Mad Logic Of UK Brexit

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By lara keller (last updated 2nd February 2017)

The people of the UK are being fed the line that the EU will want to protect it’s extensive exports to the UK after Brexit, so it will be keen to provide a trade deal that allows it the current high level of UK exports to the EU. The problem with this is that UK has left the European Customs Union so EU tariffs against World Trade no longer apply. This is good if you wish to negotiate bilateral trade deals with non European countries. But this means that the UK must allow non-European countries low or no tariff access to the UK markets. So Europeans will have to accept falling exports to the UK, while the UK exports freely to Europe. While other European countries demand the regulation free advantage that the UK will then have. This is wishful illogicality.

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Assad is not Syria. Part 2: Hafez master of segregation, terror and illusion.

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[Previous Part 1] See: https://partnershipblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/assad-is-not-syria-part-1-assad-the-neo-colonialist-sectarian-hypocrite/

Assad is not Syria. Part 2: Hafez master of segregation, terror and illusion.

By lara keller (revised 8th May 2017)

Between Syrian independence in 1946 and 1970, Syria moved from an evolving democracy to a clique dominated brutal dictatorship. Newly independent Syrian politics was dominated by the struggle between traditional Sunni Nationalist elites for power. This was amplified by superpower Cold War era meddling, and defeat in 1948 in a war with colonialist Zionist Israel. Unification with Nasser’s Egypt in the United Arab Republic, failed due to Egyptian chauvinism. The Arab Nationalist Ba’arth party seized power in a coup in 1963. A further intra Baathist coup and defeat by an expansionist Zionist Israel in 1967, set the stage for a purely military coup by a clique headed by Hafez Assad in 1970. Popular involvement in politics grew during opposition to the French Mandate. The upheavals after independence were partly due to the lack of subsequent mass involvement in politics.

Hafez Assad was an air force officer who belonged to a previously marginalised esoteric Shia sect the Alawites. His regime’s predominate motivation was the preservation of power by any means for a clique centred on the president. This was not a regime motivated by revolutionary politics, Arab or Syrian Nationalism, anti-Zionism or even Alawite sectarian empowerment. The internal political failures and external geopolitical pressures of the previous two and half decades, had narrowed the Syrian political stage to a power grab by Assad’s opportunist clique.

Hafez created an enduring Alawite dominated security infrastructure answerable only to the president’s inner clique. It consisted (and still consists) of five isolated security forces, based on the principle that the others will crush any branch that attempts to grab power. These were Political Security Directorate, General Security Directorate, Military Intelligence Service, Air Force Intelligence Directorate and a paramilitary elite the Defense Companies (now Republican Guard). Their principal role was identical, in spite of the difference in names, to protect the regime against all and any internal opposition. The use of systematic torture by these security forces was used to spread a climate of fear among ordinary Syrians.

At the same time Hafez Assad pushed through state reforms that provided basic food and health provisions for ordinary Syrians. This is the aspect of the Assad Regime that is most often used by apologists for the regime. The other apologia being Western and Zionist imperialism.

Alasdair Drysdale wrote in the MERIP journal in 1982:

“During the 1970s, economic and social disparities widened. A parasitic new class, which feeds off of the public sector, has come into existence. Fortunes have also been made in a booming real estate market; prices in some sections of Damascus rose tenfold between 1974 and 1976. Housing costs in parts of the capital befit a major European city more than a country in which per capita GNP is still only $1,340 per annum, and many people still do not have access to clean drinking water and electricity. Others have fared less well. For the substantial number of middle and lower level government and public sector employees, salaries have not kept pace with rapid inflation despite large periodic adjustments. In 1980 they were increased 40 percent, for example. Many have to moonlight, or increase their earnings in other ways. To prevent even more serious disaffection as a result of economic conditions, the regime has developed an enormous program of food and fuel subsidies. By one account in 1981, these amounted to $1.53 billion. This is about $150 per capita, and equivalent to what the country earned from its oil exports.” [http://www.merip.org/mer/mer110/asad-regime-its-troubles]

This egalitarian current ran counter to the other currents designed to secure power for the Assad regime. This was part of a wider pattern among dictatorships in the MENA region. Joshua Landis the rather complacent conservative US academic explains this apparent contradiction:

“During the 1950s and 1960s, Arab regimes, whether republics or monarchies, turned to similar socioeconomic measures to buttress their rule. In return for political quiescence, governments redistributed wealth, subsidized food and provided minimal shelter, education and health care. The result was a distinctive ‘authoritarian bargain’. State-owned enterprises and bloated government ministries absorbed tens of thousands of workers and guaranteed stable employment and a minimum wage. These measures solidified autocracy but at a tremendous price. They paralyzed Arab states and saddled them with unproductive economies and unsustainable expenses. Run-away population growth acted as a time bomb, guaranteeing that expenses ballooned in an environment of low growth. This bargain was unsustainable.” [http://www.mepc.org/journal/middle-east-policy-archives/syrian-uprising-2011-why-asad-regime-likely-survive-2013]

The official Syrian State’s Ministry of Health figures present a glowing success story of progress during the Assad regime. Life expectancy increased from 56 years in 1970 to 73 years by 2009. Over the same time period, infant, under 5yrs and maternal mortality all fell by approximately 85%. Access to primary health services increased dramatically, for both urban and rural populations. This was achieved on a lower percentage of GDP than other MENA countries.

