For those who carry on the Afghanistan experience, with a sense of hurt and carried betrayal (grievance) against political Islam (even if they are hidden behind smiles in the greater battles against a US invasion or an Israeli occupation), for the US strengthening the forces of reactionary Islamism over that of progressive socialism, Syria today serves as an opportunity for revenge; no pasaran! even if the regime stemming the tide is an explicitly fascist one, enjoying the support of the world’s entire far-right. It seems that today the day has come for revenge. Anti-war/interventionist movements are unabashed about their support for Russia’s invasion of Syria, Afghanistan part 2. However, rather than a repetition of the scenario of US supporting reactionary Islamism over progressive socialism, or the US supporting proxies against Russian forces, what is happening today in Syria is an indisputable example of the reverse. Not only have both the US and (neo-imperial) Russia targetted Islamists in the Syrian arena, both now even have their “special forces” stationed in the same arena, which as students of the Cold War would be aware is a basic no-no of cold war guidelines, thus made only possible because the two forces are not in a position of confrontation with one another in this particular case.
The Cold War in Syria is not that cold at all. The vengeful pro-Russian Western left could not have chosen their moments worse; for what we are witnessing today (although still largely unrecognised) is the first major example in the post-cold war era of a 19th century harkback; an alliance between competing geopolitical imperailist powers, a throwback to the multipolar days of the 19th century. Despite the false narrative propagated by those inflicted with Talibanitis, the US has repeatedly bombed those Islamists they seek revenge against – not only ISIS, not considered even as an extremist member of the Syrian rebellion (it does not consider itself to be a “rebel” group anyway) but the revolutionary politically Muslims (“Islamists”) who are its biggest enemies – whilst clearly choosing one and only one side to serve as its “proxy” against ISIS: the YPG. In a double-whammy, their utterly-failed reading of the Syrian conflict has meant that the anti-imperialist left now finds itself, as much as they may like to deny it, on the same side as the Western imperialists they supposedly despise.
In case there are any delusions regarding this alliance: the US fight now isn’t with some socialist project in an area of Northern Syria with no potential for regional expansion (especially considering the antipathy between the YPG and Arabs in the north), it is with revolutionary Islam(ism). The proof of this is in the pudding: the US has chosen to rely on one set of “ideological extremists” (socialists) over another (Islamists). In the fight against ISIS it could have backed mainstream Syrian Islamists, Kurdish socialists, or both (none of these had been its allies between 2011-2013, but none of them were politically excluded either, as the Syrian regime was). As well as the YPG the US had tens of thousands of Syrian rebels (a bigger fighting force than the YPG) who had fought ISIS as much as the YPG (and prior to Kobane it should be noted had an infinitely better success rate against them, kicking them out of West Aleppo’s countryside and Idlib in 2014 without any “international coalition” help) that it could have backed. Instead, it explicitly chose not to – in fact it went further and actively bombed the forces which had the greatest potential to both militarily and ideologically weaken ISIS (Syrian Islamists), those with the greatest potential to drag non-secular anti-Assad recruits away from it. Along with the cutting of supplies to FSA factions, the US was essentially weakening the FSA, bombing the Islamic Front, bombing the Nusra Front, and then supposedly asking people not to join ISIS.
This of course undermined its anti-ISIS campaign and contributed further to radicalisation, but to be fair, the US campaign against ISIS has never been fully-serious, from the prevention to the disease phase.
- Original (intended) publication date: 20/09/15