end, except to believe that without them things would be worse. This is a truth happily affirmed by the imperialist right, the ‘realists’ who defend it exactly in those terms, as one can read in any book by the likes of Niall Ferguson, Max Boot, and so forth. In this sense, they are more honest than the liberal moralists who take on the burden of the world unasked for, and when so playing the giant Atlas care little about whom they trample underfoot. The only honesty of imperialism is the straightforward presentation of the empire’s interests, but this rarely motivates anyone much. That is why all the ‘realist’ literature has the wink wink, nudge nudge tone of the old boys club: ‘you’re not supposed to say this, of course, but privately, we all know that’… On the other hand the moralist imperialists are possibly even worse, since unlike the realists there is no empirical content to their reasonings at all. The mission civilisatrice is both conclusion and point of departure of their arguments, and the ‘responsibility to protect’, as Freddie de Boer has pointed out, is justified exclusively by counterfactuals that nobody can contest, because they never happened. It is perhaps this cynicism that finally led to the surprising defeat of the British government on its motion for punitive strikes on Syria; a sign perhaps that the antiwar movement has had at least an indirect effect on the ‘credibility’, in the imperialist sense, of such arguments.

Given this, the whole charade about whether chemical weapons have been used and if so, whether by Assad or his subordinates or perhaps somehow by the rebels is rather beside the point. We know already that the regime of Assad has killed tens of thousands and is willing to continue to do so to remain in power, a power which it has used for the purposes of the self-aggrandizement of a long-necked eye doctor and the naked plunder of the country’s produced wealth. As with Assad senior before him, Bashar al-Assad’s pretend ‘anti-imperialism’ fools only those who want to be fooled by it. Even the pretense of a developmental dictatorship, once the rationale for the nationally-oriented middle classes in the Arab world to support the pan-Arabic Ba’ath programme, has faded entirely. Assad makes deals with Israel while pretending to be champion anti-Zionist, and keeps the peace in the Golan Heights. He pretends to be the saviour of the Arab dignity against the empire, just like Saddam Hussein did, while being equally happy to do what the empire wants when this suits his rule, just like Saddam Hussein did. This is illustrated by his enthusiastic participation in the CIA’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ program. (In Saddam’s case, of course, the cooperation consisted of going to war with Iran: a conflict sponsored by the West… with chemical weapons.) Nor is Assad serious about some kind of developmental programme in the style of the 20th century’s ‘postcolonial’ period. On the contrary, like all the other rulers whose predecessors justified their rule in developmental terms, he has given up even this raison d’être in the face of the pressure of the world market, and has undertaken a neoliberal turn of his own; one which maps remarkably well onto the central sites of rebellion against his dictatorship.

The argument about chemical weapons should then be left for what it is. It matters not tremendously whether thousands die through artillery bombardment or through chemical weapons. This is not to say that the ‘international taboo’ on chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and the desire to rid all states of these should be treated cynically by the left. On the contrary, the effects of such weapons have become all the more visible by the latest incident of their use, and it underlines their fundamentally profoundly anti-human nature. It is all the more significant because due to technological constraints, it is generally (though not universally) a set of weapons only usable by states against their subjects, and this should give us all the more reason to uniformly oppose their existence, let alone their use. But what does deserve to be treated with contempt is the notion of their being such a taboo in the first place, and that the United States and the cruise missile moralists are the correct instruments for enforcing it.

As mentioned, the empire was all too happy for one of the worst tyrants of the last few decades, Saddam Hussein, to have all manner of chemical weapons, as long as he used them on the empire’s foe, Iran. That he promptly turned these weapons on entire peoples who resisted his rule, and that this could be readily foreseen, counted for very little. The very same story applies in Syria, where the UK had no problem permitting the export of the relevant chemicals to the Syrian government even long after the civil war in Syria had begun. (And no such materials are ever sent anywhere without this being a conscious choice of foreign policy, as those suffering the boycotts of the West, like the peoples of Iran and Cuba, can attest.) I have also mentioned the use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium by the US in Iraq, and could add the use of the former by Israel in Gaza in 2008 to that. And going further back, was this taboo on chemical weapons not established in the first place because of their large scale use in the First World War – precisely by powers like France, the UK, the US and Germany, who are now the enforcers?

