On celebrity revolutionaries, shallow analysis, and rebels bearing arms

Below is a comment I sent to an interview with Tariq Ali on “Gaza, BDS, ISIS and Iraq” in Links http://links.org.au/node/4009.

Asked whether he agrees with the widely held view (not just Clinton’s) that the rise of ISIS can be attributed to the failure of the US (or anyone else) to help rebels in Syria, Tariq Ali responds:
“Another absurdity. The US did help and arm the Syrian rebels via Turkey.”

I guess when you are a celebrity revolutionary like Ali you don’t actually have to know much, still less try to provide evidence, any sweeping statement will do because you think everyone will just listen to you because you’re Tariq Ali. Unfortunately, for thousands of activists who are very well aware of what has been going on in Syria, Ali’s shallowness is self-evident. The US did not “arm” the rebels as Ali baldly states, and even then “help” via Turkey can only mean one of two things, either (1) the non-lethal aid, ie, tents, radios, night-goggles, ready-meals and so much other useless rubbish, which presumably Ali thinks “helped” them confront Assad’s helicopter gunships, barrel bombs, ballistic missiles, incendiary bombs, chemical weapons etc, or (2) it means the CIA role in making sure an already existing (no thanks to the CIA) arms pipeline via Turkey greatly limited what weapons actually got from the storehouses in Turkey into Syria, in actively vetoing any groups they didn’t like getting anything, and in preventing Manpads (shoulder-fired anti-aircraft guns, the actually useful thing) getting in at all to anyone.

The absolute paucity of the rebels’ weapons right throughout the conflict, in comparison to the regime’s massive use of conventional wmd, is only too obvious to anyone that actually looks. Whatever the FSA and others did get from Saudi Arabia and Qatar (*not* from the US) was never of any kind of quantity, still less quality, to make any difference to the struggle.

Ali simply avoids the fact that if the secular and moderate Islamist forces had better access to proper arms they would have been much better able to fight both the regime and ISIS but also would be able to be a more effective force themselves, holding back the kind of radicalisation and hopelessness that results from extraordinary suffering, which groups like ISIS can prey on, and also preventing so many rebels drifting over to better armed and thus more effective jihadist groups, including at the most extreme end ISIS.

He also avoids the well-known fact, at least to anyone who reads and has an analysis beyond the Ali-style shallow, that it has been only the FSA and its allies that have actually been fighting ISIS for the last year, all across Syria, while the whole time the regime hasn’t touched ISIS and in fact has often actively collaborated with it against the rebels. How could it be that arming the main force fighting ISIS would not have stemmed its rise?

Yet Ali then jumps on to a complete red herring:
“They did not bomb Assad out of existence, as they were unsure of the consequences.”

The question was about whether the popular masses and their armed organisations confronting a fascist regime should have been able to get better arms and Ali responds that the US didn’t bomb Assad out of existence! What a bombastic fool. As if there is any connection between the two. Moreover, as if there was ever even the remotest likelihood or interest in the US in “bombing Assad out of existence”. What a non-sequitir. Even last August, the one moment in the last 4 years when it looks vaguely possible that the US might send a few air strikes after Assad’s chemical genocide in East Ghouta, “bombing Assad out of existence” was not on the table. Then only thing on the table was a few “punishment strikes,” which in any case were mostly more a figment of the “anti-imperialist” left’s imaginations than a serious likelihood.

He continues:
“After all, Clinton, who supported the war on Iraq, should see what happens if you destroy a regime unilaterally. The rise of ISIS in Iraq is because they destroyed all the structures of the old regime. Had they done the same in Syria, we would have had an even worse situation than now, with at least three different wars taking place.”

The guy has completely lost it. The question is about allowing the FSA a few arms to fight itself, he takes that to an imaginary US bombing of Syria, and then a full-scale Iraq-style invasion, which has never even remotely been US strategy – the maximum US strategy for Syria has always been the “Yemeni solution” of rearranging the Baathist state, ensuring the “core” of the regime, especially the “military-security apparatus”, is maintained, in order for it to better crush the revolution (the imperialists usually put this in the language of “fighting terrorists” or “fighting jihadists”, which, by some amazing coincidence, just happens to be the same language as that of “the anti-imperialist left”).

