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Archive for the ‘Libya’ Category

The ‘Anti-Imperialist’ Who Got Libya Wrong Serves Up The Same Failed Analysis on Syria

Paris Match: Many people say the solution lies in your departure. Do you believe that your departure is the solution?

Syrian president Assad: What was the result (of NATO policy when they attacked Gaddafi)? Chaos ensued after Gaddafi’s departure. So, was the departure the solution? Have things improved, and has Libya become a democracy? [1]

Updated January 23, 2016
Originally posted December 24, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

For a professed socialist and anti-imperialist, Gilbert Achcar is surprisingly mainstream, in fact, so much so that he could be appointed to a key position in the US State Department and fit in quite comfortably. He replicated the basic understanding of the nature of the conflict in Libya in 2011, as presented by the US government, in his own analysis, and dissents in no significant way from Washington on how to end the conflict in Syria (Achcar and the US president, and, for that matter, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, all agree that Assad must go.)

In 2011, he supported the overthrow of Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi, arguing wrongly, it turns out, that a post-Gaddafi Libya, whatever its faults, would be an improvement on what preceded it, which indeed it is, if chaos, societal breakdown, and various fanatical Islamist armies, including ISIS, vying for control of the country by arms, counts as an improvement. Said Achcar on March 24, 2011: “And if there is no clarity about what a post-Gaddafi Libya might look like….it can’t be worse than Gaddafi’s regime.” [2] It’s difficult to imagine he could have been more wrong. But then he’s in good company. NATO leaders—the architects of the debacle—said the same.

Achcar’s assurance that Gaddafi was an unparalleled evil, thus justifying his extermination without regard to the consequences, paralleled a similarly stunningly wrong prediction offered by supporters of the US-British war on Iraq. That argument held that elimination of the Iraqi leader couldn’t help but improve Iraq’s humanitarian situation—and it relied on a technique Achcar liberally uses of demonizing secular Arab nationalist leaders. Of course, it was not the expunction of Saddam Hussein that promised to ameliorate the humanitarian situation in Iraq but the abandonment by Western powers of their policy of murdering countless Iraqis through economic and conventional warfare in order to eliminate an impediment to their hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East. It is curious that the last remaining leaders of the principal obstacle to Washington’s hegemonic designs in the Arab world, namely, the secular Arab nationalist governments of Libya and Syria, should fall squarely within the sites of both Achcar and Washington; curious because Washington is clearly imperialist, and Achcar says he’s an anti-imperialist. So how is it that the anti-imperialist Achcar and the imperialist US foreign policy establishment see eye-to-eye on so much?

On Libya, Achcar had cast doubt, in error it turns out, on the idea that the uprising had a substantial Sunni Islamist component, dismissing this as a canard originated by Gaddafi to mobilize US support. Gaddafi’s implicating Al-Qaeda in the uprising “was his way of trying to get the support of the West,” Achcar said. [3] We know now that the uprising was, as Gaddafi averred, largely Islamist.

Similarly, Achcar blundered in declaring as preposterous the idea that “Western powers are intervening in Libya because they want to topple a regime hostile to their interests.” [4] As it turns out, Western powers did indeed view Gaddafi’s “resource nationalism” and efforts to “Libyanize” the economy as hostile to the economic interests of Western investors, a group that exercises considerable, if not decisive, influence over Western foreign policy. [5]

One year after then US secretary of state Hilary Clinton declared in connection with Gaddafi’s overthrow that “we came, we saw, he died,” The Wall Street Journal revealed evidence that the Achcar-supported NATO military intervention in Libya was rooted in objections to the Gaddafi government’s economic policies. According to the newspaper, private oil companies were incensed at the pro-Libyan oil deals the Gaddafi government was negotiating and “hoped regime change in Libya…would bring relief in some of the tough terms they had agreed to in partnership deals” with Libya’s national oil company. [6]

For decades, many European companies had enjoyed deals that granted them half of the high-quality oil produced in Libyan fields. Some major oil companies hoped the country would open further to investment after sanctions from Washington were lifted in 2004 and U.S. giants re-entered the North African nation.

But in the years that followed, the Gaddafi regime renegotiated the companies’ share of oil from each field to as low as 12%, from about 50%.

Just after the fall of the regime, several foreign oil companies expressed hopes of better terms on existing deals or attractive ones for future contracts. Among the incumbents that expressed hopes in Libyan expansion were France’s Total SA and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

‘We see Libya as a great opportunity under the new government,’ Sara Akbar, chief executive of privately owned Kuwait Energy Co., said in an interview in November. ‘Under Gaddafi, it was off the radar screen’ because of its ‘very harsh’ terms, said Mrs. Akbar. [7]

The Journal had earlier noted the “harsh” (read pro-Libyan) terms the Gaddafi government had imposed on foreign oil companies.

Under a stringent new system known as EPSA-4, the regime judged companies’ bids on how large a share of future production they would let Libya have. Winners routinely promised more than 90% of their oil output to NOC (Libya’s state-owned National Oil Corp).

Meanwhile, Libya kept its crown jewels off limits to foreigners. The huge onshore oil fields that accounted for the bulk of its production remained the preserve of Libya’s state companies.

Even firms that had been in Libya for years got tough treatment. In 2007, authorities began forcing them to renegotiate their contracts to bring them in line with EPSA-4.

One casualty was Italian energy giant Eni SpA. In 2007, it had to pay a $1 billion signing bonus to be able to extend the life of its Libyan interests until 2042. It also saw its share of production drop from between 35% and 50%—depending on the field—to just 12%. [8]

Oil companies were also frustrated that Libya’s state-owned oil company “stipulated that foreign companies had to hire Libyans for top jobs.” [9] A November 2007 US State Department cable had warned that those “who dominate Libya’s political and economic leadership are pursuing increasingly nationalistic policies in the energy sector” and that there was “growing evidence of Libyan resource nationalism.” [10] The cable cited a 2006 speech in which Gaddafi said: “Oil companies are controlled by foreigners who have made millions from them. Now, Libyans must take their place to profit from this money.” [11] Gaddafi’s government had forced oil companies to give their local subsidiaries Libyan names. Worse, “labor laws were amended to ‘Libyanize’ the economy,” that is, turn it to the advantage of Libyans. Oil firms “were pressed to hire Libyan managers, finance people and human resources directors.” [12] The New York Times summed up the West’s objections. “Colonel Gaddafi,” the US newspaper of record said, “proved to be a problematic partner for international oil companies, frequently raising fees and taxes and making other demands.” [13] Achcar completely missed this. Worse, he declared the very opposite to be true. He wrote: “The idea that Western powers are intervening in Libya because they want to topple a regime hostile to their interests is just preposterous. Equally preposterous is that what they are after is laying their hands on Libyan oil.” [14]

Normally, a batter who swings and misses three times is thrown out of the batting circle, but Achcar’s strike out didn’t stop either Democracy Now or the Marxist publication Jacobin from recently offering the failed analyst a platform to hold forth on Syria. Achcar was treated fawningly in a Jacobin piece [15], with interviewer Nada Matta treating the US State Department echo-chamber as a docent for the Left. Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now interview with the failed Libya analyst [16] was also overly deferential, given Achcar’s uninspiring record on Libya, though to Goodman’s credit, she did challenge him on his support for NATO’s intervention in the North African country, an intervention which, now that it is widely acknowledged to have produced a debacle, Achcar claims not to have supported. This is indeed true if we accept that “intervention” means whatever Achcar says it means, but as we’ll see, he did support NATO’s intervention in Libya, notwithstanding his rather discreditable attempts since to obfuscate. But there’s another reason why Matta and Goodman might have passed on interviewing Achcar, apart from his egregious failures on Libya: they could have arranged an interview with a US State Department spokesperson and 90 percent of the answers would have been the same.

Having missed the chance to source the US State Department directly, Democracy Now and Jacobin had to settle for Achcar repackaging his failed Libya analysis to delineate a largely US State Department-consistent view of what is happening in Syria and of the kind of agenda the Left ought to support. Just as once he called for the elimination of Gaddafi as the only way to stop what he claimed was an impending massacre, and as the best way to open space for a popular democratic uprising, so too in Syria does he urge the Left to support the elimination of Assad as the only way to stop the war in Syria, and as the best way to open space for a true democratic awakening. A democratic flowering won’t happen in Syria, he says, until ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra take over from Assad and Syrians realize that salafists are as hostile to their interests as Achcar says Assad is. (What Achcar seems completely oblivious to, or doesn’t give a damn about, is that either of these groups coming to power would mean the massacre of Syria’s Alawite, Druze, Kurd, Christian and other minority populations.)

