Three articles in particular come to mind, written by Ashley Smith, Anti-Imperialism and the Syrian Revolution, Terry Burke, US Activists Aren’t Listening to Progressive Syrian Voices, and Andy Berman, Reasserting Dignity in the US AntiWar Movement. The articles are strikingly similar with the same essential thesis, and the same premises. They have another point in common – they are all spectacularly dishonest.
The essential flaws of all three articles are encapsulated in the opening paragraph of Ashley Smith’s offering:
“The Syrian Revolution has tested the left internationally by posing a blunt question: Which side are you on? Do you support the popular struggle against dictatorship and for democracy? Or are you with Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, his imperial backer Russia, his regional ally Iran and Iran’s proxies like Hezbollah from Lebanon?”
The intent of the writers is to show that the true path for progressives, leftists and anti-imperialists actually lies in supporting the NATO alliance’s imperialist war on Syria, by defining it as a popular revolution, contrary to all the evidence. The writers hope to persuade the reader of the validity of this view by denigrating, undermining and patronising those in the West who support the Syrian government.
Anti-war activists are accused of standing ‘on the side of dictatorship, counterrevolution and imperialist intervention (Smith). Rather than look to imperialist powers or dictatorial regimes in either camp, the left should stand for workers’ struggle (Smith).
The real imperial power is deemed by the writers to be, of course, Russia. Although Russia, unlike the NATO alliance, has a legitimate presence in Syria, Berman sees a contradiction in Those who claim to be “antiwar” activists, but celebrate the massive Russian military intervention in Syria.Smith believes Russia is reasserting its imperial power through its all-out support for the Assad regime in Syria‘ and the left must reject imperialism in any form, including Russia’s.
Even more unhinged is the following argument from Smith’s: Libya and Syria were happy to work with Russian and Chinese imperialism. In no way can they be accurately categorized as ‘anti-imperialist’. (So on that basis, anyone can invade these countries, because Syria supposedly supports ‘imperialism’ in principle?)
Terry Burke, who manages to refer to Orwell four times in the one article, sees it as ‘Orwellian’ that opponents of the Iraq war are also opposed to the proxy war on Syria. She believes that subconscious imperialism is a major reason for opposition to the war on Syrian.
“Another factor is a deeply ingrained imperialism, an arrogant first world attitude that we know more than the rest of the planet. Orwell’s Big Brother would have approved of today’s “anti-imperialist” leaders subconsciously identifying with the state and behaving like imperialists, imposing their point of view on poorer countries. One of the basic principles for anti-imperialists should be respect for people from the Global South.”
Clearly the total disregard for the opposition of most Syrians to the fake revolution does not count as imperialism in Terry Burke’s book.
The husband and wife team of Burke and Berman, who have somehow produced articles almost identical in content, both stress the importance of listening to Syrians, It is urgent that we hear the voices of Syrians and Syrian Americans (Berman).
In her comments to her article, Burke reiterates again and again her concern over the imperialist dismissal of progressive Syrian voices. Unfortunately Burke’s ‘progressive Syrian voice’ of choice is that of Robin Yassin-Kassab, who according to his website was born and brought up in England, has spent little time in Syria, and now lives in Scotland. Most of the other ‘Syrians’ preferred by the Burke-Berman team have a similar background: they are expatriates who opportunistically peddle the NATO narrative, regardless of fact.
It’s a waste of time getting into a silly argument over who has the most Syrian contacts and sources (my Syrian friends can beat your Syrian friends). However it is hard not to wonder if, for example, Syrian natives such as the Aleppo doctors who have spoken to Eva Bartlett are quite progressive enough for Terry Burke.
It is also curious that Burke’s list of ‘white’ authors supposedly promoted by anti-war activists includes writers whose support for Syria is in doubt, such as Robert Fisk, but excludes the writers who, I suggest, are doing the most substantial research into the Syrian situation, including Rick Sterling, Eva Bartlett, Tim Anderson, Vanessa Beeley, and Eric Zuesse. (All of them published on TGP.—Eds.)
The abundant evidence that supports an imperial war on the part of the NATO alliance, on the one hand regarding the stated intent of the NATO alliance (the Wesley Clark revelations, the Yinon Plan, the Clinton emails that reveal her intention to destroy Syria for Israel), and on the other hand the overt support given to the insurgents, not to mention the lack of support for the war from Syrians themselves, is dealt with very simply – it’s totally ignored.
The argument that the anti-imperialist option is to support NATO imperialism is supported by a number of strategies, all equally dishonest. Firstly there is no attempt to engage with the intellectual position of those opposed to the war on Syria. The essential facts of the Syrian conflict, from the point of view of vocal opponents to the armed insurrection, whether anti-imperialists, people with personal knowledge of Syria, or Syrians themselves, can be summarised thus:
1: The uprising was orchestrated externally and was violent from the outset.
2: The armed insurrection is not and never has been supported by the majority of the Syrian people.
3: The insurgents now consist of ostensibly separate forces all distinguished by sectarianism, exceptional cruelty, and the presence of a large number of foreign mercenaries.
4: These forces have been externally supported by states hostile to Syria, to a value of billions of dollars.
5: The armed insurrection has been supported by a relentless and fraudulent propaganda campaign.
6: A large number of so-called humanitarian organisations have been overtly and dishonestly campaigning against the Syrian government.
Another point could be added: that Syria is seen as the front, one battle in a war that has seen the destruction of Iraq and Libya, and if lost will be followed by the destruction of Iran. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah sums up the importance of the Syrian conflict well (especially from 6.40 mins, but it’s worth watching the whole 10 minutes).
