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Syria’s Bashar al-Assad on the West’s Quest for a Puppet State in Syria and Its Phony War on Violent Political Islam

Here are excerpts from a Russian media interview with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

What the West wants from Syria

Assad: “U.S. demands are…to bring down the Syrian state and replace it with a client state which does their bidding.

“The West does not accept partners. It only wants satellite states. The United States does not even accept partners in the West. It wants Europe to follow the United States. They didn’t accept Russia, although it was a superpower. They didn’t accept it as a partner. Russian officials talk all the time about partnership with the West, and talk positively about the West. In return, the West does not accept Russia as a great power and as a partner on a global level. So, how could they accept a smaller state like Syria which could say no to them? When anything contradicts Syrian interests, we say no. And this is something they do not accept in the West. They asked us for a number of things in the past.

“They used to put pressure on us to abandon our rights in our land occupied by Israel. They wanted us not to support the resistance in Lebanon or Palestine which defends the rights of the Palestinian people. At a later stage, a few years before the crisis, they put pressure on Syria to distance itself from Iran. In another case, some of them wanted to use Syria’s relationship with Iran to influence the nuclear file. We have never been a part of this issue, but they wanted us to convince Iran to take steps against its national interests. We refused to do that. There were other similar things.

“That’s why they wanted in the end to make the Syrian state a satellite state which implements Western agendas in this region. We refused. Had we done these things, we would have become, as I said, a good, moderate, and democratic state. Now, they describe our state as being anti-democratic, while they have the best relations with the Saudi state which has nothing to do with democracy or elections and deprives women of their rights (emphasis added), in addition to many other things well known to the world. This is Western hypocrisy.”

Question: So, what does the West require of Syria today in order to stop arming the Syrian opposition and start the political solution?

Assad: “Simply, to be a puppet. And I’m not convinced that the West has a political solution. They do not want a political solution. When I say the West, I mean a number of countries like the United States, France, and Britain. The other countries play a secondary role. For them, the political solution is changing the state, bringing the state down and replacing it with a client state, exactly like what happened in Ukraine. As far as they are concerned, what happened in Ukraine was a political solution. But, had the former president, who was elected by the people, remained, they would have said that this president is bad, dictatorial, and kills his people. It is the same propaganda. So, the West is not interested in a political solution. They want war, and they want to change states everywhere in the world.”

On the West’s war on terrorism

Assad: “When you follow media reports on daily or weekly basis, you see that the rate of the airstrikes conducted by what they call a coalition against terrorism is sometimes less than ten strikes a day or a little more, in Syria or in Iraq, or in both Syria and Iraq. We are talking about a coalition which includes 60 countries, some of which are rich and advanced. On the other hand, the Syrian air force, which is very small in comparison to this coalition, conducts in a single day many times the number of the airstrikes conducted by a coalition which includes 60 countries.

“This shows the lack of seriousness. Maybe some of these countries do not want ISIS to grow larger than it has become in Syria and Iraq, but at the same time they don’t want to get rid of ISIS completely. They want to retain this terrorist force to be used as a threat to blackmail different countries. That’s why we say simply that there is no serious effort to fight terrorism, and what is being achieved by the Syrian forces on the ground equals in one day what is being achieved by these states in weeks. Once again, this shows that these countries are not serious, not only militarily, but politically speaking. An anti-terrorist coalition cannot consist of countries which are themselves supporters of terrorism (emphasis added.) So, there is a political side and a military side, and the two are linked to each other. The result is the same: ISIS still exists. It is struck in one place but expands in another.”

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March 27, 2015 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Syria

Saudis Use Leverage Over Oil Pricing To Tempt Russia To Withdraw Support For Syria

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February 2, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

The idea that market share concerns are behind Saudi Arabia’s refusal to use supply management to prop up oil prices is challenged in an article in today’s New York Times.

According to the article, the Saudis “believe that there could be ancillary diplomatic benefits to the country’s current strategy of allowing oil prices to stay low — including a chance to negotiate an exit for Mr. Assad” by encouraging Russia to withdraw its support for the embattled Syrian president in return for the Saudis allowing the price of oil to rise.

Saudi Arabia can sway oil prices significantly by cutting back or increasing production. It is the leading player in OPEC, with a fifth of the world’s oil reserves.

The Saudis reportedly “told the United States that they think they have some leverage over Mr. Putin because of their ability to reduce the supply of oil and possibly drive up prices.”

What’s left unspoken, however, is that the leverage didn’t just happen by chance, but came about because the Saudis have refused to exercise their sway, despite substantial harm to themselves.

As the article points out, “Saudi Arabia needs the price of oil to be over $100 a barrel to cover its federal spending, including a lavish budget for infrastructure projects. The current price is about $55 a barrel, and Saudi Arabia has projected a 2015 deficit of about $39 billion.”

