Saturday, 7 September 2013

A response to Jon Stewart on Syria

A recent segment on Jon Stewart

 "If the U.S. doesn’t back the Free Syrian Army and moderate opposition players (who represent the vast majority of Syrian aspirations), Syria will soon become a lost cause: a cake that will be divided between Shia extremists (Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, Assad militias) on one side and Sunni extremists (al-Qaeda and the like) on the other."

Syrian Activist Speaks Out Against Airstrikes

"Hearing people scream for ten hours a day is quite painful."
And I thought understatement was an English thing.

Empowering the democratic resistance in Syria
"The activists who picked up arms became dependent on support in money and arms to be able to continue. Few other than the Assad regime question this narrative. Yet the consequences of this dependence are often overlooked. The sources of funding for the rebels and the strings attached to them have since shaped the landscape of the armed rebellion, not the other way round. What we have in Syria is not an Islamist revolution but a popular uprising that received funding primarily from Islamist sources. Acknowledging this is essential and has far-reaching implications for defining an effective policy in the Syrian conflict."

Who are the moderates in Syria?
A so-so guide to easy-going rebels

"The ‘Roses’, as they are commonly referred to, are so moderate they only fight on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In the words of their leader Abu Randa, there’s more to life than revolutions, that’s why they like to dedicate the rest of the week to yoga, stamp collecting and spending time with the family. 

The roses’ main ideological inclination is relative moderation, which they apply to all areas of their politics and life. They drink their tea warm for example, which is frowned upon in many areas of Syria and has cost them many supporters. Yet, nobody said that revolution is easy."

Syrian-Americans' thoughts

Suburban Syrians urge intervention
to prevent further bloodshed

"I don't want America to bomb Syria," Lina Sergie Attar says, but she believes a U.S. military strike, while undesirable, may be the only way to prevent further civilian bloodshed.

06/09/2013 Newsnight

"Is America isolated over Syria? How are the US public reacting?"
"The only voice of support, from Syrian-Americans.
'Assad is a killer.Killer. And he's killing us.' "
15 minutes in.
The right-wing shock jock and the bikers are firmly against intervention.

Q&A: Syrian opposition welcomes
military strike against Syria

I have my differences with the first answer, but 2 and 3 have something going for them. I note his doesn't actually address the Kurdish question in answer 2.

Al-Masry: That means the coalition agrees to the Western military strike against the Syrian regime? 
Jarba: Yes, but on the condition to preserve the lives of civilians whether supporters or opponents. This strike will be certain and directed against military sites under the control of the regime. We bless this strike as it will destroy the vehicles which kill the Syrian people mercilessly.
Al-Masry: In the case of the Syrian opposition succeeded in isolating Bashar al-Assad and ending the rule of the Baath Party, how will you face military wings like al-Nosra Front and Kurds and others?
Jarba: Their turn is coming after we get rid of the big germ named Bashar al-Assad regime. I imagine that the elimination of the Assad regime would mean getting rid of 75% of those groups, because the regime is using them and we will deal with the rest.
Al-Masry: How will you deal with these groups later, you will have to negotiate or have armed confrontation?
Jarba: We will use the soft and harsh methods according to the need. I would like to make it clear that these are not all Syrians. Some of them are Arab and Western. I say to the Arab and Western states who consider themselves true friends of the Syrian people that Syria does not need men but needs weapon and money and a real stand in the face of this murderous regime, which has exceeded all limits against the defenseless people.

Syrian Assad Republic
or Syrian Arab Republic?

"Currently, we are facing a complex situation in Syria because of Iran's support and its allies in the area. Additionally, Russia has been supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Those factors led to the delivery of the revolution to a complex stage and made Syria offer a lot of martyrs. Here, I think it is unlikely that the American strike will cause a radical change on the ground due to the factors in question. Up to the publication of this article, more than two hundred 
thousand were killed in Syria. Therefore, the negotiation between the current regime and opposition parties is not possible. Also, there is another problematic issue related to the radical Islamist groups among the opposition fighters which can be a bad omen for what may come after President Bashar al -Assad. Despite of all this, the Syrian Revolution will win the war against Bashar, all radical groups and extremists."