The problem with the view that the only way to bring about democracy in Syria is to first let murderous sectarian madmen run roughshod over the country until Syrians realize they are hostile to their interests is that it ignores concessions the Assad government has already made in response to the uprising to open up political space by abrogating the Ba’ath Party’s status as primus inter pares and opening presidential elections to a multi-candidate slate [17], a development that would seem to be more conducive to the peaceful flowering of popular democratic forces than the bloody and austere theocratic rule of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Achcar also appears to be unaware of polling data that shows that Assad commands more support in Syria than does the armed opposition whose ascension to power he thinks would bring an end to the war. [18] By this fact alone, it wouldn’t. There is a significant opposition to Islamic fundamentalism in Syria. On top of this, Achcar swallows a fiction widely promoted by US officials and Western media that the war in Syria is a sectarian conflict between a Sunni majority and an oppressive Alawite minority. Western media unremittingly describe the armed opposition as predominantly Sunni, an undoubted reality, but hardly relevant, since the opposition’s major opponent, the Syrian Arab Army, is also predominately Sunni. Indeed, it may be said of the Syrian Arab Army that it is the only moderate armed Sunni fighting force in the country. The fundamental fault line in Syria is not between Sunnis and Alawis (or other minorities), but between proponents of a secular, non-sectarian constitution, on the one hand, and a political arrangement based on a Sunni fundamentalist interpretation of the Quran, on the other. Allowing Al-Qaeda affiliates to come to power in Syria would not bring peace to the country, since the Islamists’ rule would hardly be tolerated by the significant part of the population that opposes it and prefers a non-sectarian, secular government. It would also result in the massacre of populations the sectarian fanatics deem apostates and infidels. If Achcar expressed concern about the possibility of a massacre in Libya, and cited this as the basis for his support of NATO intervention in that country, how is it that he can so blithely accept the near certainty of massacres perpetrated by the fanatics he urges Western powers to give serious support to?

Achcar does not dissent from the US foreign policy establishment view on Syria at its most basic level, namely, the demand that Assad step down and for the same reasons the US State Department adduces: Because, says Washington and Achcar, Assad is a brutal dictator who is oppressing the Sunni majority and has lost the legitimacy that would allow him to govern the country peacefully. There is little space between Achcar’s views and the public views of the US government on the Syrian president, the nature of the opposition, and the route to peace, except that Achcar says he has arrived at his positions by taking an anti-imperialist stance. An ostensible anti-imperialist analysis which meshes comfortably with Washington’s position on Syria can be attractive to Marxists and other Leftists who would like to feel mainstream, while assuring themselves that they remain thoroughly Leftist. Therein may lie Achcar’s appeal to Leftist media. He’s like the TV pitchman who peddles a diet which promises rapid weight loss without sacrifice. In the summer of 1914, there were plenty of European socialists who discovered, as Achcar has today, that Marxist views can be forced to fit a Procrustean imperialist bed and made to appear to be Leftist justifications for supporting one’s own bourgeoisie. Lenin, who Achcar claims to have a sound knowledge of, called this social imperialism—socialism in words, imperialism in practice. It’s a label that fits Achcar’s views to a tee.

I believe that a number of Achcar’s positions on Libya and Syria (most, essentially US State Department positions) are mistaken. Below is a look at some of them.

Libya

While his views may have changed since, in the late winter of 2011 Achcar described the Libyan rebels as a progressive force. “What unites all the disparate forces (of the opposition to Gaddafi) is a rejection of the dictatorship and a longing for democracy and human rights,” he said. [19] Of course, we know today that the rebels did not yearn for democracy and human rights, and that the only dictatorship they opposed was a secular one. Neither do the rebels in Syria yearn for democracy and human rights. As Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US National Security Adviser and a principal figure in the influential Council on Foreign Relations put it: “You know, we started helping the rebels, whatever they are, and they’re certainly not fighting for democracy, given their sponsorship, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.” [20] The preference for the rebels in Libya was, as it is for rebels today in Syria, a dictatorship of the Quran, or at least their version of it. Dismissing the idea that the uprising was Islamist in character, Achcar argued that Gaddafi’s implicating al-Qaeda in the uprising “was his way of trying to get the support of the West” [21]. Achcar was clear on what position the Left should take: We “should support the victory of the Libyan democratic uprising,” [22] he said.

Gaddafi, as it turned out, had a firmer grasp on what was happening in Libya than Achcar did. The late Libyan leader, murdered at the hands of rebels Achcar urged the Left to support, claimed that the rebellion in Libya had been organized by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which had vowed to overthrow him and return the country to traditional Muslim values, including Sharia law. A 2009 Canadian government intelligence report bore him out. It described the anti-Gaddafi stronghold of eastern Libya, where the rebellion began, “as an ‘epicenter of Islamist extremism’ and said ‘extremist cells’ operated in the region.” Earlier, Canadian military intelligence had noted that “Libyan troops found a training camp in the country’s southern desert that had been used by an Algerian terrorist group that would later change its name to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.” [23]

Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the Libyan rebellion’s most powerful military leader, was a veteran of the U.S.-backed Jihad against the Marxist-inspired reformist government in Afghanistan, where he had fought alongside militants who would go on to form al-Qaeda. Belhaj returned to Libya in the 1990s to lead the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which was linked to his al-Qaeda comrades. His aim was to topple Gaddafi, as the Communists had been toppled in Afghanistan. The prominent role Belhaj played in the Libyan uprising should have aroused suspicions among Leftists in the West that, as Western governments surely knew, the uprising was not the heroic pro-democracy affair Western media were making it out to be. Indeed, from the very first day of the revolt, anyone equipped with knowledge of Libyan history would have known that the Benghazi rebellion was more in the mold of the latest eruption of a violent anti-secular Jihad than a peaceful call for democracy. [24]

“On Feb. 15, 2011, citizens in Benghazi organized what they called a Day of Anger march. The demonstration soon turned into a full-scale battle with police. At first, security forces used tear gas and water cannons. But as several hundred protesters armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails attacked government buildings, the violence spiraled out of control.” [25] As they stormed government sites, the rampaging demonstrators didn’t chant, “We want democracy”, “We want human rights”, or “No to dictatorship,” as Achcar might lead us to believe. Instead, they chanted “‘No God but Allah, Moammar is the enemy of Allah’.” [26]

Achcar vehemently denies that he supported intervention in Libya, but this is true only if intervention is defined as Western boots on the ground. Achcar was clear in 2011 that he was opposed to NATO ground forces entering Libya. But then so too was NATO. What Achcar did support was Western powers arming the opposition and neutralizing the Libyan air force—also NATO’s position.

Achcar’s position on UN Security Council Resolution 1973 establishing a no-fly zone over Libya was an exercise in double-talk. He acknowledged that the resolution could be used by Western powers to pursue their own agendas in Libya. “Now there are not enough safeguards in the wording of the resolution to bar its use for imperialist purposes,” [27] he concluded. All the same, he urged the Left not to come “out against the no-fly zone” but instead to “make sure” the Western powers “don’t go beyond protecting civilians.” How the Left was to do this, once the no-fly zone was in place, was never said, and why anyone would want to stop NATO from carrying on until Gaddafi was toppled was unclear, given that Achcar had described the Libyan leader and his government as thoroughly repugnant and hardly one any self-respecting Leftist should like to see survive. Indeed, it was clear than Achcar fervently hoped for Gaddafi’s demise. Achcar wrote:

“Does it mean that we had and have to support UNSC resolution 1973? Not at all. This was a very bad and dangerous resolution, precisely because it didn’t define enough safeguards against transgressing the mandate of protecting the Libyan civilians. The resolution leaves too much room for interpretation, and could be used to push forward an imperialist agenda going beyond protection into meddling into Libya’s political future. It could not be supported, but must be criticized for its ambiguities. But neither should it be opposed.” [28]

It should not be supported, but neither should it be opposed?! Perhaps, Achcar thought he was being clever. If NATO abused the resolution (as he thought it might) and a disaster ensued he could say “I predicted this, and never supported the resolution.” On the other hand, by counseling the Left not to oppose the no-fly zone, he was effectively calling for the absence of any obstacle to its implementation— in other words, supporting it, while claiming not to.

Achcar vehemently denies that he “supported intervention in Libya,” calling this “a canard.” “I never supported the intervention in Libya” he told Amy Goodman. “This is a falsity which has been spread all the time.” In Achcar’s recounting, “As soon as the siege of (Benghazi) was broken and there was no longer any threat, I said, I mean, I’m against the bombing…” [29] But Achcar’s criterion for when NATO’s bombing (that is, its direct intervention) should end was when the Libyan air force was neutralized, or more specifically when Libyan forces were so thoroughly weakened that they could no longer win a war against the rebels. Explained Achcar at the time: “It remains morally and politically wrong to demand the lifting of the no-fly zone—unless Gaddafi is no longer able to use his air force. Short of that, lifting the no-fly zone would mean a victory for Gaddafi” (emphasis added.) [30]

Achcar, then, did support intervention in Libya, despite all his vehement denials to Amy Goodman. He supported the direct intervention of Western warplanes to neutralize the Libyan air force in order to prevent “a victory for Gaddafi.” This was more than simply supporting a no fly zone to protect civilians. It was supporting bombing (that is, direct intervention) to tilt the war in favor of the rebels. As it turned out, Canadian pilots who participated in the direct intervention acknowledged privately that they were “al-Qaeda’s air force,” [31] supporting rebels who Achcar claimed falsely weren’t Islamists.

As he was railing against the lifting of the no-fly zone until the possibility of a Gaddafi victory was eliminated, and as NATO was intervening directly through a bombing campaign to accomplish this end, Achcar was hypocritically mouthing anti-imperialist shibboleths. “I mean, I’m against…direct intervention, because I know that the United States and its allies, when they intervene anyway, even if it is on the side of a popular revolt, it would be to control it, to try to steer it to their own interests. And that’s why I’m against them intervening directly.” [32] It might be pointed out that there’s no reason to believe that direct intervention is any more likely to be used to control and steer a popular revolt than is indirect intervention. Are rebels who are funded, trained and armed by Washington any less likely to be steered toward satisfying the agenda of their patron than those who receive direct battlefield support? Achcar’s distinction, then, between direct and indirect intervention is confused, to say the least, and on two levels. First, defining direct intervention as only “boots on the ground” is far too narrow. The violation of Libyan airspace by NATO warplanes was clearly a direct intervention, and clearly supported by Achcar. Secondly, indirect intervention is no less driven by imperialist ambition to control the forces on whose side the intervention is undertaken than is direct intervention. Direct or not, it’s still intervention, and it’s not done without the expectation of a pay off.

