by Jeff Mackler, published on Socialist Action, May 14, 2021
A nice research piece that soundly rebuts an outrageous attack from the faux left on UNAC and other anti-imperialist antiwar organizations and press outlets. [jb]
“Erasing people through disinformation: Syria and the ‘anti-imperialism’ of fools” is the title of a pitiful and tragically flawed signed statement that appeared on the websites of Al-Jumhuriya and New Politics magazine on March 27, 2021.
In the face of the ongoing, ten-year U.S./NATO-orchestrated war against Syria in collaboration with Turkey and the Gulf State monarchies – a war has taken the lives of some 500,000 Syrians and driven half the population into internal or external exile – the statement, signed by 300 Syrian expatriate writers, artists, academics and supporters from 34 countries, asserts against its opponents that,
“America is not central to what has happened in Syria, despite what these people claim.” [Emphasis added.]
“These people” are left unnamed. But their names and organizations did appear in the original draft before they were removed at the request of Noam Chomsky, as a condition for including his prestigious name. That Chomsky signed the statement at all was a sad mistake. The specifically named and condemned groups and individuals, prior to his expurgations, included the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), Veterans for Peace, U.S. Peace Council and the British-based Stop the Wars Coalition as well as a host of other antiwar coalitions. Several Grayzone journalists and other antiwar and social justice activists were also originally listed by these cognoscenti expats as among those who “erase” the Syrian people through “disinformation.”
A recent statement from UNAC, signed by 1,300 antiwar and social justice organizations in 50 countries, properly countered the “‘Anti-Imperialism’ of Fools” signers’ accusations. Entitled “In Support of the Syrian People: U.S. Hands Off Syria,” it states,
“There has been a recent swell of anti-Syria propaganda, supported by prominent activists on the “left.” This has included attacks on the majority of the U.S. antiwar movement, which have focused on opposing U.S. and outside aggression against Syria, and which supports the right of Syria to defend its national sovereignty against this outside aggression. The clear fact is that the U.S. government, along with its allies in NATO, Israel and other reactionary Middle Eastern states, is the primary cause of the current devastation of the Syrian people. The U.S. and its allies have facilitated the entry into Syria of tens of thousands of foreign fighters to support their regime change agenda.” (See UNACpeace.org or Letter in Support of the Syrian People for the full statement and to add your name.)
UNAC and all of the originally condemned organizations and individuals cited have been active leaders and participants over the past decade in mobilizing tens and hundreds of thousands of people the world over to demand, “U.S. Out Now! Hands Off Syria! End the Sanctions! and Self-determination for Syria!” They were also defined by their opposition to U.S. interventions and wars against Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua, Cuba, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen and Venezuela, and by their identification with the Palestinian freedom struggle against the U.S.-backed Zionist settler state of Israel. Yet they were pilloried by these expat Syrians and an unfortunate group of others, who we will discuss later. They were condemned because they did not condemn Russia, China, the Lebanon-based Hezbollah and Iran for accepting the 2015 request of the Syrian government for aid. The aid was sought at a time when the U.S. imperialist-backed, financed, armed and orchestrated “rebels” occupied three-fourths of Syria and were on the outskirts of Damascus, poised to take over the nation entirely.
Syria’s Right to Self-Determination
The signers flat out opposed the Syrian government’s invitation to its allies for aid. They rejected the Syrian government’s right to exercise its sovereignty, that is, its right as a poor and oppressed nation to determine its own fate, free from imperialist conquest and occupation. To “rationally” accomplish this, the signers pressed forward the fiction that the U.S. and NATO were essentially uninvolved in Syria, that the Gulf State monarchies and Turkey were similarly of no consequence, and that the Al Qaida offshoot, the Nusra Front, armed directly and indirectly by the U.S./NATO “coalition of the willing,” was similarly a benign force. A “civil war” was underway in Syria, according to their fantasy, with everyone in Syria on the one side versus the Bashar al-Assad government on the other! “Assad must go!” was their anthem, the same view expressed long ago on the Al-Jumhuriya website.