Country statistics should always be questioned, especially in dictatorships where comparative independent surveys and polls are difficult to perform. Human development statistics can be a political tool to complete an illusion of legitimacy, or to extract more assistance from development programs.

The United Nations Human Development statistics are not collected by the UN, but rely on national organisations. In Syria this is the regime run Central Bureau of Statistics. The UN Human Development Report Office (HDRO), just hand down manuals on how statistics should be collected, they say on the issue of statistical validity:

“HDRO actively advocates for the improvement of quality of human development data at all levels – national and international and for an efficient communication and collaboration between national statistical authorities and the UN statistical entities. The Human Development Report Office does not collect data directly from countries.”

The Syrian International Coalition for Health (SICH) made this observation in “Health care in Syria before and during the crisis” (2012), which probably applies to both the Hafez and Bashar eras: “Despite the apparent improved capacity of the health system, a number of challenges prevail which need to be addressed to reduce inequities in access to health care and to improve the quality of care; these include, addressing validity of the data, overall inequity, lack of transparency ……”

In addition the millions of refugees that have be forced to flee to neighbouring countries since 2011, report that rural health services have always been very poor. It is likely that the Syrian CBS statistics have been overstated to some degree throughout the Assad regime era.

Often you will see defences of Middle Eastern dictatorships by so called “radical” Western activists, based on UN human development statistics, as if these figures are definitive. Convenient partisan absence of scepticism usually accompanies the creation of polemics about “benevolent dictatorships”, which are rarely true or enduring.

The 1963 “state of emergency” legislation, imposed after the Baathist lead coup, continued into the Assad era. It justified special courts and blanket censorship. The 1965 “protecting the revolution” law was also kept. It criminalized any expression of opposition to “the aims of the revolution”. A term so vague as to give legal cover to any suppression of dissent. Even the conducting of opinion polls in Syria, whose results were not strictly authorized and controlled by the regime.

A self-interested clique developed around the president that consisted of the Alawite dominated security elite and wealthy Sunni business class. Increased military support from the Soviet Union allowed the 1973 October War with Zionist Israel to be more of a stalemate than a crushing defeat for the Syrians. This gave Hafez Assad an aura of Arab nationalist respectability abroad, although his regime never intended to seriously threaten Israel or retake the essential water resources associated with the Golan Heights.

At the same time as Hafez Assad was empowering a wealthy authoritarian elite to dominate the lives of Syrians for decades to come (at the time of writing with no end in sight) – surely the worst and most restrictive form of sectarianism – he was faking the appearance of a non-sectarian open political shift in Syrian politics.

The Assad military coup was termed the “Correction Movement”. Assad claimed it was a development of the revolutionary Baathist movement. A logical reaction to the more radical polices of Syria’s former Alawite Baathist strongman Salah Jadid. A Sunni Baathist Ahmad al-Khatib was setup as a token ceremonial head of state for the first four months, until Hafez Assad replaced him as the real centre of power. Similarly a token cabinet was created split between Baathists, Socialists, Independents and Communists (a formula that became the “National Progressive Front” in 1976). In March 1971 Assad was elected president by a mere 99.2% of the alleged vote, while a fantastic 95.8% of the population turned out to vote. In August 1971 at the 11th Syrian Baathist National congress Assad set out his agenda for a “progressive front”, after the excessive predominance of the Jadid’s followers in Syrian politics.

Hafez Assad hypocritically presented himself as a pious Muslim, and re-established the connection between the state and Sunni religious administration in Syria. He prayed in Sunni mosques, and made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Sheikh Ahmed Kuftaro was the Grand Mufti of Damascus from 1964 to 2004. He owed his position to his friendship with Hafez Assad. This Sunni Sufi cleric had the ancient Abu Nour Mosque in Damascus rebuilt in the early 1970s as a concrete monolith. It contained an extensive Islamic studies centre as well as a tomb for the Kuftaro family. It is not surprising that Kuftaro confirmed President Hafez Assad as an authentic pious Muslim. A noble traditional of pro regime apologetics and self-advancement that the current Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun also follows.