Syria

In a 17 December 2015 interview in Jacobin, interviewer Nada Matta asked Achcar, “Why are so many in the global Left confused over Syria? The Syrian regime is extremely oppressive and sectarian, and yet the Syrian revolution has not received the support that others have.”

Matta’s question itself reveals confusion over Syria. Embedded within it are a few untenable assumptions: that the Syrian government is a “regime”; that it is “extremely oppressive;” and that it is “sectarian.” But Achcar doesn’t object, and replies this way: Because “those who don’t know the history of the region think that because the Syrian regime is allied to Iran and to the Lebanese Hezbollah, it is anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist.” He then proceeds to tell us that the Syrian government is neither of these things. Indeed, says Achcar, “there is strictly nothing anti-imperialist about the Assad regime.” [33]

One might wonder whether Achcar has invested “anti-imperialism” with the kind of idiosyncratic meaning he’s given the phrase “direct intervention;” perhaps something like, “any government I don’t like cannot be anti-imperialist or anti-Zionist,” irrespective of its actual behavior.

The Syrian government defines itself as anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist, as evidenced by the preamble of the 2012 constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic, written under Assad’s leadership in response to the uprising and ratified by referendum. Syria is “the beating heart of Arabism, the forefront of confrontation with the Zionist enemy and the bedrock of resistance against colonial hegemony on the Arab world and its capabilities and wealth.” [34] One can dismiss this as cant, but explaining why such cant has been adopted by the Syrian government, in a world where the balance of power favors governments that capitulate to imperialist demands and accept the Zionist conquest of Palestine and the Golan Heights, is a far more difficult challenge, and one Achcar fails to rise to. Explaining, too, why Assad is loathed in Israel and opposed by the imperialists, and has been since well before the uprising of 2011—let’s not forget that Syria was designated in 2003 as part of a junior varsity axis of evil by the Bush administration and targeted for regime change—is no less challenging. Still, far from being anti-imperialist, Achcar assures us that the Syrian government is “a purely opportunistic mafia-like regime pursuing its own interest.” [35] Well, every government can be described in more or less the same terms, its interests varying depending on the class that dominates the state, and that this is so should hardly be a foreign idea to Marxists. The Obama administration is clearly a purely opportunistic mafia-like regime pursuing the interests of the dominant financial sector of the US capitalist class. Assad’s government pursues the interests of Syrian Arabs, and secondarily, the Arab nation, and the dominant economic class within it. It is not a Marxist government, privileging the working class; it is a secular Arab nationalist government. Indeed, the Syrian constitution forbids the formation of political parties based on class (as well as religion, gender, tribe, region, race, color and occupation [36]), consistent with a secular Arab nationalist orientation which emphasizes national identification over that of class and other groupings and liberation from the weight of a colonial past and defense against the predations of an imperialist present, rather than defense against capitalist exploitation. Therein may lie the reason the global Left is divided over Syria, namely, because it is already divided over the question of whether its allegiance is to all anti-imperialist governments, regardless of their class character, or only those that are working-class-led (combined with hostility to those that aren’t.)

Achcar further slanders the Syrian government, describing it as “one of the most despotic regimes in the region practicing extremely brutal repression.” [37] I use the word “slander,” not to deny that the Syrian government has been brutally repressive at times. It has been, though one would be hard pressed to name a single government that hasn’t at some point been despotic and brutally repressive in the face of existential threats, not to mention the United States, which has been despotic and brutally repressive even in the face of mild and virtually non-existent threats. During two world wars the United States centralized decision-making authority in the presidency to an extent that made the president a virtual dictator, and interned Japanese, German and Italian citizens, even though the safety of the United States was virtually assured by two vast oceans which separated it from its enemies. US economic, conventional and proxy warfare has been carried out throughout the world to brutally repress socialist, communist and national liberation movements that posed not even the mildest threat to the security of US borders or US citizens. Yet it is doubtful that Achcar would ever unreservedly launch a diatribe against US governments, denouncing them as mafia regimes that have practiced extremely brutal repression, but appears to have no reservations, and if anything, to delight, in unqualified denunciations of the Syrian government, all the while failing to acknowledge that states, by definition, are repressive in one way or another, and the more thoroughly threatened, the more repressive they are; and that, additionally, Syria has faced since its independence an unremittingly precarious security situation, beset by multiple existential threats, from Israel, the West, the reactionary Gulf states, and militant Islam, and multiple attempts by the United States to overthrow governments in Damascus. But even beyond this, what is additionally objectionable about Achcar’s characterization is its obvious hyperbole, since anyone of an unbiased mind will know that the despotic and repressive character of a number of governments in the region, from Saudi Arabia, to Bahrain, to Jordan, to Egypt, and Israel, are at least comparable to that of Syria, if not on an altogether different plane. Achcar is clearly way off base in describing Syria, a republic with an elected president and elected legislature as one of the most despotic regimes in a region that includes the Saudi autocracy, with its official misogyny, decapitations and amputations, and almost total abhorrence of representative democracy.

To the list of failings Achcar sees the Syrian government possessing, we must add its alleged embrace of neo-liberalism. “The Syrian regime has been implementing thorough neoliberal changes over the last 15 years with very visible results,” says Achcar. [38] This, however, hardly fits the reality. Odd would be a neo-liberal regime that wrote the following into its country’s constitution, as the Syrian government has its constitution: “Natural resources, facilities, institutions and utilities shall be publicly owned, and the state shall invest and oversee their management for the benefit of all people.” [39] Equally at odds with Achcar’s characterization of the economic policies of the Syrian government is the following: The U.S. State Department complains that Syria has “failed to join an increasingly interconnected global economy,” which is to say, has failed to follow the neo-liberal prescription of turning over its state-owned enterprises to private investors. The State Department is aggrieved that “ideological reasons” continue to prevent the Assad government from liberalizing Syria’s economy. As a result of the Ba’athists’ ideological fixation on socialism, “privatization of government enterprises is still not widespread.” The economy “remains highly controlled by the government.” [40]

The neo-liberally-inclined Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation are equally displeased. “Hafez al-Assad’s son Bashar, who succeeded him in 2000, has failed to deliver on promises to reform Syria’s socialist economy,” they complain.

Moreover,

The state dominates many areas of economic activity, and…marginalizes the private sector and prevents the sustainable development of new enterprises or industries. Monetary freedom has been gravely marred by state price controls and interference…[H]eavy state intervention, continues to retard entrepreneurial activity… Labor regulations are rigid, and the labor market suffers from state interference and control…[S]ystemic non-tariff barriers severely constrain freedom to trade. Private investment is deterred by heavy bureaucracy, direct state interference, and political instability. Although the number of private banks has increased steadily since they were first permitted in 2004, government influence in the financial sector remains extensive.” [41]

The U.S. Library of Congress country study of Syria refers to “the socialist structure of the government and economy,” points out that “the government continues to control strategic industries,” mentions that “many citizens have access to subsidized public housing and many basic commodities are heavily subsidized,” and that “senior regime members” have “hampered” the liberalization of the economy. [42] This sounds far from neo-liberalism.

If the Syrian government is not anti-Zionist, is not anti-imperialist, and has embraced neo-liberalism, it is difficult to understand how it is that foreign policy decision-makers in Washington have taken such an obvious dislike to it. Surely, a neo-liberal, pro-imperialist, non-anti-Zionist government in Syria would be defended and nurtured by Washington, as other Arab governments of the same ilk have been. That’s not to say that the Syrian government ought to be defended simply because it’s opposed by Western powers and Israel. But if the Syrian government is all that Achcar says it is, how are we to explain the hostility to the Syrian government of the pro-imperialist, pro-Zionist, neo-liberal centers of the world? It’s difficult, then, not to conclude that Achcar has deliberately set out to blacken the reputation of the Syrian government through a series of mischaracterization in order to portray it as the sort of government that Leftists could not possibly support. The problem is that his logic is tortured and premises are mistaken.

Equally tortured is Achcar’s logic with regard to the nature of the Syrian opposition, and equally fallacious are his premises. He pursues his usual tactic of making an argument based on two mutually contradictory claims. “In order to justify their support for the Assad regime, some people argue that the Syrian uprising, unlike other Arab countries, was led by reactionary Islamic forces,” he observes, before telling us: “This again is completely untrue…the basic fact is that there have been popular uprisings across the region.” [43] And yet Achcar grudgingly acknowledges that “Islamic fundamentalist forces (have) managed to become dominant among the organized forces.” [44] The apparent contradiction is resolved by arguing that reactionary Islamist forces did not initiate the uprising, but soon after moved into the vanguard. However, the question of whether militant Islamists were absent at the beginning of the uprising is a moot point, but let’s accept for the moment that they were. In that case, we’re still faced with the reality that the uprising is dominated today, and has been for some time, by al-Qaeda-linked militants. The question of why this is so—Achcar favors the view that it is due to the “weakness of the Left” [45]—is of no relevance whatever to the questions of whether the opposition ought to be supported, whether the global Left in supporting Damascus is confused, and whether Syria will be a better or worse place should the Assad government yield to the reactionary opposition that Achcar urges the global Left to support.

