The Syrian Crisis is Being Exploited by the West

The decision by both China and Russia to veto the UN Security Council Resolution on Syria last week, supporting the Arab League plan for a swift transition of power and elections, has served noticed on the West by both countries that further interventions in the region will be opposed.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said, “Some influential members of the international community unfortunately have been undermining the opportunity for political settlement, calling for a regime change, pushing the oppositionists to power.”

Meanwhile, China’s UN ambassador Li Baodong said, “China maintains that, under the current circumstances, to put undue emphasis on pressuring the Syrian government… or impose any solution will not help resolve the Syrian issue.”

The response of the US UN ambassador Susan Rice to the veto was unsurprisingly scathing, describing it as “shameful”. She added that it showed how Russia and China aimed to “sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant.”

That the US UN ambassador felt justified in to seizing any moral high ground on the ‘shielding of craven tyrants’ when the US remains a major ally of Saudi Arabia, and up until recently was key in helping to maintain Mubarak in power in Egypt, is stark evidence of the hubris that continues to abound in Washington even after the humanitarian disaster precipitated by the US-led invasion of Iraq and the continuing quagmire in Afghanistan.

Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague was also bombastic in his response, saying that the Russian and Chinese veto “will only encourage President Assad’s brutal regime to increase the killing.”

What seems clear is that the Arab Spring which has swept through the Middle East in recent months, toppling autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, and which has seen serious unrest in Bahrain and Yemen, has been actively joined by the US, France, Britain, and their regional allies in order to ensure that what emerges are pro-western regimes that will uphold their geopolitical interests in the region.

Providing further impetus in this regard has been the success of the NATO intervention in Libya, which proved to be a win-win in terms of the resources applied and its successful outcome. Indeed, the success of the Libyan operation has breathed new life into the concept of humanitarian intervention by the West – or to give it its old name, imperialism – with the prospect of unleashing the same template on Syria clearly a motivating factor in the UN Security Council resolution and its subsequent veto by Russia and China.

In fact the experience of Libya – when a UN Security Council resolution to protect innocent civilian life was subsequently transmuted into providing military support for one side in a civil war with the objective of regime change – will understandably have deepened the resolve of both China and Russia not to be caught out in this regard a second time.

Though the Cold War is no longer central to international affairs, there has been a resurgence of something akin to it in recent years, a result of China’s emergence as an economic powerhouse, Russia entering a new era of assertiveness vis-à-vis the West, and the West’s comparative economic decline leading to an increased reliance on hard power to maintain and advance its interests. The oil rich Middle East remains every bit as vital to each of the aforementioned power blocs, which is why what we are beginning to witness with regard to the region is a re-enactment of the Great Game that took place in the 19th century between the British and Russian empires. Then the prize was Central Asia and its strategic importance. Now it is oil.

The states that make up the region are currently undergoing seismic upheaval as the contradictions that have for so long defined their existence have burst asunder. This has come under the weight of a global economic crisis which has negatively impacted on their ability to rule in the old way, resulting on the one hand in an inspirational wave of people power rising up from below, and on the other a worrying resurgence of hard power being exercised by western powers, primarily the US, Britain and France, as they seek to place their stamp on its trajectory.

The Syrian government’s crime in the eyes of the West is not so much the repression being carried against a section of its people. Rather the crime is its close relations with Iran and the support it provides to Hamas and Hezbollah, both implacable foes of Israel, along with its history of opposition to the West. Toppling the Assad regime in Syria would significantly deepen the isolation of Iran, which is currently under immense economic, political, and increasingly military pressure to abandon its nuclear programme and is itself a future candidate for regime change.

The tragedy currently unfolding in Syria began as legitimate peaceful protest demanding long overdue reforms from the current regime. However, the unintended consequence of the West’s role in sowing chaos in Iraq and Libya is the Syrian regime’s adoption of lethal force against the Syrian opposition, with a view to destroying it before the West is able to intervene. On the other hand, the Syrian opposition is clearly banking on just such an intervention, following the template employed by the West when it came to Libya last year. It is also crucial for opponents of the present regime in Damascus to understand the extent to which it still enjoys the support of a large part of the country, thus ensuring that any western intervention would result in bloody chaos.

While the Syrian people are certainly justified in demanding reforms from a regime that for too long has placed an over emphasis on security at the expense of civil rights, the fear of the regime and the millions of Syrians who still support it of the country suffering a similar fate to that suffered by Iraq, with the same prospect of sectarian civil war, and the more recent disaster to befall the Libyan people, with verifiable accounts of widespread human rights abuses, torture and summary executions in the aftermath of the fall of the Gaddafi regime, is all too real and cannot be underestimated or easily dismissed.

This is why Russian and Chinese calls for a diplomatic solution in Syria must be taken seriously, especially as the Kremlin enjoys influence with the Syrian regime.

Clearly, Russia and China both have their own geopolitical and economic reasons for taking the stance they have, as do each of the regional and international actors involved. But the question for the people being affected on the ground by this crisis is how best to end the carnage and eruption of sectarian and confessional fissures that have come as a direct result of western intervention over the past decade.

More bloodshed is no solution to the blood already being shed in Syria.

152 comments on “The Syrian Crisis is Being Exploited by the West

  1. Brian O. on said:

    I agree that the Syrian situation is a very difficult one for the left, as there is no doubt that the western powers have a series of manipulative agendas and will seek to exploit the situation in their own interests;the divisions in Syrian society also pose the dangers of an ethnically fuelled civil war emerging. But you do no one any service by suggesting the left should rally behind the the Russian-Chinese operation. Your reference to “Russian and Chinese calls for a diplomatic solution in Syria” are nonsensical. The resolution they vetoed was precisely an attempt to diplomatically estrain the Syrian regime and press for some momentum towards a negotiated solution (unlikely to have much effect, but at least something.) The Russian-Chinese double veto was a signal to Assad that he has a free hand to carry on the killing, as far as they are concerned.

  2. Who will bell the cat? Syria has a powerful army and air force. That’s probably what’s stopping the war pigs from having another jolly little war.

    The courage and determination of the Syrian people is an inspiration. They will win. I’m in awe of them.

  3. Pingback: Syria crisis being exploited by the West

  4. Jimmy Haddow on said:

    “Democratically run workers’ defence committees urgently need to be built in every community and workplace, with the right to distribute arms. Alongside these, workers’ committees are needed that can organise and link together regionally and nationally to build a mass revolutionary movement capable of reaching its goals. This means preparing for and developing an escalating programme of general strikes, occupations, and other actions.

    “It is important for the movement to firmly reject any imperialist intervention or interference. It needs to appeal to rank and file Syrian army soldiers with a socialist programme for public ownership and workers’ control and management of the key industries, that would inspire them to join the side of the revolution, as the Bolsheviks did in Russia in 1917.

    “Heroic though the fighters defending Homs and other areas are, the Free Syria Army may become a tool of a replacement group of pro-capitalist ‘leaders’ as happened to the opposition militias in Libya, unless they organise democratically as part of a mass independent workers’ movement that mobilises the full power of the working class and poor.”

    The above is taken from:
    http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/5570

  5. Strategist on said:

    In all the coverage I’ve seen, heard & read on this, I’ve never heard the question of what Israel wants from all this, & is getting up to behind the scenes, mentioned once. Which is just ridiculous – an obvious conspiracy of silence.

  6. Uncle Albert on said:

    @ 4

    Back in the 70s I remember reading an instruction booklet on how to write articles for Militant newspaper. The booklet must have been very influential because every article in The Militant conformed precisely to instructions given. The purpose, it seemed, was not to develop analysis or insights but to demonstrate an ability to conform to instructions.

    Looks like nothing has changed. And it is still as effective as ever. All you need to do now is get the marketing sorted. How about including ‘the best ever cure for insomnia’ beneath the masthead?

  7. Brian O at #1 smacks of concern trolling. Anyone who believes that the UN resolution vetoed by China and Russia was trying to avoid, not escalate conflict, is naive in the extreme. The US and whatever friends it can muster is preparing for military intervention. China and Russia refused to go along with it. No socialist should either.

  8. Strategist @ 5. – It’s not hard to work out what Israel wants from all this. Almost all Israeli politicians want to see a Syria which poses no threat to Israel. But I doubt that they agree on which of the various possible outcomes they think will be most advantageous, or that they have any cunning plan for engineering such an outcome – if that were possible, which it isn’t. Add in the fact that Israel’s leaders all know that an expression of support for one Syrian faction would be a propaganda coup for that faction’s opponents, and the relative diplomatic silence on Israel’s part makes perfect sense.

    Jimmy Haddow @ 4. As everybody with a developed Marxist understanding knows, every historical event anywhere in the world must always have an exact precedent in Russian history. By finding the correct historical template, you can draw the correct lessons leading you inexorably to the correct line. But how can you be sure that Syria’s 2012 corresponds to Russia’s 1917? It could be 1773, or 1825, or 1905, 1921, or even 1991…

  9. Strategist on said:

    @8 >> Israel’s leaders all know that an expression of support for one Syrian faction would be a propaganda coup for that faction’s opponents, and the relative diplomatic silence on Israel’s part makes perfect sense

    Yes, it’s clear that they are saying nothing – which is why the BBC reports nothing – but I’m interested in what they are up to behing the scenes. I don’t believe it is nothing.

  10. brokenwindow on said:

    should any socialist support Russia’s bent elections too or the land grabs practised by corrupt party officials in china? Really there’s no moral high-ground here,hence Chechnya and Burma. Superpowers do as they please,it’s wrong but Russia and china are acting out of self-interest too;reading this stuff is naive in the extreme.

  11. Karl Stewart on said:

    Excellent article John.

    Anyone who thinks last week’s draft UNSC resolution was anything other than an attempt to re-run the Libya conquest is either a fool or a liar.

    While I disagree with the SWP’s stated support for the anti-government forces and am utterly bemused by the SP’s “template” approach, it is encouraging that both have come out firmly against UK intervention.

    I hope there’s a basis for serious left unity here – at least on the minimum basis of “UK keep out of Syria – no more Iraqs and no more Libyas.”

    Those of us who don’t “support” the anti-government side and those who have taken what appears to me to be an unthinking knee-jerk reaction of expressing “support” despite knowing absolutely nothing about what it is they stand for, can still disagree over that, but that needn’t prevent unity against UK intervention.

  12. #4 So I take it the CWI no longer describes Syria as a deformed workers’ state? When did the position change? And why?

    Also, to most people who have been watching events as best we can, the SP/ CWI position just looks like an abstract wish list rather than anything relating to what’s possible based on the actual situation on the ground. Do you have any evidence that this is not the case?

  13. prianikoff on said:

    The US, Britain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are already sending logistical aid to the “Free Syrian Army” via the Western-backed bourgeois opposition group, the Syrian National Congress.

    This morning Radio 4 had an interview with a young Syrian exile (he’d never actually lived there) who wanted to go to Syria to “help”.
    He said that, if necessary, he’d pick up a gun and fight with the FSA.
    This was virtually a recruiting speech aimed at the exile community in Britain.
    Imagine if the BBC had conducted such an interview with a Somali who wanted to go and fight with Al Shbab!

    Meanwhile, further proof emerged of the growing convergence between NATO’s policy and Al Qaeda’s .
    Ayman al-Zawahri has issued a video urging the overthrow of Syria’s ‘cancerous regime’ and there are reports of al-Qaeda links to recent series of bombings in the country.

  14. prianikoff on said:

    The right wing press certainly thinks so!

