Sunday, December 25, 2016

Bad Narratives Going Forward in the Age of Trump

DECEMBER 23, 2016

From Counterpunch

The Twitter-addicted right-wing uber-asshole and authoritarian megalomaniac Donald Trump and his team of racist, arch-plutocratic, and eco-cidal vultures are about to set up shop alongside a right-wing Congress and a soon-to-be right-wing majority Supreme Court in Washington D.C. So what if the Republican Party is a widely hated institution, viewed with disapproval by nearly two-thirds of the U.S. populace?

Fourteen Narratives to Reject

As we struggle to build and expand popular resistance in this new era, here are fourteen narratives for left progressives (and others) to avoid about how this happened and what we must now do:

1 “The Green Party spoiled things for Hillary and elected Trump.” This story line is false. The numbers don’t remotely support it. If one makes the very bad assumption that all the voters who selected Jill Stein would have gone for Hillary if Stein had not been on the ballot, then Stein made the difference in Michigan and Wisconsin. But that flawed calculation doesn’t explain Trump’s triumph in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Florida, all bigger battleground states Mrs. Clinton lost. Stein came in at one percent, nationally.

2 “Hillary was defeated by a big ugly racist, sexist, and nativist white working class ‘rustbelt rebellion’ that catapulted Trump into power.” Nope. The purported great white-Trumpenproletatian uprising has been badly oversold. Trump got pretty much the Republican presidential candidate’s usual voting share of non-college educated whites and whites making less than 50K a year while the Democratic candidate lost working class voters both white and non-white. As the left political scientist Anthony DiMaggio recently noted on Counterpunch, “The real story of the 2016 election is not that Trump won over working class America, so much as Clinton and the Democrats lost it…’Trump did not really flip white working-class voters in the Rust Belt. Mostly, Democrats lost them.’ Per data pulled from various exit polls, Slate reports that the decline of Democratic voters among the working class in 2016 (compared to 2012) was far larger than the increase in Republican voters during those two elections. Of those earning less than $50,000 a year, the decline in Democratic voting from 2012 to 2016 was 3.5 times greater than the rise in Republican voting.”

3 “Vladimir Putin’s Russian hackers did it.” There’s no real smoking-gun proof on Putin’s involvement. The notion that possibly Russia-initiated document dumps to WikiLeaks illustrating the Democratic National Committee(DNC)’s rigging of the primaries against Bernie Sanders cost Hillary the general election is a big reach, to say the least. The Russian hacking charge seems designed in part to help the DNC and the neoliberal Democratic Party elite more broadly avoid responsibility for blowing the election. The Democrats went with a wooden, Wall Street-captive, and corruption-tainted candidate and campaign that couldn’t mobilize enough working- and lower-class voters defeat the noxious and highly unpopular Trump. The “Moscow Stole It” narrative is a fancy version of “My Dog Ate My Homework” for a dismal dollar-drenched Democratic Party that abandoned the working class and the causes of peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability a long time ago.

4 “The Electoral College screwed Hillary.” Yes, Hillary won the popular vote by nearly three million ballots. The Electoral College (EC) is an absurd violation of the core democratic principle of “one person, one vote.” It is a purposefully undemocratic institutional overhang from the aristo-republican Founding Fathers and their holy Constitution, which was explicitly designed to keep the Founders’ ultimate nightmare – democracy – at bay. It works to Republicans’ advantage because it over-represents disproportionately white and rural states with small populations. But the Clintons and the DNC knew all about the EC, of course, going into the campaign. It’s nothing new, after all. The 2016 presidential election is the fifth one in American history given by the EC to a candidate who lost the popular vote. The Democrats made no efforts – Constitutional or otherwise – to challenge the Monty Python-esque EC after it (with some help from Florida Governor Jeb Bush, viciously racist and systematic voter suppression, and a Republican Supreme Court) handed the presidency to the open moron George W. Bush in 2000-2001. And Hillary still had no business losing key Electoral College states like Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania to Trump, who is heading into the White House with the lowest approval rating of any incoming president.

5 “Comey did it.” Of all the excuses the Democrats advance for why Trump’s victory wasn’t their fault, the chilling James Comey fiasco and the problem of Republican-led racist voter suppression (Greg Palast’s recurrent topic) in contested states are the most credible ones. But there’s no precise way to measure the impact of FBI Director Comey’s creepy political intervention ten days out from the election. The Comey card should not be seen as grounds to pardon Hillary and the Democrats for the dismally uninspiring and centrist campaign they ran.

6 “The Democrats’ 2016 humiliation will show them that they have no choice but to make themselves over as a progressive champion of all working people against the wealthy Few.” Don’t hold your breath. The Democratic Party’s recently installed new U.S. Senate Minority Leader isn’t a liberal or progressive Democrat like Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), or even Sherrod Brown (D-OH). It’s the neoliberal Wall Street Democrat Charles Schumer (D-NY). The House Minority Leader continues to be the big money San Francisco pro-war corporate Democrat Nancy Pelosi, idiotically endorsed by the supine AFL-CIO over the pro-union heartland progressive Democrat Tim Ryan (D-OH).

