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Monday, September 21, 2015

Portside takes a backwards look at the Syrian refugee crisis

Port and starboard represent absolute vectors, whereas left and right depend on what direction you are going. Portside is to your left only when looking forward, when looking backwards, it becomes something else entirely, and if the "anti-imperialist" Left sees anything in the current refugee crisis it is another opportunity to look backwards.

What they like most about the current refugee crisis is that they can turn the plight of millions of refugees into another opportunity to point out the role of western imperialism in creating many of the problems of our modern world and that is their specialty since they are lazy and it allows them to avoid making a concrete analysis of all aspects of each situation.

In the bigger picture, it is clear that imperialist exploitation of Africa and the Middle East, and especially the wars waged to facilitate that exploitation, are the root causes of the long term refugee and migrant flows in the region. That has been going on for decades. One need only look at the Human Rights Watch  2009 report of the terrible treatment of African migrants by the Qaddafi regime in Libya to know that this has been a long standing issue.

So, as long as the "Left" critics stick to generalities they can stand on solid ground and do what they like to do most, blame "our own" imperialists for everything. The problem is the current refugee crisis, that is making all the news because it is affecting Europe, is being fueled by the civil war in Syria, and while imperialists can also be seen behind that war, the imperialists most directly involved are considered part of the solution by these "anti-imperialists." This has led them to ignore the demands of millions of Syrians for an end to the Assad regime, and to blame it all on western imperialist "regime change" plots.

This is a real problem for the "anti-imperialists" when looking at the current Syrian refugee crisis because there can be no solution to that crisis that does not involve "regime change" for two simple reasons: 1 ) Syrian civilians will keep streaming out of the country so long as Assad keeps bombing them, and 2) Syrian refugees will refuse to return to Syria so long as Bashar al-Assad is in power. These facts are obvious to anyone looking forward to solving the problem, and so our "anti-imperialists" would rather look backwards and talk about who they think caused the problem.

The "anti-imperialists" have tried to handle this dilemma in a variety of ways. Most have acknowledged the centrality of the Syrian situation to the current refugee crisis and then said the "West" is responsible for the civil war. A number have pointed to a single Washington Post article that claimed the US has sent "10,000 fighters" into Syria, but with supporting evidence lacking and and General Lloyd Austin testifying that there were "4 or 5" US trained fighters still active in Syria, that approach is becoming tattered around the edges, so Portside tries a different approach in Behind the German Chancellor’s Quick Reversal on Refugees, by Victor Grossman, 18 September 2015. It tries to pretend the current migrant problem isn't mainly a Syrian refugee problem:
... behind all the recent human surges are wars started or supported by the “western democracies”. Large numbers have fled from Iraq and Afghanistan, both thrown into deathly turmoil by illegal foreign invasions. We can soon expect similar large numbers from Yemen.
Large numbers have fled from dozens of countries. Have been for years. No one can argue with that. But while leading with "Iraq and Afghanistan" may help make the case for western imperialism's fault, it doesn't explain "the recent human surges" which have been largely made up of Syrians so, of course, it has to mention Syria:
In Syria, Germany and other major powers have provided all sides with weapons for years, even poison gas, while repeatedly rejecting peace negotiations unless Assad is eliminated, an impossible condition for any true efforts.
In the first place, a number of important Syrian revolutionary organizations have repeatedly rejected peace negotiations unless Assad is eliminated. Grossman should address himself to those objections before he concerns himself with what Germany and other arms merchants want. In the second place, the simple reality is that there can be no solution to the "recent human surges" "unless Assad is eliminated" because as long as he is dropping barrel-bombs on them, Syrians will continue to flee the country, and as long as he is still in power, the millions that have already left will refuse to return. The only "peace" that is possible under a fascist regime like Assad's is the silence that terror brings:
The worst killer in the region, ISIS, has constantly exported oil (and valuable antique objects) via that friendly Western ally Turkey, now carrying out a merciless bombing campaign against left-wing Kurdish groups, far and away the most effective force in fighting ISIS.
These "anti-imperilists" love to fault Turkey for failing to control its border with Syria adequately. However, they always fail to mention the two million plus Syrian refugees that have been Turkey's burden to bear with almost no international help, and which have made border controls near impossible. They also always fail the mention the role of the Free Syrian Army in fighting ISIS, including fighting alongside the Kurds to defend Kobani. As for their assessment of the worst killer in the region, I'll let this picture do my talking.

By making ISIS the #1 Bad Guy in Syria, Grossman doesn't have to talk about the Assad regime, or the countries that are supplying it with the weapons being used to make populated areas uninhabitable. ISIS doesn't have an air force which rather limits their killing power as compared to Assad, and not only does Assad have an air force, he has seemingly unlimited supplies of warplanes and ordinances thanks to deep pockets in Tehran and Moscow. If the "anti-imperialists" were truly interested in making it safe for people to stay in Syria, they would have to address the question of who is supplying Assad with weapons, but they aren't. Grossman is using this to make prejudicial points about the struggle:
Main sources of ISIS weapons, it is clear, have been Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, close US-allies, who also use them to fight Saudi’s chosen new foes, the Houthis, destroying much of Yemen in the process. They, in turn, were supplied for years by just those western countries which complain most loudly about ISIS cruelty.
If those western countries were really interested in "regime change" in Syria, I would expect them to complain most loudly about Assad's cruelty, but Grossman is right about who's cruelty gets the media attention. Portside is just following along with their "Left" focus on ISIS.

After all these backwards glances at who Grossman thinks is responsible for the current mess, he knows its not enough to leave it at that, but he has a dilemma; any practical solutions might involve taking action against their favorite fascists and he can't support that. This is where platitudes and generalities can be really useful:
It is clear; humane treatment is a must in accepting the refugees, while the only way to stop more such waves is to end the wars and the armament sales.
If this is an example of the quality of leadership the Left is willing to provide on the Syrian humanitarian crisis, the Right will have a field day.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria


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