Friday, 6 September 2013


Syrian Anarchist Challenges the
Rebel/Regime Binary View of Resistance

"If the strikes end up being tougher than what is currently being discussed, for one reason or another, and they do make a significant change on the battlefield, or do significantly weaken the Assad regime, then I think the potential negative effects will be different. I think this will lead to a future Syrians won't have a hand in determining. The US may not like Assad, but they have many times expressed that they believe that regime institutions should remain intact in orde
r to ensure stability in a future Syria. In short, as many have noted, the US wants "Assadism without Assad." They want the regime without the figure of Assad, just like what they got in Egypt, when Mubarak stepped down but the "deep state" of the military remained, and just like what happened in Yemen where the US negotiated for the president to step down but for everything to remain largely the same. The problem with this is Syrians chanted, "The People Demand the Downfall of the Regime," not just Assad. There is consensus across the board, from US to Russia to Iran, that no matter what happens in Syria, regime institutions should remain intact. The same institutions that were built by the dictatorship. The same institutions that plundered Syria and provoked the popular discontent that started this uprising. The same institutions that are merely the remnants of French colonialism. Everyone in Syria knows that the US's preferred candidates for leadership roles in any future Syria are those Syrians who were part of the regime and then defected: Ba'athist bureaucrats turned neoliberal technocrats turned "defectors." These are the people the US would have rule Syria."

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Netherlands blamed for some Srebrenica deaths

I'm still not sure what to think about the Bosnian war, though some things are obvious; like that the Serbs had concentration camps (I met a guy a few times who'd been forced to serve as a guard at one), the Bosnians didn't. And the Bosnians weren't all Muslims, let alone Islamists.
When they seemed to have no alternative, they looked to the West for protection. But the West was more interested in reaching a political arrangement with the Serbs and their Russian patrons. But still such a massacre is presented as a reason why there is no choice but intervention.
Incidentally, in Afghanistan the US financed a war against the Soviet occupation for a decade without anyone thinking it would be the trigger for a wider conflict. The US weren't lobbing missiles in themselves, but you can be sure that the Russian naval base at Latakia won't be a target in Syria, and the Russian ambassador will be able to walk in the bits of Damascus Assad isn't shelling in the morning after.

My ambivalent support for US strikes in Syria

Syrians in a cafe

"Now we have people in the West who were otherwise silent enthusiastically brandishing “Hands off Syria!” placards. Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin says that the United States should “let Allah sort them out,” and online social media have pictures of unidentified U.S. servicemen holding up signs that say “I did not join up to fight with al-Qaeda in a Syrian civil war”. When I show my Syrian friends these pictures they look on with disbelief. We just cannot understand how anybody can be so ignorant."

 'This time, I am the one who gets to note the irony that when the uprising started this wealthier segment of Syrian society took the longest to acknowledge that "something was happening." As for the people who from the beginning clamored the most for somebody to notice that they were being butchered in the streets, they are now the most enthusiastic supporters of a U.S. strike, come what may. It is this realization that makes me skeptical of those who oppose strikes. Maybe if we had all spoken up when the killing started, none of this would be necessary. But it is now, and the death toll and refugee count makes what is happening in our country the worst humanitarian crisis in living memory.'

Kafranbel - a message to US congress

Appeal starts with a quote from Ronald Reagan, which isn't the worst idea when their target is the US congress. Obviously I don't agree with all this, but it makes more sense than the US strikes bringing some greater catastrophe than Assad. And as much as anybody, they deserve the chance to be heard.

insufficient respect

"It will only make things worse."

"This is insidious because the truth is no one knows the ultimate effects of any sort of intervention.  It gets plausibility from imagining all sorts of terrible but possible outcomes.   But if you imagine such outcomes, rationality also commands that you imagine no less probable good outcomes

Maybe Assad is on the verge of collapse, and his fall will be followed by the establishment of a democratic state, with minimal strife.   Maybe there will be strife, but neighboring and Western powers will easily find allies in Syria and contain it.  Maybe the 'Al Qaeda' Islamists will dissolve because much of their membership simply joined up to fight Assad, and the rest fritter away their strength in infighting.  Maybe a successful revolution in Syria will re-kindle the 'Arab Spring' and re-invigorate the whole region.   Or maybe not, but these are no less plausible outcomes than the doom-and-gloom scenarios, some of which will be examined below.

It's also worth asking just what is meant by 'making things worse'.   If the US delivers substantial support to the Free Syrian Army, OF COURSE things will get worse, because they will win, and before they win the fighting will intensify.  After that it will get much much better, because the fighting will end.  As for sectarian warfare, see below, on Islamists."

