Hypocrisy and Syria

Few spectacles have been more surreal than senior US officials – starting with the President, the Secretary of State and the US ambassador to the UN – solemnly lecturing Assad and his beleaguered Syrian government on the need to accommodate rebel forces whose GCC sponsors are intent on slaughtering the ruling Alawite minority or driving them into the sea.

At one grimly hilarious moment last Friday, these worthy sermons were buttressed by a message from Ayman al-Zwahiri, the head of al-Qaeda, therefore presumably the number one target on President Obama’s hit list, similarly praising the ‘Lions of Syria’ for rising up against the Assad regime. Al-Qaeda and the White House in sync!

The last time the United States faced serious internal dissent was in the 1960s and early 1970s, from war resisters and black and Native American movements. The government responded instantly with a methodical program of violent repression, including a well-documented agenda of assassination.

In 1993, the first year of the Clinton administration, federal agents launched an armed assault on a religious group in a compound outside Waco, Texas. The Feds deemed the compound and the Branch Davidians therein, headed by David Koresh, an affront to their authority.  After seven weeks, Attorney General Janet Reno concluded that negotiation with the besieged Christian fundamentalists was useless and ordered an assault. Seventy-six Branch Davidians were burned alive. Autopsies showed that five children were among those shot to death by federal agents. The outcome was widely endorsed by the national press and Attorney General Reno commended for her resolve.

No one could doubt that determined separatist activity or armed challenges to the government of the United States are always met with immediate, overwhelming and lethal ferocity. For further historical illustration I recommend an interview with any moderately informed American Indian or black.

For a while it looked as though Obama’s government was being swept into yet another intervention, ranging itself shoulder-to-shoulder with the GCC coalition, headed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, stoking the fires in Syria. That momentum was certainly checked by the Russian and Chinese veto of the US-backed resolution presented to the UN Security Council.

Maybe it’s fanciful, but perhaps enthusiasm for underwriting the destruction of the Syrian state was somewhat undermined by the late Anthony Shadid’s excellent report from Libya in the New York Times of  February 9. Shadid (struck down by an asthma attack at the end of last week on the Syrian-Turkish border)  described a dismembered country, rent by banditry, torture and summary executions.

Civil war in Syria would be of a brutality and level of bloodshed far beyond what is transpiring in Libya – as veterans of Lebanon’s civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990, or of the sectarian bloodletting in Iraq in 2006-07, can attest.

There is no doubt that Assad’s police state is corrupt and brutal. There is every reason to press Assad towards reform. But it has become plain that negotiated reform is not on the agenda of the rebels. To the contrary, the bombs that killed 28 and wounded 235 in Aleppo, no doubt set by Sunni suicide bombers, probably operating through al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, were intended to elicit government repression, not to encourage negotiation.

The performance of the western press has been almost uniformly disgraceful. In the wake of the Aleppo atrocities, network journalists blandly quoted spokesmen for the Syrian rebels that the Syrian security forces had blown themselves up to discredit the rebels.

Aisling Byrne of Conflicts Forum recently described in considerable detail the propaganda machine that has provided a non-stop flow of mendacious bulletins eagerly seized upon by the western press.

As Byrne reported, “Of the three main sources for all data on numbers of protesters killed and numbers of people attending demonstrations – the pillars of the narrative – all are part of the ‘regime change’ alliance. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in particular, is reportedly funded through a Dubai-based fund with pooled (and therefore deniable) Western-Gulf money (Saudi Arabia alone has, according to Elliot Abrams allocated US$130 billion to ‘palliate the masses’ of the Arab Spring). What appears to be a nondescript British-based organization, the Observatory has been pivotal in sustaining the narrative of the mass killing of thousands of peaceful protesters using inflated figures, ‘facts’, and often exaggerated claims of ‘massacres’ and even recently ‘genocide’.”

But will the US really mount a covert supply effort to the Syrian rebels? The US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, may use the undiplomatic word “disgusting” to describe the Russian and Chinese vetoes, but perhaps these vetoes came as something of a relief, getting the US off the hook, in terms of action rather than rhetoric. An article in The Washington Post of 11 February was headlined: “As carnage builds, US sees ‘no good options’ on Syria”. In the story, the reporter wrote that the US government has “no appetite for a military intervention”.

Does Israel really crave Assad’s fall, a prolonged period of anarchy and the probable emergence of a Sunni regime eager to confront Israel? All in all, Syria under the Assad dynasty has been a relatively good neighbor. Turkey has its own Kurdish problems which Syria could exacerbate if it wanted to. The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia was careful to tell the New York Times that “international intervention had to be ruled out”.

