Australia joins the ‘Axis of Resistance’

Australia is the latest country to fully join the “Axis of Resistance” lining up behind the tyrannical dictatorship of Bashar Assad in Syria, using the excuse, as always,  of the rise of ISIS to justify supporting a regime whose main opponents are in fact not ISIS at all, but the Syrian masses, armed and unarmed, a vast rebel movement which has done far more to beat back ISIS than the Assad regime has either ever tried to do, or succeeded in doing the rare times it has tried.

People should not be fooled by this ruling class rhetoric: they are lining up with a regime that has bombed its country back to the Stone Age for four years straight, killed hundreds of thousands, tortured to death tens of thousands and driven millions into exile. That the result would be a degree of extremism, including the truly barbaric extremism of ISIS, is hardly a surprise; offering more of the same is hardly a solution. But the very deliberate ignoring of the overwhelming majority of the opposition to Assad, which is also opposed to ISIS, is not ignorance: it is the politics of ruling class solidarity.

I’ve said it till my throat is hoarse, but every new event seems to confirm it: while imperialist politicians may prefer Assad the person went away to better protect his Syrian ruling class regime as a whole against the masses, the one thing they will never do is actually support the masses rising up against the regime. It is class politics.

In recent days and weeks, US, British, German, Italian, Austrian and other leaders have one after the other declared either that Assad is a necessary part of the fight, er, “against ISIS,” or a necessary part of the “political solution” or “negotiated settlement,” even if he plays an allegedly “temporary” role. Cameron suggested 6 months; Kerry suggested the point wasn’t to say how long. Merkel seemed more straight out supportive. Meanwhile, Kerry has essentially welcomed the Russian build-up in support of Assad as a potentially constructive move that the US could partner with to, you know, “fight ISIS,” and Israeli leader Netanyahu took his top IDF generals to Moscow to organise how to “coordinate air operations” and share intelligence.

Seemed the Axis of resistance was getting unbearably long when out came French ultra-rightist Le Pen likewise declaring that Assad was the best option to fight ISIS, but France doesn’t need to strike “terrorist targets” in Syria itself, it would be better to just align with Russia and its greater resources to fight these terrorists (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-27/le-pen-says-france-should-align-with-russia-on-approach-to-syria). Must be embarrassing how much that sounds like some of the voices coming out of the UK Stop Some wars Coalition.

Now back to Australia.

I say Australia has now “fully” joined the pro-Assad “Axis of Resistance” because it essentially already was a member under former PM Tony Abbott. Even though this article heralding the reactionary Liberal Party government’s “new” policy of explicit support for Assad, under the new Malcolm Turnbill leadership, suggests it is a break from Abbott’s “harder” position, in fact all it does is firm up the Abbott position.

When Abbott several weeks ago declared Australian bombers, already bombing ISIS in Iraq, would begin bombing in Syria as well, he asked, while we allegedly want Assad gone, “do our military ­operations contribute to that at this time?” and answered “No, they don’t.”

Moreover, for years now he has reiterated his view that the struggle in Syria was “baddies versus baddies,” ie, not just ISIS, but everyone fighting Assad is just as “bad” as the regime.

At this time, he made that clearer: ““It’s not easy to find moderates in that part of the world, particularly in Syria. At the moment the main forces are the gruesome Assad regime; the if-anything more diabolical Daesh death cult; and then of course there’s the people linked with al-Qa’ida. So it’s difficult to find effective moderates in Syria” (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/in-depth/terror/bashar-al-assad-not-in-our-sights-says-tony-abbott/story-fnpdbcmu-1227520260640?from=public_rss&utm_source=The%20Australian&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial).

So now the new leadership, via the same Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, declares agreement with the “emerging view in some quarters that the only conceivable option would be a national unity government involving President Assad.” In fact, last April, as Abbott’s Foreign Minister, Bishop went to Tehran to explore common interests with the mullahs in bolstering Iraq’s sectarian regime: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/foreign-affairs/julie-bishop-in-anti-terror-accord-with-iran/story-fn59nm2j-1227308803474?from=public_rss&utm_source=The%20Australian&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial

This emerging view among the Australian right has been heralded by reactionary Tory journalists such as Islamophobe Paul Sheehan, who recently declared that: “Removing the Assad regime in Damascus is not an option. **The rebel movement** (note: not just ISIS) is genocidal.  The Russian move to defend the Syrian regime with military force is a necessary evil. It is a buttress against Islamic State and complete state failure. Iran’s arming and training of Shia militias to fight Islamic State is another necessary evil” (http://www.smh.com.au/comment/the-black-flag-flying-over-a-dark-state-can-only-be-stopped-with-firepower-20150913-gjlizn.html).