Condemning those who instead demanded “U.S. Out Now!” their statement bleats, “About the profound political violence visited upon the Syrian people by the Assads, the Iranians, the Russians? No words,” as they attack the entire array of united front forces that organized to oppose the U.S.-led imperialist slaughter in Syria and everywhere else in the Middle East and beyond.
That Syria was to be conquered within days and that its President Bashar al-Assad was about to be forced to depart in defeat, was a given among all the various factions backed by the U.S., most of which had been regularly attending U.S.-organized international conferences that aimed to divide up Syria, via the U.S.-created Syrian National Council.
Slandering Out Now! Movement as “Imperialist and Racist Privilege!”
The expat cognoscenti charges continue: “Forgive us for pointing out that such erasure of Syrian lives and experiences embodies the very essence of imperialist (and racist) privilege.” Here, a bit of identity politics is thrown into the mix. The antiwar movement that demands U.S. Out Now! and U.S. Hands Off Syria! is slandered as being saturated with a privileged imperialism and racism!
The statement concludes:
“We Syrians and supporters of the Syrian people’s struggle for democracy and human rights take these attempts to ‘disappear’ Syrians from the world of politics, solidarity, and partnership as quite consistent with the character of the regimes these people so evidently admire. This is the ‘anti-imperialism’ and ‘leftism’ of the unprincipled, of the lazy, and of fools, and only reinforces the dysfunctional international gridlock exhibited in the UN Security Council.”
The implication here is that the signers prefer a more “functional” UN Security Council to intervene on Syria’s behalf to save the Syrian people, perhaps as the UN did in Libya! A side note here is appropriate. The Gallup-associated British polling agency ORB International found in 2015 that the majority of the Syrian people supported the Syrian government. Some eight percent supported the combined forces of the U.S./NATO-orchestrated “coalition.” So much for the charge of “disinformation.”
We should pause here briefly to note the slander that the various national antiwar coalitions they condemn all “evidently admire” the regimes that govern Syria, Iran, Russia and China. The slanderers provide not a shred of such “evidence.” In point of fact, the antiwar coalitions they so readily denounce are generally broad united front-type mass action formations based on the demand, U.S. Out Now! While the scores and hundreds of the constituent groups that comprise these coalitions hold a variety of views on the nature of the governments that lend aid to Syria, as coalitions they take no position. They are united, however, in the demand aimed at the U.S. government and its NATO allies and their associated Gulf State monarchies, ““Hands Off Syria!”
The signers also imply that were it not for the “gridlock in the UN Security Council,” perhaps this body might serve as a world peacemaker, especially in Syria, as the UN did in Libya when it blasted that once relatively prosperous nation into smithereens, destroying its basic infrastructure, murdering thousands and ferrying in thousands of jihadists to fight over the spoils. To the contrary, unlike a number of the condemning Syrian signers, none of the organizations, coalitions or individuals they originally pilloried by name have ever called on the UN to do anything other than to stay out.
The “Civil War” Myth and Erasure of the Facts
Precisely how the broad U.S. and international antiwar movement “erases” the Syrian people and is guilty of “imperialist and racist privilege” is not explained. But the essence of the matter is their unstated premise that the ten-year war in Syria is a “civil war” between the mass of the Syrian population on the one hand and the government and person of Syrian president, the “butcher” Bashar Al-Assad, on the other. For the signers, U.S. imperialism and its allies – including ISIS, as we shall see – are essentially non-players, if not Syrian benefactors!
Here, a brief review of recent Syrian history, beginning with the short-lived 2011 Syrian Arab Spring, is helpful in unraveling the “erasure” canard.