In a further instance of congruence with the US State Department positions, Achcar embraces a sectarian understanding of the conflict in Syria, much favored not only in Washington but in Riyadh as well, which amounts to the invoking of religious identity to mobilize militants for profane ends, in this case, the elimination of a secular Arab nationalist government which stands in the way of almost total US hegemony in the Arab world. Asked by interviewer Matta, “Aren’t the fighters on the ground in their vast majority Syrians who are fighting the dictatorship?” Achcar replies: “They are indeed.” He continues:

It’s out of the question that you could defeat ISIS through any alliance with Russia, Iran and the Assad regime, because that’s precisely what ISIS is pretending, that they are fighting all these people in defense of the Sunnis. So you need people who are seen as representing the overwhelming majority of the Syrian population, who are—who belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, and are seen as such, as representing this. [46]

But the majority of people in Syria are Sunni, including, not only the armed opposition, but also the Syrian Arab Army, and Assad’s wife. [47] The conflict is not one between Sunnis on the one hand and Shiites and Alawis on the other, but between religious fundamentalists, who seek to impose a sectarian religious dictatorship on the country, and non-sectarian Sunnis, who make up the bulk of the army, and are defending a vision of non-sectarian secular government. This isn’t a fight between an Alawite dictatorship that oppresses a Sunni majority, but between non-sectarian secularists and sectarian fanatics.

Compounding their mischaracterizations, Matta and Achcar continually refer to the Syrian government as a dictatorship. This is totally false. Syria is a republic, with authority divided among legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. Members of the legislature are elected. Assad, the president, was elected in a multi-candidate election in 2014. Calling the Syrian government a dictatorship is about as meaningful as defining intervention as nothing more than boots on the ground. It either reveals an ignorance of what’s really going on in Syria, sloppy analysis, or an attempt to mislead.

In addition to his other errors, Achcar embraces a position that Western leaders have tried to advance without success, for lack of evidence, and to much derision. “And that’s the opposition,” says Achcar, “I mean, the only force representing (the Sunnis) is this group of opposition forces, which are fighting Assad and fighting ISIS at the same time.” [48] Anyone who has followed events in Syria since 2011 will know that there is no opposition force of significance fighting both the Syrian government and ISIS, and that efforts to suggest there is have been regularly met with deserved disdain. The latest high profile attempt to propagate this nonsense was that of British prime minister David Cameron who claimed that there are 70,000 “moderate” rebels in Syria. Veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk estimates that at best there are 700, and more likely only 70. [49]

Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn writes:

Western leaders have said they do not have to choose between IS and Assad, because there is a moderate opposition prepared to fight both. The mythical nature of this claim was revealed earlier this year when a US general admitted that it had just four such ‘moderate’ fighters in Syria after spending $500 million in training them. Others had either defected to Jabhat al-Nusra or been murdered by it. [50]

Note that just about the only people claiming that there is a moderate opposition prepared to fight both ISIS and Assad are Western leaders and Achcar. Even the CIA estimated that just 1,500 militants “might be labelled moderate, but only operate under license from the extreme jihadists.” [51] And the extreme jihadists are fighting the Syrian Arab Army, not themselves.

But wait! Achcar appears, after all, to agree with Fisk that there are no moderate rebels in Syria fighting both the Syrian Arab Army and militant Islamists. Coming to his senses, he acknowledges that the main battle is between the government and sectarian theocrats: “The end result in Syria is indeed that the situation is dominated by a clash between two…forces: on one side, the regime and its allies, and, on the other side, an armed opposition in which the dominant forces uphold political perspectives that are deeply contradictory with the initial progressive aspirations of the uprisings as expressed in 2011.” [52]

That the main forces in the battle are both, in Achcar’s words, “counter-revolutionary,” means, according to the failed Libya analyst, that at “this moment, there are no prospects whatsoever for a progressive outcome.” [53] Syria getting out from under the yoke of domination by outside forces and eradicating the menace of murderous sectarian fanaticism doesn’t count as a progressive outcome in Achcar’s book. Instead, “the best that can happen,” he says is that “Assad must go.” [54] Predictably, on this score, Achcar agrees with the US State Department.

But with what or who is Assad to be replaced?

On this question, Achcar becomes vague and departs from the US State Department line, but his argument appears to be this: If Assad’s secular, non-sectarian government steps down, it will be replaced by Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. The strength of the Islamist fundamentalists lies in Assad’s oppression of Sunnis (or what Achcar mistakenly sees as such.) With the source of the oppression removed, support for Islamic fundamentalism will dry up, and “people will see the vanity of both camps who have no solutions for the country’s problems.” [55] At that point, a progressive democratic movement will flourish.

To get there, Achcar advocates “serious support to the opposition, giving it the means seriously to defend itself, and again, especially with regard to airstrikes.” [56] Of course, this means serious support to ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist forces. Achcar would rather see Baghdadi in Damascus than Assad. For Achcar, eliminating secular, non-sectarian Arab nationalists is more important than preventing the rise of Sunni jihadists prepared to exterminate en masse apostates and infidels. And this from the ‘anti-imperialist’ who claims to have supported NATO’s direct intervention in Libya out of concern for the possibility that civilians might be massacred by the Libyan air force, but is prepared to support the massacre of the Alawite, Christian, Druze, and Kurdish populations of Syria, as surely these and other minorities would be massacred by the sectarian madmen Achcar urges Western powers to “give serious support to,” backed by a global Left he hopes to seduce to his morally bankrupt and politically offensive views. In this, Achcar is even more repellent than are Western leaders, for even they have no wish to bring the murderous sectarian fanatics of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS to power in Damascus.

To grasp the kind of Syria Achcar is willing to tolerate (easy for him to do, since he’ll never experience the miseries himself) “consider the situation in the province of Idlib, where the rebels rule.”

Schools have been segregated, women forced to wear veils, and posters of Osama bin Laden hung on the walls. Government offices were looted and a more effective government has yet to take shape. With the Talibanization of Idlib, the 100-plus Christian families of the city fled. The few Druze villages that remained have been forced to denounce their religion and embrace Islam; some of their shrines have been blown up. No religious minorities remain in rebels-held Syria, in Idlib, or elsewhere. [57]

The not so charitable view of Achcar is that he deliberately promotes US State Department talking points to the global Left by dressing them up in Leftist language as a way of undercutting opposition to the United States pursuing its hegemonic ambitions around the world. A more charitable view is that he rejects simple binary explanations in favor of recognizing a multiplicity of opposing forces in the Middle East. His schema might include four major forces: (A) secular Arab nationalists; (B) Western powers; (C) reactionary Islam; and (D) popular, democratic forces. In Achcar’s view, the secular Arab nationalists are opposed to B, C, and D; Western powers are opposed to A and D but are willing to collude with C against A and D. And popular democratic forces are opposed to A, B, and C. Achcar, it would seem, is willing to support B against A in the service of D (for example, in supporting NATO against Gaddafi or the West against Assad, to clear the way, in his view, for the eventual victory of popular, democratic forces.) However, if opportunistic alliances are permissible, we might ask why Achcar hasn’t supported secular Arab nationalists against Western imperialism and reactionary Islam in the service of popular, democratic forces? Surely, Western imperialism and reactionary Islam are significant obstacles to “the victory of a popular democratic uprising” whose clearing away might well be desired, especially in Syria where the Assad government has opened space for these very same forces to flourish through a new constitution which allows for multi-candidate presidential elections and ends the Ba’ath Party’s lead role in Syrian society. But Achcar’s deep loathing of secular Arab nationalists leads him, not only to traduce them, serving up false and invidious descriptions seemingly aimed at drawing the Left into his campaign of hatred against them, but to reliably side with Western imperialism against them, as if secular Arab nationalists are holding back the working class from leading a proletarian revolution in the Middle East and must therefore be swept away by Western powers. It’s difficult to say whether this is a crafty effort to mislead the global Left by pushing its hot buttons, or is simply the lunacy of a man in the grips of a naive fantasy. Whatever the case, the old warning should come to mind whenever the failed Libya analyst is invited to hold forth on Syria. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

1. President al-Assad: Syria won’t be a puppet state for the West “full Text”, Syrian Arab News Agency, http://sana.sy/en/?p=20381

2. Gilbert Achcar, “Libya: A legitimate and necessary debate from an anti-imperialist perspective,” Z-Net, March 24, 2011.

3. Gilbert Achcar, “Libyan Developments,” Z-Net, March 19, 2011.

4. Achcar, March 24, 2011.

5. Stephen Gowans, “Gaddafi’s crime: Making Libya’s economy work for Libyans,” what’s left, May 6, 2012.

6. Benoit Faucon, “For big oil, the Libya opening that wasn’t”, The Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2012.

7. Benoit Faucon, “For big oil, the Libya opening that wasn’t”, The Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2012.

8. Guy Chazan, “For West’s oil firms, no love lost in Libya”, The Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2011.

9. Guy Chazan, “For West’s oil firms, no love lost in Libya”, The Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2011.