No offense to the Kurds, but unfortunately they also get bad press here: they get supported by Sheehan.

Likewise, after the current “change” was announced, another reactionary journalist, Greg Sheridan, cheered it on: “Julie Bishop has executed an important, justified and probably overdue pivot on Australia’s policy towards Syria. The Foreign Minister has recognised reality: as utterly horrible as Bashar al-Assad’s regime is, it may not make sense any longer to wish for its removal, much less do anything to achieve its removal” (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/syria-harsh-realities-make-hard-calls-the-strongest-solution/story-e6frg76f-1227544355444?from=google+current_rss?from=public_rss&utm_source=The%20Australian&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial).

Like Sheehan, and Abbott, he also declared that, again “apart from the Kurds,” (poor Kurds) “there are no moderate ground forces involved in the Syrian civil war that Western policy can back.”

Therefore, “A collapse of the Assad regime now, in that substantial part of the country it still controls, would almost certainly make the situation even more catastrophic, leading to a gruesome war of all against all, and presaging a relentless, violent struggle of rival jihadist, tribal and warlord groups,” in the usual breathtakingly essentialist and orientalist language of right-wing journalists and politicians who are really scared of the masses taking matters into their own hands, “especially in that part of the world.”

Sheridan in fact went one important step further than Abbott, Bishop, Kerry, Cameron, Merkel and most of the other array of imperialist leaders who have been lining up in recent weeks to declare Assad a part of the solution, but a “temporary” one; he cuts straight through the temporary cover, and supports the end result, “reluctantly”, of course:

“Bishop is justified in arguing that Assad’s personal involvement in the future political settlement should be temporary, but this is probably in itself a temporary position by Western leaders; there is little indication that the essence of the Assad regime could survive without the Assad family.”

And now, yesterday’s article on the “change”:

Assad part of solution in Syria Julie Bishop signals policy change

Paul Maley, SEPTEMBER 26, 2015 12:57AM

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/foreign-affairs/assad-part-of-solution-in-syria-julie-bishop-signals-policy-change/story-fn59nm2j-1227544502722?sv=73a358828d8d737433cc8b39f524c09f

Australia is set to abandon the Abbott government’s long-held position that disgraced President Bashar al-Assad step aside as part of any durable peace settlement in Syria, in what amounts to a major policy shift designed to hasten the end of the bloody civil war.

Instead, the Turnbull government has reluctantly accepted that Assad, whose brutal regime has been blamed for the majority of civilian deaths in the 4½-year conflict, may form a part of any future government of national unity designed to preserve the crumbling Syrian state.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told The Weekend Australian there was an “emerging consensus” that the Assad regime would be likely to be pivotal in any ¬attempt to fortify the Syrian state and prevent further gains by the terror group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh.

“Given Australia’s significant contribution to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq and our involvement in militant operations against Daesh, it is inevitable that we will play a role as an advocate for a political solution in Syria,” Ms Bishop said.

“It is evident there must be a political as well as a military sol¬ution to the conflict in Syria.

“There is an emerging view in some quarters that the only conceivable option would be a national unity government involving President Assad.”

Until now, Canberra had been staunch in its view Assad must go before any peace initiative could begin or an enduring political sol¬ution could be achieved. Canberra’s about-face reflects an interplay of factors, including Islamic State’s strength on the ground as well as the changed political environment in Australia, where Malcolm Turnbull is prepared to take a less hardline but more pragmatic approach to the Syrian crisis than his predecessor did.

Prior to his removal, Mr Abbott said Assad “should go”, des¬cribing his government as a “dread¬ful regime” that had committed “monstrous” atrocities against its own people.

More than anything, the new position reflects the shifting power-politics of the Syrian civil war, including the recent build-up of Russian troops in Syria, who have been flown in by Russian President Vladimir Putin to shore up Moscow’s weakened ally in Damascus.

Washington, too, has softened its opposition to the Assad regime, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying the US was now prepared to countenance the presence of Assad as an interim player in resolving Syria’s civil war. Previously, Washington had said Assad’s ouster was a deal-breaker in political negotiations.

The calls for Assad’s removal began in the early stages of the civil war, when his downfall looked assured, but the dictator has held on for longer than expected, thanks largely to vicious infighting among Syria’s fractured rebel movement.

Assad’s resilience has created a quandary for the West, which finds itself facing a much larger problem in the form of Islamic State, a bitter foe of both the Syrian regime and Western democ¬racies. Last week, Mr Kerry said Washington was not going to be “doctrinaire” about the timing of Assad’s removal.

