Selling imperialist propaganda in an anti-imperialist wrapper

any resemblance to persons living or dead or quoted in this article is entirely coincidental

any resemblance to persons living or dead or quoted in this article is entirely coincidental


edited 02/08/16

As we predicted a few weeks ago, the Washington war party seems to have seized the initiative from the “lame duck” Obama administration over Syria and is currently pushing hard for a direct confrontation with the Syrian Arab Army, and possibly with Russia. Extreme anti-Assad hate porn has been saturating the press in what looks very much like a bid to “normalise the unthinkable” and prep us for a major war.
So, why are Counterpunch and the Socialist Worker choosing such a time to present a piece on Syria by Ashley Smith that reads like a briefing from the Clinton campaign or Kagan’s Foreign Policy Initiative?
We aren’t going to leap on a bandwagon and accuse Counterpunch or the SW of discreditable intentions. Counterpunch in particular has been a source of hugely valuable anti-imperialist commentary for very many years and it would be incredibly arrogant for we newcomers not to give it every respect for that. But what are they thinking here?
Smith tries to present this piece as a condemnation of the “campist” left for its kneejerk siding with a “brutal dictator”( Assad), simply because he is being attacked by the US imperialists. Maybe the Counterpunch co-editor (Jeffrey St. Clair) who defended the piece was convinced by this?  And it might  be fair enough, if that was really Smith’s point. We’re the first to agree Assad isn’t beyond criticism and shouldn’t be sanctified by the “enemy of my enemy” syndrome. We’re the first to acknowledge he should be named a tyrant – if that is what he is. But Smith’s article doesn’t come close to producing any evidence that Assad is a tyrant or a “brutal dictator.” It doesn’t even try. It just settles for a lot of familiar misdirection, such as this:

The regime carried out a chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus in 2013…

Why would such a gratuitous lie by omission be perpetrated by any author trying to bring honest analysis to bear? Why does Smith offer no balancing mention that even the corporate media has admitted there is no proof who perpetrated the Ghouta attack? Or that investigative journalists and people on the ground have amassed considerable amounts of data (see also here and here and here) pointing to it being perpetrated by the Turkish and US(imperial)-backed rebels?
But in case you’re thinking this is just an isolated slip of judgement on Smith’s part, do please read his entire article, and take note of these selected highlights:

“..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?..”

“…Since then, they [the US] 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. Today, 11 million people–half the country’s population–have been displaced, with the Assad regime responsible for the lion’s share of the death and destruction…”

“..In reality, the U.S. retreated in general from outright regime change as its strategy in the Middle East after the failure of its invasion and occupation of Iraq. The main priority behind the alternative direction for U.S. imperialism pursued by Barack Obama is that the U.S. should avoid destabilizing regimes for fear of the chaos that ensues in the aftermath…”

“…The campist misreadings, however, have led them to the conclusion that the U.S. government is pulling the strings in the rebellion in Syria. Some have gone so far as to argue–absurdly–that the U.S. backs ISIS against Assad. Ironically, this puts the campists in agreement with Donald Trump, who, in his latest ravings, claims that Obama and Clinton were “founders” of ISIS.

“…In Syria, however, Washington’s goal is obvious, and has been for some time: It doesn’t want regime change. Perhaps the hated figurehead of Assad will be pushed aside, but U.S. policy from the beginning has been to preserve the core of Assad’s state….. Why? Above all, the U.S. fears an unpredictable outcome, whether as a result of the advance of the Nusra Front or ISIS–but especially in the form of a popular revolution…”

“…In its initial stages, the uprising in Syria had a nonviolent and mass character, but the savage repression and violence carried out by the regime militarized the conflict. The U.S. blocked the shipment of heavy weaponry, such as anti-aircraft systems, that would have strengthened secular and democratic forces that have borne the brunt of the Assad regime’s terror…”

“…Today, Washington’s goals are to wipe out ISIS and to secure a negotiated settlement in Syria that preserves the regime, if not Assad himself. In America’s camp, regional powers like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have tried to push the envelope even further, backing various jihadist forces to strengthen their position in region and weaken their opponents, from Assad to Iran, as well as challengers from below such as the Kurds…”

“…On the other side of the international geopolitical rivalry, Russia–profoundly weakened since its defeat in the Cold War a quarter century ago–is reasserting its imperial power through its all-out support for the Assad regime in Syria…”

