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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

On Rob Prince's hostility towards intervention in Syria

Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi published an op-ed in the New York Times, 10 Feb 2014, with the simple, self-explanatory title Use Force to Save Starving Syrians. This caused some non-interventionists, who would rather see [other] people starve than force open a blockade, to get their panties in a twist. One result has been published on Foreign Policy In Focus, 14 Feb 2014, Military Humanitarian Intervention: the Shock Doctrine Applied to Syria by Rob Prince. It responds to Postel and Hashemi in its subtitle "What’s needed in Syria is not military intervention, but a global peace offensive."

In the comment section I made a number of extensive critiques of this piece, which also meant critiquing the standard-issue pro-Assad Left reasons for opposing intervention in Syria, and frankly, I thought some of them were pretty good. Then I thought "All that work on somebody else's blog?!?" So I figure I'll reuse them and make a blog post here out of them:

10:25 He starts with an assumption that is by no means proven no matter how many times it is repeated, the "only viable path open to resolving the Syrian conflict lies in a negotiated settlement between the Assad government and the legitimate opposition." One could have just as well said that about dealing with Hitler and ending WW2. In fact many Hitler supporters made exactly that argument as soon as it became clear the Nazis weren't going to win militarily.

Rob Prince may believe a negotiated settlement is the only way forward but clearly Bashar al-Assad doesn't. He could have opened negotiations when the peaceful protests first started. Instead, he choose to respond with violence, time and time again, until those who were demanding change were forced to go over to armed struggle. Assad has never negotiated in good faith, witness the lack of progress on getting rid of his CW. Then there is the question of who Rob Prince considers the "legitimate opposition," or did he intend to leave that decision to Assad? Presumably he believes the Assad regime is the legitimate government of Syria or at least that Bashar al-Assad, a mass murderer of ten thousand Syrian children, a legitimate partner for a peaceful settlement. Does he really think the bloodshed will stop as long as Assad is in power?

More, later...

Rob Prince complained "they place the blame for the Syrian human débâcle almost entirely at the feet of the Assad government[, blaming it] for virtually all of the violence."

03:17 The Assad government is responsible for virtually all of the violence. Certainly it is responsible for turning peaceful mass protests into an armed conflict. In three years it is responsible for every bomb cropped from aircraft, every shell or shot fired from an aircraft, the dropping of sarin from a helicopter in one case and the uses of poison gas fired from rockets on more than a dozen occasions. Its completely responsible for the uncounted thousands it has starved and tortured to death in its prisons. Its responsible for all the Scuds fired and the vast majority of all the other rockets and shell fired that have taken so many Syrians in the past three years.

One could also make an argument that Assad is responsible for the deaths caused by his looted arsenals, which is the main way his opposition has armed themselves, because his government had the responsibility to see that they were properly secured, which they could have easily done had they not been so busy killing Syrians. I prefer the argument that the attacking party, the party engaged in criminal conduct, the one who sets out on the murderous rampage, is responsible not only for the deaths it caused directly, but also the lives taken by those practising self-defense and even "innocent bystanders" killed by either side.

I blame the Nazis not only all the deaths their soldiers caused but also for the lives of those young Germans they turned into cannon fodder. I blame US imperialism not only for the millions of Vietnamese killed but also the 58,000 Americans it drafted to do its dirty work, and I apply the same standards to the Assad government, so I hold it responsible for 100% of the deaths caused by his war to stay in power, even it that power rests upon elections in which he got 97% and 97.6% of the vote! If you believe those were free & fair elections, I've got a deal on a bridge for you. You can make so much money..call me.

Finally there is this: Accidentally, civilians have been killed by all parties to this conflict, such is the nature of war, but Assad is the only party to this conflict that actively targets civilians. He bombs neighbourhoods, hospitals and schools. He shells breadlines. His bottom line strategy is to make the price of overthrowing him, in terms of Syrian lives, unbearably high.

