Friday, 24 October 2014

Russia's Vested Interests in Supporting Assad

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 How many times are we told that we must oppose military interventions because they are a conspiracy to take control of Middle East oil? Now the Russians are doing it in Syria, where are the No Blood For Oil placards?
 Actually the naval base at Tartus may be strategically more important to them. The billions of dollars of weaponry they have sold to Assad of course dwarf all the shipments all the rebel factions have received, but still it is the latter that "anti-war" activists focus on stopping.
 "From Mig-29 fighters to Yak-130 training jets, armored vehicles, drones and guided bombs, the total value of Syrian contracts with the Russian defense industry likely exceeds $4 billion as of 2013.
 Likewise, Russian state-owned firm Soyuzneftegaz recently signed a $100 million exploration deal with Damascus to explore offshore drilling opportunities in the Levant basin. While a $100 million contract is small by oil and gas standards, the recent massive gas finds in the Israeli and Cypriot sections of the Eastern Mediterranean shelf hint at the potential that Russia wants to cash in on. Russia has long been keen to protect Gazprom's lucrative gas sales to the European market, and the Soyuzneftegaz-Syria deal is one way for Russia to hedge its bets regarding the sources of gas it can sell to Europe."

Syria’s invisible mainstream rebel groups

'Those who dismiss “mainstream” rebel groups as being either too fragmented or too weak should note that they have spent much of 2014 battling both ISIS and the regime, and that they continue to control significant chunks of half a dozen provinces – namely Deraa, Qunaitra, Rural Damascus, Hama, Idlib and Aleppo.
“It’s very ironic that we’ve arrived at such a stage, in which the discussion of the Syrian opposition takes place the way it does. It’s as if the White House forgets how it’s systematically withheld support.”
He said the Obama administration’s repeated, dismissive references to the capabilities of the rebels – a “bunch of farmers and dentists,” as the president recently put it – would only end up working to do away with the moderate rebels for good, “so that Syria is divided between ISIS and Assad.”
“And even today, there are still [rebel] groups that haven’t abandoned the demands of the revolution, for a civil, democratic state.” '

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Right and Left against the revolution
"The Syrian revolution today is not just fighting a brutal regime like the Assad regime, but it is also fighting this regime’s allies - Russia and Iran especially - and furthermore it is dealing with the putrid concepts, alternately racist, indifferent and immoral, bandied about by many Leftists and “anti-imperialists”. Until now, and for many reasons that should be looked into, it has not possessed a political leadership or media office responding regularly to all its enemies and their arguments. To make up for this lack so far, it is counting on bravery and perseverance, on exceptionally courageous and creative intellectuals, artists and activists, and on a great store of patience and hope which has allowed it to soldier on; a store not likely to be exhausted even as the pressure grows and difficulties mount, both within Syria and around it."

Winning Kobane, Losing Syria

Kobane explosion. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

 "At this point, Sunni Arabs in Syria might consider shopping for a new faith or ethnicity if they want America’s attention. Barrel bombs, Scud missiles, gang-rapes, electrocutions, genital mutilations, chlorine and sarin gas attacks, all Holocaust-invoking revelations of systematic torture in Assad’s dungeons — sorry, but this is all quite boring. Where’s the symbolic importance? The strategic vitality? Yes, we know Syrian rebels fought and routed ISIS as well as the Kurds have, but that was in January and ISIS came back. And while it may be true that rebels have a better track record with keeping American-made weaponry out of the hands of ISIS than the US or Iraqi militaries have, we’re still not impressed. What have you done for us lately?"

Take No Heroes

 This is about Syria, and how any article that lays its problems at the feet of US and Gulf support for Sunni militias is a betrayal of socialist principles.

