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:
- 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.
… As an anti-imperialist youth organization, we can not stay silent about US intervention in Syria. The United States has played a central role in shaping the conditions that birthed ISIS beginning with its occupation of Iraq in 2003 and further fueled the current conflict by supporting reactionary and competing opposition groups in Syria. We understand the United States’ stated goal “to defeat ISIS” is nothing but an excuse to intensify airstrikes, raids, and escalating military occupation; ensuring its hegemony in the region. In the process, thousands have been killed, leaving generations with irreparable damage. We strongly condemn the US’ role in Syrian affairs, including the Trump regime’s rejection of refugees caused in part by this American imperialism. The Syrian & Kurdish people must decide their own fate, and all actors who seek to undermine Syrian freedom and self-determination should be held accountable. To this end, we recognize that our enemy abroad is our enemy at home. The enemy that leads the world in incarceration, the enemy that murders Black and Brown people with impunity and allows fascism to rise is the same empire that facilitates Zionism and rains bombs on the heads of people all around the globe.
While we respect the diversity of opinion concerning the Syrian conflict, we call for the unity of pro-Palestine and anti-imperialist organizations around the country to mobilize around halting the escalation of US intervention in Syria and in the region as a whole. Our primary duty is to prevent our own government, one which has invaded and destroyed dozens of nations since WWII, from continuing to exacerbate the conflict. We must be clear that regardless of the use of a “humanitarian” or “counter-terrorism” framework to justify intervention, the United States has no role in the Middle East but to leave it.
This statement from the NYU SJP is worth reading in its entirety for the comprehensive and hard-hitting nature of its analysis. It is also notable because, as its authors write, it is quite true that there is a “diversity of opinion” in the Palestinian-rights movement in the United States, on the issue of Syria. It is now no secret that powerful (and often GCC-funded) bodies have been active within the Palestinian-rights movement in the United States over the past few years, in an attempt to silence any voices that try to critique or even hold basically accountable the actions of the pro-regime-change forces in Syria; and to blacklist from the movement any individuals who attempt to undertake such critiques.
One recent result of such a blacklisting campaign was the decision that the SJP chapter at the University of North Carolina recently made, under the force of some outside outside pressure, to withdraw an already-extended invitation to the strongly credentialed, pro-Palestinian-rights investigative reporter and analyst Rania Khalek, based solely on hearsay about her alleged position of opposition to regime change in on Syria. Though her invitation was never re-issued, that SJP chapter’s decision did provoke significant pushback, including via the issuance of this anti-blacklisting statement, which I was pleased to sign.
The UNC chapter of SJP was, it seems, sadly vulnerable to outside pressures, as they themselves revealed in the statement they had issued about Khalek’s de-platforming. So it is doubly welcome to see their counterparts in the NYU SJP issuing such a strongly argued statement of opposition to US imperial machinations in Syria.
The NYU SJP-ers note that there’s a “diversity of opinion”on Syria– and I’m guessing they mean that this exists within either the nationwide network of SJPs or the broader US Palestinian-rights movement as a whole. I would go much further. I would say that the Syria issue has been very damagingly divisive within the Palestinian-rights movement; and I note that the anti-Asad, pro-“regime change” factions within the movement have been vociferous in their attempts to shout down, silence, defund, blacklist, and exclude any individuals who uphold the principled, anti-imperialist position of opposing any attempts by the US and other Western powers and elites to determine who should or should not govern in Syria or to otherwise interfere in Syria’s affairs.
So yes, there are differences of opinion regarding Syria within the US Palestinian-rights movement. This is normal. But people need to find as many ways as possible to discuss these differences, and learn as much as we all can about the situation inside Syria and the long history of Western/US destabilization efforts there… and to do so in a calm, collegial, and productive manner. We also need to find a way to insulate this still-vulnerable Palestinian-rights movement from the often massive influence of funding bodies based in GCC countries that pursue their own interests in Syria (and in Yemen, in the Palestinian-rights movement, and elsewhere) in ways that are very far from being supportive of the self-determination, the wellbeing, or the democratic self-development of these peoples and movements.