One could of course think they have, wisely, learned from the experience. But the persistence of their supply to third party dictators suggests otherwise. What it suggests is that, like the WMD excuse for the war on Iraq, this obsession with punitive strikes and invasions has little to do with the enforcement of taboos on violence (which are obeyed only in the breach) and everything to do with the shoring up of the ‘credibility’ of the empire – the spirit here is not the melancholia of Wilfred Owen, but the older spirit of quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi. Who have learned from the experience are the people who suffer the effects of that mentality, the ones who have to endure the notion of missile strikes to liberate them from bombardments, or the generations that suffered the threat of nuclear destruction at the hands of the players of game theory. It is the empires and their supporters that have a chemical romance, and so do the petty tyrants that now appear as necessary allies, now again as dangerous madmen possessed of powerful weapons, as suits the mood of the day in Washington or London.

The only answer for the left can be, as always, a pox on both their houses. Nothing is sillier than the notion that in such conflicts, it becomes necessary to see one or another party as the instrument of liberation, just because they are the protagonists to the fight. We need not choose between Washington and Damascus, and indeed, it would mean absolutely nothing if we did. From neither, any form of emancipation can be expected except that final emancipation from the flesh that comes from the receiving end of a bomb or bullet. Moreover, as the anti-war coalition in 2003 also showed, the left today does not possess the power to prevent our own states from going to war, let alone that we figure in the calculations of the Syrian Army or the insurgents. It is therefore pointless to engage in grandstanding on behalf of one or another party, and the left habit of ‘upholding’ by means of uncritical whitewashing this or that side in every conflict is as pointless as it is undignified. We should not call on our states to shoot missiles, nor to send arms to the insurgents, about whom we know nothing and whose victory, if it is to have any emancipatory content at all, must take place without NATO armaments in any case. We should also not declare ourselves supporters of the tyrant of Damascus, who inherited his throne from his father (not unlike his rivals in the Gulf). His only claim to rule consists in the proven will of the Assad dynasty to level entire cities, if that’s what it takes to quell any resistance.

As always, it remains right to rebel. One cannot blame the Syrian insurgents, armed and unarmed – and it is worth pointing out that Assad’s brutal repression of unarmed resistance led to the civil war – for rising against a dictatorship that has no more legitimacy than Pinochet did. The interventions from the Gulf states have strengthened immeasurably the position of the religious reactionaries in this struggle. But this should illustrate for the left the futility of expecting regimes explicitly opposed to any emancipatory politics to sustain such politics by means of proxy war, whether Saudi Arabia or the US. What the left can’t usefully do is to play the great game of states, all the less in the absence of any state at all committed to the victory of the remaining left anywhere in the world. In most these countries, the left was only strong insofar as it was entirely beholden to the support of Moscow, and this put them in a great strategic difficulty as soon as actual revolutionary situations were to arise requiring local initiative, or if Moscow’s support were to fall away – as proven by the defeat of the left in Iran in 1979, and its virtual collapse since the fall of the USSR.

Perhaps out of the fires of the present wars in the MENA region, a new left can arise, one that obtains its strength from the struggles in the region itself, not from franchising to this or that foreign movement or international (and this includes, of course, the Trotskyist ones). But the rise of such a left is not helped by grandstanding from socialists abroad, nor from foreign interventions, nor from dressing up every political action or insurgency as being ‘really’ based in the extremely narrow organized industrial working classes of Egypt, Syria, or Iraq. Indeed, in most of the region the pervasive unemployment and unproductivity of labor makes a classically proletarian politics for now impossible: a consequence of the immense weakness of its capital, whose position is further undermined by the strength and activities of the rentier monarchies of the Gulf. All the same, countries full of young, unemployed people without a future are hotbeds for revolt in all of history, all the more so when they’re largely urbanized and not among the most desperately poor of the world. The response to this, triggered by rising food prices and the increasing weakness of the local dictators, has been a (proto-)revolutionary process – not a social revolution in economic relations, but a political process of rising consciousness and opposition to the corrupt and ineffective regimes of the region. The removal of these regimes is the absolute prerequisite for any genuinely revolutionary movement, needless to say.