No religious or secular leadership of a religious, ethnic or rural tribal group in Assad regime Syria can hold any position without being both pro-regime and approved by the regime. This means that for small minority communities there in a culture of self-policing by leaders of any members who express anti-regime sentiments. This is one of the principal reasons why most of the active support for the Syrian Revolution has come from the Sunni majority, rather than minority groups.

In 1982 the Muslim Brotherhood led an uprising in Hama. The pious Muslim Hafez Assad then levelled large parts of the centre of the City, killing around 40,000 Syrians. The regime “Defence Companies” security force lead by Rifaat al-Assad were responsible for most of the deaths. A similar tactic was used by the French colonialists in Damascus in 1926 in opposition to the Great Syrian Revolt. Since 2011 Bashar Assad has repeated this technique in pacifying Homs and Aleppo.

“[Under Hafez Assad] Sectarianism also became a convenient charge to use against regime opponents. ‘According to many witness testimonies,’ Dibo says, ‘it became a common strategy from the 1980s onwards, for security forces to deck walls with sectarian slogans such as, ‘We want to overthrow the Alawite regime’ a night before they stormed a neighbourhood to arrest members of the Communist Action Party or other political groups.” [http://muftah.org/assad-regimes-policies-nurtured-sectarianism-syria]

A sectarian approach was taken to the allocation of military and government posts:
“To present a façade of religious harmony within the regime, cabinet posts were distributed among the sects. Similar unspoken rules applied to the military – though the sections of the security apparatus most vital to the regime’s survival remained firmly in Alawite hands.” [http://muftah.org/assad-regimes-policies-nurtured-sectarianism-syria]

Also there was a shadow power structure behind official titles:

“More important than manpower or proportion of Sunnis in upper or lower ranks is the military’s internal, shadowy decision-making structure. The regime has perfected the art of coup-proofing through an intricate web of patronage within the military in which rank does not necessarily correspond to an officer’s actual authority. Defected Sunni officers, even those of a senior rank, complain that their career progression was all too often confined to service or logistical units, while command of elite combat units was more often than not an all-Alawite affair. They also complain of the way that their aide-de-camps were usually Alawites who reported their every movement to Military Intelligence and for that reason were often more influential than the officers themselves.” [https://warontherocks.com/2016/08/assad-or-we-burn-the-country-misreading-sectarianism-and-the-regime-in-syria/]

This use of Alawites and other minorities as powerful enforcers by the regime, within both the military and government, had the effect of giving minorities less reason to oppose the regime. It also created a network of feared spies within minority groups, to counter anti regime activity. This enabled the regime to claim they had the support of minorities, who feared an allegedly mainly Sunni sectarian opposition.

The Assad regime amplified its control of Syrian society by physical divisions:
“This control was punctuated further by the intentional policies implemented by the security establishment in Syria to separate people based on sect, religion and ethnic criteria. This is illustrated by the encouragement given to segregated areas like the city of Baniyas, which is divided into an Alawite section and a Sunni one; or the town of Qutayfah, where the Army officers’ neighborhood (which is mostly Alawite) is separated by a fence from the majority-Sunni town. This geographical separation can be seen in many other areas in Damascus like Jaramana (Christian/Druze), Mazzeh 86 (Alawite), Harasta (Sunni). These areas were not completely homogeneous, but they were established in the Syrian consciousness as such, and thus was established a social state of ‘sectarian neighbourly’ relations according to the thinker Yassin al-Hafez. This ‘sectarian formation of society’ allowed the regime the ‘exclusive role of managing interactions between the groups and minimised all other independent interactions’, according to the writer, Yassin al-Haj Saleh. Even if, as some might argue, these social relations were already inherent in Syrian society, rather than actively promoted by the regime, the responsibility remains with the ruling class in not implementing any integration policies to counter this trend.” [http://www.syriauntold.com/en/2014/11/assads-secular-sectarianism/]

There are also important physical divisions set up around professions and financial interests, like the army’s Dahiet al-Assad (Assad Suburb) near Damascus started in 1982. Kheder Khaddour gives an example of this system:

“The fact that a majority of officers are drawn from Syria’s Alawite community has often been noted as the primary, even singular, factor in the army’s cohesion since 2011. But this explanation overstates the role of sectarian affiliation. Army officers have access to a benefits system that links nearly every aspect of their professional and personal lives to the regime, and this places them in an antagonistic relationship with the rest of society. Dahiet al-Assad, or ‘the suburb of Assad’ northeast of Damascus and the site of the country’s largest military housing complex, reveals how this system works. Known colloquially as Dahia, the housing complex provides officers with the opportunity of owning property in Damascus. As many army officers come from impoverished rural backgrounds, home ownership in the capital would have been beyond their financial reach. Military housing has offered them an opportunity for social advancement, but the community that officers and their families inhabit within Dahia also fosters a distinct identity that segregates them from the rest of Syrian society, leaving them dependent on the regime. The benefits Dahia provides come at a steep cost. With the move into military housing, officers effectively complete their buy-in, linking their personal and familial fortunes to the survival of the regime. All the trappings of an officer’s life, and the social respectability it provides, are thus granted by and dependent on the regime.” [http://carnegie-mec.org/2015/09/30/assad-s-officer-ghetto-why-syrian-army-remains-loyal/iigr]

