What are the US and Russia working on in Syria? Now we might know

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Raed Saleh’s Deportation and a proud “anti-imperialist” claimant: Is this the faux-left’s microcosmic low point on Syria?

As has been reported in some (not nearly enough) media outlets, the head of the Syrian Civil Defence (Syrian volunteer rescue workers also known as the “White Helmets“, estimated to help saved more than 40,000 lives) Raed Saleh has been recently barred from entering the US to collect a humanitarian award won on behalf of the organisation.
Now it has emerged that an American citizen has come out and claimed credit for Saleh’s barring and deportation, boasting that he had organised a “report campaign” of Saleh to the US Department of Homeland Security prior to his arrival – falsely reporting that Saleh was a member of “Al-Qaeda”. The American’s name is Scott Gaulke (Twitter Handle: @Navsteva), a pro-Assad, self-proclaimed left-wing “anti-imperialist” activist.

 

I’ve seen many problematic things from people self-representing “the Left” these past few years, but this is incomparable. Even if it turns out ultimately that this wasn’t the reason for his barring (and it may well have been), its horrific.

(To be clear, when I use the term “the left” this isn’t to blame everyone for the actions of a minority, just as that wouldn’t be fair in other contexts. However in this case I find it important to point out what the person self-attributes their motives to as it is simply an extreme manifestation of what many on the self-denominated (and false) “anti-imperialist left” have been propagating regarding the Arab Spring these past few years.)

A FB commentator put it well: ‘It’s “anti-imperialist” to snitchjacket/be a cop caller now?’
(Funnily enough, the author of this blog also once had the police called on him by members of the “anti-imperialist” UK Stop the War Coalition, for speaking out of turn during an event. So this is perhaps not a sort of isolated incident from this variety of identity-centred, air-blowing “anti-imperialists”. As noted before, those who will go on lengthy polemics about Western “orchestration” of liberation movements will find no qualms of claiming welfare benefits or domestically campaigning for greater public spending by the “imperialist state”. It is all about identity politics and domestic posture).
Such actions should amount to (and be considered as) little other than a declaration of war from those who’ve done it to everyone fighting Islamophobia and prejudice.
Solidarity Raed.

Why don’t these so-called “anti-imperialists” defend ISIS, imperialism’s greatest target?

It’s really interesting actually that nobody on the “anti-imperialist” left has bothered to defend ISIS (according to their own metrics), with most in fact tacitly or actively supporting airstrikes against them or ignoring them. To make my view clear in the beginning (which is unfortunately necessary), I would use the term “fascist” to describe the generic ISIS. But the reality is regardless of its leadership or its activist/expansionary forms, the rank and file base of ISIS is essentially one of a social movement (regardless of its ideological colours) composed of people marginalised by the US occupation and the regime it left behind. By “anti-imperialist” standards, there is no greater force attacked by “imperialists” in the world than these people (and they’ve been attacked historically as well as immediately). Not a government that’s coordinating airstrikes or a government which is travelling around Europe signing business deals (the variants of “anti-imperialism” large segments of the Left find itself putting up). This contradiction is generally ignored, or some segments of the left actually (hilariously and yet also morosely) deny the thousands and thousands of airstrikes on ISIS (and with them the civilians dead and wounded and disabled etc). (and btw, the “West” (or to be more specific the US and its pro-aggression allies) is not clean from ISIS – there is complicity in the rise of ISIS – from the Iraqi genocide they began in 1990s, to the 2003 Iraq invasion, to the sectarian Iraqi government that they backed even when they lost an election in 2010, to the Syrian government they allowed to use a domestic airforce for a historically unprecedented length of time and then actively coordinated with and bombed every single main faction opposing it, etc.)
 
And the reason for this comes down again to an a) anti-Islamist platform (and no I am not saying that ISIS represents Islamism or that anyone who’s against ISIS is against Islamism – I will explain what I mean in a minute) and b) fear of turbulence of such a region coming to affect them (hence perhaps the noticeable proliferation of “stability” arguments on the Middle East in the “revolutionary” left).
 
Why it belongs to an “anti-Islamist” (and when I say those two terms it should be noted that it is increasingly clear that there is often a degree of Islamophobia associated with them, as the arbitrary use of “Islamist” has been adopted by so many as a term to disguise those who have serious problems with Islam) platform is as follows: imagine the group that was doing he beheadings, etc. was leftist in character. Imagine the group that was marching people in Guantanamo overalls were leftist in character. Imagine it for a second.
 
Now whilst beheadings etc would be condemned, there would be infinitely more a) (mainly) apologism/contextual argumentation and b) also some active support for such a group. The extremities of the group would be explained as things like this: “and whilst a lot of their behaviour is to be condemned, they want to create such scenes so that they send a strong message to the West to back off” (and indeed, with ISIS – which it should be remembered is composed of the former Iraqi regime’s rank-and-file – there is an argument that it doesn’t seek worldwide domination, but rather seeks to establish itself as a rooted force there to stay with its visual violence presented to Western audience a form of deterring any future Western attack). Or outraged editorials on “The hypocrisy of our politicians who speak with such outrage of head choppings, as if a head taken off by our decades-long bombing of these countries is more civilised”. Or “The media’s usual inanity in its overwhelming focus on this clearly deterrent-seeking form of visualistic violence (notice the Orange jumpsuits) is merely a form of ignoring the far larger violence inflicted on the people suffering the Western bombs in Syria and Iraq”.
 