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Shameless Cooke knifes Syrian people’s resistance to Assad/ISIS fascism

On August 10, the writer Shamus Cooke penned an article, “How ISIS finally became Obama’s enemy” (http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/08/10/how-isis-finally-became-obamas-enemy).

Cooke writes: “Suddenly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has become a threat worthy of American missiles. For almost two years President Obama completely ignored the biggest and most brutal terror group in the Middle East, allowing it to balloon into a regional power. No matter how many heads it severed or how much territory it conquered, ISIS just couldn’t draw Obama’s attention.” Claiming that as the ISIS threat grew, “Obama ignored it, and so did the U.S. media,” concentrating instead on the Ukraine and Gaza.

At times it is difficult to work out what all this “ignoring” and “allowing” means. It could be interpreted from a number of perspectives. It could mean, perhaps, that unlike George Bush, who had the army in Iraq fighting ISIS’s predecessor, Al-Qaida in Iraq, Obama has withdrawn, chickened out, thus “allowing” ISIS to do all this. About time he started bombing Iraq again.

Or it could mean that till now, the US did not see ISIS as an enemy, it perhaps even saw it as an ally of sorts, but circumstances have changed, and when US interests are threatened, we often see a rapid change of heart among US leaders. That may or may not be, as we will discuss below, but that ought not be confused with either “ignoring” or “allowing.”

I don’t know what Cooke has been reading, but I have seen so many articles about the threat of jihadists, mainly Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, in the US and western media that it has been clear for quite some time that they are seen as the main enemy of the US in the region. I don’t have time to do a list (which in any case would be prohibitively long), though I have plenty of references in some of my articles, such as here https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/iraq-and-syria-the-struggle-against-the-multi-sided-counterrevolution/ and here https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/the-us-iran-russia-syria-and-the-geopolitical-shift-anything-for-the-regions-oppressed/ for example. And that’s not just the media, because these media reports are full of statements by US politicians.

So if it is entirely untrue that either Obama or the US media “completely ignored” ISIS, does Cooke simply mean that Obama hadn’t bombed ISIS till now? OK, this is true. But we assume Cooke, as a good anti-imperialist, opposes US bombing ISIS. So he is not necessarily criticising the US for not bombing ISIS, he is just saying that the lack of bombing, till now, is evidence that the US did not see ISIS as a problem, despite what US leaders and media were screaming about – because if they really did see ISIS as a problem, they would have bombed it long ago. I hope I have that right.

In that case, we can apply the same to the regime of Assad in Syria, right? Despite occasional rhetoric, the US and western powers have “completely ignored” the genocide that the Assad regime has been imposing on Syria the last 3 years, has “allowed” it all to happen, as a regime levelled every city in the country, turned the country into a giant moonscape, killed upwards of 100,000 people, turned 9 million people into refugees, gassed hundreds of sleeping children with chemical weapons, barrel-bombed Aleppo into oblivion, turned Homs into Hiroshima, tortured tens of thousands to death. None of this was worth a single air strike, evidence that Obama and his ruling class have completely ignored this situation and allowed it to happen.

Actually, that statement would be more correct than what Cooke says about ISIS. But even if one disagrees, since for Cooke the measure is whether or not you get bombed, then presumably he would now agree that, since the US is bombing ISIS but not Assad, the US sees ISIS as a far more serious threat or enemy than its sees Assad.

OK, so now we’re getting somewhere. Or are we?

As we read on, we see that we aren’t. Cooke then writes:

“For well over two years ISIS and other al-Qaeda-style groups have been the main driving force in the Syrian war that has claimed over 170,000 lives, with millions made refugees.”

Shameless Cooke is scabbing on the Syrian people and their 3-year uprising with this statement of breathtaking ignorance. Well, it would be ignorance if I believed that Cooke didn’t know better. It is the fact that he almost certainly does know better that is the problem with such extraordinarily dishonest statements.