“It doesn’t have to be on day one or month one,” Mr Kerry said. “There is a process by which all the parties have to come together and reach an understanding of how this can best be achieved.”

Ms Bishop also indicated Assad did not have a long-term role to play in his country’s future.

“The specific role and duration of President Assad’s involvement would likely be temporary,” she said.

She added that any peace settlement would require the backing of the UN Security Council, where both Washington and Moscow exercise veto rights.

“Therefore the views of Russia and the US are vital,” Ms Bishop said.

Moscow has significantly bolstered its presence in Syria, deploying about 28 fighter planes and about 2000 personnel to Latakia, Assad’s Alawite stronghold. The build-up has provoked mixed feelings in the West, which has welcomed help in the fight against Islamic State but is apprehensive about the Kremlin’s long-term ambitions in Syria.

Ms Bishop gave credence to speculation that the Russian effort might indicate Assad’s regime was weaker than many thought, perhaps even close to collapse.

Since it began in 2011, Syria’s civil war has become one of the most brutal in recent history, leading to an estimated 220,000 deaths and driving hundreds of thousands more from their homes, a development that has triggered the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

Update at Saturday, 11.30am

Labor wants to hear an explanation on the plan from the government, security expert advice and the views of American and European allies before deciding its position on the move.

“We are going to be very careful before we go down that path,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told reporters in Casino in NSW on Saturday.

“I do not believe Australia should be picking sides in Syria.”

As far as Mr Shorten could tell, there was “not a great deal to separate” the Assad regime and Islamic State.

“It’s a matter of record that Assad has been a dreadful dictator,” he said.

“Labor has no time for the administration or the government of Assad.”

A recent article in Jacobin by Patrick Higgins, The War on Syria (https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/syria-civil-war-nato-military-intervention/), has been taken down well by a number of authors (http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/08/31/jacobin-and-the-war-on-syria, http://freecharlesdavis.com/2015/08/31/all-rebels-in-syria-are-imperialist-pawns-except-americas-favorite-proxy/,   http://claysbeach.blogspot.com.au/2015/08/jacobins-war-on-syria.html). All three critiques are excellent and I strongly recommend reading them; therefore I don’t intend to do the same.

However, I will just focus a little on one of the key “contradictions” (a word loved in Higgins’ article) of the article: Higgins’ assertion that any time an imperialist power, such as the US, is involved militarily in a country, it automatically makes whoever the US is fighting against the good guy (if only momentarily), and anyone “on the US side,” however tactically, the bad guy, the reactionary.

This is virtually a caricature of the mechanical “anti-imperialist” line, yet it is meant to be serious. Strangely, however, for Higgins this means damning the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other rebels as reactionary US proxies (if not representatives of feudalism), while giving support to the genocide regime of Bashar Assad. Even more strangely, Higgins sees the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Rojava as a ray of light. I say strangely, because such views are in flat contradiction to his premise about who is and isn’t tactically in league with the US.

Here I have assembled a simple set of facts about who has and who hasn’t been a recipient or beneficiary of US military intervention in Syria since September 2014. Some may take issue with what they see are some of the implications of this. Therefore, please see my discussion of this below the table.

Who has been hit by US airstrikes?

  • Islamic State (ISIS/Daesh)
  • Free Syrian Army (FSA) or general rebels – at least half a dozen times, twice early in the US bombing were assumed to be “accidents;”  (3) the third and most devastating time was deliberate and the US was unapologetic, the attack on Jaysh al-Sunna rebels  in Atmeh in mid 2015 which also wiped out a family: http://eaworldview.com/2015/08/syria-feature-residents-grieve-as-us-finally-admits-airstrike-on-rebels-near-turkish-border/.  More recently, reports of US bombings of rebels have become more commonplace:  (4) Al Jazeera Arabic  claimed in August 2016 that US F-16s “committed a massacre of civilians in the city of Aleppo, targeting a bridge on which refugees were escaping from ongoing bombardment by the Syrian regime and Russian airforces. Dozens of refugees have been reported killed. The targeted bridge was in an area recently taken by rebels from the regime during their recent campaign to break the siege of Aleppo, between the village of Khan Touman and the neighbourhood of Ramousa in South Aleppo (https://www.facebook.com/aljazeerachannel/videos/10154650225289893/). (5) Shortly before, during the same Assad/Russia siege of Aleppo, Orient News claimed that International Coalition aircraft took part in the siege, that heavy bombing by F-16 warplanes targeted vehicles, resulting in direct casualties
    (https://yallasouriya.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/syriadid-ic-participate-to-aleppo-blockade/); (6) According to “Halab today” on one day there were 4 sorties over Aleppo by the US-led coalition aircraft which struck the rebels: “Counting about 125 aircraft raided the City yesterday, including a Russian warplane, 72 Syrian and four Alliance” (https://twitter.com/HalabTodayTV/status/760656520572960768).