Yes, the Bernie Sanders-affiliated Congressman Keith Ellison [D-MN] is considered a top contender for the chairmanship of the DNC. But don’t be surprised if that falls through. He’s getting bashed for past association with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and for making some “anti-Israel” comments as a law student in the 1980s. Ellison’s ascendancy to the job of party chairman could cost the Democrats big money. CNN recently quoted one of party’s biggest donors, Haim Saban, as saying that Ellison is “clearly an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel person.”

It gets worse. Last Monday morning on CNN, Daily Beast columnist Patricia Murphy reported on interviews she’d recently conducted with Democrats around the country. She found “no soul-searching” or critical self-reflection among the Hillary voters with whom she spoke. To the contrary, some Democrats even told her that “we won” because Mrs. Clinton did better than Trump in the popular vote – as if the EC is an irrelevant technicality. Murphy also reported that the Democrats she spoke with seem ridiculously content to simply write off a huge part of the U.S. electorate – the white working class – as a mass of appallingly racist and sexist brutes (“deplorables”):

“What I am astounded by talking to Democrats about what happened in the election, there is no consensus among Democrats about why they lost, or even whether they really lost. So it’s going to be very difficult for them to come up with a cohesive plan about how to move forward. I talked to Democrats and some of them will go back to saying, hey, we won the popular vote, we really did win. You know, it’s just a technicality that we didn’t win the White House. So when you have that kind of an attitude going forward, there are not — there’s very little soul searching, very little effort to look inside and say, what do we need to say and do differently in order to get more people to win? In particular, I mean, they’re writing off a large portion of the electorate as a group of people they don’t even want.”

Soul-searching? Nah, it’s more fun to blame others – the Greens, Comey, Russia, and the big mythical racist-sexist-nativist “rebellion” of the “deplorable” white working class – than it is to take an honest look at one’s own failings.

7 “Trump’s election is an antiwar victory.” Come on. Yes, the Russia-hating NATO-expansionist warmonger Hillary “Queen of Chaos” Clinton seemed recklessly Hell-bent on a dangerous confrontation with Moscow – a confrontation that candidate Trump clearly wanted not to have. And yes, we do have some breathing space on the score for the next few months. Still, Trump’s campaign reeked with hyper-masculinist white-nationalist and anti-Muslim militarism. The coming “militarization of the West Wing” is quite pronounced. Trump has said profoundly dangerous things about the use and spread of nuclear weapons. His “defense” appointments and his rhetoric and Tweets (seriously?) point to coming dangerous conflicts with China and Iran, both key Russia allies. Don’t rule out conflict with Russia and the cooling of Trump’s hot bro-mance with Putin down the road. Anyone who thinks Trump’s ascendancy heralds a new American era of pacifist isolationism – a retreat from imperial war as a central tool of U.S. “statecraft” – is engaged in some very seriously delusional thinking.

8 “The corporate and financial establishment hates Trump and will undermine him.” There may be some truth in this assertion but it should be treated with extreme skepticism. Hillary was their first choice, but Wall Street is playing make-up with Trump. Top financial services trade groups like the American Bankers Association have run to help Trump fill top financial regulatory positions in the next White House. The Financial Services Roundtable is raising $4 million to help Trump “pay for the transition process.” After Trump defeated Mrs. Clinton, the former harsh Trump critic and current Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein praised the victor as “market friendly and asset friendly.” A Wall Street Journal three weeks ago was titled “Wall Street and Trump Make Up Quickly.” It matter-of-factly noted that “After largely opposing his 2016 presidential campaign, financial service executives are making fast friends with President-elect Trump… Wall Street,” the newspaper reports, “could wind up being a big winner under Mr. Trump, despite his broadsides against big banks during the campaign.”

The accommodation makes perfect sense. Janus-faced finance capital runs like water to the powers that be at the end of the day. The elite financial sector is looking forward to significant regressive corporate and personal tax cuts and financial deregulation with Republicans in charge of both the White House and Congress in coming years. The stocks of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have been on a great run ever since the election. And Trump has given current and former Goldman Sachs elites and other top finance-capitalists (including coming Commerce Secretary and noted billionaire Wilbur Ross) numerous key economic policy positions in his coming administration. Every month, CNN reports, President Trump will consult with a group of top U.S. business executives convened by Steven Schwartzman, CEO of the infamous “alternative investment” firm the Blackstone Group. The group includes a “who’s who” of current and former Fortune 25 CEOs, featuring (so far) GM’s Mary Barra, JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, GE’s former CEO Jack Welch, Disney’s Bob Iger, and Walmart’s Doug McMillon. The “populist” Trump is certainly doing his best to seduce the financial chieftains he sometimes railed against on the campaign trail.

It isn’t just the financial elite he’s making up with. A New York Times report nine days ago related how Trump reached out to Silicon Valley captains:

“The meeting between President-elect Donald Trump and the nations tech elite was hyped as something out ‘The Apprentice’: The new boss tells his minions to shape up. It turned out to be a charm offensive, a kind of ‘Dancing with the Silicon Valley Stars.’”

‘This is a truly amazing group of people,’ the president-elect said on Wednesday in a 25th-floor conference room at Trump Tower in Manhattan. The gathering included Jeff Bezos of amazon; Elon Musk of Telsa; Timothy D. Cook of Apple; Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook; and Satray Nadella of Microsof, among others. ‘I’m here to help you folks do well,’ Mr. Trump said.”