Hafez Assad regime intervened in the long Lebanese Civil War that lasted between 1975 and 1990. The principal motivation was that Assad did not want a change in Lebanon that would threaten his regime. At times this involved supporting the Christian Maronites, and fighting Palestinians. Israel in a last gasp of its expansionist phase was pushing to divide Lebanon up between themselves and the Maronites. Lebanon was after all a state formed from the Greater Lebanon mini state formed by the French Mandate division of Syria in 1920.

In the late 1970s Assad faced mounting opposition from Syrian Sunni groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, and the need to exert control in Lebanon. This led to a particular harsh reign of terror in the 1980s that extended from Syria to Lebanon. The regime kidnapped Lebanese citizens and imprisoned them in Syria. Family members could then be controlled by threatening relatives with torture.

In the late 1970s Hafez Assad faced increasing opposition form Sunni Muslim groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, and needed to exert control in Lebanon. This caused a particularly harsh escalation in the reign of terror by the Assad regime security forces. Amnesty produced a report in October 1987 that makes extremely grim reading:

“The range of torture methods used is such that it led one former detainee to describe a Damascus detention centre as a ‘research centre’ for new torture techniques. Amnesty International has received descriptions of no less than 35 different methods of torture, excluding the routine beatings….” [page 1, SYRIA Torture by the security forces, Amnesty International, October 1987]

“The following are details of allegations of torture and ill-treatment which have been made to Amnesty International over several years by former detainees. It should be noted that not all of the methods listed below are widely used in Syria. Some are said to be exclusive to certain prisons or detention and interrogation centres. They are said to include:

1. Beatings on all parts of the body, involving punching, slapping and/or kicking, administered with fists, feet, leather belts, sticks, whips, hammers, braided steel cables or cables inside plastic hoses with the ends frayed;
2. Dullab (tyre): hanging the victim from a suspended tyre and beating him/her with sticks, clubs, cables or whips;
3. Falaqa: beating the soles of the feet;
4. Bisat al-Rih (Flying Carpet): strapping the victim to a piece of wood shaped like a human body and either beating him or her or applying electric shocks all over the body;
5. Al-Shabah (the Phantom): tying the victim’s arms behind the back and suspending him or her by them or by the feet. In both cases the victim may also be beaten or given electric shocks;
6. Al-’Abd al-Aswad (the Black Slave): strapping the victim onto a device which, when switched on, inserts a heated metal skewer into the anus;
7. Al-Kursi al-Almani (the German Chair): a metal chair with moving parts to which the victim is tied by the hands and feet. The back rest of the chair bends backwards, causing acute hyperextension of the spine and severe pressure on the victim’s neck and limbs. This is said to result in difficulty in breathing almost to the point of asphyxiation, loss of consciousness and, in some cases, the fracturing of the vertebrae. A variation of this device is known as al- Kursi al-Suri or Syrian Chair. In this metal blades are fixed onto the front legs of the chair at the point where the victim’s feet are tied, causing profuse bleeding from the ankles when pressure is applied. Both variations may be used in conjunction with beating or whipping.
8. Al-Ghassala (Washing Machine): a hollow spinning drum similar to that of a domestic washing machine into which the victim is forced to insert his or her arms, resulting in the arms and/or fingers being crushed;
9. Using domestic appliances to burn parts of the body such as the chest, back, genitals, buttocks and feet. The appliances include electric boilers (hot water tanks) against which the victim’s body is pressed; paraffin stoves covered with a metal sheet on which the victim is forced to sit; electric irons; electric welding machines;
10. Placing a piece of cotton wool soaked in petrol on various parts of the body and setting it alight; pouring petrol on the victim’s feet and setting them alight;
11. Piercing the victim’s back or chest with a pointed heated metal rod;
12. Extinguishing cigarettes on sensitive parts of the body; using gas lighters to burn the victim’s beard, moustache or other body hair;
13. Applying electricity to sensitive parts of the body including the ears, nose, tongue, neck, hands, genitals, anus and feet;
14. Applying salts and caustic substances (acidic and alkaline solutions) to the victim’s wounds or burns;
15. Slashing the victim’s face lips, ears, nose – with shaving knives and razor blades;
16. Forcing the victim to stand in bare feet against a wall with the hands tied together above the head. The top of the victim’s foot and toes are then crushed with the heel of a boot in a grinding motion;
17. Administering blows to the same areas of the victim’s body (including the head) for prolonged periods with a long thin rod tipped with a metal ball;
18. Suspending the victim by the hands and feet to bedposts or by the feet from a ladder, and beating or whipping him or her;
19. Al-Farruj (the Chicken): strapping the victim to a revolving wooden bar resembling a roasting spit and subjecting him or her to beating with sticks;
20. Hanging the victim for prolonged periods by the neck in such a way that the neck is not broken;
21. Suspending victims from a rotating fan in the ceiling and beating them as they rotate;
22. Forcing the victim to lie fully clothed in a bathtub filled with water for prolonged periods (sometimes overnight). Water may also be poured onto the victim at the same time;
23. Showering or pouring boiling hot or cold water alternately over the victim;
24. Plucking hair or skin with pincers or pliers;
25. Extracting finger and toe nails;
26. Sexual abuse or assault;
27. Forcing the victim to sit on bottle necks or inserting bottles or sticks into the rectum;
28. Forcing the victim to stand for long periods on one leg or to run carrying heavy weights;
29. Complete isolation in a small dark cell without any human contact at all for several days;
30. Switching on the light while the victim is asleep or keeping a bright light on for long or short periods day or night, possibly for several days;
31. Using loudspeakers to transmit noise, such as loud music and screams of people undergoing torture;
32. Subjecting the victim to mock execution, by holding his or her head below water almost to the point of suffocation;
33. Al-Miqsala (Guillotine), forcing the victim to lie on his or her back, facing a blade. A device on the machine ensures that the blade stops just before it touches the victim’s neck;
34. Threatening the victim that his or her relatives or friends are in danger of, for example, torture, sexual abuse, assault, kidnapping, amputation of limbs and execution;
35. Torturing other detainees in front of the victim;
36. Torturing or sexually assaulting the victim’s relatives in his or her presence;
37. Degrading the victim by using obscene language or insults or by forcing him or her to undress in front of guards of the opposite sex;
38. Depriving the victim of sleep, food, water, fresh air, toilet or washing facilities, visits by relatives or medical treatment; “ [page 18-21, SYRIA Torture by the security forces, Amnesty International, October 1987]