The involvement of Hezbollah, Palestinian troops, Iran, Iraq, Russia, and now China – in the war for Syria (which is all in accordance with international law) and a successful outcome, is in the interests of Syria, the greater Middle East and the whole world.
Smith and co. do not even acknowledge these conclusions, let alone confront them with data and analysis. Instead they rely on unsubstantiated claims and on patronising and denigrating those who support the Syrian government, employing emotive language and a raft of fallacious arguments, including argumenta ad hominum and dubious appeals to authority.
All three rely on a set of facts that are straight out of the NATO alliance’s propaganda handbook, with no acknowledgement either of the wealth of research that exposes them as lies, OR that they are in conflict with the assumptions of the people they are claiming to address. They include:
1: There was an initially non-violent popular uprising of a mass character (out there in Dera’a – if you don’t know where that is, try Googling).
2: US couldn’t possibly be backing ISIS.
3: The US does not seek regime change in Syria
4: Self-defined ‘humanitarian’ organisations are by their very nature reliable sources of information (Berman has described the funder and controller of these organisations, convicted fraudster George Soros, as a wise and generous philanthropist).
5: Assad is a hated figurehead [sic], a brutal dictator who has massacred some 400,000 Syrians.
6: Assad is besieging ‘Aleppo’ (all of it, it would seem …).
7: The regime carried out the chemical attack on East Ghouta.
8: Atrocities by the Syrian government far outweigh crimes by the (headchopping, cannibalistic) opposition fighters.[There is no record of Syrian Army soldiers chopping off an opponent’s head and then ringing his mother to gloat, but let’s not be picky.]
There is no acknowledgement that all these claims are at best controversial (bare-faced lies, many would say). On the contrary, there is an assumption that no other views exist, and this is perhaps the most obnoxious, the most dishonest aspect of these articles.
Having totally ignored the conclusions reached by pro-Syrian activists (and the huge body of research leading to those conclusions), the authors then pretend that activists actually agree with their own dishonest assertions of fact.
Anti-war activists, according to Smith, Burke and Berman, know and accept the facts relating to the Syrian war as defined by them, but choose to ignore or undervalue them for reasons that are unworthy or pusillanimous, eg. from moral or intellectual failure. Thus, those who disagree with Smith and Co. are presumed to really believe that the revolution is a popular one, eg. that therebels ( the terrorist groups indistinguishable from al Qaeda and ISIS) have popular support in Syria, and that the Syrian government is committing horrific crimes, but are prepared to overlook them. Ashley Smith:[identical talking points to that of US-NATO policy statements:]
“A whole section of the left […] have turned a blind eye to Assad’s massacre of some 400,000 Syrians, and his regime’s use of barrel bombs, chemical weapons and barbaric sieges of cities like Aleppo.”
Opposition to this popular revolution, therefore, can only stem from the most unworthy motivations, nothing to do with issues peculiar to Syria, or a growing sense of horror because of Iraq and Libya. Anti-war activists are accused of knee-jerk anti-Americanism. Smith repeatedly accuses his opponents of ‘campism’ – they don’t want to support US imperialism, so feel they have to side with Assad and Russia . As Burke says:
“A major reason for the support of Assad is that some organizations believe “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” For them it is a simple knee jerk analysis. If the United States opposes Assad, they support him.”
Well-intentioned but weak activists are led astray:
“Many decent antiwar activists, some with long histories of determined, heroic commitment, allow the dogmatists, who hide behind a phony banner of “anti-imperialism”, to set the agenda for the antiwar movement” (Berman).
But as well as being weak, activists are also arrogant, according to both Burke and Smith:
“Leaving everything else aside, such arguments display an arrogant dismissal–not unlike defenders of imperialism–of the capacity of exploited and oppressed people to fight for liberation” (Smith).
It goes without saying that all three writers adopt the normal practice of terrorist supporters in referring to the Syrian government as the regime (which is apparently deeply despised), or Assad and his henchmen, Chechen headchoppers as rebels and the proxy war as a revolution. Perhaps the most shameless statement of all is Smith’s ‘those who rose up for democracy and justice continue to bear the brunt of the violence’.
Another example of Smith’s warped logic is the suggestion that, opposition to the NATO alliance’s war on Syria can be identified with supporting the Russians crushing the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring in 1968 and Poland’s Solidarity in 1981, not to mention Mao’s cultural revolution, the Chinese oppression of Tibet and the Robert Mugabe revolution.
Smith, Burke and Berman are relentlessly dishonest on all fronts: their claim that their own position represents progress and anti-imperialism, their failure to engage with or even acknowledge the intellectual position of anti-war activists, and the pretense that anti-war activists fundamentally agree with the most outrageous claims of NATO propaganda but choose to ignore them.
It is impossible not to feel disgust and contempt for those who who claim to be ‘left’, ‘progressive’ ‘socialist’ or ‘anti-imperialist’ but who are blatantly promoting NATO imperialism in the Middle East. The assumption that there is a large number of people who are vocal in their opposition to the fake revolution in Syria, but who have some overweening desire to be classified as ‘left’ or ‘socialist’ by the likes of Ashley Smith naturally provokes ridicule: ‘if that’s being left-wing, then I certainly am not’.
However the material is written for a purpose, to promote and facilitate the proxy war on Syria, which aims to weaken and control that country before NATO turns its attention to Iran.
No matter how distasteful it may be to engage with work so ruthlessly mendacious, it is essential to expose the inherent dishonesty of writers like Smith, Burke and Berman wherever it shows itself.
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