“He kept going in that vein. ‘There’s nobody like you in the world,’ he enthused. ‘In the world!’ There’s nobody like the people in this room.’ Anything that government ‘can do to help this along,’ he made clear, ‘we’re going to be here for you.’”

“And that was just in the first few minutes. The candidate who warned during the presidential campaign that Amazon was going to have antitrust problems, that Apple needed to build its iPhones in the United States instead of China, was nowhere to be seen…on the way out, Safra Catz, the co-chief of Oracle who attended the meeting, gave a thumbs-up.” (NYT, 12/14/2016).

Smart move by Trump. Silicon Valley stands alongside Wall Street and the military-industrial complex (MIC) as the three most powerful Big Business components of the state-capitalist Deep State that runs the nation beneath and beyond the marionette theater of electoral politics. As Mike Lofgren notes in his indispensable new book The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government (Penguin, 2016), “the Valley has far outstripped traditional smokestack industries as a generator or wealth and has generated individual fortunes that easily rival those of Wall Street. Its research and development operations are vital to the operation of the Deep State – not only for its globe-spanning surveillance technology, but for the avionics, sensors, and guidance systems of every plane, ship, tank, missile, and drone that the military buys.”

Could Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and/or the MIC end up undermining Trump before it’s all over? Certainly. But there’s a honeymoon of sorts of underway right now and it would be foolish now to invest one’s hopes for the destruction of the Trump nightmare in the corporate and financial elite.

9 “Trump doesn’t really mean all the nasty stuff he said to get elected. He will govern differently than how he ran for office.” Well, candidate Trump certainly didn’t really mean it when he claimed to be a populist champion of the American working class in its struggle with Wall Street and other corporate-globalist evil-doers. Just look at his arch-plutocratic transition team and cabinet-in-formation. Trump’s populism was fake, of course. But Trump’s quasi-fascism probably isn’t and it would be foolish indeed to normalize what’s happened. Expect the administration’s racist and nativist scapegoating to accelerate in rough proportion to Trump’s service to the wealthy Few. The more he makes policy in the interest of his super-opulent upper-class comrades, after all, the more Trump is going to have to try to distract and divide the working-class majority with ugly racist and nationalist finger-pointing.

10 “All the people and others who have protested the Trump victory and ascendancy are silly sore losers manipulated by George Soros and MoveOn.” Yes, the left needs to watch out for elite liberal/neoliberal and Democratic Party-affiliated agents (for me that includes Sanders’ “Our Revolution”) working to control and manipulate anti-Trump resistance. Absolutely. But the reflexive denunciation of all anti-Trump protesters as childish agents of the Democratic establishment takes pseudo-radical cynicism to a new low. Folks don’t need to be prodded by slimy actors like Soros and MoveOn to find some very good and obvious reasons to march against incoming Trump administration.

11 “Resistance to Trump is illegitimate on the part of people who failed to adequately protest the neoliberal and imperialist Barack Obama presidency.” Yes, it is depressing that many U.S. citizens can’t seem to get it together to fight back when the White House is held by a smooth-talking teleprompter-ized Democrat like Bill Clinton, Obama, or (as I and most left analysts expected) Hillary Clinton. It’s sad and irritating that it seems to take a brutish white male Republican in the White House for a lot of Americans to protest and resist Deep State policies that are in fact richly bipartisan. But, okay, it’s a fact. Work with the opportunity afforded by the new public enemy number one – the coming appalling Trump administration – to build a new popular resistance movement that cannot be hijacked by movement-killing Democratic Party electoralists and opportunists and the deadly election cycle. Connect with people on issues and do your best to show them why such a movement is worthwhile

12 “Noam Chomsky and other left intellectuals and activists who called (again) for Lesser Evil Voting [LEV] were shills for Hillary Clinton.” There is a recurrent debate on the U.S. left about whether progressives should vote for Democratic Party candidates as the “lesser evil.” I’m on the anti-LEV side of that debate for reasons I won’t rehearse here. But it’s a difference about strategy and tactics, not underlying world-view. It’s unfair to call fellow leftists “shills” for Hillary when they referred to Mrs. Clinton as a “lying neoliberal warmonger” (Adolph Reed, Jr.), a “right-wing fanatic” (Arun Gupta), and, well, evil. (I used to make the left-LEV argument myself and was no less of a radical when I did than I am now. My position changed on tactical and strategic grounds.) Demonizing folks who come (often for some defensible if ultimately flawed reasons) to the LEV position (I know some very smart and radical folks who do) is also dysfunctional going forward. As Chomsky himself has long argued, the question of how to vote (or not) for five minutes in the one-every-four-years candidate circus is a secondary matter compared to much more important and urgent politics of movement-building beneath and beyond the nation’s populace-marginalizing and mass-marketed quadrennial electoral extravaganzas. Do we really want sniping over the question of what was the best lane to be in on the bourgeois-electoral highway to get in the way of acknowledging the many things you agree with, say, Chomsky or Reed or Gupta about? In the way of forming an anti-Trump resistance? In the way of building great people’s movements beyond the election cycle – movements that should include in their list of demands a call for radical electoral reforms what would allow progressives to back candidates aligned with their values without fear that doing so might help the rightmost of the major capitalist parties prevail? I think not. At the same time, many on the other side of the quadrennial intra-leftist voting debate also need to stand down from snotty sniping over what was the best way to respond to the terrible “choices” on offer in the U.S. presidential voting booth. Both sides might want to think of this endless and ugly debate as yet another form of top-down divide-and-conquer.

