The YPG, FSA, US collaboration and “double standards”

(Cross-posted from here)

An increasingly popular point being made on the part of pro-FSA Tweeters is that anti-imperialists are hypocrites for embracing the YPG while maligning the FSA, despite the fact that both forces collaborate and receive aid from US forces in the region. This argument is intellectually dishonest for the following two reasons:

1.) Anti-imperialist commenters have expressed cynicism about the US’ assistance to the YPG by pointing out that it is only being done to co-opt the Syrian Kurds into the anti-Assad cause [1]. Indeed, Reuters reported a year ago that before granting them aid to fight ISIS the Western powers sought to “clarify [the Syrian Kurds’] relationship to President Bashar al-Assad” [2]. It is also perfectly reasonable to assume that the conditions attached to Western help would further compromise the PYD’s stated commitment to a progressive societal structure. One can’t help but be reminded of the US intervention in Haiti in the 1990s, in which the US military “restored” to power the progressive, democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on the condition he abide by certain neo-liberal reforms and allow rightist thugs to be integrated into the country’s security forces [3]. It should be remembered that the US was behind much of Haiti’s right-wing unrest [4] and exploited the situation to get more progressive elements in line. There is a clear precedent for creating a proxy force and then using it to extract concessions while claiming to oppose said proxy force.

2.) The FSA is represented abroad by liberal and neoconservative expats with deep connections to both the “soft power” USAID/NED/NGO complex and the “hard power” Western defense and intelligence establishment [5]. In Syria itself, it is largely composed of reactionary Islamists who receive massive amounts of aid from the US, the Gulf States and Turkey [6]. While there are undoubtedly some activists and even armed rebels fighting Assad’s forces with noble goals in mind, it is increasingly difficult to find progressive elements at the forefront of the actual fighting. In addition to being reactionary, the FSA’s end goal of regime change in Syria serves US (and Israeli) goals by removing a relatively independent, militarily strong Arab government from power [7].

TL;DR: The US collaborates with the YPG because it hopes to co-opt it against Assad and possibly water down its progressive ideology. The US collaborates with the FSA because it is a somewhat reliable proxy army against a counter-hegemonic regime. Thus, the YPG can be supported by anti-imperialists in so far as it remains independent from US influence and designs while the FSA serves US power through-and-through.

Notes:

[1] As’ad AbuKhalil, “Who will win in Kobane (`Ayn Al-`Arab)?” [m], 19 October 2014.

[2] Tom Perry, “West widens contacts with Syria’s Kurds but suspicion remains” [m], Reuters, 8 September 2014.

[3] For US coercion of Aristide into accepting neo-liberal adjustments see: William Blum, “Haiti, 1986-1994: Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” [m] in Killing Hope, 2004. For US collaboration with right-wing paramilitaries while occupying Haiti see: Allan Nairn, “Haiti under the gun: How US Intelligence has been excercising crowd control,” Nation, 8 Jan 1996. Also recommended is this entire Twitter thread I made.

[4] Blum, “Haiti, 1986-1994.” Tim Weiner, “Key Haiti leaders said to have been in the C.I.A.’s pay” [m], New York Times, 1 November 1993. Allan Nairn, “Occupation Haiti: The eagle is landing,” Nation, 3 Oct 1994. Allan Nairn, “Our man in FRAPH: Behind Haiti’s paramilitaries,” Nation, 24 Oct 1994.

[5] Charlie Skelton, “The Syrian opposition: who’s doing the talking?” [m], Guardian, 12 July 2012.

[6] David Mizner, “Don’t blame Islam: Al-Qaeda and ISIS are products of US and Saudi imperialism” [m], Jacobin, 30 January 2005.