This indictment of the Hafez Assad regime casts a revealing light on the reality of the Bashar Assad’s war crimes since 2011.

In 2000 Hafez Assad died. His neo-colonalist regime had managed to divide Syria in a more insidious way than the colonialist French Mandate had done with their attempted division of Syria into geographically defined mini-states. He created a country divided by community pressures, greed and above all fear.

This is not how many in the West saw him. The Zionists and ideologues in the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (those who were also from the hard-left), both saw Assad as a fantastically popular leader. To the Zionists Assad had “brain washed” Syrians into being fanatic racist anti-Semites who see Assad as their protector. Anti-Semitism is a concept they routinely vastly exaggerate to include any kind of serious criticism of Israeli policies. This racist idea of a country of deluded enemies is commonly used in Political Zionist propaganda to justify aggressive apartheid, by a government that also absurdly wants to claim Western liberal values. The Palestinian Solidarity Movement hard-left division, are not really interested in Syria or Palestine. This is about domestic left versus right wing politics, which spills into Israel because of the close political and economic interconnections. To them Assad was fighting against imperialism and colonialism. His alleged popularity was bond up with their approval of his hypocritical public statements.

Barry Rubin writes about the Middle East mixing accessible accuracy with a scattering of Zionist tropes. Here are his conclusions on Hafez Assad’s Syria:

“To make the regime really strong and stable, Syria’s leaders used educators, journalists, intellectuals, and cultural figures to ensure that people didn’t just obey the dictator, they would love him. While far from attaining the psychological completeness of the kind of society portrayed in 1984 or Brave New World – cynicism and quiet antagonism certainly existed – Syria was about as close as anyone could come in practice. Iraq under Saddam was far more dependent on fear and repression; Islamist Iran more riddled with sullen resentment and openly expressed opposition. While it certainly has its own troubles, Syria’s system is a success story from the standpoint of power imposed on a willing populace. The government did not just sit in its offices and issue decrees. It had command of the country’s wealth, information, ideology, and every conceivable institutions. Syrians can only conduct business by making government officials their partners or succeed in most careers by echoing its ideology whether or not they believe it in their hearts. It is a society where all the media are under regime control and adhere to the official line, in which sustained public criticism can lead to torture and imprisonment, in which cell phones and internet use are tightly controlled, private conversations may well be reported to the secret police, and in which any contact with a foreigner is suspect. Yet it is also a society in which the people generally accepted the regime’s stories and the permanent war footing it demands.” [Chapter 3, page 1, Barry Rubin, The Truth About Syria, 2007]

This piece by Barry Rubin is an admixture of truth and political fiction. Factual information is mixed with vague impressions. It echoes those from the hard-left dictator hugging community. The security and torture machine of Hafez Assad described above is the surest sign of a system that never really succeeded in gaining popularity, and never had any legitimacy.