Anyone who actually knows anything about Syria knows that the Free Syrian Army, a variety of moderate Islamist militias, the Islamic Front and even Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian al-Qaida, have been at war with ISIS for at least a year. No supporters of the Syrian revolution view ISIS as having anything to do with their uprising against Assad’s tyranny; all of them regard ISIS as the other enemy alongside the regime.

Actually, most believe either that the regime and ISIS actively collaborate, or even that they are secretly allied; whether or not this is true, it is certainly true that the regime and ISIS have barely fired a shot at each other for the past year, and the only force in the region, apart from the Syrian Kurds, who have actually been fighting ISIS have been the FSA and its allies.

These are the same forces that have led and continue to lead the mass uprising against Assad’s fascist tyranny. They have been the “driving force” in the revolt against the regime, not ISIS. In the entire southern front, there is virtually no ISIS. In the Homs, Hama, Idlib northwest front there is virtually no ISIS. In Aleppo city there is no ISIS. ISIS has focused on conquering already liberated zones from the Syrian resistance, and has had most success in the northeast, along the Iraqi border, and some of the northern countryside of Aleppo province.

By late 2013, ISIS had conquered more regions of Aleppo and Idlib, but in January this year, as everyone who actually reads knows very well, the FSA (which had already declared war on ISIS last August) was joined by a moderate Islamist coalition, the Mujahideen Army, and by the Islamic Front (which groups together some moderate to harder Islamist groups), and, a little later, Jabhat al-Nusra, in a nation-wide coordinated attack on ISIS, which drove it completely out of Idlib and Hama and large sections of Aleppo province, Deir-Azour, Raqqa and elsewhere. ISIS made a comeback in Raqqa despite furious resistance, and since then has been laying siege to Deir-Azour.

In the weeks leading up to ISIS’ seizure of Mosul, the Syrian rebel alliance waged a furious resistance attempting to keep hold of Deir-Azour, the only non-ISIS or non-Kurdish controlled part of the northeast, against a sustained ISIS siege. While the rebels fought ISIS, Assad helped ISIS by terror bombing the city (http://syriadirect.org/main/36-interviews/1448-isis-regime-close-in-on-deir-e-zor-rebels), in effect, a joint siege; and after ISIS murdered 3 FSA commanders in Deir-Azour in June, regime warplanes bombed the FSA mourning tent, killing 16 people (http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/2014/06/21/ISIS-executes-three-Syrian-rebel-officers.html).
The rebels put out a call to the world for arms, or otherwise they would have to abandon the city. As with the last 3 years, they were ignored and got nothing from the US or the West; ISIS took the city. Since then, there has already been another uprising in Deir-Azour against ISIS, which the latter suppressed.

If Cooke was pointing out that this blatant betrayal of the Syrian rebels as they resisted ISIS was evidence of US acquiescence with ISIS, he would be right in this sense. As against the forces of the Syrian revolution, yes, the US acquiesces with ISIS just as the Assad regime does. That is because in relation to revolution, the US, the Assad regime and ISIS are all on the side of counterrevolution, regardless of whether or not they love each other otherwise.

But Cooke is not saying that at all. On the contrary, by identifying ISIS with the Syrian uprising against Assad, by calling it the “driving force” in the Syrian war against the regime, Cooke is not just echoing Assadist propaganda, he is also slandering the entire cast of Syrian rebel organisations, all of whom have shed rivers of blood to drive ISIS out of as much of Syria as possible, to ensure the liberation from one form of tyranny does not bequeath another, all the time being bombed from the skies by the fascist regime while doing so.

It is interesting that in falsely claiming ISIS was the “driving force” of the revolution, he notes that this war “has claimed over 170,000 lives, with millions made refugees.” While he doesn’t say who is mostly responsible for these 170,000 lives and 9 million refugees, his implication is that it is those who have “spearheaded” the revolt, whether ISIS or all the actual anti-Assad rebels who he pretends are the same thing. So apparently it is not a regime that has bombed the whole country to bits with a vast array of conventional weapons of mass destruction that killed all those people, it is the people with few arms trying to overthrow the regime that are responsible.

