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Monday, August 31, 2015

Jacobin's "War on Syria"

I was reminded that their tag line "Reason in Revolt" has a "take leave of senses" double-meaning as I read Jacobin's latest piece on Syria, a conflict that more and more is taking center stage in world affairs in spite of having been generally ignored, "The War on Syria", published 27 August 2015 was written by Patrick Higgins, but I will treat it as representing the views of Jacobin on Syria, which it does.

The tag line of this article is "Foreign intervention has only worsened the situation in Syria," and as I said about the Veterans for Peace resolution title "Stop All Foreign Intervention In Syria," that's a position I can get 100% behind except, as with VFP, its definition of "foreign intervention" doesn't include the Russians or Iranians, Hezbollah from Lebanon, Iraqi militias or Afghans recruited to fight for the Assad regime with the promise of an Iranian visa and pay, and now new Russian bases in Syria. They don't consider any of that "foreign intervention" yet without all of that, Assad would have been toast long ago.

The piece begins with an obligatory description of the tragedy, "As the human toll of the Syrian catastrophe spirals ever higher." It is very careful, however, to avoid any specifics about this catastrophe. Barrel-bombs for example. Then it complains:
And the specter of humanitarian crisis has compelled every stripe of policymaker and pundit to call for some form of action — the need to do something.
Here it artfully dodges the demand of the Syrian people for a no-fly zone, and acts as if the #ClearTheSky campaign doesn't exist for a reason.

20 killed in Friday of "no-fly zone" protests across Syria | 28 Oct 2011

Followed by:
there is a foundational assumption that the ruin and bloodshed of this terrible war have been produced by inaction.
Personally, I do believe that if a no-fly zone had been imposed over Syria four years ago, as demanded by millions of Syrians, much of the ruin and bloodshed of this terrible war could have been avoided, but, hey, what do I know?

Ostensibly this piece is a polemic against "The Syrian Dilemma," a very important collection of essays edited by Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel, heads of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, but then it immediately enlarges the target to include "policy wonks" such as Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute and Robert Kaplan of Foreign Policy. Now it can tar everybody with the same brush. This is the same technique used by Jacobin, the Assad regime, and most of the "anti-imperialists" when they include ISIS in their version of "the rebels."

The purpose of the Jacobin piece is to oppose the growing support for military intervention in Syria, particularly the implementation of a no-fly zone or the creation of "safe zones" so that Syrians won't have to leave the country to be safe from Assad's bombardment. That is why they have to pretend the calls for military intervention are coming principally from "policy wonks" and not the people being bombed. They say:
Indeed, calls for increased intervention have a long history in Syria. These appeals in the US press have long been tied to calls made within the Syrian opposition. They began early, within the first year, and often rather vociferously.
I'll say, who can over look the hundreds-of-thousands (millions?) of Syrian's who protested on the "Friday of Immediate Military Intervention" on 16 March 2012, the day after the first anniversary of the revolution, that took place in Binnish, Idlib; al-Houle, Homs; al-Qusour, Homs; al-Sukkari, Aleppo; Amouda, al-Hasaka; Ma'arit Nu'man, Idlib; Jourat al-Shiyah, Homs; al-Ansara, Aleppo; al-Rastan, Homs and many other places in Syria?
But the signals regarding intervention from what was then the most influential exile opposition outfit, the Syrian National Council (SNC), were in the first year of the uprising muddy.
I guess they can.

Before it became too dangerous, the Syrian revolution was most characterized by massive Friday demonstrations in which the people said plainly what they want. "The people demand the fall of the regime" for example. But Jacobin never speaks of their demands, only their echoes among the elite, both in the West and among Syrian exiles. That makes them easier to deny.

The masses chanting "The people demand the fall of the regime" | Hama | 1 July 2011