[7] An early draft of a Pentagon planning document in the early 1990s spilled the beans on the US’ desire to “maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role,” quoted in: Patrick Tyler, “U.S. strategy plan calls for insuring no rivals develop” [m], New York Times, 8 March 2015. Recently, Israeli figures have been much more open in expressing the benefits of an Assad-free Middle East: Gilad Sharon, “Who needs Bashar Assad?” [m], YNet News, 12 May 2015. For evidence that Israel desires the Balkanization of its surrounding Arab states: Israel Shahak, The Zionist Plan for the Middle East [m], Association of Arab-American University Graduates, 1982.

Reuters: US plans to use strikes against ISIS to empower “moderate” anti-Assad rebels

Reuters, “Strategy on Islamic State includes support for Syrian opposition, Iraq: White House“:

Obama could order airstrikes on an expanded list of targets within Iraq and has been considering strikes in Syria as well, on condition that moderate rebels there be in a position to hold territory cleared of Islamic State fighters by the strikes.

Of course, no one could have predicted that the US would exploit the ISIS’ newfound bogeyman status to further undermine and destabilize Assad’s regime. Except a lot of people.

Hersh: Obama wanted a “monster strike” against Syria’s infrastructure, military and civilian

Seymour Hersh has a new article on Syria which alleges that the 21 August 2013 Ghouta gas attack was a Turkish-backed false flag operation designed to goad the US into launching air strikes against the Assad regime. While most of the attention will be undoubtedly be paid to the incredible allegations against Erdoğan’s regime in Turkey, I want to focus on a different subject mentioned only briefly in the article.

In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.

The Obama administration actually rejected joint chiefs of staff recommendations for Syrian air strikes because they were not “painful” enough. They also wanted to bomb civilian targets such electrical grids and oil and gas depots. As if the sadism that often underlies “humanitarian intervention” was not blatant enough, this seals the deal.

Related:

Former Israeli official spills the beans on US/Israeli policy for Syria

New York Times, 5 Sep. 2013:

Israelis have increasingly argued that the best outcome for Syria’s two-and-a-half-year-old civil war, at least for the moment, is no outcome. For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad’s government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.

“This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.”

Henry Kissinger on the Iran-Iraq War:

Too bad they can’t both lose […] I hope they all just kill each other.

Before we bomb Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, five things you should know

1. Experts on chemical warfare say that footage of the alleged gas attacks is inconsistent with the effects of weapons-grade substances.

Haaretz, 21 August 2013:

Dan Kaszeta, a former officer of the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps and a leading private consultant, pointed out a number of details absent from the footage so far: “None of the people treating the casualties or photographing them are wearing any sort of chemical-warfare protective gear,” he says, “and despite that, none of them seem to be harmed.” This would seem to rule out most types of military-grade chemical weapons, including the vast majority of nerve gases, since these substances would not evaporate immediately, especially if they were used in sufficient quantities to kill hundreds of people, but rather leave a level of contamination on clothes and bodies which would harm anyone coming in unprotected contact with them in the hours after an attack. In addition, he says that “there are none of the other signs you would expect to see in the aftermath of a chemical attack, such as intermediate levels of casualties, severe visual problems, vomiting and loss of bowel control.”

Steve Johnson, a leading researcher on the effects of hazardous material exposure at England’s Cranfield University who has worked with Britain’s Ministry of Defense on chemical warfare issues, agrees that “from the details we have seen so far, a large number of casualties over a wide area would mean quite a pervasive dispersal. With that level of chemical agent, you would expect to see a lot of contamination on the casualties coming in, and it would affect those treating them who are not properly protected. We are not seeing that here.”

euronews, 21 August 2013:

Stephen Johnson is an expert in weapons and chemical explosives at Cranfield Forensic Institute. He said there were inconsistency among the patients’ symptoms.

“There are, within some of the videos, examples which seem a little hyper-real, and almost as if they’ve been set up. Which is not to say that they are fake but it does cause some concern. Some of the people with foaming, the foam seems to be too white, too pure, and not consistent with the sort of internal injury you might expect to see, which you’d expect to be bloodier or yellower,” Johnson said.