It should be taken and supported as such, without any illusions about working class revolutionary politics and without the absurd theatre of ‘position taking’ every time foreign powers intervene for or against it. Ultimately, the present conflicts have nothing to do with ‘anti-imperialism’, chemical weapons, or any of these moral tales any more than the European conflicts of 1848 did. Our attitude should be that of 1848 as well: no foreign interventions, no ‘upholding’ or moralism, no overblown expectations. There may still be disagreement as to the means and the right groups to support, as is to be expected when the left is weak and has to substitute empty endorsements for action. But let’s not make this into a moral allegory. That we can oppose the tyrants, oppose the empire, and oppose the weapons of mass destruction they equally peddle in is clear enough, but it is a starting point, not a conclusion. It does not thereby prove the opposition to be the vehicle for socialist emancipation. It can’t be otherwise: there is presently no basis for such a politics. The rebellions of 1848 were all politically justified to the last, but none of them was justified by the historical conditions, and none of them could or did lead to a socialist politics. The same is true for the present 1848, the 1848 of the MENA region. I hope that the current conflicts end better than 1848 did, with its subsequent Bonapartism, though Egypt seems to suggest otherwise. Cynicism is never useful. But only by being honest about the real nature of conditions, precisely as empires and dictators can never be, can the left go beyond the moral tales of chemicals and revolutionaries.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Jara Handala September 9, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Maybe the Assad gvt. will respond to Kerry’s offer today by putting the onus on Israel: ‘let’s rid the Middle East of all MWD, including those nuclear weapons which was why we got chemical munitions in the first place’.

Depends how strategic is Assad & co’s thinking.

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Anthony Abdo September 9, 2013 at 9:17 pm

This is a preposterous statement by the author, MATTHIJS KRUL….

‘Moreover, as the anti-war coalition in 2003 also showed, the left today does not possess the power to prevent our own states from going to war, let alone that we figure in the calculations of the Syrian Army or the insurgents. ‘

The opposition to Assad does take into account all manipulations of Western public opinion, and if the Western Left itself participates in helping out its own imperialist powers with manipulating public opinion to go to war on behalf of these ‘rebels’, the ‘rebels’ most surely do include us ‘in the calculations of the Syrian Army (the insurgents)’. Naive to think otherwise.

Further, it is a defeatist and lazy idea here in support of one’s own selves doing very little to stop war by our own imperialists governments, to go out and state that the Left does not have the power to stop the imperialists. If it were so, then why even bother with socialist ideas at all in the Western imperialist countries? Why bother with any sort of political organization if we consider ourselves ‘powerless’ to stop our enemies?

‘The only answer for the left can be, as always, a pox on both their houses. Nothing is sillier than the notion that in such conflicts, it becomes necessary to see one or another party as the instrument of liberation, just because they are the protagonists to the fight. We need not choose between Washington and Damascus, and indeed, it would mean absolutely nothing if we did.’

To pose the idea that the imperialist attacking countries should be seen as equal in our eyes to the non imperialist countries they attack is a pseudo infantile Leftism that surrenders to imperialism totally, by announcing that Socialists don’t care how they continually bloody up the world and will do nothing really to organize against what teh imperialists are doing. Of course, Comrade MATTHIJS KRUL had just announced to us that we have no power to stop the ruling class anyway, so here we are merely being given further supposed reasons for doing nothing. ‘A pox on both sides’…. we have nothing really to do or say here!!!! Bizarre! Why bother organizing as socialists then? Why not just expose our throats openly to be slashed by our own imperialists? Wait, that’s exactly what MATTHIJS KRUL really is suggesting we do. Roll over and be dead as the American and Western imperialists go and bomb the Hell out of yet another oppressed country in an oppressed region of the world. This is really horrible advice.

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Trevor K (exval) September 10, 2013 at 12:02 am

I think you are reading too far into what Matthijs is saying. The statement that the left does not have the power to stop imperialist intervention is a statement of objective reality as it currently exists. He is not, or does not appear to, be saying ‘give it up already’ in a defeatist sense, so much as recognizing our own limitations and the inefficiency of our current tactics. The sentiment I get from reading this is that we should not allow ‘position-taking’ to remain a substitute for real action and real organizing. Stopping the imperial machine requires an even more advanced level of struggle than what was seen in the lead up to the Iraq war, which, despite mobilizing millions around the world, was ultimately insufficient. Anti-interventionism should be a baseline point of agreement for leftists and anti-imperialists and we should be organizing on that basis, while avoiding the pitfalls of pseudo-anti-imperialism that supports dictatorships and junior imperialists.

