The Way Ahead: How We Can Ensure the Syrian Revolution Wins (5.2)

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By lara keller (last updated 31st March 2017)

The Way Ahead: How We Can Ensure the Syrian Revolution Wins (5.2)

The Syrian Revolution began in 2011, and is still fighting the Assad regime six terrible years later. Obviously the Assad regime should have been defeated years ago (as well as the inevitable counter revolution) and the suffering of millions of Syrians greatly reduced.

The relationship between the state and advanced military hardware, is the primary reason why the Syrian Revolution is currently being defeated. George Orwell a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and an observer of the Second World War in the UK, made an acutely prescient statement about this over seventy years ago:

“It is a commonplace that the history of civilisation is largely the history of weapons. In particular, the connection between the discovery of gunpowder and the overthrow of feudalism by the bourgeoisie has been pointed out over and over again. And though I have no doubt exceptions can be brought forward, I think the following rule would be found generally true: that ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance. Thus, for example, tanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows and hand-grenades are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon–so long as there is no answer to it–gives claws to the weak.

The great age of democracy and of national self-determination was the age of the musket and the rifle. After the invention of the flintlock, and before the invention of the percussion cap, the musket was a fairly efficient weapon, and at the same time so simple that it could be produced almost anywhere. Its combination of qualities made possible the success of the American and French revolutions, and made a popular insurrection a more serious business than it could be in our own day. After the musket came the breech-loading rifle. This was a comparatively complex thing, but it could still be produced in scores of countries, and it was cheap, easily smuggled and economical of ammunition. Even the most backward nation could always get hold of rifles from one source or another, so that Boers, Bulgars, Abyssinians, Moroccans–even Tibetans–could put up a fight for their independence, sometimes with success. But thereafter every development in military technique has favoured the State as against the individual, and the industrialised country as against the backward one. There are fewer and fewer foci of power. Already, in 1939, there were only five states capable of waging war on the grand scale, and now there are only three–ultimately, perhaps, only two. This trend has been obvious for years, and was pointed out by a few observers even before 1914. The one thing that might reverse it is the discovery of a weapon–or, to put it more broadly, of a method of fighting–not dependent on huge concentrations of industrial plant.”

[George Orwell, 1945, “The Atomic Bomb and You”]

The Assad regime was created to be coup-proof with a large brutal security forces. Its military has been supported for decades by the Russians (in the eras of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation) to stand up to the lavishly US backed Israeli war machine. The Syrian military consists of a professional well equipped core that is under strict regime control, backed up by large numbers of less well equipped, less trained and less trusted conscripts (now replaced by foreign Shia militias).

The armed opposition have been woefully under equipped in comparison. The US has even been preventing air defence missiles from reaching the rebels, although they have been supplying anti-tank missiles. The policy of the US Obama administration has followed the old pattern of “containment” that was used in the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s. The US elite have used the Syrian Revolution to weaken revolutionary demands for representative government and weaken Shia Islamist Iran, by enabling the opposition to fight a long war against the Assad regime which they are slowly losing. This could have been ended years ago, before Putin saw it was safe to intervene with direct military support.

Western progressives have helped this “containment” process by giving credibility to the useful illusion that US elites were genuinely interested in the removal of the Assad regime. I resist using the absurd word “ouster” that slips off the lips of anti-war advocates, as it is used as a legal term to describe “the wrongful dispossession of a rightful owner or tenant of property”. Assad is the illegitimate ruler of Syria, a regime that used systematic torture to gain and keep a hold on the country, and which his clique treats as a private estate. The dispossession of the Assad regime cannot be wrong. Progressives should have been calling out the Western elites for their lack lustre support of the Syrian Revolution. They should have called out Western elites over a similar process in Libya, were Gaddafi was removed and then Libya and its revolution was abandoned to the counter-revolution. Progressives have been the unsuspecting accomplices of imperialism, by their actions and their silence.

The Syrian Revolution’s armed opposition needs sufficient weapons to counter, in the words of Orwell, the “tyrannical weapons” of the Assad dictatorship and its Russian backers. A large number of guided anti-tank and surface to air missiles are needed. Clearly these weapons must not be misused by terrorist groups to attack targets outside of Syria. These weapons need guidance systems which cannot work without integrated circuits, which can be made time and GPS-position limited. Attempt to tamper with the electronics and the chips are killed by an internal power source which also triggers if its power level falls below the necessary threshold. These systems have been described for decades, and I expect have been researched. What is lacking is will.

War crimes are being committed by the Assad regime and its Russian allies. These can be deterred by a “No Bomb Strategy” that responds to these crimes by only bombing Assad regime military assets, such as airfields. This can be done by missiles stationed outside of Syrian territory (ie via submarines). In addition the effectiveness of Syrian air defences have been exaggerated as the frequent incursions of Israeli jets into Syria, bombing Hezbollah supply convoys has shown.

Putin’s regime only moved on from suppling the Assad regime to direct military involvement when it was obvious the West was going to allow the Syrian opposition to lose. This calculation can be turned around.

A more effective unified armed Syrian opposition requires that it has Western backers, who trust the central command of the Free Syrian Army to do the job of organising and running it. Like any military organisation the hierarchy supplies arms, training, planning and intelligence to its units, as well as discipline. No effective organised armed Syrian opposition can be formed unless the command structure has access to sufficient resources including arms and training.

An effective civilian administration requires that its Western backers, trust a Syrian National Administration to do the job of organising and running this. It needs to keep as much of the existing Syrian Government structures intact as possible, only removing individuals guilty of serious crimes. The administration needs sufficient resources of food, transport, training, medical supplies and shelter materials. Clearly in the way as a unified armed opposition it needs resources to establish acceptance for its structure.

Establishing security in the widest sense for Syrians both as individuals and groups, is the overriding goal of the revolution.