2. There are plausible alternative theories as to what caused the symptoms shown in the footage.
Haaretz, 21 August 2013:

“One alternative is that a large concentration of riot control agents were used here, which could have caused suffocation of large numbers of people who were pressed together in a bunker or underground shelter,” says Gwyn Winfield, a veteran researcher and editor of CBRNe World, a professional journal the effects of chemical, biological and nuclear warfare. While riot-control substances, mainly various types of tear gas, are usually deployed in small quantities using hand-grenades, they can be used in much larger quantities in artillery shells or even dropped in barrels from aircraft as the U.S. Army did in Vietnam, trying to flush the Vietcong out of its underground bunkers. In large concentrations, these substances can cause suffocation, especially in closed spaces where many of the Syrian families would have been hiding from the bombing.

Another possible explanation for the casualties is that a large bomb, or a number of bombs, created a fireball that sucked the air out of the nearby building for a short period of time, causing the asphyxiation of those inside. The Syrians have extensively used fuel-air bombs, which create a large vacuum beneath the blast and could have lead to many such casualties.

3. There have been previous allegations from UN officials that the rebels, not the regime, have used chemical weapons.
Reuters, 5 May 2013:

U.N. human rights investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria’s civil war and medical staff indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin, one of the lead investigators said on Sunday. The United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has not yet seen evidence of government forces having used chemical weapons, which are banned under international law, said commission member Carla Del Ponte.

“Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated,” Del Ponte said in an interview with Swiss-Italian television. “This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities,” she added, speaking in Italian.

4. The US has asserted that possible UN inspections of the site of the alleged gas attack are “too late to be credible.”
LA Times, 25 August 2013:

U.N. officials confirmed that its inspection team, already in Syria to investigate previous allegations of chemical weapons use, would begin “on-site fact-finding activities” Monday. The Syrians have “agreed to provide the necessary cooperation,” including a “cessation of hostilities” in the area, the U.N. statement said.

But a senior administration official, in a written statement given to reporters on condition of anonymity, brushed aside the Syrian offer. “If the Syrian government had nothing to hide and wanted to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons in this incident, it would have ceased its attacks on the area and granted immediate access to the U.N. — five days ago,” the official said. By now, the government has had many opportunities to destroy evidence, including by shelling the areas, the official noted. A “belated decision by the regime to grant access to the U.N. team is too late to be credible,” the statement said. U.S. officials are continuing to assess the facts to determine “how to respond to this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons,” the official said. “The president has not made a decision to take action. But as you’ve seen, we think there is little doubt that these attacks were undertaken by the regime,” the official said.

5. A planned UN inspections of the alleged attack site have been delayed due to insecurity allegedly created by rebel forces.
NY Times, 27 August 2013:

United Nations weapons inspectors in Syria postponed a second visit to suspected attack sites on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, after having failed to secure assurances of their safety, the United Nations and Syrian officials said.
[…]
On the ground in Syria, United Nations inspectors, who came under sniper fire on Monday before a visit to one location, had been set “to continue their investigation in a different site” on Tuesday, the United Nations said in a statement. But after the attack on Monday, “a comprehensive assessment determined that the visit should be postponed by one day in order to improve preparedness and safety for the team.” The statement said the inspectors had not received “confirmation of access.”

Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, said that the inspectors’ trip had been delayed by one day because of disputes among the rebel groups. The minister said the insurgents could not agree on issues related to guaranteeing the inspectors’ safety. He gave no further details.

Why the GOP’s “Benghazi” rallying cry isn’t working

While it’s clear to me and a few others that the 11 September 2012 deadly attack on a US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi was a rather direct consequence of the US-backed 2011 regime-change, it is a connection that that practically no one in the American media or political arena is making today. Instead of criticizing Obama for involving the US in yet another unnecessary foreign adventure that destabilized an already inflammatory region in a way that ended up biting us in the ass, the Republicans are making increasingly contorted allegations concerning the way the Obama administration described the attack after it happened. The latest iteration of this involves accusations that the White House edited talking points. Needless to say, this is not very exciting stuff. Nor is it very convincing.