10. Steven Mufson, “Conflict in Libya: U.S. oil companies sit on sidelines as Gaddafi maintains hold”, The Washington Post, June 10, 2011.

11. Steven Mufson, “Conflict in Libya: U.S. oil companies sit on sidelines as Gaddafi maintains hold”, The Washington Post, June 10, 2011

12. Steven Mufson, “Conflict in Libya: U.S. oil companies sit on sidelines as Gaddafi maintains hold”, The Washington Post, June 10, 2011.

13. Clifford Kraus, “The scramble for access to Libya’s oil wealth begins”, The New York Times, August 22, 2011.

14. Achcar, March 24, 2011.

15. Gilbert Achcar and Nada Matta, “What happened to the Arab Spring?”, Jacobin, December 17, 2015.

16. “Obama Touts U.S. Strikes on ISIL, But Can Military Escalation Make Up for Failed Strategy?” Democracy Now, December 15, 2015.

17. Stephen Gowans, “What the Syrian Constitution says about Assad and the Rebels,” what’s left, May 21, 2013.

18. Stephen Gowans, “Suppose a respectable opinion poll found that Bashar al-Assad has more support than the Western-backed opposition. Would that not be major news?” what’s left, December 11, 2015.

19. Achcar, March 19, 2011.

20. As Assad Makes Gains, Will New U.S. Strategy for Syria Change the Dynamics?” PBS Newshour, June 14, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/world/jan-june13/syria2_06-14.html

21. Achcar, March 19, 2011.

22. Achcar, March 24, 2011.

23. Stephen Gowans, “Al-Qaeda’s Air Force”, what’s left, February 20, 2012. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/al-qaedas-air-force/

24. Ibid.

25. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: Into the unknown”, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2012.

26. Ibid.

27. Achcar, March 19, 2011.

28. Achcar, March 24, 2011.

29. Democracy Now.

30. Achcar, March 24, 2011.

31. Pugliese.

32. Democracy Now.

33. Jacobin.

34. “Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic – 2012”, Voltaire Network, 26 February 2012, http://www.voltairenet.org/article173033.html

35. Jacobin.

36. “Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic – 2012”, Article 8:4.

37. Jacobin.

38. Jacobin.

39. “Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic – 2012”, Article 14.

40. U.S. State Department website. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm#econ. Accessed February 8, 2012.

41. Index of Economic Freedom 2012. http://www.heritage.org/index/country/syria. Accessed February 8, 2012.

42. U.S. Library of Congress. A Country Study: Syria. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/sytoc.html

43. Jacobin.

44. Jacobin.

45. Jacobin.

46. Jacobin.

47. “Mr. Assad’s wife, Asma al-Akhras, comes from a prominent family of Sunni Muslims from Homs.” Neil MacFarquhar, “Assad’s response to Syria unrest leaves his own sect divided”, The New York Times, June 9, 2012.

48. Jacobin.

49. Robert Fisk, “Is David Cameron planning to include al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra in his group of 70,000 moderates?”, The Independent, December 1, 2015.

50. Patrick Cockburn, “The West has been in denial over how to tackle the threat of Islamic state,” Evening Standard, November 19, 2015.

51. Patrick Cockburn, “Britain is on the verge of entering into a long war in Syria based on wishful thinking and poor information,” The Independent, December 1, 2015.

52. Jacobin.

53. Jacobin.

54. Jacobin.

55. Jacobin.

56. Jacobin.

57. Joshua Landis and Steven Simon, “Assad has it his way: The peace talks and after,” Foreign Affairs, January 19, 2016.

Written by what's left

December 23, 2015 at 11:07 pm

NATO knew its intervention in Libya would create chaos and aid al-Qaeda-aligned Islamists

March 2, 2015

Canadian military intelligence knew that NATO’s March 2011 intervention in Libya would aid militant theocratic Islamists aligned with al-Qaeda and could create long-term chaos in the country, according to David Pugliese, a reporter with The Ottawa Citizen, who obtained Canadian intelligence documents.

At the time, NATO military leader, U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, denied that opposition to the secular leftist Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi was dominated by rightwing Islamist theocrats, calling the bulk of the opposition forces “responsible men and women.”

But Canadian intelligence was clear-eyed about the nature of the Libyan opposition.

Pugliese revealed that “A Canadian intelligence report written in late 2009 described the anti-Gadhafi stronghold of eastern Libya,” from which the uprising against Gaddafi erupted, “as an epicentre of Islamist extremism.”

And Canadian pilots joked privately that they were part of al-Qaeda’s air force, “since their bombing runs helped to pave the way for rebels aligned with the terrorist group.”

Pugliese reports that just days before NATO’s intervention in Libya,

Canadian intelligence specialists sent a briefing report shared with senior officers. ‘There is the increasing possibility that the situation in Libya will transform into a long-term tribal/civil war,’ they wrote in their March 15, 2011 assessment. ‘This is particularly probable if opposition forces receive military assistance from foreign militaries.’

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper later denied that NATO’s intervention created the chaos that has paralyzed Libya, despite his own military’s warning that there was a good chance it would.

This reveals a dishonest attempt to manipulate public opinion through outright deception, in line with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s efforts to mobilize support for military intervention in Iran by warning in 2012 that Iran was only a year away from making a nuclear bomb when his own intelligence agency had concluded that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons”.

Pugliese’s report can be read here.

Written by what's left

March 2, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Posted in Libya

Promoting Plutocracy: U.S.-Led Regime Change Operations and the Assault on Democracy

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January 11, 2015

PROMOTING PLUTOCRACY
By Stephen Gowans

Chapter 1. What the West’s Position on Iran Reveals about its Foreign Policy
Chapter 2. Democracy
Chapter 3. Foreign Policy and Profits
Chapter 4. The State in Capitalist Society
Chapter 5. Concealing the Influence of the Corporate Elite on Foreign Policy
Chapter 6. Syria: Eradicating an Ideological Fixation on Socialism
Chapter 7. Ukraine: Improving the Investment Climate
Chapter 8. Kosovo: Privatizing the Economy
Chapter 9. Afghanistan: Investment Opportunities in Pipelines and Natural Resources
Chapter 10. The Military-Industrial Complex, Foreign Aid and Marionettes
Chapter 11. How Foreign Policy Hurts Workers
o Divide and Rule
o Socializing the Costs, Privatizing the Benefits
o The Assault on Substantive Democracy in Korea
o The Terrorism of the Weak
o Bulking Up the Police State
o Obviating the Terrorism of the Weak
Chapter 12. The West’s Foreign Policy Priorities

Once derided, Gaddafi’s warnings about jihadists now used to justify Mali intervention

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By Stephen Gowans

In the January 20th New York Times, Steven Erlanger justifies the French intervention in Mali on these grounds:

• It responds to “a direct request from a legitimate government.”
• It combats “the spread of radical Islamists, some of them foreign jihadists, strongly connected to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”

Erlanger uses the word “legitimate” to describe Mali’s government. “Democratic” carries more weight, but Mali is governed by a military dictatorship, a truth one suspects Erlanger would prefer not to draw attention to. Neither does Erlanger’s report mention that Human Rights Watch accuses the Malian military of killing civilian Tuareg and Arab minorities (1). Being every bit a salesman, Erlanger presses “legitimate” into use as an inferior, though still high-sounding, surrogate for “democratic” and ignores the civilian killings. A military operation to help a legitimate government must be legitimate, right? In any event, it sounds a whole lot better than the truth, namely, that the West has mounted a military operation to prop up a dictatorship that kills its own people.

The intervention, of course, is far from legitimate. How can a French military operation in a North African country be legitimate, when not too long ago France undertook what was then called a legitimate intervention in another North African country, Libya, with the opposite aims:

• Not to support, but to topple a legitimate government;
• Not to stop the spread of radical Islam, but to help radical Islamists, some of them foreign jihadists, strongly connected to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, overthrow a legitimate government?

In other words, the Mali operation is the very antithesis of the Libyan one. Yet, according to state officials in France, the United States and Britain, along with their jingoist Western mass media cheerleaders, both interventions are legitimate. Where the Mali intervention protects a legitimate government, the Libyan intervention toppled one. Where the Mali operation opposes radical Islamists, the Libyan operation aided them.

It can’t possibly be true that Western governments are against radical Islamists as a matter of principle, when the principal financial and ideological backer of militant Sunni Islamism, Saudi Arabia, is a treasured ally.

Nor can it be true when Western powers backed radical Islamists against:

• The leftist Afghan government in the 1980s,
• Yugoslavia’s social democracy in the 1990s,
• Gaddafi’s economic nationalism in Libya,
• Assad’s secular nationalist government in Syria.

It can’t be true that Western powers are against despots, dictators, and absolutist monarchs, when they’ve backed so many of them in the past, and continue to back them in the present, from the potentates of the Gulf Cooperation Council to the military regime in Mali.

Neither are Western powers committed to backing struggles against tyrannies as struggles against tyrannies. On countless occasions, they’ve either stood idly by as tyrannies repressed democratic rebellions, or energetically aided their autocratic allies’ efforts to crush opposition. For a recent example, we need only turn to the crackdown on the rebellion in absolutist Bahrain, assisted by the same countries which supplied arms to misnamed “democrats” in Libya and equip the Muslim Brothers and foreign jihadists in Syria. Washington has done nothing to stop the crackdown in Bahrain, let alone vigorously protested it. The British, for their part, invited the offending tyrant to the royal wedding of Kate and William.