Removing the Assad regime is only the first step. Ensuring stability is the next problem.

The counter-revolution cannot always be supressed by an effective revolutionary armed force under a central command, because this command can obviously become itself the focus of the counter-revolution. In short the old pattern is that revolutionary army officers amass power and turn from liberators to dictators.

The Syrian Revolution has been establishing local democratic councils, who control local armed units by appointing commanders. These local democratic councils are clearly going to be the initial core of democracy in a post-revolutionary situation. To avoid dictatorship a national army with a central command, needs to share control with local democratic organisations. This can be done in the long term by keeping the local link to armed units, where the responsibility for appointments is shared with the central command. The central command must distribute arms, training and other resources. It must have absolute short term control of the actions of the national army. A parallel national organisation is needed to review the actions of the national army, and intervene if the national army commanders abuse their roles. Its members will come from local democratic councils, who can enforce their decisions through retaking control of the local armed units that form the national army.

Clearly in the same way the civilian administration needs to be composed of local units, with the same means for local democratic councils to control appointments, and review and intervene if there is gross corruption and inefficiency.

Establishing a representative national government now can be achieved, as there is a stable national army and civilian administration capable of providing security in the widest sense for Syrians. There is a network of local democratic organisations, who can ensure the fair election of representatives to the national government.

The resurgence of the economy is needed to provide a focus beyond the current crisis, and to finance the future. Western countries can supply grants and loans, and importantly give a favourable trade access to the genuine exports of the country. Ending political oppression, without lifting economic oppression is a hollow victory.

The history of the Assad regime and the suppression of the Syrian Revolution is a catalogue of incredible anger and fear that has left painfully deep divisions in Syrian society. Culpability for crimes against humanity need to be established, and those responsible put on trial and punished. This will include the Assad regime (who are responsible for the vast majority of crimes) and the opposition. There needs to be a national truth and reconciliation process to expose the more understandable human forces of fear, anger and greed that the Assad regime manipulated and created. There is an urgent need to spread understanding of the motivations and misconceptions of diverse communities and interest groups. Physical mistreatment and economic exploitation needs to be fully catalogued, and compensation paid when a sufficient surplus of assets is available.

Hatred of the Alawite minority is widespread combined with exaggerated ideas of how much this community has benefited from the Assad regime. The pressures for Alawites to conform to community pressure for blinkered regime support is not appreciated. Among minority communities an exaggerated fear of Sunni Islamic fundamentalism has been encouraged by the Assad regime, and needs to be exposed to the truth that this propaganda does not fit reality.

This truth and reconciliation process will create a set of practical security and anti-discrimination measures that provide at least the minimum level of security that meets the fears of Syrian communities.

The next step is a national dialogue to create a set of principles for governance from which a new constitution can be created once sufficient stability has been achieved. The principle of “separation of powers”. In the legal system ensuring police, courts and government are independent of each other, and interaction is both transparent and legitimate. The principle that the “collective and individual rights of the people” are the ruling objective of government. The government’s main job is to ensure “security in the widest sense of personal physical protection, access to sufficient food, adequate health services and comfortable safe shelter” for all Syrians. The principle of “stable transparent and accountable government”. The government must provide information and a free media must be there to report it. Elections must be free from manipulation and intimidation. Candidates need legal protection and access to the media.

The principle of “individual and collective equality”. This must be rigidly maintained from the outset at a sufficient level to avoid destroying the very concept of legitimate government. A government belongs to everyone or no one. The natural goal of a legitimate government is always to increase equality in terms of outcome and opportunity. This can be collective as groups are discriminated against on the false basis of religion, ethnicity or culture. This resentment of this type of discrimination ultimately allowed the Assad clique to establish tyrannical control in Syria. Individuals are discriminated against on the basis of socio-economic class, gender, age, disability and sexuality. The Assad regime has attempted to legitimise itself by claiming it promotes gender and even homosexual equality. The same regime has impoverished the majority outside of the ruling clique, controlled their protests by the threat off systematic torture and murder. As a matter of absolute necessity a legitimate government that replaces the Assad regime will need to surpass the regime in fighting all types of discrimination.

Obviously to any serious observer there are conflicts between the rights expressed in this description of types of securities and equalities. This is the threatening monotonous recurring motif of extreme politics of left and right and up and down. Genuinely mainstream politics is based on ensuring these rights and equalities are given priorities that differ within acceptable limits. Judged by this criteria Western societies are not really moderate.

As an example of this conflict consider societies which prioritise traditional cultural views of men and women, so that being openly homosexual means putting culture in conflict with individual equality. This can be legitimately dealt with by rigorously rejecting violence or exclusion against individuals who break cultural rules. Disapproval is painful but cannot be suppressed, and it is up to the long term process of expanding equality by cultural dialogue. There is a conflict between the right to have as many children as a couple wishes, and the individual rights of these children and the longer term collective right of a society to a sustainable population where the security of the whole population is ensured. A legitimate government seeks to find the right balance of incentives, penalties and cultural persuasion to balance these equalities within an acceptable range.

Once a set of principles has been agreed through dialogue then a detailed constitution can be created. To reach an agreement it will probably be necessary to give a role of influence to a religious or ethical body outside of the directly elected assembly. The current Iranian system gives too much power to the supreme leader and the council who elects him, they effectively preselect the choices of the Iranian people, making democracy a farce. Constructive ethical influence has to be more inclusive than this. To return to Orwell, it is not “nationalism” of a dogmatic political or religious type that is needed, but the “patriotism” of pride in the genuine achievements of a revolution to replace a self-serving dictator with the true government whose civilising influence stretches far beyond the region.

Obviously this process is being formulated by the Syrian Opposition by people far more talented than me. What is needed is a plan that can be understood by everyone, and serve a map for those people struggling to make the Syrian Revolution happen on the front lines.