So, how many approved mainstream Syria-tropes has Smith managed to crowbar into his piece in the guise of telling it like it is to the comrades? Let’s run through the checklist :

  • The a priori demonisation of the “brutal” Assad regime (“responsible for the lion’s share of the destruction”)and its allegedly “imperial” territorially ambitious Russian backers, together with the sanctification of the allegedly “populist” alleged “rebels” without qualification, substantiation or historical perspective? Check…
  • Promotion of the myth that Assad is known beyond doubt to have committed the Ghouta atrocity, and total suppression of any contesting possibility? Check…
  • Promotion of the myth that “barrel bombs” are a form of terror weapon worse than conventional bombs or shells, and that they are being used by, and exclusively by, the Syrian regime? Check
  • Promotion of the myth the US is a helpless bystander to the chaos, regardless of the mountain of evidence to the contrary? Check
  • Promotion of the myth the US “fears” unpredictable outcomes, even though it routinely induces them wherever it goes (Libya, Somalia, Iraq, Ukraine)?Check…
  • Promotion of the myth the US only went into Syria to “stabilise” the situation and/or to “fight ISIS”? Check…
  • Promotion of the myth that Assad is directly responsible for the “400,000 dead”, when even the UN rep who estimated this figure was making a guess at the number killed in the five years of civil war as a whole? Check.
  • Promotion of the myth that Assad is “hated” in Syria and refusal to acknowledge the evidence to the contrary? Check.
  • Promotion of the myth that Aleppo, as a whole, is under siege by the SAA, and the denial by omission of the truth that the city is split in two or that al Nusra is shelling and killing civilians in the west of the city? Check
  • Denial by omission of the entire question of legality or the requirement to abide by international law, and framing the debate instead as one of who “we” want to see running Syria? Check
  • The concomitant assumption by implication that “we” have some sort of moral obligation to overthrow governments we don’t like and to supply weaponry to anyone who opposes them? Check.
  • The ridiculing of the mere idea the US backed ISIS to overthrow Assad, and the omission of evidence that shows this is exactly what they did? Check…

Impressive, no? If a paid government stenographer at the Guardian had written this they couldn’t have hoped to hit more approved talking points. Just like the US imperialists he claims to loath Smith tries to sell the idea Assad spontaneously started “assaulting” the “rebels” for no reason apart from evil (just like Yanukovich in Ukraine), and not as a response to the western-funded attempts at yet another phoney color revolution. He tries, just like the US imperialists, to make us see these poorly-defined “rebels” not as al Qaeda or ISIS or bands of mercenaries, but valiant heroes, struggling to fend off tyranny. He hopes we’ll be as dyslexic about the real legal and moral issue as he and his Washington friends are, and simply accept a priori our right/obligation to decide who gets to run Syria based on how much we like them.
But Smith doesn’t just sell on used mainstream lies,he also adds a few deceptions and reinventions of his own, aimed exclusively at getting his left wing audience to see regime change and armed intervention as the New Anti-Imperialism.
He starts by boldly reversing reality and presenting the “rebels”, not Assad as the target of US aggression. He tells us Obama doesn’t really oppose the Syrian government and that he “denied” the “rebels” the “heavy weaponry they pleaded for to stop the regime’s assault.” Given these “rebels” are currently bombarding western Aleppo (you know that place he doesn’t want to talk about) with US-donated mortars, rockets and sniper fire, this claim is about as stupid as it gets, and he ends up tying himself in knots of contradictions trying simultaneously to say Obama supports everything Assad stands for but also wants him – inexplicably – to go. He is so blatantly trying to weasel us into calling on Obama to send Tomahawks to the terrorist mercs (oops,sorry, “those who rose up for democracy and justice”) that it’s embarrassing. He thinks his audience are morons with short term memory loss and no idea how to use search engines, and by underestimating them only succeeds in making himself look a fool.
His phoney left, phoney social-justice warrior, phoney righteous indignation and general incompetence at creating a plausible alternative narrative only makes the lies he tells more repulsive. It’s a horrible display. As morally bankrupt as it is idiotic. It’s the Establishment-sanctioned war narrative in a red-painted, rainbow-tinged box.
Everyone sing along with Ashley now…


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