Not only does Jacobin deny the mass character of the Syrian revolution, they also deny the relationship between the mass struggle and the armed struggle. They want to lend weight to Assad's claim that he's been fighting terrorist all along. Their claim is that it was a violent revolution from the beginning, To "prove" this, they use the technique of disputing general trends with contra antidotes, a common method on the "Left." Even then they have to rely on the regime's version of the "facts."
Another claim which reality complicates is the frequent one of how, when, and where the revolt turned to arms. The popular narrative in the United States, promoted by the US State Department, is one in which a people in the face of state repression turned to violence only when they had to. But that is not quite true. Violence and militarization from the opposition on the ground began quite early — during the first month of the uprising.
All those links are designed to give you the feeling that they are speaking with authority but look into them, and look into mine also, BTW. The first link leads to a state department document, but since the truth is that a largely non-violent movement turned to armed resistance only after it met with an extreme armed response from the Syria state, they could have linked to many Syrian documents that say it better. The others lead to stories that rely heavily on Syrian government sources, so rather than taking the time to pick each of them apart, I'll simply go to the horse's mouth on the question of who has been killing who in Syria. When Bashar al-Assad was interviewed on German TV, 7 May 2012, he flat out denied his government was killing protesters. He said most of the dead were government supporters, killed by terrorists:
Those victims, you are talking about, the majority of them, are government supporters. So, how can you be the criminal and the victim at the same time? The majority are people who support the government and large part of the others are innocent people who have been killed by different groups in Syria.
This tells you how much creditability should be given to Syrian government reports on the violence, but Jacobin believes them. So if the Assad regime and its foreign backers don't have the primary responsibility for the deaths of a quarter-million Syrians, who does? They have an answer for that too:
On June 12, the Washington Post published a story about “budget cuts” facing the CIA program for Syria. Shoehorned into the story was the disclosure that the initiative “has become one of the agency’s largest covert operations” to the tune of nearly $1 billion dollars a year, with “Syria-related operations [accounting] for about $1 for every $15 in the CIA’s overall budget” and the CIA having “trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years — meaning that the agency is spending roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel who has gone through the program.”

In other words, the United States launched a full-scale war against Syria, and few Americans actually noticed.
"In other words" the basis of their claim that "the United States launched a full-scale war against Syria" is that the CIA has “trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years." This claim appears to be based entirely on anonymous US intelligence officers.  Obviously Jacobin believes them. The question is: Should we? After all, such people have been known to lie, especially to tell people what they want them to believe and they want everyone to believe they are working real hard to help the people defeat Assad, remember that is their official line, so they have every reason to exaggerate what they have done.

So we don't know anything about these 10,000 but we know quite a bit about the last 54. They were 90 in May when US defence secretary Aston Carter announced that they were being trained at "a secure location." The rebel group they were to join or become is known as Division 30. Its commander is Col. Nadim Hassan, and its press spokesman is Capt. Ammar al Wawi. According to McClatchy "al Nusra snatched many of the 54 graduates of the $500 million program on July 29," as they were first entering Syria to fight ISIS. They have been like the "F Troop" of the Syrian conflict. They had to pledge not to use their weapons or training to fight Assad before they could join the unit. This is the main reason recruitment went so poorly.

If Jacobin has any further information that would make their 10,000 more believable, like what units they are in or what name they are fighting under, what battles they made a difference in, how they are paid and supplied, how the US exercises command and control, etc. all the minutia of actually fighting a war, they aren't saying. But now we are in a position to do a little creative math of our own. If the US spent $500 million on 54 rebels or $9.26 million per soldier, the cost to "train and equip" Jacobin's imaginary "10,000 fighters" would be a whopping $92 billion not $1 billion as Jacobin claims. However did they hide that in the budget?

Now imagine for a minute that you are a student, and you are looking for a school, maybe a trade school, college, it doesn't matter. This man tells you that he has "over 10,000 successful graduates" but when you examine the public record, the only thing you find documented is a single class of 90 that produced 54 graduates and half of those failed their first real world test. Do you write him a check for tuition? If you do, I have a theme park in Anaheim I can get you a real bargain on and a "Left" publication you should write for.

It is simple opportunism that allows these "Leftists" to believe Obama's claim that he is for regime change and CIA claims that they have already dispatched 10,000 to do the job without demanding anything like a shred of evidence.

Mao's Kitchen

Jacobin thinks it wrong to focus on the plight of the Syrian people and they have a theory of revolutionary change that means they don't have to,
The abstract embrace of this people, in itself belying the concrete conditions of a four-year war, is connected to another leitmotif of Syria discussions: any refusal to replace analysis of the situation within the country and its relationship with broader international politics with a neat, generalized “will” of the people narrative is to deny Syrian “agency.”
Once Jacobin has done what they could to discredit what they call the "popular narrative of the People versus the Dictator," They are finally ready to tell us what they think is really important:
This narrative is, in other words, a cartoon. More than that, it is a cartoon that overshadows the central contradiction currently at play in the Syrian situation: one between imperialists and various resistance movements, as well as the states supporting them.
Obviously, I have been checking out their links as I read their piece and here I was pleased to find it led to Mao Tse-tung's On Contradiction, a piece which I cherish but haven't had occasion to look at in many years. It actually says nothing to back their assertion that  "the central contradiction currently at play in the Syrian situation" is "between imperialists and various resistance movements, as well as the states supporting them," which is a core "anti-imperialist" theme and the reasoning behind all their other conclusions, (more about that later). It does, however, speak volumes about their methodology from the point of view of Marxism.