[Next Part 3] See: https://partnershipblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/assad-is-not-syria-part-3-2000-to-2010-wasting-chances-to-avoid-disaster/

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Assad is not Syria. Part 1: Assad the neo-colonialist sectarian hypocrite.

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Assad is not Syria. Part 1: Assad the neo-colonialist sectarian hypocrite.

By lara keller (last updated 8th May 2017)

Crispin Blunt MP, and chairman of the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee, summed up the crisis in Syria on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme in December 2016, with the throwaway line that minorities in Syria saw their interests were best protected by the Assad regime, and therefore the regime enjoyed much greater support than was anticipated. This from a conservative MP which great influence on the foreign policy of the UK government, and who is supposed to understand the basics of the background of the conflict in Syria.

He also said something similar in an article in the centre-right UK Daily Telegraph on the 31st December 2016:

“Our stance [of demanding Assad goes] encouraged the defiance and the formation of the Free Syrian Army, which failed to topple a regime stronger and more implacable than we had allowed for. Uncomfortably, the regime also enjoyed support from Syria’s minorities as well as the more secular Sunni establishment, all of whom look to the regime for protection from the more fundamentalist forces of revolutionary Islam.” [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/11846742/Removing-Assad-is-not-the-solution-to-Syria-crisis-senior-Tory-says.html]

This reminds me strongly of an October 2016 article by Yassin al-Haj Saleh a Syrian activist who has been struggling against the Assad regime for over 35 years:

“The Assad regime has become a representative of the internal First World in Syria, the Syrian whites. I think the elites in the West find Bashar al-Assad more palatable than other potential interlocutors. He wears expensive suits and has a necktie, and, ultimately, these elites prefer a fascist with a necktie to a fascist with a beard. Meanwhile, they don’t see us, the Syrian people. Those who are trying to own the politics of their own country have been rendered invisible……..They [Assad regime] employ sectarianism as a strategy of control, as a means to seize power forever. In their own slogans they openly say, ‘Assad or we burn the country,’ and ‘forever, forever,’ in reference to holding absolute power over the country……..In secularism, there is inherently the idea of not discriminating between people on the basis of their religion or confessional community. Is this the case in Syria now? No, it is not. If you are an Alawite, your chances of getting a job or having real power in society are greater than if you are a Sunni or a member of another group.” [https://theintercept.com/2016/10/26/syria-yassin-al-haj-saleh-interview/]

The basic fact about the Assad regime is that it has always been about keeping power by any means while exploiting the majority of the Syrian people. The use of systematic torture and aggressive social division have kept the corrupt clique around the Assad clan in power since 1970. The principal driver of the uprising against the Assad regime, is the legitimate demand by the Syrian people for a representative government to replace the Assad clique’s dictatorship. According to Emile Hokayem Syria under the Assad regime has always involved hidden sectarianism:

“The smug implication, of course, was that Syria under the Assad regime was different: Contrary to the fractured polities of Lebanon and Iraq, it had achieved a superior sense of national belonging and purpose, a genuine supra-confessional identity. Sectarianism was not an issue, I was told. Syria was no democracy, to be sure, but Bashar Al-Assad had married a Sunni woman who wore stylish Western clothes, women could walk around unveiled, and alcohol was available (that’s a lifestyle liberalism of the kind that appeals to Western audiences but actually obscures more than it reveals). Many Sunnis populated the high spheres of business, politics, and the military, and minorities could worship at will as long as they remained loyal to the Assads. No wonder that this image of Syria, marketed ad nauseam, partially hid the country’s unravelling during the previous 15 years. While admitting it was not perfect, many of those who bemoan the Syria of yesterday cannot seem to find the link between this romanticized narrative and the current catastrophe…..In fact, in Syria, like in Lebanon and Iraq, all the ingredients for cataclysmic upheaval were already there. The explosion, crystallization, and weaponization of sectarian passions owe much to circumstances, local agency, political structure, and leadership choices.” [https://warontherocks.com/2016/08/assad-or-we-burn-the-country-misreading-sectarianism-and-the-regime-in-syria/]

While the Assad regime promotes itself to the gullible as secular and pluralistic, the slogan of the regime militias “Assad or we burn the country” communicates the reality. Emile Hokayem then goes on to get to the heart of the regime Hafez Assad set up after a military coup in 1970:

“In this account, the Assad regime is secular and inclusive. The evidence? A long list of Sunnis serving in the upper echelons of the Assad regime and in its fighting ranks, the fact that most Sunnis live in regime-held areas, and the obedience and support of the Sunni urban and business classes as well as important tribes……What is not discussed, however, is these groups’ motives, incentives, and calculations. There is little about the system of cooptation, exclusion, and coercion that the Assad regime built over almost five decades. Hafez Al-Assad saw Baathism as an ideology that would not simply transcend but more importantly crush other forms of identity in Syria even as power was ever more concentrated in chosen Alawite hands. This experiment in social engineering and Arab nationalism, of course, has been a failure across the region……In typical fashion, the regime has adopted a divide-and-rule strategy. Sunni tribes tamed Aleppo urbanites during the rule of Hafez Al-Assad in exchange of local power and benefits. When rebels overtook eastern Aleppo, they rushed to kill the head of the Berri clan, a thug who served as Assad’s local enforcer. In the Jazireh, Arab tribes were tasked with oppressing and containing the Kurds, for which they were rewarded with land and other benefits. However, only Alawite elders and clans handled intra-Alawite dissent.” [https://warontherocks.com/2016/08/assad-or-we-burn-the-country-misreading-sectarianism-and-the-regime-in-syria/]

The orientalist view of Syria as hopelessly divided needing a strong authoritarian ruler has a long history going back to similar arguments made by French Colonialists when the Levant was carved up after the First World War as the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Hypocritically during the French Mandate (1920−1946) the tactics of divide and rule were extensively used. This echoes the arguments of Western Assad Apologists and the hypocrisy of the barbaric Assad regime. Daniel Neep describes the colonialist view of Syria after the First World War:

“Historians highlight that France’s special interest in Syria and Lebanon was based on three distinct factors. The first was its role as religious protector of Catholics in the Middle East, a role which originated in the seventeenth century and was reinforced over the years by a growing net-work of missionaries and educationalists. As Philip Khoury points out, this historical relationship between France and Arab Christians necessarily constructed a division between them and Muslim and heterodox minority communities. With religious identity valorised [overly exaggerated] as the most important of the ties that bind, the French saw the Levant as a complex, fragile mosaic of ethno-religious communities locked in internecine conflict. Each of these communities was seen as separate and self-contained; they were viewed as living alongside one another in a state of perpetual mutual mistrust. Levantine society was thought to be so fragmented that social peace could be guaranteed only by an external protector who stood above the petty squabbles of local communities. Divisions between Christians and Muslims, Sunnis and Shias, Druze and ‘Alawis, Greek Orthodox and Catholics, Kurds, Turcomans and Circassians, townsfolk and nomads were seized upon by the colonial lobby to support arguments for occupation. For them, colonial rule was in the objective interest of the region, even if their uncivilized state meant they were nor in a position to recognize this truth for themselves. Such paternalistic sensibilities were more than mere rhetoric to disguise France’s underlying material interests. French visions of a mosaic society productively informed the strategies by which the Mandatory Power consciously sought to govern the Levant.” [page 25-26 Occupying Syria Under The French Mandate, Daniel Neep, 2012]

It was the orientalist hypocrisy of the French Mandate that laid the foundations for the neo-colonialist regime of the Assad clique. It is also just these same attitudes that are blocking effective action by the Western democracies to empower the Syrian people to gain a genuinely representative government. Philip Khoury describes how the French laid the foundation for opportunistic elements in the independence era Syria Armed Forces that enabled the military coup that created the oppressive Assad regime:

“Another factor present during the Mandate which contributed heavily to the radicalization of the military after independence was its changing complexion. By French design, the army developed a strong rural and minority complexion, in which the Alawite community featured prominently. This was especially true of the army’s rank and file and its non-commissioned officer corps. By the end of the Mandate, several infantry battalions in the Troupes Spéciales [French Syrian Colonial Force that became Syrian Army] were composed almost entirely of Alawites. None was entirely Sunni Arab in complexion, and even those few cavalry squadrons with a significant Sunni Arab component were filled largely with elements from rural areas and far off towns. The French preferred minority and rural recruits for the obvious reason that they were remote from Syria’s dominant political ideology, Arab nationalism. In addition, the ‘depressed economic condition’ of Syria’s rural and minority communities made the army a vehicle for their social mobility. In this way, the lower ranks of the army, including non-commissioned officers, became the preserve of the Alawites, the Druzes, and Sunnis from rural districts. Because Alawites were the largest and perhaps the poorest minority community in the country, they were most over-represented in the army. The Alawite impact, however, was not felt for a full generation after independence. Sunni commissioned officers held the levers of power in the army in the years after independence and Alawltes only came to dominate the Syrian officer corps in the 1960s, after successive purges had cleared the upper ranks of the army of Sunni officers. The Syrian governments of these years, like the French before them, saw the Alawites as remote from Syrian political struggles and therefore politically neutral. …..To express their aims and aspirations, ascendant junior officers from the Alawite and Druze communities and from rural Sunni districts required an ideology. Baathism provided a framework of ideas which was sufficiently flexible for their purposes. Its program stressed land reform and other more egalitarian economic measures and it inveighed against religious sectarianism. By the 1950s, these officers began to penetrate the Barth Party through its base in the Syrian Army and each Institution reinforced the other’s radicalism. Together, they broke apart the economic and social foundations of the old regime’s power and replaced the political expertise of the veteran nationalists with a new, and ultimately, more effective way of playing politics.”