13 “The 2016 Election Shows the Futility of Any and All Identity Politics. Serious Progressives Must Reject Any and All Such Politics in Favor of Class Politics.” Nonsense. Yes, the Left is committed to the bottom-up political struggle of the (multiracial-multiethnic-multi-religious [partly irreligious] and multi-gendered) working class against the capitalist wealthy Few. But we cannot and must not simply abandon the particular realities of: female experience and oppression: Black experience and oppression; Latino experience and oppression; Muslim experience and oppression; gay experience and oppression, and so on. Such class-reductionist denialism leads nowhere morally or politically.

What needs to be rejected is the sickening kind of bourgeois identitarianism that candidate Hillary advanced. As Conor Lynch noted on Salon last month, “The Clinton campaign tried to make this election all about Trump’s hatefulness (‘Love Trumps Hate’) and his ‘basket of deplorables,’ while offering no real vision of progressive and populist change. And when those on the left raised legitimate concerns about Clinton’s uninspiring message or her political baggage during and after the primaries, they were ridiculously labeled sexist or racist ‘bros’ by establishment figures (even though some of Clinton’s harshest progressive critics were in fact women and people of color ).”

Earlier in the year, Daniel Denvir insightfully described the Clinton’s strategy as “peak neoliberalism, where a distorted version of identity politics is used to defend an oligarchy and a national security state, celebrating diversity in the management of exploitation and warfare.”

The left at its best has always understood identity differently – in ways that are opposed to both ruling class divide-and-conquer (ala Hillary Clinton and Herr Trump) and to class reductionism (ala some of Bernie Sanders’ supporters). As the “unrepentant Marxist” Louis Proyect recently reflected on Counterpunch:

“While the idea of uniting workers on the basis of their class interests and transcending ethnic, gender and other differences has enormous appeal at first blush, there are no easy ways to implement such an approach given the capitalist system’s innate tendency to create divisions in the working class in order to maintain its grip over the class as a whole…My own experience goes back to the 1960s when the Trotskyist movement was still rooted in American realities. Party leaders conceived of the coming American revolution as a kind of united front of different struggles that would come together on a basis of shared class interests. If that is a concession to ‘identity politics,’ I plead guilty…A socialist movement that disavows particular Black demands and those of other sectors of the population acting on their own interests on the basis of gender, sexual preference, etc. will inevitably lack the universality it needs to triumph over a unified capitalist class. To state it in dialectical terms, denying the existence of contradictions and refusing to resolve them will only lead to deeper contradictions.” (emphasis added)

That strikes me as brilliantly stated – and emblematic of the sort of intelligent, reality- and history-based Marxism for which no repentance is due. Working class left “identity politics” is very different from what Denvir calls “neoliberal identity politics.”

14 “Trump’s election shows that U.S. politics and society is completely hopeless and pathetic. It’s time to retreat into personal concerns.” That’s your option, of course, but it will only make things worse. The Chicago-based anti-racist writer and activist Jamie Kalven rightly worries about the “danger…that people will become demoralized and retreat into denial, that they will seek refuge amid the pleasures and fulfillments of private life. That would give carte blanche to power…That is certainly tempting at a time like this,” Kalven adds: “to live one’s life in the wholly private realm, enjoying the company of friends, good food and drink, the pleasures of music and literature, and so on. Privileged sectors of our society are already heavily skewed that way. It’s a real danger at a time like this. If we withdraw from public engagement now, we aid and abet that which we deplore.” (The Chicago Reader, December 8, 2016,emphasis added). The threat to become an “expatriate” (which I am hearing again and again online) is a particularly pouty and privileged version of the same dysfunctional syndrome. Becoming an √©migr√© – either internal (retreating into private life) or external and literal (leaving the county if you can) – will fix nothing. (And, by the way, you can’t really escape the American Empire on this planet.)

Two Narratives to Handle with Extreme Care

Here are two narratives not to be rejected so much as to be handled with extreme care.

1 “There are great popular movement-building and system-challenging silver linings – from a dialectical and radical perspective – in Trump’s victory.” I do not simply reject this “accelerationist” storyline. To the contrary, I recently specified what some of those “silver linings” might be. Kalven is right, I think, when he says that “this is a moment of great opportunity – and also peril. The election of Trump certainly increases peril, but it may also increase the clarity we need to be effective…one door closes, another door opens.” But the “silver lining” trope should come with two key qualifications. Caveat number one is that none of the movement opportunities afforded by Trump’s coming presidency (and by the discrediting of a dismal dollar-drenched Democratic Party that proved itself too corrupt, unimaginative, corporatized, dull and conservative to defeat Trump) are going to show themselves in real history without dedicated and difficult day-to-day rank and file activism connected to radical-reformist and revolutionary vision – real progressive policy ideas and societal alternatives. The second caveat is that Trump’s election is a grave threat to vast swaths of humanity at home and abroad and indeed to life itself. It is indeed a great black cloud. If you are or seem happy that a vicious racist and sexist bastard like Donald Trump is moving in the White House, then God help you, comrade. “It’s important now.” Kalven adds, “to take time to absorb what’s happened and to grieve…I’m looking for a word besides catastrophe.” The word fits.