I was most pleased to be reminded in the introduction that Mao wrote it in 1937 with the "object of overcoming the serious error of dogmatist thinking to be found in the Party at the time." Dogmatic thinking is the big problem of the "anti-imperialist" Left, they simply missed the changes, I guess. On Contradiction begins:
The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the basic law of materialist dialectics. Lenin said, "Dialectics in the proper sense is the study of contradiction in the very essence of objects." [1] Lenin often called this law the essence of dialectics; he also called it the kernel of dialectics. [2]
Can you see already where Jacobin's definition of the "central contradiction" isn't supported by the link they provide? They say the central contraction for Syria is all these external factors, whereas Mao always taught that what he called the primary contradiction was to be found "in the very essence of objects." While the relationship between imperialists, what they call "resistance movements" and "supporting states" are all important, Mao would tell them that they play no lead in the primary contradiction in Syria. That is to be found in the internal forces, inside of Syria. The struggle about Syria is first and foremost a struggle among Syrians. So to counter-paraphrase the famous slogan of the city that promises that what happens there won't be another Ashley Madison, what happens in Syria obviously does not stay in Syria, it does, however, start in Syria.

The theme of blaming "outside agitators" is as old as the class struggle. I doubt that there has ever been a rebellion that wasn't blamed on "outside agitators." There are those that blame NWO think tanks and $$ for Occupy Wall St. and Black Lives Matter the same way these "anti-imperialists" blame secret CIA programs and neo-liberal funding for revolutions against dictators they like. Mao in On Contradiction again:
They search in an over-simplified way outside a thing for the causes of its development, and they deny the theory of materialist dialectics which holds that development arises from the contradictions inside a thing.
Its not just the agency of the Syria people that they deny. They deny that it is internal Syrian factors that play the "central" role in the development of what they euphemistically call the "Syrian situation." They have every right to do so, of course, but they shouldn't call themselves Marxists or cite Mao's On Contradiction as supportive:
As opposed to the metaphysical world outlook, the world outlook of materialist dialectics holds that in order to understand the development of a thing we should study it internally and in its relations with other things; in other words, the development of things should be seen as their internal and necessary self-movement, while each thing in its movement is interrelated with and interacts on the things around it. The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing. There is internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development. Contradictoriness within a thing is the fundamental cause of its development, while its interrelations and interactions with other things are secondary causes. Thus materialist dialectics effectively combats the theory of external causes, or of an external motive force, advanced by metaphysical mechanical materialism and vulgar evolutionism.
Like our friends at Jacobin. Again Mao tries to hammer home his point, missed by our "anti-imperialists" that internal causes are primary (central) and external causes are secondary(peripheral). This holds true also for countries, even Libya and Syria.
Does materialist dialectics exclude external causes? Not at all. It holds that external causes are the condition of change and internal causes are the basis of change, and that external causes become operative through internal causes. In a suitable temperature an egg changes into a chicken, but no temperature can change a stone into a chicken...
Maybe a dragon? Anyway, imperial machinations play a role in every revolutionary struggle, it could not be otherwise. As they are fond of saying when planning military strategy, "Remember, the enemy has a vote." But the imperialists don't cause mass uprisings or revolutions, even if they can always be spotted lurking around the peripheries.

