by Danny Haiphong
Syria is “the target of one of the greatest misinformation campaigns in recent history.” The author regrets that left analyst Eric Draitser has contributed to the confusion. Draitser criticizes leftists who firmly support the Syrian government. Danny Haiphong counters that “the left must act with uncompromising dedication to the principle of self-determination in every case where US and Western imperialism wages wars of neo-colonial plunder.”
Break the Silence or Support Self-Determination? In Syria, the Answer Should be Obvious
by Danny Haiphong
“To claim that the left in the US should fight for ‘peace’ and at the same time oppose the Syrian government is an intentional attempt to remain neutral in a time of war.”
Imperialism's war on Syria may be the most important question on the order of the day for those fighting for a world free of exploitation and oppression. Syria is currently the battleground of imperialism's last gasp of life. In nearly six years, Syria has been turned into a site of intense struggle between the forces of resistance and imperialism's forces of reaction. It has also been the target of one of the greatest misinformation campaigns in recent history. The imperialist countries and their media lackeys have sewed deep confusion about the true character of the war being waged on Syria. Nowhere is this confusion greater than in the United States, and it appears someone I deeply respect has been overtaken by it.
In a recent issue of CounterPunch, Eric Draitser dives head deep into the confusion. He criticizes what he deems as two critical problems with the left's stance. Draitser first criticizes the pro-imperialist left for their decision to align themselves with the foreign-sponsored terror groups in Syria, which have been labeled "revolutionaries" or "rebels" by the imperialist countries. He then goes on to criticize leftists who have positioned themselves firmly in support of the Syrian government.
It is his criticism of the "pro-Assad left" that needs further examination. Draitser reveals his deep confusion when he asks:
"Will you continue to delude yourselves by refusing to accept the plainly obvious truth that no state or group has the best interests of Syrians at heart?"
Draitser's question assumes that the Syrian and Russian governments are equally to blame for the chaos in Syria. Their bombs are assumed to be prolonging the war and committing atrocities against the Syrian people at the same rate of the imperialists. If this is not the case, he doesn't state otherwise in the piece. In fact, Draitser sets out to prove true what has already been proven false by a wide range of independent and corporate media sources.
“The imperialist countries and their media lackeys have sewed deep confusion about the true character of the war being waged on Syria.”
First, Draitser claims that the war on Syria began as a genuine protest against "neo-liberal" reforms instituted by the Syrian government. This narrative is popular among the liberal-left media as well as the white left generally. However, those who make this claim rarely specify what neo-liberal reforms were made or how the confrontation all of a sudden became violent. Stephen Gowans reviews numerous reports from the corporate media that describe the uprising in March of 2011 as immediately violent, ill-supported, and ultimately insignificant in the midst of reforms from the Syrian government that were broadly supported by the Syrian people. At the same time as the violent uprisings, thousands of Syrians were protesting in the streets in support of President Assad.
Furthermore, reports from the city of Daraa during the 2011 uprisings confirmed the presence of armed "rebels" who had freshly arrived from their US-NATO backed destruction of Libya. These "rebels" have since infested the country through various channels of the Syrian border. Each group possesses a fundamentalist Wahhabi ideology and receives varying degrees of assistance from the Gulf monarchies, Israel, Turkey, NATO, and of course, the US. This is confirmed in Draitser's article. Yet he still reinforces the claim that a popular uprising started the war even though Assad possessed broad support in 2011.
The truth is that the war on Syria has little to do with neo-liberalism or popular discontent. It has been acknowledged by UN sources that despite reforms, the Syrian economy remains highly regulated and socialist in character. Syria's own form of socialism has brought many benefits to the Syrian people. Healthcare and education are rights guaranteed to all citizens. Syria also possesses a secular government where Muslims, Christians, and all religious and ethnic groups lived peacefully prior to the war. Syria is thus a poor example of neo-liberalism. What economic struggles that do exist in Syria have largely stemmed from the harsh sanctions imposed by the US in 2004.
“The war on Syria has little to do with neo-liberalism or popular discontent.”
Furthermore, Draitser cites numerous sources that support regime change to smear the Syrian government and, by extension, the Syrian people. One of the sources receives much of its information from the White Helmets. The White Helmets have long been exposed as an NGO that works directly in service of imperialism's regime change operation in Syria. The organization receives approximately 33 million in funds directly from the US and UK governments. Eva Bartlett recently visited Aleppo and witnessed many White Helmet workers sporting arms and fighting among the terror groups.
