[By Lara Keller Last Updated 13th May 2017]
Progressive Betrayal Of Syria, Principled Policy Series: (LK)
[By Lara Keller Last Updated 13th May 2017]
Progressive Betrayal Of Syria, Principled Policy Series: (LK)
[by Lara Keller last updated 13th May 2017]
Why You need The Syrian Revolution
The Syrian Crisis is both a “profound political” and “serious humanitarian” crisis. The issues of religious extremism, diplomatic relations, militarism and sectarianism are all secondary. Most of the debate in the West about Syria inverts the order of these issues.
The “political” crisis is that a people rose up against a brutal self-serving regime in 2011, as part of a movement of deep political frustration with dictatorship that broke out into the open and swept across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The Syrian protests demanded an end to dictatorship by the Assad clique, and rule by a genuinely representative government. The regime chose to continue its fundamental policy (of the last 47 years) that responds to any serious dissent with torture and murder. The difference this time was the scale. This political policy response by the Assad regime is the centre of the Syrian Crisis.
It is a “profound political” crisis because all ideological movements are exhausted. After the Second World War latent racism, post-colonial insecurity and the Cold War fight against Communism gave cover to Western democracies lack of genuine support for the spread of democracy. After the end of the Cold War Extremist Islamism partially took the place of Communism. It has lost its potency however, because it has been unable to hold state power, as would be expected from a reactionary backward-looking movement.
Malicious claims about the inevitable extremism and sectarianism in the armed Syrian Opposition can only be partly explained by fear of Islamic Extremism and unconscious racist ideas about the alleged backwardness of “Muslims”. Similarly on a different part of the political spectrum, an idealistic commitment to pacifism and opposition to militarism and imperialism, are grotesquely still being used to oppose Western support for an armed opposition fighting an unquestionably ruthless sociopathic neo-colonialist Assad Regime. Western intervention in the MENA and elsewhere, is treated as a failed immoral homogenous block. No effort is made to differentiate, or work out how some types could be successful.
There is something very strange happening here in the politics of the West. Surveys of public opinion show that believe in democracy is in long term decline.  Support for the hard-left and the far-right is increasing in Europe and the US. It is evident that a lack of believe in representative government in the West by ordinary people is equally important in explaining the lack of interest in supporting the struggle for representative government in Syria and elsewhere.
The true narrative about the intrinsic illegitimacy of Assad regime and the daunting courage of Syrians who have stood up to the regime, has not emerged in popular discourse, because there is little interest in the corollary of supporting the Syrian Revolution. A criminal clique centred on Hafez Assad took over Syria in 1970 in a military coup. They have used fear and corruption to rule the country in the interests of this gangster clique ever since. Elections are rigged, media censored, dissent crushed and critics tortured. The Assad regime responded to mass peaceful protests in 2011 with utter brutality that forced the Syrian Opposition to take up arms.  The armed Syrian Opposition have received comparatively little help and some hindrance from the West. The importance of a still minority Extremist Islamist armed opposition has been enhanced by the generous flow of resources from regional autocracies as part of a counter-revolutionary policy.
It is a humanitarian crisis, because over the last six years the Assad Regime has been responsible for approximately 95% of the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. The regime has tortured to death tens of thousands of people. It has thrown millions into poverty and forced them to become refugees or live under siege. A generation of children have had their lives permanently blighted. There are many hundreds of thousands of seriously disabled people as a result of the regime’s war. 
The same reasons that this is a “profound political” crisis, also mean that optimism is pointless. The Assad Regime is supported militarily by Russia and Iran, who in turn are supported financially by China. None of these regimes have the popularity of an ideology to defend, which would prevent them from eventually slaughtering or displacing most of the Syrian population. The Assad Clique have for 47 years treated ordinary Syrians as scum who deserve to be tortured and murdered if they exercise their basic dignity to dissent. The status of the Assad Clique in a gangster’s culture where status is everything depends on the crushing of the Syrian Revolution. They have no other ideology to limit the scope of their brutality.
Putin wants to be enforcer in chief to the world’s dictatorships, and needs the success of putting Assad back on his complete Syrian throne. Not dealing with the Syrian Crisis means it will be replicated elsewhere. The balance of power is shifting from hypocritical democracies to blatant dictatorships. These dictatorships are no longer confined in their choice of international partners by the remnants of the ideology of the Cold War. If Putin succeeds in Syria in using genocide as a tool of political control then he will be able to apply this option elsewhere. He will have the advantage of a lack of domestic Russian public opposition.