What began with mass peaceful protests against the neoliberal austerity measures imposed by the capitalist Bashar al-Assad government, undoubtedly and initially a promising and welcome component of the Arab Spring mobilizations that challenged the status quo in the region, rapidly devolved into a U.S. and allied imperialist war aimed at “regime change” American style. The Assad government’s firing on peaceful protestors rallying for democratic rights and for government relief in the context of an unprecedented drought, proved to be the perfect pretext to accomplish in Syria what the U.S./NATO “humanitarian” and “regime change” war did in Libya. In any event, it was only later, as we will document below, that we learned that the U.S. and its allied reactionary forces had been secretly intervening, indeed, with arms and political objectives far distant from the demands of the original protestors. What began with mass protests for democratic and economic rights soon became something entirely different.
The disparate mostly spontaneously-organized opposition forces that we initially looked to in Syria were essentially loosely organized politically undefined “Independent Coordinating Committees” with no connection to any foreign power. They were qualitatively more small apolitical social service organizations than they were a deeply-rooted independent anti-Assad fighting force with a progressive agenda. In contrast, the armed forces that did emerge early on to fight Assad, as we shall see below, were a horse of a different color.
U.S.-Backed Forces Intervene
Turkey, to begin with, secretly handed over its military bases to the U.S. military, who trained, armed and financed foreign “volunteer” jihadist mercenary troops from scores of nations to facilitate their crossing the Turkish border into Syria aimed at the Assad government’s removal. Similarly, the Saudi monarchy, with the help of a few Saudi billionaires, financed its own mercenary forces for the same regime change end as did the U.S., using its Qatar military base mercenaries to join the “coalition.” Added to this anti-Assad combination were the forces of ISIS and its splinter group, the Nusra Front, and similar Al Qaida-origin fighters whose forces joined in terrorizing local populations, destroying and subjugating entire cities and towns. Meanwhile, the U.S., in alliance with the Turkish government, established, organized and armed the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loosely-associated array of Turkey-based fighting foreign forces touted as being led by a handful of deserting Syrian military officials. As we shall see, this quickly disintegrated, to be replaced by the more committed U.S.-funded jihadists. In the face of these armed forces the minuscule Independent Coordinating Committees were irrelevant.
To this day, we know of no independent revolutionary or democratic force that offered or offers the Syrian people a viable alternative to the capitalist Assad government. The absence of any organized forces on the ground to pose a coherent working class-based strategy for the Syrian masses to defend and advance their own interests, as opposed to Assad’s or those of a would-be U.S.-sponsored and imposed capitalist order, weighed heavily against any positive outcome for Syria’s working masses. Given the historic failure of past bourgeois nationalist and Stalinist parties to effectively challenge imperialist prerogatives in Syria and far beyond, history exacted a terrible toll on Syria’s initially hopeful, but leaderless Arab Spring.
U.S.-Orchestrates War on Syria
This tragic void was inevitably filled by an assortment of reactionary, religious-fundamentalist forces, consciously backed and orchestrated, as we shall demonstrate, by U.S. imperialism and its reactionary regional allies. The U.S.-allied Saudis and Turkey, a NATO ally of the U.S., accounted for the lion’s share of ISIS’s finances and weapons with the full knowledge of the U.S. government. The reactionary Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan controlled important portions of its southern border with Syria and utilized these as central corridors for the entrance of thousands of international ISIS fighters to Syria to depose the Assad government. In the same manner, over 1000 trucks from ISIS-controlled oil fields in northern Syria served as the main conduit for ISIS-smuggled oil into Turkey.
An Oct. 10, 2015 New York Times editorial provided a glimpse of how ISIS operated. Entitled, “Why Is Money Still Flowing to ISIS?,” The Times estimated ISIS revenues from the sale of Syrian oil to Turkey at $40 million monthly. “The Islamic State is also looting banks; demanding ransom from kidnap victims; engaging in human trafficking; selling off plundered antiquities; and leaning on private donors, mainly in Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.” That these “private donors” included Saudi billionaires and members of the ruling Saudi government is a fact that Times reporters didn’t bothered to mention at that time, although The Times did estimate ISIS annual revenues at $1 billion. The Trump administration subsequently reported that the Obama administration’s secret aid to Syria came to $1 billion annually.