Low oil prices mean the Saudis also have leverage over Iran and Venezuela, which, like Russia, are major oil-producers, and like Russia, are objects of enmity in Washington.

The New York Times also reported that former Al Qaeda operative, Zacarias Moussaoui, currently locked up in a US federal supermax prison, testified before a US District Court “that he was directed in 1998 or 1999 by Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan to create a digital database of donors to the group. Among those he said he recalled listing in the database” were three members of the Saudi royal family:

• Prince Turki al-Faisal, then the Saudi intelligence chief;
• Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States;
• Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a prominent billionaire investor.

Saudi sources have long been credited with funding the violent fundamentalist Muslim group, but until now news reports have suggested that the funding has come from Saudi civil society, and not the state.

The Saudi royal family, has, throughout its history, been deeply involved in projects to advance British and US foreign policy goals, in return for arms, diplomatic support, and protection of the family’s power and privileges as unelected leaders of the country.

One service the Saudis have provided to the West has been to export Islamist extremism to counter nationalism and socialist and communist movements in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Another service has been to use oil supply management to intervene in energy markets to facilitate US foreign policy objectives.

For example, The Wall Street Journal pointed out in December that, “During the 1980s, the Reagan administration credited the Saudis with maintaining high oil production to drive down prices and weaken the Soviet Union’s finances.” And “President Barack Obama ’s administration has worked closely with Saudi Arabia to try using energy markets to pressure Iran into constraining its nuclear program, according to U.S. and Saudi officials.”

The newspaper also reported that “U.S. and Arab officials have privately gushed” that the Saudi-assisted price decline is giving Washington greater leverage over Tehran, Moscow and Caracas.

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February 4, 2015 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Saudi Arabia, Syria

Puppets vs. anti-puppets: Why Syria’s Assad is persona non grata in the West while Egypt’s Sisi gets $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid annually

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January 15, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

In a January 14 Wall Street Journal article on how “four years after the Arab Spring began, the new Middle East looks more and more like the old one,” reporter Yaroslav Trofimov noted that:

In his three decades in power, (former Egyptian president Hosni) Mubarak often told visiting American dignitaries that the choice was between him and the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main Islamist organization with branches across the region. He did prove right: A year after his ouster, the country’s first democratic presidential elections put the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi in power.

In Syria, too, the view of the Assads was that the choice is between a secular government and the Muslim Brotherhood or violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists.

The Muslim Brothers had organized a series of riots against the Syrian government throughout the 1960s.

On coming to power in 1970, Hafez Assad—the current president’s father– tried to overcome the opposition of the Muslim Brotherhood by weakening his party’s commitment to socialism (which political Islam opposes) and opening space for Islam.

This, however, did little to mollify the Muslim Brothers, who organized new riots and called for a jihad against Assad, denigrating him as “the enemy of Allah.” His “heretical” government was to be brought down and the secular character of the state overthrown.

By 1977, the ideological forbears of today’s jihadists were engaged in a guerrilla struggle against the Syrian army and its Soviet advisers, culminating in the 1982 occupation of the city of Hama. The Syrian army quelled the occupation, killing 20,000 to 30,000.

In an effort to win the Islamists’ acquiescence, Assad built new mosques, opened Koranic schools, and relaxed restrictions on Islamic dress and publications. With these measures he secured some degree of calm, but political Islam remained a perennial source of instability, according to a U.S. Library of Congress country study of Syria, and the government was on continual guard against it. “The Muslim Brothers in Syria,” wrote the late Patrick Seale, a leading British writer on the Middle East, “were a sort of fever that rose and fell according to conditions at home and manipulation from abroad.”

What’s interesting about the parallel between Egypt and Syria in both sharing tensions between secular government and political Islam is that the West has sided with secularism in Egypt and the use of coercive methods to quell opposition to it while supporting jihad in Syria and condemning the Syrian government’s attempts to quash it.

So it is that no one in the West is calling for Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, to step down, even though Sisi’s Egypt is hardly the model of the liberal democracy the West professes to promote. As Trofimov reports, “Egypt’s new authorities have…imprisoned tens of thousands of political foes and imposed new restrictions on protesting, the media, nongovernmental organizations and human-rights groups.” Sisi’s forces have also killed over a thousand Morsi supporters for the crime of demonstrating against the ouster of the legitimately elected president. Human Rights Watch concluded that Sisi’s violent crackdown was a crime against humanity.

In short, the West backs a dictator with a deplorable record of human rights violations and rewards him with over a billion dollars of military aid annually.

Meanwhile, the West, Turkey, and the Gulf oil tyrannies funnel arms, money and other assistance to violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists in Syria, including al-Qaeda and its offshoots, who are but the latest expression of a decades-long jihad which began with the Muslim Brotherhood against secular government in Syria. And the ostensible rationale for this exercise is said to be the necessity of overthrowing a dictator with a deplorable record of human rights violations.

Huh?

It should be recalled that Egypt sold out the Palestinians by signing a peace treaty in 1979 with Israel to recover the Sinai Peninsula, and that the military, the real ruler of the country, is attached at the hip to the Pentagon.

The situation in Syria is quite different.

The West’s insistence that Assad step down (to yield power to puppets the West designates as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people) “has nothing to do with democracy, freedom, or supporting the people in the region,” argues the Syrian president. “The West wants client states ruled by puppets.”

And Syria, under the Assads, unlike Egypt under Sadat, Mubarak and Sisi, is not a client state.

Assad explains:

France wanted Syria to play a role with Iran concerning the nuclear file. What was required was not to be part of that file, but to convince Iran to take steps which are against its interests. We refused to do that.

They also wanted us to take a position against resistance in our region before putting an end to Israeli occupation and aggression against the Palestinians and other neighboring countries. We refused that too.

They wanted us to sign the Euro-Association Agreement which was against our interests and was meant to turn our country into an open market for their products while giving us a very small share of their markets. We refused to do that because it is against the interests of the Syrian people.

The Syrian government refuses to be one of the West’s marionettes, insisting on promoting domestic interests at the expense of foreign powers and foreign businesses. Egypt, by contrast, has stepped wholly into the club of the West’s marionettes.

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January 15, 2015 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Egypt, Syria

Why Assad Refuses to Step Down

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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 French 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?

December 5, 2014

By Stephen Gowans

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has told an interviewer from the French magazine Paris Match that he won’t step down. And not because he wants to remain president, but because he “will never accept that Syria become a western puppet state.”

The view that Syria is under attack because it isn’t a western puppet state, and that Washington wants Assad to step down to make it one, cannot be so easily dismissed. There’s plenty of evidence that states that seek to remain independent of US prescriptions on how they ought to organize their economies and foreign policies are uniquely targeted for sub-critical warfare (sanctions, sabotage, demonization, diplomatic isolation), or—where a military victory can be secured with impunity for the aggressor—by outright military intervention.

The Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, who NATO forces worked tirelessly to depose, told Canadian lawyer Christopher Black that Washington sought his ouster for two reasons: Because he was a communist. And because he told the Americans to go fuck themselves. Which is to say, Milosevic refused to turn Yugoslavia into a western puppet state.

Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi was overthrown because he insisted that foreign investment in Libya work to the benefit of Libyans, an attitude that threatened to cut into the profit margins of Western investors. The US State Department complained that Gaddafi was practicing “resource nationalism,” while oil companies reacted bitterly to the tough bargains he was driving. This was hardly behavior befitting a western puppet state (which Libya wasn’t.) For telling Western oil companies that they could go fuck themselves if they thought they were going to get rich on Libyan oil while leaving Libya with nothing, Gaddafi, in the view of the Western foreign policy elite, had to go.

Assad is cut from the same cloth. He leads a state that was founded on anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, Arab nationalism, and non-Marxist socialism, not subservience to an imperial master, and not setting the profit-making interests of foreign investors ahead of Syria’s economic development. The US State Department complains that “ideological reasons” prevent Assad from “liberalizing” the economy (that is, making it profitable for foreign investors), while the U.S. Library of Congress Country Study of Syria refers disapprovingly to “the socialist structure” of the Syrian government and economy.

Meanwhile, the US regional ally Egypt is crushing the Muslim Brotherhood, jailing thousands of moderate Islamists, meting out mass death sentences to supporters of the legitimately elected former president, (who the current president deposed in a military coup), and reversing whatever modest gains the Arab Spring brought to the country. Egypt’s president isn’t asked to step down. On the contrary, he’s showered with US military aid, subsidized with Saudi oil money, and praised by Western politicians.

The rulers of the Gulf kingdoms, the last theocratic absolutist redoubts on the planet, continue to thrive under US tutelage. Saudi Arabia, a particularly vile state, stands out in its abhorrence of basic human rights (for example, by forbidding women to drive automobiles), penchant for beheading criminals, and zeal in spreading the harsh 18th century version of Islam from which ISIS’s ideology springs.

As for Turkey, it continues to back ISIS, while remaining an important ally of the United States.

The lesson is plain: Create a good foreign investment climate, become a market for the US arms industry, turn over your resources to the West, cooperate with the US military, and you can kill as many of your own people as you like, resist democracy as long as you want, and merrily trample on human rights. Just don’t insist that your economy work to the benefit of your own people.

States that insist on screening and managing foreign investment become the subject of a propaganda assault, carried out ardently by Western state officials and their echo chambers, the Western mass media, which are, after all, large businesses, with a pro-business orientation, that quite naturally favor states that favor them and their class cohorts.

Under this propaganda system, the offending states become “regimes,” which have “secret police” (versus the West’s “security agencies”.) Members of the state become “regime personnel” or the leader’s “cronies,” rather than government members or ministers. If the state is large enough, it has “satellites,” versus the United States’ “strategic interests” and “allies.”

Assad brooked none of this in his interview with Paris Match. When the magazine’s interviewer called the Syrian government a “regime,” Assad retorted, “Let’s agree on terms first. In Syria we have a state, not a regime.”

The Syrian president faced a number of hostile questions, on whether Syria was backing ISIS to weaken the opposition, whether Syria’s army was using chlorine gas against its opponents, and why he denounces the US airstrikes in Syria as illegal when they’re helping Syrian forces (which they’re not, according to Assad).

Asked how he responds to the allegation that Syria encouraged the rise of Islamic extremists in order to divide the opposition,” Assad replied, “Assuming that what you are saying is true, that we supported ISIS, this means that we have asked this organization to attack us, attack military airports, kill hundreds of soldiers and occupy cities and villages. Where is the logic in that?”

(The question also overlooks the reality, about which there is no controversy, that funding for Islamic extremism comes from the Gulf states and Turkey, the ideology of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the principal rebel forces in Syria, originates in Saudi Arabia, and Western powers have used Islamic extremists for decades as allies of convenience to undermine secular nationalist movements and to attack communist, socialist and Arab nationalist states.)

The Syrian president told Paris Match that US and allied airstrikes in Syria have done nothing to degrade ISIS in any meaningful way. “We are the ones fighting the battles against ISIS on the ground,” he said, “and we haven’t felt any change.”

Accordingly, he views “the alliance’s airstrikes (as) merely cosmetic,” as “tactics without a strategy.”

“You cannot achieve results on the ground,” he said, “without land forces who know the geographical details of the regions and move in tandem with the airstrikes.”

Assad called US airstrikes in Syria “an illegal intervention,” explaining that they’re “not authorized by a Security Council resolution” and not authorized by Syria.

The Syrian president ridiculed allegations that Syrian forces have used chlorine gas, pointing out that conventional weapons are capable of killing far more people, and far more readily, and that Syria has conventional weapons, so why use an ineffective weapon when you don’t have to?

While he didn’t raise the point directly, the West’s accusing Syria of using chlorine gas has more to do with its need to demonize a state it’s preying upon, than reality. The popular view of chemical weapons is that they are particularly gruesome and their use inhuman, though it’s unclear how choking to death in a gas attack is any more gruesome than bleeding to death from wounds suffered in a drone strike, or how waging war with chemical weapons is more inhuman than doing the same with cruise missiles and B1 bombers. (Still, aerial bombing attacks may seem cleaner. The late British historian Eric Hobsbawm once observed that young men who dropped bombs on civilians from the air would recoil from the demand that they drive a bayonet through the belly of a pregnant woman, though the effect is the same.)

Gas and biological weapons (as well as battlefield nuclear weapons) have mostly been shunned by militaries, not because their use is considered inhuman, but because they’re messy and may endanger their users and because their effects are greatly dependent on weather conditions. Conventional weapons are simply cleaner and more effective.

But given the reputation of chemical weapons as inhuman, there are propaganda dividends to be paid to predators who accuse their victims of using them, for those who use them are, in the public view, uniquely vile. And portraying victims as vile creates a public relations rationale for eliminating them.

Making the accusation stick is not a difficult task. The mass media view their job as disseminating the pronouncements of state officials, no matter how implausible they are, and not scrutinizing or challenging them. Given this stenographic approach to journalism, it’s enough that Western governments make an accusation to diabolize a potential target. No evidence is required.

Consider how it’s now widely believed that Syrian forces used gas to attack opposition forces. This is so because the accusation has been repeated time and again, until everyone believes it to be true because everyone believes it to be true and those who challenge it have no high-profile platform to reach a mass audience to show how it’s almost certainly not true. The claim is based on little more than Washington announcing its belief that Syrian forces were behind the infamous Ghouta attack. Yet a careful reading of the document Washington produced to back up its accusation showed that no gun was ever found, let alone a smoking one, an inconvenient reality Washington buried in the small print of its document. In effect, Washington said, “We believe the Syrians used chemical weapons, though we have no real evidence to back it up.” As for the official UN inquiry into the event, it was unable to assign responsibility.

All the same, it is now widely taken as indisputable that Syrian forces used chemical weapons, while a host of other dubious assertions, originating in the imaginations of high state officials in the West, are equally accepted as incontestable claims—for example, that there exist “moderate” rebels in Syria.

There are indeed moderate rebels in Syria, if moderate is defined as amenable to direction by Washington. But most rebels are Islamists whose goal is to establish a state governed by the Koran. US strategy in Syria is not to allow Islamists to come to power, but to use them to force a political settlement—one in which Assad steps down and relinquishes power to actors who are keen to turn Syria into a western puppet state, much like the current government in Ukraine, with its cadre of wealthy business people, investment bankers, anti-Russian rightists, and foreigners, including a former US government employee as finance minister.

Syrians will be spared Ukraine’s fate, or worse, Libya’s, so long as they continue to repudiate the illegitimate demands of the West and its crony powers in the Gulf and Turkey to abdicate the defining of their future to others. And Assad will continue to face hostile questions from the Western media, and worse from Western powers and their regional puppets, for doing what Milosevic did: having the backbone to tell the Americans to go fuck themselves.

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December 5, 2014 at 1:41 am

Posted in Syria

Washington’s Moderates— From Nazis to Violent Sunni Muslim Fundamentalists

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October 27, 2014

By Stephen Gowans

A story by Eric Lichtblau in The New York Times of October 26, 2014 (“In Cold War, U.S. spy agencies used 1,000 Nazis”) raises the question of how moderate the United States’ “moderate” allies–including the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels–really are.

Lichtbau’s story concerns newly declassified documents showing that the CIA and FBI employed at least a thousand, and likely more, Nazis and Nazi-collaborators as spies and informants during the Cold War.

What’s striking about the story is the revelation that Allen Dulles, at the time head of the CIA, described Nazis on the US payroll as “moderates.”

It’s difficult to see how Nazis could be described as moderates. But maybe it depends on your politics. As Victor Kiernan pointed out in America: The New Imperialism, Dulles’ sister was so “overflowing with admiration for Nazism that she settled in Germany to bask in its rays.” Perhaps her brother felt the same—in which case, Nazis may indeed have genuinely appeared to the country’s chief spy to be moderates.

Among the “moderate” Nazis pressed into service by Dulles as spies, and by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover as informants, were:

• Ex-Nazi police officials and East European collaborators who, it is said, were manifestly guilty of war crimes.

• Otto von Bolschwing, a top aide to Adolf Eichmann, who wrote policy papers on how to terrorize Jews.

• Aleksandras Lileikis, a Lithuanian Nazi collaborator who the US Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting unit said “was a senior perpetrator of the Holocaust.”

Hoover dismissed accusations that his Nazi informants had committed wartime atrocities as Soviet propaganda. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s accusations in 2011 that the uprising in his country was driven by militant Islamists with foreign backing was similarly dismissed by US officials as propaganda—until the weight of evidence intervened.

Before Germany declared war on the United States, Washington didn’t think the Nazis were so bad. To the contrary, there was much the Nazis did that the intertwined US economic and political elites admired. Hitler’s forces shut down trade unions, banned leftist political parties, jailed communists, and sought to destroy the Soviet Union. After the war, Nazis were recruited to carry on in pursuit of the same goals, undermining the USSR and sabotaging socialism in eastern Europe.

Similarly, Washington didn’t think the violent Sunni Muslim fanatics who sought to overthrow the secular nationalist government of Bashar al-Assad were so bad when the point of their dagger was directed at the heart of the Syrian president. It was only when ISIS threatened to take control of Iraqi oil fields that they became a threat to be eliminated. At that point, the Islamic State’s commitment to a harsh 18-century Wahhabism-inspired Islam became intolerable, though only in the official rhetoric. The reality is otherwise. Wahhabism is the official ideology of Saudi Arabia, a family dictatorship Washington supports strongly. The beheading-practicing, anti-Shia, theological absolutist monarchy that presides over much of the Arabian Peninsula is sometimes described as “moderate” in Washington.

Observers who closely follow events in Syria argue that the “moderate” Syrian rebels are a myth. In his latest book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn observes that there is “no dividing wall” between “America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies” and al-Qaeda-linked ISIS and al-Qaeda’s official franchise in Syria, the Nusra Front (with which the “moderate” rebels cooperate.) Others point out that almost all rebel groups in Syria are made up of violent Sunni Muslim fanatics whose aim is to replace Syria’s secular constitution with a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim interpretation of the Koran.

But, then, if, in the official rhetoric of Washington, Nazis are labelled as moderates when they’re useful in achieving US foreign policy goals, it should come as no surprise that misogynist, sectarian, head-chopping Sunni extremists whose aims intersect with the US foreign policy objective of ousting Assad’s nationalist government should be similarly sanitized as “moderates.”