    “MISRATA, Libya: Syrian rebels have held secret talks with Libya’s new authorities, aiming to secure weapons and money for their insurgency against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, it has been revealed.
    At the meeting, which was held in Istanbul and included Turkish officials, the Syrians requested assistance from the Libyan representatives and were offered arms and, potentially, volunteers.
    ”There is something being planned to send weapons and even Libyan fighters to Syria,” a Libyan source said, on condition of anonymity.
    ”There is a military intervention on the way. Within a few weeks you will see.”
    It has also emerged that preliminary discussions about arms supplies took place when members of the Syrian National Council – the country’s main opposition movement – visited Libya earlier this month.
    ”The Libyans are offering money, training and weapons to the Syrian National Council,” said Wisam Taris, a human rights campaigner with links to the council.

    http://www.smh.com.au/world/libya-to-arm-rebels-in-syria-20111126-1o088.html

    “Several nations have already been aiding the rebels, with Saudi Arabia providing financial assistance and Qatar supplying them with 3,000 satellite phones. Qatar was also deliberating giving the FSA night-vision equipment and anti-tank missiles.
    The FSA’s logistical coordinator Sheikh Zuheir Abassi told The Times the rebels wanted the West to provide no-fly zones and a haven from which they could safely operate.”

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/02/08/report-us-and-allies-were-considering-plans-for-military-aid-to-syrian-rebels

    “Britain is to send equipment to help the opposition oust Syrian dictator Bashar Assad after William Hague said there was ‘no limit on what resources we can provide’.
    The Foreign Secretary announced plans for a dramatic escalation of support for the rebels as Syrian government forces launched yet another bloody attack on the rebel city of Homs, killing 50 more.
    Mr Hague ruled out British military action but said the UK is poised to provide ‘strategic communications’ equipment to help different rebel groups work together against the ‘murderous’ regime in Damascus.”

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2097480/Syria-violence-William-Hague-warns-dictator-Assad-help-rebels.html

  15. prianikoff on said:

    #12 “..the SP/ CWI position just looks like an abstract wish list rather than anything relating to what’s possible based on the actual situation on the ground.”

    The Russian and Chinese governments were right to prevent a UN rubber stamp for intervention.
    But are they likely to be able to persuade Bashar to self-reform the system in Syria?
    Probably not.
    While he has created a “New Guard” around him, Bashar’s ultimate imperative is to defend the regime and the ruling family dynasty.
    To do so succesfully requires a system of patronage that can deliver the goods to regime supporters.

    But in an economic crisis, with rising food and fuel prices, this becomes impossible.
    Hence, as elsewehere in the Arab world, mass protests have errupted, in which real grievances are being expressed.

    NATO and the Gulf petro-monarchies have a counter-revolutionary solution to this crisis;
    Impose sanctions, provide logistical aid to the FSA and build up the Syrian National Congress.
    If this fails to overthrow the regime, Plan B is military intervention, using the pretext of a ‘humanitarian aid’ mission.

    But there are already ample grounds for regarding the FSA as their creature.

    * It’s not run by committees of rank and file soldiers, but by ex- Syrian Army officers, based in Turkey.

    * It’s highly likely that military advisers from Qatar and Britain are already working with it.

    * It is completely devoid of any political programme,
    Its main strategy is to secure Western military backing.

    Where the SP/CWI position (and others like it) has some resonance, is in seeing that the current situation can’t be resolved by dialogue and diplomacy alone.
    This is attempting to impose a bureaucratic framework onto a situation that has already acquired a revolutionary dynamic.

    An alternative would be to recognise the potential of the mass movement and build a leadership.

    Homs is a large industrial city with a population of well over a million in its metropolitan area, many factories and large workplaces.
    It’s thus not abstract to argue that the working class should form popular committees that put forward its own demands.
    These would include opposition to foreign intervention, to government corruption and privatisation.

    If this doesn’t happen, it will allow the FSA-SNC, aided by its foreign backers to take control of the opposition.
    Rather than falling in line with the humanitarian intervention discourse, workers in British trade unions could be assisting them.

  16. Jimmy Haddow:
    “Democratically run workers’ defence committees urgently need to be built in every community and workplace, with the right to distribute arms. Alongside these, workers’ committees are needed that can organise and link together regionally and nationally to build a mass revolutionary movement capable of reaching its goals… inspire them to join the side of the revolution, as the Bolsheviks did in Russia in 1917

    etc, etc…

    LMAO. Speaking as a supporter of the Cuban revolution, what is really needed is for the Syrian workers and peasants to take to the hills and fight a guerrilla war, as the 26 July Movement did in 1956.

  17. titch mitch on said:

    oppose imperialist intervention-it only has one goal in the region- to turn all the hope of the Arab Spring in to a western step forward and installation of pro-western puppet regime
    anyone with simple illusions about mass uprisings as being a possibility for progressive advancement without looking at all the forces and states involved is naive at a minimum and an imperialist stooge/propaganda merchant at worst

  18. skidmarx on said:

    #17 If only the workers and peasants of Belgium and Holland would take that advice:

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, someone has been linking the struggles across the Middle East, but it’s only those middle-class do-gooders from Amnesty, so rest safe that you’re still the voice of British workers:
    THOUSANDS RALLY IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE IN SOLIDARITY WITH PROTESTORS IN SYRIA, EGYPT AND THE WIDER REGION

    For those who’ve been quoting DEBKAfile as a source for the claim that Western Special Forces are running the Syrian insurgency, might note this:
    Bashar Assad will soon finish crushing the popular and armed resistance against him, helped by arms and military backing from Russia, Iran and Hizballah.

  19. Karl Stewart on said:

    I like what Prianikoff has done at post (15) above.

    He’s taken Jimmy Haddow’s SP/CWI robotic jargon and translated it into plain English, explaining and substantiating the main points, with reference to facts on the ground as far as he’s aware of them, as he goes.

    I’m still not convinced by what he says, but at least it’s a readable and thought-provoking analysis.

    SP comrades, take a read – if you put your points over in plain English, then you’ll be taken far more seriously.

  20. Feodor Augustus on said:

    Vanya:
    #15 That all makes sense but I repeat, in the abstract.

    It’s all should would and could.

    Maybe, maybe not. To me, it seems like the main stumbling block of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has been that, hitherto, it has been unable to articulate many coherent political demands. Its protest without direction.

    I’ve seen many crowds chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’, but how any have *demanded* ‘bread and work’? I don’t think such a shift is beyond the realms of possibility, and what prianikoff has said is certainly one way of doing this – even though I doubt that it would occur in quite that way.

    @#20: well said, totally agree.

    PS. Does anyone now what type of code this board uses? I can’t work out how to bold and italicise words. Maybe the mods could put up a guide for all of us who aren’t very tech savvy?

  21. While not supporting western intervention, I feel you are truth-bending to make your case. “the Syrian people are certainly justified in demanding reforms from a regime that for too long has placed an over emphasis on security at the expense of civil rights” scarcely begins to do justice to a regime that has in the past killed tens of thousands of its own citizens and today continues to commit crimes against humanity. Surely socialists should be outraged by this, even if they correctly recognise that western bombing would make things worse?

  22. brokenwindow on said:

    It’s awfully quiet on the Labour front bench;are they counting how many defence contracts will be affected?

  23. David Hillman on said:

    Yes there is an Arab Spring – except it did not begin last spring. It is a movement for economic justice for the poor and a protest, especially amonst the young, against arbitrary arrest and torture, and a national no human opposition to dominance by pro-Western pro Israel regimes.
    Only a few of the dissident youth belong to a jeunesse doree who want more privitisation, more westernisation, and cooperation with the wast on racist immigration control.
    But there is no excuse in this instance (actually there was no excuse over Libya for anyone willing to search out the facts) for failure to realise that the people the west want to support and ally with are the reverse of democratic and include sectarian killers.
    This from Paul Wood in the Guardian. http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/world/2012/feb/11/syria-homs-frontline-baba-amr

    Afterwards one of the Free Army fighters showed me a video he had taken in December. A dozen men in Syrian army uniform were lined up facing a wall. They arms were raised; one turns to the camera looking petrified. Some were still bleeding. Despite their army uniforms, he said their ID cards showed they were Shabiha, or “ghosts”, the hated government paramilitary force.
    “We killed them,” he told me.
    “You killed your prisoners?”
    “Yes, of course, that is the policy for Shabiha.”
    I checked with an officer. While soldiers were released, he said, members of the Shabiha were executed after a hearing before a panel of Free Syrian Army military judges. To explain, they showed me film taken from the mobile phone of a captured Shabiha. Prisoners lay face down on the ground, hands tied behind their backs. One by one, their heads were cut off. The man wielding the knife said, tauntingly, to the first: “This for freedom.” As his victim’s neck opened, he went on: “This is for our martyrs. And this is for collaborating with Israel.”
    And this from the Angry Arab. http://angryarab.blogspot.com/2012/02/corrective-to-western-media-take-on.html
    The sectarianism of the Syrian opposition is persistently played down by the international media…Core areas of the insurgency, where the Sunni are in the overwhelming majority, increasingly see Alawites, Shia and Christians as heretics to be eliminated….Television reporting and much print journalism is skewed towards portraying an evil government oppressing a heroic people. Evidence that other forces may be at work is ignored. An example of this came on Friday when two suicide bombers struck security compounds in Aleppo, killing 28 people and wounding 235 others. The obvious explanation was that Sunni suicide bombers, mostly operating through al-Qa’ida in Mesopotamia, who have been attacking Shia-dominated security forces in Iraq, are now doing the same in Syria. But, fearing their moderate image might be tarnished, spokesmen for the opposition swiftly said that the suicide bombings were a cunning attempt by the Syrian security forces to discredit the opposition by blowing themselves up
    ——-
    Our main job in Britain is surely to oppose any intervention or special forces.

  24. Mike #22: “…today continues to commit crimes against humanity. Surely socialists should be outraged by this, even if they correctly recognise that western bombing would make things worse?”

    Except that:-
    a) the incessant propaganda on Syria from the media & Western politicians is a key part of the campaign for Western bombing; and
    b) that propaganda, as is clear from the Arab League observer mission report + other info, is a mixture of wild exaggeration and blatant invention.

    Hence, rather than joining in the propaganda drive, we should be challenging it.

  25. Jimmy Haddow on said:

    Can I ask did anyone read the commentary I posted and not just the quoted section. The critique puts the quotation in context. Instead of the sectarian table thumping read and comprehend before you spew the anti-CWI vomit.

  26. Jimmy Haddow: spew the anti-CWI vomit

    Jimmy are you serious? Your persecution complex both on behalf of your party and yourself is breathtaking.

    “Vomit”? Ffs what are you on?

    You really need to grow a thicker skin.

  27. cliff foot on said:

    #25 – well said Mike, of course there is propaganda from Western sources of various hues. Of course thhe uprising against the butcher Assad, has problems within. But this is secondary, the people of Syria are being used a s puppets by the Great Powers (Russia, China and the U S -no surprise there, all are ruled by self interested elites). Heres to the downfall of Assad, but as we know, if it is coming, it is at a huge price to ordinary Syrians. Some of the comments on the left about Syria are despicable eg Socialist Action, essentially,virtually, pro Assad.

    There are incredibly brave Syrian leftists who are fighting for democratic demands, i hope they succeed.

  28. cliff foot: “There are incredibly brave Syrian leftists who are fighting for democratic demands”

    Would (or will) the ‘downfall of Assad’ bring socialism any closer in Syria?