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Brian S. September 10, 2013 at 11:02 pm

I wish people who argue like this would spell out what they mean by “intervention”. We had managed to get some clarity (not agreement, but at least clear clarity on the terms of the debate on these issues on this site). Now we seem to be regresssing at high speed. How do you distinguish between “pseudo anti-imperialism” and blanket “anti-interventionism” ?

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Aaron Aarons September 12, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Brian S. asks, ‘How do you distinguish between “pseudo anti-imperialism” and blanket “anti-interventionism”?’

“Pseudo anti-imperialism” is what you get from people who say they are “against imperialism” but call on imperialist powers to use their military or economic power against designated “bad actors”.

OTOH, I don’t think any of us are for a blanket “anti-interventionism” that would object to demanding that imperialist governments provide genuine humanitarian relief through trustworthy neutral agencies to non-combatants on all sides of any conflict.

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Richard Estes September 9, 2013 at 11:24 pm

“Roll over and be dead as the American and Western imperialists go and bomb the Hell out of yet another oppressed country in an oppressed region of the world. This is really horrible advice.”

No need to worry. A lot of Americans are calling their representatives while some on the left temporize, with phone calls around 95 to 1 against an attack. Unlike previous instances of massive resistance, such as the passage of NAFTA and the invasion of Iraq, it is having an effect. Loretta Sanchez, an Orange County congressional moderate Democrat ally of the military industrial complex, announced on Face the Nation yesterday that she has changed from yea on the resolution to nay.

One of the peculiarities of this article, as with those of proponents of military intervention, is the emphasis upon the Baathist regime of Syria, and the previous one in Iraq, along with the Iranian theocracy, as the primary impediment to the emergence of a working class movement in the region. Oddly, Israel and the Gulf States don’t merit any attention in this regard. If the Shia in Bahrain took up arms against the Khalifa family, would the leftist proponents of intervention in Syria demand that the US arm the resistance there, too?

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Brian S. September 11, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Hi Richard – I’ve read posts from you asking questions like this on a number of occasions before, and its always seemed to me that they are an indirect way of asserting some form of argument or accusation, but I’ve never been sure of what. It would be hepful if you could make your point in a more direct, non-interrogative mode, and then perhaps it could be discussed.

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Richard Estes September 11, 2013 at 6:45 pm

My intention in asking these questions should be clear. Matthijs suggests in his article that the Baathist regimes in Iraq, and now, Syria, are the primary impediment to the advance of the working class in the Middle East as opposed to Israel and the Gulf States, who go unmentioned except for a glancing reference.

I’m trying to find out if he believes that, to get clarification on the relationship of the working class in the region to the apartheid regime in Israel and the feudal ones in the Gulf States in addition to the Baathist ones. I would think that such an examination would be helpful in attaining the objective that Matthijs has set for himself, the reinvirgoration of an anti-imperialist leff based upon an understanding and response to current conditions.

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Brian S. September 11, 2013 at 7:42 pm

OK: I agree that the Gulf states are important actors in the region and deserve scrutiny. But the very first link in Matthijs post is to a story about Bahrein. Admittedly he doesn’t develop this strand. But the scale and intensity of events in Syria are much greater than anywhere else at this moment in time, which make it undestandable that people have been inclined to focus on it. Of course the Gulf states are also players in the Syrian situation, so that is an argument for not overlooking them.

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Todd September 11, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Richard wrote:

“One of the peculiarities of this article, as with those of proponents of military intervention, is the emphasis upon the Baathist regime of Syria, and the previous one in Iraq, along with the Iranian theocracy, as the primary impediment to the emergence of a working class movement in the region. Oddly, Israel and the Gulf States don’t merit any attention in this regard.”

Because they’re the ones news orgs have brought to the fore of our consciousness?

Still, it’s a good question.

“If the Shia in Bahrain took up arms against the Khalifa family, would the leftist proponents of intervention in Syria demand that the US arm the resistance there, too?”