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Comment in response to greenman615
Excuse me, but would you advocate pleas of mercy in place of anti-aircraft weaponry as a response to aerial bombardment generally or is this a special case designed to increase the suffering of the Syria people? For example, did you oppose the US providing England and the USSR with anti-aircraft weaponry when the Nazis were bombing everywhere? Did you also oppose Russia and China giving anti-aircraft weaponry to Vietnam when the US was bombing everywhere? And when a mad gunman is on the loose in one of our cities, killing anybody in sight, do you demand that the police just stick to bullhorn tactics, i.e. attempting to negotiate a peaceful settlement? Because assuming that the problem "can be solved by an application of military force," i.e. taking out the killer with lethal force before he kills another person, "would only be adding to the violence?" Do you not believe in the right of self defense? Are you "non-violent" to the point of not raising a hand against your would be murderer? Are you one of those?

Do you oppose a people's right to an armed self-defense or their right to ask for assistance when they are attacked generally? Or is just special for Syrians?

03:55 "Salafist Islamic militants (trained and funded by the Saudis, Qatar, Turkey, and ultimately supported and manipulated by Washington)" All of that is a stretch, based largely on conjecture. While it can't be denied that what could be called Salafist Islamic militants have received some funds from individuals and organizations based in Saudis, Qatar, Turkey and dozens of other countries, that tiny bit of truth doesn't spin-out to a grand conspiracy run from Washington. I fear your US chauvinism is showing. The truth is the US is really at a lost for a workable, even from its pov, strategy to deal with events that are almost completely out of its control.

If by "Salafist Islamic militants" you mean the ISIS and al Nusra, then why leave out the Assad government's payments to them, in the millions of dollars, for oil, or the fact that he let a thousand Salafist Islamic militants out of prison at the start of the revolution, and many of these are now even in the leadership of ISIS and al Nusra, or the Syrian special service agents that have been identified as "emirs" in the ISIS, or Assad's bragging that he had agents inside the opposition? Are those connections and many more [See Man behind the Curtain for al-Qaeda in Syria is Assad for details.] problematic for your narrative?

Finally, how can you blame those countries for having "internationalized the struggle" when you don't mention Russia, Iran, Iraq and Hezbullah, all of which have soldiers fighting in Syria and are militarily supporting Assad's bid to stay in power no matter how many Syrian lives it costs?

More, later...

Calling for military intervention as a way to end or at least reduce the bloodshed in Syria does pull at certain ethical heartstrings.
A less colorful way to say that is coming to the defense of civilians being bombed is the right thing to do.

I'm sorry to see you seem to revel in the idea that it is "a desperate appeal." Why? Because you think that there is no chance the world will intervene even if Assad kills a million? 236 people are being killed every day now in this conflagration and you refuse any meaningful intervention to stop it now in the name of "humane long-term geopolitical considerations." Please!

You ask:
Are they forgetting Washington’s long record of supporting totalitarian regimes in exchange for oil in the Middle East and elsewhere, and whose involvement in the Syrian tragedy is, incidentally, far from innocent?
Assad's opposition certainly aren't forgetting, and those that have been disillusioned as to any US claim to fight for justice and so on have been given a hard lesson; they have been seeing Obama's betrayal of his claim of support for their democratic struggle and his real support for Assad's totalitarian regime develop over the last three years. But I think you are right about this: No matter how many times the US imperialists may claim humanitarian excuses for intervention, doesn't mean they will intervene when humanity really does call for it. I'm just sorry to see you revel in it.

Naive and self-centered Americans may think Obama was really for "regime change" in Syria just because he said he was, but few Syrians, on either side of the fight, harbor such illusions themselves, even if one side finds it makes for useful propaganda. See: Barack Obama's Courtship of Bashar al-Assad among others.

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10:16 You say:
One must make a distinction between “humanitarian intervention” in times of war, and military intervention using humanitarian pretexts.
And I say that goes without saying. So what's your point? In all things, and not just "humanitarian intervention" one must make a distinction between the real thing and its counterfeit. Is this bit of wisdom your way of telling us that you don't think that there is a genuine need for humanitarian intervention in Syria today? Or is it your view that Bashar al-Assad should be free to fire Scud missiles at major population centers in Syria for as long as the Russians will supply them and still be free to drop barrel bombs on his people when they won't? Is that the position you are fighting for?