  29. Whatever the truth about casualty numbers, whatever the political shade of the armed opposition to Assad, and whatever the machinations of regional and not-so-regional powers in this conflict, it seems to have been pretty well established that the Syrian armed forces have been using artillery against the built-up and densely-populated areas where the insurgents are based. This indiscriminate method of warfare has led to the deaths and maiming of a considerable number of non-combatants – just how many, we don’t know yet. The fact that the opposition may have an interest in inflating the figures does not mean that considerable numbers of innocent people are not being blown apart by Syrian government shells.

    Back in 2008, nobody here had any qualms about characterising Israel’s use of similar methods against Gaza as a war crime, which it was. If those methods were criminal then, they are criminal now. No useful purpose could be served by pretending otherwise – we would fool nobody except ourselves.

    The case against Western military intervention is simply that it would almost certainly make a bad situation worse.

  30. cliff foot on said:

    #30 – thats right, as for Noah’s question, who can say, depends on a whole number of variables. But, frankly, were the despot to go, due to mass, popular mobilisations, as has characterised the Arab Spring, then, yes, this could, potentially, see steps forward to socialist goals.

    There are, as said, Syrians putting themselves on the ultimate front line, for such ideals. They are against Assad and Western intervention. As such, they deserve our support, in whatever ways we can give it them.

  31. Sorry Francis, I don’t buy that account and neither should you.

    Less than a year ago we were being ‘informed’ of all the ‘indiscriminate’ attacks on civilians & civilian areas in Libya, allegedly by the Gaddafi regime. However when the verified casualty figures came out for the rebel-held areas, they were not compatible with that story- the number of women & children casualties was extremely low, contrary to what would result from indiscriminate attacks.

    As you mention the Israeli attack on Gaza, the proportion of women & children casualties there was very much higher.

  32. Darkness at Noon on said:

    Calvin: etc, etc…

    LMAO. Speaking as a supporter of the Cuban revolution, what is really needed is for the Syrian workers and peasants to take to the hills and fight a guerrilla war, as the 26 July Movement did in 1956.

    You really haven’t got the slightest clue about how stupid your suggestion sounds, right?

    Do you know anything about Syria, the demographics, size of the country, the strength of the Syrian military?

    This is not corrupt and divided Cuba in 1956, this is not the Long March in 1949 FFS. You can’t just up an urban uprising and transplant it to say, Northern Aleppo in this day and age.

    People and fighters are trapped and surrounded – any breakout would result in annihilation. They need no fly zones – but your support for the Chinese/Russian initiatives means this will never happen.

    The logistics and resources required to do what you casually throw out as a solution to the “workers and peasants” (an almost facetious description of the realities on the ground) are immense. The unity and strength of purpose to achieve it virtually impossible. The state controls every aspect of the country, its reach immense, ruthless and deadly.

    Guerilla wars have been taking place on and off for years in the region. If you have an air force and powerful military they can and will be contained. The Turks have destroyed their Kurdish rebels and murdered tens of thousands of civilians and fighters. Likewise, the Saddam regime did the same in Northern Iraq until no-fly zones were implemented.

    What you propose is madness.

  33. cliff foot: “due to mass, popular mobilisations, as has characterised the Arab Spring, then, yes, this could, potentially, see steps forward to socialist goals.”

    You seem to have the idea that having large numbers of people out on the streets as part of some kind of political campaign is a sign of things going in a potentially progressive or socialist direction.

    Did you not notice the colour revolutions?

  34. #32 We have no idea of the extent to which the casualties have been exagerated (or not for that matter).

    #33 I read those comments as ironic, responding to one strategy plucked from a non-analagous historical situation with another.

    Maybe I was wrong.

  35. Noah – are you seriously denying that the Syrian government has been shelling Homs? Shells are by their very nature indiscriminate – they are a blast weapon. When fired into populated areas, they kill and maim whoever happens to be nearby, combatant or non-combatant. And if a government chooses to use them to suppress an insurrection, it speaks volumes about the value it places on the lives of its own citizens.

    Of course, I hope the final death toll turns out to be much lower than the opposition has been claiming. We shall see.

  36. cliff foot on said:

    #32 -what ‘account’ is that? Are you aware that u are in danger of sounding like an apologist for Assad. Or would u prefer the regime stays? Just watch Al -jeezera, re what is going on in Syria, and casualties, and thats just for starters. Better still, hhave a look at some of the footage taken, by Syrian leftists. Or are they and Al-Jeezera part of ‘the propaganda drive’?!

    Given your name, maybe you should take the moat from your eye.

  37. cliff foot on said:

    #34 – try talking to some of those who were/in many cases, still are, in Tahir Sq. You might, just might, learn something from them, particularly the left and the trade unionists who were and are central to what is good in Egypt, right now.

  38. @ Darkness at Noon #33, and also skidmarx #19.

    What a pair of dimwits you are. Calvin’s post was a piss-take of Jimmy Haddow’s ridiculous formula for ‘Democratically run workers’ defence committees’ etc etc.

    He even flagged that up rather clearly for the ironically challenged. LMAO means Laughing My Arse Off.

  39. skidmarx on said:

    #39 Perhaps the CIA can explain to you why I was joking. I think they used to have some hills in the Low Countries, but they’ve been dismantled by NATO to drop on the Russians.

  40. Cliff -Foot

    Well I think Al jazeera, owned as it is by the Qatari royals is playing the same propagands role ad it did for Libya.

    I am surprised you doubt it.

  41. cliff foot #37: “Or are they and Al-Jeezera part of ‘the propaganda drive’?!”

    Don’t know which ‘leftists’ you are referring to. But of course Al-Jeezera is part (a leading part) of the propaganda drive.

    Cliff, don’t you know who owns and controls Al-Jeezera? It’s the Royal Family of Qatar, which together with Saudi Arabia leads the Arab Gulf Kingdoms. Those monarchies, btw, have among the most vile social systems in the world, the vast majority of the workforce (& in most cases, of the population) are ‘non-citizens’ with no rights & living in poverty.

    Qatar & Saudi Arabia are arming and funding the opposition in Syria, like they did in Libya, and promoting it via their media stations.

  42. @ Francis #36. Nobody here knows, with any likelihood let alone certainty, what weapons are being used & how, by either side in Homs.

    To an extent that’s because, at the insistence of the USA, the Arab League Observers were pulled out of Syria.

    When they were there, their account contradicted the Western / Al-Jazeera version of events.

  43. Feodor Augustus on said:

    At first glance, Noah’s position does seem to fly in the face of the ‘facts’. But then not that long ago it was a ‘fact’ that Gaddafi was levelling cities with fighter jets. That didn’t withstand critical examination, perhaps some of the events in Syria won’t either.

    Regardless, it’s a lose-lose position: at present, you’ll be cast as an apologist; and even if you turn out to be right, by then enough time will have elapsed to mean that no one will care whether you were correct. News topics change so fast that an issue is cast into oblivion in the space of a month. Just look at Libya or Egypt or Tunisia.

    Thus even if Noah’s is right, I think on pragmatic grounds anti-war activists should stick (at least ‘officially’) to the succinct position Francis King stated: ‘The case against Western military intervention is simply that it would almost certainly make a bad situation worse.’ Or else we risk getting bogged down in a moral quagmire which will only damage our reputations, irrespective of whether we are correct or not.

    It is sad but true that in this information heavy age where the truth is supposed to be easily accessible, media manipulation is so strong that critical analysis/revisionist interpretations must wait for the dust to settle. If you offer them at the time, you’ll either be dismissed as a wack-a-doodle or pilloried as an apologist. Either way, that won’t strengthen the anti-intervention side in the public consciousness, it will only damage it.

  44. Karl Stewart on said:

    Feodor is right – I think we can all agree that UK intervention will certainly make a bad situation worse and I think we can all unite around the position: “UK keep out of Syria – no more Iraqs and no more Libyas.”

    Whether we are among those who have expressed “support” for the anti-government movement or not, at least we can all agree that we oppose UK intervention.

    But within that, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t continue to express our differences.

    For my part, I’m simply unconvinced by an argument that essentially relies on hope that an anti-Assad insurrection will, inevitably, lead in a progressive direction.

    The rather comical “Life of Brian” tone struck by the SP here is easy to simply laugh off. But even when translated into English and presented as a coherent argument by Prianikoff, it still a position that seems to rely on wishful thinking. And the SWP’s position comes across as very similar in essence – they give the impression of crossing their fingers and hoping a progressive outcome will emerge from this chaos.

    But none of these UK left “supporters” of the Syrian opposition have been able to identify, or even quote a statement from, any significant pro-working class/left/socialist organisations on the ground among the Syrian opposition.

    If this insurrection is being led by, or even has a significant input from, Syrian working class/left/socialist organisations, then let’s hear from them?

    Let’s hear first hand about mass strikes, plans for workers’ democracy, wealth equality etc.

    Convince people that a progressive outcome to an anti-Assad insurrection is more likely than another NATO conquest – as happened in Libya.

    Make your case comrades.

    Until then, the position: “UK keep out of Syria – no more Iraqs and no more Libyas” is indeed a limited one, but in my opinion the right one in the circumstances.

  45. Darkness at Noon,

    Oh dear, let me explain it to you then. Jimmy Haddow crudely borrowed a template from Russia in 1917 and sought to impose it on the very different circumstances of Syria in 2012. By randomly substituting Cuba for Russia, I was highlighting the absurdity of his approach. Far from Jimmy having presented a “Marxist analysis”, i.e. an analysis based on the prevailing material conditions in Syria, his one-size-fits-all formula is an object lesson in idealism.

  46. #46 A problem, as I have learned, with trying to do irony online- it frequently doesn’t work with email either.

  47. cliff foot on said:

    #41 and 42 , yes, i know who owns Al-Jeezera, and its interesting that many on the British leeft who used to praise the station now cry ‘Foul’. The point is that as others have said, the scum who surround Assad are butchering many in the population. To point tis out seems undoable by some, shame on them. In the fog of civil war,

    obviously, clarity on what is happening on the ground is fast moving and often confusing.
    Thankyou for the info about the Saudi Royal scum and Qatar, Noah, i was unaware of that, not. Re Karl Stewart, yes, ‘no to intervention’, no one here is arguing that are they? As for your point re ‘where are the left demands’ etc? Those on the left, living under the regimes they have done, over decades, are finding their voice and a space, and respect is owed for that. Is it any bloody wonder that they aven’t got a significant part in the uprising at the mo?
    I am sure that when the working class of Syria have a fully worked out programme of maximum and mininum demands, you will be one of the first to have it e mailed to you.

  48. After (fairly) diligent searching I have been unable to find any trace of a trotskyite vanguard actually present in Syria and able to offer on-the-speot guidance to the Syrian proletariat. (actually a cursory Google search had to suffice)
    However there is a quite interesting and seemingly well informed piece here that offers some insight ion the tangled world of the Syrian opposition
    http://21stcenturymanifesto.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/syrias-uprising-in-context/

  49. #48

    ‘its interesting that many on the British leeft who used to praise the station now cry ‘Foul’.’

    This is a rigid and formulaic attitude to politics. Al Jazeera at one time did play a progressive role vis-a-vis Iraq, but this reflected the political orientation of the Qatari government at that time. Now the Qataris are on board with the West in redrawing the region, which for the Gulf States means reasserting the dominance of Sunni Islam and minimising the perceived threat posed by Iran and its allies. This seems pretty obvious to me.

    ‘yes, ‘no to intervention’, no one here is arguing that are they?’

    Yes, I’m afraid they are, albeit indirectly. How else is the Syrian opposition going to topple Assad without western intervention? It was the same in Libya. The idea that you can call for the toppling of Assad while at the same time opposing intervention is opportunism. You can’t. Which is why the only principled position for the left in this country is a ceasefire and an end to the violence without preconditions, as many on here are calling for.