2 “The left must overcome single-issue obsessions.” I agree with that statement to a very significant degree. How could I not after decades of witnessing progressives fighting on numerous separate causes that cry out for consolidation and common struggle in a many-sided anti-capitalist movement? The left is way too scattered, issue- and other-wise. But it’s not true that none of the left’s issues stand out above all others. We need to be candid and forthright about the primacy of the environmental question. The capitalogenic climate change-driven threat of ecosystem collapse by the end of the current century is now “the biggest issue of our or any time” (John Sanbonmatsu). As Noam Chomsky has argued, nothing that we care about on the left is going to matter all that much if environmental catastrophe isn’t averted soon by serious efforts to – among other things but first and foremost – keep fossil fuels in the ground and shift to renewable energy. Who wants to more equitably share out the pieces of a poisoned pie? What good is it to turn the world upside down and “inherit” (take) it from the ruling classes if the planet has been poisoned beyond safe habitation?

Of all the dreadful things about the coming Trump administration, the one that strikes me as most horrific and most urgently in need of dedicated popular opposition is Trump’s arch-petro-capitalist commitment to the Greenhouse Gassing-to-death of life on Earth. The opposition already has a North America movement vanguard, so to speak: the remarkable multi-tribal struggle of Native Americans and others who came together beneath and beyond the election cycle to confront Energy Transfer Partners’ planet-cooking Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in Standing Rock. Expect Trump to target the North Dakota pipeline fighters and water-/climate-protectors as “economic terrorists.” Prepare to defend those environmental heroes as the leading symbols and agents of the Resistance we need to build and expand if humanity is going any shot at a decent future.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Aleppo Rebels Were Defeated Because They Alienated Syrians

from Truthdig

Aleppo Rebels Were Defeated Because They Alienated Syrians

Posted on Dec 17, 2016

By Juan Cole / Informed Comment

Bouchara, 27, a mother of three from Aleppo province, at an informal settlement for Syrian refugees in Lebanon in 2014. (European Commission DG ECHO / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Syria was in a better position to attain peace last spring, when a ceasefire had unexpected success. It would have been better if the rebels had been able to keep East Aleppo and the rest of their territory, and the regime had been forced to dicker with them in order to put the country back together again. Someday it might even have been possible for East Aleppo to elect representatives to the Syrian parliament who represented their point of view.

The fall of the East Aleppo pocket dooms such a negotiated outcome of the civil war. The regime of Bashar al-Assad will be emboldened, as it has pledged, to try to take back over all the territory militarily, and to re-institute its seedy one-party state replete with intensive domestic spying, arbitrary arrest and torture.

That said, the rebel forces in East Aleppo do bear some of the blame for their defeat. It seems a harsh thing to say at a time of heart-wrenching scenes of noncombatants waiting in the cold for an evacuation that only seems to come in fits and starts. But it is necessary for us to understand what is happening and not only to feel it. Because al-Assad is understandably hated in democratic societies, there is a tendency to see the reassertion of the regime there as purely an act of brutal force.

It is at least that, of course. Russian and Syrian aerial bombing of a dense urban area has killed noncombatants in ways that are likely war crimes.

But this brutality cannot explain what happened. Revolutions and civil wars don’t work that way, however. You can think of lots of movements that couldn’t be quelled by massive brute force, including that of the Viet Cong in the 1960s and 1970s. If we want to understand why Russian aerial bombardment was so effective, we have to take politics into account.

Syria is a very diverse society. Here are some guesstimates for its ethnic and sectarian make-up.

Alawite Shiites: 14%
Christians: 7%
Druze: 3%
Ismailis: 1%
Twelver Shiites: 0.5%
Kurds: 10%
Secular Sunni Arabs: 30%
Religious Sunni Arabs: 34.5%

The Syrian youth revolution of 2011 appealed to virtually all these groups except maybe the Alawite Shiites, who depend on the al-Assad regime for their prominent position and prosperity in Syrian society. The early Syrian revolutionaries talked about a democratic society in which all these groups would have representation. I met with Syrian revolutionaries in Istanbul in 2012 and they were praising all of these religious and ethnic groups for having members standing up to the regime, even Alawite villagers and movie stars.

But when the regime used heavy weaponry on the revolutionaries, the latter militarized their struggle. They weren’t able to get funding from democratic countries for their militias or for the purchase of weapons. Many turned to Turkey and the Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, and these patrons wanted them to adopt a clear Muslim fundamentalist identity. Most Syrians are not Muslim fundamentalists. But that is the mindset of the Saudi elite.

Many of the fighters in the rebel opposition were Muslim Brotherhood, a relatively moderate fundamentalist group in Syria which nevertheless does want to impose a medieval version of Islamic law on the whole country. But the best fighters and the best-funded fighters were Salafi Jihadis like Jaysh al-Islam, the Freemen of Syria, the Nusra Front, and Daesh (ISIS, ISIL).