>shrug< The more liberal ones probably would.

If those same Shia did it in order to make the pitiful democracy there more robust by, say, getting rid of the king and introducing an elected position, they'd have my official okey-dokey, FWIW.

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Aaron Aarons September 12, 2013 at 7:02 am

Bahrain is a U.S. client state. It is the home of the U.S. 5th Fleet, which is probably the major instrument of imperialist military power in the region. From an anti-imperialist point of view, the elimination of that base is at least as important as the achievement of democratic rights for the Shia majority, although the two aims, while not automatically linked, are in no sense in contradiction to each other.

However, there may will be — I have no specific information on this point — a substantial Shia faction that would agree to the maintenance of the U.S. base in exchange for U.S. support for some kind of democratization. This is something that the left should oppose and try to prevent.

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Matthijs Krul September 10, 2013 at 5:03 pm

The response to articles such as these is always lots of bloated rhetoric. But what I do not see is any serious attempts to assess why it is that the antiwar movement has failed so conspicuously *despite* the overwhelming degree of opposition to the latest imperialist adventures. Any time someone points out inconvenient facts they will be accused of defeatism – I don’t much care about that. I care about whether we can reflect on our situation and look for ways to improve it. One way of doing so, to my mind, would be to abandon the pro-Assad/Ghadaffi/Saddam Hussein etc. rhetoric produced in the name of anti-imperialism, just like we should oppose attempts to use the US as a means for achieving rebel victory. Neither Assad nor the US are vehicles for socialism. So if our anti-war activity is to be more than pure oppositionalism, every five years or so, to America’s latest adventure, we need to think harder about strategy and what a socialist anti-imperialism would mean in practical terms. That is my point.

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Richard Estes September 10, 2013 at 11:22 pm

I didn’t say any of the things that you mention here, you merely dismissed my remarks as “bloated rhetoric”, and position yourself as some sort of truth teller that no one listens to.

Your emphasis on the failure of the antiwar movement to resist imperialist adventures is quite striking today, given the fact that the people of the US and the UK have successfully stopped their governments from launching attacks upon Syria, attacks that, if everything had gone according to plan, might well be already happening today.

So, I will try again: your article emphasizes the Baathist regime of Iraq and the previous Baathist one of Iraq, along with Iran, as the primary impediment of the creation of a working class movement in the Middle East. Where do Israel and the Gulf states fit? Are they irrelevant? Are they allies or enemies of such a movement?

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Anthony Abdo September 12, 2013 at 6:09 pm

I think that Matthijs is making a very reasonable point here, though I find that in his own commentary that started this thread, he himself has not made much effort to do what he is now faulting others for not doing.

‘But what I do not see is any serious attempts to assess why it is that the antiwar movement has failed so conspicuously *despite* the overwhelming degree of opposition to the latest imperialist adventures.’

In short, I believe the answer can be found on 2 levels of assessment of the US political situation. First and #1, is simply that the main body of the working class of the US is pro-imperialist and supports the ruling class made Pentagon wars. Second, is that because of that, US marxists are mainly scared and too unsure of themselves to take a firm anti militarist position with consistent corollary organizing to oppose this majority US working class pro imperialism.

Let’s look at the second answer I just gave in more detail. It should be by now a well known fact, that post Vietnam War Era, the US ruling class abandoned the military draft, because it was much too disruptive of getting the working class to continue to support its wars. Instead, it began a turn to use the entire Military Governmental Pentagon apparatus as a giant welfare apparatus for certain elements of the US working class that were now to get much more favored treatment from the rulers for their participation in the military machine. The move was made to give out much more carrot, and ask the working class in the military to take much less stick for their participation in it.

So how did much of the marxist movement respond to this? The more prominent US marxist grouping that had exercised its very real leadership by building nonsectarian and gigantic antiwar demonstrations Vietnam War Era, decided now to have super delusions of grandeur and head off into the crumbling US union movement to take up mainly rather workerist union organizing issues, as opposed to maintaining a political continuation of the fight to disrupt the imperialist’s Pentagon machine yet more than had been yet achieved. So most efforts to continue organizing of an ongoing antiwar movement, then spun over mainly to the rather feeble efforts of religious Left pacifists, who continued a struggle against a draft that the ruling class had started to, much on its own, dump and replace with newer structures of recruitment. These liberal pacifists turned many events against the US war machine into almost church events (see annual SOA actions by them for illustration), and were themselves totally tied into voting Democratic Party each and every offering.