What then is the intervention all about? Profits. According to the New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon, the West needs to intervene militarily in northern Africa because the “region is rich with oil, gas, uranium and other international ventures that clearly represent Western interests and in some cases are poorly defended” (my emphasis) (2). That natural resources in northern Africa clearly represent Western interests defies both geography and democracy. It does, however, fit imperialist logic to a tee.

Erlanger notes that the Mali intervention “has been popular” and that it commands the support of three quarters of the French, according to one poll. This is a nod to the prowess of Erlanger’s cohorts in the trade of shaping public opinion, and the superficial attention most people pay to foreign affairs. It’s also an attempt to prop up his argument that the intervention is legitimate. After all, a military operation supported by a solid majority can hardly be a base affair, corrupted by hypocrisy and crass commercial interests, can it? And if you should happen to be against the French helping an ally defend itself against jihadists, Erlanger’s letting you know you’re on the wrong side of public opinion.

“The French people are ready to support a military operation as long as the objectives are clear and seem legitimate,” a French analyst told Erlanger. Well, no, the French people are willing to support a military operation so long as no one calls upon them to risk their lives and pay higher taxes, what “support for war” used to mean. No longer. Today, support means feeling good about France and nothing more.

The French will continue to feel good about their country so long as there are few French fatalities in Mali and so long as the connection between covering the costs of the war and higher taxes, is obscured. Payment for the war must be deferred, and then concealed, preferably in tax hikes on the poor and middle class to cover (wink-wink) skyrocketing social welfare expenditures.

So here we are. Gaddafi was sneered at when he said that the rebellion that erupted against him in Benghazi was the work of radical Islamists, some of them foreign jihadists, strongly connected to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. He was just as contemptuously dismissed when he warned, “if he fell, chaos and holy war would overtake North Africa.” Now that chaos and holy war threaten to overtake a Western client, Gaddafi’s words are being treated with new respect. In death, the man once ridiculed as a buffoon has become a sage.

1. Geoffrey York, “Ethnic violence flares in Mali”, The Globe and Mail, January 21, 2013
2. Michael R. Gordon, “North Africa is a new test”, The New York Times, January 20, 2013

Written by what's left

January 20, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Posted in Islamism, Libya, Mali

Al Qaeda’s enemy in Mali, friend in Syria, and air force in Libya

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By Stephen Gowans

New York Times reporters Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, writing on January 16 about the “hazy threat from Mali militants,” note that, “The group most worrisome to American officials is Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which emerged out of Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s and originally was strictly focused on overthrowing Algeria’s government.”

US officials didn’t find AQIM so worrisome when the Islamist group was focused on overthrowing Libya’s government. At the time, Washington was happy to allow Islamist militants to destabilize a government that wasn’t wholly congenial to US business interests.

As the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese reported last year, Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi had “said the rebellion had been organized by AQIM and his old enemies the (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group), who had vowed to overthrow the colonel and return the country to traditional Muslim values, including Sharia law.”

AQIM’s goals for Libya raised no alarm in Washington, but according to Mazzetti and Schmitt, the organization’s vow to convert Mali to Sharia law is setting off alarm bells in Washington.

To assist AQIM and other Islamist rebels in Libya, the United States led NATO into an air war against the Gaddafi government. Acknowledging AQIM’s role in the Libyan rebellion, some of the Canadian pilots who participated in the NATO air campaign jokingly referred to themselves as part of “Al-Qaeda’s air force.”

Washington’s use of jihadists to topple leftist and nationalist governments stretches back to its 1980s alliance with Islamist rebels, including Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan. Today, al Qaeda-linked militants play an important part in the US-backed effort to overthrow the Syrian government.

To mobilize public support for jihadist rebellions, US officials and news media sanitize Islamist militants as “freedom fighters” or part of a “popular movement for democracy.” Few people anymore believe that the Islamists seeking to overthrow the Syrian government represent a popular movement for democracy. They are, instead, a movement for Sunni religious domination.

After the AQIM triumph in Libya, the organization turned to attacking the US consular building in Benghazi. With its transition from US cat’s paw to US enemy, Washington changed its naming protocol. Now AQIM would go by the moniker Gaddafi favored–terrorists. Which is also how Western officials and news media prefer to describe the organization today, now that AQIM’s goals in Mali collide with the West’s goal of maintaining a puppet regime in the country.

Were the AQIM working in Mali to topple a leftist or economically nationalist government, Washington and Western news media would be hailing the jihadists as a force for democracy.

Written by what's left

January 17, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Posted in Al Qaeda, Libya, Mali, Syria

Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa

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The next time that empire comes calling in the name of human rights, please be found standing idly by

By Stephen Gowans

Maximilian C. Forte’s new book Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa (released November 20) is a searing indictment of NATO’s 2011 military intervention in Libya, and of the North American and European left that supported it. He argues that NATO powers, with the help of the Western left who “played a supporting role by making substantial room for the dominant U.S. narrative and its military policies,” marshalled support for their intervention by creating a fiction that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was about to carry out a massacre against a popular, pro-democracy uprising, and that the world could not stand idly by and watch a genocide unfold.

Forte takes this view apart, showing that a massacre was never in the cards, much less genocide. Gaddafi didn’t threaten to hunt down civilians, only those who had taken up armed insurrection—and he offered rebels amnesty if they laid down their arms. What’s more, Gaddafi didn’t have the military firepower to lay siege to Benghazi (site of the initial uprising) and hunt down civilians from house to house. Nor did his forces carry out massacres in the towns they recaptured…something that cannot be said for the rebels.

Citing mainstream media reports that CIA and British SAS operatives were already on the ground “either before or at the very same time as (British prime minister David) Cameron and (then French president Nicolas) Sarkozy began to call for military intervention in Libya”, Forte raises “the possibility that Western powers were at least waiting for the first opportunity to intervene in Libya to commit regime change under the cover of a local uprising.” And he adds, they were doing so “without any hesitation to ponder what if any real threats to civilians might have been.” Gaddafi, a fierce opponent of fundamentalist Wahhabist/Salafist Islam “faced several armed uprisings and coup attempts before— and in the West there was no public clamor for his head when he crushed them.” (The same, too, can be said of the numerous uprisings and assassination attempts carried out by the Syrian Muslim Brothers against the Assads, all of which were crushed without raising much of an outcry in the West, until now.)

Rejecting a single factor explanation that NATO intervened to secure access to Libyan oil, Forte presents a multi-factorial account, which invokes elements of the hunt for profits, economic competition with China and Russia, and establishing US hegemony in Africa. Among the gains of the intervention, writes Forte, were:

1) increased access for U.S. corporations to massive Libyan expenditures on infrastructure development (and now reconstruction), from which U.S. corporations had frequently been locked out when Gaddafi was in power; 2) warding off any increased acquisition of Libyan oil contracts by Chinese and Russian firms; 3) ensuring that a friendly regime was in place that was not influenced by ideas of “resource nationalism;” 4) increasing the presence of AFRICOM in African affairs, in an attempt to substitute for the African Union and to entirely displace the Libyan-led Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD); 5) expanding the U.S. hold on key geostrategic locations and resources; 6) promoting U.S. claims to be serious about freedom, democracy, and human rights, and of being on the side of the people of Africa, as a benign benefactor; 7) politically stabilizing the North African region in a way that locked out opponents of the U.S.; and, 8) drafting other nations to undertake the work of defending and advancing U.S. political and economic interests, under the guise of humanitarianism and protecting civilians.

Forte challenges the view that Gaddafi was in bed with the West as a “strange view of romance.” It might be more aptly said, he counters, that the United States was in bed with Libya on the fight against Al Qaeda and Islamic terrorists, since “Libya led by Gaddafi (had) fought against Al Qaeda years before it became public enemy number one in the U.S.” Indeed, years “before Bin Laden became a household name in the West, Libya issued an arrest warrant for his capture.” Gaddafi was happy to enlist Washington’s help in crushing a persistent threat to his secular rule.

Moreover, the bed in which Libya and the United States found themselves was hardly a comfortable one. Gaddafi complained bitterly to US officials that the benefits he was promised for ending Libya’s WMD program and capitulating on the Lockerbie prosecution were not forthcoming. And the US State Department and US corporations, for their part, complained bitterly of Gaddafi’s “resource nationalism” and attempts to “Libyanize” the economy. One of the lessons the NATO intervention has taught is that countries that want to maintain some measure of independence from Washington are well advised not to surrender the threat of self-defense.

Forte, to use his own words, gives the devil his due, noting that:

Gaddafi was a remarkable and unique exception among the whole range of modern Arab leaders, for being doggedly altruistic, for funding development programs in dozens of needy nations, for supporting national liberation struggles that had nothing to do with Islam or the Arab world, for pursuing an ideology that was original and not simply the product of received tradition or mimesis of exogenous sources, and for making Libya a presence on the world stage in a way that was completely out of proportion with its population size.

He points out as well that “Libya had reaped international isolation for the sake of supporting the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and the African National Congress (ANC)”, which, once each of these organizations had made their own separate peace, left Libya behind continuing to fight.