Western governments can help, by supplying the resources and opportunities the Syrian Opposition needs, and can have a positive influence by giving these resources in return for the Syrian Opposition following the progressive plan it has itself created. Clearly this will always be a “work in progress”, an outline that is being completed over time, and does not need to be polished before starting. The Western progressive public has a more important role in forcing Western governments to support the Syrian Revolution in an effective way of the type described above. This means effective campaigns that motivate people and which ditch dogma. The core of what these means is the subject of the next section.

[Next Part 5.3] See:

The Way Ahead : Why the Syrian Revolution Can Win (5.1)

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By lara keller (last updated 14th April 2017)

The Way Ahead : Why the Syrian Revolution Can Win (5.1)

Can only justify the use of such a pompous verbose title because what needs to be done is so obvious. The maze of political rhetoric that obscures the Syrian Revolution is much more complicated than the reality.

No real discussion of Syria can be started without acknowledging an honest regional historical overview. The shorthand of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region) stretches from Iran to Morocco.

The power of the dominate Ottoman Empire started to decline after the independence of Greece in the early nineteenth century. In Iran the power of the Qajar dynasty declined due to Russian and British rivalry in the late nineteenth century. In both cases the First World War was the terminal event.

Subsequently overlapping waves of political upheaval have swept the MENA region. There was the wave of European colonialists and Western backed monarchies. Essentially Israel and Saudi Arabia were enabled by Western imperialism in the 1920s and 30s. This was followed by Cold War Soviet backed Left-wing Arab Nationalism (Free Officers of Nasser and Gaddafi, Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party of Aflaq and al-Bitar). There was the rise of modern political Islamism from the late 1960s onwards (Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979).

To global elites the MENA region has historically had oil, geographical strategic importance (on the way to somewhere else) and some potential as colonial land (especially Zionists, British and French). The region has been the target of intense colonialism and neo-colonialism (indirect rule by enabling dependent local dictators). A strong regional elite has also evolved to preserve dictatorships, in a malign partnership with global elites. If by magic “imperialism” (by the West, Russia and China) were to disappear tomorrow, the self-reinforcing system of rule by dictatorship would continue in the MENA region.

The latest wave of political upheaval is essentially different to previous waves. It consists of democratic uprisings for representative government against authoritarianism (2011 Arab Democratic Spring, 2009 Iranian Green Movement). This is a long awaited desperate mass reaction by people in the region who are well aware of the reality of rampant self-serving self-reinforcing dictatorships. The reaction of the West has been sanctimonious and mean.

The MENA region has been enslaved by three techniques that are common to colonialism.

Fragmentation: The creation of divisions between communities where they did not previously exist.

Containment: Encouraging and enabling communities to struggle and fight against each other.

Extremism: Promoting the worst more violent authoritarian and egocentric among opponent insurgent groups.

The division of the Ottoman Empire into new nation states (and the creation of Israel), encouraged the emergence of competing factions based on religious or ethnic identities who could then dominate each other within the confines of absolute borders. These fragmentary countries could also enclose oil resources, which made them dependent on the protection of global powers. It is easy then to encourage conflicts between these fragments (switching allegiances as necessary) to ensure they remain weak, and so that their elites are given a justification to oppress their citizens. If the elites of a country were threatened with political upheaval, then the covert support for the worst of the insurgent groups, means there are more resources available to defeat them or they are easier to corrupt into preserving a modified version of the same dictatorship (Algerian Civil War 1990s).

The apparent unique complication of Middle Eastern politics, is a facet of seeing it at face value, rather than acknowledging the inner mechanisms of colonial, neo-colonial and regional elitist manipulations. Viewed from this point the Middle East is an exaggerated example of what happens elsewhere. It is wrong to explain Middle Eastern politics in the orientalist terms of cultural clashes or imagined historical stagnation; not for moral reasons of multicultural correctness, but because it is not true and not pragmatically progressive.

These colonial techniques work between countries, and within countries. The regime Hafez Assad setup after a coup in Syria in 1970, was based on the predominant principle that it should be coup-proof. There were multiple separated large security forces, who were used to systematically terrorise the population, and could be used on each other if necessary. Divisions within smaller communities were encouraged by giving resources to select elites within minority groups, in return for policing them by exposing dissent. Communities based on religion, ethnicity or even employment (ie army officers) were housed in separate areas within cities. Communities were then encouraged to bully and dominate each other, by giving rights to resources in return for ensuring other communities remained loyal to the regime.

The Assad regime murdered its moderate opponents, but imprisoned its extremist opponents. In 2011 Bashar Assad had thousands of extremist Islamists released from Syrian prisons, so they could assist the expansion of the so called Islamic State’s caliphate in the Sunni border region between Syria and Iraq. This allowed Assad to claim he was fighting Islamic terrorism, rather than the rights of Syrian people to a genuinely representative government. The regime fought the moderate armed rebels and left the Islamic State alone. In the same way Assad has encouraged ultra-Kurdish nationalism in Syria.

At the same time in Syria (and Libya) the counter-revolution is being vigorously encouraged by regional authoritarian regimes. There are the numerous Iranian backed Shia militias fighting for the so called Syrian Arab Army. On the opposition side there is a minority of well-funded fundamentalist Islamic groups which are needed to avoid military defeat in the short term, due to lack of Western support, but ironically justify lack of support in the long term, by allowing the armed opposition to be wrongly smeared as dominated by extremists.

So the essential problem in Syria is getting rid of the Assad regime and replacing it with representative government. Clearly this is not “regime change”. It is the death of a brutal oppressive regime and the birth of a genuine government.