Funding of ISIS Terrorists to Remove Assad
While the United Nations formally maintains lists of scores of people and organizations designated as financial supporters of terrorist groups, including the Islamic State, U.S. officials noted that “enforcement had been inconsistent in some cases. ” More to the point“, the Dec. 4, 2016 New York Times noted, “There is already extensive evidence of transfers [to ISIS] from wealthy donors in the Persian Gulf in particular, but few concrete penalties.”
In the same article, David Andrew Weinberg, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank, stated,
“There is still so much reticence to actually engage in that naming and shaming [of groups that fund terrorists] that this [new UN resolution] has limited impact.”
Similarly, a UN resolution that bans any nation from assisting in the smuggling of ISIS-controlled oil was ignored with impunity. Thus, the evidence that key U.S. allies were active accomplices in funding or otherwise supporting ISIS and/or organizing troops to directly overthrow the Assad government was acknowledged by virtually all sources from the UN to the New York Times and beyond.
The Myth that U.S. was Fighting ISIS in Syria
Here’s the New York Times on the specifics, refuting the lie that the central U.S. military target in Syria was ISIS and not a U.S.-imposed regime change to remove Assad. A June 26, 2016 New York Times article entitled “C.I.A. Arms for Syrian Rebels Supplied Black Market, Officials Say” asserts:
“The theft of only a small portion of the U.S. weapons bound for Syria and stolen by corrupt Jordanian officials highlights… the messy, unplanned consequences of programs to arm and train rebels—the kind of programs the C.I.A. and Pentagon have conducted for decades—even after the Obama administration had hoped to keep the training program in Jordan under tight control.”
The Times continued, “The United States and Saudi Arabia are the biggest contributors [in Syria], with the Saudis contributing both weapons and large sums of money, and with C.I.A. paramilitary operatives taking the lead in training the rebels to use Kalashnikovs, mortars, antitank guided missiles and other weapons.”
And further, “The existence of the program is classified as are all details about its budget. American officials say that the C.I.A. has trained thousands of rebels in the past three years, and that the fighters made substantial advances on the battlefield against Syrian government forces until Russian military forces —launched last year in support of Mr. Assad—compelled them to retreat.” The Times added, “The training program is based in Jordan because of the country’s proximity to the Syrian battlefields. From the beginning, the C.I.A. and the Arab intelligence agencies relied on Jordanian security services to transport the weapons, many bought in bulk in the Balkans and elsewhere around Eastern Europe.”
The Times continues, “The program is separate from one that the Pentagon set up to train rebels to combat Islamic State fighters, rather than the Syrian military. That program was shut down after it managed to train only a handful of Syrian rebels.” Indeed, in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the figure was estimated by General Lloyd Austin, then head of U.S. Central Command and now Secretary of Defense, as “four or five!” Nearly every one of these U.S.-trained anti-ISIS fighters literally turned over their U.S. weapons to ISIS and groups fighting Assad. Others just quit or joined ISIS or the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.
Further exploding the myth that “Syrian moderates” were leading the fight against Assad, The Times revealed that “President Obama authorized the covert arming program in April 2013, after more than a year of debate inside the administration about the wisdom of using the C.I.A. to train rebels trying to oust Mr. Assad.”
And finally, “The decision was made in part to try to gain control of a chaotic situation in which Arab countries were funneling arms into Syria for various rebel groups with little coordination. The Qataris had paid to smuggle shipments of Chinese-made FN-6 shoulder-fired weapons over the border from Turkey, and Saudi Arabia sent thousands of Kalashnikovs and millions of rounds of ammunition it had bought, sometimes with the C.I.A.’s help. By late 2013, the C.I.A. was working directly with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other nations to arm and train small groups of rebels and send them across the border into Syria.”
