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A Response to Shamus Cooke

Why Obama Did Not Make War on Syria

by LOUIS PROYECT

To give Shamus Cooke some credit, he is the first pro-Assad leftie to acknowledge that the invasion of Syria bent on regime change did not occur, reminding me somewhat of a TV weatherman sheepishly admitting against a backdrop of blue skies and bright sunshine that a predicted hurricane had failed to materialize. If a meteorologist keeps making such mistakes on a consistent basis, he or she might lose their job. Those on the left have no such worries. In Cooke’s latest CounterPunch article titled “Obama’s New Middle East Strategy”, he states: “By agreeing to the Russian plan of eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons, Obama admitted humiliating defeat and signaled that the U.S. was abandoning the proxy war against the Syrian government…”

Now who in their right mind wouldn’t be happy that a hurricane was averted? Well, maybe those Syrian ingrates living in rocket-blasted tenements inside Syria or in refugee camps outside the country dealing with polio, starvation and bitter cold but they are expendable in the grand struggle against imperialism. After all, as comrade Stalin used to say, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”

Since Obama is reported to have said that he is “good at killing people”, according to a new book on the 2012 campaign written by a couple of inside-the-beltway hacks, one wonders why he accepted a “humiliating defeat” on Syria. Never one to shy away from hyperbole, Cooke tells us that Obama faced “immense domestic and international opposition” and that his “last minute retreat was a historic blow to U.S. foreign policy, along the lines of the U.S. defeat in Vietnam.” Odd, it took nearly a decade of demonstrations involving a half-million at their peak and an American public tired of casualties numbering hundreds per week to finally dislodge imperialism from Indochina. But Obama backed off because why? The ANSWER coalition’s 200 strong protest at the army recruiting station in Times Square? Gee whiz, the ruling class is a lot more scared of us than I possibly could have imagined. Let’s work on seizing power, comrades, right after we stop those fracking bastards from polluting our water, the drone attacks on “terrorists” everywhere, and NSA snooping. We are so strong and they are so weak, after all. The sky’s the limit.

Bashar al-Assad remains popular with the “anti-imperialist” left no matter what. I imagine that if he began poisoning the wells of pro-FSA villages with arsenic, his defenders would find justification for that. Since that falls short of the “red line”, he is entitled to use any weapon of his choice, right? All’s fair in love and war. They don’t even seem particularly bothered that al-Assad has lavished praise on the Egyptian military for its coup against Morsi and its rapidly escalating drive to recreate the conditions of the Mubarak dictatorship. Cooke finds much more than a silver lining in the army’s crackdown. It is in fact a blow against imperialism.

The revolutionary mobilizations against U.S. ally Muhammad Morsi brought forth a military government that, according to its public statements and state media, is taking a staunchly anti-U.S. position. The many analysts who called Morsi’s ouster a “U.S. coup” should be re-thinking their position, as Morsi was profoundly more pro-U.S. than his replacement.

Interesting to see that everything is reduced to either being pro or anti-U.S. Cooke does not care one bit that the coup might be anti-Egypt, just as long as it is simultaneously anti-U.S. One can even say that the Egyptian dictatorship might end up completely on the side of the angels given what al-Sisi’s press adviser said recently: “The positive stance of President Vladimir Putin towards the June revolution was behind the rise in his popularity.” If Putin is keen on Bashar al-Assad, why wouldn’t he be keen on General al-Sisi as well? They are both on the front lines against sharia law and the hijab, the bane of the late Christopher Hitchens and Paul Berman. Not to be outdone, Secretary of State John Kerry just announced that the coup was the first step in moving Egypt toward democracy. With the U.S. and Russia seeing eye to eye on the Egyptian “revolution”, maybe there’s a chance for a new Popular Front with openings for socialists in the State Department a la Alger Hiss. That would be a good gig for Shamus Cooke.

Although people like Shamus Cooke, Phyllis Bennis, and Pepe Escobar, and groups like the PSL and the SEP, were warning about a Bush-style war on Syria for well over a year, a crescendo was reached after the Sarin gas attack in Ghouta on August 21. Obama was forced to take a tough stand verbally even though there was little likelihood of following through. The pro-Baathist left saw this as a showdown approximating the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, even viewing the massacre of enemies of the dictatorship as perpetrated by the rebels in a false flag operation like the Gulf of Tonkin attack on American warships. Alan Freeman, the Marxist economist who gallivants from conference to conference, warned: “The US state is trying to start World War III by mobilising a Europe-US coalition to retake the ground lost to an opposition which, by the admission of its own most prominent defector, commands the support of at most 4 million out of 24 million of the people of Syria.”