In Washington, a group or country’s moderation has nothing to do with methods, and everything to do with aims. Nazism became unacceptable only when Germany declared war on the United States. Before that, and after Germany’s defeat, Nazism was okay. It opposed the Soviet Union and the left—a battle the US elite applauded.

Similarly, violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalism became unacceptable only when it challenged US domination of the Middle East and the region’s petroleum resources. As a dagger directed at a pro-Soviet leftist government in Afghanistan in the 1980s, against the secular nationalist government in Libya in 2011, and against the secular nationalist government in Syria over the last three years, it’s tolerated, indeed, encouraged and built up.

Moderation is in the eye of the beholder—which speaks volumes about the politics of a state that labels Nazis and violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists as moderates.

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October 28, 2014 at 1:18 am

Posted in Nazis, Syria

What is Khorasan?

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September 24, 2014

By Stephen Gowans

Part of Washington’s legal defense of its violation of Syrian sovereignty in launching airstrikes against ISIS targets on Syrian soil is self-defense against the Khorasan Group, an organization whose name US officials hadn’t uttered until a few days ago and which Syrian rebels say they’ve never heard of and which appears to have no independent existence apart from al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, which cooperates militarily with CIA-directed rebels seeking to overthrow the secular nationalist government of Bashar al-Assad.

On September 20, US officials publicly expressed concern about the Khorasan Group, which they described as an offshoot of the Nusra Front. US officials told reporters that “Khorasan had emerged in the past year as the cell in Syria that may be the most intent on hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a terror attack.” [1]

Yesterday, US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes announced that Khorasan “had very clear and concrete ambitions to launch external operations against the United States or Europe.” He added that there “was actual plotting that was ongoing from Syria.” The September 23 airstrikes, carried out by the United States and a coalition of Arab crowned dictatorships, were in part, Rhodes said, “aimed to disrupt that plotting.” [2]

To give its violation of Syrian sovereignty legal cover, the United States declared that it was acting at the request of the Iraqi government in connection with Iraq’s right of self-defense against aggression by ISIS, and that its actions were therefore consistent with the UN Charter. The airstrikes were also congruent with international law, insisted Washington, as a matter of self-defense against the Khorasan Group, which it said was plotting against the United States. [3] Neither defense is cogent since Washington rejected coordination with the Syrian government and refused to seek its assent to carry out air strikes on its territory.

Despite Washington pointing to Khorasan as a group with an independent existence apart from the Nusra Front, it appears to be indistinguishable from the latter. The alleged leader of the group, Muhsin al Fadhli, is a longtime al Qaeda operative. Since the Nusra Front is al-Qaeda’s official franchise in Syria, it follows that Fadhli is working with Jabhat al-Nusra. Moreover, US officials acknowledge that Khorasan and Nusra Front “are intertwined.” [4]

Both Jahbat al-Nusra and ISIS were censured by the UN Security Council this summer for gross, systematic and widespread abuse of human rights [5]. Nevertheless, the United States hasn’t officially declared the Nusra Front to be a target of its mission to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS. This shows that protection of human rights does not underpin the US anti-ISIS campaign, notwithstanding expressions of concern about the plight of the Yazidis, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Instead, Washington’s real motivations are linked to the divergent goals of the two al-Qaeda progeny. The Nusra Front’s ambitions are limited to Syria, and its immediate aim of toppling the country’s secular nationalist government meshes with US objectives. ISIS, in contrast, has larger territorial ambitions, which clash with US domination of the Middle East, particularly its informal control of Iraq’s oil. Hence, ISIS, which is against US foreign policy interests, falls within the crosshairs of the US military campaign, while the Nusra Front, which works (for the moment) in directions which complement US goals in Syria, is ignored, despite a human rights record which is as deplorable and barbaric as that of ISIS (and the United States, if the matter is taken further. Watch the testimony of US soldiers about the conduct of US forces in Vietnam and Iraq to see that barbarity isn’t unique to ISIS and the Nusra Front.)

Still, there’s a loose string. US warplanes and drones struck several bases and an ammunition warehouse belonging to the Nusra Front, according to the New York Times. Almost five dozen Nusra fighters were killed. [6]

If the Khorasan Group is a part of the Nusra Front, and not a separate organization, the apparent contradiction in the United States excluding the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria as an official target of its war on ISIS, while at the same time attacking it, goes away. It also explains why rebels have never heard of the organization. [7]

What remains unclear, however, is why the United States attacked Nusra Front targets. Does Khorasan indeed exist as a wing of al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise? Was it plotting attacks on Western targets? Were US airstrikes directed specifically at this wing?

Whatever the case, one leader of a rebel group under US sway objected to the strike on Nusra targets on grounds that al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise is “a loyal partner in the battle against Mr. Assad.” [8] Numerous press reports have pointed to US-backed rebels cooperating with al-Qaeda in Syria. One veteran observer has argued that there is no dividing wall between “America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies” and ISIS and the Nusra Front. [9] It’s all one movement, no part of it secular, and all parts of it, including the misnamed “moderate” rebels, are overwhelmingly Islamist. [10]

That the Nusra Front is a loyal partner of US-backed rebels means that the alleged Khorasan leader Muhsin al Fadhli has been an important part of Washington’s war on Assad. Fadhli was close to Osama bin Laden. According to the Wall Street Journal, he “is a senior al Qaeda facilitator and financier” who “has an extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors who have sent money to Syria through Turkey.” [11]

While US warplanes were bombing Nusra Front targets and US-backed rebels were objecting to US attacks on their loyal al-Qaeda partner, Israel was intervening on behalf of the Nusra Front by shooting down a Syrian warplane that was attacking Nusra positions on the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights. Al-Qaeda fighters have captured most of this territory. [12]

The Syrian aircraft had strayed about a half mile into territory of the Golan Heights under Israeli control (legitimately belonging to Syria but occupied by Israel since 1967), and had turned back when Israeli forces shot it down. That the Syrian warplane had no aggressive intention against Israel was clear in its quickly returning to Syrian airspace.

The absence of aggressive intent was also clear from the context: With its hands full fighting Islamist proxies of the United States, Turkey, Jordan and the US-backed Gulf oil tyrannies, Syria is in no position to undertake a war with Israel, and, indeed, is no position to do so even under the most favorable of circumstances. It should have been clear to Israeli commanders that the pilot had made an error, and likely was clear. All the same, it would appear that Israel couldn’t resist an opportunity to lend a hand to al-Qaeda—not to mention al-Qaeda’s Western and Arab allies of convenience—in their battle against a government they all deplore for their own reasons: Israel, because the Assad government is anti-Zionist; al-Qaeda and Turkey, because it is secular; and the United States and its Arab puppet dictators, because it is nationalist and refuses to be integrated into the US-dominated global economic order.

But for the support of Russia and China, Iran and Hezbollah, Syria stands alone against a US-led club of imperialists, their democracy-abominating Arab clients, a Zionist colonial settler regime, and Islamist fanatics, who brazenly dub themselves Friends of Syria, but parts of which are in reality enemies of secularism and the other part enemies of national independence and self-directed development.

Imperialists, royalist dictatorships, an apartheid settler regime, and jihadists who seek to make the Koran their constitution, are as far away from democrats as could possibly be, which makes the spectacle of their invoking democracy as grounds for their war on Syria’s secular nationalist government—topped off now by the violation of Syrian territory by the United States and its Arab janissaries—a matter of revulsion and egregious hypocrisy.

1. Mark Mazzetti, Michael S. Schmidt and Ben Hubbard, “U.S. suspects more direct threats beyond ISIS,“ The New York Times, September 20, 2014.
2. Siobhan Gorman and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. feared al Qaeda group targeted in Syria was plotting terror,” The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2014.
3. Somini Sengupta and Charlie Savage, “U.S. invokes Iraq’s defense in legal justification of Syria strikes,” The New York Times, September 23, 2014.
4. Julian E. Barnes and Sam Dagher, “Syria strikes: U.S. reports significant damage in attacks on Islamic state, Khorasan,” The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2014.
5. UN Security Council Resolution 2170 (2014). http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2014/sc11520.doc.htm
6. Ben Hubbard, “Startling sight where blasts are the norm,” The New York Times, September 23, 2014.
7. Gorman and Barnes.
8. Hubbard.
9. Patrick Cockburn, cited in Belen Fernandez, “Book review: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising,” The Middle East Eye, September 3, 2014.
10. Ben Hubbard, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. pins hope on Syrian rebels with loyalties all over the map”, The New York Times, September 11, 2014.
11. Gorman and Barnes.
12. Joshua Mitnick, “Israeli military shoots down Syrian aircraft,” The Wall Street journal, September 23, 2014.

Written by what's left

September 24, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Posted in Al Qaeda, Syria

The Myth of Syria’s Moderate Rebels

with 4 comments

By Stephen Gowans

Political Islam has a long history of cooperating with Western imperialism at certain times and in certain places, and of turning against it at other times and in other places. For example, Osama bin Laden cooperated with the United States to overthrow a progressive pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan, and then launched a jihad against the domination of the Middle East by the United States. Many Palestinians were sent to Afghanistan in the 1980s by the Muslim Brotherhood to struggle against the atheists in Kabul (much to the delight of Israel) only to return to join a Palestinian national liberation struggle against Israel in the ranks of Hamas.

What separates the rebels in Syria that the United States and its allies arm, train, fund and direct from those it seeks to degrade and ultimately destroy is not a secular vs. Islamist orientation. Even the so-called “moderate” rebels are under the sway of Islamist thinking. Instead the dividing line between the good “moderate” rebels and the bad “extremist” rebels is willingness to cooperate with the United States and the region’s former colonial powers. The “good” ones are under the control of the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies, or aren’t, but are working in directions that comport with Western foreign policy goals, while the “bad” ones are working in ways that frustrate the attainment of the foreign policy objectives of the West. In other words, one set of rebels is cooperating with Western imperialism while the other frustrates it.

The “moderate” Syrian rebels who US officials are counting on to battle the Islamic State as part of the Obama administration’s plan to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS comprise dozens of groups which report directly to the CIA [1] and are under the sway of Islamist thinking. [2] According to General Abdul-Ilah al Bashir, who led the Free Syrian Army before its collapse at the end of last year, the CIA has taken over direction of the rebel force and FSA groups now report directly to US intelligence. [3]

The groups are run from military command centers in Turkey and Jordan, staffed by intelligence agents of the United States and the Friends of Syria, a collection of former colonial powers and Sunni crowned dictatorships. The command centers furnish the rebels with arms, training, and salaries. The United States provides overall guidance, while Turkey manages the flow of rebels over its border into Syria, and Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states provide much of the funding. [4]

The centerpiece of the CIA-directed rebel grouping is the Hazm Movement, formerly known as Harakat Zaman Mohamed, or Movement of the Time of Muhammad. It is strongly backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, and by key Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Qatar and Turkey. [5]

The US-backed rebels cooperate with the Nusra Front, a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria, [6] which the UN Security Council denounced this summer along with ISIS for their “gross, systematic and widespread abuse of human rights” [7] but which the United States has left out of its war on the Islamic State, even though its origins and methods are the same as those of ISIS, and its goals similar. Accordingly, the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria will continue to coordinate operations with CIA-directed rebels, unhindered by US strikes.

Aron Lund, a Syria analyst who edits the Syria in Crisis blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, deems the idea of the moderate secular rebel a myth. “You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that respects human rights…because they don’t exist.” [8]

Andrew J. Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who follows Syrian events, points out that most of the rebels backed by the United States come from “rural, Sunni areas where Islamist thinking has long held sway and often colors their thinking.” [9] They are not moderate fighters for secular liberal democratic values.

Veteran foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn echoes these views. In his new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising (OR Books), Cockburn observes that there is “no dividing wall” between “America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies” and ISIS and the Nusra Front. [10]

While US officials and Western mass media promote a false narrative of two sets of rebels occupying opposite ends of two different axes—Islamist vs. secular and extremist vs. moderate—the most relevant axis is one defined by the groups’ orientation toward the West.

Reflecting the ideology of their al-Qaeda progenitor, the Nusra Front and ISIS seek to bring historically Islamic regions under Sunni Islamist political control, which means the ejection of the United States and its local marionettes, the destruction of secular regimes, and the elimination of local “heresies”, including Shia Islam and its heterodox Alawi offshoot, to which Syrian president Bashar al-Assad belongs.

The CIA-directed rebels, in contrast, appear to have a more moderate attitude to the United States, and are open to working with Washington and its Arab and NATO allies. Hassan al-Hamada, a leader of one of the CIA-directed rebel groups says, “We want to be hand in hand with the West, and for the future of Syria to be with the West.” [11]

The word “moderate,” then, appears to have but one meaning—a willingness to work with the United States, under the direction of the CIA, and in cooperation with Western imperialism…at least for now.

1. Patrick Cockburn, “Syria and Iraq: Why US policy is fraught with danger,” The Independent, September 9, 2014.
2. Ben Hubbard, “U.S. goal is to make Syrian rebels viable,” The New York times, September 18, 2014.
3. Cockburn.
4. Hubbard.
5. Suhaib Anjarini, “Harakat Hazm: America’s new favourite jihadist group”, Al Akhbar English, May 22, 2014.
6. Hubbard.
7. UN Security Council Resolution 2170 (2014). http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2014/sc11520.doc.htm
8. Ben Hubbard, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. pins hope on Syrian rebels with loyalties all over the map”, The New York Times, September 11, 2014.
9. Hubbard.
10. Belen Fernandez, “Book review: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising,” The Middle East Eye, September 3, 2014.
11. Hubbard.

Written by what's left

September 19, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Posted in ISIS, Political Islam, Syria

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