This means creating an effective armed opposition; establishing physical, food, health and shelter security for the Syrian people both as individuals and groups; achieving stability; establishing a representative government; negotiating a peace settlement between Syrian communities; creating an agreed set of principles for governance that balances societal progress with individual and community protection.

The human rights violations of the Assad regime since its creation, let alone since 2011, screams of a deficit of good will. It is insane to rely on the humane instincts of the regime. Nothing will be achieved unless the regime is militarily threatened. Pacifism requires a minimum of decency that the Assad regime has contemptuously failed. The “whataboutism” that compares the Assad regime to the crimes of Saudi Arabia, Israel and Western Imperialism and then concludes that not supporting the Syrian Revolution is “progressive”, lacks any moral substance. These are not competing issues, but the same issue of the gross misrule by elites. This is where the experience of people in the MENA region differs sharply from the insulated rhetoric of the Western hard-left groups.

There are no reasons why the Syrian Revolution cannot win as the enemy is the gross misrule of national, regional and global elites. These elites can be challenged.

[Next Part 5.2] See:

The Iraqi Genocide Never Again (4)

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By lara keller (last updated 14th April 2017)

The Iraqi Genocide Never Again (4)

Iraq is a clear example of bad intervention and ineffective protest. In the 1980s the US encouraged and equipped the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to pursue a war with post Islamic Revolution Iran. Saddam Hussein’s object was a demonstration of power, and the seizure of oil fields (as most onshore Iranian oil fields are near the Iran-Iraq border). This war lasted eight years and killed a million people (around half of them Iraqi).

The US government knew that Saddam Hussein intended to invade Kuwait and gave the appearance of compliance by omission. Sanctions against Iraq started in 1990 after Iraq’s invasion. By February 1991 a US-led coalition had forced the Iraqi army out. Sanctions continued because of the allegation that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and additionally intended to supply them to terrorist groups. Sanctions continued until 2003 and according to UNICEF half a million Iraqi children died as a result, although this is likely to be an underestimate. An “oil for food” scheme was offered, but only accepted in 1996. Little of this money was used by Saddam for the welfare of Iraqi people.

In highly public speeches in February and March 1991 US President George Bush Snr encouraged Iraqis to rise up against Saddam’s regime by giving the impression of US support. The uprising quickly led to the regime losing effective control of more than two thirds of the country. This rebellion was mostly crushed in a month using helicopter gunships and extensive shelling. It is true that a minority of these rebels were from Shia fundamentalist and traditionalist Kurdish groups. No help was given to any of the rebels and around 60,000 Iraqis died as a result, many tortured to death. No Fly Zones in the North and South of the country were then enforced until 2003. They prevented use of aircraft (more effective in the North) and allowed the monitoring of any ground offensives. This did not prevent Saddam’s ecological and humanitarian vandalism, due to the deliberate draining of the extensive Tigris-Euphrates marshes to punish the rebellious Marsh Arabs.

The Northern No Fly Zone allowed the creation of an autonomous Kurdish region, which was equally split between a traditionalist KDP (Kurdish Democratic Party) in the more mountainous north, and the more progressive PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan). In the 1980s Saddam Hussein’s regime had inflicted a genocidal campaign against Iraqi Kurdish areas. Between 100,000 and 180,000 Kurds died. In 1988 as a part of the much larger Anfal campaign a series of chemical attacks were inflicted against Kurds. This included the infamous Halabja attack that killed 5000 mainly women and children were killed with a combination of mustard and nerve gasses.

After the largest anti-war protests in the Western world, there was a US invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on incorrect and essentially contrived intelligence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. The regime was quickly overwhelmed, but the occupation was lengthy and disastrous. Government institutions had been abolished and infrastructure severely damaged. The resulting security vacuum led to sectarian violence, and an extreme Islamist insurgency. The number of civilian causalities has become a political matter, but the most reliable survey appears to be the PLOS Medicine Survey, which concludes that excessive deaths in Iraq between 2003 and 2011 were half a million. The US elite’s policy objective in Iraq appeared to be the creation of the chaos needed to promote a new government compliant to their interests (particularly oil drilling concessions).
This list of events ignores those Iraqis killed by the Saddam Hussein’s security forces, as part of a strategy of instilling fear into the population. Estimates from Iraqi and International human rights groups vary between a quarter and half a million people. In addition the use of torture by the regime was systematic.

The Iraqi Baathists seized power in a coup in 1968. They began taking complete control of the army by effectively merging it with the Baath party. Saddam Hussein removed the existing President Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr in 1979. He then purged 500 of the top party members, uniquely insisting the surviving leadership form the firing squads. In an echo of Hafez Assad in Syria he aimed to create a “coup-proof” regime by the use of systematic torture, intrusive security forces and endless informers.

The Iraqi exile Kanan Makiya summarized how Saddam’s regime internalised fear in the Iraqi people:

“The show trials of 1969 (Chapter 2) affirmed the power of the fledgling Baathist state by a stage-managed, intentionally excessive display of cruelty that dramatized the imbalance between victim and victimizer. This came at a time when the state was still weak. After those early experiences, all through the eight gruelling years of war with Iran (Chapter 8), few Iraqis dreamed of publicly protesting the harsh punishments to which they were routinely subjected. For nearly twenty years every Iraqi knew that he or she lived in a torturing state, but the omniscience and omnipotence of the state’s repressive capability lay in the fact that all opposition to it had been crushed—in other words, it lay in the silence and deep secrecy that now surrounded all State operations. Everything was secret where punishment was concerned, from the arrest to the charges, the interrogation, the extraction of the evidence, the trial, the judgment, and the execution of the sentence. If there was a corpse, bearing in its markings that last record of the whole affair, even it was returned to the family in a sealed box. These were the rules of the game in the extraordinarily effective state system described in this book.”