Draister also cites a source from the New York Post. The Post article relies heavily on documents collected by the dubious Center for International Justice and Accountability. This purported "international law" NGO is run by a consortium of corporate lawyers, former or current Amnesty International staffers, and various other servants of empire. The organization specializes in "transitional justice." In other words, the Center for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) provides a legal framework for regime change on behalf of its imperial funders. Draitser claims no group involved in the war has the interests of the Syrian people at heart yet cites directly from an organization dedicated to the promotion of war in Syria.
The NGOs and their partners in the corporate media have worked together to distort the reality on the ground. Aleppo is case and point. A ceasefire was brokered by all parties in late October that was supposed to allow Syrians to escape safely from East to West Aleppo. However, the humanitarian corridors were repeatedly shelled by the Nusra Front, the US-backed Al Qaeda affiliate. The media decided to ignore this and report instead that the ceasefire’s failure was due to the withholding of aid by Russia and Syria. This is but one example of many where the Syrian government has been blamed for the rebel-sponsored terror inflicted on Syrian people.
“His analysis uses an abstract, moral argument to violate Syria's self-determination.”
After five years of war on Syria, it is a wonder how anyone could believe a word that comes from the mouths of the imperialist countries. They lied about the origins of the conflict. They have continuously blamed the Syrian government for events that have all been traced back to the armed proxies they support. This includes the Houla Massacre, the sarin gas attack in Ghouta, and the so-called starvation of Madaya. Aleppo is no different. The Syrian city has been under constant siege from NATO-backed terrorists. The terrorists are holding nearly 250,000 Syrians hostage in the Eastern side of war-torn Aleppo. This has been verified by journalists on the ground such as Vanessa Beeley.
These facts seem not to matter in Draitser's newfound assessment of Syria. His analysis uses an abstract, moral argument to violate Syria's self-determination. Calling those who unequivocally support the Syrian government "fetishists" assumes that the US left should take a position different from that of the Syrian people. Actual Syrians supported Bashar Al-Assad, and thus the Syrian Army, with 88.7 percent of the vote in the 2014 elections. To claim that the left in the US should fight for "peace" and at the same time oppose the Syrian government is an intentional attempt to remain neutral in a time of war. As Howard Zinn brilliantly stated, one cannot be neutral on a moving train.
And the imperialist war against Syria is moving dangerously toward a World War III scenario. Hillary Clinton will be elected the next President of the United States and has repeatedly expressed that she will pursue a no-fly zone once in office. A no-fly zone would place Russian and Syrian military assets at risk of US-sponsored bombs and thus the world at risk of a global military confrontation not seen since World War II. How convenient it is then that Draitser should rebuke his former anti-imperialist stance in place of a stealth form of regime change. The world is on fire, yet Draitser has interpreted the situation as a chance to distort an already highly misunderstood situation.
“Draister's conclusions ultimately reinforce the Western assumption that the left must come to the rescue and save the Syrian people from their plight.”
Positions such as Draitser’s are ultimately shaped by the material conditions of an imperialist empire in crisis and decline. White supremacy has been a principle condition of US imperialism since its inception. The war machine and white supremacy are deeply connected. The peoples and nations on imperialism's hit-list are routinely depicted in a manner that justifies the need for US and Western military medicine. This notion has trickled down to the day-to-day actions of ordinary people, including what currently passes as the "anti-war" movement in the US today.
Draister's conclusions ultimately reinforce the Western assumption that the left must come to the rescue and save the Syrian people from their plight. Indeed, the Syrian people need allies and the left must be organizing toward an end to the war. But an end to the war cannot be achieved unless the left supports the will of the Syrian people. At the moment, this means the US left must align itself with the Syrian government and its allies. The left must act with uncompromising dedication to the principle of self-determination in every case where US and Western imperialism wages wars of neo-colonial plunder. Syria should be no exception.
Of course, this critique should not be seen as a personal attack on Draitser himself. His body of work reflects a deep commitment to the struggle against war and Empire. He has often taken positions on international questions that are deeply unpopular with the US imperialist order. However, when mistakes are made, the left has a responsibility to correct them. There is too much at stake. Failure to step up in defense of Syria means another regime, change scenario similar to what happened in Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya. Draitser's piece is a study into the path that all genuine anti-imperialists should avoid.
But what is the correct path forward? Imperialism is the unquestionable cause of the war in Syria, so imperialism must be the primary target of an anti-imperialist movement. The US and its allies are risking world war over Syria’s destruction. On the other side, the Syrian and Russian governments (along with Iran and China) are doing as much as they can to find a peaceful solution to the conflict that also respects Syria’s national sovereignty. It is without question that this is the side where the left ought to be in the continued struggle to end the war once and for all.
Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at [email protected]