Even at the height of the Cold War, the genocide that killed two million Vietnamese over twenty years, was eventually brought to an end by domestic US opposition. Claims of a similar US culpability for the more recent Iraqi Genocide are exaggerated, because the Saddam Hussein Regime and the Iranian Regime were equally active actors in this tragedy.
If Putin and Assad win in Syria, then Western influence will suffer a sharp decline globally. Putin will be handed an unrestrained tool to extend the network of the world’s dictators dependant on Russia and China.
Optimism in regional powers is equally pointless. Both the Iranian “Shia” regime and the “Sunni” Gulf Monarchies especially Saudi Arabia are interested in the failure of the Syrian Revolution, and certainly in the failure of representative government. They have public stances that demand they take sides in an artificial “Sunni v Shia” conflict, but both know privately that they cannot push the other too far.
If the Assad Regime is removed, then optimism about an easy path to a post Assad Syria is also pointless. Growing poverty in Syria before 2011 combined with a kleptomaniac self-serving oppressive regime was a key driver in the 2011 protests against the regime. Syria has few natural resources, an increasingly difficult climate and a population that has doubled since the 1980s. There is also a strong counter-revolutionary movement in the MENA, centred on Saudi Arabia and Iran. Any post Assad Syria will have to deal with well-funded Extremist Islamist groups that will attempt to inflame sectarian divisions. It will also have to deal with a persistent strand of Kurdish ultra-nationalism.
Stability will depend on a new government that is both representative of all the diverse mixture of the people of Syria, but which can also deliver physical and humanitarian security without corrupt abuse of power. This requires local and national democratic institutions that oversee the provision of physical and humanitarian security. This requires a professional armed force with a central command structure. This requires professional national organisations that can provide humanitarian resources of food, health services, shelter and education. Therefore this requires that the Syrian Revolution integrates after successful negotiations with existing Syrian government structures and elites that are not close to the top tier of the Assad regime. Therefore this process requires continuing support from the West and regional powers after Assad is removed. Optimism, lack of external support and a well-resourced counter revolution could easily create a more extreme Libyan style post dictator disaster.
Longer term success of the Syrian revolution depends on rebuilding and extending the Syrian Economy. This requires investment from the West and regional powers, combined with preferential trade deals that allow Syria to increase its exports, while protecting domestic industries from overwhelming competition. Trade relations that are balanced positively taking into account the relative strengths of economies, stimulate mutual demand without creating unsustainable debt. Lack of commitment to making the Syrian Revolution successful in the broadest sense, will lead to more disillusionment than the post revolution Tunisian economic stagnation.
Ordinary People in the West rather than Western Elites will benefit from effective support for and the subsequent success of the Syrian Revolution. The root of the malaise in Western democracy is a self-sustaining declining faith in representative government. There is a subsequent self-sustaining decline in what people think that societies acting together can achieve.
There are no problems, including existential environmental problems that representative government cannot solve. Existing democratic institutions are not working, which is a result of the stagnation that occurs when the struggle for representative government is seen as a destination rather than a continual process of change, innovation and improvement.
We need the example, the experience, and the knowledge that will flow from a successful Syrian Revolution.
 Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa, “The Signs of Democratic Deconsolidation,” Journal of Democracy, January 2017. http://journalofdemocracy.org/article/signs-deconsolidation There is a sharp decline in those responding “essential” to the statement “live in a country that is governed democratically” across age groups in the West. In the US for example, approximately 75% of those born in the 1930s against 30% for those born in the 1980s. The authors give this stark timely advice: “In countries where populists are already in power, by contrast, those citizens who retain a deep commitment to the core values of liberal democracy must recognize that their countries’ past stability is no reason for complacency.”