[“The Republic Of Fear: The politics of modern Iraq”, Kanan Makiya, Updated version 1998 (originally published 1989), Introduction: xiv ]

In an echo of Syria, Kanan Makiya complains in the same introduction from the perspective of late 1990s Iraq:

“…. and a veritable American obsession with containing the adversary, as opposed to getting on with the obvious business of helping Iraqis to topple him. This clumsy, unprincipled, hands-on/hands-off policy of a musclebound superpower saved Saddam Hussein in 1994 [aborted build up for reinvasion of Kuwait], just as it saved him from the retribution of ordinary Iraqis at the end of the 1991 war [Kuwait invasion].”

In 1990 Human Rights Watch published an account of the constant stream of reports of human rights abuses from the initial two decades of Iraqi Baathist rule. Extract from “Human Rights in Iraq” 1990:

“But while vociferously denying charges of torture, Iraq has never allowed a private human rights group or United Nations body to visit its prisons and to interview prisoners or victims of torture. In the meantime, voluminous reports of torture committed over the years by Iraqi jailers continue to emerge–reports from victims of torture, from relatives of victims and from others, corroborated in many cases by medical evidence.” [page 58, “Human Rights in Iraq”, 1990, Human Rights Watch]

“Large numbers of persons have unquestionably died under torture in Iraq over the past two decades. Each year there have been reports of dozens–sometimes hundreds–of deaths, with bodies of victims at times left in the street or returned to families bearing marks of torture: eyes gouged out, fingernails missing, genitals cut off, and terrible wounds and burns. The brazenness of Iraqi authorities in returning bodies bearing clear evidence of torture is remarkable. Governments that engage in torture often go to great lengths to hide what they have done by burying or destroying the bodies of those tortured to death. A government so savage as to flaunt its crimes obviously wants to strike terror in the hearts of its citizens and to inflict gratuitous pain on the families of the victims.

Torture has been reportedly used not only against men and women but also against children, either to obtain information from them, to punish them for acts of opposition, or to punish their parents. Kurdish children have been among the victims of detention and torture. A former Baghdad University student, arrested as a sympathizer of the outlawed Kurdish Democratic Party and released in April 1985 after having been tortured, reported that his mother, aged seventy-three, three brothers, three sisters, and five of their children between the ages of five and thirteen were arrested, beaten, and subjected to electric shocks. This witness testified, ‘Infant children are kept in [the] detention center together with their parents. Usually they keep such children in a separate cell next to [the] mother in order to force [the] parent to confess. I saw a five-month-old baby screaming in this state.’

In September and October 1985, some 300 Kurdish children and teenagers were reportedly arrested in Suleimanieh. The bodies of three children were reportedly found afterward on the outskirts of the city, bloodstained and bearing the marks of torture. Some of these children were transferred to a security prison in Baghdad, according to the testimony of a detainee released at the end of 1985, who described in these terms what he saw:
‘Each hour, security men opened the door and chose 3 to 5 of the prisoners–children or men–and removed them for torture. Later, their tortured bodies were thrown back into the cell. They were often bleeding and carried obvious signs of whipping and electric shocks …. At midnight, the security men took another three of the children, but because they were so savagely treated they were taken from the cell to a military hospital. It was clear that the security authorities did not wish them to die like this. However when their wounds healed they were returned to the cell. Some children tried to sleep on the floor. A child who had been in the hospital lay down and finally, we thought, fell asleep. But . . . we knew he was dead. . . . When I was released, there were still some children in our cell. I don’t know what happened to the others.

In January 1987, it was reported that twenty-nine of these children had been executed and their bodies returned to their families, some with eyes gouged out and other marks of torture. Although the Iraqi government vehemently denied these reports, the European Parliament deemed them sufficiently credible to speak out about them. In its resolution ‘on the detention and torture of children in Iraq,’ the European Parliament condemned ‘these crimes which disgrace the government which perpetrates them’ and appealed for ‘the immediate release of all the children and young people detained on the basis of political activities undertaken by their parents or relations.’
That torture is used routinely as a method of political repression in Iraq, and that it frequently involves acts of great savagery, is credited by a wide range of nongovernmental human rights groups as well as the U.S. State Department.”
[pages 62-64, “Human Rights in Iraq”, 1990, Human Rights Watch]

Then there are actions of calculated contempt that echo Bashar Assad’s regime:

“Since 1980 a number of political opponents have been reportedly poisoned. In May of that year, two Iraqis who reached London after detention in Iraq were examined by doctors and found to be suffering from poisoning by thallium, a heavy metal used in commercial rat poison which is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. One, Majidi Jehad, testified before dying that he believed the poison had been given him in an orange-juice drink he was offered at the Baghdad police station where he went to pick up his passport.”
[page 74, “Human Rights in Iraq”, 1990, Human Rights Watch]

To the committed hard-left radical any information that is even shared by the US State Department must be utterly untrue. All human rights groups are secretly in collusion with US elites, and are guilty of the bizarrely labelled “humanitarian imperialism”. By extension any denial from a self-proclaimed revolutionary left regime is true. Such inhumane chauvinism underlines the reality that both the extremes of left and right cannot ever be progressive, and demand equal contempt.

In summary nearly two million Iraqis died between 1980 and 2011 because of the combination of Saddam Hussein’s regime and US (and its allies) policies. Iraq is now a deeply corrupt pseudo democracy, where political blocks fight for power, and reforming political activity is suppressed by violence. External powers Iran, Turkey and the US attempt to influence its politics, while sectarian nationalists and former militia leaders have become powerful politicians.