It was the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front that in 2013 nearly succeeded in using Homs and Qusayr to cut off the southern capital of Damascus from re-supply via the northwestern Mediterranean port of Latakia. This plan by Salafi Jihadis was forestalled by the intervention of the Twelver Shiite Lebanese party-militia, Hizbullah on behalf of the regime.

It was a Nusra Front-led coalition that in spring of 2015 managed to take the city of Idlib and all of that province, and to begin an advance on Latakia to the west, with the same strategic goal in mind. Latakia is a heavily Alawite Shiite region, so for hard line Sunni fundamentalists to take it would have entailed massive massacres and ethnic cleansing. This plan by the Salafi Jihadis was forestalled by Russian intervention.

It is true that Russia has subjected the Sunni Arab rebels, many of them just Muslim Brotherhood, to intense aerial bombardment. But it has especially gone after al-Qaeda (the Nusra Front, now styling itself the Levantine Conquest Front).

Under the conditions of 2011, the other rebels would have rushed to the aid of a besieged anti-al-Assad group.

That did not happen during the past 3 years, for a simple reason. Most people in Syria don’t trust the Muslim Brotherhood and they really, really dislike the Salafi Jihadis.

The ten percent of Syrians who are Kurds are largely post-Communist leftist feminists. They aren’t going to rush to the aid of fundamentalist Sunnis led by a group with al-Qaeda ties.

And the fact is that the fundamentalist rebels have repeatedly denounced and threatened the leftist Kurds. (It is these fundamentalists that Western politicians often call “moderates.”)

The supposedly moderate Freemen of Syria put al-Qaeda in charge of the Druze villages of Idlib in 2015. Druze are an offshoot of Ismaili Shiism and are deeply hated by al-Qaeda. They were forcibly converted to Sunni Islam and nevertheless some of them were killed or their property confiscated by the Nusra Front.

So as the Syrian opposition ratcheted farther and farther to the Sunni religious right, and as the most effective fighters came to be drawn from that sector, they lost the good will and support of most Syrians.

The secular-minded Sunni Arab majority didn’t want to be ruled by people imitating the Saudi Wahhabis. The Christians didn’t want that. The Druze didn’t want it. The Kurds didn’t want it. The Alawites certainly didn’t want it.

So you get 70% of the people in the country who, having been given the unpalatable choice between the Baath regime of al-Assad and being ruled by Salafi Jihadis, reluctantly chose al-Assad.

That is why the Aleppo pocket fell. There had been 250,000 Sunni Arabs of a more religious mindset and from a working class background living there under rebel control since 2012. But next door in West Aleppo, which our television stations won’t talk about, were 800,000 to a million people who much preferred to be under the rule of the regime. This numerous and relatively well off population took occasional mortar fire from the slums of East Aleppo. They weren’t in the least interested in saving the rebels from the Russians or the Iraqi Shiite militias or from the regime itself.

The Kurdish forces likewise didn’t rush to the defense of the Sunni Arab fighters in the East Aleppo pocket.

By militarizing the revolution and by moving ideologically to the religious far right, the rebel fighters deprived themselves of support among most Syrians.

When the Russians offered to let the rebels leave East Aleppo if they would cut themselves off from al-Qaeda (which was 1/4 of the fighters there), the response of the rebels was to form a united front with al-Qaeda so as to ensure that the Russians couldn’t divide the opposition.

Bzzt. Wrong answer.

The Western politicians and television reporters never mention the al-Qaeda dimension of the rebel forces. They never mention Idlib or what happened to its minorities.

Most rebels in Syria are not terrorists or al-Qaeda. They were protesters against a brutal authoritarian regime. Some of them are Muslim Brotherhood, but the Brotherhood in that period was hoping for a parliamentary democracy in Syria. Some are actually Sufi mystics. Others are just conventionally religious Sunnis.

But they sometimes formed battlefield alliances of convenience with al-Qaeda or with Salafi jihadis, and as time went on they showed less and less no interest in human and civil rights for women and minorities.

Syria is much more diverse a country than it might seem from cold social statistics. Hard line Salafis never had any chance of attracting enough support to take over the whole country, and even just very conservative Sunnis did not, either. The strategic thinkers in Ankara and Riyadh completely misread the situation.

That is why the East Aleppo pocket is falling to the regime. Not because aerial bombardment or brute force work magic in and of themselves. But because the Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood were unable to cumulate resources from other groups and attract broad support.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Great Moments in the History of Hypocrisy: The Russians Messed in our Elections!

Turn-about is fair play. If the Russians did influence the results of the presidential election, then the great US of A got a taste of its own medicine.

What country in the world is the record holder for interfering in the internal affairs of other countries? Who wins first prize in overthrowing governments? Cue up the fanfare and nod for the crowd to chant "USA! USA!"

Where can we start? There was a revolving door of US troops invading countries and installing puppet governments from before the turn of the 20th century and continuing into the 21st. Nicaragua, Panama, Haiti, Dominican Republic (many times for these nations, with invasions and occupations), US troops to Cuba 1898 to stop the Cubans from defeating the Spanish & grabbing Puerto Rico and the conquest of Manila; The CIA overthrew the governments of Guatemala and Iran in 1953 (overthrowing two democratically elected governments and installing a military dictator and a king (the shah).