With regard to bombing the ISIS-controlled oil refineries in northeast Syria, The Times delicately noted and with perhaps an ounce of disbelief, “Concerns about leaving local citizens without crucial refining facilities and with the daunting job of rebuilding them later may be tempering the American [bombing] approach, some experts say.” The word “tempering” was in fact a euphemism for leaving these oil facilities largely intact in order to support, in a “tempered” manner to be sure, ISIS’s anti-Assad objectives.
A few years later, top U.S. military officials announced policy changes with regard to bombing these ISIS-controlled oil refineries. Until mid-November the “official” U.S. policy was to limit bombing or degrading of these facilities to inflicting minor damage only –damage that could be easily repaired within a matter of weeks or months. “Until Monday,” according to The New York Times of Nov. 16, 2015, “the United States refrained from striking the fleet used to transport oil, believed to include more than 1000 tanker trucks, because of concerns about causing civilian casualties. As a result, the Islamic State’s distribution system for exporting oil had remained largely intact.” Largely intact!
Meanwhile, in those years Turkey was more than content to stand by, if not assist in, the ISIS slaughter of Kurdish fighters in Kobani and elsewhere. The Turkish government preferred the massacre of its oppressed Kurdish population by ISIS to the Kurds’ advancing their historic struggle for national liberation and self-determination. But the Kurdish leadership, which terribly and mistakenly made itself dependent then and now on support from the U.S., nevertheless repeatedly stated that their objective is self-determination for a future Kurdistan and not the removal of the Assad government.
The claims of France – another NATO ally of the U.S. – to have bombed ISIS were not without qualification. The New York Times aptly noted: “While France has been conducting scores of airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq, it has been bombing inside Syria only sparingly, wary of inadvertently strengthening the hand of President Bashar al-Assad by killing his enemies.”
Imperialism’s Major Policy Shift
With Syria’s calling on its allies for help the U.S. was compelled to shift to other tactics to secure its “interests.” These were based on U.S.-orchestrated “negotiations” conferences that literally included hundreds of parties, all favored to one degree or another by the Obama administration and its allies. The conferences were overseen by Secretary of State John Kerry, and other top U.S. officials. They were aimed at determining who would get what in a future Syria, after Assad’s expected departure.
The “negotiations” gambit unfolded during a two-day conference in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital. Entitled, “Syrian Rebels Form Bloc for New Round of Peace Talks,” the Dec. 10, 2015 New York Times described it well:
“An array of Syrian opposition groups agreed here on Thursday to form a new and more inclusive body to guide the diverse and divided opponents of President Bashar al-Assad in a new round of planned talks aimed at ending the Syrian civil war.”
The Times dutifully chose the spurious term, “civil war,” as opposed to the realty of the U.S.-organized imperialist “regime change” intervention. The article continued:
“The formation of such a body has been seen by the United States and the opposition’s other international supporters as a prerequisite for new talks, and the new body appeared to fit the bill by pulling together political dissidents who have long distrusted one another as well as rebel groups fighting the Syrian Army. ‘This is the widest participation for the opposition, inside and outside of Syria, and we have the participation of the armed groups,’ said Hadi al-Bahra, a member of the exiled Syrian National Coalition who attended the two-day conference that produced the new body.”
The Kurds rejected participation at the Riyadh conference and instead organized their own meeting in Kurdish-occupied regions. No participant in that conference advocated the Assad government’s removal. In some of these Kurdish areas the Assad government continued to pay the salaries of Kurdish officials – a détente of sorts.
The Riyadh conference signaled a major shift in the orientation of U.S. imperialism and its allies over the previous five years. Previously, all such conferences were premised on the assumption that the Assad government must fall via the military actions of all its opponents, especially those armed and financed by the U.S. At Riyadh, the premise was that Assad’s departure and the subsequent formation of a new coalition government, including some of Assad’s allies, would be subject to “negotiations.”
The New York Times on ISIS and the U.S.
Again, on the expat statement signers’ claim that, “America is not central to what has happened in Syria,” we cite the New York Times in greater detail.
The Al Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front is the U.S.- designated terrorist group whose forces, as we shall demonstrate, are inextricably linked to the U.S.-armed and financed “rebels.” We have bulleted the points to simplify.