 A series of essays on the history and nature of the Assad regime. How Hafez Assad created a coup-proof regime dedicated to amassing power. How Bashar Assad failed to reform Syria and used barbarity to suppress demands for representative government. https://partnershipblog.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/assad-is-not-syria-assad-regime-history-series/
 Adam Taylor’s article in New York Times from March 2016 is a good introduction to Human Rights in Syria. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/03/15/the-syrian-wars-death-toll-is-absolutely-staggering-but-no-one-can-agree-on-the-number/ The Syrian Network for Human Rights attempts to document all human rights violations by all parties to the Syrian Crisis since 2011. Their methods are conservative, and produce a significant underestimate (see http://sn4hr.org/). The Syria Campaign have used SNHR figures to present a summary of who is killing Syrians http://whoiskillingciviliansinsyria.org/. In the period March 2011 to March 2017 the regime was responsible for 92.2% of civilian deaths. The regime was responsible for 99.2% of cases of torturing to death. It killed in this way 12,882 people. According to SNHR between December 2012 and March 2016 there were 169 cases of the use of chemical weapons, 167 by the Assad Regime and 2 by ISIS (http://sn4hr.org/blog/2016/03/15/19374/). See also: http://sn4hr.org/overall-toll/. The Assad Regime is overwhelmingly the source of human rights violations in Syria. It should be treated as an extremist group, with an absolute ban and blockade on the supply of weapons to the regime. According to The Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) “It is estimated that the loss [of life in Syria since 2011] has reached about 470,000 people in 2015, or about 1.9 per cent of the total population.” This estimate is based on direct violence and the increased number of deaths due to the deterioration in living conditions and lack of access to services (see http://scpr-syria.org/publications/forced-dispersion-syrian-human-status-the-demographic-report-2016/ ). In a 2015 report SPCR stated “This means that 11.5 per cent of the population inside Syria were killed or injured due to the armed-conflict” (see http://scpr-syria.org/publications/policy-reports/confronting-fragmentation/). According to the UN there are currently 5.05 million Syrian Refugees living in camps in neighboring countries and 0.94 million asylum applications in Europe [date 12/5/17 https://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php]. There are 7.6 million internally displaced persons in Syria according to the UNHCR. According to an SCPR report from 2015 poverty among Syrians is soaring (see http://scpr-syria.org/publications/policy-reports/confronting-fragmentation/). “As the armed conflict continues, along with the economic recession and destruction, the overall poverty rate is expected to reach 85.2 per cent by the end of 2015 compared to 83.5 per cent in 2014. Moreover, 69.3 per cent are living in extreme poverty, unable to secure the basic food and non-food items necessary for the survival. About 35 per cent of the population fell into abject poverty being unable to meet the basic food needs of their households.” An updated summary of humanitarian statistics are given at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/syria/overview.
The statement “it is absurd for Syrians not to have representative government” is the starting point for any discussion on the Syrian Revolution. Apologists for the Assad regime regularly claim that Syria has always had free elections and the dictator Bashar Assad is wildly popular. This claim contradicts all the evidence of human right abuses, the size and brutality of the security brigades, censorship of the media, extent of inequality and the amount of wealth held in offshore tax havens. All this going back to 1970 and the beginning of the current regime with Hafez Assad’s illegal military coup against the Baarthist regime that had ceased power in 1963.
The regime and it’s apologists also claim the Syrian Revolution is not valid because it is composed of terrorist extremists. This is not true, and anyway the central issue is what the majority of the Syrian people want, rather than the composition of the armed opposition to regime. According to academics like Charles Lister, who closely studies these armed groups, a minority of the armed opposition are extremists. Groups that compile statistics on human rights violations, state that the regime, its foreign militias and Russian military are responsible for around 90% of violations, including civilian deaths.
The next claim is that the Syrian Revolution should be allowed to fail, because the opposition faces both Iran and Russia (backed financially by China). The Assad regime therefore cannot be defeated. Any attempt to escalate this “proxy war” by the West, by giving more support to the opposition would lead to an unlimited war.
This amounts to appeasing Assad, Iran, Russia and China over Syria. After five years of brutal struggle against incredible odds this betrayal of the Syrian Revolution is utterly repulsive, but so also is the continuation of the war.
The “proxy war” claim ignores an essential reality. The elites in the West have no interest in empowering ordinary people anywhere, especially in the Middle East. The opponents of the Syrian Revolution are the elites in Syria (Assad Clique), Iran (clerical dictatorship), Russia (Putin dictatorship), China(dictatorship), the Western elites (in US,Europe….) and the Sunni Dictatorships (Saudi Arabia, Egyptian Military Elite….). Western governments have had to pretend to support the Arab Democratic Uprising of 2011 onward, because their voters expect support for the concept of democracy in public.
In this realistic context the claim of “proxy war” needs to be reexamined. This “global elite” is not only fighting to prop up repressive government in Syria. It is also attempting to extend authoritarian government into the West. This year Trump and the UK’s Brexit. Next year potential Marine Le-Pen presidency in France, and a Geert Wilders government in Holland. All these victories for the far-right supported by the Putin Russian regime. The Western economies also sit on an ever growing debt crisis. Political upheavals and economic crises could easily form a self perpetuating machine driving the West towards authoritarianism, while authoritarian regimes support each other in securing these disasters.
So a war between the “global elite” and ordinary people is already being fought, with the ongoing Arab Democratic Uprising and the Syrian Revolution a part of it.