Hmmm...oh yes H. W. Busch invaded Panama and arrested it's president (incidentally killing about 1000 people). Vietnam? That was "interfering" in style with all-out genocide. Nixon's man Kissinger colluding with Pinochet in Chile to crush a government that won two elections. In the 60s-70s the US installed puppet military governments in Brazil and Argentina. The Bush 2 administration kidnapped the Prime Minister of Haiti and dumped him in the Central African Republic. A wonderful record of peace-loving statesmanship. And now MSNBC, and other media scream bloody murder!! Files were hacked and made public!!

Whatever the Russians did, I don't know. But I have a distinct lack of sympathy with the gang of neo-cons and closet neocons (like Hillary and the Democratic establishment) who wail about the US being mistreated. At least the Russians didn't sent 200,000 troops and do saturation bombing. Democracy in America has always been a fraud. If those who countenanced murder by drone around the world and instigated the US created massacre in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria are complaining...good. These masters of the world got what they deserved.

A message from the campaign to tell musicians: Don't entertain apartheid Israel!


Invite your friends to sign the petition to Rihanna
Posted By: 10 Reasons for a Cultural Boycott of Israel (campaign leader)

Congratulations supporters!

It's just the beginning of the 2017 winter Red Sea Jazz Festival season, and already we've reached our first milestone!

Over 22,000 of you have already signed the BDS petition, and we're just starting out. So let's amplify our action. If you haven't signed yet, please go to the petition page and sign

If you've signed, please make sure to share the link with all your friends and family on all your social networks. Each one of you can take us higher, so let's reach for 23,000!


The Red Sea Jazz Festival is a bi-yearly event in Israel's city of Eilat. The festival could have been a festival to celebrate the free spirit of Jazz music, and this beautiful tradition of oppressed minorities. Instead, it is a government event of propaganda, which uses Jazz music as a tool for whitewashing military occupation, apartheid and oppression of the Palestinian people:

"We see culture as a Hasbara [public relations] tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between Hasbara and culture" ~ Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, former deputy director general of the Israel Foreign Ministry

This year, the occupation-profiteering Golan Heights Winery and the ethnic cleansing Negev Development join the list of sponsors. (more on this at

In view of all this, we ask Jazz Musicians: Please cancel your participation in the festival. We ask people from all around the world: Add your signature to this ongoing campaign to boycott the Red Sea Jazz Festival.


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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Palestinians have no faith in Abbas, 2 state solution

Palestinians have no faith in Abbas, 2 state solution

Two thirds of Palestinians no longer believe in two-state deal
A recent survey shows that 65 percent of Palestinians no longer believe that a two-state solution is possible; this is an increase of 9 percentage points since September; meanwhile, 54 percent have no faith whatsoever in the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority; the president takes more steps to prevent a Dahlan political comeback.
Associated Press|Published: 13.12.16 , 17:55

RAMALLAH- Two-thirds of Palestinians believe a two-state solution to their conflict with Israel is no longer possible, a poll said Tuesday.

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The share of those who lost faith in such a deal rose from 56 percent in September to 65 percent now, probably due to an acceleration of settlement activity, said the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey research.

Most in the international community still back the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, even though a deal appears to be increasingly complicated, in part because of the continued growth of settlements. Gaps between Israeli and Palestinian leaders remain wide, preventing any meaningful talks since 2009.

Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip

The poll was conducted last week among 1,270 Palestinians and had an error margin of three percentage points.

The survey also found that 54 percent have no faith in the newly elected leadership of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement. The vote at a recent Fatah convention affirmed aging party stalwarts in top jobs and was seen as a move to sideline exiled Abbas rival Mohammed Dahlan.

In a related development, Abbas decided to strip four legislators seen as close to Dahlan of their parliamentary immunity, taking yet another step to prevent a Dahlan political comeback.

Hassan Ouri, a legal adviser to Abbas, told the West Bank radio station Ajyal on Monday that the Palestinian leader made the decision after the Palestinian Constitutional Court affirmed his right to do so.

In the past, only the Palestinian parliament could strip legislators of their immunity. Parliament has been defunct since 2007, when the violent split between Fatah and rival Hamas produced separate governments in the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas has ruled autonomous West Bank enclaves by decree since then.

Fatah said on its Facebook page that the four legislators would be investigated about suspicions of embezzlement of funds and weapons dealing.

Najat Abu Baker, one of the legislators being targeted, said the decision amounts to "suppression of the freedom of expression." She said she was not notified of any possible legal steps against her.

Tuesday's survey said 60 percent of Palestinians reject the court ruling giving Abbas the right to move against legislators.

Abbas has waged a relentless campaign against Dahlan since he fell out with his former senior aide several years ago. Dahlan has won the backing of several influential Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, which urged Abbas earlier this year to allow the exiled politician to return.

Dahlan was convicted in absentia of defamation after Abbas lifted his immunity in 2012. A Palestinian court threw out separate corruption charges after ruling that Abbas' immunity decree was not legal.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Fidel Castro and the Question Of Power

Van Gosse
December 4, 2016

Fidel Castro's life, and the example of the Cuban Revolution, demonstrates the enduring relevance of state power. It is fundamentally irresponsible for anyone on the left to think one can avoid the question of power, and let someone else face its contradictions and deformations. Somebody will exercise it, for good or ill. Fidel Castro embraced this question, choosing to wield power in as many ways possible for what he deemed social goods, even on the global scale.