So here we are today, with Comrades like Matthijs telling us that when the US imperialist war machine attacks a weaker and non imperialist country, we should supposedly take a position of ‘The only answer for the left can be, as always, a pox on both their houses.’, when in fact that is precisely NOT the position we should be taking.

In fact, in the case of Syria, we should certainly not spread misinformation about Assad supposedly being some sort of lovable sweetheart we all should be supporting, but we should never just bow out of defending Syria from US ruling class made war, whether from direct use of US military troops, or by Pentagon organizing of proxy armies in secret from the public, to then do the US ruling class’s trick of ‘regime change’ through promoting for bloody carnage of the ALL of the Syrian people in faux ‘revolutions’, that so many on the Left are deluding themselves that are now in the process of being made.

I will end here on a very partial reply to ‘why the US antiwar movement is failing’… which it most certainly really still is…. for now.

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Richard Estes September 13, 2013 at 6:48 pm

“First and #1, is simply that the main body of the working class of the US is pro-imperialist and supports the ruling class made Pentagon wars. Second, is that because of that, US marxists are mainly scared and too unsure of themselves to take a firm anti militarist position with consistent corollary organizing to oppose this majority US working class pro imperialism.”

I’m not sure that this is true anymore. Opposition to attacks upon Syria is very strong among what we used to call Reagan Democrats, working class white males many of whom, as they have aged, have gravitated towards Tea Party Republicans. And they are adamant about staying out of Syria entirely, with Tea Party Congressman John Amash vocalizing this view. Meanwhile, working class people of color are also opposed. There was also a report that US troops opposed the attacks by a 3 to 1 margin. Of course, all of this happened outside of the efforts of the US antiwar movement.

As the debate about the Senate resolution on Syria continued, it became obvious that anyone who voted for it who faced reelection in 2014 was committing political suicide. So, the public is moving beyond the bellicosity of the post-9/11 environment. All of this is tied into a degree of public distrust of governmental officials that is reminiscent of the post-Watergate period. So, people are readily willing to believe the opposite of what the government says, especially as austerity is really starting to bite.

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Anthony Abdo September 16, 2013 at 4:27 am

Richard, one should not ever use the rapid turns and twists of the US imperialist Syrian intervention, and what ephemerally the public might think at any one given instance about this US ruling class’s particular BATTLE, as being our main gauge as to whether or not the US working class continues to support overwhelmingly the US imperialist war machine as it has done for most of the last century?

The US military is consistently ranked as being the US political institution the public has the most faith in. That is a US military directed by politicians that the public says they generally do not like that much. The military though, the public sees as their own and not that of being a machine controlled by the politicians. The US working class public is not against war at all, but does not want a close one but rather a very one sided one that has the US ruling class winning easy easy victories over the working class elsewhere. That is pro imperialism in the US working class itself.

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Brian S. September 11, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Matthijs , there are a number of interesting themes and valid points in this contribution, and I agree with you on some points (ie that the chemical weapons issue is largely a red herring – worse its a trap which Obama is walking in to, although its the Syrian people who will pay the price). But I really can’t work out where you are going with this.
You write –
“It is therefore pointless to engage in grandstanding on behalf of one or another party, and the left habit of ‘upholding’ by means of uncritical whitewashing this or that side in every conflict is as pointless as it is undignified. We should not call on our states to shoot missiles, nor to send arms to the insurgents, about whom we know nothing and whose victory, if it is to have any emancipatory content at all, must take place without NATO armaments in any case.”
Unless I have misunderstood you, this sounds to me like a position of political agnosticism in this conflict, with an echo of Neville Chamberlain. I initially thought this was intended as a caricature of someone else’s views, but the flow of the text suggests otherwise. There’s no point saying more until I am clearer on what your view actually is.