The Al Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front is the U.S.- designated terrorist group whose forces, as we shall demonstrate, are inextricably linked to the U.S.-armed and financed “rebels.” We have bulleted the points to simplify.
“The rebels involved in the operation [in northern Syria] appeared to be mainly from the groups fighting to unseat Mr. Assad that the United States, Turkey and other allies support through a covert operations center in Turkey…” This Aug. 24, 2016 Times article continues: “Turkish officials were adamant that they would continue operations in Syria until they had neutralized what they see as threats against its national security.”
Months earlier, The Times reported Pentagon figures that the flow of foreign [ISIS] fighters into Syria via Turkish-abetted corridors had been 2,000 monthly. Turkey, in collaboration with the U.S., then sought the removal of the Syrian government of Bashar Assad.
‘“The fighters attacking the [Syrian] regime from inside and outside Aleppo fought fiercely, knowing that this battle was a fateful one and would lift the siege on their families and children,’ said Zakaria Malahifji, the political chief of a rebel group backed by the C.I.A. and its counterparts in European and Arab states” (New York Times, Aug. 12, 2016, emphasis added).
“But spearheading the rebel effort were hard-line Islamist groups including the Levant Conquest Front, which has been affiliated with Al Qaeda for years and only recently changed its name and claimed to have become independent. While American officials dismissed the rebranding, saying the group did not change its ideology or its goal of establishing an Islamic emirate [caliphate] in Syria, analysts said it allowed the jihadists to work more closely with other rebel groups, blurring the lines between them (New York Times, Aug. 25, 2016, emphasis added).
“The jihadists’ prominent role in the Aleppo offensive showed that they remain militarily indispensable to the wider rebel movement and increased their popularity at time when many Syrians [unnamed] criticize the United States for not doing more to protect Syrian civilians [against the jihadists, Editor].” (New York Times, Aug. 25, 2016).
“The Nusra Front has been one of the most effective anti-Assad forces, and because of that United States-backed rebel groups often coordinate their activities with its units. Russia has argued that means that Washington is effectively supporting Nusra, and that the American-backed groups are legitimate targets. So a joint campaign against Nusra would not only appear to concede Russia’s point, but could also bring American firepower to bear against the strongest anti-Assad military force and a sometime partner of Washington’s allies” (New York Times, July 14, 2016).
I note here in passing that Putin’s Russia was more than willing to partake in “negotiations” with the U.S. over Syria’s future, but within the limits generally determined by the Syrian government.
“Up to now, the United States has carried out occasional strikes against what have been described as senior Qaeda figures in Syria. But it has refrained from systematic attacks against the Nusra Front, whose ranks are heavily Syrian, including many who left less extreme rebel groups because Nusra was better armed and financed.” (New York Times, July 14, 2016).
“The Syrian government and its allies have often referred to all rebel fighters as belonging to the Nusra Front, while opposition fighters have said that they will not renounce tactical alliances with the Qaeda-linked group without new arms [from the U.S., Turkey and the Gulf State monarchies] or guarantees” (New York Times, Oct. 18, 2016).
“The new offensive [in Aleppo] was a strong sign that rebel groups vetted by the United States were continuing their tactical alliances with groups linked to Al Qaeda, rather than distancing themselves as Russia has demanded and the Americans have urged. … The rebels argue that they cannot afford to shun any potential allies while they are under fire, including well-armed and motivated jihadists, without more robust aid from their international backers. … Those taking part in the offensive include the Levant Conquest Front, a militant group formerly known as the Nusra Front that grew out of Al Qaeda; another hard-line Islamist faction, Ahrar al-Sham; and other rebel factions fighting Mr. Assad that have been vetted by the United States and its allies.” (See: “Syrian Rebels Launch Offensive to Break Siege of Aleppo,” by Hwaida Saad and Anne Barnard, New York Times, Oct. 28, 2016, emphasis added).