, Wikipedia,

Let's avoid shilly-shallying back and forth between hailing the Comandante as "Heroic Guerrilla" and decrying another God That Failed. Fidel Castro was a tyrant who directed a police state. He was also a superb revolutionary leader, not just early on but throughout his exceedingly long, productive life, and neither of those statements negates the other. Indeed, they are inextricably connected. Why? Because the largest fact about Fidel Castro and the revolution he led is that they survived, bruised, worn down, but uncorrupted, either from within or without. He did not turn into either Napoleon or Stalin, Cuba did not become a despotic imperial state, subjugating others.

When I say Fidel was a tyrant, I mean in the original sense of the word: a popular leader who rules by command and dispenses justice as he sees fit, brought to power by the demos (the people or the mob, depending on your perspective) and kept in power by his command over them. This is a frightening, compelling, one might have thought archaic, mode of rule, but let's have no illusions it was made anachronistic by some end-of-history bunk.

As for calling Cuba a police state: more than fifty years ago the Cuban revolutionary government organized a disciplined system of surveillance, coercion, and repression, not because that government was evil or "totalitarian" (talk about an archaic word) but because it needed to do so simply to survive. The United States waged state terrorism against Cuba for several decades. It outsourced the violence to gangsters, thugs, and fanatical exiles to whom it could turn a blind eye whenever convenient, to ruin Cuba's economy and kill its leaders by virtually any means-chemical warfare against its agriculture, blowing up airplanes, random murder of tourists, many, many bombings, and dozens of assassination attempts aimed at Castro himself. All this is a matter of record. The only way for a small, poor country to resist such a campaign by a nearly-omnipotent great power only fifteen minutes away by air and ninety miles by sea was via a vigilant security apparatus. That was the only option other than surrender. What would you have had them do? I salute the Cubans for not surrendering, but a police state is what they got, by nature a deforming, cruel, bureaucratic apparatus, difficult to restrain. A secret policeman is a secret policeman anywhere, regardless of the justification.

Fidel Castro's life, and the example of the Cuban Revolution, demonstrates the enduring relevance of state power. It is fundamentally irresponsible for anyone on the left to think one can avoid the question of power, and let someone else face its contradictions and deformations. Somebody will exercise it, for good or ill. Fidel Castro embraced this question, choosing to wield power in as many ways possible for what he deemed social goods, even on the global scale. That he succeeded to any extent is worth studying, just as it required to analyze when he and the Cuban Revolution failed, but in both cases it is the question of power we are studying, rather than retreating into notions of permanent insurgency or "protest," always outside of and untainted by power, which is both romantic and cynical. These comments are directed at those whom Jacobin's Bhaskar Sunkara has called the "anarcho-liberals" who insist on standing outside the state in all possible instances, maintaining their radical (if hardly revolutionary) purity. For many, the state is something that might someday wither away, but for now is unmovable. To them, I say, study Cuba. Study power, and how to use it better.

Here is one example of such a study. I know this history via teaching U.S.-Cuban relations. One revelation from William LeoGrande's and Peter Kornbluh's marvelous Backchannel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana (2015) is that, at every point since 1959, the Cuban government demonstrated a serious commitment to resolving their problems with the U.S. through in-depth negotiations. But only a few U.S. administrations, in particular those of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, showed any real interest in resolving this particular "cold war" through mutual concessions and diplomacy between sovereign states. Most of the time, U.S. policy resembled the classic statement from Thucydides, describing how Athens treated the small island nation of Melos: "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must," meaning the options are to give in or be destroyed. The Cubans' insistence on their sovereignty, their right to make alliances and act as they saw fit, has never been accepted, except perhaps in the last years of Obama's Presidency. So much violence, so much infamy causing the U.S. lasting damage, could have been avoided, if that principle had been the basis for relations between states, but hoping for that respect was a species of romanticism in which Castro never indulged. He held out an olive branch, repeatedly, but expected the worst. The U.S. had to be taught, over and over, that the strong do not always dictate. The legacy of the Cuban Revolution is their insistence on the independence and equality of peoples. Perhaps, in an era when neoliberal "globalization" carries all before it, that seems like an antique stance, left over from the era of anticolonial Third World revolution. I think not.

[Van Gosse is a historian and author specializing in American political development, the African-American struggle for citizenship and American society in the Cold War era and since. He is author of Where the Boys Are: Cuba, Cold War America, and the Making of a New Left, The Movements of the New Left 1950-1975, and the forthcoming We Are Americans: Black Politics and the Origins of Black Power in Antebellum America. His book Rethinking the New Left: An Interpretative History was named a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Book for 2006 and will be published in translation in the People's Republic of China.

His scholarship covers the social movements of the United States after World War II, the so-called New Left, with a particular focus on the movements "in solidarity" with social change in Latin America, from the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s through the Central American wars of the 1980s. Follow Van Gosse on Twitter:]

Thanks to the author for sending his column to Portside.