Who has NOT been hit by US airstrikes?

  • Assad regime
  • Global Shiite-jihadist forces fighting in Syria for Assad, including Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite-sectarian death squads (with copious US arms from the US- and Iranian-backed Iraqi regime), and poor Shiite recruits (often forced recruits) from Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • Peoples Protection Units (YPG)

Who has the US carried out joint bombing with?

Who has the US bombed on behalf of?

  • YPG (widely reported and well-known, for nearly a year now, both in defensive and offensive operations).
  • 54 US-trained proxy fighters who signed contract to only fight ISIS (and probably Nusra) and NOT to fight Assad. The saga of how the US got the numbers of its “train and equip” program down from 1200 already heavily “vetted” fighters to a mere 54, since all the rest refused the US demand that they NOT fight Assad, is here: http://eaworldview.com/2015/07/syria-daily-did-the-us-abandon-its-54-trained-rebels. Only now (early September 2014), has the US began some sporadic bombing ISIS in northeast Aleppo in concert with this new force on the ground.

Who has the US NOT bombed on behalf of?

  • FSA or other Syrian rebels: it is difficult to give links to something the US has simply NOT done. However, this article explains in a rather straightforward way why the US has refused to bomb ISIS in northeast Aleppo province where it confronts the rebels who control the west: because to hurt ISIS there would hurt Assad! (whose forces occupy the south of the province and are in strategic alliance with ISIS in this region, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/05/31/key-rebels-ready-to-quit-u-s-fight-vs-isis.html).

Who does the US share intelligence with (directly)?

Who does the US share intelligence with (supposedly indirectly via their mutual Iraqi regime ally)?

Who does the US NOT share intelligence with?

Who can call in US air-strikes?

  • YPG (widely reported in media as being the only group that can until now).
  • 54 US-trained proxy fighters who signed contract to only fight ISIS (and probably Nusra) and NOT to fight Assad (http://www.wsj.com/articles/pentagon-to-defend-new-syria-force-from-assad-regime-others-1438549937). Actually, even these proxies were sent in initially with no guarantee of air cover, but the US changed its mind after they were attacked by Nusra, who the US had been bombing right in that vicinity for a week.

Who does the US directly drop arms to?

  • YPG (“US military aircraft have dropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State (IS) militants in the key Syrian town of Kobane … US Central Command said C-130 transport aircraft made “multiple” drops of supplies” http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29684761)

Who has been aided by US ‘Special Forces’?

  • YPG

Who has provided the US with a military air-base on Syrian soil?

  • YPG

Who welcomed the onset of US bombing in September 2014?

  • YPG
  • Exile-based Syrian Opposition Coalition

Who opposed the onset of US bombing in September 2014?

…………………………………………………………………………………………………..

As I said above, some may feel uncomfortable with the message from these facts. If supporters of the Assad regime, pretending to be “anti-imperialists,” feel uncomfortable, then so they should. However, some supporters of the YPG may also feel that, because facts show the YPG to be the main beneficiary of US airstrikes in Syria, in a more direct sense even than the Assad regime, that I am attacking the YPG.

However, this is not the case; while the PYD/YPG should indeed be as open to criticism as any other armed (or unarmed) group, the mistake here would be to assume that I follow the mechanical “anti-imperialist” mind-set, which says you automatically put a plus where the imperialists put a minus (and vice-versa); but of course I don’t.

So the fact that the US intervention, in a broad, overall sense, has mainly benefited the Assad regime is not the main reason we should condemn the Assad regime; fascist regimes that wage unlimited war against their peoples with “conventional” WMD for years ought to be condemned by the left as a matter of course. The underhanded US support for such a regime is a good reason, among others, to slam the general thrust of the US intervention; a general thrust that is, of course, entirely logical in terms of class interests.

On the other hand, while I certainly think the PYD/YPG’s growing alliance with and reliance upon the US is a matter of significant concern, in itself it is not a reason to damn them; this is a genuine Kurdish-based movement, which must be supported, or criticised, based on its own merits and actions; the direct US support for the YPG is being carried out for the US’s own reasons, which at this point in time happen to coincide with those of the YPG. So for the record, while I am somewhat ambivalent about the long-term, full-scale US bombing on behalf of the YPG’s offensive operations, and while I have a number of political issues with the PYD/YPG (indeed, as I would with most Syrian rebel formations), I certainly supported their victories on the ground against ISIS, even with US warplanes in the sky, however critically.

