The already bloody conflict in Syria has now become more awkward, complicated and horrific. Since September 30th Russia has stepped up its intervention in Syria and has begun airstrikes, in what it claims are operations against the Islamic State (ISIS) and other forces of “International Terrorism”. In reality these bombings are more about embarrassing President Obama and bolstering the Assad regime whilst maintaining a Russian sphere of influence in the Middle East than fighting ISIS. For instance, there have been reports of bombings hitting US backed rebels as well as hitting other non-ISIS rebel groups like Jaysh al-Fatah and Jabhat al-Nusra, whilst there has only been a few token strikes at ISIS held areas. This graphic better illustrates the point that most of the airstrikes on October 3rd were focused in the north-west of the country where the more moderate rebels are based,whilst almost none hit ISIS controlled area to the East of the country.
There is a section of people who’s view of Russia’s intervention in Syria ranges from apathy to even support in some cases. They are the “anti imperialist” left. What I mean by “anti-imperialists” in quotes are those designated to be on the “radical left” (I’m being generous by calling them radicals) who claim to be against interventionism, imperialism and oppression but in fact are very inconsistent or confused in applying these principles. In other words if it’s The United States that’s doing the intervention then expect strong condemnations from these people but if it’s another power doing the intervention then you can’t always be certain you will hear anything at all.
First up we have our good friend Murtaza Hussain from The Intercept.
Although Murtaza’s first tweet is flat out untrue (as only 5% of the bombs so far have actually targeted ISIS while the U.S bombings in Syria since last October has mostly focused on ISIS and Al-Nusra), it is one that he could mount a defense for. However, the second one is really weird. He says “didn’t seem like U.S had any will to actually defeat Islamic State, serves as useful bogeyman and zone for weapons testing”. I really find this tweet very bizarre, he seems to be claiming that the U.S isn’t serious about fighting ISIS but using them as an excuse to “test weapons”. I don’t quite know what he means by this and I have seen no evidence that the U.S is testing weapons in Syria.
Contrast this sentiment towards Russia’s intervention to this article he co-authored with Glenn Greenwald in September 2014, just as the United States announced it was bombing ISIS positions in Syria where he also echoes the “ISIS is America’s bogeyman” slogan. “The Fake Terror Used To Justify Bombing Syria” was the hysterical headline that lead the piece. It pretty much makes the argument that the U.S concocted a bogeyman in ISIS and more importantly “Khorosan” in order for the U.S empire to bomb another Muslim country. If you have observed their website recently The Intercept has not written one article that directly addresses Russia’s intervention in Syria.
What is Glenn’s point here? Is this really all he can muster on the subject of Putin buttressing the Assad regime? Is he saying that Russia’s intervention is more legitimate than the U.S intervention because the Duma authorized it and Assad apparently “invited” them into Syria while Congress didn’t approve of U.S airstrikes? Would it be more legitimate for him if Congress did approve U.S bombings?
Next up we have political cartoonist Carlos Latuff who drew a very weird cartoon on this issue.
I know that because this is a cartoon so he can use the “interpretation” defense on this but this does seem like a glorification of Russian militarism in Syria. Look at the big, proud and powerful Russian bear imposing itself on Syria with ISIS, CIA and FSA looking so scared hiding behind a rock.I really doubt he would portray Israel in this way. See this twitter exchange when he was challenged on it.
Oh good grief! Doesn’t he understand? Russia is imposing a brutal regime against the will of the Syrian people through it’s intervention, it may not be an “occupation” exactly but it is clear that Russia wants to re-establish its position in the Middle East. It is so distressing to see so called radical leftists basically advocating for the status-quo instead of against it.
Abby Martin, former presenter at RT (Putin’s propaganda network) and current presenter of The Empire Files (clever name isn’t it?) also weighed in on this.
Abby diverts attention from the issue and essentially plays the “blame America” card. Firstly, she suggests that America really is the aggressor with it’s “crimes of arming, bombing & regime change attempts” while Russia is the victim which therefore must mean that Russia’s intervention is a reasonable form of self-defence. She seems to forget that the Syrian revolution against Assad was not something that the U.S engineered rather it was an authentic and real popular revolt against tyranny in favour of democracy and freedom.
In fact, it has been Assad (supported by Iran and Putin) that has been more aggressive and contributed more to the violence through the barrel bombing of civilians, instigating vicious sectarian killings through sabiha militias and using chemical weapons. As Charles Lister brilliantly explains here, Assad is the root cause of the crisis in Syria.
She then tries to cover herself by saying the vague platitude “I condemn all bombs”. That’s the closest she gets in her entire tweets on this issue to condemning Russia’s actions in Syria. Why can’t these “anti imperialists” condemn and criticise non-US militarism in isolation and exclusively for once? If she really is against “all bombs” why can’t she explicitly criticise Russia?
Her last tweet which mentions people who “lack the moral compass to condemn their own country’s imperial projects and atrocities”. Implied in this, is the meme popularised by Glenn Greenwald and other disciples of Noam Chomsky that we should only criticise the crimes of “our countries” and not “spend the bulk of our time focusing on the crimes of the other” to quote Greenwald. This silly idea has been debunked succinctly by Alex Rowell of NOW Lebanon here.