Cooke of course rightly supports the Palestinian people in their struggle against the Zionist regime’s savage occupation and constant mass murder, yet if he applied the same standards he should be blaming the lightly-armed Palestinian resistance for destroying Gaza rather than the regime that actually does the destroying.

It is strange that Cooke quotes a number of people, including Patrick Cockburn, claiming that the US and West showed little alarm even after ISIS took Mosul, the New York Times claiming that “the president expressed no enthusiasm for American military action,” with Cooke adding “or any action for that matter.”

Right, so just because every western politician and media source jumped on the conquest of Mosul and made it a top international issue, and the US immediately moved the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, its air wing, the cruiser USS Philippine Sea and destroyer USS Truxton towards the Gulf, and on June 20 Obama announced that 300 “special forces members” would be sent to Iraq to “train and advise the Iraqi security forces” (on top of 160 troops which were already in Iraq, including 50 marines and more than 100 soldiers) and threatened “targeted” air strikes against the Sunni militia (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/obama-flags-targeted-action-in-iraq/story-fnb64oi6-1226960737639?from=public_rss), all this is doing “nothing at all” because Obama didn’t immediately launch massive air strikes on ISIS.

Anyone would think that after invading Iraq, destroying the country, being humiliated by the level of failure, finally withdrawing with the overwhelming majority of Americans and people around the world opposed to the US intervention and glad they were finally out, that it is hardly surprising that Obama didn’t order full-scale massive US intervention the day after Mosul was taken. That moving warships and special forces into Iraq might already be a big deal in the circumstances. That launching air strikes inside Iraq within 2 months of the latest crisis breaking out is in fact relatively rapid.

Not for Cooke – massive air strikes the next day, anything less proves Obama is doing nothing and even “allowing” ISIS to do all this!

OK, so let’s do a comparison. ISIS takes Mosul in June 2014, and Obama launches air strikes in August. The Assad regime begins slaughtering peaceful protestors en-masse in March 2011, for months and months until they finally take up arms, then by late 2011-early 2012 Assad is already destroying Homs with massive quantities of sophisticated weaponry and by mid-2012 the regime is basically using its air force, long-range missiles, barrel-bombs etc on a daily basis, and after 3.5 years Obama hasn’t launched a sausage at the regime.

I’ll let Cooke draw his conclusions from that.

Oh, but no, he doesn’t; it just gets worse:

“For example, after Obama publicly targeted the Syrian government for destruction he had no qualms about using ISIS and the other al-Qaeda-linked groups as proxies in the fight.”

Really? Firstly, the claim that Obama “targeted the Syrian regime for destruction” is just so much waffle. The Syrian people rose against the regime; Assad slaughtered them; after months and months of this Obama started trying to get Assad to exit via a “Yemeni” solution that saved the regime via a cosmetic change at the very top. If the US had targeted the regime for destruction, it would have actually done something about it, not simply mouthed platitudes about how terrible the regime was, which anyone with a brain could see.

Oh, but Cooke says the US did that – it used ISIS and other al-Qaida groups as proxies to fight Assad. Of course, the US did nothing of the sort. Cooke offers not a shred of evidence for this outlandish claim, and nor would he find any if he tried. It seems that when you write Assadista crap, you don’t need to, but Cooke is hardly alone in this.

The US never sent any arms to the secular FSA, or the moderate Islamists, or Islamic Front, or Jabhat al-Nusra, or ISIS. The only way we can say the US encouraged ISIS was precisely by not arming the FSA, because ISIS could get plenty of money and arms across the Iraq border anyway, so in comparison with the FSA, which mainly relied on weapons captured or made in back-yards, ISIS was much better armed.

Cooke claims that:

“These terror groups were encouraged to grow exponentially in their fight against al-Assad, with Obama knowing full well that Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allied Gulf States were sending mountains of money, guns, and fighters to the jihadists.”

