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.


[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.

LA Times wonders why foreign countries resent US-funded “democracy promotion” programs

The LA Times‘ Paul Richter has written a rather flawed article that ponders why nations such as Bolivia, Russia and Egypt do not enjoy having USAID and US government-funded NGOs engage in political activities within their borders. The suspicions of Bolivian president Evo Morales and the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas about USAID are presented as paranoid rantings that lack any reasonable basis. It even quotes an unnamed “senior Obama administration official” disparaging the widespread legal backlash against these groups as “the empire striking back.”

Strangely, the article doesn’t mention the National Endowment of Democracy, one of the key US tax-payer funded NGOs that supposedly promote democracy around the world. The co-founder of this group, Allen Weinstein, once stated that, “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” It also neglects to mention the in-depth role played by the briefly-mentioned International Republican Institute in the temporary 2002 coup in Venezuela the permanent 2004 coup in Haiti. Both of these coups overthrew democratically elected leaders who were widely supported by the impoverished majority in their respective countries. In Haiti, individuals and groups funded and trained by the IRI actually associated with illegal militias made up of ex-death squad members in order to make their regime change successful.

Since the article mainly deals with USAID, it is inexcusable that it fails to cite a Wikileaked State Department cable from 2006 which plainly shows how USAID was utilized to undermine the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez:

The cable, signed by then-Ambassador William Brownfield, outlines a five-point strategy that includes “penetrating Chavez’s political base,” “dividing Chavismo,” “protecting vital U.S. business” and “isolating Chavez internationally.” Those goals are to be obtained by strengthening “democratic institutions,” according to the cable.

“During his 8 years in power, President Chavez has systematically dismantled the institutions of democracy and governance,” Brownfield wrote in the memo detailing how the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Transition Initiatives helped those goals. Strengthening democratic institutions, he wrote, “represents the majority of USAID/OTI work in Venezuela. Organized civil society is an increasingly important pillar of democracy, one where President Chavez has not yet been able to assert full control” (The Hill, 5 April 2013).

The harshest criticism voiced in the LA Times article comes from a Brookings Institution analyst named Ted Piccone:

“If this were flipped — if Egypt were funding groups in the United States — it would hit a real wrong chord […] As evenhanded as we try to be, this is the most sensitive kind of assistance out there. We are intervening directly in their political affairs.”

This is relatively mild criticism when one considers the documented cases of “democracy promotion” being used as a fig leaf for political intervention defending US interests.

Chamber of Commerce affiliate received $100 mil. in US tax dollars to promote free market policies abroad (26 November 2010)