 I found myself thinking about pandas this morning. I was looking at the scaffolding on the next block, and remembered how bamboo rather than steel is used to scaffold in the Far East. Then I started to wonder if the Chinese government does enough to protect bamboo forests, the pandas only habitat, or if was happy with the situation that most of the pandas left were in its own hands in captivity, and could be used as tools in its diplomacy*. Not to create peace and friendship between the Chinese and other peoples, but to reward those countries that did as the Chinese Communist Party wants, and to punish those that might treat with its enemies, like the Dalai Lama. There's an analogous situation whereby most of the remaining lions and tigers are in the hands of rich individuals in the US, but we're talking about pandas here, where the problem is not that all governments are as bad as each other, but specifically the Chinese government uses them as a tool to ensure that its own exploitation and oppression can occur more smoothly. It isn't a situation where the US is equally to blame, they haven't got any pandas as far as I know.**

 There is a tradition in left-wing politics of saying that the state capitalist regimes of Russia, China and the like, and certainly their very capitalist successors, are no better, and no worse, in essence, than the straightforwardly capitalist powers of the West. This is a tradition most associated with Tony Cliff, who founded the International Socialist tendency with the slogan Neither Washington, Nor Moscow, But International Socialism. When the Korean War broke out, a battle between the proxy and actual forces of the imperialist rivals, Cliff was condemned by other socialists because he was equally critical of each side.*** When people rose in revolt, whether in French Algeria or El Salvador in the West, or Hungary or Poland in the east, he would try to act as Lenin suggested, that to be a revolutionary is to be a tribune of the oppressed, condemning the ruling class of that country and their own imperialist backers; offering solidarity to those in struggle, not writing them off as agents of imperialism if they rose in the East, just as those fighting for freedom in the West were not a foreign Communist plot.

 Syria is not an American colony. It is not Americans, or Saudis and Qataris, who have been committing genocide. It is the Assad monarchy, supported by a billion dollars of weaponry a month by Russia, plus the diplomatic cover which enables them to carry out an illegal war on civilians without even condemnation from the international community. A régime that would have fallen in 2012 despite the paucity of support to its opponents, if it had not been for the thousands of soldiers sent by Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah to enable Assad to continue his massacres and cling on the to the vestiges of power. So if you want to give voice to the aspirations of the Syrian people, those are the enemies you need to identify as being arrayed against them. It is not enough to say that the demonstrations in 2011 were great, but that no good can come out of the militarisation of the opposition that has occurred since. It was precisely to defend the demonstrations that the Free Syrian Army emerged, it was to prevent, and because of refusing to participate in, the massacres with which Assad tried to stop the protests, that the FSA swelled in numbers, as soldiers defected who refused to support the dictator any more.

 These forces are the same forces of liberation fighting today. There aren't so many demonstrations, but what is the point of protesting to a government that drops barrel bombs on you? That Kafranbel continues to demonstrate weekly is a symbol of the revolution that still is the struggle against Assad, not an outlier. The Local Coordinating Committees haven't felt the need to broadcast that they are on the same side as the Free Syrian Army, because it should be blatantly obvious, and would invite extra bombing from Assad. That there has been a growth of other, more Islamist forces isn't due to them being bussed in by Gulf states, but because there hasn't been any Western support for the Free Syrian Army, and people have gravitated towards those who might better fight Assad, like Jabhat al-Nusra, who have benefited from their anti-Americanism when there was no US support for the FSA (and gatekeepers in Jordan, preventing anti-aircraft weapons getting through to the FSA, which which they could have stopped the aerial bombardment by Assad); the lack of support led to the chaos in Northern Syria which meant that ISIS could move in, and in alliance with Assad try to crush the revolution entirely.

 This isn't a view you'll have got from the mainstream media. Partly because of technical reasons, with the spread of ISIS (and to a lesser extent JaN, who partly get confused, but also it's their own fault for allying with al-Qaida is they get mixed up with Caliphate types) it became dangerous to report from "opposition" held areas (the use of the word "opposition" conflating ISIS with the actual rebels), and so it became easier for the BBC to send Jeremy Bowen to Damascus to report the régime's perspective, with a few platitudes or lies about the unseen "Western-backed opposition." The perspective that Assad was supported by most Syrians, that they Americans and Israelis were threatening him, that the rebels were foreign terrorists supported by the Saudis. The same lies that ignore the torture, rape and murder with which he has tried to crush the uprising. Torture, rape and murder that is the daily reality for Syrians, a nightmare from which they are trying to awake, and the reality that any international socialist should be trying to address.