A powerful example of this is Masoud Barzani the leader of the Kurdish KDP since 1979. In the 1980s the main Iraqi Kurdish parties the KDP and the PUK fought the Saddam’s regime with backing from Iran. In 1996 Barzani invited Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army to join with the KDP in a Kurdish civil war against the PUK. The same Iraqi army who eight years earlier had been conducting genocidal assaults on Kurds in the Anfal campaign, some of which were conducted against KDP areas. In 1983 eight thousand Kurds from the Barzani clan were disappeared and murdered by the Saddam’s regime. The Iraqi army used the opportunity given to them by Masoud Barzani to eliminate opponents to Saddam’s regime in Kurdish areas. Later in the 1990s Barzani aligned the KDP with the Turkish government in the fight against the Kurdish PKK (fighting to create a Turkish Kurdistan autonomous region).

Masoud Barzani is now president of a deeply corrupt Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government. He spouts nationalist Kurdish rhetoric, lives in one of Saddam’s former palaces, and seems more interested in creating a dynasty and stashing away personal wealth. This behaviour is less strange if you consider that Saddam had Kurdish as well as Arab collaborators. The Kurdish “Jash” militias actually worked with the Iraqi army in the Anfal genocide. There had to be an amnesty for collaborators in Iraqi Kurdistan after Saddam was toppled.

In 2010 a journalistic Sardasht Osman wrote a satirical poem “I want to marry Barzani’s daughter”, it begins:

“If I become Massoud Barzani’s son-in-law, we would spend our honeymoon in Paris and also we would visit our uncle’s mansion in America. I would move my house from one of the poorest areas in Erbil to Sari Rash [Barzani’s palace complex] where it would be protected by American guard dogs and Israeli bodyguards ….”

As a result of speaking out he was arrested, beaten, and his body found with two bullet holes through the mouth. In 2013 Human Rights Watch Sarah Whitson said:

“These are dark days for freedom of expression in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Instead of ensuring the justice system investigates high-level corruption, the Kurdistan Regional Government is ignoring its own laws to protect free speech and assembly, and using ‘laws’ that are not in force to silence dissent.”

The history of Iraq in the last 40 years has created a humanitarian disaster, with around 2 million deaths. The blames for this rests with the Saddam Hussein regime and the policies of US (and other Western) elites. The protests of Western progressives have been largely ineffective. The only claim made is that maybe protests stopped a subsequent invasion of Iran. Iraq is still in a chaotic and corrupt state.

The foreign policy of the US and its Western allies, towards Iraq and Iran, is not just random incompetence or inhumanity, but is part of a strategy of “containment” that stretches back to the Second World War. Containment started as a policy response to Stalin’s expansionist Soviet Union, and Mao Zedong’s newly created Communist China. Western Europe and Japan were aided back to democratic health. While in less favoured nations surrounding these communist states, right-wing “anti-communist” dictatorships were enabled. The elites of these dictatorships were dependent on the West, who shared their countries economic wealth with Western elites. When these states failed to keep control, or stopped taking orders they were invaded. Vietnam is a tragic case where the US supported an authoritarian corrupt regime under Ngo Dinh Diem, leaving the communists to portray themselves as true nationalists and progressives. Two million Vietnamese died due to the US genocidal war, which was pursued to the bitter end because successive US administrations could not admit the weakness of the “containment” ideology. A similar “containment” approach was used in the Middle East to “contain” communism, Arab nationalism and fundamentalist Islam. It also explains the muted response to the Arab Democratic Uprising since 2011. Just enough support to allow revolutions to take control, and then be slowly strangled by the counter-revolution backed by established dictatorial regional powers (notably Saudi Arabia and Iran). In the end of course “containment” will lead to a world dominated by the authoritarian governments of China and Russia.

[Next Part 5.1] See:

Orwell Notes on Nationalism (3)

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[Previous Part 2] See:

By lara keller (last updated 14th April 2017)

Orwell Notes on Nationalism (3)

In 1945 George Orwell wrote an essay “Notes on Nationalism”, which is not actually about nationalism. Its target is a broader chauvinism (in the broad non-gender sense). An irrational obsessive exaggerated group feeling, of which “nationalism” is one manifestation and the closest English word for this psychology. He includes many divergent political attitudes, including pseudo progressive ones.

It starts with a reference to Byron’s use of the French word “longueur” in his satirical poem Don Juan. Its contemporary relevance makes it worth quoting:

“I know that what our neighbours call ‘longueurs’
(We ‘ve not so good a word, but have the thing
In that complete perfection which ensures
An epic from Bob Southey every spring),
Form not the true temptation which allures
The reader; but it would not be hard to bring
Some fine examples of the epopee,
To prove its grand ingredient is ennui.”
[ George Byron, “Don Juan, Third Canto”, 1821 ]

By neighbours he means the French. Robert Southey was then the British “Poet Laureate”, and one of the “Lake Poets” school along with Wordsworth and Coleridge. Byron is complaining of his “long” romantic poetic sagas, which although respected lacked authenticity, and so produce boredom in those who see through them. In the same poem Byron pokes fun at the “Lake Poets” flabby high minded utopianism. Their move from infatuation with the radical politics of the French Revolution, to romantic conservatism, he lampoons brilliantly earlier in this poem as: “Their loyal treason, renegado [rebel] rigour, Are good manure for their more bare biography”. In other words for personal gratification they swing passionately from rebellion to the establishment, and shallowly count the strength of their attachment above the nature of object of this attachment.

It is understandable why Orwell was thinking of Byron when he wrote a denunciation of chauvinistic groups in all their forms. Orwell’s and Byson’s complaint could be leveled at the writers of popular sagas like “The Establishment” [by Owen Jones] which provides neither the necessary diagnosis let alone cure.