Lies. But why do I have to prove what Cooke doesn’t even attempt to show? He will find no evidence of such nonsense. Saudi Arabia and the al-Qaida franchises regard each other to be arch-enemies, as anyone with a clue about the Middle East knows. That is aside from the fact that even if the Saudis and Gulf had been arming them, that would not prove much about the US; anyone looking would see the very constant US pressure on the Gulf to not arm any Islamists in Syria, no matter how moderate, in fact even to not arm the FSA. Here is some information: https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/the-gulf-and-islamism-in-syria-myths-and-misconceptions/

Cooke goes on:

“There was simply was no one else effectively fighting al-Assad, a dynamic that has artificially lengthened a war that would have ended years ago, while creating the environment that ISIS thrived in.”

Lies. It was every other group, rather than ISIS, that was fighting Assad. Then they had to fight ISIS too. If western or Gulf arming of the rebels “artificially lengthened a war that would have ended years ago” then indeed it would have ended years ago, given the large amount of nothing very much the rebels have received, especially in relation to the gigantic arsenal of heavy weaponry possessed by the regime. Actually ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra became “more effective” precisely due to the lack of arms in the hands of the FSA. Funny how “leftists” think uprisings against dictatorships should properly be “ended” unless someone outside is allegedly arming them; apparently the peace of the grave is the preferred situation for the likes of Cooke.

But it gets worse:

“Much of the money and guns that Obama shipped to the “moderate” Islamists rebels of course found its way into the hands of the jihadists, since thousands of moderates have since joined ISIS.”

First, which “guns” did Obama ship to “moderate Islamist rebels”? I know of none. In fact I know of virtually none even to moderate secular rebels, let alone “moderate Islamists” that Cooke assumes to be everyone who is not al-Qaida. There have been a few US weapons this year since April, in the hands of one single, smallish, very secular rebel group, Hazm Hazara, a new group. Certainly none of its small handful of US arms have gone to the jihadists, despite the confident “of course” by Cooke. You see Cooke knows – you can’t trust these Arabs – give a gun to an Arab moderate, he’ll give it to a jihadist. Of course. Evidence is superfluous. Hazm’s US arms are so few they are not enough for Hazm; and apart from the fact that Hazm is part of the joint rebel war on ISIS, it is also the group least likely to collaborate operationally even with Jabhat al-Nusra – indeed, precisely the reason the US decided to slip it a few arms, in its long-term search for some section of the FSA to become a Sawha movement to fight the jihadists rather than Assad. A quest which to date has been unsuccessful.

Let’s just compare Cooke’s evidence-free assertions about US arms to Syrian rebels and US-backed Saudi arms to ISIS to what he says about US arms to the Maliki regime in Iraq:

“When ISIS invaded Iraq from Syria, Obama barely batted an eyelash, making excuse after excuse about why the U.S. couldn’t send the Iraqi government military equipment to fight ISIS.”

Now, leaving aside the actual intervention with warships and special forces noted above, isn’t it strange that Cooke has managed to not notice that “since January, the Pentagon has been expediting sales of Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, anti-tank rounds, small arms and ammunition, under the Foreign Military Sales program. Approximately 800 Hellfire missiles, which can be loaded onto the small Beechcraft and Cessna planes the Iraqi security forces possess, have been delivered since January, with 5,000 of them authorized for sale” (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/12/iraq-us-arms-weapons-isis-new-government), not to mention all the tanks, Humvees, helicopters etc previously delivered – everyone and their dog has noted the heavy weapons windfall gained by ISIS when it took Mosul from the Iraqi army – only Cooke doesn’t know that these weapons were from the US. This is all open, above board, no secret – but all this arming of the sectarian regime in Iraq was not enough for Cooke, if the US didn’t provide it with nuclear weapons that proves the US supported ISIS, whereas all the imaginary weaponry that the US was in his opinion supplying Syrian rebels was too much, even if in fact it was only radios, night goggles, water filters and ready-meals.