Forte invokes Sirte in the title of his book to expose the lie that NATO’s intervention was motivated by humanitarianism and saving lives. “Sirte, once promoted by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi as a possible capital of a future United States of Africa, and one of the strongest bases of support for the revolution he led, was found to be in near total ruin by visiting journalists who came after the end of the bombing campaign by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). “ This,” observes Forte, “is what ‘protecting civilians’ actually looks like, and it looks like crimes against humanity.” “The only lives the U.S. was interested in saving,” he argues “were those of the insurgents, saving them so they could defeat Gaddafi.” And yet “the slaughter in Sirte…barely raised an eyebrow among the kinds of Western audiences and opinion leaders who just a few months before clamored for ‘humanitarian intervention.’”

Among those who clamored for humanitarian intervention were members of the “North American and European left—reconditioned, accommodating, and fearful—(who) played a supporting role by making substantial room for the dominant U.S. narrative and its military policies.” While Forte doesn’t name names, except for a reference to Noam Chomsky, whom he criticizes for “poor judgment and flawed analyses” for supporting “the no-fly zone intervention and the rebellion as ‘wonderful’ and ‘liberation’”, self-proclaimed Africa expert Patrick Bond may be emblematic of the left Forte excoriates. Soon after the uprising began, Bond wrote on his Z-Space that “Gaddafi may try to hang on, with his small band of loyalists allegedly bolstered by sub-Saharan African mercenaries – potentially including Zimbabweans, according to Harare media – helping Gaddafi for a $16,000 payoff each.” This was a complete fiction, but one Bond fell for eagerly, and then proceeded to propagate with zeal, without regard to the consequences. As Forte notes, “the only massacre to have occurred anywhere near Benghazi was the massacre of innocent black African migrant workers and black Libyans falsely accused of being ‘mercenaries’” by the likes of Bond.

Forte also aims a stinging rebuke at those who treated anti-imperialism as a bad word. “Throughout this debacle, anti-imperialism has been scourged as if it were a threat greater than the West’s global military domination, as if anti-imperialism had given us any of the horrors of war witnessed thus far this century. Anti-imperialism was treated in public debate in North America as the province of political lepers.” This calls to mind opprobrious leftist figures who discovered a fondness for the obloquy “mechanical anti-imperialists” which they hurdled with great gusto at anti-imperialist opponents of the NATO intervention.

“NATO’s intervention did not stop armed conflict in Libya,” observes Forte—it continues to the present. “Massacres were not prevented, they were enabled, and many occurred after NATO intervened and because NATO intervened.” It is for these reasons he urges readers to stand idly by the next time that empire comes calling in the name of human rights.

Slouching Towards Sirte is a penetrating critique, not only of the NATO intervention in Libya, but of the concept of humanitarian intervention and imperialism in our time. It is the definitive treatment of NATO’s war on Libya. It is difficult to imagine it will be surpassed.

Maximilian C. Forte, Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa, Baraka Books, Montreal, ISBN 978-1-926824-52-9. Available November 20, 2012. http://www.barakabooks.com/

Written by what's left

November 9, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Posted in Africa, Libya

The struggle for hegemony in the Muslim world

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For half of the last century, Arab nationalists, socialists, communists and others were locked in a battle with the Muslim Brothers for hegemony in the Arab world.—Tariq Ali [1]

The Jihadists who toppled the secular nationalist Gaddafi government—and not without the help of Nato bombers, dubbed “al Qaeda’s air force” [2] by Canadian pilots who participated in the bombing campaign—are no longer disguised in the pages of Western newspapers as a popular movement who thirsted for, and won, democracy in Libya. Now that they’ve overrun the US consulate in Benghazi and killed the US ambassador, they’ve become a “security threat…raising fears about the country’s stability” [3]—exactly what Gaddafi called them, when Western governments were celebrating the Islamists’ revolt as a popular pro-democracy uprising. Gaddafi’s description of the unrest in his own country as a violent Salafist bid to establish an Islamic state was doubtlessly accepted in Washington and other Western capitals as true, but dismissed in public as a transparent ploy to muster sympathy. This was necessary to sanitize the uprising to secure the acquiescence of Western publics for the intervention of their countries’ warplanes to help Islamic guerillas on the ground topple a secular nationalist leader who was practicing “resource nationalism” and trying to “Libyanize” the economy– the real reasons he’d fallen into disgrace in Washington. [4]

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which played a major part in the rebellion to depose Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, may have plotted the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi which led to the death of US ambassador Christopher Stevens, according to US officials.

The uprising of militant Muslim radicals against a secular state was, in many respects, a replay of what had happened in Afghanistan in the late 1970s, when a Marxist-inspired government came to power with aspirations to lift the country out of backwardness, and was opposed by the Mullahs and Islamist guerillas backed by the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China.

An Afghan Communist explained that,

“Our aim was no less than to give an example to all the backward countries of the world of how to jump from feudalism straight to a prosperous, just society … Our choice was not between doing things democratically or not. Unless we did them, nobody else would … [Our] very first proclamation declared that food and shelter are the basic needs and rights of a human being. … Our program was clear: land to the peasants, food for the hungry, free education for all. We knew that the mullahs in the villages would scheme against us, so we issued our decrees swiftly so that the masses could see where their real interests lay … For the first time in Afghanistan’s history women were to be given the right to education … We told them that they owned their bodies, they would marry whom they liked, they shouldn’t have to live shut up in houses like pens.” [5]

That’s not to say that Gaddafi was a Marxist—far from it. But like the reformers in Afghanistan, he sought to modernize his country, and use its land, labor and resources for the people within it. By official Western accounts, he did a good job, raising his country’s standard of living higher than that of all other countries in Africa.

Gaddafi claimed that the rebellion in Libya had been organized by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which had vowed to overthrow him and return the country to traditional Muslim values, including Sharia law. A 2009 Canadian government intelligence report bore him out. It described the anti-Gaddafi stronghold of eastern Libya, where the rebellion began, “as an ‘epicenter of Islamist extremism’ and said ‘extremist cells’ operated in the region.” Earlier, Canadian military intelligence had noted that “Libyan troops found a training camp in the country’s southern desert that had been used by an Algerian terrorist group that would later change its name to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.” [6] Significantly, US officials now believe that the AQIM may have plotted the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. [7]

Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the Libyan rebellion’s most powerful military leader, was a veteran of the U.S.-backed Jihad against the Marxist-inspired reformist government in Afghanistan, where he had fought alongside militants who would go on to form al-Qaeda. Belhaj returned to Libya in the 1990s to lead the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which was linked to his al-Qaeda comrades. His aim was to topple Gaddafi, as the Communists had been toppled in Afghanistan. The prominent role Belhaj played in the Libyan uprising should have aroused suspicions among leftists in the West that, as Western governments surely knew, the uprising was not the heroic pro-democracy affair Western media—and those of reactionary Arab regimes—were making it out to be. Indeed, from the very first day of the revolt, anyone equipped with knowledge of Libyan history that went back further than the last Fox News broadcast, would have known that the Benghazi rebellion was more in the mold of the latest eruption of a violent anti-secular Jihad than a peaceful call for democracy. [8]

“On Feb. 15, 2011, citizens in Benghazi organized what they called a Day of Anger march. The demonstration soon turned into a full-scale battle with police. At first, security forces used tear gas and water cannons. But as several hundred protesters armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails attacked government buildings, the violence spiraled out of control.” [9]

As they stormed government sites, the rampaging demonstrators didn’t chant, “Power to the people”, “We are the 99 percent”, or “No to dictatorship.” They chanted “‘No God but Allah, Moammar is the enemy of Allah’.” [10] The Islamists touched off the rebellion and did the fighting on the ground, while U.S.-aligned Libyan exiles stepped into the power vacuum created by Salafist violence and Nato bombs to form a new U.S.-aligned government.

Syria’s Hafiz Asad, and other secular nationalists, from his comrade Salaf Jadid, who he overthrew and locked away, to his son, Bashar, who has followed him, have also been denounced as enemies of Allah by the same Islamist forces who violently denounced Gaddafi in Libya and the leaders of the People’s Democratic Party in Afghanistan. The reason for their denunciation by Islamists is the same: their opposition to an Islamic state. Similarly, Islamist forces have been as strongly at the head of the movement to overthrow the secular nationalists in Syria, as they have the secular nationalists in Libya and the (secular) Marxists in the late 1970s-1980s Afghanistan.

As they stormed government sites, the rampaging demonstrators chanted “‘No God but Allah, Moammar is the enemy of Allah’.”