If Assad and Putin are appeased in Syria, then this will only lead to greater gambles by elites and more desperate extremism among ordinary people, resulting in more and deeper conflicts. The Syrian Revolution must succeed, as quickly as possible. This will happen by providing proper military and humanitarian support to the Syrian Opposition and by direct consequences on the Assad regime for war crimes that it or its allies commit. This support will strengthen the Syrian Opposition, by insisting it only goes to those who demonstrate a clear commitment to an inclusive representative government in the new Syria.
It is time to judge anyone in the West who claims to be “progressive”, or any leader who claims to have “democratic values”, by whether they support the Syrian Revolution.
Respectable consensus on the rising tide of populism in the West is that there is no need to panic. Experts focusing on each country threatened usually by far-right populism explain that these radical parties are either tools of the existing parties or will have to govern in the normal way.
These ideas are widely expressed about the US president-elect: “Trump will turn out to be a normal right wing republican president.” “Trump will be dependent on the Republican establishment to be able to govern.” “Trump will have to adapt to reality when faced with the complications of the real world.” Obama is touring the world calming the nerves of world leaders, and subtly warning that any strong “overreaction” to the Trump presidency would more likely lead to their worst fears becoming true.
The same kind of calming statements are applied to the rising aggression of Russia’s and China’s foreign policies. Russia has a diminished economy about size of Spain, which cannot maintain Putin’s imperialistic posturing. China’s economy is dependent on ever increasing world trade, and needs this to deal with simmering social pressures and mountains of corporate debt.
Today the far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer is set to become the next Austrian president [5/12/16 update: only 46% voted for the far-right candidate, so no need to worry]. Next year’s April presidential election in France will be between Marine Le-Pen and Françoise Fillon. Given the disarray of the socialists, the French public will be given a choice between the chauvinistic promises of the far-right Front National, and the hair shirt austerity of Fillion’s centre right UMP. Currently Fillion is well ahead of Le Pen in polls about this probable run off. A political insurgency is possible for Le Pen, because a despondent nation has little appetite for Fillon’s message of “spend less and work harder”. With Russian money Le Pen will have the funds to get her false hopeful messages out to the French people.
In March next year Geert Wilders Freedom Party is set to be the largest single party in the Dutch House of Representatives. He will still need to form a coalition with at least two other parties to form a government. His party has managed to be an informal partner in an earlier coalition between the centre right VVD and CDA.
The UK is set to leave the European Union after the referendum vote last June. Italy’s populist Five Star Movement is working hard to defeat the referendum on constitutional reform being held today [update 5/1/216: 59% did vote against reforming Italian constitution, so starting the path to possible Italexit]. The current government has vowed to resign, which will lead to an election and a new coalition led by the Five Star Movement. This new government will introduce a referendum on leaving the European Union, which appears likely.
In Germany the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has come from nowhere to poll 15% of potential votes in the German Federal Elections next August. They may do better after the expected upheavals described above. It is unlikely AfD would be part of the governing coalition, but they will be able to limit the government’s room for manoeuvre by gaining support from criticism of any necessary actions to strengthen the European Union.
There are plenty of reasons to panic when the pieces are considered as a whole. The truth is that since the end of the Cold War authoritarianism has lost any pretense to be cloaked in ideologues of the extreme left and right. We have today a naked authoritarianism which seeks to undermine representational government everywhere. No grand conspiracy is needed, just the reality that corrupt authoritarian governments, can use each other’s support to enrich themselves and secure their power.
There is also a disturbing widely reported study by Monk and Foa in Journal of Democracy this year. The number of people born in the 1980s (ie in their thirties) who feel it is essential to live in a democracy has fallen to nearly 25% in US and Britain. This means that in principle only 25% of the population in their thirties would actively fight to defend democracy in their own countries, let alone abroad. The figure for Holland is 30%, Sweden is 60% with an average of 40% in Europe for this age group.
Democracy is in decline, and this will continue to plummet sharply in the near future if nothing substantial is done.
An alarming symptom of this is the apathy ordinary people in the West have shown towards the Arab Democratic Uprising in Europe’s neighbouring region of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Few Western progressives have taken a factual knife to the soft underbelly of rhetoric that has successfully smeared this uprising. The line that real effective Western support for this uprising is a continuation of the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions is widely accepted. Intervention in Libya and Syria is criticised for lack of success, while few point out that there has been a chronic lack of support from the West. Lastly it is widely ignored that these uprisings are also fighting a strong counter revolution financed by regional dictatorships desperate to ensure the failure of representative government in MENA.