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10:44 You assert certain U.S. political activities in Syria:
— publicly calling for a negotiated solution — less openly training, arming, and financing some of the most dastardly elements in the Middle East to bring down the Assad Regime (or getting regional allies to do so).
This may be were we differ the most. You want to see the Assad Regime survive whereas I think they are the most dastardly elements in the Middle East. But the rest of this sentence is twisted as well. First US training. arming and financing of opposition fighters has always been far more myth than reality. In the best of times, a few small arms, radios and MREs, A training program in Jordan that recently started turning out 50 trainees a month. Much has been talked about and promised but almost nothing has been delivered. What has been delivered has gone to the Free Syrian Army, and some may now go to the Islamic Front, so unless you consider that they are the most dastardly elements in the conflict and not even the jihadist, Assad inspired and supported ISIS and al Nusra, which have gotten zero support from the US, that is another twist in your tale.

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11:16 You say:
The military situation on the ground over the past year has shifted dramatically in favor of the Assad government and its allies reducing Washington’s goal of regime change in Syria considerably.
You also say Obama's goal in Syria is regime change. And yet there have been no heavy weapons or anti-aircraft missiles given to the opposition, no anti-tank weapons or the hundreds of other weapons in Washington's arsenal that could have changed the game dramatically, There have been no NATO air operations against Assad, not even a single drone strike. Not even semi-military moves like Israel mobilizing along the Golan Heights, thus forcing Assad to tear some of his soldiers away from their current task of killing Syrians and put them back to defending the country. There are hundreds of very real measures that NATO et al could have taken to support the overthrow of Assad that they haven't taken, but you still believe they are for "regime change" because they keep publicly asking Assad to step down.
The inner workings of the Obama Administration’s decision not to attack Syria last September remain hazy.
Caught up in the fog of war are we? Maybe the reasons is because it was an empty threat meant for public consummation in the first place. He never meant to strike Assad. Remember what he said? If Assad used "a whole bunch of" CW. What kind of ultimatum is that? So Assad used CW a dozen times in small quantities with no response from Obama. Then he calls Obama's bluff completely by clearly crossing even the "whole bunch of" line, and Obama still didn't strike him. This should have only surprised those that weren't looking. Get the net: Obama wants Assad to win. See also:

More, later...

11:42 You say:
the Obama administration’s decision not to initiate military action last September [was] to the relief of much of the world.
Well it certainly wasn't to the relief of the 30 thousand Syrians killed since then was it?

You say:
the Russians have played a positive, if not decisive, role in moving the Syrian crisis from big power military confrontation to negotiations
What alternate universe are you writing about? Don't you know that Russia is the number one weapons supplier and financier of the Assad regime?

Since none of your "Peace offensive" proposals have any force behind them, they all amount to pleading with Assad to stop murdering his people, and demanding that they stop trying to defend themselves. 136,000 dead and you still demand a course which keeps Assad in power at all costs.

Finally, in #5 you tell us more about what you consider the "legitimate Syrian opposition," those
whose grievances against the government are long-standing (and genuine) and whose roots in Syrian society are organic and undisputed.
I like the way you throw the sly word "undisputed" in your description. Doesn't that give Assad unlimited exclusions?

anti_reublocrat asked me: "How long do you require the world to experiment with forcible, military regime change before you accept the truth that it will not work?"

Response to comment from anti_repulocrat:
I won't hold my breathe waiting for you to speak out against "forcible, military regime maintenance"? That is what is going on in Syria today, because if not for massive financial and military support from Russia and Iran, Assad would have been out on his ear a long time ago. And by now, I should think that "regime change" in Syria should be the demand of every caring, thinking, person in the civilized world. After all the crimes that Assad has committed in the past three years alone, he should be in prison for life without the possiblity, not running a country. Mass murderers should be ineligible to hold high office, particularly when they have used the instruments of government to commit those murders. And what kind of "man" makes such a principle of his presidency that he refuses to step down even after over a hundred thousand have died, when he knows removing himself from the struggle would greatly defuse it and save lives? Answer: The same kind of "man" who would drop barrel bombs on schools and fire sarin gas rockets into the bedrooms of sleeping children. So yes, most definitely, get him out of the Presidential Palace and into lock-up awaiting trial.