The same article reports,
“Eleven of the roughly 20 rebel groups conducting the offensive have been vetted by the C.I.A. and have received arms from the agency, including anti-tank missiles, said Charles Lister, a senior fellow and Syria specialist at the Middle East Institute in Washington.”
The article continues:
“A spokesman for the C.I.A. declined to comment on any armed assistance to the rebels, which, although it has been well publicized, is also still technically a covert program” (Emphasis added). …
“Mr. Lister and other analysts said the vast majority of the American-vetted rebel factions in Aleppo were fighting inside the city itself and conducting significant bombardments against Syrian government troops in support of the Qaeda-affiliated fighters carrying out the brunt of front-line fighting.”
And further, the same article states, citing Genevieve Casagrande, a Syria research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington:
“The unfortunate truth, however, is that these U.S.-backed groups remain somewhat dependent upon the Al Qaeda linked groups for organization and firepower in these operations. In addition to arms provided by the United States, much of the rebels’ weaponry comes from regional states, like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.”
The article concludes with Charles Lister affirming that such aid to the Al Qaida rebels includes, “truck-borne multiple-rocket launcher systems and Czech-made Grad rockets with extended ranges.” Need we provide more evidence refuting the statement that “America was not central” to the war in Syria?
“The Most Unkindest Cut of All”
We end this rebuttal by returning to the title, a line from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. This was Shakespeare’s literary reference to the participation in Caesar’s stabbing murder by his friend, Brutus. Here, my objective is not to understate the central and unmitigated horrors committed by U.S. imperialism in Syria or to its history of some 700 wars of murderous intervention, mass slaughter and conquest over the past century. These are a given – an inherent feature of the rapacious capitalist-imperialist system itself.
Rather, I chose the Shakespearian phrase to denote only a handful of virtual non-players in the political arena, but who were former friends and collaborators. One of whom, Gilbert Achcar, penned a vicious essay dated April 6, 2021 that was published by The Nation magazine and by International Viewpoint – the latter, the online magazine of the Fourth International. Achcar’s diatribe on Syria is entitled, “How to Avoid the ‘Anti-Imperialism’ of Fools: The logic of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is a recipe for empty cynicism.”
Achcar is reportedly the originator of the article edited by Noam Chomsky and signed by some 300 Syrian expats and now, via the Change.org petition site, signed onto by the editor of The Nation. Achcan’s term “‘anti-imperialism’ of fools” appears in both texts, as does the abject rejection of the established facts demonstrating that the U.S. plays the critical role in Syria’s decimation.
Both the Chomsky-signed statement that appeared in New Politics, Al-Jumhuriya and subsequently on other small websites, and Ashcar’s essay in The Nation lend direct or indirect support to the infamous UN resolution on Libya that paved the way for the U.S./NATO devastation of that nation in the name of protecting some 50,000 Libyans in Benghazi from an alleged impending massacre by the forces of Libyan president Moammar Gadhafi. Achcar writes, “Yet, in the absence of alternative means of preventing the impending massacre, the NFZ [No Fly Zone] could hardly be opposed in its initial phase—for the same reasons that had led Moscow and Beijing to abstain.”
Achcar neglects to report that this claimed impending massacre, as with the George W. Bush administration’s canard, “weapons of mass destruction,” pretext for the U.S. war on Iraq, proved to be yet another U.S. fabrication. Indeed, a leading British military intelligence agency has amply demonstrated that there never was any such threat posed by the Libyan government. Yet Libya was devastated – bombarded into oblivion and reduced to the “failed state” that it has become, with forces beholden to the U.S. and others fighting over control of that nation’s vast oil resources. Russia and China’s UN Security Council “abstentions” paved the way to the U.S.-led slaughter in Libya. These abstentions were equally criminal acts. Both these lesser imperialist capitalist regimes of Stalinist origin today seek, within limits, “peaceful co-existence” with a U.S. imperialism that surrounds them with countless military bases and threats of war. With regard to Syria, or Venezuela, however, where for their own reasons they accepted the invitations of these U.S. imperialist beleaguered nations for critical aid to survive, they cannot be faulted. Any political equation that concludes with the proposition that U.S. imperialism and Russia’s and China’s must in all matters be equally condemned regardless of the facts at hand, is fundamentally flawed. Condemning Russia and China, for example, for providing humanitarian aid to Venezuela in the context the U.S.-instigated military coup, blockade and embargo of Venezuela, is sheer nonsense.