Unlike the semi-hysterical Western left, the Putin-controlled media had a sharper take on what was happening.

USA disavows all Syrian rebels.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said that the Syrian rebels could not promote U.S. interests at this stage. The “Hawk” who recently proposed five options of Syrian intervention has surrendered. The statement marked the position of the military that do not recommend a direct U.S. involvement in the conflict in Syria.

So the Russians thought the U.S. had “surrendered” even before Obama began to talk tough. Of course, for some whatever Dempsey might say could be turned into its opposite. The World Socialist Website that has been ardently Baathist from the start of the Arab Spring wrote:

In a letter written to Congress in June in June, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, proposed a scenario involving “stand-off strikes” which would target “high-value air defense, air, ground, missile and naval forces, as well as the supporting military facilities and command nodes… Stand-off air and missile systems could be used to strike hundreds of targets at a tempo of our choosing.

As is so often the case with these people, they only print what bolsters their argument—sometimes referred to as cherry-picking. Dempsey’s letter simply offered the politicians possible military measures but warned at the same time that should “the regime’s institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists.” Considering the fact that the “anti-imperialist” left considers everybody and anybody picking up a gun against Bashar al-Assad to be an extremist with beards down to their toes, including the women, you have to wonder why they ever worried about “regime change” to begin with.

In trying to figure out what made Obama “surrender”, you are better off reading the N.Y. Times than a sectarian like Shamus Cooke. In a revealing article titled “Obama’s Uncertain Path Amid Syria Bloodshed” that appeared in the October 22nd N.Y. Times, we learn that Obama was “deeply ambivalent” about Syria from the start. Benjamin J. Rhodes, his deputy national security adviser told the N.Y. Times: “In the absence of any good options, people have lifted up military support for the opposition as a silver bullet, but it has to be seen as a tactic — not a strategy.” And if it was a tactic, it was only one to be weighed carefully and not adopted pell-mell like Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

Even at the start of the revolt, when Bashar al-Assad was on the ropes, “Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” Well, no matter. Even if this was obviously his intention, there were those who remain convinced that “another Iraq” was in the offing. Not a month went by without a warning that “regime change” was about to happen.

Cooke naturally chose the fervently pro-Baathist Global Research to reveal The Truth Behind the Coming “Regime Change” in Syria all the way back in January of 2012. Now, after nearly two years, he finally is forced to admit that there is a “new” White House policy on Syria and the Middle East. Of course, anybody with the most tenuous grasp on reality could have told him that there was nothing “new” about the policy. “Regime change” was like a mantra repeated daily to make the chanter feel like they were fighting imperialism. If you wrote enough articles in Global Research and mounted enough noisy but tiny protests in Times Square, you were guaranteed to tilt the balance in favor of the “progressive” and “secular” Baathist state.

Obama was supported in his “non-intervention” policy by Susan Rice who warned that “arming the rebels would draw the United States into a murky conflict that could consume the agenda of the president’s second term and would probably make little difference on the chaotic battlefield.” Is that the same Susan Rice who Vijay Prashad described as “the queen of the interventionist hawks”? Yes, it is. Unfortunately many of our smartest analysts forgot that the imperialists operate more on realpolitik than principle. Kissinger put it best when he said that the U.S. does not have permanent friends or enemies, only interests.

Speaking of which, isn’t that phone call between Obama and President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran redolent of Nixon’s trip to China? For the past two years at least, we have been told over and over again that “regime change” in Syria was merely prelude to one in Iran. Just a month ago, Cooke laid out this scenario:

It’s very possible that Obama is trying to provoke a strong reaction from Syria to give the U.S. public a “real” reason to escalate the war. Any attack on Syria also has the possibility of bringing Iran into the conflict, since Iran and Syria have a mutual defense pact. And this may be the ultimate goal: to provoke Iran into getting involved militarily, so that the U.S. would have a justification to expand the war into Iran, which has been in the U.S. crosshairs for years.