The problem is this: the Republican Party is still hopelessly intertwined with neoconservative interventionists as the Democratic Party is in bed with liberal interventionists. Despite the often purported “isolationism” of the Tea Party movement, very little has changed in the GOP’s promotion of a militarized and fundamentally interventionist foreign policy. This is true even among Tea Party favorites. Sarah Palin–who built her media persona as being a “renegade” against the GOP establishment–largely endorsed the overthrow of Gaddafi while expressing some reservation over the Obama administration’s “mixed messages.” Mark Levin, a firebrand talk show host who is notorious for berating the alleged anti-Tea Party stance of the GOP, went as far as defending the Obama administration against claims it overstepped its Constitutional bounds by intervening without Congressional approval. While it is true that Michelle Bachmann and Allen West made statements against the Libya intervention, this opposition was rarely voiced and–in the case of West–inconsistent with an eagerness to get rid of Gaddafi.

And don’t even get me started on the man who the GOP nominated to run against Obama.

Because the GOP finds itself incapable of condemning the regime change that took place in Libya, it is significantly hampered in the range of criticisms it can throw at Obama over Benghazi.

Also worth considering is this 2006 story:

Syrian guards foiled an attempt by suspected al-Qaida-linked militants to blow up the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday, exchanging fire outside the compound’s walls with gunmen who shouted “God is great” and tried to storm in with automatic weapons and hand grenades.
[…]
The rapid response by Syrian guards won rare praise from the United States, which accuses President Bashar Assad’s government of supporting terrorism in its backing of Hezbollah guerrillas and Palestinian militants.

“I do think that the Syrians reacted to this attack in a way that helped to secure our people, and we very much appreciate that,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. No Americans were hurt, and the embassy was not damaged.

White House spokesman Tony Snow also thanked Syrian officials and called for Damascus to “become an ally and make the choice of fighting against terrorists” (AP, 12 Sep. 2006)

Perhaps the Republicans could do US embassy workers more of a favor by keeping tabs on Obama’s regime change policy in Syria than by grandstanding over edited talking points.

Take it away Mr. Kucinich:

US Treasury exempts intellectual property fees from Syria sanctions

According to a PDF file recently released by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the US government has given a rather broad exemption for “certain transactions related to patents, trademarks, and copyrights” that would normally be prohibited under an Executive Order signed last August that established economic sanctions against Syria. The exemption includes activities such as “the filing and prosecution of any opposition or infringement proceeding with respect to a patent, trademark, copyright, or other form of intellectual property protection” and even “authorizes the payment of fees currently due to the United States Government or the Government of Syria […] in connection with [intellectual property-related activities]” (emphasis mine).

The document, titled “General License No. 15” comes amidst concerns that the Obama administration intends to beef up the prosecution of intellectual copyright infringement. It has recently indicted the large filesharing website Megaupload and intends to expand the Justice Department unit dedicated to such prosecutions. According to Reuters (17 February 2012):

The Justice Department asked Congress for $5 million to hire 14 new employees, including nine attorneys, to focus on intellectual property crimes. […] “We’ve had an increase in the number of cases that we’re dealing with in IP (intellectual property),” Deputy Attorney General James Cole told reporters. “We think this is an area that really needs some focus and some efforts and increases in the future.” […] If the budget request is approved by Congress, the team would grow to 34. The entertainment industry has been pushing the administration to do more, and efforts to pass new legislation to crack down further on such crimes has stalled.

It’s anyone’s best guess why the Obama administration chose the embargo against Syria–of all things–to apply an IP enforcement loophole. According to the US State Department’s 2011 Investment Climate Statement for the country:

Violations of intellectual property rights (IPR) are rampant in Syria. Patent, trademark, and copyright laws are all inadequate. As a result, Syria provides minimal protection for local producers and almost no protection for foreign producers.