    To oppose intervention while calling for the opposition to continue its armed struggle is to in effect call for the opposition to be crushed. At best this is reckless, at worst mendacious.

    This is not a game.

  50. What I dislike about John Wright’s posts is that they start from the premise that pretty well everything bad that happens in the ME and elsewhere is the West’s fault. Obviously, that region, more than any other in the world, is shot through with imperialism – major (NATO) and minor (KSA). And it goes without saying that hypocrisy is rife. But the single minded agenda John writes to ends up with gross distortions, allies and omissions.

    The distortions:
    ‘However, the unintended consequence of the West’s role in sowing chaos in Iraq and Libya is the Syrian regime’s adoption of lethal force against the Syrian opposition, with a view to destroying it before the West is able to intervene’.
    So it’s the Assad’s regimes legitimate fear of internal chaos that has provoked the regimes on-going bloody massacre of its opponents is it? How about this as an alternative explanation? The Assad regime is a brutal kleptocracy that instinctively reacts – above all Hama in 1982 where the Syrian army slaughtered 30,000 after a Muslim Brotherhood uprising – with extreme violence to any threat to its rule. In terms of its use of violence, there is ample evidence that the Chinese and Russian veto at the UN encouraged the regime to let lose all its guns on the people of Homs. And no, saying that – it’s obviously the case – doesn’t mean, ergo, that I support a resolution that would have edged a way to military intervention.

    The allies:
    John publishes articles of the Chinese State News agency, one of the most hackneyed sources imaginable, on SU and quotes approvingly Russian ministers. Has it struck him that, particularly the Russia ruling class, has vested geopolitical and commercial motives in its support of the Assad regime and, for internal reasons, is hardly minded to encourage democracy movements at present?

    The omissions:
    I’m sure John is as moved as anyone by the awful scenes of death and suffering in Homs on our TV screens. But I haven’t seen one word of condemnation of the bombing from him in numerous contributions on SU. Of course, the subtext of the media reporting that goes along with this – ‘we’ must do something, i.e. intervene militarily – should be opposed. But some of the contributions on SU have sought to play the distasteful ‘what about _’ card in relation to the humanitarian catastrophe in Homs – I’m sure they’d reject it when apologists for Israel do the same. As much as socialists should oppose imperialism, they should express solidarity for people who seek liberation from oppression – and are dying in the thousand to try to achieve it right now in Syria. As for those in the Syrian opposition who now – they haven’t always – call for external help, it isn’t that surprising is it? If a fascist was beating you to death, would you reject the help of nearby policeman as he’s instrument of the ruling class?

  51. #51

    Sam writes:

    ‘What I dislike about John Wright’s posts is that they start from the premise that pretty well everything bad that happens in the ME and elsewhere is the West’s fault.’

    Then he/she writes in the very same paragraph:

    ‘Obviously, that region, more than any other in the world, is shot through with imperialism – major (NATO) and minor (KSA). And it goes without saying that hypocrisy is rife.’

    I’d say that in one paragraph Sam has revealed the cognitive dissonance which has plagued a section of the left when it comes to the ME, responsible for it finding itself perilously close to lining up with its own ruling class. They are either unable to or refuse to acknowledge the concrete historical factors responsible for the development of the region and its deep contradictions.

    You can choose to ignore the weather and walk around naked in winter. However, the weather won’t ignore you.

    I think it was Trotsky himself who said that, or something like it.

  52. Jimmy Haddow on said:

    I am really loathed to intervene on this website because of the misrepresentation made by some contributors of the ideas that I or the CWI put forward. Some say it is irony that it is being displayed here but I do not agree, I would suggest that it is pure slanting of a the ideas of the Committee of a Workers’ International, CWI, because the majority of contributors have a difficulty with standing up for the working class and poor to take the situation in their own hand and use it to fashion a new society. The reality is while the mass of the working class know what they do not want, which is the present conditions, they do not know what they want, that socialist alternative. I would like to suggest that most of the ‘old hacks’ on this website also do not know what they want, and continually berate any suggestion of a socialist alternative being put forward.

    Once again the Marxist analysis I put up earlier on the on-going situation in Syria, and beyond I will post again here:
    http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/5570

    The prognosis is conditional because of the multitude of variants that is in the situation. But one thing is made clear and that is working class activists should not be supporting the Assad regime and/or the pious rumblings of the western ruling class, Russia, China and the Arab countries for the concerns of the Syrian working class and poor.

    What it comes down is a programme to be formulated that progress the interests of all working people and poor and guarantees full democratic rights for all minority sections in Syria. It also suggests that for this to take place and to defend those rights, as well as defend workers against the attacks by the Assad regime, that democratically run workers and soldiers’ defence committees be built in the communities and workplaces. Linking this in with creation and assembling of workers and soldiers’ committees on a local, regional and national basis to build a revolutionary movement to overthrow the Assad regime and take power away from the capitalist forces that will attempt to intervene in Syria. Within that is the building of a Socialist party that puts forward a programme of public ownership of the main levers of the economy, and I am not going to say what because I am not in Syria and I do not know, but put them under workers’ control and management and the reconstruction of a new society that would be a beacon to the rest of the oppressed in the Middle East and beyond. And for, the historically and politically illiterate, that is the reason why Russia 1917 was used; because the Russia Revolution both February, but more importantly October, sent a socialist revolutionary wave both westwards and eastwards that lasted for several years.

    The CWI political and organisational programme stand for the working class to build mass independent working class movements and parties and for the socialist reconstruction of society, whether it is in Britain or Syria or Russia or the USA, it does not matter. Not for keeping the status quo and that is capitalism as an economic and social system.

  53. Karl Stewart on said:

    Cliff Foot, I wasn’t asking for anyone in Syria to email me their demands. (I’m sure they’ve got far better things to do than send emails to uninfluential and isolated individuals in the UK)

    What I was asking you and your fellow UK left “supporters” of the Syrian anti-Assad movement was to provide some evidence of the existence of significant pro-working class/left/socialist organisation within this opposition movement.

    I think, at this time, the UK left should focus solely on the position: “UK keep out of Syria – no more Iraqs, no more Libyas.”

    It’s excellent that you agree with this position, but if you think the UK left should go further, and work to raise real, practical support for the “left-wing” of the anti-Assad opposition – something that the UK working-class,left and progressive movement could, hypothetically be mobilised to do – then you and your co-thinkers first need to prove that this “left-wing” actually exists in some significance.

    So far, you’ve done no more than either engage in idealistic wishful thinking (the SWP), or tried to export a ready-made blueprint to Syria (the SP).

    All I’ve seen so far are TV news reports of extremely large crowds of Assad supporters waving the Syrian and Russian flags and smaller, but still very large, crowds of anti-Assad people waving a slighty different version of the Syrian flag and burning Russian flags.

    I haven’t seen evidence of a significant “left-wing.”

    You seem to be suggesting there is a strong “left-wing” among the opposition, but they’re all still too scared to come out.

    But that doesn’t make any sense does it Cliff?

    If these “Syrian leftists” are “brave” enough to stand up to Assad’s armed forces militarily, then why on earth would they be too frightened to talk about socialism to their fellow oppositionists?

  54. So leaving aside the weather analogy John – it always amuses me just how many males in Liverpool including my son choose to wear shorts even in mid winter and claim when asked if their cold that they’re ‘OK’, there’s more to it than macho pride, but I don’t want to get into that – do you think that it’s either one or the other? Either you are opposed to imperialism and think that everything bad happens in the region is the fault of imperialism. Or, if you don’t think it’s quite that simple, you somehow suffer from ‘cognitive dissonance’ and inadvertently or not ‘line up with their ruling class’. Could it be, to use some pretentious jargon borrowed from sociology not psychology, both exdogenous and endogenous factors/analysis are required to explain the Arab world and elsewhere?

  55. So leaving aside the weather analogy John – it always amuses me just how many males in Liverpool choose to wear shorts even in mid winter and claim when asked if their cold that they’re ‘OK’, there’s more to it than macho pride, but I don’t want to get into that – do you think that it’s either one or the other? Either you are opposed to imperialism and think that everything bad happens in the region is the fault of imperialism. Or, if you don’t think it’s quite that simple, you somehow suffer from ‘cognitive dissonance’ and inadvertently or not ‘line up with your ruling class’. Could it be, to use some pretentious jargon borrowed from sociology not psychology, both exdogenous and endogenous factors/analysis are required to explain the Arab world and elsewhere?

  56. faultylpgic on said:

    “What I was asking you and your fellow UK left “supporters” of the Syrian anti-Assad movement was to provide some evidence of the existence of significant pro-working class/left/socialist organisation within this opposition movement.”

    You may not have noticed but any such organisations are banned…duh what a idiot..

  57. #53 Jimmy what I suspect most people on here have little time for is not the idea of a working class socialist alternative, but long articles telling us often what we could easily find out elsewhere, combined with a list of things that should and could be done without any serious (if any) analysis of how these are linked to the real situation on the ground.

    If it makes you feel you are a better socialist with a superior marxist analysis (as opposed to the out and out idealism which it actually is) to keep browbeating us with this verbaiage then good for you. But don’t be surprised when you get a negative reaction, and please try and take it like an adult.

    I will say that it is postive that in recent years your current has become more consistent in opposing imperialist intervention.

    Can we trust that if David C tries to do a Maggie and have another scrap with Argentina that you will be calling for withdrawal of the fleet this time and not the “marxist” postion of a socialist federation of Britain, Argentina and the Falklands?

  58. faultylpgic: You may not have noticed but any such organisations are banned

    I’m not clear, but isn’t it common for opposition organisations to be banned by dictatorships? Does that mean they don’t exist?

    Or am I an idiot as well?

  59. The Wikipedia article

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_parties_in_Syria

    and the links from it are an interesting read. Much of the Syrian “left” has long been co-opted by the regime, which itself has socialist pretensions and has operated a largely state-controlled economy for years. This makes it highly unlikely that socialist ideas are going to have much attraction for the opposition, especially given that there is the alternative “revolutionary” ideology of Islamism, and that the effective supporters of the opposition (the ones who can supply weapons and resources, rather than just pious resolutions or calls to form Soviets) are all highly anti-socialist. The Assad regime is appalling in lots of ways, but I can see no grounds for optimism that its replacement (replacements?), if it is overthrown by the insurgency, will be an improvement.

  60. Karl Stewart on said:

    faultylpgic:
    “What I was asking you and your fellow UK left “supporters” of the Syrian anti-Assad movement was to provide some evidence of the existence of significant pro-working class/left/socialist organisation within this opposition movement.”
    You may not have noticed but any such organisations are banned…duh what a idiot..

    So, you’re saying that pro-working class/left/socialist organisations are banned within the anti-Assad movement.

    Well I have to admit that I didn’t know the anti-Assad movement had banned working-class/left/socialist organisations, but I think your description of me as an “idiot” for not having known this is a bit harsh.

    No-one on this thread so far seems to have been aware of this “ban”.

    Even the UK left “supporters” of the anti-Assad movement don’t seem to have been aware of this ban on working class/left/socialist organisations by the anti-Assad movement.

    So if I’m and “idiot”, perhaps we’re all “idiots”.

    But if what you’re alleging is true, then at least it certainly settles the debate as to whether there’s a progressive element within the anti-Assad movement.

    (Provided there’s no “fault” in your “logic” of course!)

  61. skidmarx on said:

    Karl – Before you distorted someone else’s argument, did you consider addressing the possibility that what was meant was that such organisations were banned by the Assad regime, which would again render the whole of your argument irrelevant?