The elitist nature of Nationalistic politics during the French Mandate, foreign intervention during the Cold War and Baathist military coups, meant that ordinary Syrians have never really had access to political power. Crispin Blunt and the rest of the Western Assad apologists of left and right need to see the reality of Syria.

[Next Part 2] See https://partnershipblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/assad-is-not-syria-part-2-hafez-master-of-segregation-terror-and-illusion/

Fourth comment on “Peace Action” pro-Assad series of so called path to peace articles, with links

handsoffassad-copyThis article (https://peaceblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/choosing-the-path-of-peace-in-syria-part-four-trumps-assad-policy-is-still-up-for-grabs/)starts with “….. the forces of the Assad government may have begun to consolidate control over western Syria’s population centers …. However, no matter what territory Syria holds on [Trump’s] inauguration day, the conflict will rage on.” The opening paragraph exposes the bias of these 4 articles on “Choosing the [so called] path the peace in Syria”. The Assad Regime is not Syria. The Assad Regime is a clique that has ruled Syria like a private estate since 1970. To quote Yassin Saleh from an interview in October 2016 “The Assad regime has become a representative of the internal First World in Syria, the Syrian whites. I think the elites in the West find Bashar al-Assad more palatable than other potential interlocutors. He wears expensive suits and has a necktie, and, ultimately, these elites prefer a fascist with a necktie to a fascist with a beard. Meanwhile, they don’t see us, the Syrian people. Those who are trying to own the politics of their own country have been rendered invisible” (https://theintercept.com/2016/10/26/syria-yassin-al-haj-saleh-interview/). It appears the so called western pacifist anti-establishment have joined the elite. This makes me very angry.

Not convinced establishment McCain has any influence on Trump, or that Obama era measures will necessarily survive long under Trump. The Defence Authorization Act 2017 sets out a series of insurmountable bureaucratic obstacles to MANPADS being supplied to the Syrian Opposition. The New York Times actually leaked a memo criticizing Obama’s appeasement of Assad. Right wing think tanks contain many right wing Zionists like Michael Rubin who oppose Iranian power in Syria.
In the real world Trump’s policy will be a continuation of the Western elites’ foreign policy in the Middle East, of getting the support of manageable dictatorships. There is now also a vigorous Russian-Chinese version of this policy. The common enemy are the people of the Middle East, who since 2011 have risen up as a real power. Trump will strike a deal with Putin on spheres of influence, and will certainly not support the toppling of dictatorships.

Limited Military Strikes in response to major war crimes by the Assad regime, would stop when the war crimes stopped. The military strikes and enhanced support for the Syrian Opposition would end when the Syrian Government (minus the Assad Clique) engaged in serious peace negotiations with the Syrian Opposition. Empowering Syrians should be the real objective. This did not happen in Libya or Egypt, and certainly did not happen after the invasions of Iraq and Syria. The opposition of extremists is partly due to the nature of previous US intervention, and the (indirect) financial support of regional dictatorships. The strikes would be against Assad regime assets not Russian assets. Russia is already focusing most of its attacks on Western backed Syrian Opposition.

Arming the Syrian Opposition is about empowering Syrians, not “bringing the fight to the enemy”. This was not tried in Libya. Very little support was provided, and the limited amount bypassed the structure of the National Transitional Council. The result was not a unified professional security force, but a fragmented militia with funding from multiple sources, including regional dictatorships. Funding mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s was part of the Cold War, these fundamentalists had nothing to do with representative government in Afghanistan. Bad comparison as is Iraq.

The CIA programs of training the Syrian Opposition have again avoided the structure of the Free Syrian Army. To unify the command structure of the Free Syrian Army requires a reliable source of equipment and training. This has not been provided by the West as also happened in Libya. This under resourced force has depended on funds from at best “regional authoritarian regimes”. The objective of western elites is not to empower Syrians.

Progressives in the West should not be swallowing the type of misinformation contained in this series of articles. Instead they should be demanding that our “defense services” should be supporting Syrians in their legitimate demands for a representative government. What is reactionary and war mongering is not the defense forces themselves, but the policies our politicians pursue. This is ultimately our responsibility. Pacifism for tyrants is pure hypocrisy and certainly not progressive.