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Ohio Syrians say they're
'doing what we can' to help

"For some Syrian-Americans in southwest Ohio, including Traboulsi, Sheatt and Basma Rabbat Akbik, U.S. military intervention is coming too late. Many say the United States should have armed rebel fighters. Still others won't speak out publicly because they fear government retribution against relatives in Syria."

Syria Brotherhood Leader:

US Position on Syria 

"The expected US strike on the Syrian regime is not intended to protect civilians following the Ghouta chemical massacre, but to serve US interests in the region."
Syria: It's Still a Revolution, My Friends

Syria: It's Still a Revolution, My Friends

"Try to remember to have some compassion for a Syrian who might be in the vicinity, before you mouth off in the abstract on the issue; we face news every day of our friends and our relatives being killed and imprisoned."

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Onion

Poll: Majority Of Americans Approve
Of Sending Congress To Syria

A man wrapped in a Syrian flag with a portrait of Assad

Netanyahu: Not true that Israel prefers Assad to rebels

"PM refutes Times of London report; Israeli politicians shouldn't take sides for fear of diverting the debate towards Israel, says Tzipi Livni."

Never believe anything until its been officially barely denied. You'll note Netanyahu says they are neutral, not anti-Assad (of course then we get on to his status as a zionist-lizard mindbender, but that way madness lies).


 Cameron touches down in St. Petersburg. Is nobody worried that the Russians will blow him out of the sky? Or Obama, or Hollande? No, because it is never going to happen. They aren't going to let a faraway country about which they care little disrupt their trading relationship, let alone kick off a world war.

 We are sometimes invited to believe a much more convoluted version of this fancy, that there will be an inexorable sequence of events that reach the same result. Russia and America, we are told, have been fighting a proxy war in Syria. If the Americans bomb Syria, they will incur the Russians ire, who will give bigger and bigger guns to Assad. This in turn will provoke the Israelis, who again we are told are behind the movement to remove Assad, and their attack on Russian emplacements or deliveries will get them into a war with Russia, and then the US will come in on Israel's side.

 This is never going to happen.

 At the outset of the war with Saddam Hussein over Kuwait, the US was still suffering very much from what was called the Vietnam Syndrome, an inability to project its military power overseas, and I think that's a good thing, especially for the Central American countries frequently suffering US intervention in the 50s any time their leaders got at all leftist.

 As the name suggests, it was the impact of the Vietnam War in ripping apart American society, that made this change. There are two parts to this, the real direct impact, the 58,000 Americans sent home by the Vietnamese in body bags (by contrast the British deaths in Afghanistan stood at 444 this May), and to a lesser extent for many, the couple of million Vietnamese killed and the countries destroyed). Secondly there are the lies and stratagems used to get the public to go along with such slaughter.
Chief among these when it came to Vietnam was the Domino Theory, that if one country was allowed to fall to communism, then one by one all the others in the region would do so. It was untrue in Vietnam for a number of reasons. There was no domino effect, except insofar as the US went on to mess up other neighbouring countries like Laos and Cambodia in their efforts to stop change in Vietnam. There was no Communist conspiracy to subvert Vietnam, a liberation movement that had based itself on the principles of the American revolution turned to Moscow, because it was the French and the Americans who were destroying their country, not Communists.

 And so for years when the Americans wanted to mess with a country, they had to do so indirectly, funding the Contras and mining Nicaragua's harbours when they took a dislike to the Sandinistas. But as Karl Marx wrote in the German Ideology:

 "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it."

 And so the ideology of imperial control gets every opportunity to re-assert itself. Reagan started small, with invasions like Grenada, where a motley bunch who’d killed the Marxist leader Maurice Bishop were in charge. That the US had been implacably opposed to Bishop, invented the pretext of some supposedly threatened American medical students and invaded a Commonwealth country without even bothering to inform the Queen’s representatives, all that didn’t matter, what mattered was US force could be justified enough to secure public acquiescence

 And so back to Kuwait. We were taken into that war with a mixture of truth and lies. Kuwait really had been invaded, but it was an artificial statelet, designed to keep the oil wealth of the Gulf in the hands of a few Emirs, which the mostly rightless immigrant population had no interest in defending. But because this was a war that most of British capitalism wanted to fight, we heard the first, and not the second. Sometimes the Kuwaitis would spread some outright lies, such as the Iraqi army plucking babies from incubators. But by and large some of the basic facts, that Saddam was a nasty dictator who had invaded another country, could be fitted into a narrative that demanded action, and most people in Britain were prepared to go along with it.