  62. skidmarx on said:

    #53 I had a look through the post one of your comrades put up a couple of threads ago after christian h took the piss out of it, and although I would disagree with some of the language and might quibble with some of the argument, thought it a welcome attempt to place the SP/CWI on the side of Syrian workers against the regime.
    You may have noticed a lot of misrepresentation goes on hereabouts.
    It seems clear that the two biggest organisations on the far left have a position that places much more significance in being anti-regime than most commenters here, who may feel that if they force such voices out they will have achieved some sort of victory, but will just make whatever discussion remains highly unrepresentative.

  63. skidmarx: if they force such voices out they will have achieved some sort of victory,

    Sorry, how will the alleged goal of forcing voices out manifest itself?

    What force is being applied?

  64. Karl Stewart on said:

    skidmarx:
    Karl – Before you distorted someone else’s argument, did you consider addressing the possibility that what was meant was that such organisations were banned by the Assad regime, which would again render the whole of your argument irrelevant?

    I did consider this possiboility briefly Skids, but there clearly is an active and visible anti-Assad movement in existence in Syria, one that is openly marching on the streets, openly declaring to anyone who’ll listen their utter hatred for the Assad regime and openly fighting against this regime with real guns.

    It’s a fair assumption that they’re all probably doing this without the official permission of the Assad regime.

    Given these circumstances, the notion that there could be a significant “left-wing” of this opposition movement, which is “bravely” hiding away until it receives the Assad regime’s official permission to organise seemed a rather far-fetched notion.

    (And I’m the “idiot”???)

  65. cliff foot on said:

    #55 and 62 – spot on, ‘cognitive dissonance’, indeed, thankyou, Dr Freud, or was it Konrad Lorenz….either way, i am just back on the couch now.

  66. cliff foot on said:

    #65 – Leftists, from what i know, are in the streets, and for whats it worth, yes, they are ‘brave’. No doubts there, point is that the left obviously starts from a weak position, broken, tortured and killed, as they were, by decades of dictatorship. Thats the bloody, literal reality, and no, i dont think its a game either.

  67. #67

    cliff foot: point is that the left obviously starts from a weak position, broken, tortured and killed, as they were, by decades of dictatorship. Thats the bloody, literal reality

    Then how are you so confident that these forces – that we don’t even know exist – can have any infleunce on the situation.

    Whereas, the Islamists and Sunni supremacists are acting with the flow of modern Middle eastern politics, are actively encouraged by foreign states, etc.

    Surely the dominant force within the opposition is likely to become increasingly the Islamists; especially as the situation becomes more militarised.

  68. Jimmy Haddow on said:

    #58 ~~~ “If it makes you feel you are a better socialist with a superior marxist analysis (as opposed to the out and out idealism which it actually is)”

    Is that ‘philosophical idealism’ or ‘moral idealism’? Two different things me thinks! I do not know if I am a better socialist! What I am articulating though is there should be no support for the national, regional and world capitalist class; and any programme that is advanced is the working class and poor must decide their own future through independent working class organisations such as trade unions, independent workers’ parties and of course a socialist organisation.

    “but long articles telling us often what we could easily find out elsewhere,”
    Well there is lots of long statements and quotations and links to other interpretations on this thread, as well as other threads, on this website which you do not seem to object to. So I can only presume that the reason you do not like the ‘long’ interpretations I do is because of its political content. Maybe if you want bite-size soundbites then read the Sun where I am sure you will be able to understand their analysis.

  69. skidmarx on said:

    Surely the dominant force within the opposition is likely to become increasingly the Islamists
    It was the Islamists that were massacred in Hama in 1982, it is part of the legacy of the Left preferring a secular dictatorship to the Islamists that has resulted in the Left having so little influence.
    [And particularly for Karl, no I don’t want to see a Caliphate in Syria: this would be another straw man not worth erecting]
    Which is likely to decline further if a priority is made of stopping popular self-defence under the pretence that they are the violent sectarians, and giving Assad a pass on the shelling and torture.
    When we don’t seem to be willing to allow SCAF the figleaf of being the best defence against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, is it really different in Syria because they are somehow in the other camp?

  70. brokenwindow on said:

    That is what Israel will be hoping for;
    this will give them political momentum to
    either act out some ‘event’ that will justify military action or intensify assassinations and other illegal means of attack/defence depending on the media.

  71. Jimmy Haddow: “but long articles telling us often what we could easily find out elsewhere,”

    “…combined with a list of things that should and could be done without any serious (if any) analysis of how these are linked to the real situation on the ground.” was what I actually said.

    That’s idealism, ie not materialism.

    As for the Sun, the benefit of that vile publication to the class it represents over yours to the class you seek to represent is that while also telling people what to think it does in fact do it a lot more effectively.

  72. Karl Stewart on said:

    skidmarx:
    And particularly for Karl, no I don’t want to see a Caliphate in Syria: this would be another straw man not worth erecting

    (Phew! That’s a relief Skids!)

    In all honesty, I’m sure you genuinely want a progressive outcome to this crisis – just as I do and I’m sure JimmyH does too.

    But there’s no evidence yet of any conciously left/socialist/progressive elements of any significance among the anti-Assad forces and such elements can neither be wished into existence by you nor instantly created by JimmyH and his mates with their “programme.”

    As I see it, the alternative outcomes are either a NATO-sponsored overthrow of Assad – another Libya.

    Or the crushing of the opposition by Assad – the continuation of the status quo. Syria remaining within Russia’s sphere of infuence, albeit with the potential addition of an enhanced role for China.

    I don’t think the UK left has a dog in that fight to be honest.

    We need to focus our efforts on the struggle for non-intervention of the UK.

  73. Karl Stewart:
    As I see it, the alternative outcomes are either a NATO-sponsored overthrow of Assad – another Libya.

    Or the crushing of the opposition by Assad…

    Were it not for Western interference, another option might be possible, ie a peaceful & negotiated way forward.

    Following the defeat by Russia & China of the regime change resolution at the UNSC, the Russians proposed a package including hosting talks between the government and opposition, cessation of violence by both sides, and return of the Arab League monitors.

    The USA condemned this proposal, and also, via the Pentagon, announced its ‘scoping exercise’ for a military attack on Syria. Thus a fairly clear US message to the Syrian opposition, ie: refuse negotiations, and don’t worry, you have the prospect that we will bomb you into power.

  74. #71

    skidmarx: giving Assad a pass on the shelling and torture.

    There is no doubt there is terrible killing and torture, but the casualty figures – even the high end ones quoted by the rebels – don’t suggest the widespread use of artillery. I don’t in any way want to minimise the deaths there have been, but use of artillery against civilian areas – as in Groszny – kills far more than the numbers so far quoted.

    The fact that the Syrian Army have not simply secured control of Homs by now, suggests that the rebels are themselves able to put up significant reistance.

    My point here is to have caution about media narratives.

  75. Skidmarx @ 71: “…it is part of the legacy of the Left preferring a secular dictatorship to the Islamists that has resulted in the Left having so little influence…” Not sure whether you are referring to the British left, which shouldn’t have or expect much influence in Syria anyway, or the Syrian left? The Syrian left knows all too well what Islamist rule would mean, which is why most of it has thrown its lot in with the Ba’athists and the Assad dynasty. The tragedy of that is that when Assad falls – as his regime probably will, sooner or later – what remains of the Syrian left is likely to fall with it.

  76. #77 The best comparison is possibly Afghanistan except that both factions of the PDPA probably had more going for them than the Ba-athists.

  77. skidmarx on said:

    #77 I was thinking of the Syrian Left. I generally agree with everything you’re saying here, even if I think
    “The Syrian left knows all too well what Islamist rule would mean” while generally true, in this context appears to suggest they went the right way, when as you point out, in reality it leads to their impotence.
    I’m reminded of Frederic Volpi’s Islam and Democracy:The Failure of Dialogue in Algeria, a country where similar mistakes were made.

  78. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    I doubt whether the “right way” involves tailing the Islamists either. That road too has ended in dead leftists. Iran after the Islamic Revolution is one obvious example.

    If the Sparts are to be believed, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has been calling the RS (Revolutionary Socialists) “violent”, (despite some attempts by the RS and other groups to court the Ikhwan), while the more radical Salafists have been calling the RS “CIA agents”. At the end of the day, Islamists and Marxists don’t mix.

  79. #79. I suppose I am arguing that the Syrian left as it actually is, rather than as some people might like to imagine it, is between a rock and a hard place.

  80. David Hillman on said:

    We should take care in our use of the word “Islamist” which conflates some very different groups of people.Not all are violent sectarian obscurantist or racist. Some are progressive and others can play a progressive role at certain times in certain situations. I am always most suspicious of those the U.S.A. choses to make alliance with.

  81. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    I think politically Shia tend to be to the left of Sunnis, generally speaking, but that didn’t stop Khomeini from persecuting the Iranian left.

    Shias, and offshoots like the Alawites in Syria and the Alevis in Turkey, have sometimes arisen as a form of political protest.

  82. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    This is what the UN Human Rights chief had to say:

    “I am very distressed that the continued ruthless repression and deliberate stirring of sectarian tensions might soon plunge Syria into civil war,” she said. “The longer the international community fails to take action, the more the civilian population will suffer from countless atrocities.”

    No doubt she is the cats paw of imperialism or something though.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/13/syrian-regime-emboldened-un-inaction

  83. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    “I think politically Shia tend to be to the left of Sunnis”

    Upon what do you base this claim?

  84. @ Harsanyi_Janos. Presumably you approve of what Navi Pillay is saying. So what exactly is this ‘action’ and who are the ‘international community’ who are supposed to carry it out?

  85. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    I would never question what the progressive duo of China and Russia think best; which is to send some Russian warships, glad hand the dictator’s henchmen, and sell some more weapons.

  86. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    “Oh and also, Harsanyi_Janos, who is allegedly deliberately ‘stirring sectarian tensions’, and in what way?”

    I think that it is quite clear that both sides are stirring these tensions — and that this stirring is often a polite term for murder. But I am sure that Assad is totally innocent and any claims to the contrary are simply “imperialist” propaganda.

  87. Harsanyi_Janos: “I think that it is quite clear that both sides are stirring these tensions — and that this stirring is often a polite term for murder.”

    I notice you give no facts or argument. And how on earth could stirring sectarian tensions possibly work for Assad, given that the Sunnis are 70% of the population, and the majority of recruits to the army?

    I suspect that you are just repeating nonsense from the media coverage, without stopping to think it through.

  88. And, by the way, how is this proposed ‘action’ by the ‘international community’ going to improve the situation re: sectarian tensions?

    It didn’t seem to have that effect in Iraq or Libya.

  89. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    “I notice you give no facts or argument. And how on earth could stirring sectarian tensions possibly work for Assad, given that the Sunnis are 70% of the population, and the majority of recruits to the army?”

    Stirring sectarian tensions would certainly help solidify support from him in the Christian and Alawite communities no? Since much of the army is Alawite; this is somewhat important.

  90. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    “I notice you give no facts… ”

    I think we all must agree that we are dependent on the little distorted and imperfect information that leaks out and is provided either by the regime, the rebels, or by one of several (not disinterested) outside groups.

  91. Harsanyi_Janos: Stirring sectarian tensions would certainly help solidify support from him in the Christian and Alawite communities no?

    The Christian and Alawite communities comprise less than 25% of the population. And Syria has a conscript army, the vast majority of recruits are Sunnis.

  92. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    “Much like Libya, the bulk of the Syrian Army consists of poorly trained and equipped conscripts, with most of the military budget being devoted to training and equipping the few divisions and other units believed most loyal to the regime and under the firm control of Alawi officers. ”

    http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,THE_JF,,SYR,,4e3fb2452,0.html

  93. @ 95. How would stirring up sectarianism possibly help Alawite officers to maintain their ‘firm control’ of Sunni troops?

  94. And BTW Harsanyi_Janos, you mentioned sectarian murders in your post #89. In what way could that possibly help the government side, given that Sunnis outnumber Alawites by appx 8 to 1?

  95. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    The claim is that the interior ministry, secret police, and certain “elite” troops are Alawite in composition.

    “Although some officers from the Sunni Muslim majority have been promoted to senior ranks, Sunni influence has been weakened and Assad’s brother Maher controls key military units packed with Alawite soldiers.”

    “Residents of Deraa, cradle of the Syrian protests, say Alawite forces commanded by Assad’s younger brother Maher have taken up positions around the southern city.

    Maher controls the Presidential Guard, the Republican Guard, and the Fourth Armoured Division — key units that form the security backbone of the state together with the Alawite-dominated secret police.”

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/06/us-syria-army-idUSTRE73543X20110406

  96. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    “you mentioned sectarian murders in your post #89. In what way could that possibly help the government side, given that Sunnis outnumber Alawites by appx 8 to 1″

    If Syria had elections, cementing the support of non-Sunnis by holding out the spectre of sectarian chaos being the only alternative to Assad-family control would be of little use. But it doesn’t and a numerically large well-armed minority can often be enough to control a larger poorly-armed or unarmed majority.

  97. @ 98 and 99. Even were that the case in Syria, a government based on minority active support needs at least acquiescence among the majority to survive. Sectarianising the conflict in Syria could (or will) only work against that- it would arouse the majority Sunnis against the small minority Alawites.

  98. And by the way, given that a big majority of conscripts in the Syrian army are Sunni, it is rather notable that, according to Nir Rosen (and contrary to the Western media drivel) only a minority of the anti-government armed groups are defectors from the army.

  99. Also, re: Navi Pillay, it’s notable that she was in the forefront of the campaign for the ‘No Fly Zone’, ie, the imperialist military attack on Libya:

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2011/02/libya-un-officials-says-a-no-fly-zone-may-be-necessary-to-protect-civilians.html

    After that wish was granted, she noted the mass imprisonments, killings, torture, rape of both men and women, etc etc, carried out by the NATO-installed regime:

    http://www.uruknet.info/?new=85332

    But that has clearly not deterred her from supporting the next ‘humanitarian’ adventure.

  100. prianikoff on said:

    One problem for a left-wing movement trying to develop independently of the Ba’ath party, is that historically, it’s been the focal point of the Syrian Left.

    Political groups that accept its “leading role”, such as Bakdash and the CP(Unified) are allowed to operate legally. They both support “reform from above” and adopt a neutral stance on the use of force between the demonstrators and government.

    Those engaged in armed opposition have tended to be linked to Muslim Brotherhood or to foreign powers, neither of which are left of the regime.

    To understand this division requires an examination of Syrian political history.
    The original ideologist of Syrian Ba’athism, Michel Aflaq was a French educated former Communist.
    He broke from the CP during the Popular Front period, when it failed to support Independence for Syria.
    He then developed a socialist-tinged nationalism, which saw Secularism as a way to overcome religious divisions within Syria.

    This ideology could never be fully accepted by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which promoted a radical populist interpretation of Islam. The MB has had a history of opposition ever since the Ba’ath Party took poiwer in 1963.

    The Ba’athist membership tended to come from poorer backgrounds and to support radical economic policies.
    While Sunni Muslims tended to dominated the souqs, own land and view government intervention in the economy as threatening to their economic interests.

    The leadership of the Ba’ath party was seen as disproportionately Alawite in religious persuasion.
    This non-conformist religious sect was not accepted as orthodox Muslims by Sunni traditionalists.

    After a military coup in 1970, Hafiz el Asad came to power, deposing a pro-Soviet Ba’athist faction led by Salah Jadid. Supported by the Syrian CP, Jadid had decreed the nationalisation of wide sections of the economy and banned rival parties.
    He’d adopted a militant foreign policy aimed at confronting Israel.

    But after Syria lost the Golan heights in 1967, Jadid’s credibility plummeted.
    His rival Asad represented the pragmatic wing of the Ba’ath party. This was less confrontational on international issues and more favourable to the domestic business class.

    After the split in the Ba’ath party, Michel Aflaq’s role in formulating Ba’athist ideology was downgraded.
    He was exiled by Asad and eventually made his way to Iraq, where he tried to gain the ear of Sadaam Hussein.
    When he died in Paris in 1989, Saddam claimed Aflaq had converted to Islam.
    Even though his family denied that a conversion ever took place, the Greek Orthodox Aflaq was given a Muslim funeral.

    To counteract sectarian divisions, Asad tried to integrate Alawite and Islamic beliefs into a homogenous ecumenical system. But such divisions remain latent in Syria and are something that right-wing fundamentalists can play upon; such slogans as “Alawis to the coffins, Christians to Beirut.” have been heard on recent demonstrations.

    A continuing source of bitterness is the Hama Massacre in 1982, which serves a similar role in Syrian politics to the Abu Selim prison massacre in Libya.
    While Hama was brutally repressed, it should not be imagined that the rebellion came from the regime’s left.
    As Patrick Seale has pointed out, Hama was a “stronghold of landed conservatism and of the Muslim Brothers,” and “had long been a redoubtable opponent of the Ba’athist state.”

    (Seale, Patrick. Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East, 1989)

  101. ” But it doesn’t and a numerically large well-armed minority can often be enough to control a larger poorly-armed or unarmed majority.”

    Is it not the case that most of the Syrian population is armed in the sense that most households have access to arms and ammunition?

  102. Darkness at Noon on said:

    Noah:
    @ 98 and 99. Even were that the case in Syria, a government based on minority active support needs at least acquiescence among the majority to survive. Sectarianising the conflict in Syria could (or will) only work against that- it would arouse the majority Sunnis against the small minority Alawites.

    You fail to factor in fear and physical repression in managing the majority of the population. Resistance can mean your family being obliterated or disappearing.

  103. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    “Is it not the case that most of the Syrian population is armed in the sense that most households have access to arms and ammunition?”

    I’m not sure about that — the fact that the opposition is allegedly seeking arms from the turks and the libyans suggests that it might not be.

  104. Harsanyi_Janos: “Is it not the case that most of the Syrian population is armed in the sense that most households have access to arms and ammunition?”I’m not sure about that — the fact that the opposition is allegedly seeking arms from the turks and the libyans suggests that it might not be.

    That would be a different sort of arms RPG’s et al. Most Syrian households I’m told have a gun about the place and most would be adequate for urban conflict. I have never heard that the Baathists disarmed the population.

  105. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    That is not the case, at least according to Gun Policy News an “international bulletin of firearm injury prevention. This organisation claims that comparing the “rate of private gun ownership in 179 countries, Syria ranked at No. 112″ with “3.92 firearms per 100 people”. This compares to “6.72 firearms per 100 people” in the UK.

    http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/syria

  106. Looking at your link it seems that gun dealers are not required to keep a record of who they sold to and that the cost of a modern assualt rifle is around $200. If that is so it would be hard to be definitive on who owned a gun.

    My own info came from a friend who has been in Syria and some Syrians who, I should say, are Christians. They may of course not be reflecting the wider experience.

    The Syrian average wage is about $3600 pa.

  107. #109 Given that Syria has a huge conscripted army, many of whom have served in Lebanon and many also are presumably reservists and given the number of Palestinian factions with links to Syria it would not surprise me if the place was not awash with “privately” held small arms.

  108. #110

    Vanya: it would not surprise me if the place was not awash with “privately” held small arms.

    In Syria, like in iraq, all households own semi-automatic weapons. this is not because of the wars/conscription, it is just a pretty standard part of the culture.

    This is certainly what i have been told by Syrian friends.

    I have no explanation for the figures that Janos quotes, but that may relate to the population age profile, where it could both be true that male adults have guns, but the overall gun ownership per head is low (children, women, not being armed)

  109. Darkness at Noon: You fail to factor in fear and physical repression in managing the majority of the population. Resistance can mean your family being obliterated or disappearing.

    I don’t think anybody is arguing that there has not been harsh political repression in Syria. Though ‘obliterating’ people is also a tactic of the opposition.

    Nevertheless, a level of acquiescence (as distinct from support or even consent) among the majority is needed for a government to survive.

    To target Sunnis _as Sunnis_ (ie, rather than as oppositionists) would be suicidal for the Syrian government.

  110. Noah if you were a security agent for the Syrian regime I might scrawl ‘complacent’ across your file. It is though rather a comical argument for a left. If counter-revolution succedes it just goes to show that the revolutionaries were wrong.

  111. The failure of the left to break from the regime is I suspect fueling sectarianism in the conflict. Idiocy beyond words. Anyone who believes that the survival of this regime will be good for those who oppose imperialism needs their head examining. Farcical.

  112. johng: Anyone who believes that the survival of this regime will be good for those who oppose imperialism needs their head examining.

    So does that mean conversely that the fall of the regime no matter the circustances and no matter who replaces it will be good for those who oppose imperialism?

    And no, suggesting that my question marks me out as a supporter of the regime or as not caring about the deaths of innocent civilians is not an answer.

  113. David Hillman on said:

    I don’t understand what Johng means by “the failure of the left to break from this regime” or “if counter revolution succeeds”. Could he elucidate.

  114. johng: Noah if you were a security agent for the Syrian regime I might scrawl ‘complacent’ across your file. It is though rather a comical argument for a left. If counter-revolution succedes it just goes to show that the revolutionaries were wrong

    Possibly I am a bit dim today, but I can’t work out what you are on about. Could you explain?

  115. johng: The failure of the left to break from the regime is I suspect fueling sectarianism in the conflict.

    As is sadly evident, Left wing groups can sometimes make very bad tactical and strategic misjudgements. However, should not the fact that the left in Syria (and in neighbouring countries) has ‘failed’ to ‘break from the [Syrian] regime’ give you some pause for thought?

    And by the way, in what way would the left being (critically) supportive of the secular government, or at least not agreeing with the armed actions of the opposition, be more likely to ‘fuel sectarianism’ than, on the other hand, throwing their lot in with the Muslim Ikhwan & Al Quaeda?

  116. Rather interesting article by former foreign minister Malcolm Rifkind in the Telegraph today. Quote:

    “In any event, the Russian and Chinese vetoes at the UN would prevent any Nato attack having the international legitimacy that was crucial to getting world and Arab opinion on side in Libya.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9082067/An-economic-blockade-can-defeat-President-Bashar-al-Assad.html

    What honesty & straightforward thinking, compared with the ‘left wingers’ who have joined in the Western outrage against the UNSC veto.

    The Russians & Chinese prevented the legitimacy required for giving the envisaged NATO attack its necessary support in world & Arab opinion.

    That’s what he said, ‘NATO attack’.

  117. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    I found the previous two sentences more telling:

    “Military intervention has, rightly, been ruled out. The Syrian insurgents, unlike their Libyan forerunners, do not already control large stretches of territory; this enabled Nato air power to protect the Libyans and prevent civilian massacres.”

    Unless Mr Rifkind has a greatly different assessment of the Syrian situation than those in power in Washington, Paris, and London; military intervention was never planned or as Noah says “envisioned”.

  118. Darkness at Noon on said:

    Noah:
    Rather interesting article by former foreign minister Malcolm Rifkind in the Telegraph today. Quote:

    “In any event, the Russian and Chinese vetoes at the UN would prevent any Nato attack having the international legitimacy that was crucial to getting world and Arab opinion on side in Libya.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9082067/An-economic-blockade-can-defeat-President-Bashar-al-Assad.html

    What honesty & straightforward thinking, compared with the ‘left wingers’ who have joined in the Western outrage against the UNSC veto.