In Orwell’s essay he uses the word “nationalism” in the sense that “nation” is any overwhelming group feeling. A nation may be a political conviction, a country or a religion. He defines it as:

“Nationalism, in the extended sense in which I am using the word, includes such movements and tendencies as Communism, political Catholicism, Zionism, Antisemitism, Trotskyism and Pacifism. It does not necessarily mean loyalty to a government or a country, still less to ONE’S OWN country, and it is not even strictly necessary that the units in which it deals should actually exist. To name a few obvious examples, Jewry, Islam, Christendom, the Proletariat and the White Race are all of them objects of passionate nationalistic feeling: but their existence can be seriously questioned, and there is no definition of any one of them that would be universally accepted.”

Orwell describes the mentality of this “nationalism” or rather “chauvinism” as follows:

“Nationalism, on the other hand [as opposed to patriotism], is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, NOT for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality………….He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is on the downgrade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it IS the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also–since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself–unshakeably certain of being in the right.”

Fortunately Orwell’s has advice on resisting “nationalism”:

“As for the nationalistic loves and hatreds that I have spoken of, they are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe that it is possible to struggle against them, and that this is essentially a MORAL effort. It is a question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one’s own feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable bias.”

He describes political “nationalism” as a transfer of group feeling, away from older declining territorial and religious allegiances, towards some other external object, in this case a set of interlocking beliefs.

Orwell describes a number of “nationalisms” of which “pacifism” and “class feeling” are the ones that connect most closely to the contemporary “foul abscess” of the inability of Western left wing progressives to support the Syrian Revolution and more generally the struggle for representative government in the MENA region:

“(iv) CLASS FEELING. Among upper-class and middle-class intellectuals, only in the transposed form–i.e. as a belief in the superiority of the proletariat. Here again, inside the intelligentsia, the pressure of public opinion is overwhelming. Nationalistic loyalty towards the proletariat, and most vicious theoretical hatred of the bourgeoisie, can and often do co-exist with ordinary snobbishness in everyday life.

(v) PACIFISM. The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to the taking of life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defence of western countries. The Russians, unlike the British, are not blamed for defending themselves by warlike means, and indeed all pacifist propaganda of this type avoids mention of Russia or China. It is not claimed, again, that the Indians should abjure violence in their struggle against the British. Pacifist literature abounds with equivocal remarks which, if they mean anything, appear to mean that statesmen of the type of Hitler are preferable to those of the type of Churchill, and that violence is perhaps excusable if it is violent enough. …………. All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty. The mistake was made of pinning this emotion to Hitler, but it could easily be retransferred.”

Contemporary Western progressive “nationalism” combines a dogmatic hatred of the Western ruling classes (“Establishment”) mixed with pacifism, so that any kind of Western military intervention is impossible to accept. Protest is limited to opposing intervention. All failures of intervention are vindications of these protests. As Orwell says the object of the “nationalist” is not progress in the real world, but vindication of his group’s beliefs (his “nation”). These failures of intervention are successes in the mentality of the political “nationalist”.

When measured as progress in the real world, then the kind of political chauvinism that mixes “anti-establishmentism” with “pacifism” (popularized by pundits like Owen Jones) is ineffective. Ordinary people in the MENA region have not been empowered by these protests. The anti-establishment progressives have scored a great victory showing that bad Western intervention does not lead to substantially progressive outcomes. Apart from this nothing.

[Next Part 4] See:

Owen Jones and “progressive” foreign policy (2).

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[Previous Part 1] See:

By lara keller (last updated 14th March 2017)

Owen Jones and “progressive” foreign policy (2).

A highly popular book called “The Establishment” by the fresh faced UK Oxford educated “radical” left journalist, historian and pundit Owen Jones, provides a neat encapsulation of this “foul abscess” when he talks about foreign policy in the MENA region. The book’s main theme deals with the question of how the elites in the UK (“The Establishment”) have subverted democracy in that country. In a characteristic ordering of “progressive” priorities foreign policy is relegated to the last chapter (number 8) before the conclusion. This chapter’s focus is on the UK Establishment’s slavish attitude to the imperialism of the US elites.

I think his subeditor must have been flagging by page 270 (talking about the Penguin 2014 paperback version), as the Second World War and the issue of defeating the evil of Nazism is dismissed in a single sentence: “The modern alliance [between UK and US] was only forged in World War II, when scores of American soldiers were sent to Britain and remained on British soil long after the fall of Hitler.” Scores? In the same way saving Europe from oppression by Stalinist Russia is expressed as: “It was Britain’s post-war Labour [reforming socialist] government under Clement Attlee that brought the country solidly into the US-led sphere of influence by joining Nato in 1949, and under the Conservatives it became a nuclear power in 1952”.

Jones then moves on to Tony Blair’s New Labour government in the UK, and its support for the disastrous US led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of 9/11 terrorist attacks. He describes the threat to civil liberties in the UK as a result of the response to fundamentalist terrorism these invasions partly stimulated. There is eleven pages of this.

The Arab Democratic Spring from 2011 onwards is dealt with briefly in comparison:

“With US power declining, the Establishment dogma behind the special relationship [between US and UK] may be weakening too, as an abortive build up to military action would illustrate. From 2011 onwards, the despotic rulers of the Middle East were challenged by a wave of revolutions quickly labelled the Arab Spring. One such uprising exploded in Syria, but it began to degenerate into a sectarian bloodbath, with Iran helping to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Qatari autocracies bankrolling rebel groups by fundamentalist Islamists. Western states supported Assad’s overthrow. In the summer of 2013, hundreds of Syrian civilians were gassed to death, almost certainly by regime forces. A western military strike appeared inevitable, and the British government recalled Parliament to win legislative backing for such action. But, unexpectedly, the Labour leadership broke ranks with the Conservative-led coalition government. As far as Establishment dogma was concerned they had gone off script. The coalition’s motion on intervention was defeated, marking a near-unprecedented rejection of a government’s position on matters of war and peace.