Our "anti-imperialists" see a static world, neatly divided between imperialist and anti-imperialists camps and think it our job to support one and oppose the other. Specifically, they think its our job to oppose anything NATO, meaning US imperialism, supports. The beauty of this method is since that logic worked for Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, they don't have to know much about the internal struggles in say, Libya or Syria, they just have to know which side the US government claims to support. Mao warns against this cookie cutter approach:
The principle of using different methods to resolve different contradictions is one which Marxist-Leninists must strictly observe. The dogmatists do not observe this principle; they do not understand that conditions differ in different kinds of revolution and so do not understand that different methods should be used to resolve different contradictions; on the contrary, they invariably adopt what they imagine to be an unalterable formula and arbitrarily apply it everywhere, which only causes setbacks to the revolution or makes a sorry mess of what was originally well done.
Mao then castigates those who think they can analyse things by appealing to general principles and foregoing the need to study the particulars of the question at hand. I particularly find this true about the "anti-imperialists." Leftists I know don't spend 10 minutes a day studying the situation in Syria think their opinion is every bit as valid as that of anybody on the critical-syria list, including Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel.
It is of great importance to study these problems. Lenin meant just this when he said that the most essential thing in Marxism, the living soul of Marxism, is the concrete analysis of concrete conditions. [10] Our dogmatists have violated Lenin's teachings; they never use their brains to analyse anything concretely, and in their writings and speeches they always use stereotypes devoid of content,..
I'm not necessarily saying that our "anti-imperialists" look at Syria superficially, but if the shoe fits...
To be superficial means to consider neither the characteristics of a contradiction in its totality nor the characteristics of each of its aspects; it means to deny the necessity for probing deeply into a thing and minutely studying the characteristics of its contradiction, but instead merely to look from afar and, after glimpsing the rough outline, immediately to try to resolve the contradiction (to answer a question, settle a dispute, handle work, or direct a military operation). This way of doing things is bound to lead to trouble.
Mao then gives us a concrete example from the Chinese revolution of just how complicated things can get in the real world and the need to analyse each case based on its reality, not some prejudicial dogma:
For instance, consider the Kuomintang and the Communist Party. Take one aspect, the Kuomintang. In the period of the first united front, the Kuomintang carried out Sun Yat-sen's Three Great Policies of alliance with Russia, co-operation with the Communist Party, and assistance to the peasants and workers; hence it was revolutionary and vigorous, it was an alliance of various classes for the democratic revolution. After 1927, however, the Kuomintang changed into its opposite and became a reactionary bloc of the landlords and big bourgeoisie. After the Sian Incident in December 1936, it began another change in the direction of ending the civil war and co-operating with the Communist Party for joint opposition to Japanese imperialism. Such have been the particular features of the Kuomintang in the three stages.
Imagine that! There were times and circumstances when Mao considered the Kuomintang a part of the revolutionary forces! That fascist group, after the Shanghai massacre of 1927 and everything else they were guilty of. That's like counting al Nusra among the revolutionary forces in Syria just because they happen to be mainly Syrian and opposing Assad at the time! Oh how our "anti-imperialists" would condemn Mao if they would only bother to read what they are citing. If they did, they would see this summation of the Marxist work they linked to:
Without concrete analysis there can be no knowledge of the particularity of any contradiction. We must always remember Lenin's words, the concrete analysis of concrete conditions.
Because they fail to make a concrete analysis of difference roles played by ISIS and al Nusra in relationship to the struggle against the Assad regime and see only a common jihadist ideology they can tally a long list of abuses they claim were carried out by Islamists that have associated themselves with the revolution, along with Islamists Jacobin associates with the revolution, namely the Islamic State, which isn't seen as part of the revolution either by the revolutionaries or IS, but fail to mention the "Stop the Killing" movement, the "Friday of" protests, the LCCs, and much more, Jacabin says:
These dynamics present only one of the major challenges to anyone making claims of a Syrian revolution....If the armed revolt in Syria is part of a revolutionary movement, why are the most powerful and influential actors among the armed forces bigoted?
Apparently these "Marxists" understand little about revolution. They expect a revolution to be untainted by abuses and crimes from the revolutionary side when speaking generally, there is simply no way that can be the case. This is because a revolution, particularly as it nears victory, is likely to win even some of the shakier elements in the society to its ranks.

Once they've used their understanding of the world outside of Syria to determine which side to stand with in the "Syrian situation," it seems integrity goes out the window. Jacobin even resorts to revisionist history to make its case that external foreign actors were behind the uprising.
The 2011 revolt was launched in three major layers: the protests in towns like Dara’a, Idlib, Homs, and Hama; the exile organizations in dialogue with the United States, namely the Syrian National Council (and now the National Syrian Coalition); and the violent agitations against the Syrian state, which eventually evolved into a total insurrection.
Jacobin doesn't explain how the "Syrian National Council (SNC), which was set up six seven months after the uprising against the Assad regime erupted in March of 2011," according to the Carnegie Endowment, was able launch a revolution before it existed. Fortunately for us, Wikipedia  gives us a less fantastic cause and effect relationship:
The Syrian National Council (Arabic: المجلس الوطني السوري‎, al-Majlis al-Waṭanī as-Sūri, French: Conseil national syrien) sometimes known as SNC,[2][3] the Syrian National Transitional Council[4] or the National Council of Syria, is a Syrian opposition coalition, based in Istanbul (Turkey), formed in August 2011 during the Syrian civil uprising (escalating into civil war) against the government of Bashar al-Assad.[5][6]

I'm afraid I must leave this blog post before completing it, although it is quite long already, and save my summation for another time. Shots rang out across the street while I was writing this post yesterday. For a few minutes it sounded like the war has come home [ and I'm very afraid a new gang one may start today.]  For the moment my attentions are drawn back to the neighborhood where I live. Look for an important new post here latter today titled:

For further excellent criticism of Jacobin's "The War on Syria" see also:
Patrick Higgins’s war on the truth by Louis Proyect
Syria’s rebels are empire’s pawns (except America’s favorite proxy) by Charles Davis
Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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