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Michael Pugliese September 11, 2013 at 8:18 pm

When I read through a recent piece by Ray McGovern et. al., http://consortiumnews.com/2013/09/06/obama-warned-on-syrian-intel/ I recalled seeing that phrase,”“a war-changing development,” elsewhere, recently. http://www.globalresearch.ca/did-the-white-house-help-plan-the-syrian-chemical-attack/5347542 (Bodansky) Compare paragraphs in Bodansky’s piece with McGovern’s. “On August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major and irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and representatives of Qatari, Turkish, and US Intelligence [“Mukhabarat Amriki”] took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors. Very senior opposition commanders who had arrived from Istanbul briefed the regional commanders of an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development” which would, in turn, lead to a US-led bombing of Syria.
The opposition forces had to quickly prepare their forces for exploiting the US-led bombing in order to march on Damascus and topple the Bashar al-Assad Government, the senior commanders explained. The Qatari and Turkish intelligence officials assured the Syrian regional commanders that they would be provided with plenty of weapons for the coming offensive.

Indeed, unprecedented weapons distribution started in all opposition camps in Hatay Province on August 21-23, 2013. In the Reyhanli area alone, opposition forces received well in excess of 400 tons of weapons, mainly anti-aircraft weaponry from shoulder-fired missiles to ammunition for light-guns and machineguns. The weapons were distributed from store-houses controlled by Qatari and Turkish Intelligence under the tight supervision of US Intelligence.” Bodansky.

“In addition, we have learned that on August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors.

Senior opposition commanders who came from Istanbul pre-briefed the regional commanders on an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development,” which, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria.

At operations coordinating meetings at Antakya, attended by senior Turkish, Qatari and U.S. intelligence officials as well as senior commanders of the Syrian opposition, the Syrians were told that the bombing would start in a few days. Opposition leaders were ordered to prepare their forces quickly to exploit the U.S. bombing, march into Damascus, and remove the Bashar al-Assad government…” McGovern et. al. w/the others in the Steering Group, of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity .

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Michael Pugliese September 11, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Very similar. At least that part of the McGovern et. al. piece would appear to be cribbed from Bodansky. This would concern me given Bodansky’s previous books (on Osama bin Laden and the Chechen Islamist Jihadists, full of controversial, unsourced allegations, neither book containing a single footnote) and reports written for the House Republican Task Force on Terrorism , when he was Director, http://balkanwitness.glypx.com/bodansky.htm . McGovern, Ann Wright in particular in the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity haveinfluence in groups like Code Pink. “There is evidence — mounting evidence — that the rebels in Syria did indeed frame Assad for the chemical attack,” conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh told his audience on Sept. 3. “But not only that, but Obama, the regime, may have been complicit in it. Mounting evidence that the White House knew and possibly helped plan the Syrian chemical weapon attack by the opposition!”

Limbaugh’s cited an article by Yossef Bodansky on Global Research, a conspiracy website that has advanced a pro-Assad message during the current crisis. “How can the Obama administration continue to support and seek to empower the opposition which had just intentionally killed some 1,300 innocent civilians?” Bodansky asked.
http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/09/10/how_assad_wooed_the_american_right_and_won_the_syria_propaganda_war

http://claysbeach.blogspot.com/2013/09/my-dare-to-ray-mcgovern-vips-on-syria.html

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Brian S. September 12, 2013 at 12:10 am

Very well spotted, Michael. Don’t know if you’ve mentioned it to Clay. I’ll give him a heads-up.

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Michael Pugliese September 12, 2013 at 6:46 pm

“U.S. military confirms rebels had sarin” WND http://bit.ly/14IpE1K via https://twitter.com/pat_lang/status/378128171939282945 Lang is a former intelilgence analyst. A signer of that VIPS piece. On Jabhat al-Nusra and Sarin , see https://twitter.com/HAGOP_ALSOURY/statuses/377728045744136192?tw_i=377728045744136192&tw_e=details&tw_p=twt . . Ed Hussain of the CFR on Al Jazzeera – America on Monday night, iirc, was disseminating this factoid about JaN and the arrests in Turkey.

