Norm’s note: what follows is a sample of the kinds of effusions from people that Will Morrow has described as “the Australian pseudo-left.” I’m not going to tell you what to think about it. But I’m obviously inviting you to read it so as to be able to make your own assessment of it. But before you once and forever and preemptively dismiss that a revolutionary movement could ever have broken out in Syria in 2011, you really need to read this masterful piece of analysis by Dr. Raymond Hinnebusch, Professor of International Relations and Middle East Politics and Director of the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St. Andrews: “Syria: from ‘authoritarian upgrading’ to revolution?” Because ‘facts’ ought really to matter, right?
(And parenthetically, because, as but one example, this relates to what Oakley in what is to follow underlines as the core hesitancy by many on the left, namely “. . . to accept the legitimacy of the revolutionary movement that broke out in 2011:” Self-Organization of the popular struggles in Syria against the regime and islamist groups? Yes, it exists! by — where have I heard this name before? Oh, yeah . . . “pseudo-leftist”. . . Joseph Daher.)
The Western left and the Syrian war
COREY OAKLEY / 27 OCTOBER 2016
The Syrian war is not just a tragedy. It is a crime of immense proportions. And it is clear as day who is culpable.
First, the Assad regime, which in 2011 met the demands of a protest movement for social justice and democratisation with bullets and torture cells, and when that failed, and protesters began to call for Bashar al Assad’s overthrow, decided there was no price in blood it would not pay to stay in power.
Second, the Iranian regime, which, as the rebellion grew and the resources of the regime were exhausted in the face of a nationwide uprising, deployed its own military forces and proxy militias to keep the government in power and prolong the war.
Third, Russia. While Putin backed Assad from the outset, it was only in September last year that Russia, fearful the regime was on the brink of collapse, intervened decisively, unleashing the terrible power of its air force on rebel-held cities such as Aleppo. John Kerry’s assertion that the Russian plan for Aleppo is modelled on its campaign in Grozny in 1999, when Russian forces laid waste to the entire city in order to wrest it from rebel hands, is likely to be a correct, if hypocritical, assessment.
Then there is the West. It deserves its share of the blame too, but not for the reasons many claim. The predominant narrative on the left is that the US and its allies have pursued a strategy of “regime change” in Syria, and are responsible for fuelling the resistance to Assad.
In fact, the opposite is true. Despite expressing, at various times, sympathy for rebels and hostility to Assad, the US has at almost every stage hindered efforts to overthrow the regime.
CIA officers in Turkey, nominally in place to assist arms supply, in many cases in fact prevented the flow of weapons, particularly heavy weapons, to rebel forces. US and Israeli pressure has been key to the ongoing refusal of US ally Saudi Arabia to provide crucial anti-aircraft weapons to the opposition.
While there are significant elements in the US security establishment who argue it is in the strategic interests of the US to support the overthrow of Assad, the prevailing view thus far, and the actual policy pursued by the Obama administration, has accepted the need to keep the regime in place.
After the September ceasefire collapsed, there was renewed talk that the long-enforced US ban on the supply of significant numbers of Saudi surface-to-air missiles to Syrian rebels would be lifted. But by mid-October it was clear that these plans had yet again been shelved.
This has been the recurring pattern of the war. While Russia has intervened decisively in defence of the Assad regime, US promises of “support” for rebels have repeatedly failed to materialise or been so conditional (eg insisting that in exchange for weapons, rebel groups agree to fight only ISIS, rather than Assad’s forces) as to be of no actual help to the struggle against the regime.
This seeming paralysis is not simply the result of political ineptitude. It reflects the fact that while Putin has a clear policy of defending the regime as a means to entrench Russian influence in Syria, the US has no clear strategic orientation. It has no particular love for Assad, especially as the regime’s ties with Russia have tightened over the course of the war. But the US is equally hostile to a decisive victory for the revolutionary forces, precisely because – counter to what many in the pro-Assad camp assert – there is scant evidence that the removal of the regime would serve US interests.
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE WESTERN LEFT
The divisions on the Western left over what attitude to take to the Syrian war have been bitter and wide-ranging. At the core of the problem has been a hesitancy by many on the left, or in some cases outright refusal, to accept the legitimacy of the revolutionary movement that broke out in 2011.
At the extreme end of this are those like University of Sydney academic Tim Anderson, who consider the Assad regime to be a secular, socialist government that is part of the “axis of resistance” to US imperialism and Zionism, and therefore to be defended at all costs. For them, the entire revolution was a CIA plot from day one, and the well-documented crimes of the regime are all fabrications concocted by imperialists and their lackeys.