How legit is his presidency in the first place? He runs a fascist police state. He hangs it on two elections, 2000 & 2007. That he got 97% & 97.6% of the vote tells you all you need to know about how "free & fair" those "elections" were. He's so popular that he's afraid to use his regular working class soldiers, those that he's got left, against the revolution. He's seen time and time again that they will defect, often en mass, when given half a chance. That is the bloody little secret of this war. That is why he must rely on long range weapons like aerial attacks and artillery, or on foreign fighters from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon or sectarian driven fascist gangs with a tendency to "go too far." Their is almost no real popular support for Assad in Syria. His support comes from foreign countries and sectarian gangs and he is waging a campaign of terror against a popular uprising. Were he has not been able to shell them, bomb them, or gas them into submission, he now tries to starve them into submitting to his rule. But the people still resist. That is what is going on in Syria, and you are still for "regime keep?"

Response to comment from anti_repulocrat:
I'm my own staff and I do my own research but I'm also use to these sorts of attacks and innuendo coming from Assad supporters so never mind about that. I also have a long history of opposing US imperialism. You can Google that. See my film Vietnam: American Holocaust and don't even bother to reply to my comments before you are willing to engage with me.

Response to comment from anti_repulocrat: 
I didn't say you were an Assad supporter, just that you argued like one.

It would be helpful if you could direct me to a well researched piece similar to what I have written in Man behind the Curtain for al-Qaeda in Syria is Assad that lays out the evidence of SA and Qatar support for ISIS or al Nusra. No doubt there are a few rich jihad supporters in their populist that contribute to al Qaeda but I do doubt that such support comes through official channels given al Qaeda's avowed purpose of bringing down the Kingdom. Support for the revolution is necessary for them to maintain bourgeois leadership in the Arab nation and it is understood that they have contributed significantly to brigades in the FSA and IF and have shown considerable independent from the US in doing this. Once Obama had secured his re-election, they started violating the restrictions Obama and the CIA were trying to put on their support for the revolution.

You say:
Yes, I've heard before that he supposedly freed many extremists before all this started,
Wrong he freed a thousand jihadists, many now in the ISIS and al Nursa, AFTER the protests started, as I wrote in the above piece:
After mass democracy protests broke out in March 2011, Assad declared three separate amnesties between March and June of 2011. Al Jazeera reported, 21 Jun 2011:

Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, has ordered a new general amnesty for all crimes committed in the country up until June 20, in another apparent attempt to calm months of protests against his rule.

The state news agency, SANA, announced the move on Tuesday, nearly a month after Assad issued a similar amnesty for all political crimes.

"President Assad has issued a decree granting a general amnesty for crimes committed before the date of June 20, 2011," SANA reported, without giving details.

The president ordered a reprieve on May 31 for all political prisoners in the country, including members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Hundreds of detainees were released, according to rights groups.
That last was a big deal because in Assad's Syria, mere membership in the Muslim Brotherhood could get one the death penalty. Bashar al-Assad said these amnesties were meant as concessions to the democracy movement, but that explanation just doesn't stand up to scrutiny because while he was releasing Islamic terrorists and even common criminals from his prisons, he was shooting unarmed peaceful protesters in ever increasing numbers.
And wrong again on R2P. R2P properly executed means "Never Again", it means no more Rwanda’s, no more Dafur's, it means I am my brother's keeper.

Do you really want a world order in which any fascist dictatorship that has the support of one of the 5 permanent UNSC members can get financing and military support from any country willing to help it stamp out domestic resistance by any means necessary, including CW and aerial bombardment on population centers, and can just start killing and starving its people into submission? Or do you want a world that will draw the line somewhere and says you are not free to commit genocide within your borders, a world that does recognize a responsibility to protect? Certainly the term and the concept has been misused, so has the term and concept "socialism," should we abandon that too?

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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