Instead these uprisings are described as chaotic, lacking vision and motivated by extremism. The old colonial line is unconsciously trotted out about it taking hundreds of years to create the culture and institutions needed for democracy, and that the West has some monopoly of these. The truth is that the sins ascribed to the Arab Democratic Uprising are really the sins of progressives in the West. We lack organisation, lack vision and hold unreflectively to an extreme ideology shared by the majority of society. A paradoxical obsession with individualism, which in the name of populism and freedom seeks to empower authoritarian governments run by elites, who rather than tackle the excessive power of elites offer to redirect resources from maligned minorities.
These authoritarian governments will in turn support and encourage each other. The global economy sits on a pinnacle of unsustainable debt (corporate, government and private). Solving the inevitable further major recessions requires international partnership, which is less likely in a world of authoritarian governments. The economic crisis then fuels more authoritarianism making the crisis deeper in a self-perpetuating feedback loop.
A decisive shift in progressive politics is needed. There is clearly an extremely urgent need to advert the turn to authoritarianism. A new economics that like Keynesianism before it finds innovative ways to thrust society into business. Successful societies need to erode but not demolish the boundaries of private property and enterprise. A system where income is taxed by the state, but can also effectively be generated from hidden wealth is not sustainable. In the same sense businesses cannot be both moderate organisations and part of anarchic brutal markets.
Extreme ideas of excessive individualism, collectivism, anarchy or organisation need to be binned. It should be obvious that extreme politics leads to societies dominated by destructive barriers, it is just where they are built that changes. Even anarchistic societies gives rise to cliques who build barriers around themselves, and indulge in chauvinistic fantasies of their entitlement.
A movement built on representative government, empowerment and the erosion of barriers is needed. New inspiration flows from activists trying to shift MENA societies away from government by elites. The West needs their ideas and spirit to prevent the victory of authoritarianism in Europe and the United States.
We should be aware that it is now reasonable and allowable to panic, and that we are all Syrians now, with the only comfort of solidarity.
There is nothing more to say …………
Ruth Riegler, Facebook Post, 22nd Nov 2016
Le Pen, like Farage and Trump, is another of Putin’s fascist stooges and Assad’s “natural allies”. It’s almost like Vlad has a plan…
‘Europe’s darkening hour? Populist movement smacks of the fascist past’
22-11-2016: ‘…Europe is sensitive to the rise of fascism given how quickly the misery of the severe economic crises of the 1930s morphed into nationalism. Is that where we are now?
“The boundaries of reason disappeared with Brexit. The main lesson for us in France is that Marine Le Pen can win,” conservative former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told RTL radio. It was a view shared by fellow former premier Dominique de Villepin.
Across Europe, there is a kind of awakening. In Austria, where elections will take place in December, Norbert Hofer and his Eurosceptic Freedom Party gained 49.7 percent of the vote with rhetoric that is largely anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant. Hofer even goes as far to wear a blue cornflower on his lapel, which was worn by Austrian Nazis in the 1930s as a secret symbol after their party was banned.
In Hungary, the twice-elected social conservative and Europe-skeptic Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took the lead in rallying the right wing last year when he roared with Trump-like enthusiasm about building a razor-wire fence and using water cannons to block immigrants. Orbán has locked down his country with a zeal that would make Vladimir Putin proud: hindering free press, NGOs and the judiciary. Despite this, he is considered by many to be one of the most influential leaders in the European Union. Politico went as far as to call him the “talisman for Europe’s mainstream right.”
Holland could also go the way of a Trump-like tornado in their election next March. The country has long been wrought with problems stemming from an inability to assimilate its growing Muslim population. Geert Wilder from The Party for Freedom went as far as to call the American election a historic victory: “A revolution! We will also give our country back to the Dutch!”
In the UK, the father of Brexit, Nigel Farage of the UKIP Party, grandly said he was handing over the “mantle” to Trump. He did not specify which mantle but it is not hard to work out. Farage skipped Remembrance Day—a solemn holiday in Britain—to visit the new U.S. president.’
Europe Newsweek Opinion: Europe’s Darkening Hour? Populist Movement Smacks of Fascist Past Brexit vote, Donald Trump’s victory, Le Pen’s rise in France and more give comfort to hard-right leaders who are evoking some of Europe’s darkest days.
By Janine di Giovanni,20th Nov 2016
As Putin and Assad regimes push to bomb their way to endless dictatorship in Syria. As the West progressives and the reactionaries both cheer Putin. As the rise of authoritarianism in Europe increases its speed. As the world’s economy teeters onwards on a wave of every type of debt. You might wonder what is wrong with progressive politics in the West. This is a way of thinking about it:
How this works, is up to you to think about.