 The other reason the mainstream media has been more full of Owen Jones denouncing Turkey for supporting al-Nusra (untrue, but he did it a number of times on the BBC News press preview), than it has of any "demonisation" of Assad (reporting of his actual crimes) is that the leaders of the West aren't trying to overthrow him, and so there is no reason for a flow of What A Bastard He Is stories as there was with Saddam Hussein. When Robert Fisk says we are told we have to hate Assad, he's just lying. A defector called Caesar went to Congress a few weeks ago with 11,000 photos he'd taken of torture, quite horrific torture, in Assad's prisons. There was no outcry that Assad must be taken from his palace and taken to a War Crimes trial. Just as when Assad used chemical weapons last year there was no chance the US was ever going to go to war over it. Syria is not an American colony, and there is no chance of them making it one. So they have found it much more profitable to use the situation to denounce Assad and damage the Russians credibility, while doing nothing to support the opposition. When people are dying because the US acts as a gatekeeper preventing the flow of defensive heavy weapons to the FSA, that is what the left should spend its time denouncing, not the imaginary threat of a rerun of the Iraq invasion, the demonstrators against which fantasy last year, insulted the Syrian people by claiming that as a greater problem than the chemical attacks.

 So that's what I think the international socialist position is on Syria, that you support the insurrection against Assad wholeheartedly, not worry in an orientalist and racist way that they all sound a bit too Muslim. That military aid to the rebels should be demanded from any country that can provide it, that a US invasion isn't the answer, but neither is the the real threat here, which are Assad and his imperialist backers.**** There are supporters of the Syrian revolution who think differently, some who think Russia is much worse all round the world than the US, some who think that the US is in alliance with Iran. I don't agree with either (or at least think it is more complicated than that), but at least their views come out of a good place, wanting the Syrian revolution to succeed. One that isn't likely to produce a socialist anti-imperialist republic any time soon, because the socialist tradition has been so compromised my accommodating with the likes of Assad for one thing, but a democratic republic where the torture stops would not just be exchanging one oppressor for another.

 There might need to be an ongoing struggle to stop it going back that way, but that's true of all states at some time, and it is to treat Syrians as Other to ignore the value that getting rid of Assad, and his régime would do them, and the region which has been massively destabilised by Assad's war. Hezbollah have happily gone to Syria to kill thousands of Syrians and drive millions more out of the country, the opposition has resisted the temptation to retaliate against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

 That's about all I can think of for the moment. I was a member of the SWP for seven years, and although I find it unlikely that I'll be actively involved in politics again, especially on this I feel the international socialist tradition to be my tradition, and am disappointed to find so many of those who have come out of the SWP think it means something different, that when it comes to Syria the main enemy is in Washington, or even that Washington and Moscow are equal threats to Syria, when clearly they are not. If anything, in a more globalised world, any support for the Syrian revolution is more effective, and more important to demonstrate. But people are funny sometimes.

 * "In his book The Last Panda, George Schaller, the scientific director of the Bronx Zoo, says zoos are actually contributing to the near-extinction of giant pandas by constantly shuttling the animals from one zoo to another for display." […/dont-zoos-help-to-preserve-endanger…/…]

 ** Articles about CIA breeding programmes in Antarctica that originate from should be treated with a degree of skepticism.

 *** "The motive force of American imperialist expansion is the greed for wealth of the big US corporations...In the USSR itself the state-capitalist exploitation of the oppressed nations – Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Tadjiks, etc. (making up more than half the population of the USSR) – by Russian imperialism, calls forth a struggle for national and social liberation, even if for a time it is successfully suppressed by the iron hand of the MVD."


 **** I wrote a piece in September 2013 that goes into this some more.

 "If the Left claims that thousands will die in carpet bombing, that depleted uranium will be scattered across Syria, that American soldiers will be dying to help al-Qaida, and none of these things turn out to be true, it will discredit the Left, and because the Left does not control the media, that impression will stay for a long time, and when the US does want to intervene, the pendulum will have swung back to it being easy again for the US to do what it wants. And if the situation in Syria takes another step towards Hell, then there is a greater likelihood that American, French or British power will be brought to bear on Syria, rather than the empowerment of those rebels that we just don’t know about from what we’ve read in the press." []

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

This Is Why You Can’t Have Nice Guns

This Is Why You Can’t Have Nice Guns
After the intro, which treats the difficulties of fighting a war against genocide as the reason not to help overcome them, some voices supporting Syria are heard.
"Look, Syria and Syrians were coming out of a 50-plus-year political coma [when the opposition bodies were formed]," said Fred Hof, a former special advisor on Syria at the State Department and currently a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
Did we really expect opposition politics to be characterized by trust, openness, loyalty, and selfless teamwork?"

Try as He May, John McCain Can’t Shake Falsehoods About Ties to ISIS

'Mouaz Moustafa, the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a Washington-based group that helped to arrange the senator’s visit, said all of the people who appeared in those photographs were at risk. When ISIS published the first issue of its magazine, Mr. Moustafa said, it featured one of the photographs and proclaimed, “We have to cut all these people’s heads off.” '

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

'Return to Homs': Cycles in Syria

“Even in my darkest nightmares, I couldn’t have imagined the city as it is today. Nothing interrupts this silence, but the chirping of birds and the roaring of bombardment.”

The Syrian National Coalition's interim Prime Minister Ahmad Tu'mah (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Syrian Opposition PM: We plan to form a “Syrian national army”"We appreciate all the efforts of the brigades which are taking part in the fight against the [Assad] regime, whether they are affiliated with the FSA or not. But our relationship with all of them derives from the necessity of working to establish a free, civil, democratic Syria; we do not accept any other goals for our revolution. For this reason we have asked all groups to abandon their different slogans and to join the Syrian national army [which the Coalition plans to form], which will form the core of Syria’s next [standing] army"

Doubling Down on Disaster in Syria

"A glance at the same maps demonstrates that Syria’s non-jihadist rebels — including the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, Harakat al-Hazm, the Southern Front and Division 13 – control more of Syria than “5 percent.” "

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Free Syrian Army fighter runs after attacking a tank with a rocket-propelled grenade during fighting in Aleppo, Syria, in September 2012. The rebels say they are willing to take on the Islamic State, but need more weapons. (AP)

Syria's 'Moderate Rebels' Say They Are Willing, But Need Weapons

' "If we start with a few thousand men on these three fronts, with real weapons, you would soon see success," he says. "Because there are also a lot of fighters inside ISIS-controlled territory, they're waiting for a reason to get into the fight against ISIS."
Askar says in his opinion the unpopular decision by the Turkish government to oppose arming the Kurds is absolutely right, not just for Turkey, but for Syria as well.
"That's right, because the (Kurds) want their own state, they don't think about Syria as one state," he says. "If we win against ISIS, the Kurds will be no help in fighting the regime." '

A Brief Time-Saving Instructional Diagram
"For those who don't fancy genocidal dictatorship for themselves and their families but think it's okay for Syrians and other peoples...
For those who can't tell the difference between the Free Syrian Army and the ISIS (note: of the 3,500 Syrians murdered by the ISIS between 2013 and the start of September 2014, 2,691 were FSA), but want to share their 'knowledge' with us...
For those who haven't noticed Assad's three-and-half-year genocide and destruction of a nation, the regime's and its accomplices' ongoing daily use of warplanes, helicopter gunships, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons and mass starvation to slaughter 200,000+ Syrians and dispossess half the nation to date, who suddenly "feel strongly" about Kobani...
For those who get their 'knowledge' (sic) from David Icke, Press TV, Russia Today, Global, info wars, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk and assorted You Tube 'experts' and believe that this makes them an authority on Syria and the Middle East..."