It reminds me of Stop The War’s position on this. They issued a statement after Russian airstrikes started in which (in all fairness) they did express a soft opposition to Russian intervention by saying “Just as Stop the War has criticised US bombing…so too we cannot support Russian military action.” However last week on their website they ran an op-ed by Simon Jenkins originally published on The Guardian which criticised U.S and U.K bombings in Syria against ISIS but weirdly approved of Hizbollah and Russia’s war in Syria by claiming “The only intervention likely to work in Syria just now is from Moscow.” It is strange that a self-proclaimed “anti-war” and “anti-imperialist” organisation would run a piece like that isn’t it? But let’s assume they are as they claim to be not supportive of Russian actions in Syria, why have they not organised a protest outside the Russian embassy against Russia’s intervention to support the Assad regime and its deployment of Russian personnal? The fact they haven’t done this reveals to me that they’re not really serious about their opposition to war or intervention and it only matters when the west does it but if a non-western state does the same action then all you get from them is just apathy whilst attempting not to seem apathetic.
If you ever wanted a clearer example of the sheer hypocrisy of this “anti imperialist” mentality then look no further than George Galloway who has a history of campaigning against all forms of western interventionism and prides himself on being an “anti-imperialist”, this time however he is praising Russian airstrikes in Syria as seen in the tweet below.
What makes this even more damning as this video shows is that, not that long ago he argued against western intervention against ISIS on the grounds that it would be “counter-productive”, and that it will cause “the rise of extremism around the world” and “increase terrorism”. The video shows him in another context saying “Russia has every right, indeed obligation to act”. It is so clear that Galloway’s intentions do not come from a principled “anti-imperialism” but from anti-western hatred as Galloway himself puts it in the linked video “I’m not against airstrikes, I’m against western airstikes”.
The irony of this is that it is more likely that Russian airstrikes will be counter-productive and fuel the rise of extremism in Syria. First of all, most of the strikes haven’t even touched ISIS so instead of it being counter-productive, it’s non-productive. Second of all, we have reports of rebel factions joining with Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham and other Jihadist groups joining with Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra to fight the Russian “infidels”, echoing the legends of the Jihad of the 1980s during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (which Galloway supported). In addition The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria which participates in the insurrection against Assad issued a statement declaring Jihad obligatory on every able bodied Muslim.
It’s so clear and obvious that Galloway is not an “anti-imperialist” or even a neutral observer but a shill and propagandist for the Assad-Iran-Putin troika. Christopher Hitchens once had a brilliant saying for Galloway when he described his “search for a tyrannical fatherland” that will always continue. Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin and the list continues of despots and thugs Galloway has prostituted himself towards in order to get money, fame and a sense of purpose.
Lastly, but by no means least we have Socialist Unity publish an absolutely vile apologia for Assad and Russia’s intervention on his behalf. There is so much wrong with their defence that I’m going to keep my response as short as I can so that I don’t waste your time.
Their argument is that it is right for Russia to support the Assad regime because Assad is “opposed” to ISIS and other forces of Jihadism as well as being a vanguard for “secular modernity” in the Middle East.
“Russia’s decision to provide military support for Syria can only be considered controversial or wrong if you believe that a moral equivalence exists between ISIS and the Assad government.”
Well actually a moral equivalence does exist. Assad’s forces have been responsible for the majority of the civilian deaths in the civil war because of its deliberate targeting of civilians using chemical weapons and barrel bombs. Assad is also a hideous dictator who uses state terror and torture to repress opposition and a know state sponsor of terrorism. If there is a moral difference between Assad and ISIS then that difference is slim and marginal because he is not a Liberal Democrat by any means of the imagination.
“ In contradistinction to ISIS the Assad government is secular, believes in modernity, and upholds the rights of minorities, both Muslim and non-Muslim. More crucially, regardless of the huge campaign of demonisation that has been unleashed against it in the West, it retains the significant support of a large section of the Syrian people, who understand more than any Western diplomat, politician, or ideologue the nature of the struggle they have been engulfed in these past four and half years.”
This statement is just outstanding and so comical that it boggles the mind how people can write and publish such blatant nonsense as Assad is being “demonised” with a straight face is beyond me. Also, the usual babble about him being a modern secularist who defends the rights of minorities which has been addressed so many times. Despite this the real blatant falsehood is Assad retaining “it retains the significant support of a large section of the Syrian people”. This is just pure propaganda. I think anyone who has done any bit of research on Syria will know that each one of the claims made in the extract is pure bullshit.
Throughout this awful piece it describes Russia as “principled” and “courageous” for resisting a “foreign invasion by thousands of foreign extremists and jihadists” (notice the implicit generalisation of all rebel groups as Jihadists). And to top it all off Socialist Unity concludes with Russia is defending “civilisation itself”.
Let me be clear by stating that I am not necessarily attacking people who are principled anti-interventionists, neither am I saying that because Russia has started bombing Syria that I am absolving the U.S of any responsibility for its wrongs it has done in history. I am specifically attacking the hypocritical “anti-imperialist left” response to Russia’s intervention in support of the Assad regime that has ranged from complete apathy to explicit support for Russia. Nowadays, so much of the regressive left has been so immersed in its own virulent and bordering masochistic anti-western rhetoric and opposition to western intervention that it either ignores or even tacitly ally itself with authoritarian thugs like Putin and Assad in their actions just because they’re anti-western.
I’m still waiting for that protest outside the Russian embassy Stop the War…still waiting.