Syria, the Western “left”, and the Palestinian-rights movement

I’m sorry that I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for so long. There has been a lot to ponder in international affairs. But I’ve been busy for the past 7-plus years publishing other people’s work. I feel very good about what my publishing company, Just World Books, has achieved. But I regret that because I’ve poured so much of my time and attention into the publishing, I’ve had so little time left to do my own writing.

Crucial among my concerns has been the question of how and why so much of the western “left”– a force that played such a strong role in the antiwar and broadly anti-imperialism movement in the lead-up to the Iraq war in 2003– has become so deeply co-opted into the allegedly “liberal/humanitarian” wing of the imperialist movement over the past 14 years.

There is much that I hope to write about this over the coming months. My thinking on the topic still evolves. But it already seems clear to me that a number of processes have been at work:

  1. The erosion of the whole memory/immediacy of the question of imperialism and the need to counter it, as I understood it back when I was young in the UK, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many younger people in the west today think that imperialism/anti-imperialism is “tired old dogma” or whatever. Or, they talk glibly, in re Syria, about “dual imperialisms”– that is, Russian along with US/Western– without any appreciation of the relevance of the history of western imperialism in the M.E. region or the significance of the fact that Russia is in Syria as the invited ally of the legitimate government of Syria wile the US/Saudi/western forces are there to disrupt, hobble, or topple the country’s entire governing system, in the continuation of plans that the Zionists and Americans have pursued for many decades now.

2. A serious erosion among western political elites in their support for (or even understanding of) the concept of state sovereignty and concomitant need for self- determination and national liberation by previously oppressed peoples. Thus, we have seen numerous actors in the global (particularly western) political elite who have been quite happy to throw out the norms of the “Westphalian” system of international affairs– i.e., a basic respect for the sovereignty of all states and countries– in the interests of a “responsibility to protect” (R2P) that in practice came to be claimed only by already-powerful western governments and their publics, against the prevailing situation in much weaker and often severely beleaguered, formerly colonized states in the Global South. This, while these same elites have shown no appreciation at all for the fact that their own liberal democracies could never have emerged in Europe or anywhere else from the 17th century BCE on if they had not been part of a “Westphalian” system! Their authoritarian neighbors would simply and uncontestedly have been able to crush them or strangle them at birth. Some respect is needed for Westphalia, people.

3. What happened after the “Arab Spring” of early 2011, which was– at the outset– the eruption of considerable new popular forces, organized in the most rudimentary and vulnerable (because mainly online) ways against some dictators in the Arab world. But the vulnerability of those largely-online organizations/networks to manipulation by outside powers was huge. In the case of Egypt, so many of the “youth” organizers of 2011 became completely hoodwinked by the emergence in spring 2013 of that phenomenon called “Tamarrod”, which was a completely anti-democratic, astroturf organization created and funded by the Egyptian military and oligarchs, and the Saudis, and which then proceeded to crush the Egyptian revolution. In Libya and Syria, meanwhile, you’d had the speedy co-optation of the anti-regime movements by a very unholy alliance of the Saudis, their jihadist allies, and the organs of US “soft”-ish power… and in both those countries we have seen the unholy outcome of that.

So now, I want to turn my attention to a very valuable statement on last night’s US military attack against Syria that was issued by the NYU Students for Justice in Palestine. Their statement is very intelligently titled “U.S. Out of Syria: Rebuilding the Anti-War Movement.” I disagree with the authors in their apparent contention that US and Russian “imperialisms” are both equally at fault in Syria (see point 1 above.) Nonetheless, their critique of the US role in Syria is strong and very well documented. They write:

While employing rhetoric of revolution, the armed and political opposition [in Syria] has been consistently funded by the US and its allies, who have repeatedly attempted to co-opt the rage and pain of the Syrian people for the benefit of US strategic interests.