However, while the purpose here is therefore not to damn the PYD/YPG from a ridiculous “anti-imperialist” viewpoint, the reality of the facts ought to be a good antidote to the so-called “anti-imperialist” tendency to damn the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other rebels as “proxies of US imperialism”. In other words, while the “anti-imperialists’” framework is rubbish, they at least have the responsibility to be consistent with their rubbish; so since a whole year of US bombing Syria has resulted in NOT ONE even “accidental” strike on the Assad regime, or on the YPG, it is the purest kind of Orwellianism for these good folk to continue to insist that their support for Assad and their hostility to everyone fighting Assad is based on “anti-imperialism”; because, clearly, it is not. It is simply based on support for a murderous fascist dictatorship, period.

To be consistent, these folk should now be giving most of their support to ISIS, plenty to Nusra, a little to other rebels, but should be damning the “collaborationist” Assad regime, and above all calling for the defeat of the “US-proxy” YPG by the “anti-imperialist” ISIS.

As for PYD/YPG supporters, those who also support the rest of the Syrian revolution, and don’t use such demagogic slogans to attack the FSA and other rebels, have no necessary contradiction; much else can be discussed, but at least no rank hypocrisy is involved.

However, around a year ago, when many initially discovered the Rojava revolution, it was somewhat noticeable that many leftists at first thought the PYD/YPG would be a useful “anti-imperialist” alternative to the allegedly “US-backed” Syrian rebels. This nonsense was based on the ancient history of the PKK and irrelevant past geopolitics of who was allegedly in a “bloc” with who and other such class-analysis-free fantasies. This was useful for those who had got cold feet with the Syrian revolution and were increasingly adopting a sectarian attitude towards it.

In fact, at the very outset of the US intervention in Syria, one side of their argument seemed justified; despite ISIS’ relentless advance against the YPG-held Kobani, for several weeks the US didn’t lift a finger; while bombing ISIS, and also Nusra, elsewhere in Syria, US leaders suggested defence of Kobani was of no strategic interest. (The other side of their schema, however, was proven immediately wrong: virtually all major rebel formations opposed the US bombing as an attack on the revolution, even though they had been in a furious war against ISIS for a year already).

Within weeks, however, things rapidly changed, as the US saw the symbolic usefulness of a victory against ISIS, by aiding an armed force that, however left-wing ideologically, posed no greater revolutionary danger in Syria as it had a long-term pragmatic ceasefire with the Assad regime. These people must therefore have been sorely disappointed by the turn of events; in rapidly finding that the heaviest US bombing anywhere since 2001 was concentrated on defence of the YPG against ISIS in Kobani; that this full-scale support with US airstrikes continued well beyond the defensive stage in late 2014 (when Kobani was indeed threatened by genocide), and right through the YPG offensive operations up to Tel Abyad and down even to Sarrin over a period of many months; that only the YPG can call in US airstrikes and give coordinates; that the US dropped weapons numerous times to the YPG right in the midst of battle; that the US has even killed civilians while bombing on behalf of the YPG, in one case a massacre of 50 civilians just south of Kobani; that US “special forces” are on the ground operating with the YPG (and with no-one else); and that the US has set up its first air-base in Syria in YPG-controlled territory in Rojava.

Imagine if the FSA had received this kind of full-scale military support from the US, against the fascist regime which has slaughtered so many more than ISIS that it makes ISIS look purely amateur by comparison. What would Higgins and other “anti-imperialists” say?

But leaving aside the Assadists, those PYD/YPG supporters who had initially attempted to adopt such an “anti-imperialist” position had to adapt their position. So what they did was either: (1) end up eating their words fast, and returning to more sensible nuanced anti-imperialism, “we don’t put a minus everywhere the US puts a plus” (welcome back to reality); or (2) deny reality, and pretend it is not all happening like it is, or that it is OK just in their unique case, because they are so unmistakably revolutionary and pure that US support cannot be any problem.

For Assadists, there was a different division: (1) some who pretended to support the PYD/YPG likewise denied reality; while (2) others decided to be “consistent” and blasted the YPG as imperialist proxies. Of course, such “consistency” is limited precisely because to be really consistent they would also have to denounce Assad, but US support for Assad was covert enough for them to hide from reality.

And so “anti-imperialism” comes full circle – wrong as it already was when used in this mechanical way, it simply turned into defence of a fascist regime and condemnation of its opposition, regardless of the fact that this put them in essential alliance with imperialism.