Achcar, who supported the UN intervention in Libya, and the anti-Assad “rebels,” backed to the hilt by U.S. imperialism, beseeches us to reject the aphorism, “the enemy of my enemy (the USA) is my friend” (or someone I should spare from criticism at any rate).” His argument is that we should not befriend Assad just because he is the enemy of U.S. imperialism. We should not, he argues, befriend Russia, China, or Iran or Hezbollah, or Saddam Hussein and others, just because they are/were enemies of U.S. imperialism. To do so, argues Achcar, would transform us to the status of reviled “campists,” who automatically defend everyone who opposes the U.S.
Here Achcar’s repeats the false accusations that his “Erasing people through disinformation” diatribe attributes to all those antiwar and social justice coalitions who demand U.S. Out Now! and U.S. Hands Off Syria! That is, that they are Assad or Russian or China or Saddam Hussein, etc. supporters.
Again, none of these coalitions took any position on the nature of the governments that defended Syria at Syria’s request or the governments of other nations that have been victims of U.S. imperialist wars. They did defend beleaguered Syria’s right to self-determination, to be free from U.S.-led wars of conquest and mass destruction, their varying motives notwithstanding. Unlike Achcar, they also rejected UN intervention as they did the spurious assertion that “America was not central” to the U.S. war against the Syrian people. [For the past decade, Socialist Action has documented in the greatest detail the horrors of the U.S. war against Syria. In this regard, we urge interested activists to read our pamphlet Syria: Anatomy of Another U.S. Imperialist War by Jeff Mackler].
A final note here is required of my conscience and political integrity. The published statement that polemicizes against the anti-war movement is also tragically signed by a number of important leaders of the Fourth International, including the editor of its publication, International Viewpoint. This represents yet another fundamental departure from the socialist program and principles that have guided the Fourth International since its formation by Leon Trotsky in 1938. Trotsky, co-leader with Vladimir Lenin of the 1917 Russian Revolution, murdered in August 1940 at the hands of a Stalinist agent, maintained the finest traditions of Marxism and socialist revolution. These included categorical opposition to imperialist war and unconditional support to the right of oppressed nations to self-determination. That some comrades in the Fourth International, to which my party, Socialist Action, remains fraternally and very critically affiliated, have departed from this stance deeply saddens me as does their association and deference to the likes of Professor Gilbert Achcar, who today stands on the opposite side of the working-class barricades that separate us from the imperialist beast.
Which Side are You On?
Here, some stark conclusions are in order. Antiwar activists and revolutionary socialists alike cannot be neutral on matters of imperialist wars against poor and oppressed nations. In demanding U.S. Out Now! we reject any and all “justifications,” not to mention invented pretexts, for such wars. In supporting Syria’s right to be free from this U.S.-orchestrated war, we stand in solidarity with the Syrian people, regardless of our assessment of the Assad government. We do take sides! We are for the defeat of the U.S. intervening war makers, for their immediate and unconditional withdrawal. Were we in Syria, our position would be the same. Without lending an iota of political support to the capitalist Assad government, we are advocates of the military defeat of the U.S. and its allied invaders.
U.S. Hands Off Syria! Out Now!
Jeff Mackler is the national secretary of Socialist Action. He is also Socialist Action’s candidate for U.S. President in the 2020 elections and he was the Socialist Action candidate for President in 2016. Mackler founded Northern California Climate Mobilization, is a longtime teacher and union activist with the American Federation of Teachers in Hayward, California and is director of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.