A week after Rouhani was elected, I told someone on Facebook who thought along the same lines as Cooke that a rapprochement with the new government might be possible, something he rejected out of hand. Now we hear from Cooke that Obama is making overtures to Rouhani because unlike Ahmadinejad he is open to Western investments in Iranian oil. Unfortunately, Cooke does not seem quite on top of developments in Iran. In drawing a contrast between the sell-out Rouhani and the uncompromising Ahmadinejad, he has ignored the facts on the ground as the Guardian reported on September 21st:

Iranian hardliners appear to have given their tacit support to president Hassan Rouhani as the moderate cleric prepares to travel to New York on what could be a critically important visit to the United Nations, which may include a historic meeting with his American counterpart.

Hawkish fundamentalists, including the elite Revolutionary Guards close to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have refrained from demonstrating opposition to Rouhani’s new bid to pursue “constructive engagement” with the international community. This could include talks over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme and the Syrian conflict. The Iranian president is keen to show the world that he has a united country behind him.

Khamenei, long a fierce critic of the US, has thrown his weight behind Rouhani, apparently giving his blessing for direct talks between Rouhani and President Barack Obama, which could take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly this week. And Iran’s opposition activists and politicians, given new heart after Rouhani’s victory in June, appear to share support for the new president in his attempt to improve relations with the west.

There’s a problem in reducing politics to litmus tests as to which state is pro-U.S. or anti-U.S., a bad habit of the “anti-imperialist” wing of the left that has little interest in what Syrian or Iranian Marxists stand for. In my view, the most urgent task facing the left today is uniting socialists, not disgusting third world dictators like Qaddafi or al-Assad who are worshipped because Nicholas Kristof editorializes against them.

Recently, an Iranian comrade informed me about a new website called http://praxies.org that presents a Marxist analysis of Iran by Iranians. In their most recent article on sanctions they write:

Two years have passed since the intensification and diversification of sanctions against Iran; among which delimitation of Iran oil purchase, embargo on bank system and international financial transactions, sanctions against key industries such as petrochemicals, deterrence of imports of production raw materials and tools, and deterrence of specialty goods can be mentioned. Oil sanctions, decrease of Iran’s foreign income, and restriction of access to the income from oil sales have left the country with barter trades in order to import its staples; what practically puts Iran in the road to the tragic destiny Iraqi people faced by “Oil-for-Food Programme” after the first gulf war. Sanction on the central bank of Iran and boycott on currency transactions through SWIFT have resulted in 90 per cent disorder in foreign trade which led to expensiveness of consumer products and scarcity of some vital products including medications. Therefore, it can be said that the most conspicuous pressure dimension of the sanctions on public masses is manifested as scarceness and shortage of pharmaceutical items; to the extent that a significant number of patients who couldn’t afford to buy their medications form “illegal” markets have lost their lives. This fact per se symbolically reveals how economic sanctions are linked with gradual death of peoples.

Now we are clearly witnessing the direct and indirect impacts of sanctions on economic status and sustenance of laborers and the poors; on one hand, inflation growth has increased consumer products prices, and on the other hand, the domestic production level has decreased due to expensiveness/scarcity of raw materials and technical equipments. Consequently, the previous closedown or semi-closedown process of factories and workshops has intensified. The process has not only increased consumer products prices, but also played its role in increasing of unemployment rate and job insecurity. Furthermore, reduction of oil sales has caused reduction of government’s resource allocation and investment in economic projects, accompanied by a fall in foreign investments, in turn accelerated the unemployment rate and over-complications of employment status. Thus, sanctions have imposed growing advancement of the following: shrinkage of households’ food basket and epidemic of malnutrition, reduction of access to staple goods, rise of unemployment and further hardening of employment conditions, reduction of safety level in work environments, reduction of public health and medical care levels, etcetera; in a way that the pressure from these circumstance has driven the sustenance hardships to a the edge of crisis.

Read full http://praxies.org/?p=3019

I leave it to people like Shamus Cooke to build relationships with the Egyptian army, the blood-soaked Baathist tyranny, and the Kremlin. I, on the other hand, am looking to get closer to the people capable of writing such an analysis.

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.