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Brian S. September 13, 2013 at 12:17 am

Hi Michael – Guess you’ve seen that Clay picked up on your gen about McGovern. The stuff in this story about a leaked intelligence document is guff – he story is an old one taken from the Turkish press. WND has lifted it verbatim from RT: http://rt.com/news/sarin-gas-turkey-al-nusra-021/ and added in some stuff from FARS news agency
This is the BBC’s take on the JaN/Sarin story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22720647 I tried running Hagop al-Soury’s Taraf link through translation engine but couldn’t get much sense – looks like it might be saying JaN was caught with anti-freeze, but can’t be sure.

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Michael Pugliese September 12, 2013 at 7:09 pm

The sources for VIPS’ [a group led by Ray McGovern] most sensational claims, it turns out, are Canadian eccentric Michel Chossudovsky’s conspiracy site Global Research and far-right shock-jock Alex Jones’s Infowars. The specific article that Giraldi references carries the intriguing headline “Did the White House Help Plan the Syrian Chemical Attack?” (His answer, in case you wondered, is yes.) The author is one Yossef Bodansky—an Israeli-American supporter of Assad’s uncle Rifaat, who led the 1982 massacre in Hama. Bodansky’s theory was widely circulated after an endorsement from Rush Limbaugh. A whole paragraph from Bodansky’s article makes it into the VIPS letter intact, with only a flourish added at the end.

Giraldi references two more articles to substantiate his claim: one from Infowars and another from DailyKos. But both reference the same source, an obscure website called Mint Press which published an article claiming that Syrian rebels had accidentally set off a canister of Sarin supplied to them by the Saudis. The idea that an accident in one place would cause over a thousand deaths in 12 separate locations—with none affected in areas in between—somehow did not strike this intelligence veteran as implausible. But to its credit, Mint Press has since added a disclaimer: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified.”

What of VIPS’s “numerous sources in the Middle East,” then? It turns out they’re the same as Bodansky’s “numerous sources in the Middle East”—the sentence is plagiarized… More @ http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114676/syrias-chemical-weapons-assad-not-blame-say-truthers Via http://louisproyect.org/2013/09/12/ray-mcgoverns-source-plagiarized-from-global-resarchs-toilet-bowl/

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Anthony Abdo September 12, 2013 at 9:57 pm

You’ve hated Michel Chossudovsky, Michael, ever since your days cheerleading for Nato bombing of Yugoslavia. At least you are consistent with your Right Social Democracy pro imperialism stance, unlike some of the others posting like views here on Syria who actually took positions against your forNato opinions back then. (They thought they were defending the grand Yugoslav communist Slobodan Milosevic and some rather sad and rotting remnants of ‘planned economy’ at that time.)

I might ask, just what are you own sources that ‘know’ for so sure that the chemical weapons were used by Assad’s forces instead of those opposing his government?

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Pavel Dubrovsky September 12, 2013 at 10:08 pm

sometimes comments on this site make it seem like a very small group of people who’ve been bickering for years. can we cut the personal references?

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Pavel Dubrovsky September 12, 2013 at 10:14 pm

most readers would rather see discussion of ideas than of people. can we try to stay on-topic.

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Michael Pugliese September 13, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Via http://www.pollingreport.com/syria.htm which complies all the major polling on Syria, you can then findthe break down of the data, for polls such as this http://maristpoll.marist.edu/wp-content/misc/usapolls/us130907/Syria/Complete%20September%2010,%202013%20USA%20McClatchy-Marist%20Poll%20Results%20and%20Tables.pdf . Granted that education level and income above or below 50K is a very crude indicator of class . Seventeen percent of those with household income below 50K support US ground troops in Syria, only ten percent of those pulling in over $50,000 do.

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Matthijs Krul September 15, 2013 at 5:20 am

Brian S.: you are quite right. I am advocating a certain political agnosticism in this case – that is to say, agnosticism between the ‘interventionists’ and the ‘anti-imperialists’. I am writing here about the attitudes and shibboleths of the Western left. Whether or not I want the rebels to win is neither here nor there because that won’t be decided by any of us in any case. That doesn’t forbid anyone from having a stance on it or talking about it, but I’m interested in moving the discussions away from empty ‘positioning’ towards a more meta-level reflection, if you will, of what the Western left is about when confronted with these kind of conflicts. And in that, I argue against the moralism and posturing of that Western left, and the habit to let outrage and preconceived, prepackaged rhetoric substitute for actual analysis of what we can (or can’t) do about Syria and similar developments.

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