The vote provoked fury from large swathes of the Establishment. The Sun [a popular reactionary tabloid] ran a front page with the headline ‘DEATH NOTICE’, and the text underneath read: ‘THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP. Died at home after a sudden illness on Thursday, August 29, 2013, aged 67. Beloved offspring of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

And yet, once again, polls revealed just how distant British public opinion was from Establishment dogma. Weary of being dragged by their rulers into disastrous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, a large majority of voters rejected any British military intervention in Syria. Not only did 72 per cent disagree that the ‘special relationship’ was undermined’, but 67 per cent felt that the special relationship was ‘not relevant’ in the modern age, and we should not be concerned about hurting ‘American feelings’. Nonetheless, support for US power remains an article of faith among the British Establishment.”

[pages 286-287 “The Establishment” Owen Jones Penguin 2014]

Jones presents the UK parliament vote against intervention in August 2013 as some kind of triumph for UK progressive politics against the Establishment’s policy of supporting US imperialism. In reality in August 2013 in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta around 1000 mostly women and children were killed by the nerve gas Sarin. This war crime was beyond reasonable doubt committed by the Assad regime (the regime started using chemical weapons in Homs in Decemebr2012). It came a year and a day after President Obama’s declaration that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be a “red line”. The massacre openly broke an important moratorium on the use of chemical weapons in warfare, last broken by Saddam Hussein’s attack on Iraqi Kurds and the war with Iran in the 1980s.

What is entirely absent in Jones’ account is the brutality of the Assad dictatorship that has ruled Syria since 1970, and the genocidal war the regime has been conducting against ordinary Syrians since 2011 (regime is responsible for 95+% of all civilian causalities). The Syrian people or their recent history do not appear even briefly in Jones’ summary of the Syrian Revolution.

The short description of the Syrian Revolution he presents is a gross distortion. Assad’s foreign support system includes China, Russia and Iran. The main conflict concerns replacing the Assad elitist dictatorship with a representative government. Sectarianism is one of the tools used by the regime since its creation, they are mainly responsible for it. Most of the opposition are mainstream, with a minority of “fundamentalist Islamists”. Western elites including Zionists do not want the overthrow of the self-serving Assad regime. Neither do they want representative government in the MENA region. In the same way Western elites have promoted its degradation in the West. The vote in the UK parliament was a useful cover for these elites including Obama to do nothing. [See this series of articles starting with for a summary of the Assad regime and the Syrian Revolution.]

Nothing Jones says about Syria is actually true, apart from Qatar being an autocratic monarchy (although it is less reactionary than the rest of the Gulf monarchies, with Saudi Arabia at the apex). Most importantly the vote in the UK parliament against intervention in Syria was actually a triumph for the “Establishment” not against it.

Chapter 8 of “The Establishment” on foreign policy finishes with the contradictory Eurosceptism of much of the “Establishment” and the excessive corporate influence in the European Union. This is something of a non-issue for the UK now after its disastrous Brexit vote in 2016. Naturally Jones has nothing to say about how ordinary people in the European Union, can end the “democratic deficit”. Jones’ book (like many fashionable progressive diatribes) is strong on exposing a long list of selected symptoms, but the anti-climactic concluding chapter “A Democratic Revolution” is weak on solutions.

This general “progressive deficit” of the pseudo Left is at its most prominent and glaring in protest campaigns that involve foreign policy. I look at the human rights history of the Assad regime and the essentially indifferent response of most Western “progressives”, and see part of a “foul abscess” that is a definitive indication of the root causes of their ineffectiveness. The Syrian Crisis is not obviously the cause of this, but has created a symptom that needs urgent attention. Fighting for ordinary Syrians and the Syrian Revolution will do us a lot of good. It is only pride that stands in our way.

[Next Part 3] See:

Progressive Betrayal of the MENA: The foul abscess (1).

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By lara keller (last updated 14th March 2017)

Progressive Betrayal of the MENA: The foul abscess (1).

Looking at what the West calls the Middle East (whose?) and North Africa (MENA) region, it is difficult not be crushed by the flow of reports of destruction, hopelessness and cruelty. The last two decades in particular. In this endless march through the debris of ordinary people’s lives I cannot help but see the misrule of regional and global elites. The “progressives” of the West have in the main the suspicion or for a radical minority the certainty, that this is exclusively the fault of “Western Imperialism”; together with a supporting role from the ubiquitous enemies of culture and religion. Therefore the “progressive” response is the active rejection of any Western action. Its substitute being a useless selective muted outrage.

All outrages and acts of oppression by dictators (monarchies or secular authoritarian regimes) supported by Western elites are loudly denounced by pious Western “progressives”. Other dictators supported by Russia and China are ignored, or mentioned in the margins for the sake of appearances. These denunciations are wasted as they are easily dismissed as sectarian. Even if they were successful, these selected dictatorships would not just dissolve without Western support. There is a fundamental misconception that the conflict between camps of MENA dictators and their superpower supporters have any real substance, beyond one of many means of securing power.

There is something obviously wrong with this lack of “progressive” Western response. It matters because this allows Western elites (“The Establishment”) to get away with an excess of bad intervention and a famine of good intervention in the MENA region. It matters because it is a symptom of something deep seated. It matters because this is a “foul abscess” that demands relief, even if the self-righteous patient is habituated to prescribing the dentist for other mouths.

It is a tragic mystery as to why the majority of “progressives” choose to make themselves the naïve accomplices of oppression. There is a valuable minority who do not, but this dissent within dissent struggles to be heard, above the smears of the hard-left (and in many cases simultaneously hard-right) dictator-philes. These contradictions would I think, have frustrated even George Orwell’s patience. He strongly denounced the hypocrisy of pseudo “progressive” politics in the Europe of the 1930s and 40s. Surely there is a modern Orwell?

[Next Part 2] See: