The Syrian conflict and why Putin is playing chess while the West is playing checkers

It is always a treat to listen to a British prime minister issuing diktats to other countries about the fate of their governments, especially a government that for the past four and a half years has been manning the ramparts of civilisation against barbarism.

Perhaps like his view of working people and the poor in Britain, the problem with David Cameron when it comes to foreign policy is that his brain is stuck somewhere in the 19th century. If so he needs to get himself into the 21st century sooner rather than later, because the British Empire is no more and Syria’s government is a matter for the Syrian people to decide and not a British prime minister with delusions of colonial grandeur.

In relation to recent events in Syria, Russia’s decision to provide military support for Syria can only be considered controversial or wrong if you believe that any equivalence exists between ISIS and the Assad government.

The prolongation of the conflict in Syria and suffering of the Syrian people is a direct result of the mendacity and perfidy that informs the West’s stance towards the region. Indeed the lack of any moral clarity, leadership, and competence on the part of Western governments has been nothing short of criminal, with scant evidence of it changing anytime soon. Only in an upside down world could any equivalence be drawn between ISIS in Syria and the Assad government. Yet this is exactly the equivalence that the West continues to make, thus hampering efforts to destroy a movement that is intent on turning the clock back in Syria to the seventh century, embracing inhuman levels of butchery and barbarity in the process.

ISIS is the Khmer Rouge of our time, holding to a similar objective of turning an entire nation into a cultural, human, and physical desert. It revels in its cruelty and bestiality, enslaves and rapes women on a grand scale, and has been allowed to grow to the point where it now constitutes a direct threat to centuries of human progress. Thus we are talking about an organisation that has no programme that can be negotiated with, nothing to offer except carnage and chaos, making its complete and total destruction a non-negotiable condition of saving millions of people from a horrific fate.

In contradistinction to ISIS the Assad government is secular, believes in modernity, and upholds the rights of minorities, both Muslim and non-Muslim. More crucially, regardless of the huge campaign of demonisation that has been unleashed against it in the West, it retains the significant support of a large section of the Syrian people, who understand more than any Western diplomat, politician, or ideologue the nature of the struggle they have been engulfed in these past four and half years.

Yet just as when it came to Saddam Hussein and Iraq, along with Muammar Gaddafi and Libya, we are being bombarded with the inference that Syria consists of one man in the shape of its leader. This narrative is employed to condition and shape domestic public opinion when it comes to currying support for seeing said leader’s removal, even though the empirical evidence of Iraq and Libya’s descent into an abyss of sectarian violence, mayhem, and societal collapse is undeniable in this regard.

Assad’s crime is not that he is a dictator or that he is oppressing his own people, as his detractors would have us believe – else why on earth does the West count among its closest regional allies Saudi Arabia, arguably the most corrupt, venal, and barbaric regime in the world today? The problem with the Assad government in Syria is that it has long been marked for regime change as a pole of resistance to a US hegemonic agenda going back to the Bush administration. It is an agenda currently being driven most vigorously by US allies in the shape of Israel, the aforementioned Saudis, and Turkey in pursuit of their own interests, which are self evidently inimical to stability and any prospect of peace and regional security.

There is no and never has been a fully formed liberal democracy waiting in the wings to take over in Syria, just as there wasn’t in Iraq or Libya when it came to either Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi. But even so, like a blind man groping and lurching around a china shop, the West remains attached to a blinkered strategy that only succeeds in sowing mayhem with each step it takes in pursuit of it.

Russia’s rational and coherent alternative stands in marked contrast. President Putin has been calling for an international coalition to combat terrorism and extremism for some years now and been continually rebuffed. He has also been calling for a diplomatic and political solution to the conflict in Syria, but again those efforts have been continually thwarted by Western leaders whose obduracy is literally killing people, in addition to creating the worst refugee crisis the world has seen since the Second World War.

Russia’s refusal to relinquish its support for Syria, despite coming under huge pressure to do so, and instead to increase that support demonstrates commendable principle and courage given the risks involved. It will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the ground, raising the morale of the Syrian Arab Army and the Syrian people, whose courage and tenacity has been extraordinary. Not only have they resisted an invasion of the country by thousands of foreign extremists and jihadists, they have done so in the teeth of massive external pressure from the West throughout.

The barbarians are at the gates and Russia alone is heeding the call to intervene in order to save not just the Syrian government or Syria, but civilisation itself.

249 comments on “The Syrian conflict and why Putin is playing chess while the West is playing checkers

  1. brianthedog on said:

    John this is an excellent article and spot on. The West and its puppet allies have once again created a bogey man and supported an invasion of Sunni extremist/terrorists into the country. They have created a refugee crisis that is now blowing back on them across Europe.

    The grand imperialist plan is in taters and the latest spin and deception they are trying to ply on the general public is that Asad is a recruiting ground for IS and Al Qaeda, when we all know that it is Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey that have done this with the full knowledge of the US and UK.

  2. Andy Newman on said:

    Also, there is no question that the Damascus government is actually the sovereign, legal government of Syria, and Putin is acting entirely lawfully in supporting that government.

  3. There’s hardly anything I’d agree with here John.

    The argument over who is worse, the Assad regime or that of ISIS, well, it’s a bit like those school boy history debates about who was worse, Hitler or Mussolini. Your attempts to highlight what’s admirable about the Assad regime isn’t just absurd, it’s frankly grotesque given what we know about atrocities committed against his own people. They’re documented here amongst a 1000 other sources. The reports are not ‘lies all Western lies’, surely you know that, yet not a word from you about them. To continue with the point about juvenile debate: that does not mean that I’m either unaware of or somehow condone ISIS atrocities.

    The point is not academic. One of the reasons why ISIS has acquired the support it has, is that many, in particular, young men have joined it, not because they share its twisted ideology, but because it is a means to fight the hated Assad regime. They originally took part in the peaceful Arab Spring revolt in 2011, but took up arms when the state unleashed its usual murderous response to any kind of opposition. Perhaps the foremost Western journalist in the region, Patrick Cockburn, made this point in a recent LRB article. Something comparable is the case in Iraq: ISIS has drawn support from ordinary Sunnis in the north of the country because it is against the hated Shia regime in Baghdad and their militias. As long as the Assad regime exists in Damascus armed opposition – no matter how grotesque the form – will continue to exist. Therefore, it is logical for Bashir and his self seeking ruling clan to step aside (seek exile in Russia perhaps) if any kind of settlement is to be arrived at. If that were to take place, a post Assad government, that would probably include Ba’ath elements, could credibly attempt to wipe out ISIS – something we’d all like to see. And, once again, that doesn’t mean I subscribe to the agenda of the West no matter how quickly and emphatically you may try to draw that conclusion.

    As for the West, you write ‘The problem with the Assad government in Syria is that it has long been marked for regime change as a pole of resistance to a US hegemonic agenda going back to the Bush administration’. Are you actually aware that Bashir’s father, Hafez, supported the first US invasion led by Bush the elder in 1991? Frankly, your attempts to extol the principled, anti imperialist attributes of the Assad regime, as much as those of Putin’s Russia, are..well they’re just wrong to put it charitably.

    A final point on your misunderstanding of contemporary Islamic movements. You claim ISIS is a movement ‘intent on turning the clock back in Syria to the seventh century, embracing inhuman levels of butchery and barbarity in the process’. ISIS only exists because of oil sales and the internet, whilst it revels in a pornographic violence and has contempt for tradition, all very much features of modernity – or ‘modernity’ and ‘late modernity’ to use the boring jargon. In these respects it is distinct from other Islamic movements like the Taliban.

  4. Sam64: One of the reasons why ISIS has acquired the support it has, is that many, in particular, young men have joined it, not because they share its twisted ideology, but because it is a means to fight the hated Assad regime.

    I’m not going to reply to every point you make in what is clearly a desperately put-together argument, which as ever on Syria and the ME is ill informed.

    The above extract is a case in point. The idea that any justification can be made for anyone joining and fighting with ISIS, given its objective of turning Syria into a cultural, human, and physical desert is lunacy.

    ISIS is foreign-led and receives bulk of its cadre from outwith the country. Only in the minds of apologists for Western internvention could an equivalence be made between ISIS and Assad.

  5. John,

    Oh dear John, not on good form this morning mate. Suggest you get down the gym, work out your angst on a punch bag there, used to work for me. Funnily enough I prefer yoga these days. If I was to respond with the kind of maturity you’ve just exhibited – e.g. willfully mistaking a given reason cited by a credible source for my supposed justification – I’d say something like, ‘You’re just jealous cause I was allowed to join the Labour Party but you weren’t, so there!’.

    Meanwhile I’ll let others judge whether you know more about contemporary Syria than, as I say, the most renown ME journalist. His article – there have been several, I think this is the one I referred to above – is here by the way if you are actually interested in the region and the suffering of its people.

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n13/patrick-cockburn/why-join-islamic-state

  6. Sam64: it’s frankly grotesque given what we know about atrocities committed against his own people.

    On this, you are aware that Syria has been mired in an exestential struggle for its very survival these past four and a half years, aren’t you? And surely you aren’t naive enough to expect the intensity of the violence and brutality involved in this struggle not to reflect the stakes involved in the outcome?

    Syria does not exist in isolation. Events in Libya, where the ‘revolution’ that you supported with gusto ended in the country descending into an abyss, was a significant factor when it came to the Syrian government’s response to unrest there. How could it be otherwise?

    Have the SAA and Syrian airforce engaged in the indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilian areas? Yes. Does this invalidate the righteousness of their struggle? No it does not. Just as the Allied carpet bombing of Germany did not invalidate the righteousness of the war against the Nazis, even though war crimes were committed in service to that war.

  7. John,

    Talk about justification! In this case, for using barrel bombs and (probably) chemical weapons against civilian targets with the express intent of wiping them out.

    Come on John, sure you’re more of a humanitarian than that. Dressing up such justification with talk of ‘existential struggles’ just doesn’t do. This is a vile dynastic regime that would raise the whole country to the ground, rather than relinquish power.

  8. Sam64: (probably) chemical weapons

    Yes, you drank the kool aid on that one. The same old Pavolvian response from Western leftists to the same old bell being wrung by Western govts.

    Sam64: Come on John, sure you’re more of a humanitarian than that.

    I will take no lessons in humanitarianism from an apologist for ISIS and its medieval barbarism. Sawing people’s heads off for no other reason that they don’t subsribe to their perverted wordview, enslaving and raping women, chucking homosexuals off tall buildings. And you lecture me about humanitarianism?

  9. Andy Newman on said:

    Sam64: A final point on your misunderstanding of contemporary Islamic movements. You claim ISIS is a movement ‘intent on turning the clock back in Syria to the seventh century, embracing inhuman levels of butchery and barbarity in the process’. ISIS only exists because of oil sales and the internet, whilst it revels in a pornographic violence and has contempt for tradition, all very much features of modernity – or ‘modernity’ and ‘late modernity’ to use the boring jargon. In these respects it is distinct from other Islamic movements like the Taliban.

    I think that John is making a rhetorical point about ISIS’s barbarity rather than trying to critique the precise relationship between ISIS and schools of contemporary salafism.

    The thing is this: modern political Islam, in all its forms, owes a surprising amount to Western developments of nationalism and individualism, – as I have argued before – is a perverse child of the enlightenment.

    In the same way that nationalism can have highly reactionary (such as fascism) but also progressive forms (such as Bolivarianism) , so political Islam reaches its most highly reactionary form with ISIS, but can have politically and socially progressive expressions ( Such as Malcolm X or Ali Shariati), whatever the complexities associated with their actual practice.

    There is a debate to be had about this. But that debate is rather less relevant than the need to militarily, politically and diplomatically defeat ISIS.

    Sam64: They originally took part in the peaceful Arab Spring revolt in 2011

    That is the process which left both Syria and Libya in turmoil, thousands dead, millions displaced, the brutal murder of ahead of state, sectarian and racial violence, the collapse of the services of the state and descent into warlordism, beheadings, and a world historic reversal of womens’ rights.

    “peaceful Arab revolt” is a somewhat disingenuous description of how that process began.

    Sam64: took up arms when the state unleashed its usual murderous response to any kind of opposition

    States do tend to defend themselves from insurrectionary overthrow. All states,it is not a particularity of Ba’athism.

    Sam64: As long as the Assad regime exists in Damascus armed opposition – no matter how grotesque the form – will continue to exist. Therefore, it is logical for Bashir and his self seeking ruling clan to step aside (seek exile in Russia perhaps) if any kind of settlement is to be arrived at.

    Ahh, the siren song of “regime change”.

    I have no desire to paint Assad’s government as anything other than what it is. Brutal, self-serving, corrupt.

    However it is the legitimate, sovereign state, and has had – by regional standards – a relatively progressive position on womens’ rights, and has provided a highly imperfect but nevertheless not irrelevant commitment to being a state for all citizens, whatever their religion or ethnicity.

    But most importantly, they are actually there, in the front line, fighting the barbarians at the gates; and the fact that Assad has maintained an army in the field, from necessity alone, from necessity for years, is a testament to the fact that the government does have a mass basis of support.

    To win a war, you need to have actually existing armed forces in theatre and an actually existing social, territorial and economic base to sustain them. Assad has that, the Western liberal fantasists do not.

    There is no plausible outcome for this war that does not – in my estimation – either result in Assad’s government being victorious, or being utterly defeated by the fanatics; at which point we see a further descent of Syria into the abyss.

  10. Andy Newman: The thing is this: modern political Islam, in all its forms, owes a surprising amount to Western developments of nationalism and individualism, – as I have argued before – is a perverse child of the enlightenment.

    I would describe ISIS as a counter-enlightenment force, a reactionary reflex against modernity and its secular embrace of multiethnic, multi religious, and multicultural societies and nation states. In this it has much in common with Nazism, which likewise sought spiritual solace in a mythologically pure (in this case racially pure rather than than religiously pure) and virtuous past.

    Just to elaborate, there is no contradiction in ISIS employing modern technology and knowledge in its objective of escaping modernity. In this respect they, as well as the Nazis, can be described as ‘perverse children of the enlightenment’, given that dialectically there cannot be a counter-enlightenment without an enlightenment as its predicate.

  11. Karl Stewart on said:

    John, I don’t agree with Sam64’s criticisms, and I do agree, on the whole, with the ‘side’ you’ve taken here – the side of Russia and Syria.

    Russia is to be admired and supported by all in terms of its foreign policy. It’s the only nation standing up firmly for Syria, just as it is the only nation standing up against today’s resurgent east European neo-Nazism. Everyone of principle, notwithstanding justified criticism of its domestic policies, should support Russia’s international stance.

    But I have to say I’m uncomfortable with some of the language you’re using here John.

    A few examples:

    “…manning the ramparts of civilisation against the barbarian hordes…”

    No, the Syrian government is fighting a just war for its own survival against an enemy. It’s a war and in wars, cruel and vicious acts are perpetrated. That’s not to belittle the cruelty and brutality at all, but it isn’t unprecedented.

    “…the lack of any moral clarity…on the part of Western governments…”

    Western governments have always lacked ‘moral clarity’. Yes of course their lack of moral clarity here should be drawn attention to, but not to the extent that it’s anything new. These are the nations that built empires on the basis of extreme cruelty and brutality to native peoples, many acts of mass slaughter.

    “…The barbarians are at the gates…”

    Whose “gates” are these?
    What constitutes a “barbarian”?
    Is not the US far, far more “barbaric” than anyone else?

  12. Karl Stewart: Whose “gates” are these?
    What constitutes a “barbarian”?
    Is not the US far, far more “barbaric” than anyone else?

    I think you’ve lost the plot here. Drawing an equivalence between the US and ISIS is as mendacious as drawing one between ISIS and the Assad government.

    There is much that is regressive and barbaric in US history, But there is also much that is progressive. The foundation of enlightenment governmental and juridical institutions, the harnessing of free scientific inquiry and the huge advances in innovation and growth of economic prosperity that resulted. The role of the American Revolution in inspiring the French Revolution and the universal rights of man it embraced.

    Was the decimation of the Native Americans and their culture barbaric. Yes it was. But huge human suffering is a by product of economic and social development. It took place as a result of the Industrial Revolution in this country, and it took place in the Soviet Union also.

    Progress brooks no sympathy for the old. it is only concerned with the new. Marx identified this as the abiding contradiction that defines human progress and development.

    When it comes to ISIS, it has nothing but nothing to offer the world, just as its predecessors the Khmer Rouge and the Nazis had nothing to offer.

    On that, do you believe there is an equivalence between the US and Nazi Germany, Karl?

  13. Andy Newman on said:

    Karl Stewart: It’s the only nation standing up firmly for Syria, just as it is the only nation standing up against today’s resurgent east European neo-Nazism.

    Oh FFS. Sometimes you sound like self-parody.

    Putin pursues Russia’s national interest, which leads him to support multi-polarity, and defence of the sovereign rights when that is consistent with Russia’s own interest.

    Putin’s “anti-fascism” is very unconvincing, given its highly contingent nature, and the friendly relations that the Russian government has with right wing fruit-loops in the rest of Europe.

  14. John,

    ‘I will take no lessons in humanitarianism from an apologist for ISIS and its medieval barbarism’.

    I know nuance isn’t your strong point, but, once again, this is just childish John. The clear difference between us, as anybody will glean from the above exchange, is that I condemn – in the most basic moral terms – civilian atrocity regardless of who it’s committed by. You’ve clearly, and frankly to your shame, made a half arsed attempt to justify the mass murder carried out by the Assad regime. On that point alone – atrocity –, it isn’t a difficult one, there isn’t a great deal more to be said.

    So I won’t say any more.

  15. Andy Newman,

    If you really think the whole Arab Spring – in essence, the attempt by popular movements on the ground to wrest power from corrupt dictatorships across the ME, one that has clearly turned out to be failure – was a massive mistake and, on balance, it would have been better had such regimes continued on without a bump on the road, well, that’s up to you. Further, if you think that the best outcome for Syria and its people is the maintenance of the Assad regime, entailing years, possibly decades, of vicious civil war, well again, that desperately bleak scenario is, well, one scenario.

    Unfortunately (unfortunately because the war has been dragging on for years) we’ve been here before – as with in the globalised nature of ISIS. So perhaps we should refer anybody interested (not many I’d imagine) to the archives. I won’t comment further, not least because ‘our’ leader is about to take the rostrum. Let’s hope it’s a good speech.

  16. Andy Newman on said:

    Sam64: on balance, it would have been better had such regimes continued on without a bump on the road

    Yes, “on balance” it would have been better had not Libya and Syria descended into a nightmarish civil war. I don’t think that is an extreme view!

    Even more the case for Libya, where the previous state (it is perhaps misleading to describe Gadfafi’s Libya as having a government in the normal sense) was on a reform trajectory, and demonstrating its openness to dialogue and accomodation.

  17. Andy Newman on said:

    Sam64: if you think that the best outcome for Syria and its people is the maintenance of the Assad regime, entailing years, possibly decades, of vicious civil war, well again, that desperately bleak scenario is, well, one scenario

    So what actually existing forces are there in Syria which could permit a better solution?

  18. Karl Stewart on said:

    John:
    On that, do you believe there is an equivalence between the US and Nazi Germany, Karl?

    An interesting question. Of course the two a extremely different in so many ways, but there are similarities if one looks at the history of the USA state since is foundation as a result of a rebellion by European slave-owning settlers.

    The utter dehumanising of whole peoples – Africans and Americans in the one instance and jews, slavs and romanies in the other – underpinned by an absolute and unswerving self-belief is a central part of the phyche of each.

    As for your article, to try to articulate my thoughts a little better, I do agree with Russia and Syria here, but I’m uncomfortable with the language of “civilisation versus barbarians”.

    I don’t for one moment think you mean it in a racist way, but such language could be read and interpreted by others as a call for “us civilised light-skinned people” to unite against “those uncivilised dark-skinned people.”

  19. Andy Newman,

    On balance, it would have been better had you listened more carefully to our leader’s words on reasoned, fraternal online debate. Although I know caricature wasn’t really what he was getting at, so much as abuse. The thing is, history is a little more tricky as it has imponderables – unless, of course, you have a crystal ball.

    Let me put it to you like this. You have probably as a trade unionist either been involved or know of situations in which it’s clear at the outset of a strike or a campaign that the chances of losing that strike or a campaign are not only possible, but there is a chance that the ensuring defeat may set back the TU branch (or the organisation as a whole). Do you in each and every case decide to do nothing because of that possibility? I would think not otherwise you may as well give up on any form of purposeful resistance or change, piecemeal or wider.

    Further, should the protestors who took to the streets in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria in May 2011, inspired by the events in Egypt, have somehow foreseen that a terrible chain of events would unfold that would lead to a catastrophic civil war? Is that what you’d have done? From what I know of you, you wouldn’t have sat home shaking your head and saying to anybody who’d listen, ‘Foolish naive people, it they know not what they bring upon themselves these protestors. It will all end in disaster: Assad will cling on, a terrible Islamic movement will arise, foreign powers will meddle, millions will be displaced and forced into exile, 100 of 1000s will perish’.

    I doubt it Andy. I think you’d have been on the demos.

  20. Andy Newman,

    Clearly Assad has to go sooner or later if there’s to be a credible Syrian government, one capable of taking on and destroying ISIS – and ultimately bringing peace for the people who remain there.

  21. Karl Stewart on said:

    Sam64:
    Clearly Assad has to go sooner or later if there’s to be a credible Syrian government…

    …which meets with the approval of the USA state and its allies in the region such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

  22. Sam64: Further, should the protestors who took to the streets in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria in May 2011, inspired by the events in Egypt

    Here we discern dishonesty or a lack of analysis. The protestors in Syria were not inspired by the events in Egypt, they were inspired by the events in Libya that came after Egypt – events that involved a NATO air war against the Libyan government without which the rebels there would not have succeeded.

    Attempting to tranpose the Egyptian period of the Arab Spring onto Syria may suit your neat paradigm – which holds that anything that moves, any demo or movement of people, the left here must automatically and unthinkingly support – but it does little to help us understand the concrete situation.

    Assad is not Mubarak. By the time the Arab Spring stirred in Libya it had run out of steam, lacking the mass base of support it had enjoyed in Tunisia and Egypt. There was no mass discontent in Libya, as there was in either of the previously mentioned countries. The opposition there was concentrated in Benghazi and the east of the country, its social base consisting of an unholy alliance of Salafists and a disaffected middle class.

    NATO’s intervention turned a revolutionary process into a counter revolutionary one. Those who came out onto the streets of Daara in 2011 did so in the full knowledge that the Assad government and its apparatus was even stronger than Gaddafi in Libya and therefore would only be toppled with the assistance of the West, as per Libya before it. The Syrian security forces and Assad were well aware of this also.

    It is this understanding that drove the extreme reaction to the initial demonsrations in Syria, not the bloodlust of the regime, as you maintain.

    You are offering an analysis that is one dimensional and which takes no account of the context or material factors involved in these events.

  23. Karl Stewart: I’m uncomfortable with the language of “civilisation versus barbarians”.

    If my use of the word ‘barbarians’ to describe ISIS is upsetting, I suggest you are abtracting the Muslims, Arabs, Kurds, Iraqis, and Iranians who are fighting ISIS on the ground and have seen their families, friends, and comrades butchered in the process.

    I feel pretty confident they would more than approve of them being described as barbarians. No disrespect Karl, but their approval matters more to me than yours on this.

  24. Karl Stewart: I don’t for one moment think you mean it in a racist way, but such language could be read and interpreted by others as a call for “us civilised light-skinned people” to unite against “those uncivilised dark-skinned people.”

    As I wrote in my previous comment, the people doing the fighting and the dying in the struggle against ISIS are dark skinned. I stand with them. We have a duty to tell the truth and not dodge the issue. Are you suggesting that ISIS are not barbarians? If not, how would you characterise them?

  25. jack ford on said:

    Patrick Cockburn interview with the Syrian Kurdish leader Saleh Muslim (he is president of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Rojava) is well worth reading. Muslim thinks that at the present the overthrow of Assad would only benefit Daesh and other extremist Sunni sects like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, does not believe the Russians are sending troops to Syria, says “the Americans have not delivered any weapons or ammunition to the YPG” and that while ‘he is determined to fight Isis until it is defeated… believes that the Syrian civil war must end in a compromise:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-civil-war-kurdish-leader-says-collapse-of-assad-regime-would-be-a-disaster-despite-its-10515922.html

  26. That ISIS are barbarians that have to be confronted and crushed is something that I would of course agree with. I do object to the tone of the article that looks to rehabilitate Assad and his regime from what they are – a brutal corrupt dictatorship.

    Is he and his dictatorship the least worst option, certainly for the short term? Yes. But lets not pretend that this is anything other than the grubby business of realpolitik given the much graver threat of ISIS.

    A few quotes I have to disagree with:
    “More crucially, regardless of the huge campaign of demonisation that has been unleashed against it in the West, it retains the support of its people” – there is no evidence of this. Because there is no democracy. There was a joke of an election a couple of years ago with no opposition and a very limited distribution of ballot papers. I suspect most people there would chose Assad right now as the other option is the murderous ISIS regime, but its hardly a ringing endorsement if the other option is mass murder.

    “Assad’s crime is not that he is a dictator or that he is oppressing his own people, as his detractors would have us believe”
    Erm, yes he is a dictator and yes he does oppress his own people. What planet are you living on? You REALLY believe that he isn’t a dictator, and that his people aren’t oppressed by his government? He can be a dictator AND ISIS can be a bunch of murderous barbarians at the same time. These opinions are not mutually exclusive.

    “Russia’s rational and coherent alternative stands in marked contrast. ” I would say Russia’s naked self interest, but there you go.

    “There is no and never has been a fully formed liberal democracy waiting in the wings to take over in Syria” – that is certainly true, which is why Assad (lets not forgot, Assad the BRUTAL DICTATOR) is the least worst option. We don’t have to be happy about this and write glowing articles about him to condemn western policy and oppose regime change.

    PS Have been watching a documentary called a Syrian Love Story on BBC1 this evening while typing this – interesting documentary following a family from before the uprising in 2011 through to their asylum claim in France. Puts the love for Assad in this article in perspective.

  27. jock mctrousers on said:

    Andy H: Puts the love for Assad in this article in perspective.

    I must have missed that. I re-read the piece to try and find where John says ” I love Assad ” but…

    Every BBC or C4 news broadcast I watch these days seems to have something about Assad ” dropping barrel bombs on his own people” repeated about every 30 secs. I assume a barrel bomb is worse than other types of bombs (like the drones Obama drops on someone else’s people almost daily), but whatever this is just such blatantly loaded propaganda, maintaining the pretence that Assad is actually fighting peaceful Syrian dissidents ( there arent any ‘moderate’ fighting forces – US officials have admitted this publicly many times), and it’s someone else (those ‘moderates’) who is fighting ISIS.

    It might be a reasonable complaint if true that Assad’s forces are being careless about ‘collateral damage’, when bombing ISIS-held areas, but that’s not what they say, is it?

    By the way, when are we going to hear about USA freezing ISIS bank accounts, stopping the cash flow from Qatar and Saudi, stopping the inflow of jihadis and equipment through Turkey…?

  28. Louis Proyect on said:

    But most importantly, they are actually there, in the front line, fighting the barbarians at the gates;

    So funny to see the same rhetoric I used to read from the Eustonites being repeated by Assad’s amen corner today.

  29. Karl Stewart on said:

    John:   

    I’d describe ISIS in a similar way to the Taliban. A reactionary clerical-autocracy type of movement that the left should oppose on principle.

    If the local opponents of ISIS on the ground describe them as “barbarians” that’s entirely a matter for them.

    The problem, I think, arises when such language is used in Western commentary. The danger being, that an impression could be created of the whole situation being one consisting of conflicting “backward” and “barbaric” peoples, something which plays into historic notions of “civilised” white European supremacy.

    Europeans have committed atrocities on an industrial scale of barbarism, on a scale that makes ISIS look like amateurs by comparison.

    So Western commentary, including Western commentary from the left, should keep this in mind.

  30. Andy H: there is no evidence of this. Because there is no democracy. There was a joke of an election a couple of years ago with no opposition and a very limited distribution of ballot papers. I suspect most people there would chose Assad right now as the other option is the murderous ISIS regime, but its hardly a ringing endorsement if the other option is mass murder.

    This assertion is a product of your own animus towards the Assad government, leading you to follow the line of the US and British governments in reducing the country’s population to one man. We saw this preparatory to the war on Iraq in 2003 and the NATO air war against Gaddafi. I am constantly amazed at how effective a narrative it is in snapping public opinion into line behind them.

    On the election that took place in Syria, Fox News disagrees with you. Fox, I’d remind you, is not known for being a pro-Assad media outlet. Their report cites other references and makes it clear that the reason Assad has hung on is not only due to the overwhelming support of minoritiies in the country, which given that they would be certainly slaughered if Assad falls is obvious, but because he retains the support of the majority of Sunnis. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/06/04/syrian-election-shows-depth-popular-support-for-assad-even-among-sunni-majority/

    The undeniable truth is that despite a prolonged and brutal conflict the Syrian Arab Army has not disintegrated and remains in the field, fighting and dying for its government and country. These soldiers are Syrians too. They live in the country, have families and communties, and their willingness to remain fighting is the real marker of Assad’s support.

    Andy H: yes he is a dictator and yes he does oppress his own people. What planet are you living on? You REALLY believe that he isn’t a dictator, and that his people aren’t oppressed by his government? He can be a dictator AND ISIS can be a bunch of murderous barbarians at the same time. These opinions are not mutually exclusive.

    Andy H: interesting documentary following a family from before the uprising in 2011 through to their asylum claim in France. Puts the love for Assad in this article in perspective.

    Well, I suppose on a certain level it’s a case of pick your Syrians. There’s a Syrian guy on my Facebook. His name is Fady and he lives in Aleppo, where much of the fighting has taken place. He originally sent me a friend request after seeing me doing an RT interview and liking the things I was saying about the conflict. We used to exchange regular peronal messages. He is a firm supporter of Assad and the Syrian Army. In fact he positively reveres them. He happens to be a Christian nd told me back when the fighting around Aleppo was fierce that if the rebels take the city he and his family would be butchered. It kind of put it all into sharp relief for me, hearing that.

    I haven’t heard from him for a while, so I hope he’s okay.

    All this talk about dictators is but a diversion. It is a product of Western liberalism, which has so infected the left across the West it has been denuded of any and all potency in understanding the nature of states such as Syria.

    Democracy is not the most important aspect of a functioning state. More important than democracy is peace, stability, security, and development. Without those things democracy amounts to nothing more than a tin of beans. Iraq is a democracy. How’s that going? So is Afghanistan?

    Are these better places to live as a result?

    The Middle East is unsuited to the establishment of functioning democracy because of the instability that has defined its modern history, instability that is largely the product of Western intervention. The result has been the retardation of the region’s economic and social development, which needs to reach a certain level before democracy can possibly succeed.

  31. John,

    Well it’s déjà vu all over again isn’t it?

    We’ve been here before in previous debates on SU. The only difference this time is John’s now slightly more pompous prose – ‘Here we discern dishonesty or a lack of analysis’ – and an unabashed attempt to justify the mass murder of civilians by the Assad regime. And all of this in a supposed all seeing, ‘anti imperialist’ analysis, which, perversely, belies a Western condescension. Add to this an unhealthy fascination with the machinations of power, pace admiration for Vladimir Putin and the philosophy of Frederick Nietzsche.

    If you’re actually interested – you didn’t seem aware or interested in Cockburn’s coverage of ISIS I brought up yesterday – in the timeline of the Arab Spring, a multifaceted phenomenon that began in Tunisia in late 2010, here’s a timeline. If you follow it, you’ll see that Hosni Mubarak resigned (he was forced out), following a tumultuous few months, on Feb 11th, 2011 and that demonstrations began in Syria (the most repressive of police states) in mid March. According to the timeline on March 19th Syrian security sealed off Daraa following their shooting of 5 protestors. The sequence would suggest a relationship. But not for John. Oh no. He claims: ‘The protestors in Syria were not inspired by the events in Egypt, they were inspired by the events in Libya that came after Egypt – events that involved a NATO air war against the Libyan government without which the rebels there would not have succeeded’. What is evident here is his enormous conceit. Take a look at this video. How on earth would he know what was going through the minds of protestors on motor bikes. Even an imbedded journalist (they weren’t any) would struggle to ‘know’ what exactly the probably inchoate sentiments of the protestors were at that stage. However, for him it’s all so simple given his sand table ‘anti imperialism’.

    What had happened was Western intervention in Libya – a different country a thousand miles away. Ergo all further revolts across the entire ME and Maghreb were inherently suspect and to be opposed – especially if were in allies of Russia. Actually, this wasn’t quite his line at the time. But never mind, it soon matured into his preference for one of the most repressive states in the world: Assad’s Syria. Note that this was years before the rise of ISIS.

    As for Libya, here is further evidence of his almost comical conceit:

    ‘There was no mass discontent in Libya, as there was in either of the previously mentioned countries. The opposition there was concentrated in Benghazi and the east of the country, its social base consisting of an unholy alliance of Salafists and a disaffected middle class’.

    It’s pointless debating given this mixture of arrogance and ignorance.

    As for this sneer on my socialism being one ‘which holds that anything that moves, any demo or movement of people, the left here must automatically and unthinkingly support’. Well, to be honest, I’ve struggled with cynicism and detachment over recent years. I suspect many here have. But I like to think I’m the kind of socialist who, pace Jeremy Corbyn yesterday, says No to injustice – in whatever form and context its found. And I hope I always will.

  32. Andy Newman on said:

    Karl Stewart: I’d describe ISIS in a similar way to the Taliban. A reactionary clerical-autocracy type of movement that the left should oppose on principle.

    Whats does that even mean?

    It is an utterly contextless jumble of words.

  33. Sam64,

    Sam, the world does not exist on a blank sheet of paper. The development of states and the nature of their governments is not a matter of bad men doing bad things for bad reasons, or good men doing good things for good reasons. This is pure unadultrated idealism.

    The development of states is a reflection of their success or failure in struggling against the concrete material conditions from which they emerge, conditions informed by historical, internal and external events – i.e. colonialism and imperialism – and how they place delimitations on their abliity to function and progress.

    Your interpretation of injustice is someone else’s justice, and your view of justice is another person’s injustice. Shorn of any material basis this is an abstract word employed to by those who really do mistake the world for that blank sheet of paper.

    I’m sure the millions of Syrians that support their government against the attempt by the barbarians of ISIS to reduce it to a human, cultural, and physical desert will be cheered by your focus on Assad as the fount of all evil in their lives. I’m sure my facebook friend, Fady, living in Aleppo, will be comforted by your solidarity with his and his family’s plight as Syrian Christians fearing the real prospect of having their heads sawn off should Assad and the SAA be defeated in this struggle.

    As for Jeremy, I disagree with him on his rendering of both Syria and Russia’s role in the region and wider world. Is that so difficult to navigate, that I might actually disagree with him on some things and agree with him on most?

    I don’t know if you caught Putin’s address to the General Assembly the other day, but I did and it was superb. Especially significant was the part when he asked the US and its allies a simple question with regard to their actions in the Middle East since 9/11: “Do you realise what you have done?”

    I would ask you to think about this question and then reconsider the idealism that informs your view of Syria as a state and a struggle that exists in isolation. Whether you realise it or not, you are giving left cover to the crimes of our own governments. The goal of democracy and justice ‘within’ states is their mantra. What it conceals is their desire to crush democracy and justice ‘between’ states.

  34. Andy Newman on said:

    Sam64: Meanwhile I’ll let others judge whether you know more about contemporary Syria than, as I say, the most renown ME journalist. His article – there have been several, I think this is the one I referred to above – is here by the way if you are actually interested in the region and the suffering of its people.

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n13/patrick-cockburn/why-join-islamic-state

    I am not convinced that this article actually supports your arguments – now having read it.

    It reads to me like an acknowledgment that those parts of Syria and Iraq outside of government control have descended into warlord polities.

    Based upon the experience of Afghanistan, especially the precipitate collapse of the military capacity of many of the warlords once the Taliban started to extend their authority, the resilience of ISIS and the other militias may be less than surface impressions suggest.

  35. Andy Newman,

    Here’s the point I made yesterday Andy:

    ‘One of the reasons why ISIS has acquired the support it has, is that many, in particular, young men have joined it, not because they share its twisted ideology, but because it is a means to fight the hated Assad regime. They originally took part in the peaceful Arab Spring revolt in 2011, but took up arms when the state unleashed its usual murderous response to any kind of opposition. Perhaps the foremost Western journalist in the region, Patrick Cockburn, made this point in a recent LRB article’.

    And here’s the passage from the Cockburn article that substantiates it – in so far as the testimony of one interviewee (Faraj) substantiates anything, but Cockburn seems to think it’s true more widely and I, I think like you, tend to trust his judgement:

    ‘Faraj didn’t say whether he expected to survive the fight for Tal Abyad. On other occasions, experienced Islamic State veterans have slipped away at the last minute. But Faraj’s account of why he joined Islamic State and is loyal to its cause must be true for others: a great many reasonable Syrians and Iraqis have joined this fanatical movement, despite its barbaric and very public cruelty, outlandish ideology and cult of death, and stay with it despite the likelihood of temporary defeat. ‘Even if this happens,’ Faraj said, ‘I still believe that we are right because most of us are not fighting for women or money; we are fighting because both the regime and the opposition failed us, so we need an armed organisation to fight for our rights.

    Until last year, Jabhat al-Nusra was strong in Kurdish areas, but was squeezed out in heavy fighting by the YPG on one side and Islamic State on the other. Faraj and his extended family joined al-Nusra in the year after the Syrian uprising began in 2011. ‘At first we dreamed of having a revolution and gaining our liberty,’ he said, ‘but unfortunately the popular movement was not well organised and was manipulated by neighbouring countries such as the Gulf states, so revolution turned into jihad.’ He says that to fight back against the regime the rebels had no choice but to turn to a religious movement that appealed to the conservative people of eastern Syria. Another motive was revenge: for ‘the oppression and injustice of the regime over the last forty years that weighed down our souls’.’

    I think the similar point I made about most ISIL supporters in Iraq being Iraqis, not foreigners, who joined it not because they’re fanatics (or ‘barbarians’ if you prefer, I don’t, whatever they are, their crimes are horrendous) but to fight the Shia and the Baghdad government is in an earlier Cockburn article you can probably access for free from LRB.

  36. Sam64: He says that to fight back against the regime the rebels had no choice but to turn to a religious movement that appealed to the conservative people of eastern Syria. Another motive was revenge: for ‘the oppression and injustice of the regime over the last forty years that weighed down our souls’.’

    This exact argument could have come from one of the thousands of Ukrainian and Latvians who joined the SS during the Nazi occuption of the Soviet Union. You are giving it credence, which again reveals that for you there is an equivalence between the barbaric hordes of ISIS and the Assad government.

    There is zero equivalance, just as there was zero equivalence between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in the Second World War, and shame on you for even alluding to one.

  37. Karl Stewart on said:

    Andy Newman: Whats does that even mean?
    It is an utterly contextless jumble of words.

    Sorry for my lack of clarity, let’s go through those points.

    Firstly, I said that ISIS was essentially similar to the Taliban.

    This means that both ISIS and the Taliban are alike in their basic identities. That they share a central belief in an extreme form of religion (in both of these cases muslim) and that this very extreme religious belief should be the basis for government of society.

    My next point was to describe ISIS as a reactionary clerical-autocracy type of movement. By this I was making a further reference to what I’ve described above – i.e. that they have an outlook that bases government within the context of an extreme religious belief. A better word instead of “autocracy” would probably have been “theocracy” which I think summarises this viewpoint quite well.

    And the other point I made was that, in my opinion, I think the left should oppose this type of outlook – i.e. those of the Taliban and ISIS – as a matter of principle. By that I meant that reactionary theocratic type beliefs contradict the basic beliefs of socialism.

    Not that the left should oppose religion itself on principle – that would be a new form of intolerance in itself – but that the left should oppose in principle the outlook of ISIS and the Taliban.

    So, hopefully, that explains my opinion of ISIS and the reason why I think the left should be opposed to it.

  38. Karl Stewart: reactionary theocratic type beliefs contradict the basic beliefs of socialism.

    This is staggering to me Karl, it really is. When the Soviet Union was pitted against Nazi Germany in a merciless struggle for its very survival, this kind of mealy-mouted equivocation was never engaged in by its people or supporters. Their enemy was barbaric and savage whose complete destruction was rightfully deemed non negotiable.

    This is the case with ISIS in Syria in 2015. They are barbaric and savage and must be destroyed. Anyone who backtracks one inch from this absolutist position gives succour and credence to the vile ideology that fuels it.

  39. John,

    Whether or not you ‘agree’ with Cockburn’s informant or ‘like’ his claim, really isn’t the point John. Talk about idealism! It is what has happened – his truth – in an incredible fractured situation. The specific point for the third time is that it refutes your, similarly abstracted, belief that all ISIL supporters joined a fanatic organisation like ISIL because they’re fanatics. History, life, is a bit more complicated, frequently messy, than that – like it or not.

    Similarly, you might not ‘like’ the fact large numbers of Ukrainians turned out to greet invading German soldiers in 1941 as liberators and many choose to join the SS to, primarily, fight the Soviets and Russians. But if you factor in the millions who’d perished in Stalin’s collectivisation of agriculture in the mid 30s then it’s explicable.

    But to try to avoid any further moralism: NO these historical facts don’t in any way, shape or form justify, even rationalise, the crimes subsequently committed – or discount the impetus of Ukrainian nationalism or fanatical Islam. Explanation is something different. Is so far as we can ‘do’ anything on SU it is to explain – and possibly even learn.

  40. Karl Stewart on said:

    John: This exact argument could have come from one of the thousands of Ukrainian and Latvians who joined the SS during the Nazi occuption of the Soviet Union. You are giving it credence, which again reveals that for you there is an equivalence between the barbaric hordes of ISIS and the Assad government.
    There is zero equivalance, just as there was zero equivalence between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in the Second World War, and shame on you for even alluding to one.

    Of course there is no equivalence between the Soviet Union and the nazis, absolutely spot on. But to be fair, Sam hasn’t made that point.

    Much as I fundamentally disagree with Sam on the Syrian question – in that he’s completely on the wrong side – he hasn’t claimed an equivalence between the Soviet Union and the nazis.

    (Bit of an Andy/John ‘tag-team’ going on here isn’t there?)

  41. Sam64: The specific point for the third time is that it refutes your, similarly abstracted, belief that all ISIL supporters joined a fanatic organisation like ISIL because they’re fanatics. History, life, is a bit more complicated, frequently messy, than that – like it or not.

    Throwing gay men off the top of buildings; sawing off people’s heads in public; burning captured Jordanian pilots alive in a cage; enslaving and raping women by the hundred; destroying ancient monuments and cultural artefacts…

    I’d suggest this is about as fanatical as it comes, Sam. It is not your repetition of the data contained in Cockburn’s article that is the problem, it is your attempt to justify Syrians joining ISIS as if they had no choice. Many Syrians formerly opposed to Assad made the decision to resile from that opposition and rejoin the government side. They were given an amnesty. In your moral universe who made the right and justifed choice?

    Sam64: But if you factor in the millions who’d perished in Stalin’s collectivisation of agriculture in the mid 30s then it’s explicable.

    Again, you provide justifcation and try to claim it as explication. The Jews slaughtered by Ukrainian volunteers at Babi Yar in 1941 were not responsible for those who perished during the years of collectivisation, no matter how hard you try to ‘explain’ it away.

    Btw the ‘millions’ you claim perished is disputatious, but that’s another matter.

  42. Andy Newman on said:

    Karl Stewart: This means that both ISIS and the Taliban are alike in their basic identities.

    That is ridiculously reductionist, Karl.

    I would recommend Ahmed Rashed’s book on the Taliban. Their essential project, aided by Pakistan’s semi-autonomous military, was to rebuild the Afghan state, and reverse the descent into warlordism. Given the actually existing constellation of social and political forces, in Afghanistan, they mobilised around deeply reactionary views; but no more reactionary than those they replaced. One woman I spoke to who had lived in Kabul explained that under the Taliban they couldn’t leave the house without wearing a Burqa, under the warlords they couldn’t leave the house at all.

    Undoubtedly the Taliban were massively reactionary, but they were part of a process of reversing warlordism, and were seemingly susceptible to influence, from Pakistan, and the gulf states. A pragmatic approach to them from the West and regional powers could have leveraged things the Afghan state wanted (trade, etc) in exchange for human rights improvements.

    In contrast, ISIS are not a state, they are a warlord polity, ie, they tax, plunder and extort, but perform none of the enabling functions of a state. The nature of warlordism is that the patronage and system of military charisma that lubricates their operation requires constant warfare.

    This BTW, is why I think Sam64 is wrong. the modern world consists of states, and sustains states, and states do not have a functional imperative towards war. In contrast, warlord polities are unstable and compelled towards perpetual war.

    The experience of Afghanistan is once warlords started to lose battles, they fell apart.

    The problem is that neither the Syrian nor Iraqi states are currently strong enough for the task.

  43. Andy Newman,

    ‘the modern world consists of states, and sustains states, and states do not have a functional imperative towards war’.

    Well I suppose it means what you mean by a ‘functional imperative towards war’ exactly, but bang goes a whole academic industry at a stroke!

  44. Andy Newman on said:

    Sam64: Well I suppose it means what you mean by a ‘functional imperative towards war’ exactly, but bang goes a whole academic industry at a stroke!

    I mean that states can survive without actually being at war all the time.

    warlord polities need to be at constant war.

    It is a useful distinction.

  45. Andy Newman,

    Well yes OK in that fairly limited definition. There’s whole branches of IR and historical sociology that argue that war was the foremost variable in the development of modern states, generally ‘un Marxian’ in that they tend to downplay their economic role – or make it an adjunct to war making endevour.

  46. Karl Stewart on said:

    Andy Newman: I would recommend Ahmed Rashed’s book on the Taliban.

    Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll try to find it.

    And also a recommendation from me, maybe a bit more patience with people who haven’t read as widely on this subject as you?

  47. Andy Newman on said:

    Sam64,

    But the particular context is a conflict between a state, Syria, and a non-state, ISIS.

    So the relevant attribute to focus on is the factor which differentiates between states and warlord polities.

    And in the modern world there are legal, diplomatic and practical attributes to states which are not achievable by non states.

    Warlord polities effectively cannot – in the modern world – evolve into states. Though that does not contradict the fact that modern states arose from pre-modern states that may have shared many attributes of what we would regard as warlordism today.

    ISIS is – I believe -eventually a doomed project because it can never stabilise itself away from a dynamic of constant war, though tragically “eventually” may be a long time.

    My view is that a precondition for peace is reversing the descent into chaos with military defeat of ISIS, and then a peace process involving the other actors, regional powers, etc.
    But that cannot be done without recognising the legitimacy (in terms of sovereignty not morality) of the Syrian govt, and that they have to be part of the solution. Not least because to do otherwise is unlawful

  48. Andy Newman on said:

    Karl Stewart,

    Yes sorry if i was rude/impatient.

    You are right and I genuinely apologise

    In response, can i also suggest to you that you are more circumspect about “taking sides” in complex and murky disputes

    🙂

  49. Andy Newman on said:

    On another point.

    You often hear that Assad’s forces are only targetting non-ISIS rebels.

    The welcome military cooperation agreement between Israel and Russia, both of whom -along with Iran, want to prop up the Assad government – has thrown some light on this that the rebel forces who pose the biggest military theat to the survival of the Damascus govt are those along the coast and near Aleppo (apparently) and for the Syrian government to keep the war againzt ISIS on the road, the non ISIS forces (themselvrs hardly Guardian reading Corbynites) need to be defeated first.

  50. “…the rebel forces who pose the biggest military threat to the survival of the Damascus govt are those along the coast and near Aleppo (apparently)”

    The fact that Russian military support for the Assad family dictatorship increased to the extent it did almost immediately after the Ba’athists were booted out of Idlib province and much of the al-Ghab plain, would suggest there is much to be said for this assertion.

    “the non ISIS forces (themselvrs hardly Guardian reading Corbynites)…”. Indeed – the Jaish al-Fatah coalition that has been at the vanguard of recent rebel victories in Idlib and Hama provinces has a worldview more closely aligned with that of the egregious al-Qaradawi than that of British left. Perhaps unsurprisingly.

    Some disturbing footage from today’s first round of Russian airstrikes. Talbisah, Homs province, many miles from the nearest ISIS barbarian.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqEtOd5Mypg

  51. Jock mctrousers on said:

    Andy Newman: ISIS are not a state, they are a warlord polity, ie, they tax, plunder and extort, but perform none of the enabling functions of a state.

    I’m not going to argue that ISIS IS a state, but all insider reports credit them with being efficient administrators of public works and services.

  52. Andy Newman on said:

    Jock mctrousers: I’m not going to argue that ISIS IS a state, but all insider reports credit them with being efficient administrators of public works and services.

    Do you have a link for that? I am obviously prepared to be corrected, and amend or nuance my position if my facts are wrong

  53. Andy Newman,

    A couple of points.

    Funnily enough old time Intellectual influence, Nigel Harris’s, not very good book, The Return of Cosmopolitan Capital (2003) posits a dichotomy between the warring propensity of what he terms ‘the warrior state’ and the essential pacific orientation of markets, capitalism.

    If anybody has seen the quite good American series The Walking Dead they’ll know that it depicts the collapse of the state in a post apocalyptic world as the context for the formation of permanently warring groups – gangs. Other groups of humans become the primary and instinctive threat. Incidentally, this anthropological condition does not obviate cultural traditions of hospitality to non group members that coexist with an essential enmity.

    On a possible solution to the tragedy of Syria – a dead body and a grieving family is just that, whether the death was caused by an ISIL jihadist, a Syrian soldier or a Russian jet – Andy writes:

    ‘My view is that a precondition for peace is reversing the descent into chaos with military defeat of ISIS, and then a peace process involving the other actors, regional powers, etc. But that cannot be done without recognising the legitimacy (in terms of sovereignty not morality) of the Syrian govt, and that they have to be part of the solution. Not least because to do otherwise is unlawful’.

    Well, that isn’t really incompatible with what I wrote above:

    ‘As long as the Assad regime exists in Damascus armed opposition – no matter how grotesque the form – will continue to exist. Therefore, it is logical for Bashir and his self seeking ruling clan to step aside (seek exile in Russia perhaps) if any kind of settlement is to be arrived at. If that were to take place, a post Assad government, that would probably include Ba’ath elements, could credibly attempt to wipe out ISIS – something we’d all like to see’.

    The problem is when you talk about legitimacy and legality is that they are not exactly characteristics of the Assad dynastic regime. In purely practical terms, its my view (only that) that a precondition for forming a Syrian national state government that can effectively destroy ISIL is the removal of this vile, divisive, illegitimate and ‘illegal’ (whatever that means!) ruling family.

    Finally, on the reports mentioned above – I see the Russian foreign minister Lavrov has denied them – that Russian strikes have not targeted ISIL, well, if true that does give the lie to any fanciful notion that Putin and Bashir are primarily concerned with a prosecuting valiant struggle against savagery (why not use Hitchin’s epithet of ‘Islamic fascism’, sounds better?). The obvious Russian realpolitik of propping up an ally is in line with Putin ‘playing chess’.

  54. Sam64: Therefore, it is logical for Bashir and his self seeking ruling clan to step aside (seek exile in Russia perhaps) if any kind of settlement is to be arrived at.

    These are the exact words spoken by President Obama, John Kerry, and David Cameron this past week.

    There is nothing more to be said other than Assad has mass support in Syria and it is they not you, the US, Britain, or France who will determine the fate of their leader. Nobody else.

  55. John,

    ‘Assad has mass support in Syria’. Literally: LOL!

    I guess your right. After all, Bashir and his auld fella did used to have regular elections in which they received 99% of the poll. I think that’s 4% more than it was decided (before the poll) that the party (United Russia) of another of Vlad’s favoured thugs, Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechen dictator, would get. Do you also admire him by the way, bit of a hard man, has no truck with opponents – after which they tend to have no finger nails, genitals etc etc? Do you share his peccadillos for an evening’s relaxation of a good glass, WWW on satellite and a warn copy of Beyond Good and Evil?

    PS. I just made that last bit up.

  56. Sam64: I guess your right.

    I am right, Sam. The article from Fox I linked to in a previous comment is one you should read. But even without it there is a simple logic that cannot be overlooked. The Syrian Army, made up of Syrians from communities throughout the country, would not have withstood such a brutal and intense conflict over four and a half years unless Assad had mass support. In a state such as Syria the army is the people and the people are the army.

    No army in the region, including the much vaunted IDF, could have withstood the battering the SAA has endured unless it represented the popular will of the people. This for me is really a materialist ABC.

    It would have disintegrated long before now otherwise.

  57. John,

    Oh John.

    Here we go again with a combination of, on the one hand, absurd intellectual arrogance for a country you’ve never been to, a people who communicate in a language you don’t speak and, judging from your remarks about the Assad’s and the Bush family yesterday, don’t know much about the history of, and, on the other, faulty reasoning.

    Look, nobody – not me anyway – has ever said that the Assad’s are entirely without popular support – although that in itself is hardly much of an argument, we’ve all seen Hitler’s rallies, he had his fans. Canny dynasties can’t survive through fear and violence alone – although Syria under the Assads was/is pre-eminent in that respect. Clearly their rule – a brutal dictatorship not a totalitarian regime as in Sadam’s Iraq – involved a knitting together of ethnicities, faiths, classses and regions into a stable, if backward, state (a concoction of imperialism in the first place of course). And, further to that, the Syrian army – with desertions, defections and reverses, a tendency to go for the easier, often civilian, targets and much foreign (Russian) help – has held together.

    But to extrapolate from that to blandishments like ‘Assad has mass support in Syria’ and, worse, in ‘Syria the army is the people and the people are the army’. How or earth do you know? Do you know how ridiculous this sounds?

  58. Sam64: But to extrapolate from that to blandishments like ‘Assad has mass support in Syria’ and, worse, in ‘Syria the army is the people and the people are the army’. How or earth do you know? Do you know how ridiculous this sounds?

    No, Sam, the ridiculous one is you with your cocktail of idealism and half baked ultra leftism being promoted as analysis.

    The army is a reflection of the popular will in any conflict. Lenin and Trotsky understood this. Yes, Hitler had support, how does this equate to Assad and Syria? Are you now going down the path of Assad=Hitler?

    Nasser, Castro, Mossadegh, Saddam, Hugo Chavez, and now Assad. All I can say is that Hitler sure has a lot of doppleganger’s out there.

  59. John,

    Ah John I give up! Almost. I wasn’t making any generalised comparison between the Assads and Hitler. To mention them in the same comment doesn’t entail that. To mention, Fabio Borini and Luis Suarez in the same sentence doesn’t mean I think they’re alike, just as good/bad footballers. I was only pointing out that popular support – the level of which in respect to the Assads I think you widely exaggerate and in any case fail to provide any measure for – in itself is not necessarily a commendable thing. Hence, look at Hitler. That’s all.

  60. Andy Newman on said:

    Sam64: that popular support – the level of which in respect to the Assads I think you widely exaggerate and in any case fail to provide any measure for – in itself is not necessarily a commendable thing. Hence, look at Hitler. That’s all.

    True, but the level of popular support for Hitler did mean that extinguishing the Nazi regime was a bitter total war, and that both the resulting German states had to accomodate in different ways to that reality.

    I don’t know what level of support the Assad government has, but John’s argument about the level of support necessary to sustain such a war over several years does have some legs. What we can say is that the Assad government commands sufficient support to have waged a long and bitter civil war, notwithstanding the diplomatic and military support from Iran Hezbollah and Russia; and as such are an indispensible part of any outcome.

  61. Andy Newman,

    Have you read over the comments from 56 this morning? I have stated why I think that the Assad family have to go, using some of the same terms, arguments that you earlier referred to.

  62. Andy Newman on said:

    Sam64: Have you read over the comments from 56 this morning? I have stated why I think that the Assad family have to go, using some of the same terms, arguments that you earlier referred to.

    I have read it. and I made a brilliant and erudite answer. which has sadly disappeared through some Internet mularky; and when I return to it and recompose the same argument will be less erudite, less sparking and less convincing.

    I am confident that had you read the now lost first draft, you would have been completely won over by my point of view,

  63. jock mctrousers on said:

    Andy Newman: Jock mctrousers: I’m not going to argue that ISIS IS a state, but all insider reports credit them with being efficient administrators of public works and services.

    Do you have a link for that? I am obviously prepared to be corrected, and amend or nuance my position if my facts are wrong

    Well, I have come across frequent references in MSM accounts of the role of the large ex-Baathist contingent in ISIS in administrating the areas they cover. I’m sure that sounds familiar to you too. Do we hear of mass starvation in ISIS areas? Apparently people still go to work… I couldn’t find any of the better articles on the topic I recall, but here’s some links, with some excerpts, pro and con, but which at least suggest the likelihood that ISIS does assume some state functions.

    The first Western journalist in the world to be allowed extensive access to Isis territories in Syria and Iraq has returned from the region with a warning: the group is “much stronger and much more dangerous” than anyone in the West realises.
    Jürgen Todenhöfer, 74, is a renowned German journalist and publicist who travelled through Turkey

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/inside-isis-the-first-western-journalist-ever-given-access-to-the-islamic-state-has-just-returned-9938438.html

    to Mosul, the largest city occupied by Isis, after months of negotiations with the group’s leaders.

    Speaking in a TV interview with RTL’s Nachtjournal programme two days after his return to Germany last week, Todenhöfer said Isis has worked hard to establish itself as a functioning state. He said it has “social welfare”, a “school system”, and that he was even surprised to see it has plans to provide education to girls.

    Inside Mosul: What’s life like under Islamic State?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-32831854

    Life for the city’s residents has changed beyond recognition. The footage reveals how fuel is in short supply, pollution widespread, construction halted and many schools closed.

    …Hisham: “Daily life has changed in an indescribable way. Those who were in the military and day labourers no longer have any income because there are no jobs anymore. The rich have been relying on their savings, those with a salary are just about getting by, but the poor have been left to the mercy of God.

    …”IS takes a quarter of everyone’s salary as a contribution towards paying for rebuilding the city. People can’t say no because they would face harsh punishments. The group controls everything. Rent is paid to it and the hospitals are for its members’ exclusive use.

    Inside the Islamic State
    Malise Ruthven
    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/jul/09/inside-islamic-state/

    Atwan draws a convincing picture of the Islamic State as a well-run organization that combines bureaucratic efficiency and military expertise with a sophisticated use of information technology.

    “Sharia courts deal with all complaints, whether religious or civil, and cases can be brought by individuals as well as the police,” Atwan writes.
    In conurbations were there has been no policing and no judiciary owing to the collapse of central government, these courts are largely popular; citizens can bring cases directly to the courts, which are able to process cases quickly and, in most cases, reasonably.
    Justice is said to be impartial, with ISIS soldiers subject to the same punishments as civilians.
    … Other sources of income include bank robberies, kidnap ransoms, “fees” at roadblocks, and “taxes” imposed on traders living in ISIS-controlled areas. Atwan sees management of these funds as “indicative of a large, well-organized, state-like entity” governed in strict accordance with Islamic law. Jizya—the per capita tax paid by Jews and Christians prior to nineteenth-century Ottoman reforms—is now exacted from non-Muslims, while booty and “spoils of war”—including captured women and slaves—may be distributed in accordance with Koranic prescriptions.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/09/12/how-the-west-created-the-islamic-state/

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n14/hugh-roberts/the-hijackers?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=3714&utm_content=ukrw_subsact&hq_e=el&hq_m=3835547&hq_l=9&hq_v=63b0d5c8fa

    It has an army comprising highly equipped regular forces as well as guerrilla forces, it controls a large territory, it has an oil industry, it has a tax system, it has a system of local government and a system of justice. It fights like a state, it sees like a state and it punishes like a state. It carries conviction and meets with belief.

  64. jock mctrousers: It has an army comprising highly equipped regular forces as well as guerrilla forces, it controls a large territory, it has an oil industry, it has a tax system, it has a system of local government and a system of justice. It fights like a state, it sees like a state and it punishes like a state. It carries conviction and meets with belief.

    All the more reason to see it destroyed and eradicated sooner rather than later.

  65. Aerial bombardment by a foreign power is obviously the answer. When has it not worked before?

  66. Andy Newman on said:

    jock mctrousers,

    All you describe there sounds reminiscent of a high functioning Warlord polity, such as Abdul Dostum’s “United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan” (Northern Alliance).

    Also the complexion of ISIS in Northern Iraq, as comprising of many former Ba’athist officials and former Iraqi army officers is a common feature of how warlordism can arise, as components of a former state, orphaned from the current state coalesce again. The last 100 years has seen this phenomenon many times, for example in China.

    The characteristic of how a high functioning warlord polity functions differently from a state has typically been the lack of autonomy of these civil functions from the system of patronage deriving from the primary driving force, the military; and furthermore that the dynamic of the military is very voltaile, depending upon patronage dispensed from those who derive authority from military charisma; and the relative autonomy of different military units.

    The modern history of Afghanistan shows how this works, where what can seem like a relatively stable area controlled by a particular warlord can change almost overnight, if one charismatic military leader suffers a defeat, while another lower down the pecking order achieves a victory, then shifting and contingent alliances can be rapidly reconfigured . The war that the Taliban fought against the warlords to reestablish a state – however reactionary and dysfunctional that state was – was marked by some surprisingly easy military victories, not least because they were able to offer both a carrot and a stick, and allowed those warlords who accepted the newly established authority of a national state in Kabul considerable local autonomy; but that meant that the Taliban state itself was remarkable easy to overthrow, simply by the Americans paying the warlords to change sides – even though that meant that short term advantage for the US was bought at the expense of reviving warloridism.

    I am no expert on ISIS, but from what I hear of the disparate elements within it, many of those currently aligned to ISIS have done so on the contingent basis that it is currently the biggest dog in the fight, and has become brand leader amongst the jihadis. That could rapidly change, if the leadership of al Baghdadi suffers military reverse, at the same time that some other military group within ISIS achieves a victory that enhances their charisma.

  67. John Grimshaw on said:

    John: It seems to have worked as part of a combined military strategy in the Second World War against fascism.

    The important issue here is “…as part of a combined strategy…” The bombing of fascist Germany didn’t in and of itself defeat the regime. The Red Army and then latterly the Western Allies had to invade to resolve the issue.

  68. Andy Newman on said:

    Sam64: The problem is when you talk about legitimacy and legality is that they are not exactly characteristics of the Assad dynastic regime. In purely practical terms, its my view (only that) that a precondition for forming a Syrian national state government that can effectively destroy ISIL is the removal of this vile, divisive, illegitimate and ‘illegal’ (whatever that means!) ruling family.

    There are two variants of “legitimacy” at work. If I recall his argument correctly, Said Arburish put forward the view that no Arab state in the modern world (post Nasserite) had legitimacy in the sense that their rule derived from a popular mandate, nor had legitimacy that they were ruling in the interests of the people. The preservation of the state machine, the ruling dynasty, graft, etc, etc. And many of these states are weak in the sense of not having robust mechanisms to ensure adherence to the rule of law

    However, I don’t know to what degree that is still true in Syria, where normal life has broken down and there is an existential struggle, and many people must see the continued survival of the armed forces of the Syrian state as being all that stands between them and armaggedon.

    The other function of legitimacy, is that we live in a world of states, and a global institutions of international law, which give those states certain duties, constraints and responsibilities.

    So with regard to legality – even if the Syrian state does not itself conform to the best standards internally of the rule of law, that doesn’t mean that international law regarding how other states treat Syria can be discarded.

    Regrading the idea that removing Assad would help, it seems highly implausible that a state engaged in an existential struggle for its survival will allow itself to be dismantled in order to pursue a peace process with some of its enemies, while still needing to prosecute a war against other of its enemies. I just don’t know of any historical example, where such a thing has happened.

    Tragically, this type of war has its own autonomy in several senses. Firstly that once violence is unleashed in a political process, the threshold for further violence is dramatically reduced; secondly war leads to a dehumanisation of how we see opponents making compromise difficult, and thirdly war can lead to an escalation of the issues under dispute so that political compromises are rejected. (one example being during the American revolution where the Continental Congress decided to continue the war even after the Crown had indicated that they would consider conceding on all the points that had originally caused the war – the tipping point for the American general Benedict Arnold to change sides – I wait to learn probably from George Hallam why my interpretation of this is wrong)

    So I just don’t think it is plausible for Assad to step down.

  69. John Grimshaw on said:

    Can I just take this opportunity to say that I have come to value this blog site over the last few years as it does give the possibility of having a real debate on some issues. This thread is an example of this. Of course I don’t agree with everything that goes on here but then that’s not really necessary, the debate is helpful. That I don’t always comment is because sometimes I just like to think. 🙂 Or maybe I don’t get out enough?

  70. John Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman: Tragically, this type of war has its own autonomy in several senses. Firstly that once violence is unleashed in a political process, the threshold for further violence is dramatically reduced; secondly war leads to a dehumanisation of how we see opponents making compromise difficult, and thirdly war can lead to an escalation of the issues under dispute so that political compromises are rejected. (one example being during the American revolution where the Continental Congress decided to continue the war even after the Crown had indicated that they would consider conceding on all the points that had originally caused the war – the tipping point for the American general Benedict Arnold to change sides – I wait to learn probably from George Hallam why my interpretation of this is wrong)
    So I just don’t think it is plausible for Assad to step down.

    I agree with your first point. We tend to think of wars as monolithic when in actual fact they go through different phases. Some phases involve not much violence or periods of peace before a new upsurge. I was thinking for example of the 30 years war in central Europe and Germany in the seventeenth century. There were religious elements to the war but also much blatant real politick and opportunism. Men like Prince Rupert went to join the war largely as a way of practicing their manhood. Do we not see an element of this happening in modern conflicts? We tend to think of WW2 as monolithic but it clearly went through phases. The things we think of as characteristic of “total war” such as conscription etc. were introduced by the British more or less straight away whereas in Germany this wasn’t until later in the 1940s. Hitler and co had an interest in allowing ordinary Germans to think that everything was business as usual for as long as possible. A fascist war of racial conquest became later a defensive nationalist war, which is one explanation of why ordinary Germans resisted so hard in 44/45. Stalin reintroduced army rankings and insignia and general nationalist ideology to motivate the war effort.

    On your other point i.e. will Assad step down, I don’t know. I think he could if he was allowed a plausible way out. The problem is that the moment may very well have passed. We are reliably informed that a deal was on the table in 2012 and that the Russians were prepared to broker it but the US/UK etc. were not interested. This is incredibly hypocritical given the West’s capacity to go round the planet causing mass slaughter.

  71. John Grimshaw on said:

    I find it surprising that no one on this thread has referred to the obvious ideological splits in the Islamic world. I think John’s original article is rather simplistic i.e. West bad and Russia good. As Andy has pointed earlier up thread somewhere it seems to me that this conflict is very complicated., which is why it’s difficult to resolve. We have a four of five way civil war abetted by various levels of Imperialist intervention from both the West and the Russians and their allies. One explanation for the failure of the Assad regime to collapse is that it has a base within the Alawite community. Surely it’s no surprise that the regime is receiving support from Iran and Hezbollah? The Alawites are sort of Shia and they are well aware what fate would await them should any sort of Saudi Sunni backed regime take over. The increasingly dictatorial Turkish regime has, with it’s formal Sunnism, no interest in finding a negotiated solution to the Syria situation. It also has a long history of discriminating against the Alawi minority (who are related in practice to the Alawites) and of course the Kurds who can be of either or no religion.

  72. John Grimshaw: The important issue here is “…as part of a combined strategy…” The bombing of fascist Germany didn’t in and of itself defeat the regime. The Red Army and then latterly the Western Allies had to invade to resolve the issue.

    I also pointed out in the same comment that reports indicate the arrival of Iranian troops in large number and the imminence of a major ground offensive being prepared in conjunction with Syrian troops and Russian air support.

  73. John Grimshaw on said:

    Syria was created by Western Imperialism when the Ottoman Empire was dismantled. The Sykes-Piquot agreement. Are we not looking at the final detonation of that agreement? After the formal withdrawal of British and French troops in the 1950s, the west supported hard men to cobble the whole lot together. Now maybe that’s no longer possible?

  74. John Grimshaw on said:

    John: I also pointed out in the same comment that reports indicate the arrival of Iranian troops in large number and the imminence of a major ground offensive being prepared in conjunction with Syrian troops and Russian air support.

    Yes I saw that John. I think I was, at least from a military point of view, rather agreeing with you. I don’t however see the arrival of Iranian troops, Hezbollah and the Russians (and maybe the Israelis) as necessarily a way to resolve the Syria crisis. My concern would be that this will only increase the likelihood that the Sunni Gulf States will increase their intervention.

  75. John Grimshaw: My concern would be that this will only increase the likelihood that the Sunni Gulf States will increase their intervention.

    Here you identify the nature of the struggle and why it must inform our support for the Assad government at this particular point. When we reduce the conflict to Syria it is inarguable that at this moment the stakes involved are not whether the Assad government survives or falls, the stakes involved are whether Syria survives or falls.

    On a broader regional level the issue is not one of Sunni v Shia, Wahhabiss, Salafist or Takfiri Sunni Islam v moderate Sunni Islam. The issue isn’t even one of upholding the rights of minorities, as important as that is. The issue is one of sectarian v non sectarian. And in this regard there is no case, none whatsoever, for being opposed to the non sectarian side in this struggle.

  76. John Grimshaw on said:

    John: Here you identify the nature of the struggle and why it must inform our support for the Assad government at this particular point.

    John, with respect, you’re doing that good/bad thing again. If Syria is to survive as it is currently geographically constituted, then Assad must be allowed a way to depart. A suitable new government should be instituted which comprises elements of all the countries minorities/majorities. The real question is whether the West/Saudis/Russians/Iranians etc. will allow that to happen?

  77. John Grimshaw: ohn, with respect, you’re doing that good/bad thing again. If Syria is to survive as it is currently geographically constituted, then Assad must be allowed a way to depart.

    No, John, my position is more nuanced than that. My support for the Assad government is based on where we are now, at this very point, in a life and death struggle for Syria’s survival. Those who argue that the focus now should be on Assad I do not consider to be engaging in serious politics.

    As to what happens with regard to the Syrian government once this existential threat to its survival has been eradicated, this is another matter. Does there need to be reform in Syria? Absolutely and beyond doubt? The issue is how this reform takes place and the central and primary role of the Syrian people, including the substantial section of the population that supports Assad.

    Syria will never be the same after this, no one could argue, but there is a difference between a managed and peaceful transition, and a nihilistic violent overthrow that is only guaranteed to conclude with Syria descending into an abyss.

    Just ask the Libyan people what that looks like.

  78. John Grimshaw: the arrival of Iranian troops, Hezbollah and the Russians (and maybe the Israelis)

    The fact that Israeli and Iranian troops fighting on the same side is no longer impossible illustrates the way that real life events tend to converge towards the plot of Ken Macleod novels.

  79. The ultra left chorus in support of a Western overthrow of Assad’s secular regime are in danger of being left behind by the more realistic elements in our own and the US bourgeoisie who recognise that the US strategy of bankrolling its surrogates in Syria’s three cornered civil war has failed and that coming to an agreement with Assad is the only viable option.
    That this conflicts with regional powers like the Quataris and Saudis shows how destabilising imperialist intervention in the region is. And how preposterous Cameron’s posturing is.

  80. david hillman on said:

    While some ex Generals in Israel have argued that their true interests would be served by helping the Syrian government, in practice Israels involvement has been in bombing government forces, and in giving medical aid to Isil and AlQuaida type Forces. (Their real international obligation is of course to let in refugees especially those with a right to return to their homes having first been driven out of Palestine).

  81. I cannot see how any of the belligerent parties in Syria can “win”, in the sense of gaining and maintaining control over the whole of the country. I hope I’m wrong, but the most likely outcome of all this is that Syria becomes the battleground for an unending 2-, 3- or more-sided proxy war, which will spill over further into neighbouring countries as well as blowing back into the faces of the various sides’ sponsors. There is nothing to cheer in this mess at all. Putin lectures the West (rightly) about not having learned the lessons of the Soviet Union and its ill-fated attempts to export its ideas, but seems to have forgotten the lesson of Afghanistan 1979-1989. If Russia emerges from this unscathed, it will be astonishing.

  82. Nick Wright: being left behind by the more realistic elements in our own and the US bourgeoisie

    See for example, the short analysis piece by Conservative MP, John Barrow, of the foreign affairs select committee in today’s Daily Mirror “We need to work with the Russians”

  83. John Grimshaw on said:

    Francis King: If Russia emerges from this unscathed, it will be astonishing.

    I would say this wouldn’t I. Only socialism/communism can save us now.

  84. John Grimshaw on said:

    My understanding of Corbyn’s position is that he thinks a negotiated solution is the right way forwards. This kind’ve makes sense. In the sense that I understand any of this then the “West” has to come to some sort of agreement with the Russians and Assad et al. If only to stop the killing. This is the most important thing. Lets set up some boring sort of council which will meet on a regular basis and do nothing in particular and then allow ordinary people to get on with their lives.

  85. John Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman: See for example, the short analysis piece by Conservative MP, John Barrow, of the foreign affairs select committee in today’s Daily Mirror “We need to work with the Russians”

    If it stops the killing it’s a no brainer..? Surely?

  86. Andy Newman on said:

    John Grimshaw: In the sense that I understand any of this then the “West” has to come to some sort of agreement with the Russians and Assad et al.

    To quote the Tory John Barrow MP:

    “Moscow’s deep diplomatic, political and military connections with the Damascus government stand a fair chance of ensuring political stablity by exploring some form of settlement acceptable to all parties [not ISIS – it is clear from earlier context] Western governments may be well advised not to close off this possibility”

    and

    “Western leaders need to reappraise what they actually want to achieve in Syria. They might cling to the mantra of “Assad must go””, but most experts agree that he does not pose a real threat to our security. the opposite is true of ISIS”

  87. Karl Stewart on said:

    Andy Newman,

    Thanks, I’ll have a look for both of them.

    The situation is indeed complex as you say. Have I got this right? The USA is backing al-Nursa in Syria, despite al-Nursa’s links to al-Qaeda, on the grounds that it opposes both ISIS and Assad?

    Is this true? And is it known in the USA?

  88. Andy

    Well Andy, I found your comment at 65, not 75, the most convincing! I’m only messing.

    On the legitimacy, legality issue, I don’t know the author you refer to, but the Western political science literature on the development of ME states after 1945 is replete with platitudes about illegitimacy. I think I first came across the phrase, over recent years levelled at the EU, ‘a democratic deficit’ whilst ploughing through some standard work decades ago. Apart from anything else, such terms tend to sterilise the sordid reality: think a dictator’s son, sipping a glass of Johnny Walker Black Label, whilst an opponent is tortured.

    But anyway, your argument really runs: you’re probably right, there’s precious little legitimacy and legality to a regime like the Assad’s (paradoxically exemplified by the 99% elections victories Hafez used to have). But things are now different. Right now the state edifice that is built around Bashir Assad, and wider society, is facing an existential threat from ISIL and a total war. In such a context, attempting to decapitate that state might well – I’m obviously paraphrasing – fatally advantage that existential threat, ISIL.

    Well, my immediate response is to point out that the Assad regime has historically regarded any opposition, from political gossip in a café to a peaceful demonstration as an ‘existential threat’ punishable by death. The point of origin of the present conflict were demos in Daraa in March 2011, years before the rise of ISIL, in which police snipers shot dead 5 protestors. The town was then sealed off to try to inoculate the movement. The states response to ‘existential threat’ has, according to figures I’ve heard over recent days, involved killing 7 times more Syrians than ISIL. Moreover, the regime has generally concentrated its military fire power not on this ‘existential threat’, ISIL, but on the military opposition that developed out of 2011: the Free Syrian Army – yes, yes, I know: weak, divided, compromised by its US backing etc. So too it seems, I know the situation is fast changing, have the Russians through their air strikes of recent days. The line of the Assad regime is that of the Moscow: a terrorist is a terrorist, is a terrorist – and therefore, Lavrov as good as said it, they all deserve to die and we’re going to try to kill all of them (all opponents of Assad).

    Now practically, i.e. apart from anything else, I doubt that approach is going to prevail, i.e. Syrian and Russian (with some Iranian) forces retaking all Syrian state territory and crushing all opposition, including of course ISIL, within it. I doubt that Putin could or would commit to the massive Russian military campaign that would involve, and I doubt that the US would ultimately tolerate such an action in defiance of its will. The future seems more of the same: a quagmire.

    It seems to me that in this context the only way of trying to ensure that a state government in Damascus emerges, one that is capable of wiping out ISIL, is for the family at the apex of the state, the Assads, to go – if not immediately then as part of some sort of settlement. How that might happen I don’t know. Possibly there are senior figures with the Ba’ath party that may have some independence and credibility and would be able to command a broader base of support, I don’t know. But, whilst there may well be support (and now nostalgia) for the more pluralistic and secular aspects of the Syrian state, Bashir and his immediate clan of thugs and cronies can only be an essentially divisive factor.

  89. Sam64: there’s precious little legitimacy and legality to a regime like the Assad’s (paradoxically exemplified by the 99% elections victories Hafez used to have).

    It has as much legitimacy, I would say, as the Bolshevik regime had in Russia. Neither came to power at the ballot box and both employed monstrous levels of violence when their writ was challenged.

    I don’t see the difference in this respect.

  90. Sam64: The point of origin of the present conflict were demos in Daraa in March 2011, years before the rise of ISIL, in which police snipers shot dead 5 protestors. The town was then sealed off to try to inoculate the movement.

    We know beyond doubt that the Assad govt was being targeted for regime change as far back as 2006. Now, with this in mind, combined with the awful chaos still unfolding in Iraq and the chaos that had engulfed Libya due to NATO’s air war against the regime there, don’t you think it is understandable if awful that the Syrian authorities would engage in lethal violence to try and quell the first signs of dissent?

    But even taking your argument at face value, do you seriously believe that Syria was ripe for a revolution? That opposition to Assad’s govt was sufficiently broad and popular to ensure its fall and replacement by a progressive alternative, given the growth in the region of sectarianism and Takfiri fundamentalism by then?

    Sam64: It seems to me that in this context the only way of trying to ensure that a state government in Damascus emerges, one that is capable of wiping out ISIL, is for the family at the apex of the state, the Assads, to

    Here you are advocating Syria’s complete collapse. Arguing for Assad to go as a precondition for destroying ISIL is just not serious politics. Replacing governments is not the same as replacing wheels on a car. And it is even less so when a country is engulfed in a total war. What do you think the army would do if Assad steps down? It would disintegrate, viewing it as a signal that the war is lost. The refugee crisis we are already experiencing would be many times worse as those parts of the country still under govt control emptied en masse.

    Such a scenario is too monstrous to even contemplate. It is insane.

    Any transition in Syria, and there certainly will need to be one, can only take place once the threat to Syria’s existence is no more. This involves the present government remaining in power. There is no other way, none whatsoever.

    Then there can be a transition, along the lines of the Kofi Annan plan that was rejected by the West back in 2012 because of their obdurate refusal to countenance Assad remaining in office, even in the short term.

  91. John,

    Even if the scenarios are comparable – i.e. by transposing (and these were Andy’s terms in response to Andy) ‘legality’ and ‘legitimacy’ from one historical context to another – I don’t think this is much of an argument. But I can guess the type of corollary inherent in it: what was good for Lenin is good enough for Assad!

  92. As anyone who has made the slightest effort to follow developments in Syria will be aware, the “existential struggle” between the Assad regime and Daesh (ISIS) has been virtually non-existent. Neither Assad nor Daesh has shown any interest in pursuing such a struggle.

    Most of the opposition forces ranged against the Assad regime have a common objective – the overthrow of the regime – and despite their ideological differences they have been willing to cooperate with each other in pursuit of that objective.

    Following its formation in April 2013 (two years after the outbreak of the civil war) Daesh adopted a very different approach. Rather than the removal of Assad, its objective was to carve out territory within which it could impose its barbaric vision of an Islamic state. In pursuit of that objective it spent far more time fighting other opposition forces, in order to seize territory that had already been liberated from the regime, than it did fighting the regime itself.

    Assad therefore had little motivation for engaging Daesh, who by attempting to exterminate rival opposition groups were effectively doing his work for him. On top of which, Daesh provided a useful propaganda tool, allowing Assad (and his supporters Iran and Hezbollah) to portray his barbaric regime (which had responded to legitimate demands for democracy by slaughtering his own people) as the civilised alternative to Daesh.

    A Jane’s analysis last December (“Syrian military and ISIS have been ‘ignoring’ each other on the battlefield”) estimated that over the course of 2014 “just six per cent of 982 Syrian counterterrorism operations targeted the Islamic State and only 13 per cent of 923 Islamic State attacks in Syria targeted Syrian security forces”.

    Despite Assad ignoring Daesh and concentrating on destroying the anti-Daesh opposition forces, the latter began to make significant advances. In January this year Foreign Policy (“Why Assad is losing”) reported:

    “After roughly two years of being on the defensive, Syria’s rebels are making dramatic gains in the north of the country. In the span of six weeks, coalitions of insurgent fighters captured the city of Idlib and won a series of key strategic victories elsewhere in the governorate. In the face of the opposition, the Syrian Army and its supporting militias appear at their weakest point since early 2013.”

    Things got worse for Assad. A Jane’s analysis in July estimated that the regime had lost 16% of its territory since the beginning of the year to the anti-Daesh opposition forces (Daesh itself had lost 9.4% of its own territory during that period).

    One response by Assad was to take a more active approach to supporting Daesh in its struggle against the anti-Daesh opposition. During an armed clash in June, when Daesh tried to cut the main supply line to the opposition-held territory in Aleppo, Assad’s airforce attacked the anti-Daesh opposition fighters, thereby providing military assistance to Daesh.

    While there was probably no immediate prospect of the regime falling, there was every likelihood that it would gradually be pushed back, unable to put up effective resistance. As Foreign Policy noted in January:

    “Frustration, disaffection and even incidences of protest are rising across Assad’s most ardent areas of support on Syria’s coast – some of which are now under direct attack. Hezbollah is stretched thin and even Iranian forces have begun withdrawing to the areas of Syria deemed to be the most important for regime survival.

    “The regime is no longer militarily capable of launching definitively successful operations outside of its most valuable territories, while its capacity for defense against concerted attack now appears questionable at best.”

    This is evidently what provoked a change of line in Moscow, and the decision to intervene and provide air power in support of Assad. The Russian strategy is already quite clear.

    Putin echoes the lying propaganda of the regime, falsely portraying Assad as engaged in an existential struggle against ISIS. However, while there will be some token strikes against Daesh in an attempt to justify that lie, the immediate objective of the Russian intervention is to roll back the anti-Daesh opposition forces, using its air power to support ground troops from Hezbollah, Iran and the remnants of the regime’s armed forces.

    Anti-Daesh opposition organisations will be attacked indiscriminately, irrespective of whether they are Jabhat al-Nusra, more mainstream Islamists influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Free Syrian Army or anyone else.

    Once the anti-Daesh opposition forces have been defeated, Putin no doubt reasons, the lie that Assad is engaged in a struggle against ISIS will become a reality, and international backing will be forthcoming for the defence of the regime.

    The bizarre thing is that there are sections of the left here in the UK who swallow Putin’s lying propaganda and imagine there is something progressive in Moscow’s cynical and brutal realpolitik.

  93. Bob: Once the anti-Daesh opposition forces have been defeated, Putin no doubt reasons, the lie that Assad is engaged in a struggle against ISIS will become a reality, and international backing will be forthcoming for the defence of the regime.

    The bizarre thing is that there are sections of the left here in the UK who swallow Putin’s lying propaganda and imagine there is something progressive in Moscow’s cynical and brutal realpolitik.

    Yes, Jahbat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate, is part of the ‘moderate rebel’ axis we’ve been regaled with, as are the Saudi and Turkish backed Army of Conquest.

    Unfortunately there are those who’ve fallen into line behind the narrative that in Syria there are good rebels and bad rebels. The civilians being slaughtered by them do not have that luxury.

    As for the much vaunted FSA, which no longer exists in any meaningful sense – and which btw Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, only the other day stated was not considered a terrorist organisation – I’m not sure I would describe them as moderate either. I still remember one of their commanders cutting open the body of a dead Syrian soldier, removing his liver and taking a bite out of it.

    This is a reductive analysis of a country that is in complete and utter chaos. The Assad government is the only and legitimate government of the Syrian people. Russia’s intervention on its behalf, upon the legimate government’s request, is therefore legal under international law. Airstrikes being carried out in Syria by the US, France, Turkey, israel, etc., without the prior consent or cooperation of the legitimate government, are illegal under international law.

    It is a truly staggering thought, the fact that a section of the left would see Assad fall to groups whose ideology is indistinguishable form al-Qaeda, the group responsible for 9/11.

  94. Vanya,

    I see the PKK as being in many ways comparable to Daesh. Although nominally part of the anti-Assad opposition, rather than resisting the barbaric dictatorship in Damascus both have concentrated instead on exploiting the chaos resulting from the civil war to seize control of patches of territory where they can run their own mini-states.

    True, unlike Daesh the PKK don’t actually behead people. They just murder unarmed, off-duty Turkish policeman by shooting them in the head. As a method of armed struggle, it isn’t easily distinguishable from that adopted by the killers of Lee Rigby.

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=68b_1414247851

  95. Bob: True, unlike Daesh the PKK don’t actually behead people.

    No, they only resist those who do. The defenders of Kobane, the YPG, are a PKK affiliate. Indeed PKK fighters fought in Kobane alongside them. I’m not convinced they deserve anything less that the sympathy and solidarity of the left.

  96. John,

    If the FSA “no longer exists in any meaningful sense”, who’s organising the resistance to Assad in the south? And Lavrov’s pious statement that the FSA’s fighters are not terrorists didn’t prevent the Russian airforce from killing them, did it? The fact is that the Syrian opposition forces (which consist of various tendencies – jihadists, mainstream Islamists, nationalists) cooperate closely with each other on the ground and Russian airstrikes will hit them all.

    The proposition that the Assad regime is the “legitimate government of the Syrian people” is laughable. This is a barbaric dictatorship that has maintained itself in power by torturing its opponents, shooting down protestors, and gassing and dropping barrel bombs on civilians. The fact that a section of the left defends this appalling regime just shows that a section of the left has completely lost the plot.

  97. Bob: This is a barbaric dictatorship that has maintained itself in power by torturing its opponents, shooting down protestors, and gassing and dropping barrel bombs on civilians. The fact that a section of the left defends this appalling regime just shows that a section of the left has completely lost the plot.

    It factually is the legitimate government of the Syrian people. The UN recognises it as such. You may not like the regime, but this does not mean it is not legitimate.

    As for the FSA, the International Business Times disagree with you. http://www.ibtimes.com/four-years-later-free-syrian-army-has-collapsed-1847116

    The IB Times is not known as a pro-Assad publication.

  98. Louis Proyect on said:

    John: The Middle East is unsuited to the establishment of functioning democracy because of the instability that has defined its modern history, instability that is largely the product of Western intervention.

    Yes, the natives aren’t ready for democracy.

  99. Karl Stewart on said:

    Yesterday, it was reported that the USA has bombed a hospital in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 19 people including three children and 12 MSF doctors.
    According to a report on al-Jazeera, MSF representatives frantically phoned NATO pleading with them to stop the air strikes, which, they said, continued ‘for an hour.’

    This slaughter was reported on MSM news yesterday evening and was immediately followed by an intwrview with David Cameron, in which he roundly condemned Russia for its military action against ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria but he made no mention of the USA’s slaughter at the Afghan hospital.

    Couple of things on this: Firstly, the utter hypocrisy and cringing subservience to the USA of Cameron, and secondly, the MSM placing Cameron’s condemnation immediately after the Afghan hospital report subtly implying a link between the two which may well have impressed upon the casual viewer.

  100. Andy Newman on said:

    Bob,

    There is a military logic in opposing those hostile forces that represent the greatest immediate threat -whatever their politics- in order to consolidate your position with regard to a future inevitable clash.

    As we celebrate the victory over the Luftwaffe in the skies in 1940, recall that the Royal Navy had attacked the French fleet in Mers el Kebir, who had been allies only two weeks earlier, sinking a battleship, damaging other capital ships and killing some 1300 French sailors.

  101. It is clear to anyone who has any capability of changing their minds in response to facts, that this debate has changed following the intervention of the admirable Bob at 107 (what he says about the PKK does seem more tendentious). Given his analysis of events over the last 2 years, there can be no pretence that war in Syria has somehow pared down to a now life and death struggle between Assad and their existential foe: ISIL – a scenario I took seriously above, even if I was sceptical of it. It is clear from what he says that that Assad regime v. ISIL just has not been the principal engagement – the opposite is more accurate. It’s just a propaganda ruse of Assad and his main foreign backer, Russia. But, as we’ve seen over the last few days, Russia actions – that, according to Al jazeera just now, are fairly puny and probably more diplomatic than military as they’ve only killed only 14 fighters, as usual civilian fatalities have been 3 to 4 times more than that – speak louder than words, i.e. most of the their air strikes have not been at ISIL positions.

    John, I am not going to respond to your attempts to rationalise as ‘understandable’ (comment 99) the brutality of an authoritarian state, i.e. thugs in dark glasses on high buildings gunning down peaceful protestors in Daraa, Syria, March 2011 – and after. If you really want to chalk that up as mature politics, well, that’s up to you.

    Lovely day. All power to the anti-austerity protestors in Manchester and look out for the ticket price protests that I’ll be taking part in, organised by both Liverpool and Everton fans, at the Merseyside derby this afternoon.

  102. Andy Newman on said:

    Sam64,

    You are easily impressed!

    Bob rehashes the arguments we have already heard, but just throws up more sand.

    We are now expected to believe that Jabhat al-Nusra are part of a “moderate” coalition that controls most of the Idlib region.

    There is something more than Orwellian about Western liberals preferring the advance of al Qaeda, and describing them as moderates.

    Remember we heard EXACTLY the same arguments about the Najibullah givernment in Afghanistan, which fell in 1992, as we are now hearing about Assad.

    The fall of Najibullah did not lead to peace or stability, it led to 4 years of Kabul being a battleground for warlords, until the Taliban captured it in 1996.

    If Damascus falls to thesr Western approved rebels, including al Qaeda, there will not be an advance for human rights there will be slaughter, and at the same tme the only military and social forve capable of actually defeating ISIS will be removed.

    The midnight of the 21st century will begin

  103. Andy Newman on said:

    Bob,

    “Cynical and brutal” Putin may indeed be.

    “Realpolitik” may indeed describe Russia’s engagement in Syria –

    But cynical and brutal Realpolitik in pursuit of imperial self interest is exactly how Britain’s attack on Mer al-kebir was described in 1940 . Especially as it was an attack on the armed forces of a neutral state that had until 2 weeks earlier been an ally in arms.

    In reality sinking Vichy’s Mediteranian fleet was necessary in a brutal war of survival for the UK.
    If the UK lost command of the seas it could not survive Nazi invasion.

    But noone would argue that British military action against French armed forces in 1940 meant that London was unserious about war with Hitler. Indeed the opppsite is the case, rallying oponion behind Churchill in the Cinservative Party, and imprressing Washington that Britain would do whatever it took to survive and
    would fight “if necessary alone, if necessary for years,”

    If Damascus falls – however brutal and appallng that government – not only is the army taken out of the field – the most significant armed force impeding the triumph of ISIS, but also the centrepiece of a coalition prepared to fight, contain, and hopefully defeat ISIS.

  104. Karl Stewart on said:

    Sam64,
    I’m very surprised that Bob’s echoing of the US State Department’s line has impressed you. Although I’ve disagreed with your arguments, at least yours are honest views from a genuine socialist.

  105. Andy Newman on said:

    Bob,

    Bob’s description of the oppodition forces who appatently include – alongside the Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate – what he calls nationalists, jihadis and others , and who cooperate in a military alliance, against Assad.

    Firstly, the military alliance suggests at least some overlap of objectives, so it is reasinable to queztion from a human rights and demicracy point if view why the West prefer Al Qaeda to Assad.

    Secondly, the glue holding the rebels alliance together is shared opposition to Assad. Were – God forbid – they to defeat the Syrian state and army, they would fight amongst themselves, as the mujhadeen did when they captured Kabul.

    Of course all these historical analogies may well be dubious and open to contradiction by events on the ground. But it is surely at least worth some circumspection rather than blind optimism

  106. Andy Newman,

    Much, not all, of the above discussion – including your contributions – is predicated on the assumption that 1) ISIL is the principal threat to the Assad regime in the Syrian war, 2) the threat is ‘existential’, i.e. total; 3) the threat is imminent. This quote from John’s article captures these claims: ‘The barbarians are at the gates and Russia alone is heeding the call to intervene in order to save not just the Syrian government or Syria, but civilisation itself’.

    In contradiction to these assumptions, Bob claimed yesterday, ‘As anyone who has made the slightest effort to follow developments in Syria will be aware, the “existential struggle” between the Assad regime and Daesh (ISIS) has been virtually non-existent’. He then showed, by drawing upon facts from several sources not referred to before in a clearly informed contribution, why the threat is virtually non-existent. He thus reset the debate.

    Or at least his contribution should have done. I can see that you’ve tried to immediately change the terms of the argument.

  107. Sam64,

    My characterisation of the PKK/PYD may appear harsh, Sam, and was intended to be provocative, but I do get pissed off with the adulatory coverage this cult/sect receives, with pro-PKK puff pieces appearing everywhere from the Daily Mail to Owen Jones’ Guardian column.

    Kobane, which is presented by its admirers as the PKK’s finest hour, was in reality a good example of the PKK/PYD leadership’s braindead sectarianism, which has served to undermine the fight against Daesh, despite the courage shown by the YPG’s fighters.

    The YPG forces defending Kobane from an onslaught by Daesh last year faced the very real threat of defeat. The PKK demanded that the Turkish government should allow PKK fighters to cross the border to join the defence of Kobane. Taking the view that the PKK are terrorists who deserved no cooperation from the Turkish state, Erdogan refused. The PKK responded with violent protests and the murder of three off-duty soldiers. They accused Erdogan of backing Daesh.

    But Erdogan had no objection to allowing Kurdish fighters to assist in the defence of Kobane against Daesh, as long as they weren’t PKK. He reached an agreement with the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, with whom Turkey had established friendly relations, that 2,000 Peshmerga could pass through Turkey and join Kobane’s resistance to Daesh.

    But the KRG is headed by Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, who support the Kurdish National Council in Syria, not the PYD. The arrival in Kobane of 2,000 well trained, heavily armed Peshmerga would have doubled the strength of the anti-Daesh resistance in the city. But their presence would also have threatened the YPG’s domination of territory which it regards as its exclusive possession. So the YPG turned down the KRG’s offer, eventually accepting a token force of just 150 Peshmerga.

    The Free Syrian Army (you know, the one that doesn’t exist) also offered to send 1,300 fighters via Turkey to Kobane, to join the 200 FSA fighters who were already there. Erdogan readily agreed to that too. But, once again, the YPG rejected the offer of substantial additional forces and eventually agreed to a much smaller FSA contingent variously estimated at between 50 and 200 fighters.

    Daesh was finally diven back from Kobane with the help of US airstrikes, and US airpower has allowed the YPG to take further territory Syria from Daesh. But the insistence of the PKK/PYD that it alone represents the interests of the Kurdish people, and its refusal to cooperate with other forces that might threaten its monopoly of power, has left the YPG militarily overstretched.

    Although Daesh was forced to abandon its campaign to capture Kobane, the YPG lacked the forces to defend the city adequately. As a result, Daesh fighters were able to infiltrate Kobane in June and launch an attack that killed some 200 civilians.

    So as I say, despite the courage of the YPG’s rank and file, the battle for Kobane has underscored the utterly sectarian and counterproductive methods of the PKK/PYD leaders.

  108. Bob: So as I say, despite the courage of the YPG’s rank and file, the battle for Kobane has underscored the utterly sectarian and counterproductive methods of the PKK/PYD leaders.

    This is a shameful smear levelled against some of the bravest men and women the world has seen. For weeks they stood alone as Kobane was surrounded on three sides. When the black flat went up just inside the town everybody but everybody, including the British and US governments, accepted its fate and that of the town’s defenders, many of them young women.

    Meanwhile, throughout, Erdogan’s tanks sat on the other side of the border and watched the struggle like spectators at a football match, drawing an equivalence between a medieval death cult, whose members were allowed to move back and forth across the Turkish border at wil and without molestation, and the PKK.

    The Turkish armed forces have played a reprehensible role in the Syrian conflict, with Erdogan circling the country like a vulture getting ready to feed on a carcass.

    Russia’s intervention has drawn a line in the sand though, putting an end to this double dealing at the point when Syria was beginning to draw perilously close to the abyss.

    History will leave no doubt that Russia’s intervention was a game-changer not only for Syria, but the wider region and the international order overall.

    Unipolarity is no more and a good thing too.

  109. There is an interesting article by David Bromwich in the Huff Post, on the alleged existence of the ‘moderate rebels’.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-bromwich/syria-the-times-and-myste_b_8236164.html

    Quotes:

    ‘After a two-year absence from the international stage — during which the mainstream media dispatched them to the realm of nonexistent entities — on October 1 the “moderate rebels” of Syria were back. The New York Times said so. Russian attacks were targeting moderates rather than ISIS, a man with a camera was quoted saying; and the Times story by Anne Barnard appeared to confirm his suspicion; even as a companion report on Russian actions in Syria by Helene Cooper, Michael R. Gordon, and Neil MacFarquhar revealed that these are the same moderates who were carefully vetted by the CIA, and concerning whom little was heard ever after. Their numbers are put at 3,000 to 5,000, though the Cooper-Gordon-MacFarquhar article leaves uncertain if that is their original or their present strength. This illumination, after so long a blackout, will doubtless be a subject for inquiry in coming days. Why it would seem worthwhile for the Russians to attack so small a force, neither of the Times stories bothered to say; nor did they explain why, if the moderate rebels are anti-Jihadist, they were allowed to garrison in the town of Talbiseh in a region north of Homs that (according to the veteran Middle East reporter Patrick Cockburn) has been “ruled” for the past two years “by Jabhat al-Nusra and associated extreme Islamist groups.”

    […]

    The US, France, and Britain are said to support “More moderate elements among the rebel forces in Syria.” That is one way of putting it; another way is “less extreme”; and these two phrases recur in the self-portraits of the Islamist commanders who want continued US support and subsidy […] we are urged at the same time to suppose — the complicated relationships of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and Israel encourage it — that al-Nusra is perhaps a milder version of al-Qaeda and that both are necessary allies in the titanic struggle to overthrow Assad and defeat ISIS in a single stroke. The sheer quantity of self-deception that is required to support this fantasy ought to be obvious; but the fantasy will tempt us until our leaders break once and for all with the dreamers of the Third Force.’

  110. jock mctrousers on said:

    Karl Stewart: Sam64,
    I’m very surprised that Bob’s echoing of the US State Department’s line has impressed you. Although I’ve disagreed with your arguments, at least yours are honest views from a genuine socialist.

    You’ve got a delicious line in sarcasm, Karl (I hope). There have been many public statements by US officials admitting that there are NO ‘moderate’ rebels.

    https://consortiumnews.com/2015/09/11/on-syria-incoherence-squared/

    “ In August 2012, a widely circulated report by the Defense Intelligence Agency
    http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf
    noted that Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Salafists were the driving forces behind the anti-Assad revolt, that they were seeking to establish a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria as part of a general anti-Shi‘ite jihad, and that their backers in the West, the Gulf states, and Turkey were all comfortable with such an outcome.

    Last October, Vice President Joe Biden let slip at a talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcKVCtg5dxM
    that “the Saudis, the emirates, etc. … were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war … [that] they poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into … Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world” that eventually morphed into ISIS – and yet the U.S. did not object, at least not publicly. “

    The Obama Two-Step on Syria
    by Ajamu Baraka
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/09/23/the-obama-two-step-on-syria/

    “ From the very beginning of the phony Arab spring actions in Syria, it was not even necessary for former general Wesley Clark to reveal that Syria was on a hit-list of governments slated for subversion to see the reactionary presence of U.S. intelligence agencies in the “rebellion” in Syria.

    Former French Foreign Minister, Roland Dumas blew the whistle
    http://nsnbc.me/2013/07/03/former-french-foreign-minister-dumas-blows-the-whistle-on-western-war/
    on Western war plans against Syria, long before the first “spontaneous” protests erupted in 2011. While Dumas told a story of British and French intrigue, it was always clear that those two sub-imperialist nations would not have been engaged in anything of that magnitude and sensitivity without a green light from the U.S. hegemon.

    WikiLeaks conformed those plans when it released over 7000 secret diplomatic cables that documented that from 2006 to 2010, the US spent 12 million dollars in order to support and instigate demonstrations and propaganda against the Syrian government.
    Millions were spent to support dissident groups and for disinformation campaigns targeting the corporate media in the U.S. and Western Europe.
    Once the destabilization plan was launched reports in the alternative press immediately emerged of CIA involvement with illicit arms being funneled to Syria opposition fighters, including tons of equipment from Libya that had been destroyed by NATO forces.
    Seymour Hersh the Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter revealed
    http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2014/04/real-benghazi-story.html
    that President Obama and the Turkish PM, Erdogan concluded a secret deal in the beginning of 2012 in which the CIA and the British M16 would move heavy weapons out of Libya to supply the Free Syrian Army. This was the activity that Chris Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, was providing political cover for in Benghazi when the CIA annex and diplomatic compound was attacked by one of the disaffected armed groups that the U.S. was dealing with.
    Those reports became so wide-spread in media outlets globally that finally even the New York Times could no longer avoid the reports and ran a story
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/world/middleeast/cia-said-to-aid-in-steering-arms-to-syrian-rebels.html?_r=1 that essentially corroborated reports of CIA involvement in support of Syrian opposition forces.
    But clearly the most damaging information that revealed the extent of the Obama’s administration moral complicity with the carnage that it unleased in Syria was the report from the Defense Intelligence Agency ( DIA) written in 2012 that clearly documented that “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al- Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” being supported by “the West, Gulf countries and Turkey.” And like the report that exposed that white terrorist organizations represented a major threat to domestic security in the U.S., this report was also ignored by the administration. “

    Robert Parry’s Consortium News has been particularly good on Syria. Here’s a few samples:

    Obama’s Ludicrous ‘Barrel Bomb’ Theme
    https://consortiumnews.com/2015/09/30/obamas-ludicrous-barrel-bomb-theme/

    Climbing into Bed with Al-Qaeda By Daniel Lazare
    https://consortiumnews.com/2015/05/02/climbing-into-bed-with-al-qaeda/

    Neocons Babble Over Syria Crisis By Daniel Lazare
    https://consortiumnews.com/2015/09/16/neocons-babble-over-syria-crisis/

  111. I hope that “Bob” is well paid by the Turkish government, as I hate to see people working for free.

  112. I hope that “Bob” is well paid by the Turkish government, as I hate to see people working for free.

  113. Karl Stewart on said:

    Sam64,
    Come on Sam, surely it must be clear to you now that this “Bob” character is just a total dick. A blatant supporter of al-Qaeda, its Turkish government and Saudi sponsors, and their USA puppet masters.

    Nothing wrong with making a left-wing argument against Assad, as you’re doing, but this “Bob” isn’t your ally here.

  114. Andy Newman on said:

    Sam64,

    Oh come off it. There was a Robert Fisk article back in June pointing out that there is an immediate existential threat to survival of the Assad state, primarily from Nusra, becausr the political strategy of Assad is to hold all major cities thus denying the rebels a credible seat of power. If Aleppo falls then Assad’s loss of momentum may be fatal.
    So an existential threat is real.
    i genuinely fail to understand why Al Qaeda is acceptable to liberals but ISIS not. I think both need to be defeated.
    But Robert Fisk also says that without the Syrian Army there is no force that can defeat ISIS.
    So what ever your friend at the Turkish embassy, Bob, has to add, there is both an immediate existential threat, and one that would be a massive boost for ISIS.

    FFS, even the Daily Express is publishing artickes calling on the UK to back Russia’s intervention

  115. jock mctrousers on said:

    John, Andy, Tony – whoever’s doing MODERATION! I submitted a post yesterday, but you probably can’t see it up at #128 because it’s STILL got a ‘waiting moderation’ tag on it. Fair enough, it had about a dozen links (mostly to instances of USA officials admitting publicly that there were no moderate opposition forces ), but it’s easy to see at a glance that they’re all from Consortium News or the MSM.

  116. Andy Newman on said:

    jock mctrousers,

    I recommend people have a look at Jock’s comment above which includes several interesting links.

    BTW Jock, the comments filter will have put it into moderation as potential spam because of the number of links included, which is a common feature of spam advertising.

    To get around thus in future try not to include more than 2 links per comment, and uf necessary split across several comments

  117. The continued pretence by the Putin government and its apologists that it is targeting Daesh has reduced them to an object of ridicule among those who have any knowledge of the actual situation on the ground.

    Charles Lister has just tweeted: “#Russia’s own map excludes #ISIS from Jisr al-Shughour & Marat al-Numan, where it says it’s repeatedly struck #ISIS!”

    https://twitter.com/Charles_Lister/status/650975121751019520

    Marat al-Numan, which was a centre of mass anti-Assad protests in 2011, was taken by the opposition three years ago, when the Free Syrian Army defeated Assad’s forces. Jisr al-Shughour fell to anti-Assad (and anti-Daesh) opposition fighters during a successful offensive in the Idlib governorate earlier this year. Lister noted that the offensive had

    “displayed a far improved level of coordination between rival factions, spanning from U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades, to moderate and conservative Syrian Islamists, to al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and several independent jihadist factions.

    “Although this went largely unacknowledged by the groups involved – and while media coverage broadly portrayed the Idlib offensives as ‘jihadist’ or al Qaeda-led – the reality on the ground was that the recent offensive brought together many groups holding very different ideologies.

    “FSA groups only played a minor role in the advance into Idlib city itself, but played a crucial support role in preventing regime reinforcements from going to the city’s defense. Moreover, their role in Jisr al-Shughour’s capture was more significant and they are similarly active elsewhere to this day.”

    No sign of Daesh anywhere in this.

    Still, we have RT’s assurance that “Russian air strikes hit 8 ISIS targets near Jisr al-Shughur”.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsT1gGKQUnA

  118. jock mctrousers on said:

    Yeah, yeah, Bob – what I don’t get is why you have a problem with Russia bombing these a-holes?

  119. Andy Newman,

    OK Andy. Here’s a statement that seems sum up your, er, position: there’s a movable existential threat! Or, in full, all the anti Assad groups in Syria pose an existential threat to the Assad regime, save the Free Syrian Army and that doesn’t really exist anyway – its existentially challenged. Bloody hell, wonder what old Jean Paul Sartre would make of it all.

    On this claim, ‘i genuinely fail to understand why Al Qaeda is acceptable to liberals but ISIS not. I think both need to be defeated’. Can you name any such liberal (or more pertinently given this is SU, anybody on the left) who has a soft spot for the al Nusra Front?

    The Fisk article John references does make for grim reading. And whilst its intent is to dispel the notion that there are any good, moderate rebels, it hardly depicts the Assad regime as a bulwark of civilisation.

    Just on this from Fisk, ‘Let’s start with a reality check. The Russian military are killers who go for the jugular. They slaughtered the innocent of Chechnya to crush the Islamist uprising there, and they will cut down the innocent of Syria as they try to crush a new army of Islamists and save the ruthless regime of Bashar al-Assad’. The Guardian had a interesting little story on Saturday that relates to this. It emerges a little later in Fisk’s piece why Ramzan Kadyrov has his own home grown reasons for wanting to get down to Syria to do some killing on Vlad’s behalf.

    Finally, on you penchant over recent days for quoting Tories who think Assad and Russia are doing ‘us’ a favour ( I saw the appalling Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to Washington, and no friend of John Prescott, arguing much the same thing on TV yesterday) it aint exactly an ethical internationalist line to go down. I once heard an extreme version of it from the late Alan Clarke: British foreign policy should be determined entirely by national interest. If it was in Britain’s national interest to foster good relations with a state engaged in a holocaust then so be it.

    Here’s The Guardian article, forgot to link it: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/02/putin-should-unleash-chechen-troops-on-isis-says-regions-president

  120. Andy Newman on said:

    Sam64,

    Where have i ever said anything about the Free Syrian Army. I have not expressed any opinion of whether it exists, but since you ask i am not overly convinced of the progrrssive credentials of people who film themselves in canabalistic defiling of the corpses of their enemies and putting it on you tube.

    Clearly liberals do prefer Al Qaeda to ISIS hence the objections that the Russians are bombing Nusra targets not only ISIS.

    your nonsense dismissing the threat to the continued existance of the Syrian state glosses over your indifference to Jihadis succeeding

  121. There was an interesting article in the FT a few months ago which featured interviews with members of the Southern Front (or the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army, to give it its full title). Hopefully this link will work. The Southern Front has issued a statement condemning Russian and Iranian intervention in support of the Assad dictatorship, and declaring that they will resist the “occupying forces”. So I suppose it’s only a matter of time before they’re subjected to Russian airstrikes too. All in the interests of defeating ISIS, of course.

  122. Bob: The continued pretence by the Putin government and its apologists that it is targeting Daesh has reduced them to an object of ridicule […]

    A comment from another blog (Angry Arab) seems rather apposite:

    “So, the US pinpointed the accuracy/ inaccuracy of Russian bombings in Syria: ‘Russian jets were 6.5 miles away from ISIS camps.’ My question here is: if we knew their location so precisely, … why haven’t we destroyed them and basked in glory?”

    But in any case, neither Bob nor the US or Turkish authorities themselves have explained why they are so exercised about Al Qaeda & allied extremists, rather than only the ISIS extremists, being combated by the Russian Air Force.

  123. Bob: The Southern Front has issued a statement condemning Russian and Iranian intervention

    This is just risible. Issuing a statement, from Jordan, to a media eager to believe, is no evidence either of having any significant forces on the ground nor of merely being a “moderate” Jihadi extremist.

  124. Noah,

    Before you hold forth about the character of the anti-Assad opposition, wouldn’t it be an idea if you made some small effort to study the subject? Your contributions to this discussion are just an embarrassment.

  125. Bob: Your contributions to this discussion are just an embarrassment.

    Speaks the expert who equates the PKK with ISIS.

  126. Bob: a quick glance at Wikipedia

    Ah, so that’s how you found out that the “moderate rebels” really do exist.

    What a pity that the CIA never thought of looking at Wikipedia- they could have discovered the cuddly forces years ago, that would have helped them overthrow Assad and install a secular democratic pro-Western regime.

  127. The point I’m making is that the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army is hardly an obscure or insignificant organisation. It constitutes the main anti-Assad opposition force in the south, as anyone who’d bothered to acquire even a minimal knowledge of the Syrian opposition movement would be aware. You’ve apparently never heard of it.

  128. Karl Stewart on said:

    Strange that this “Bob” character, apparently from the Turkish Embassy, is at such pains to “prove” that Russia is bombing al-Qaeda as well as ISIS.

    There’s no need for “proof”. They say they are bombing both groups, and they are. The comrades are explaining this in their regular military reports. They’re bombing both ISIS and al-Qaeda.

    Now, why exactly does “Bob” character, apparently from the Turkish Embassy, think this is a bad thing?

  129. Bob: The point I’m making is that the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army is hardly an obscure or insignificant organisation.

    The problem with your so-called “Southern Front” (like the rest of the “Free Syrian Army”) is whether it exists at all in any meaningful sense, except as a means to channel foreign money and media support to what are, in reality, a bunch of extremist Islamist sectarian militias, including Al-Nusra and Harakat al-Muthana.

    Aron Lund commented in 2014:

    “[H]ave powerful southern Syrian rebel groups joined in a non-Islamist, democratic alliance? For many Syrians, that must sound too good to be true—and it probably was just that […]

    “What that means is that the Southern Front is nothing at all—it is words on paper, a mere declaration of intent, if even that […]

    “Rather than an initiative from the rebels themselves, word is that it was foreign officials that called on rebel commanders to sign a statement declaring their opposition to extremism, saying it was a precondition for getting more guns and money. Since beggars can’t be choosers, the commanders then collectively shrugged their shoulders and signed—but not so much to declare a new alliance as to help U.S. officials tick all the right boxes in their reports back home, hoping that this would unlock another crate of guns.”

    http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=55054

  130. Andy Newman,

    In sequence:

    Yesterday: ‘Where have i ever said anything about the Free Syrian Army. I have not expressed any opinion of whether it exists’.

    In fact, you’ve gone further. Speaking of ‘secular forces’ that oppose the Assad regime, i.e. not just the Free Syrian Army, on 24 January, 2014 at 2:11 pm you wrote ‘“forces” that only exist in your imagination’.

    ‘Clearly liberals do prefer Al Qaeda to ISIS hence the objections that the Russians are bombing Nusra targets not only ISIS’.

    Clearly you can’t site any liberals who finds al Qaeda acceptable but ISIS not. Otherwise you would have done so. On the contorted reasoning: 1) John’s article and much of the discussion is predicated on the assumption that the Syrian army and Russian military support is (key word) primarily engaged in fighting ISIL; 2) ISIL is the principal threat, an existential one (bored of that phrase now), to the Assad regime. The first contribution of Bob shows that just isn’t the case. Facts are stubborn things. Your inference that somehow, in some way, this gives – I give – some kind of ‘support’ to al- al Qaeda, their wing in Syria, the al Nusra Front, is completely bogus.

    ‘your nonsense dismissing the threat to the continued existance of the Syrian state glosses over your indifference to Jihadis succeeding’.

    This is just juvenile. I’ve said I’d like to see ISIL wiped out. I can’t put it much stronger than that. If, again, you choose to infer otherwise that’s just you Andy. Apart from anything else, I doubt that the Syrian regime under Assad is capable of defeating ISIL – and, again, the facts suggest that this hasn’t in any case been the priority for the regime.

  131. jock mctrousers on said:

    Noah: sign a statement declaring their opposition to extremism, saying it was a precondition for getting more guns and money. Since beggars can’t be choosers

    i.e. it’s a cover for the USA, Qatar and Saudi to supply arms to ISIS.

  132. Pingback: The hypocrisy of “Anti-Imperialist” support of Russian intervention in Syria | NOTA

  133. Karl Stewart on said:

    Sam64: Clearly you can’t site any liberals who finds al Qaeda acceptable but ISIS not.

    This is a strange point to make Sam. I don’t know about ‘liberals’ but there are many forces at play here who clearly have no problem with providing active material support to al-Qaeda and Andy, John, Noah and others have identified these forces several times now.

    The USA state, the UK Prime Minister, the French government, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the government of Turkey to name just a few, all support al-Qaeda in Syria.

    This is the odd thing about this debate. There seems to be this notion that it’s important to ‘prove’ that Russia is not solely attacking ISIS. But no-one’s claiming that Russia is solely attacking ISIS. Russia is attacking both ISIS and al-Qaeda and the ‘west’ is objecting to the Russian action as a whole.

  134. Andy Newman on said:

    Karl Stewart,

    Follow the link from tne pingback at 156

    It is an explicitly liberal website, from people who call themselves liberals, and bemoaning Russia for bombing Nusra, which is Al Qaeda.

    So clearly there are liberals who support Al Qaeda over Assad

  135. The problem with Karl and Andy’s analysis (if it is possible to dignify the mindless repetition of Russian propaganda with the term analysis) is that it just ignores the facts.

    They say that Russia is attacking al-Qaeda in Syria. But the AQ affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra is only one minor part of the anti-Assad opposition forces. The Russian objective is to destroy the opposition forces as a whole. It would make no military sense to attack just one component of the opposition, on the basis of its ideology.

    Two of the opposition-held areas hit by Russian airstrikes have been the cities of Talbiseh and Al-Rastan in the Homs governorate. These would appear to be the leading targets for a mass ground offensive by the regime’s forces (in which fighters supplied by Iran and Hezbollah will no doubt play a major part) accompanied by further Russian airstrikes.

    But neither Talbiseh nor Al-Rastan is held by Jabhat al-Nusra. They are both strongholds of the Free Syrian Army.

    Only a few days ago Lavrov assured us that Russia doesn’t regard the FSA as terrorists and said that they “should be part of the political process”. He then backtracked and dismissed the FSA as a “phantom group”: “So far no one has told us where and how this Free Syrian Army operates or where and how other units of the so-called moderate opposition operate.”

    But Russia doesn’t appear to have a problem bombing and killing these non-terrorists who don’t really exist.

  136. Bob: Two of the opposition-held areas hit by Russian airstrikes have been the cities of Talbiseh and Al-Rastan in the Homs governorate. These would appear to be the leading targets for a mass ground offensive by the regime’s forces (in which fighters supplied by Iran and Hezbollah will no doubt play a major part) accompanied by further Russian airstrikes.

    But neither Talbiseh nor Al-Rastan is held by Jabhat al-Nusra. They are both strongholds of the Free Syrian Army.

    It’s interesting that the Institute for the Study of War, a US imperialist think tank, has also criticised Russia for bombing Talbiseh, because the town is not occupied by ISIS, but rather by… Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist islamist militants.

    Quote:

    “Talbiseh is home to Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, hardline Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, and a number of other local rebel groups,” Casagrande explains. These organizations are generally hostile to ISIS. “The airstrike,” she concludes, “did not hit ISIS militants.”

    http://www.vox.com/2015/9/30/9423229/russia-bombing-isis-syria

  137. “In the first wave of Russia’s airstrikes on September 30, one target, in Latamenah, Hama, was the headquarters of Tajamu al-A’aza, a Free Syrian Army-branded rebel group that has been vetted by the CIA and received TOW anti-tank missiles. Another target was the town of Talbiseh, in Homs Province. Talbiseh is—with Houla and Rastan—part of a small pocket of liberated territory held by moderate rebels; to target that area is a direct statement of intent: Russia wanted to destroy the remaining moderate opposition….”

    https://kyleorton1991.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/what-russia-wants-in-syria/

    Interview with a resident of Talbiseh following a Russian airstrike on September 30:

    What do you think about Russia beginning air strikes against ISIL in Syria?

    For now, all I can see is that the first blow was at residential areas of a city where there is no ISIL, which does not control either Talbiseh or Homs. The people here are peaceful civilians and members of the Free Syria Army. It seems like this is all being done to aid Bashar al-Assad. But we’re ordinary people—we’re not militants.

    So we can say that Homs and Talbiseh are controlled by the opposition?

    Yes, you can. But not all of this territory is controlled by the Free Syria Army. The city’s center still belongs to government forces.

    Several of the neighboring towns are controlled by the al-Nusra Front [al-Qaeda in Syria]. Is it possible that there was some confusion about this?

    I can only tell you that Talbiseh isn’t controlled by any terrorists.

    https://meduza.io/en/feature/2015/09/30/something-was-different-about-this-attack

  138. Karl Stewart on said:

    Does the Turkish Embassy pay premium rates to its night shift team of “Bobs”?

    If not, they need to get unionised.

  139. John Grimshaw on said:

    Personally I find the recent debate on this thread a tad “unfocussed”. For the sake of clarity would the people who are obviously members of the CPB etc. and all that that means declare themselves. Equally the Trots. And then equally the more right wing liberals.

  140. John Grimshaw on said:

    Sorry that wasn’t to be disparaging of anyone’s point of view. I just think we should be more honest with each other.

  141. For some shrewd analysis of what’s going down last night, 17.20 mins in for Syria http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06gq4n8/newsnight-06102015

    Philip Gordon, former ME White House advisor, candidly admits that US strategy has failed in relation to Syria. But it’s also claimed that Putin lacks a longer term strategy. His only goal is propping up the Assad regime, but it’s highly unlikely for a number of reasons that he will commit major ground forces, i.e. attempt to clear Syria of all Assad regime opponents. Apart from anything else, there appears no appetite in Russia itself for war.

    Meanwhile, there was a report in the Guardian yesterday that Russian bombing has had the effect of uniting various hitherto warring jihadist factions, some 40 of them – the best known forces, ISIL and al Nusra, weren’t mentioned.

  142. I’m currently having a FB debate with Richard Seymour on the article. He has just this minute stated that Assad is worse than ISIS. Here he joins James Bloodworth, who said the same thing on Twitter recently.

    Can anyone any longer defend this level of moral turpitude masquerading as serious politics?

  143. jock mctrousers on said:

    John Grimshaw:
    FYI obviously

    http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art/41447/Syrian+intervention+is+no+solution+-+say+no+to+attacks+from+Washington+and+Moscow

    Let me guess – MSM: ” Putin eats babies”; SWP: ” Neither Capitalism nor Cannibalism!”

    I no longer even bother to read anything by the SWP. That guy Maalouf who writes most of their Mid East commentary is appalling – he’s even trying to pretend that Libya is on the road to democracy now! Callinicos seems to be in a trance. As for the rest of them, the old ‘state capitalists’ seem to have left or died and been replaced by a new cult of ‘ combined but unequal development’ whatever that is… who gives a…? NO PLATFORM FOR THE SWP!

    John: Richard Seymour … has just this minute stated that Assad is worse than ISIS. Here he joins James Bloodworth…

    Surprise, surprise! Seymour was ALWAYS ‘ that way’. Why does he have a reputation as ‘left’? Well, Bill Clinton is supposed to be ‘left’…? I first heard of Seymour through the Morning Star recommending him – why? He doesn’t have a good word for them or the CPB, always referring to them as ‘Stalinists’ of course – so why do they rate him? Or do they still? Ben Chacko seems a big improvement as editor… blah blah…

  144. Well, in the annals of left wing journalism, the SW article pasted is unlikely to go down as a classic. At least John Wright can write! Having said that, no matter how disjointed the argument, I think the position taken is broadly right.

    If anybody wants to spend an afternoon on a longer read germane to discussion, this is characteristically brilliant from Perry Anderson, I think accessible for free,

  145. Andy Newman on said:

    John: I’m currently having a FB debate with Richard Seymour on the article.

    The horror, the horror.

  146. Karl Stewart on said:

    John Grimshaw: For the sake of clarity would the people who are obviously members of the CPB etc. and all that that means declare themselves. Equally the Trots. And then equally the more right wing liberals.

    What if someone’s a right-leaning trot with liberal/communist tendencies?

  147. jock mctrousers on said:

    Sam64: this is characteristically brilliant from Perry Anderson, I think accessible for free,

    I read that, and grudged wasting the time, as usual with Perry Anderson. Characteristically pompous ( replete with superfluous academic vocabulary) and non-commital – so Russia’s too big for its size? So what? What implications for action does this contain for the Russians or anyone else? He doesn’t get onto that.

  148. jock mctrousers,

    Couldn’t disagree more Jock. I generally despise unnecessary academic jargon when it’s from a charlatan – as it often is. But Anderson certainly isn’t that. Moreover, it’s not really jargon for the sake of it, as the terms are generally precise and therefore serve a purpose – an aspect of his frankly remarkable erudition. You’ve got to have an online dictionary to hand, but I find his prose a lexicographical treat. Many is the time I’ve made a note a few of the new words I’ve come across reading Anderson – and then forgotten them, but there you go, they were good at the time.

    On the substance of the article, the crux of Russian attempts to integrate into global capitalism post USSR (taking many American administered bitter pill) but fashion an independent, bi polar, foreign policy – well, that dilemma is still very much there as background to Putin’s foreign policy vis a vis Syria.

  149. Sam64: I find his prose a lexicographical treat

    Pardon my manners, but what does ‘lexicographical’ mean?

    Sam64: the crux of Russian attempts to integrate into global capitalism post USSR (taking many American administered bitter pill) but fashion an independent, bi polar, foreign policy

    I’m not sure a country of 145 million people can be blamed for trying to build a sustainable and strong economy capable of meeting its material needs while navigating an ocean of neoliberalism.

    As for trying to establish independent foreign policy, this is surely an eminently worthy aim of any country.

  150. jock mctrousers on said:

    Andy Newman: and unnecessary latin

    VAE VICTIS? Well, at least we can google it now.

    Sam64: I generally despise unnecessary academic jargon when it’s from a charlatan – as it often is. But Anderson certainly isn’t that.

    I’m not so sure about that. I re-read it there, and have to admit it’s not quite as florid as I recalled, the worst being where he’s quoting Richard Sakwa, who makes Anderson read like a model of concision. But I make allowances for Sakwa, because he’s far and away the best writer on modern Russia; I wonder if his highly abstracted prose is actually a sort of diplomatic language, necessary to balance his objectivity with the propaganda needs of say Chatham House, of which he is a ‘fellow’…? Sakwa’s worth the effort though.

    Anderson, I’m not so sure about. The first half of that was a reasonably handy resume of post-Yeltsin Russian history, but every so often where there is an area of contention, Anderson uncritically adopts the Western MSM position. Some of that may just be for brevity, but this is completely unforgiveable:

    ” But before this low-level civil war ground to a halt, a Russian-supplied missile in the hands of the irregulars had shot down a civilian airliner flying over the conflict zone. ”

    If you don’t see the problem with that, have a look at any of the articles on MH17 on Consortium News, or John Helmer’s ‘Dances With Bears’.

    But the second half of Anderson’s piece just seemed like a lot of waffle, with the final paragraph about Russia’s ‘incommensurateness’ feeling just sort-of tagged on because he’d realised he was getting near his word-limit and hadn’t said anything.

  151. jack ford on said:

    Who else is getting nervous at the situation with Russia and assorted NATO countries in Syria? The potential for Russia to bomb US/Can/Turkish/other assets/personnel either by accident or on purpose seems dangerously high to me. What would happen if someone shot down someone else’s plane, for example?

  152. jock mctrousers on said:

    jack ford: What would happen if someone shot down someone else’s plane, for example?

    Perry Anderson would write ten thousand words for the LRB about it.

  153. jock mctrousers: I make allowances for Sakwa, because he’s far and away the best writer on modern Russia;

    I second that. Sakwa’s ‘Frontline Ukraine’ is the most informative analysis of the Ukrainian conflict and crisis I’ve read, providing it with the necessary historical context.

  154. john Grimshaw on said:

    Karl Stewart: What if someone’s a right-leaning trot with liberal/communist tendencies?

    Well then. They’re a right leaning trot with liberal/communist tendencies
    . I was just asking that people be clear. By the way the Russian cruise missiles have started going in. Further and I think our proxy war might get more unpleasant.

  155. john Grimshaw on said:

    jock mctrousers,

    I did say FYI. I didn’t say I owned the article. Of course if you don’t want to discuss and only beleive want you want to beleive…hey….you pays your money…

  156. john Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman: It is hard to exactly see what the SWP are arguing as an alternative to military action. It is so abstract that it might as well be from the SPGB.

    Andy as I think I’ve made clear. Stopping the killing is the most important thing. If that means Assad temporarily in post then so be it. However events as you will no doubt be aware are now moving in front of us. I see no argument for any western intervention.

  157. Karl Stewart on said:

    redhand:
    …the occupied Donbass…

    Sadly, some of the Donbass region does remain occupied by western-sponsored right-sector nazi thugs, but large parts of it have been liberated. The hope is that the whole of this long-suffering region will win its freedom.

  158. John,

    I think I see what you’re getting at there John. Well I meant word set. But lexicographical doesn’t mean that exactly, referring as it does to the compiling of dictionaries. So a better word would be one that means a lover of words, as in a treat for a lover of words. Is there such a word? I don’t know of one if there is, Perry Anderson probably would.

    As I say, the article suggests, you’d have to read it, a contradiction between economic subservience and political independence.

  159. jock mctrousers,

    Well, as I say, I disagree Jock.

    I think Anderson is a model of concision. One of the attributes of his writing is an ability to capture and compress complexity. That doesn’t necessarily make for easy comprehension, but that’s a different issue.

    On, ‘but every so often where there is an area of contention, Anderson uncritically adopts the Western MSM position’. Well, without wishing to start discussion on the shooting down of the jet over Ukraine, I’m not sure that he does. Moreover, the opposite, uncritically adopting a Eastern MSM (what does that mean?) position, something that RT News does for example, is just as conservative in it’s own way and likely to result in erroneous claims.

    ‘But the second half of Anderson’s piece just seemed like a lot of waffle’.

    Nonsense. There is some fascinating coverage of the cultural turn to Orthodoxy and so on in the recent mutations of Russian nationalism. It might not make for an easy read for somebody who in some way, quite inexplicable to me, associates contemporary Russia as some kind of left alternative to ‘the West’, but to say it’s waffle is just wrong.

    Richard Sakwa? Haven’t read anything by him recently. I recommend Tony Wood’s LRB stuff to anyone interested in the murky depths of Russian capitalism: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n03/tony-wood/first-person

  160. jock mctrousers on said:

    john Grimshaw:
    jock mctrousers,

    I did say FYI. I didn’t say I owned the article. Of course if you don’t want to discuss and only beleive want you want to beleive…hey….you pays your money…

    What’s that got to do with anything I said? I agree completely with your comment on the SWP article.

  161. jock mctrousers on said:

    jock mctrousers: I no longer even bother to read anything by the SWP. That guy Maalouf who writes most of their Mid East commentary is appalling – he’s even trying to pretend that Libya is on the road to democracy now!

    SORRY, above I meant Simon ASSAF. Here’s an excellent if old critique of the SWP & Assaf on Syria:

    Britain’s Socialist Workers Party covers for imperialist regime change in Syria
    https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/02/bswp-f15.html

  162. John Grimshaw on said:

    jock mctrousers: What’s that got to do with anything I said?I agree completely with your comment on the SWP article.

    I confused here Jock. I didn’t comment on the article from Socialist Worker did I? I just put it up for discussion. And I put “obviously” just so that some of the comrades on this site who are of a BCP type background realise that I wasn’t sponsoring it. I haven’t been a member of the SWP since 2001, and no longer agree with many of their views by any stretch. I’m now formally a member of the biggest hard left party in the UK. The ex-SWP party? 🙂

    That being said I don’t agree with the comrades who clearly support the Assad regime, and now by proxy Russia. Russia is no more anti-imperialist than the USA. They’ve just got less money. I might’ve had more sympathy if Russia was still the USSR but it has been, by any definition, a biggish capitalist outfit with all the acoutrements of right wing nationalism that you would expect, and less liberalism. And that being said, of course, I think that the Western powers are totally hypocritical for condemning Russia when Putin is only doing what they’ve been doing very badly for some time now.

  163. John Grimshaw on said:

    George Hallam,

    Your article is interesting George but not surprising I guess. I asked what they were because I presumed that they were evidence of US or Saudi intervention. What I’d be interested to know is whether they came straight from the US or via the Gulf States, and whether or not they were the most up to date thing. And then whether they were supplied to the FSA or directly to the Islamicists or whether the Islamicists have acquired them from more moderate forces. Your article seems to say that they were not the most modern TOWs (but still powerful) and that they have been given by the Saudis to Al-Nusrat.

  164. jock mctrousers on said:

    John Grimshaw,

    Sorry, it was Andy whose comment I completely agreed with.

    Andy Newman: It is hard to exactly see what the SWP are arguing as an alternative to military action. It is so abstract that it might as well be from the SPGB.

  165. jack ford on said:

    I suspect Russia’s long term strategy in the Middle East is to smash Daesh and other insurgent groups in Syria and Iraq and then hand over control to Iran and other local allies, with the Russian military as the heavy sledgehammer that can be brought in if necessary.

    This is how the Russians pacified Chechnya. They found several Chechen clans that were willing to switch sides and work with them and got them to do most of their dirty work. Today, Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov is essentially a feudal lord who swore fealty to Vladimir Putin. So long as he keeps things under control in Chechnya and doesn’t get too big for his britches, he pretty much has carte blanche to run things as he sees fit.

    Speaking of Kadyrov, he started his own private army, the Islamic Legion, modeled after the Légion Etrangère. He offered its services to Putin and noted that the Islamic Legion would be well suited for situations where it would be inadvisable for the regular Russian military to get involved. Several hundred Kadyrov loyalists did fight in Eastern Ukraine as members of the Death Battalion.

    Kadyrov also asked Putin for permission to send the Islamic Legion to Syria to fight as an infantry division. While Putin has not officially given permission, a Russian admiral recently reported that several thousand volunteers from Russia, Chechnya, Dagestan, Eastern Ukraine and elsewhere are already headed to Syria to fight alongside the Syrian army and indicated the Russian government has no intention of stopping them.

  166. redhand on said:

    #201

    John,

    Reports suggest strongly that they came from the Saudis. Another 500 delivered to the imaginary FSA this week, apparently. Judging by the footage coming out of Northern Hama today, this may even be an underestimate. Ba’athist men and materiel are being toasted at an astonishing rate, despite the close air support and cluster bombings delivered by the Russians. Assad or the country burns? If it looks like the latter right now, just wait until the MANPADS arrive.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZH3y3l4AYHc

  167. redhand on said:

    Karl – not a jihadi in sight in any of the videos posted. You do understand that not all muslims with guns are automatically jihadis, don t you?

  168. George Hallam on said:

    John Grimshaw: Your article is interesting George but not surprising I guess. I asked what they were because I presumed that they were evidence of US or Saudi intervention.

    Perhaps this might be of interest:

    http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Syrian%20Opposition%20Guide_0.pdf

    You should be aware that the chairman of the ISW is General Jack Keane, U.S. Army, retired. So you can use your judgement as to how far to lay off.
    http://www.understandingwar.org/who-we-are

  169. Karl Stewart on said:

    redhand,
    I do indeed understand that the USA State Department’s line is that the armed jihadists in Syria that they are funding and resourcing are not jihadists, yes.

    I do also understand that the USA State Department’s supporters here in the UK, such as our own Prime Minister, our own Foreign Office, the majority of Tory MPs, and a small number of Tory-supporting Labour MPs, also parrot this lie.

  170. John Grimshaw on said:

    Karl Stewart: I do indeed understand that the USA State Department’s line is that the armed jihadists in Syria that they are funding and resourcing are not jihadists, yes.

    I assume this is irony Karl.

  171. John Grimshaw on said:

    The problems here are obvious. Firstly are there fighters/organisations that are not ISIL Islamicists who are also opposed to Assad? Secondly, if they are armed by the West because they have no other way of getting arms does this make them stooges of the West? Thirdly, quite a lot of us agree that the Kurds deserve our sympathy, yet we know that they get arms from the West. Are they also stooges and also to be mistrusted?

  172. John Grimshaw on said:

    Karl Stewart,

    Why do you believe that all opponents of Assad are Jihadis? My question above about Western support for the Kurds should be answered don’t you think?

  173. Karl Stewart on said:

    John Grimshaw:
    Why do you believe that all opponents of Assad are Jihadis?

    ISIS and al-Qaeda are both jihadist organisations.
    Being resourced by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the USA, with diplomatic and political support from our own government and others.

    But I’m sure there are many who oppose the Assad government politically who are neither affiliated to ISIS nor al-Qaeda.

    John Grimshaw:
    My question above about Western support for the Kurds should be answered don’t you think?

    I’m certainly no expert on this issue, it looks complicated and I’m sure others on here could answer your question better.

    But my understanding here is that Turkey is carrying out military actions against the Kurds and that the Kurds are currently a part of a loose military alliance including Syria/Iran/Hezbollah/Russia.

    So it appears to me that the Kurds are fighting the jihadists, while also defending themselves against attacks by Turkey.

  174. John Grimshaw: My question above about Western support for the Kurds should be answered don’t you think?

    You are becoming ever more desperate John. The Kurds are entitled to seek support from wherever they can. I’m not sure this invalidates the point re the character of the opposition to Assad and the need to stand with the Syrian govt and its allies.

    I note you failed to come back on my refutation of the assertion you made about what is good for the Syrian working class. You do know that the Syrian Communist Party and other socialist organisations in the country are standing with the govt.

    Do you therefore accept that your assertion to the contrary was wild and inaccurate?

  175. John Grimshaw on said:

    John: You are becoming ever more desperate John. The Kurds are entitled to seek support from wherever they can. I’m not sure this invalidates the point re the character of the opposition to Assad and the need to stand with the Syrian govt and its allies.

    I note you failed to come back on my refutation of the assertion you made about what is good for the Syrian working class. You do know that the Syrian Communist Party and other socialist organisations in the country are standing with the govt.

    Do you therefore accept that your assertion to the contrary was wild and inaccurate?

    My apologies for taking time to get back to you. I don’t see why you think I’m getting desperate it was a rhetorical question. The same debate occurred at the time of the Kosovo war and again at the time of the Serbia/Bosnia/Croatia conflict.

    I suspect in your mind this debate doesn’t really apply in the case of Syria as you don’t believe that any non Takfiri opposition to Assad exists, or if you do you think they are all Imperialist stooges. The evidence for this of course will be arms that are sent from the West/Gulf States. But at the same time you say the Kurds have a right to achieve their aims with weapons from anywhere. In practice I think matters are all together more complex. Presumably the West won’t send weapons to the PKK in Turkey but they will to Kurds in Syria. I guess they will try to send them to the “right” Kurds and hope that they don’t find there way back across the border? That’s one reason why the government in Ankara wants to be allowed to create “safe” havens in the North of Syria so as to obviate the need for these weapons coming in.

    I have noted that the Syrian Communist Party (Unified) is standing with the Assad government. But that’s no surprise as that branch of the CP has always supported the regime. However I do not know which other socialist organisations are doing so. It doesn’t really prove much. I believe there are at least two other CP splits: the Syrian Communist Party (Bakdash) which was anti-Perestroika and the SDP, which was made illegal. I do not know what there positions are. The organisations listed on Solidnet down the side are all communist parties of some sort. So this hardly proves that “socialist organisations of many countries” support Assad.

    What assertion?

  176. The point is not that receiving weapons from the US proves that an organisation is a stooge of the US, it’s whether or not we think that the organisation in question is one that we should support. If we do, then surely we don’t give a stuff who they get weapons from?

    Of course if they ARE a stooge of the US then the US are more likely to arm them.

  177. John Grimshaw on said:

    Vanya,

    Well yes. But this is complicated. Arms originating from Imperialists seldom come without a price. As you say and I did they will usually initially be supplied to the stooges or the more compliant group. It takes strong will to resist. Especially if you are desperate and have seen atrocities. So for example we talk about the Kurds, but not all Kurds are one (understandably). On the Trotskyist Left in this country (such as it is 🙂 ) I have seen serious debates about exactly this question. Some more orthodox comrades arguing exactly your point whilst some argue that any weapons from Imperialists mean that you inevitably become stooges of them eventually.

    The reason why I raised the matter was because unless I’m given prima facie evidence I still think that there is a secular resistance to the Assad regime of some sort whose intention is to replace the government. Whether they of course have completely sold out to the West/Saudis is moot point. Some comrades on this blog seem to have a very one sided view of Assad and his Russian allies. The accusation has been made that Assad’s regime has actually been responsible for more civilian deaths than the Islamist extremeists. Do you think this is true? Furthermore do you think that Russia as the geographical inheritor of the USSR is an anti-imperialist force or rather just a smaller imperialist force trying to flex it’s muscles?

  178. John Grimshaw: I still think that there is a secular resistance to the Assad regime of some sort whose intention is to replace the government.

    Do you still leave a tooth under your pillow and expect £1 in the morning?

  179. John Grimshaw on said:

    “The barbarians are at the gates and Russia alone is heeding the call to intervene in order to save not just the Syrian government or Syria, but civilisation itself.”

    The Csar himself would’ve been proud.

  180. John Grimshaw: The barbarians are at the gates and Russia alone is heeding the call to intervene in order to save not just the Syrian government or Syria, but civilisation itself.”

    The Csar himself would’ve been proud.

    I have no doubt that you would rather see Syria fall and enter its own Year Zero than see the Assad government survive.

  181. John Grimshaw: he accusation has been made that Assad’s regime has actually been responsible for more civilian deaths than the Islamist extremeists.

    I don’t know whether that’s true or not.

    But if we reduce the question of who to support in any given conflict, particularly a civil war, to an analysis of the civilian body count I suspect that we would be taking rather strange sides as we go back in history.

    The principal war crime is to instigate a military conflict with no or insufficient justification.

    Those who began an armed struggle against the Syrian government did so in the hope that imperialism would back them up with air strikes. Either that or it was an act of suicide.

    Some of them may have been secularists, but they also knew that they had very little if any real influence and that they would be playing second fiddle to sectarian Sunni islamists.

    So the real question is, would such a victory have been something to celebrate or something to add to our long list of defeats?

    You mention trotskyists. Do you ever find yourself with nothing to eat but tins and no tin-opener?

    Hint, you will not solve the problem by imagining you have a tin opener.

  182. John Grimshaw on said:

    John: I have no doubt that you would rather see Syria fall and enter its own Year Zero than see the Assad government survive.

    Don’t be silly John. I would like to see a socialist revolution, but since that doesn’t seem to be on the cards I’d settle for some kind of democracy. As I’ve said elsewhere if that involves Assad and his family staying in power for a period of time, if it stops the killing and allows the focus to shift to getting rid of Daesh, then so be it. It’s just that the momentum at the moment seems to be moving in other directions sadly. That’s why elsewhere I’ve speculated that the different sides may settle for some kind of Balkanisation which I don’t agree with.

  183. John Grimshaw on said:

    George Hallam,

    Yes interesting George. But clearly too early to say what’s going to happen. I notice this map insists that there is a difference between “rebel” groups and the Islamic groups.

  184. John Grimshaw on said:

    Vanya: I don’t know whether that’s true or not.

    It seems to me that there is a difference between the rebels and the other more extreme Islamic forces. Of course most people in the region will be Muslim I presume. So as I’ve said elsewhere hearing someone shouting Allahu Akbar is hardly proof of the extremeness of someone’s ideology. That there was a semi-popular uprising against Assad I have liittle doubt. That it degenerated into an unwinnable civil war I also don’t doubt.

    Vanya: But if we reduce the question of who to support in any given conflict, particularly a civil war, to an analysis of the civilian body count I suspect that we would be taking rather strange sides as we go back in history.

    True. But this is not a civil war being fought for a socilalist revolution as in 1918-21 in Russia, nor is it one of national liberation in a strict sense. It’s just a mess.

    Vanya: The principal war crime is to instigate a military conflict with no or insufficient justification.

    I don’t agree in this case. There was a none violent outpouring demanding the removal of the corrupt Assad regime which the regime then responded to with violence, to which rebel groups then formed to respond with their own violence. I don’t suppose there’s ever been a shortage of weaponry in Syria.

    Vanya: Those who began an armed struggle against the Syrian government did so in the hope that imperialism would back them up with air strikes.

    Yes. But see the discussion above re. the Kurdish question. There are Kurdish groups who have also expected/received Western support, but people on this site haven’t condemned that. In fact John (above) said that the Kurds should be able to get arms etc. from anywhere, although I don’t know whether he meant just western ground arms or airstrikes.

    Vanya: and that they would be playing second fiddle to sectarian Sunni islamists.

    I don’t see how we can know that. In any case the uprising and the resultant civil war pre-dates the growth of Daesh. They slipped into the vaccum in Eastern Syria and Western Iraq afterwards.

    Vanya: So the real question is, would such a victory have been something to celebrate or something to add to our long list of defeats?

    That depends on how you characterise what is going on. I don’t see that this is a fight for socialism or “civilisation”. I think the best we can hope for is that the Russians/Assad can get round a table with the moderate rebels to call a cease fire. I don’t see that happening at the moment though. For what it’s worth I think that could’ve have happened in 2012 but it was prevented by the Gulf State despots and the Turkish government because they want to get rid of Assad at all costs. The US probably connived with this. There are significant numbers of nationalists in Turkey who still dream about the Ottoman Empire.

    Vanya: You mention trotskyists.

    Only to illustrate that there are differing views on the issue amongst this small number of Left people. The issue being whether oppressed groups in other countries/regions than the Imperialist countries should be supported in calling for Western arms/military support. Many on the Left I know differentiate between arms being bought/supplied and actual air strikes/western troops. The BCP in this case, of which are a member, seems simply to be saying support Assad. Although see John’s comment on the Kurdish question above.

    Vanya: Do you ever find yourself with nothing to eat but tins and no tin-opener?

    I never go anywhere with out a fully equipped pen knife. 🙂

  185. John Grimshaw: Although see John’s comment on the Kurdish question above.

    Some European countries have been providing small arms to the Kurds in Iraq to aid them in their fight against IS in Iraq. The Kurds fighting IS in Syria, meanwhile, the YPG/PKK are receiving airstrikes from Turkey. You cannot just treat the Kurds and their position as if they constitute one homogenous bloc.

    When the YPG/PKK were defending Kobani I supported their right to call on US airstrikes in order to forestall their massacre, citing the fact that they had every right to call on help from wherever they could get it. I stand by that.

    But your position is that the so called ‘moderate’ rebels – rebels that have been filmed cutting open the bodies of dead Syrian soldiers, removing their inner organs and taking a bite out of them – are in a similar position to the Kurds fighting IS when it comes to their efforts to topple the Syrian government.

    They are not. Since 2012, according to the US DIA, the Syrian opposiiton has been dominated by Salafists. This dominant position has only increased in the years since. Syria has been invaded by tens of thousands of them. Their objective is to turn the country into a graveyard for minorities. Your continuing support for ‘moderate rebels’ is in truth support for the country to collapse and be destroyed, ala Afghanistan in the 1990s and ala Libya in 2011.

    It is ultra leftism gone berserk. As I said, and say again, you can either be with the head chopping fanatics determined to destroy what is left of civlisation in Syria, or you can be with those fighting to defeat them. There is no third choice, even as much as you try and locate one, and as much as you attempt to obfuscate the nature of the struggle on the ground right now, at this present moment.

  186. john Grimshaw on said:

    John,

    John if you look above I never said the Kurds were a homogenous block in fact I said the opposite.

  187. john Grimshaw on said:

    John,

    Thanks. Interesting isn’t it. it might be from what I can now see that the origination of the “Russians cooperate with the Israelis” story is with the Israelis themselves. Your link seems to originate with Hezbollah. This, of course, doesn’t mean that they both can’t be true.

  188. john Grimshaw: This, of course, doesn’t mean that they both can’t be true.

    Indeed. Events in a conflict zone do not necessarily follow events in the wider geopolitical sphere. On the contrary, the fluctuating nature of a conflict on the ground means that events follow their own logic, which are often times impervious to or contradict diplomatic efforts or agreements.

  189. When considering the confidence with which people quote sources that indicate they know what is going on in Syria, especially the alleged existance of a significant armed force of Liberal Democrat voting, Prius driving, Guardian readers known as the Free Syrian Army, who are seeking to turn Syria into one of the trendier parts of Islington, it is worth noting the confidence in this article apparently derived from Israeli military sources that the PLAN aircraft carrier, Liaoning, had sailed through the Suez Canal, and docked in Syria at tartus:

    http://www.debka.com/article/24909/A-Chinese-aircraft-carrier-docks-at-Tartus-to-support-Russian-Iranian-military-buildup-

    This is nonsense, and an aircraft carrier does not travel alone. NO CHnese fleet or support vessels for an aircraft carrier has been in the Eastern Med.

    The PLAN has two active forces in the Western hemisphere, one on anti-piracy duty in the Indian ocean, and another – the 152 fleet which was in Finland on 26th September, and has not gone anywhere near the Eastern med.

    http://libertyunyielding.com/2015/09/27/theres-no-chinese-aircraft-carrier-in-syria/

    It is worth also noting that the Chinese are extremely unlikely to commit combat forces, and were they to do so, the least likely would be to commit the PLAN ship Liaoning, which is still in commissioning and training, and is believed to being used primarily as a learning exercise for a new generation of completely Chinese designed aircraft carriers.

    If news agencies are falsely reporting the presence of such a readily verifiable and massive object as an aircraft carrier, and the reporting the alleged imminent involvement from such a high profile and non-ambiguous organisation as China’s PLA, then consider how much credence we should give to reports of the fairy tale Free Syrian Army.

  190. John Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman: This is nonsense, and an aircraft carrier does not travel alone. NO CHnese fleet or support vessels for an aircraft carrier has been in the Eastern Med.
    The PLAN has two active forces in the Western hemisphere, one on anti-piracy duty in the Indian ocean, and another – the 152 fleet which was in Finland on 26th September, and has not gone anywhere near the Eastern med.

    Of course this is true. Aircraft carriers never go anywhere without a whole fleet of other ships such as frigates, cruisers and supply ships. If they didn’t they would end up getting torpedoed, or at the very least run out of supplies for their large contingents. The admittedly large carriers of the Americans often don’t dock in any foreign ports as they simply wont fit.

  191. ##244 Well, KNE which is the Greek YCL. They had their summer camp in Crete 2 years ago and this was part of their activities.

    Btw Stockport Women for Peace had an ammendment at this year’s CND conference opposing the new NATO base being built in the Aegean.

  192. brianthedog on said:

    *245 Well a paper that more often that not slavishly follows Western Imperialism propaganda would say that wouldn’t it.

    Secondly given that the US and its coalition partners have supposedly been flying tens of thousands of air sorties against IS for over year, how come they have not stopped the so called ‘rejuvenation’ of IS.

    The US and its puppets keep telling that the enemy is IS and that they are attacking it, but it looks more like what according to a Russian MP that they have been just bombing the desert.

  193. John Grimshaw on said:

    Vanya: Btw Stockport Women for Peace had an ammendment at this year’s CND conference opposing the new NATO base being built in the Aegean.

    I will tell my Mum.

  194. George Hallam on said:

    John Grimshaw,

    Reuters put this up yesterday.
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/25/us-mideast-crisis-syria-arms-idUSKBN0TE1KJ20151125#aKYEz24sLZDmbrJB.97

    A Syrian military source said rebels are making heavy use of U.S.-made anti-tank missiles paid for by Saudi Arabia and supplied via Turkey in recent weeks and the weapons are having an impact on the battlefield…

    TOW missiles have been supplied to rebels under a program of military support for vetted Syrian groups that has in some cases included military training by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, including on how to use TOW missiles.

    Reuters reported on Oct. 31 from Washington that the CIA, in collaboration with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, recently broadened the number of rebel groups to which it is clandestinely delivers weapons including TOW missiles.

    It also reported at the time a significant new shipment of TOWs had been delivered in October to what the United States believes are relatively moderate Sunni rebels in the northwest.