Assad has been written off many times in recent months. Israel’s Ehud Barak said a while ago he would be gone in weeks. In December the US State Department described Assad as “a dead man walking”. But Syria is not Libya. Assad commands an army that has remained loyal. Large numbers of Syrians gaze into the abyss and decide that, all things considered, they don’t want to follow the fate of Lebanon, Iraq or of Libya. The obits for Assad’s regime have been premature. He could be with us for a while yet and it seems that behind the thunderous rhetoric the US government may be accommodating to that fact. On the other hand, Peter Lee in his excellent, very well informed report on this site this weekend, remarks, “My take on the situation is that the United States is willing to let the GCC chew up Syria as a consolation prize for not going all out on regime change against Iran.”

Tumbril Time!

A  tumbril (n.)   a dung cart used for carrying manure, now associated with the transport of prisoners to the guillotine during the French Revolution. 

The Other” made its long awaited appearance before the Revolutionary Tribunal presided over by Prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville. Popular feeling ran high on the grounds that “the other” was  actually a German spy operating under the cover name “Fichte”, intent on undermining the Revolution by preaching divisiveness. “L’Autre à la lanterne!” was the vociferous popular chorus.

“The Other” made a poor impression in the hearing, standing in a posture of less than manly albeit slightly insolent submission and speaking mysteriously about “inter-subjectivity” but – perhaps fatally — also alluding to the “master-slave” relationship in a manner that displayed insufficient passion in denouncing the abominable practice of slavery, ended in all French colonies the previous February, 1794.

“The Other” mustered a large number of character witness, ranging from the philosopher Hegel, to the psychoanalyst Lacan to writers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, to Reason editor Jesse Walker (who defended “the other” as having “an eldritch quality I like — academic jargon that feels Lovecraftian”) to  the literary critic Edward Said who spoke of the stigmatization of “the Other” in terms of what he termed – to Prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville’s  visible bewilderment – “Orientalism” and “western domination of the colonial subject.” Prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville  responded sharply  that though the term “Orientalism” was unknown to him, he had long noted “the Other”  as a subversive element in institutions of higher learning, sabotaging clear thought with “modish catchphrases long since drained of useful content.” Fouquier-Tinville pointed sternly to recent successful prosecutions of “narrative” and “post-colonial.”

The hearing was suspended to permit speedy trial of “nuanced,” unanimously condemned to the guillotine by the jury.

Now this, from CounterPuncher JoAnn Wypijewski: “sexual abuse  is a term that ought to be summarily dispatched to the tumbrils, as it has lost any shred of meaning, which is the whole point in this extended night of moral panic. There is no need whatsoever for this term, except to obfuscate. There are plain terms, readily understood, with common meanings (or more common): rape, forced fellatio — strange, you never hear of forced cunnilingus – [Oh yes you do, see Jeffrey St Clair’s recent  essay on Willie Dixon, AC] , exhibitionism, leering, groping, finger-fucking, pawing, dirty talk, kidnapping, exploitation in x, y and z ways (yes, that would require more words–how burdensome  is precision), unwanted touching, unwanted hugging…

“The list is long because people may experience, or claim to experience, different things as abuse. But abuse is potent in law, and is therefore a handmaid of prosecution. In the various sex panic stories over the past twenty years ‘sexual abuse’ has meant everything from fantasized Satanic black masses to actual rape to nudity in the YMCA showers. (That last is not a flourish; the Catholic Church caved,  paying out tens of thousands of dollars to people who said they saw Father Geoghan walk around naked in the YMCA shower room, nothing else. He, as you recall, was murdered in prison to the cheers of the liberal faithful after he was convicted for touching a kid’s ass while pulling him out of a pool.) Let’s call things by their names. And let’s restore ‘fondling’, a word that has been yanked into the sexual abuse bag, to its proper place in the realm of sexual play. ‘Molestation’ is a fine word, and one no one would confuse with ‘fondling’. Without the catch-all ‘abuse’, people might be able to claw their way back to sanity by distinguishing what is harmless or unruly or actually criminal.

“And while we’re at it, let’s throw sex offender into the tumbril. As it is, a sex offender might be: a rapist; a child who draws a stick figure with breasts and penis, a child who plays doctor with another or kisses another or slaps the ass of another or asks the teacher for a hug; a teacher who gives a hug; a voyeur; a collector of porn; a kidnapper and torturer; an exhibitionist; a person caught urinating in public; a high school senior who has sex with a high school freshman; anyone who transmits sexual pictures to another person; anyone who transmits pictures that some policeman decides are sexual to another person; anyone caught having sex in the bushes of a public park, etc. etc.

“Like terrorist, ‘sex offender’ is most useful in defining a group of people out of the realm of rights, making them a new category of human being, against whom any atrocity of the state is considered acceptable.

“Exception: ‘self-abuse’, which in its blur of rigor and humor is far more evocative of the act it describes than masturbation, onanism, self-pleasuring, jacking off, etc.”

Thank you JoAnn. Prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville is giving the case his urgent attention.

CounterPuncher Steve Leonard writes:

“They seem to be tighter than a congenital syndactylism: the vast majorities.  I wonder if there are majorities vaster than vast, or what the vastest of the vast majorities might look like?  What about those majorities less than vast?  Are they sub-vast or semi-vast or half-vast?  Surely the vast majority of your readers will approve the tumbril ride for vast majority.”