But you have none of that in the context of ISIS, and of course that context is not an exception but rather part of a trend which informs my claim; for example the complete absence of coverage of Western airstrikes on rebels in Syria, or the lack of opposition to the military coup in Egypt (which brings me to my next point in a bit). There is also the fact that ISIS has been used to essentially beat its ideological competitor of “Islamism”, which emerged top after the Arab Spring, to a pulp, with active propagating by some sections of the left, but generally the ignoring of this phenomena/lack of opposition, to arguments which in some way seek to draw links between ISIS to political implementations of Islam. Thus in short ISIS has been allowed tacitly as a tool to beat up “Islamism”.
 
It also brings into contrast the left’s relative silence on the coup in Egypt. Look at when there are large protests against Maduro in Venezuela – anti-imperialists of all shades on the left (with perhaps a few exceptions) will unite in defending the elected Maduro government, despite the clear presence of popular opposition to it (regardless of whether they are from a certain socio-politico ideological milieu or whatever – this distinction was not proffered to Egypt). Whilst the “liberal” end-all of ballot-box electoralism is routinely shedded off by the Left, it is a holy red line in the contexts where they are the beneficiaries. Their outrage at when an elected leftist government is overthrown exceeds anything election-oriented “liberals” can offer. They may say they “oppose coups”, but really, they won’t really go out of their way to prevent them (or stop a course of action leading to them) if the opponent is an establishment-challenging (i.e. also competitor to them) newcomer.
 
Notice thus that even anti-war figures don’t claim that the coup in Egypt – which if you consider the strong support for the Egyptian military (separate from the elected government) had infinitely more Western preparation than the rebellion in Syria or elsewhere – is “Western orchestrated”. Because within their milieu there are many secularists who would strongly reject such a statement and who they know would be alienated. (Of course in my opinion the reality is that the coup in Egypt wasn’t a matter of Western orchestration in the first degree, but primarily a matter of local politics which possibly could have escaped the external will if handled differently – to say that it was only the West would be the usual nonsense of ignoring local realities).
 
So there you have it. The biggest myth of this variety of Western “anti-imperialists” may not be its apologism for other forms of imperialism, or their neglecting of the people suffering imperialism, or their lack of understanding of the dynamics between competing + collaborating imperialisms (i.e. the literal basis of the Middle East’s modern foundations), but it is in fact the fact that even according to a Western-centric focus they’re not anti-imperialist at all, and are very selective with the forms of Western imperialism they highlight and seek to challenge.

To anyone who follows this blog

I’m a student with serious procrastination issues. There are many posts that I would love to publish but unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, find it difficult to. This is stressful for me (also makes me feel quite guilty that I can’t), especially that time doesn’t wait for anyone and the events on which I am writing about are current ones.

In this post I am updating a list of draft posts/titles which I have yet to publish and/or write on this blog. Some are drafts which I’ve just not finished or submitted and some are just titles. Many of these may be repeated, as they’re often thoughts that I jot down at a specific moment in time. If anyone is interested in taking from these themes/title and expanding on them please let me know.

I hopefully will start uploading more and more things (like Facebook posts) that I have written elsewhere, although again there is a massive backlog there.

US policy on the Arab Spring in the Wake of the Iraq War

9th April 2016

On this day 13 years ago the USA and its allies occupied Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq; a country already decimated by a decade of US-imposed economic embargo, which according to the UN killed 1 million Iraqi civilians (half of them children). After the fall of Baghdad the US invited known Iranian agents (during the Iran-Iraq war of the 80s) such as Nouri Al-Maliki into the transitional government and promoted them.

Today, the new Iraqi regime is one of the main military backers of the Syrian government.

The invasion of Iraq is often cited as a reason for Western “inaction” in Syria. However the US is not inactive in Syria, it has launched thousands of bombing raids, including dozens of non-ISIS rebel groups; it has maintained a policy of close arms-supervision (which the US terms “vetting”) which for 5 years has massively hindered the provision of serious military aid to the Syrian revolutionary forces, and has turned a blind eye to the influx of foreign Iranian-backed militias from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan (all American-backed countries which both officially and unofficially support the Assad regime).

No one asked for the American invasion of 2003, or the decade of economic embargo that destroyed the country’s infrastructure beforehand. That the US invasion was not about bringing democracy or freedom could be discerned not only by the crimes and the theft of Iraq’s wealth by the occupation (or the dismantlement of a regional power centre, i.e. the reasons which were the real motives of the occupation), but also by the system of governance that the US administration set in the aftermath. After the invasion the US did not institute a pluralist system of government in which all could participate regardless of their sect or background, it did not outlaw sect-based parties as would supposedly be expected by a “secular” nation – instead it instituted a system of legal sectarianism in which sect was the basis for political organisation and elections, and government based on sectarian quotas. This all furthermore occurred in a non-autonomous, centralised system of governance, meaning that central control over disempowered and marginalised sects was ensured.

A crucial event most forgotten however in the lead-up to the rise of ISIS were the “stolen” Iraqi elections of 2010. At this time ISIS (or ISI as it was then) had been driven underground by a Sunni awakening in 2008, in exchange for promises from the US occupation authorities that the pro-Iranian Iraqi regime would stop its persecutions and marginalisation of the country’s Sunni community. This promise never manifested.

In 2010, the ruling pro-Iran party of Nouri Al-Maliki was defeated by the “Iraqi Party” of Iyad Allawi, a Shia politician who nonetheless ran on a cross-sectarian platform and received massive Sunni support. Large Sunni participation in the election led to Allawi’s party gaining the greatest number of seats in the parliament.

However the Iranian-backed Nouri al-Maliki refused to resign and held on to power, with his theft of the election coming with the direct abettal of the US authorities. Even the concept of fair elections at the ballot box had not been delivered by the US. This sent a clear message to Iraq’s Sunni community that their post-invasion troubles was not just a result of their “democratically” losing of power, but something to their minds that was more sinister.

Ultimately Saddam Hussein was a ruthless ruler, who like all melgomaniacs believed his people were a price worthy of sacrifice for his remaining in power. Many of his followers are today the leaders of ISIS. Yet the US invasion essentially replaced one dictatorial system with another. On examination of US policy after the invasion, it was clear that “democracy” was not only a secondary motive to the invasion – it wasn’t a motive at all.

The battle to free Iraq from dictatorship had to come from the Iraqi people, and indeed Iraq joined the Arab Spring protests. These were repressed by Maliki and Iranian-backed militias, again with the United States turning a blind eye (helped by a lack of media coverage, which, owing to the poor, tribal and rural character of the areas in revolt meant that the protests were not covered on any scale compared to that of cosmopolitan Egypt, Tunisia or Syria). This is the context which when all else failed, ISIS came in and exploited Sunni grievances as a lesser evil to a vindictive central government.

The US and its allies invaded Iraq under the guise of “democracy”, and yet when people uprisings not been seen before in a century occurred across the region, the US stated that it would support such movements (against regimes which were all collaborationist with it to varying extents). What is the US’s record here?

In Syria, the United States has turned a blind eye to the historically unprecedented use of an airforce by a domestic side of a civil war. The Syrian regime’s prolonged aerial campaign on its rebellious towns and cities (2012-today) has never been employed for such a duration by a domestic actor in a civil war.

The US has also carried out joint bombings with the Syrian regime and repeatedly struck opposition factions to Bashar al-Assad.

In Bahrain, the US turned a blind eye to the Saudi invasion and repression of the Bahraini uprising.

In Iraq the US turned a blind eye to the Iranian invasion and repression of the Iraqi uprising.

In Egypt, the US turned a blind eye to the military coup of Sisi, and later declared support for it.

In Yemen, the US has been caught between supporting the ancien regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh and supporting the economic interests behind Saudi’s military campaign.

In Tunisia, the US refused to support the overthrow of Ben Ali.

Libya remains the only place where the Western powers answered the calls of the revolutionaries there, though US support was dragged by its more enthusiastic European allies, who probably felt that if history needed an example of Western support against one of the many brutal counter-revolutions (orchestrated by former allies – otherwise the sudden love of a unanimous pacifism/”non-intervention” in all the Arab Spring countries, involving leaving these ancien regimes to pursue their repressions unhindered would be considered highly conspicuous) then the ideal choice would be a geopolitically marginal, oil-rich country. Nonetheless, regardless of one’s position on the question of intervention or the reality of Western interests (this cynicism is fueled by historical experience and the experiences of the other Arab Spring countries), these nonetheless coincided with the interests of the Libyan uprising. Today the country of course is far from stable and violence has continued, however this is unfortunately the expected consequence of state collapse. For those who believe that the lengthy remaining of a genocidal dictator is a better option than the victory of the revolution against him they need only look at Syria (this is not necessarily an argument for Western intervention, which should be obsolete if there was regional and Muslim support and solidarity with the uprisings). This February tens of thousands of Libyans lined the streets in celebration of the revolution’s anniversary, despite all the troubles, and it is the duty of Libyans to manage this post-conflict transition not anyone else.

Conclusion: Record of US supporting revolutionary democracy (popular rule) when Arab masses demanded it: 1/7 (Libya)

Distinction: Support for “surface regimes” – including above water; and support for “deep states” – below water

– Record of US supporting only one side of protests (including such features as no demand for surface regime resignation, uninterrupted material support to counter-revolutionary forces, etc.): Iraq, Bahrain, Tunisia

  • Straight forward (nominal + substantive) support for counter-revolution (on surface as well as deep level)

– Record of US (directly and indirectly) supporting “both sides” (also counter-revolutionary, but may include such features as demand for surface regime resignations, whilst maintaining support for deep states; temporary cutting of support for deep states; simultaneous support for state and anti-state forces, etc.): Egypt, Yemen, Syria

  • Support for counter-revolution (substantive) through deep states

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Iraqi militia graffiti on Syrian town