 On the other side, some of the arguments against the war, such as over the nature of Kuwait, didn't really get a hearing. Some of those, such that there would be the Mother of All Battles and Saddam would destroy the world's oil supply proved not to come to pass or be counter-productive; if he's such a madman, then he needs to be dealt with.

 In fact, there was a massacre of Iraqi troops fleeing on the road to Basra, but that didn't affect the general perception that the war was a good thing. In fact as Saddam threatened to massacre opponents in the North and South of Iraq, it became a springboard for the establishment of the Responsibility To Protect doctrine, along with the genocide in Rwanda three years later.

 Now I know there are Syrians who think that R2P is the right model to apply to Syria, and that’s more understandable to me than Westerners who think they are protecting Syrians and the world by playing up the threat of US air strikes. But I think it will always be an opportunity for the US to pick and choose when to care, and in Syria it has been doing its damndest not to care. And that will always be the tendency with the Great Powers while they are exploitative capitalist states, because their foreign policy will always tend towards their own sectional interests. It is not inevitable, popular pressure and political change can work wonders sometimes. But it will never help the party of peace if their arguments aren’t in correspondence with reality, and so will by default encourage the victims of oppression to think that R2P might be their only alternative.

 For two weeks now we’ve had a media circus about what the West might do in the response to the latest chemical attack by Assad’s forces. Syrians have seen this sound and fury signify little a few times already, though the more desperate you get, the more you cling on to any hope. But any discussion of action that might arm Syrians is put on the sidelines, or bundled together with other forms of intervention. And with the media narrative following the general interest of the Western powers in staying out, the ideas that we don’t know who the rebels are, that they are all jihadis, that the Syrian uprising is a sectarian proxy war run from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel; all achieve prominence as descriptions of the situation, and they are all untrue. But that narrative isn’t going to go away and be replaced by an enthusiasm for boots on the ground, the slippery slope hypothesis, because there is a huge majority of opinion, both in the public and the establishment, against it. That isn’t suddenly going to turn around when limited strikes fail to achieve much.

 So there is no dynamic, no secret plot for regime change in Syria, which will magically take us from some token air strikes to a full-blown invasion. I defy anyone to show that there is. If we are told that there are always unforeseen consequences to military intervention, I’d say first that I don’t think air strikes are any more than a diversion, so I’d like a little more precision about what we are being asked to consider the consequences. But that given that Assad’s war on Syrians has caused 100,000+ dead, and 2 million+ refugees, and the killing and the exodus has jumped a level each time the regime has got desperate, the real killing rape and torture seems much more important than a bunch of hypotheticals, especially when those hypotheticals are based on a lazy assumption that the Iraq War is bound to be replicated. I think that because it can be shown that the American interest has been to stay out of Syria (government and business interest), that the pressure can be deduced to be in the direction of keeping them out, not pulling them in.

 And so we come to the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, which if anybody doesn’t know it, spoiler alert, when the wolf finally does come nobody believes the boy. 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.

 It is a bit like the debate on the EU. In Greece at the moment, where the EU imposed bailout conditions are wrecking the economy and Greek lives, saying Stuff The EU may be a political necessity. But in the UK it is an irrelevant distraction to say stuff Europe, a slogan only suitable for those who want to keep immigrants out or restrict human rights. Often it is important to oppose American missile strikes, but right now it is Russian weapons, Iranian and Lebanese troops,that are killing Syrians. Why don’t the Americans threaten sanctions on Russia if they don’t stop supplying Assad with weapons? Why don’t the Americans drop the sanctions on Iran if they pull out of Syria? Those might be progressive demands. 

 So hopefully this hoopla will be out of the way soon. The Americans will have restored the credibility of the international system by flattening a bit of metal with along with as few people as they can, most people can go back to what they’re doing, and Syrians can get on with trying to turn the tide in their favour. If the Americans were to accidentally kill Assad, something I am sure they are going to do their level best to avoid, then the personalised nature of the Assad monarchy might mean the revolution is successful in weeks rather than months. Which would mean a lot of happy and considerably more pro-American Syrians. But it would also mean the legitimation of the American killing of leaders it doesn’t like, and Kim Jong-Un might seriously finger his nuclear button (as it is , the lack of military response has meant that North Korea quiets down again each time there is an incident, because they are not really interested in fighting a war they would lose unless there is no alternative). Which is one reason I expect the Americans to stay to precision guidance, and probably stay away from central Damascus (the rĂ©gime’s parade of kids on the hillside on last night’s TV are pretty safe too. I would have thought their PR might have advised against the Nazi-style salutes). But if Assad finds he still can’t take all of Homs in a month’s time and still falling apart on other fronts, and decides to kill 50,000 people with gas there; the pressure for Western invasion will go critical. If the Left commentary on air strikes has been to see them as the main problem, it will be a bystander to the debate. If it correctly identifies the regime as the problem, and arming the FSA as the solution, it has a better chance at being part of the answer to the Syrian crisis and the instability that comes with it, posing a better solution than imperial imposition (which both a hawks’ invasion and the peaceniks deal with the Russians would be), and not just part of the furniture.