This just in from  Philip Bittenbender

“Alex, Speaking of time plans:  Looking forward, it is now time to backtrack, reverse course, touch base, get on the same page, let bygones be bygones and then, regroup and move forward with best practices. (!) Keep up the good work. Phil B.”

Into the tumbrils with them. And while we’re at it, let’s toss in  the last analysis, end of the day, both doomed to the same implacable blade that dispatched the bottom line a few weeks ago.

The New York Times continues to be disfigured  by the “well” plague. Here is Jesse McKinley in his piece “Whatever Happened to First Class?”: “This was the high life, I figured, a conviction that only intensified when the flight attendant approached with a silver tray and addressed me — unprompted — as ‘Mr. McKinley.’ Then he handed me, well, a towel. Or sort of.”

Why did he hand him well-a-towell? Would not a simple towel have sufficed?

McKinley’s piece, quite amusing on the topic of the low ebb to which first class seating on planes has now fallen, contained this marvelous bit of corporate-speak: “And those are just the perks on the plane. According to Fern Fernandez, managing director for marketing and customer loyalty of US Airways, for some customers they pale in comparison with the biggest prize of all: less time waiting to get on. ‘Domestically, it’s that ability to have an expedited experience in the boarding process,’ he said. ‘And having a little extra space.’

The same NYT  edition also featured Mark Bittman on Indian restaurants in London: “But those that offer the real deal are amazing, and frankly have more guts than those that cater to, well, a white-tablecloth clientele.”

Bringing up the rear was repeat offender Paul Krugman: “Finally, there’s Mr. Romney, who will probably get the nomination despite his evident failure to make an emotional connection with, well, anyone.”

Let’s close out with persuasive denunciations from  Pepe Escobar of Asia Times:

“Dear Alex,  I suggest the weaponized tumbrilization of “international community” to the sound of David Bowie’s Scary Monsters, Super Creeps. This is NOT a community, and –  as a NATO/GCC compound – it couldn’t be more provincial. And while we’re at it, why not tumbrilize ‘staunch ally’ as well?  All the best, Pepe/Asia Times.”

Our latest newsletter

In this wonderful newsletter: Why Mormon men can’t be trusted — An ex-Mormon woman looks back at the Church.”

I’ve never met a Mormon man who has any real respect for women. First of all, if you’re a Mormon man, then you believe you’re going to have multiple wives [in the afterlife]. So, even though he’s not acting on the will of God at this point in time here, on earth, to have many wives, a Mormon will tell you that this will be a commandment again definitely in the afterlife. To Mormons, life on earth is just a twinkling of an instant in the rest of your life. If you’re a good Mormon, you can go on to become a God and have your own planet and worshippers. So, there’s no basis to really and truly love and respect your wife because there’s going to be another, or many more, in the afterlife.

So, Mitt Romney, clearly a devout Mormon, looks at Mrs. Romney and he’s thinking, I love Ann, but …

Yes, he might be looking at the Relief Society president of his ward and thinking, Wow, maybe she’ll be mine in the afterlife. It just doesn’t exactly lead to respect for women to have their husbands thinking like that.

Because here’s this wife you have just for the twinkling of an eye, and then, when you die…

Well, she’ll be your wife still, but maybe your sister-in-law will be your wife too.

For more, from the ex-Mormon woman, read the newsletter.

Fifty years ago  a group of students in the American midwest issued a document rather portentously titled “The Port Huron Statement.” It was the founding manifesto of Students for a Democratic  Society (SDS), and became one of the most famous documents of that momentous and creative decade.

Read any history of the upsurges in the United States in the 1960s written over the past three decades and you’ll at once encounter tributes to SDS as on the cutting edge of radical organizing – in the battles against racial discrimination, particularly in the South; in the protests against the Vietnam War; and more largely in the aim of young people in the 1960s to break the shackles of the  cold-war consensus that had paralysed independent thought and spread fear of McCarthyite purges through the whole of what remained of the organized left in America, in the labor movement, the churches and in the universities.

SDS was founded in 1960 and in the summer of 1962  held its first convention just outside the Michigan town of Port Huron, on the US-Canadian border an hour’s drive north of Detroit. Presented to this gathering was a manifesto  initially drafted by a former student at the University of Michigan – Tom Hayden – and  revised by committee and finally delivered to the world as the Port Huron statement.

We are people of this generation,” it began, “ bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit. When we were kids the United States was the wealthiest and strongest country in the world: the only one with the atom bomb, the least scarred by modern war, an initiator of the United Nations that we thought would distribute Western influence throughout the world. …As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss…”

I’m going to leave you hanging there, because the remainder of this essay on the Port Huron statement is to be found in our latest newsletter.

PLUS Two ounces of oil + a fishing boat + Homeland Security Incident #995038 = the onward march of totalitarianism in America. Read Captain Pete Knutson’s chilling story.


Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com








Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.