    The Russians & Chinese prevented the legitimacy required for giving the envisaged NATO attack its necessary support in world & Arab opinion.

    That’s what he said, ‘NATO attack’.

    Actually he said ‘ANY Nato Attack’ and it seems fairly clear to me that he means that that would be one of several possible outcomes of a Western or UN-led intervention – a possible eventuality rather than a certainty – though of course I doubt Rifkind would back-off if he felt war was feasible.

    We all know why Russia & China vetoed. Syria = $$$$$$ to them. Russia even has a wonderful ‘colonial’ Naval Base in Syria.

  119. Harsanyi_Janos: military intervention was never planned or as Noah says “envisioned”.

    Nonsense. Rifkind’s reasons for ruling out a military attack are twofold:-

    1) Insurgents not able to control large enough areas of territory;
    2) The Russian & Chinese veto at the UNSC.

    These are clearly _not_ indicators that an attack was or is not envisaged; rather, they suggest that if the Syrian security forces were less successful in denying the opposition armed groups control of territory, and if the Russians & Chinese were less obdurate at the UN, a NATO attack would have the green light as far as Rifkind is concerned.

    So for now, he argues for the sanctions to be intensified into a siege of the country, including a naval blockade.

    Oh and by the way, our former foreign secretary has no problem using the words ‘NATO attack’. Why prettify that to ‘military intervention’?

  120. Darkness at Noon: I doubt Rifkind would back-off if he felt war was feasible.

    For sure.

    Darkness at Noon: Russia even has a wonderful ‘colonial’ Naval Base in Syria.

    Not as if the USA has any military bases outside its own territory! And, for the West, for Russia to lose that base would be a bit of a strategic coup, n’est-ce pas?

  121. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    “Nonsense. Rifkind’s reasons for ruling out a military attack are twofold:-

    1) Insurgents not able to control large enough areas of territory;
    2) The Russian & Chinese veto at the UNSC.”

    No, according to his article, his reason was a single one — that the insurgents controlled no (or not enough) territory. The Russian/Chinese veto — according to Rifkind — was not the determining factor.

    “Oh and by the way, our former foreign secretary has no problem using the words ‘NATO attack’. Why prettify that to ‘military intervention’?”

    I used the words “military intervention” since those were the terms used in the quote I referred to; I’m happy to use the term NATO attack too.

  122. Harsanyi_Janos: The Russian/Chinese veto — according to Rifkind — was not the determining factor.

    Hmmm. The UNSC veto is very clearly not the only factor, but it definitely is a rather important factor. If you read the article, Rifkind says:

    “…In any event, the Russian and Chinese vetoes at the UN would prevent any Nato attack having the international legitimacy that was crucial to getting world and Arab opinion on side in Libya.

    “Last week I had dinner with a former Russian prime minister who has many years of experience in the Middle East. He accepted that the Arab springs in Syria and elsewhere were spontaneous, popular uprisings and not the result of Western mischief, as claimed in Damascus, Tehran and, occasionally, Moscow. But he was adamant that Russia’s opposition to action through the UN would not change. The Russians had, he believed, made a serious mistake in allowing intervention in Libya. They would not do so again.”

    So, quite a long paragraph about why, in his account, the Russians will not lift their veto on ‘any NATO attack’ on Syria. So this is not a merely incidental matter.

    However, Janos, I don’t propose in any way that the other reason for no NATO military attack so far, ie the failure of the insurgent groups to control large stretches of territory, should be disregarded- – actually, it is very educational that you are flagging this up.

    This aspect, inevitably keenly understood by both sides on the ground in Syria, no doubt intensifies the ferocity of the fighting. Ie, the knowledge that, if the opposition can militarily take and hold large enough areas NATO will have the practical basis to launch an attack, leverages the importance (for insurgents and the government) of the battles for control of territory.

    A further reason why NATO’s role in this situation (even now, let alone any future attack) is destructive, among the key causes of the tragic loss of life in Syria.

  123. Brian O. on said:

    The idea that the western powers are champing at the bit to intervene militarily in Syria is silly. There are a host of factors that put that well on the back-burner – not least the Syrian government’s military capacity. The suggestion that it might move up the agenda were the opposition to gain a clearer territorial base is more plausible, but still far too remote to be a motivating force in opposition strategy. If the west has a military operation up its sleeve it will be some form of “surgical” operation against Iranian nuclear facilities – the groundwork for which is being laid by Israeli propaganda at the moment. There is no chance that NATO would want to engage in an operation in Syria at the same time. That is why they are placing their Syrian eggs in the diplomatic basket. There is an interesting article in Le Monde today arguing that Russia’s current stance is determined by Putin’s linking of the Syrian situation with western support for opposition forces in Russia and its peripheries. It suggest that the Russian diplomatic corps has a very different appreciation and that once the Russian presidential elections are out of the way Russia’s position could change. China already seems to be shifting its position in response to hostile reactions in the Arab world. The next few weeks could see some significant realignments.

  124. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    #85 – Sunni Islam is the majority branch of Islam, and has tended to be the “establishment” version in most places. Shia Islam and offshoots have often been a reaction against this. Talk of “left” and “right” may be ahistorical in Islam’s long history (Western concepts of left and right in political terms derive from no earlier than the French Revolution), but a social protest element has often been present in Shia or Shia-related outbreaks.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qarmatians

    The Qarmatians seem to have had very advanced views for their time, and although their sect died out, what is modern Bahrain with a majority Shia population today seems to have been one of their strongholds.

    Alevis are the Shia of Turkey, though this is something of an oversimplification, and they tend towards the political left in Republican Turkey. They were persecuted under the Ottomans, are sometimes targeted by Sunni bigots today, and they tend to favour secularism because as a minority, though a large one, they feel threatened by any growth of fundamentalism among the Sunni majority in Turkey.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alevis

  125. Brian O.: The idea that the western powers are champing at the bit to intervene militarily in Syria is silly.

    For sure, Obama seems most reluctant, & only the French are pushing for an open military incursion at the moment. And like I said before, the UNSC veto + the failure so far of the armed Syrian opposition to control a significant area greatly reduces, at least for now, the prospects of an attack.

    But remember that as late as the beginning of March 2011 the USA was apparently not very keen on attacking Libya. Two weeks later they were launching bombing raids & missile strikes.

    NB. There was a rather pertinent article in yesterday’s Financial Times by Radwan Ziadeh, who is both a member of the Syrian National Council and a senior fellow at the quaintly named US Institute for Peace. Ziadeh cites the example of Kosovo (where NATO went to war against Yugoslavia despite having no UN authorisation), and calls for an attack on Syria with the following scenario:

    “A well-rounded intervention strategy would involve the following. First, as in Kosovo, the international community – be it a joint UN-Arab League mission or a coalition of “Friends of Syria” – must designate safe zones to be protected by air power. An air campaign would minimise the risk for intervening actors. The international community, though, must help enforce these havens, or risk their bombardment from a brazen and emboldened Mr Assad. Air-based defence from such a coalition could also be used to protect humanitarian corridors…”

    He adds:

    ” The US may be tired of war but it can still join the right side of history by supporting an international coalition to help save the Syrian people.”

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/745bf824-5701-11e1-be5e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1mSocaWEp

    Clearly, ‘humanitarian corridor’ is the new ‘no fly zone’.

  126. prianikoff on said:

    re#129

    The Syrian Alawites may share a common ancestry with the Turkish Alevi, but they’re not identical to them.
    Under Ottoman rule, the Alawites were severely persecuted, but during the French mandate in Syria, a territory of “Alaouites” was created.
    Some form of autonomous Alawite region lasted from 1923 until 1937.
    In 1939 a portion of northwest Syria, that contained a large number of Alawites was transferred by the French to Turkey.
    This greatly angered the Alawite community, which resisted it strongly.

    After World War Two, the autonomous Alawite provinces were united with greater Syria.
    Followers of Sulayman al-Murshid tried to resist this integration.
    Those hostile to the Alawites used this as evidence of them being tools of French colonialism.
    In 1946, he was captured and hanged by the newly independent Syrian government in Damascus.

    The idea that the Alawites are Shia might be politically useful to those with a pro-Iranian agenda.
    But their traditional religious beliefs are not synonymous with Twelver Shi’ism.
    When Shi’ism was historically influential in Syria, the Alawi absorbed elements of it.
    It has been politically useful to stress these in recent times.
    For instance, in 1974, Musa Sadr, leader of the Twelver Shi’ah of Lebanon was asked to proclaim that he accepted the Alawis as “real Muslims”
    But Alawi doctrine also has elements of pre-Islamic doctrines, Ismailism and Christianity within it too.
    For instance, the Alawi traditionally used ceremonial wine, didn’t fast during Ramadan, or perform the Haj.

    It’s also interesting to note that the Alawites are sometimes described as ‘Nusairi’
    This is usually asribed to them originally being followers of a Shia teacher, Abu Shu’ayb Muhammad ibn Nusayr.
    In about 857 CE, Ibn Nusayr declared himself the Bab (doorway) of the eleventh Imam.
    On the basis of this, he proclaimed a host of new doctrines which Sunni authorities regarded as heretical.
    But adherence to Shia doctrines was often a way for non-Arab minorities in the Muslim world to maintain their independence.

    The term also has etymological roots related to the Hebrew ‘Nazir’.
    The Nazirites being the Jewish religious order which is believed to have spawned the proto-Christian (Nazarene) schism.
    A similar term is also used by the Mandaeans to describe themselves.
    Like the Mandaeans, traditional Alawi beliefs contained elements of Gnosticism – a sure sign that both groups have pre-Islamic origins.

    Like other non-conformist sects in the Arab world, the Alawites adopted the practice of “taqiyya”, meaning hiding one’s beliefs to avoid persecution.
    The same is true of the Druze and the Mandaeans.
    Unlike the Christians and Jews, who were clearly defined as “awl al Khittab” (people of the book), these groups have a more ambiguous status in Islam.
    Their true doctrines and writings are only known to a small number of initiated elder males.
    Depending on current political circumstances, the Alawi Shaykhs have tried to find an acceptable common denominator with prevailing mainstream doctrines.
    Hence, their beliefs remain a bit of a mystery, even to their own followers.
    This system has the advantage of allowing for a greater degree of ideological flexibility than exists for those following a rigid orthodoxy.

    The secretive nature of their beliefs is sometimes used to imply that there was some kind of ‘Alawite conspiracy’ to put the Assad dynasty in power.
    In this schema, Syria is portrayed as a sectarian state, run in the interests of 12% of the population.
    This is implied by both American right-wingers like Daniel Pipes and certain Sunni Muslim traditionalists.
    In contrast, the late Palestinian Marxist academic Hanna Batatu, argued that Syrian politics are better understood in relation to the role of the peasantry.
    A large and traditionally impoverished group, for most of their history Syria’s peasants held little or no political power.

    Batatu assigns a particularly important role to Akram Hawrani, a supporter of peasant emancipation and land reform, who played an important role in the Ba’ath party’s formation.
    The Ba’ath’s leadership was largely drawn from the sons of “middling to lower village notables, if not cashcroppers”.
    Bucking the developing-world trend, Syria even experienced a migration of people from the cities to the countryside in the 1990s.
    But Batatu also warned, that the “neo-liberal policies attendant upon globalisation, which arrived in Syria in Hafez al-Asad’s last years, threatened to exacerbate poverty and social division.”

    (see Hanna Batatu “Syria’s Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and Their Politics”
    Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.)