The secular nationalists’ rise to power in Syria was a heavy blow to the country’s Sunni Islamic militants who resented their society being governed by secular radicals. Worse still from the perspective of the Islamists, the governing radicals were mostly members of minority communities the Sunnis regarded as heretics, and which had occupied the lower rungs of Syrian society. From the moment the secular nationalists captured the state, Islamists went underground to organize an armed resistance. “From their safe haven deep in the ancient warrens of northern cities like Aleppo and Hama, where cars could not enter, the guerrillas emerged to bomb and kill.” [11]

In 1980, an attempt was made to group the Sunni opposition to the secular nationalists under an “Islamic Front’, which promised free speech, free elections, and an independent judiciary, under the banner of Islam. When militant Islamic terrorists murdered Egyptian president Anwar Sadat a year later in Egypt, Islamists in Damascus promised then president Hafiz Asad the same fate. Then in 1982, Jihadists rose up in Hama—“the citadel of traditional landed power and Sunni puratinism” [12]—in a bid to seize power in the city. The ensuing war of the Islamic radicals against the secular nationalist state, a bloody affair which costs tens of thousands of lives, convinced Asad that “he was wrestling not just with internal dissent, but with a large scale conspiracy to unseat him, abetted by Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the United States.” [13] Patrick Seale, a veteran British journalist who has covered the Middle East for decades, described the Islamists’ movement against Syria’s secular nationalists as a “sort of fever that (rises) and (falls) according to conditions at home and manipulation from abroad.” [14]

Media accounts of Syria’s civil war omit mention of the decades-long hostility between Islamists and secular nationalists—a fierce enmity that sometimes flares into open warfare, and at other times simmers menacingly below the surface—that has defined Syria in the post-colonial period. To do so would take the sheen off the armed rising as a popular, democratic, progressive struggle, a depiction necessary to make Western intervention in the form of sanctions, diplomatic support, and other aid, against the secular nationalists, appear just and desirable. Today, only Trotskyists besotted by fantasies that the Arab Spring is the equivalent of the March 1917 Petrograd uprising, deny that the content of the Syrian uprising is Islamist. But the question of whether the uprising was initially otherwise—a peaceful, progressive and popular movement aimed at opening democratic space and redressing economic grievances–and only later hijacked by Islamists, remains in dispute. What’s clear, however, is that the “hijacking”, if indeed there was one, is not of recent vintage. In the nascent stages of the rebellion, the late New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid noted that the “most puritanical Islamists, known by their shorthand as Salafists, have emerged as a force in Egypt, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, with suspicions that Saudi Arabia has encouraged and financed them.”[15]

Secular nationalists, socialists and communists in Muslim lands have struggled with the problem of Islamist opposition to their programs, to their atheism (in the case of communists) and to the secular character of the state they have sought to build. The Bolsheviks, perhaps alone among this group, were successful in overcoming opposition in the traditional Muslim territories they controlled in Central Asia, and improving the lives of women, who had been oppressed by conservative Islam. Female seclusion, polygamy, bride price, child and forced marriages, veiling (as well as circumcision of males, considered by the Bolsheviks to be child abuse) were outlawed. Women were recruited into administrative and professional positions and encouraged – indeed obligated – to work outside the home. This followed Friedrich Engels’ idea that women could only be liberated from the domination of men if they had independent incomes. [16]

Western governments, led by the United States, have made a practice of inflaming the Islamists’ hostility to secular nationalists, socialists and communists, using militant Muslim radicals as a cat’s paw to topple these governments, which have almost invariably refused to align themselves militarily with the United States or cut deals against the interests of their own people to fatten the profits of corporate America and enrich Wall Street investment bankers. But whether Washington aggravates fault lines within Muslim societies or not, the fact remains that the fault lines exist, and must be managed, but have not always been managed well.

For example, no matter how admirable their aims were, the reformers in Afghanistan had too narrow a political base to move as quickly as they did, and they rushed headlong into disaster, ignoring Moscow’s advice to slow down and expand their support. The Carter and Reagan administrations simply took advantage of their blunders to build a committed anti-communist guerilla movement.

Salah Jadid, who Hafiz Asad overthrew and locked away. Jadid pursued an unapologetically leftist program, and boasted of practicing “scientific socialism.” The Soviets thought otherwise. Jadid came to power in a conspiracy and never had more than a narrow base of support.

The leftist Syrian regime of Salah Jadid, which Hafiz Asad overthrew, did much that would be admired by leftists today. Indeed, Tariq Ali, in an apology apparently intended to expiate the sin of seeming to support the current Asad government, lauds Jadid’s regime as the “much more enlightened predecessor whose leaders and activists…numbered in their ranks some of the finest intellectuals of the Arab world.” [17] It’s easy to see why Ali admired Asad’s predecessors. Jadid, who lived an austere life, refusing to take advantage of his position to lavish himself with riches and comforts, slashed the salaries of senior ministers and top bureaucrats. He replaced their black Mercedes limousines with Volkswagens and Peugeot 404s. People connected with the old influential families were purged from government. A Communist was brought into the cabinet. Second houses were confiscated, and the ownership of more than one was prohibited. Private schools were banned. Workers, soldiers, peasants, students and women became the regime’s favored children. Feudalists and reactionaries were suppressed. A start was made on economic planning and major infrastructure projects were undertaken with the help of the Soviets. And yet, despite these clearly progressive measures, Jadid’s base of popular support remained narrow—one reason why the Soviets were lukewarm toward him, regarding him as a hothead, and contemptuous of his claim to be practicing “scientific socialism.” [18] Scientific socialism is based on mass politics, not a minority coming to power through a conspiracy (as Jadid and Asad had) which then attempts to impose its utopian vision on a majority that rejects it.

Jadid backed the Palestinian guerrillas. Asad, who was then minister of defense, was less enamored of the guerrillas, who he saw as handing Israel pretexts for war. Jadid defined the bourgeoisie as the enemy. Asad wanted to enlist their backing at home to broaden the government’s base of support against the Muslim Brothers. Jadid spurned the reactionary Arab regimes. Asad was for unifying all Arab states—reactionary or otherwise—against Israel. [19]

Asad—who Ali says he opposed—recognized (a) that a program of secular nationalist socialism couldn’t be implemented holus bolus without mass support, and (b) that the government didn’t have it. So, after toppling Jadid in a so-called “corrective” movement, he minimized class warfare in favor of broadening his government’s base, trying to win over merchants, artisans, business people, and other opponents of the regime’s nationalizations and socialist measures. At the same time, he retained Jadid’s commitment to a dirigiste state and continued to promote oppressed classes and minorities. This was hardly a stirring program for Marxist purists—in fact it looked like a betrayal—but the Soviets were more committed to Asad than Jadid, recognizing that his program respected the world as it was and therefore had a greater chance of success. [20]

In the end, however, Asad failed. Neither he nor his son Bashar managed to expand the state’s base of support enough to safeguard it from destabilization. The opposition hasn’t been conjured up out of nothing by regime change specialists in Washington. To be sure, regime change specialists have played a role, but they’ve needed material to work with, and the Asad’s Syria has provided plenty of it. Nor did Gaddafi in Libya finesse the problem of mixing the right amount of repression and persuasion to engineer a broad enough consent for his secular nationalist rule to survive the fever of Salafist opposition rising, as Patrick Seale writes, according to conditions at home and manipulation from abroad . The machinations of the United States and reactionary Arab regimes to stir up and strengthen the secular nationalists’ opponents made the knot all the more difficult to disentangle, but outside manipulation wasn’t the whole story in Gaddafi’s demise (though it was a significant part of it) and hasn’t been the sole, or even a large part of the, explanation for the uprising in Syria.

The idea that the Syrian uprising is a popular, democratic movement against dictatorship and for the redress of economic grievances ignores the significant history of struggle between secularist Arab nationalists and the Muslim Brothers, mistakenly minimizes the role of Salafists in the uprisings, and turns a blind eye to Washington’s longstanding practice of using radical Muslim activists as a cat’s paw against Arab nationalist regimes.

The idea that the uprisings in either country are popular, democratic movements against dictatorship and for the redress of economic grievances, (a) ignores the significant history of struggle between secularist Arab nationalists and the Muslim Brothers, (b) mistakenly minimizes the role of Salafists in the uprisings, and (c) turns a blind eye to Washington’s longstanding practice of using radical Muslim activists as a cat’s paw against Arab nationalist regimes that are against sacrificing local interests to the foreign trade and investment interests of Wall Street and corporate America. With Islamists lashing out violently against US embassies in the Middle East, their depiction by US state officials and Western media as pro-democracy fighters for freedom may very well be supplanted by the labels used by Gaddafi and Asad to describe their Islamist opponents, labels that are closer to the truth –“religious fanatics” and “terrorists.”

Reactionary Islam may have won the battle for hegemony in the Muslim world, as Tariq Ali asserts, and with it, the United States, which has often manipulated it for its own purposes, but the battle has yet to be won in Syria, and one would hope, never will be. That’s what’s at stake in the country: not a fragile, popular, egalitarian, pro-democracy movement, but the last remaining secular Arab nationalist regime, resisting both the oppressions and obscurantism of the Muslim Brothers and the oppressions and plunder of imperialism.

1. Tariq Ali, “The Uprising in Syria”, http://www.counterpunch.com, September 12, 2012.
2. Stephen Gowans [A], “Al-Qaeda’s Air Force”, what’s left, February 20, 2012. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/al-qaedas-air-force/
3. Patrick Martin, “Anti-American protests seen as tip of the Islamist iceberg”, The Globe and Mail, September 13, 2012.
4. Gowans [A]
5. Rodric Braithwaite. Afghantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-1989. Profile Books. 2012. pp. 5-6.
6. Gowans [A]
7. Siobhan Gorman and Adam Entous, “U.S. probing al-Qaeda link in Libya”, The Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2012.
8. Gowans [A]
9. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: Into the unknown”, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2012.
10. Pugliese
11. Patrick Seale. Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East. University of California Press. 1988, p.324.
12. Seale, p. 333.
13. Seale, p. 335.
14. Seale, p. 322.
15. Anthony Shadid, “After Arab revolts, reigns of uncertainty”, The New York Times, August 24, 2011.
16. Stephen Gowans [B], “Women’s Rights in Afghanistan”, August 9, 2010. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2010/08/09/women%e2%80%99s-rights-in-afghanistan/
17. Ali
18. Seale
19. Seale
20. Seale

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September 15, 2012 at 10:21 pm

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