Cooke finishes: “Gazans are allowed to be slaughtered, Syrian’s massacred, and half of Iraq torn to shreds while Obama has busied himself with making threats to Russia.”

The note about US and western hypocrisy is of course something we all agree on, especially in relation to the US total and absolute support for the savage Zionist entity occupying Palestine. Yet there is something deeply ironic about his statement that Syrians can be “massacred” without the US giving a stuff – because it is absolutely true. The US, like Cooke and many other leftists, are quite happy to watch the regime of Bashar Assad slaughter Syrians for years. The US, and Israel, know very well that the Syrian and Palestinian Intifadas are one, that a victory against a fascist tyranny in an Arab country is a victory for the peoples of the region, which can only boost the struggle of the Palestinians.

But that’s if you understand class, and not some abstract, meaningless, purely rhetorical, without-substance “anti-imperialism” so popular in parts of the left these days – a quality they mistakenly identify with a regime in Damascus that has collaborated with imperialism right through its career.

Comment: Will ‘anti-imperialists’ oppose US air strikes in Iraq?

For days now, the US military has been launching air strikes against the reactionary Sunni-fascist group Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS, or just IS now) in Iraq. Yet, strangely, not only have I not seen any evidence of anti-war demonstrations, or organising for them, I have also not seen the entire faux-“left” cybersphere full of fulminating attacks on US imperialist intervention, with everyone repeating and slightly re-wording the same half-baked, evidence-free article, like we saw last August during the alleged build-up to an entirely imaginary US attack on the reactionary, secular-fascist regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.

The geopolitics is of course interesting. While the Syrian regime of Assad barely fired a shot at ISIS for an entire year (and vice versa), and instead both focused on crushing the Free Syrian Army (FSA, and its more moderate Islamist allies, and also Jabhat al-Nusra), often even directly and blatantly collaborating against the FSA, and in oil deals, and “the West”, forever refusing to send even a bullet to the FSA under the bullshit rubric that such arms “might get into the hands of extremists”, even though for the whole year, the only force in the entire region (apart from the Kurds) that were actually fighting ISIS (the worst extremists) were the FSA and its allies (and indeed are still furiously resisting ISIS in Syria right now); well now that the US is bombing ISIS, and bolstering and arming Assad’s ally, the sectarian-Shia regime of Maliki, so now the Assad regime and ISIS have also FINALLY come to blows! What an amazing coincidence!

Anyway, let’s try to figure out some differences for anti-war western leftists.

Perhaps we should only oppose US interventions when they are just a figment of our imaginations, as opposed to ones that are actually happening in our face.

Perhaps we should only oppose imaginary US interventions when the US shows that it is impossible to intervene without going around in a whole lot of circles like countless committee meetings, taking a war proposal to Congress for the first time in half a century etc, whereas when the US shows that you can order air strikes without all that pretense, then it is OK.

Perhaps it should depend on the degree of imaginary “anti-imperialism” of the reactionary tyrants under real or imaginary US attack. So apparently, since the Syrian Baath regime has collaborated with US imperialism for decades, right up to the rendition and torture program of “terror” suspects on behalf of the US in very recent times, and slaughtered Palestinians and their camps and organisations and militants with a passion rivaling the Zionist regime, we should defend such a well-intentioned regime, whereas a regime like ISIS which is totally, fundamentally anti-imperialist to the core (I don’t use that as a compliment, rather it is a neutral statement), then we should not oppose a US attack.

Perhaps we should look at who has done the most slaughtering. Both of course are monstrous tyrants to the core and neither has any redeeming feature whatsoever. But since ISIS has probably killed several thousand, and Assad has pretty much leveled every city in Syria, turned the whole country to rubble, killed over 100,000 people to be generous, tortured tens of thousands to death in medieval dungeons, bombed hospitals and schools with a fury rivaling the Zionist regime in Gaza, and at that very time, last August, had bombed hundreds of children in their sleep with chemical weapons, of course we should defend only Assad, not ISIS.

Perhaps someone could offer some other suggestions.