    Under the Asad dynasty the Alawites have consciously tried to assimilate their belief systems into the Muslim mainstream, to avoid accusations that they unfairly dominate the state.
    It’s even been argued that the Alawites have effectively become mainstream Sunni “Alawi-Muslims”.
    Reformist clerics have encouraged fellow Alawites to perform the basic tenets of mainstream Islam.
    Sunni-style mosques were built in every Alawite village, Alawi were encouraged to perform Hajj.
    Bashar has followed his father’s lead in pushing his community to shed their traditional rituals and theology.
    This has been done out of sensitivity to accusations that in seizing power, the Assad family violated the Syrian Constitution, which required that the President should be a Muslim.
    Bashar’s most recent proposals for constitutional reform have re-stated this requirement.
    They have already dropped the “leading role of the Ba’ath party” and proposed a multi-party system.

    None of which addresses Batatu’s warnings about poverty and social divisions.

  127. Harsanyi_Janos: China and Russia would appear to be increasingly isolated in the stance.

    Though I haven’t seen the text of the UN General Assembly resolution, I understand that it’s very similar to the final draft put to the UNSC which, although it was eventually vetoed by the Russians & Chinese, had been substantially modified in the direction of the Russian demands.

    Thus it makes no direct reference to Assad stepping down, it explicitly does not support military intervention, it does not call for sanctions, etc- in fact unless you subject it to some pretty serious de-coding, it appears unobjectionable.

    So, those voting figures are not at all surprising and I would suspect that they don’t actually represent any shift in policy positions by the UN member states.

    BTW, it was good to see the main ALBA countries- Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua & Venezuela- voting as a bloc.

  128. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    Noah: d I would suspect that they don’t actually represent any shift in policy positions by the UN member states.

    Hmm — the fact that India, South Africa and Brazil all voted in favour is rather significant given their previous abstention. In all honesty, Brazil is much more a leading light in Latin America than Chavez and his Bolivar club.

  129. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    #131. Alevis in Turkey cover a wide range of beliefs, customs, origins and ethnic groups. Ethnic Arab Alevis living close to the Syrian border are, in many cases, basically the same as Syrian Alawites. Azeri Alevis living near the border with Iran are, conversely, very close to the Shia Islam of Azerbaijanis living in Iran. Turkish, Kurdish and Zaza Alevis, the great majority of the Alevis, tend to preserve a number of pre-Islamic folk customs of Anatolia. Alevis were a suspect element in the Ottoman Empire as they were considered to be potential sympathisers with Shia Persia, the Ottoman Empire’s rival and frequent wartime enemy to the east.

    Pogroms have on occasion broken out in modern Turkey.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mara%C5%9F_Massacre

    Note that Maras is in southern Turkey, not all that remote from Syria. Sectarian conflict in Syria is liable to be destabilising in Turkey, which is not the homogeneous state ethnically or religiously that it was often presented as being under Atatürk and later. Further down the road, the same might apply if Iran is targeted, though at this point the Turkish government is still trying not to burn its bridges with Tehran.

  130. Jimmy Haddow on said:

    An analysis and programme from a CWI member from Lebanon, thought you would be interested:
    http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/5591

    The CWI in Lebanon and internationally calls:
    For the building of mass workers’ committees in all the communities and workplaces, as the basis for an independent workers’ movement

    For the immediate formation of independent and democratically elected workers’ defence committees, under democratic control, to defend protests, homes, neighbourhoods and workplaces from the brutal Assad state machine

    For the escalation of workers’ protests and strikes and to build for a general strike and workplace occupations

    For a class appeal to rank and file soldiers to organise against the army tops and join the protestors. For trade union rights for the rank and file soldiers

    For the defeat of Syrian capitalism and Western imperialism in Syria and the Middle East by an independent united working class movement

    For a mass workers’ movement against the rule of the Assad clan and big capital

    Massive public funding into services and renationalization of the main industries under democratic workers’ control and management

    An end to privatisation and cuts in social services – for workers’ democratic control and management of the economy to improve living conditions, create jobs with a living wage for all, free quality education and health for all

    The establishment of a mass workers’ party, with independent socialist policies

    The ousting of Assad’s regime and for a class appeal to all workers in the region to spread the revolution, to kick out tyrants, to defeat capitalism and imperialism in the region, to put an end to the Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians, and for the defeat of Israeli capitalism through the workers’ unity and collective mass struggles

    The right to self-determination of the Kurdish masses and their liberation from Syrian, Turkish, Iranian and Iraqi capitalism

    A socialist Syria, as part of a voluntary and equal socialist confederation of the Middle East

  131. #137 ‘A socialist Syria, as part of a voluntary and equal socialist confederation of the Middle East.’

    Makes a bit more sense than a socialist federation of Argentina Britain and the Falklands.

    When did Syria stop being a deformed workers’ state btw?

  132. Jimmy, doesn’t it strike you as odd that this formulation is pretty much identical to every other CWI list of demands for every other country? It’s not calibrated in the slightest to what’s actually happening in Syria.

    The article itself is fairly interesting, but when I read it, my first question is, ok so what are you gonna do to achieve it?

    In the absence of something concrete, it’s just a wish list. It’s just someone saying “what we need is socialism”. It reminds me of other CWI members who posted, after the hacking scandal broke, that what we need is democratic workers’ control of the media. Sure, of course we need that, but what are you doing about it? What happens tomorrow?

    It’s completely devoid of any meaning.

  133. David Hillman on said:

    Jimmy Haddow’s long piece is, I’m soory to say, an example of the use of Marism as an alternative to thought, rather than an aid to thought. Pious socialist sentiments with no relevant content!

  134. “A socialist Syria, as part of a voluntary and equal socialist confederation of the Middle East”

    A sort of Millie Caliphate then. Good luck with that.

  135. Brian O. on said:

    Noah,

    #133
    The full text of the General Assembly resolution doesn’t seem to be available, but judging from the Press Release it appears to be virtually identical to the Security Council draft resolution, specifically excluding military intervention under Article 42 and calling for acceptance by Syria of the Arab League Plan of Action. I can’t find a text of the latter, but I understand from reports that it includes a provision that Assad hands over power to his vice-president during negotiations. This seems to be a symbolic gesture to the opposition, which would leave the regime effectively intact. The fact that even this provision is not explicitly referred to in the UN resolutions suggests that it is considered negotiable between Syria and the Arab League. But then why would Assad want to negotiate with Russia and China so firmly behind him?

  136. brokenwindow on said:

    Leaving aside the pipe dreams of some regulars here,anyone with half an eye on Syria knows this is incredibly copmplex and the outcomes infinitesimal. The wreckage of Libya,brilliantly portrayed in all its awful tragedy by Anthony Shadid before he died is one of: lawlessness,executions,rape,tortures,assassinations. While the West may exploit Syria,they won’t get what they want.

  137. Brian O. on said:

    Brian O.,

    Spoke to soon: Looks like things may be shifting. According to AP The Chinese are saying that the vice foreign minister during his recent visit to Damascu told Assad that:
    “China supports all the mediation efforts by the Arab League to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis and calls upon relevant parties to increase communication and negotiations to find a peaceful and appropriate solution to the Syrian crisis within the framework of the Arab League and on the basis of the Arab League’s relevant political solution proposals.” This is very coded, and most of it not new BUT but as far as I can see its the first time that they have included a positive reference to the Arab League proposals in their position. This would seem to bring them in line with the General Assembly resolution.

  138. Brian O. on said:

    brokenwindow,

    #145
    Probably too late to get into this debate, but the western media “doom mongers” portrayal of Libya is highly one-sided. Sure, there are major problems (how could there not be) but its quite wrong to characterise Libya by the abuses going on and ignore the significant accomplishments. We’re less than 6 months into the post-conflict era and its too soon to call how things will finally turn out, but that includes too soon to decide that it will be a “tragedy”.

  139. Jimmy Haddow on said:

    “142.Jimmy Haddow’s long piece is, I’m soory to say, an example of the use of Marism as an alternative to thought, rather than an aid to thought. Pious socialist sentiments with no relevant content!”

    To be honest Mr Hillman I have got no idea what you mean in relation to your comment. There may be a bit of confusion because I had quoted out of the article that I had posted without using quotation marks, for that I apologies. But even still you make a remark it seems, to me, without reading the commentary I posted. What I quoted, without quotation marks, was the tasks Marxists in Syria should be involved in; the rest of the article imparts a Marxist analysis and perspective of the events in Syria and the rest of the Middle East. I would like to advocate that you read the article by the CWI member in the Lebanon and see if your observations are relevant or not.

    138, Vanya. You write things on this website as a critique to me as if we still live in a society that never had the historical social shattering changes as the collapse of Stalinism 20-odd years ago.

    The fall/collapse of the Soviet Union and the eastern Bloc changed everything in social relations, it pushed back the social and political consciousness of the working class in Britain, Europe and the rest of the world, it changed the political relationship in Social Democratic political parties, such as the Labour Party, world-wide to the point that they are no longer are representative as workers’ political parties. And it changed the economic and social relationship of colonial and neo-colonial countries that had become in the post-world war period State controlled albeit with military/police/civilian bureaucracy.

    I asked Mr Hillman read the Article on Syria, I suggest you do the same, maybe you will learn something instead of engaging your fingers on your keyboard before thinking. But here is just one quote from the commentary to illustrate my point, “In recent years, the Baath Party moved towards embracing a free market economy, which already in Syria has seen combining competition and private ‘initiatives’ in the corrupt and under-funded public sector, the role of the state receding and the rise of new monopolies. The quality of goods and services went down, jobs were lost and living standards have declined. With local courts corrupt and run under the control of the Baathist party leaders, an appalling bureaucracy developed and the so-called economic “reforms” meant the grabbing of economic power by and for the benefit of the rich and powerful, in almost all cases related to the Assad family.
    “Economic neo-liberalism in Syria, just like in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, meant that the same state bureaucracy that arose as a result of a military coup became the corrupt capitalist class now facing growing social and political protests. In cities like Dara’a and Latakia, protests started against the feared and hated big property owner, and Assad’s cousin, Makhlouf. He controls the country’s cell phone network and more than anyone else represents the intertwining of power and wealth in Syria.”

    I would also like to suggest that you go to my post, (55), on the thread “Athens Graffiti” and watch the 40 minute political introduction to a discussion on the World Crisis by Peter Taaffe and how Marxism/Trotskyism relates to the various economies and the tasks that socialists have to encounter. But you won’t Vanya, will you, because with all due respect to you have a closed mind when it comes to the political philosophy of organisations such as the SP and the SWP.

    PS I hope this is not too long a tract for you and Mr Newman to explain my point. At 620 it is dodgy!!!!!

  140. #148 Well Jimmy, maybe I will. If I wasn’t in the slightest bit interested I wouldn’t waste my time commenting.

    If I do watch it I’ll let you know.

    You still haven’t ansewered the question particularly precisely but you have at last attempted to answer it btw.

    My jibe about the South Atlantic war you haven’t responded to I note. Maybe that’s all blamed on Ted Grant now? :)

  141. And an interesting shift in the Hamas position here:

    Gaza’s Hamas prime minister has expressed support for Syrian protesters seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

    Ismail Haniyeh’s comments were the first time a senior leader of the Palestinian group has publicly rebuked its longtime patron.

    Speaking after Friday prayers at Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque, Haniyeh said Hamas commended “the brave Syrian people that are moving toward democracy and reform”.

    Assad has long hosted and supported leaders of Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, but the group has significantly reduced the presence of its exiled leaders in Syria since the start of the uprising against the Syrian regime 11 months ago.