 On the bright side, we were told that there was no way Assad could be overthrown, and no way he would use chemical weapons because he wasn’t close to being overthrown. Clearly part of the latter assertion is false. Maybe he knows that the end is close.

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Cash-Strapped Syrians Swap
Chicken for Food Powder

SD: How is the Assad regime surviving, economically?
HA: At the beginning of the crisis, we heard some statements about the reserves in the central bank, but now no one is talking about it. The government has managed to export Syrian oil; it’s generally banned to export it. And then they have support from Russia and Iran. It’s not a secret that they have these loans. So I suppose that they can live for a long time, but for regular people suffering, it’s very hard to live. Even if the government survives and manages its expenses, at the end of the day, if the people cannot live and survive with that kind of daily financial pressure, this will be a disaster for the government.

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Conversations: The
Student-Turned-Fighter in Douma

"I am against a U.S. strike on Syria. What we need from America and other Western countries instead is to pressure the regime’s allies, like Russia and Iran. If you cut off the regime’s financial and logistical support, the regime will fall straight away.
The goals of Liwa al-Islam are the same [as those of the FSA]: to remove the current government and create an alternative that would be formed by the people who have been working for it most effectively on the ground. Most of these people identify as Muslims.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a shadowy organization that is not making its objectives clear. Many members of Jabhat al-Nusra, which was originally formed from less extreme groups, broke away to join ISIS, which fights even other rebel groups that differ from its own thinking. It has gathered fighters from other groups, especially foreigners. It is beginning to make some errors that cannot be tolerated.
But the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria does not exist on the ground as it does in the media. They are concentrated in the north, where you often have foreign fighters entering from outside Syria. In Damascus and its suburbs where I am, they are practically nonexistent."


Rush Limbaugh ain't so sure.
' “We could be looking at a frame job. Pretty big setup,” says Limbaugh.
“The rebels nerve gassed themselves in order to engineer a response that takes out Bashar, putting the US on the side of Al-Qaeda,” alleges Mr. Bodansky.'

Syrian Revolution Digest

“Cleanse and Liberate!”
From May. You can see through the faecal stuff now, or you can wait for all the reports in the world, but the truth will be the same. All fifteen areas attacked this time were occupied by rebels, what are the chances?*
"And yet, miraculously, it’s the rebels and their supporters who are being killed and displaced! Cut the bullshit!, pardon my Italian! Had rebels had access to Sarin gas and had they had the necessary knowhow to deploy it, they might have been tempted to use it during their months-long siege of various military airports that keep raining death and havoc on their communities. The fact that they haven’t reflects either a principled stand on their part, lack of access, or both, but in all cases, it makes clear that the Sarin call in Syria has been heeded by the Assadists only, not the rebels. QED"
* n¹⁵/1, where n is the proportion of neighbourhoods held by the opposition, might be a first approximation.

Brutality of Syrian Rebels Posing Dilemma in West

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 "But, they said, one of his tactics has been to promise to his fighters what he calls “the extermination” of Alawites — the minority Islamic sect to which the Assad family belongs, and which Mr. Issa blames for Syria’s suffering.

 This sentiment may have driven Mr. Issa’s decision to execute his prisoners in the video, his former aide said. The soldiers had been captured when Mr. Issa’s fighters overran a government checkpoint north of Idlib in March.

 Their cellphones, the former aide said, had videos of soldiers raping Syrian civilians and looting.

 Mr. Issa declared them all criminals, he said, and a revolutionary trial was held. They were found guilty."

 I'd suggest that the evidence is that he had them executed because they had raped civilians, and that his 300 fighters are in any case not representative of 80-85% of the rebels, and that the only reason why groups like his thrive at all is because the majority have had no funding from the West.