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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Responding to Draister's 'Break the Silence'

By Adam Larson aka Caustic Logic
October 22, 2016
last edits Nov. 24

*November note: Throughout, an astute reader noticed, I misspelled Eric Draitser as Eric Draister. Apologies for minor dyslexia/quick reading. I had thought that was it for a couple of years and never checked.Also, my prediction of an "inevitable" Clinton victory for president quickly proved incorrect.

An Appeal to the Left, From the Gulf Within it
Eric Draister, founder of StopImperialism.org and host of CounterPunch Radio, recently wrote an article called Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence (Counterpunch,October 20). This calls out critically both to leftists who support the Syrian opposition or US intervention, and to those who support the Syrian government,  each in a different way. He predicted:
Undoubtedly there are people on both sides of this debate who, if they’re still reading (doubtful), are frothing at the mouth with rage as they prepare to send their hate mail or attack this article and me on social media.
Among those supporting the Assad government, Stephen Gowans posts a non-frothy rebuttal that's worth reading. I've seen some stronger opinions expressed in e-mails from supporters of Syria's government, but didn't dig through Twitter or anything. I'm sure there are several biting comments.

As for the other side, perhaps (I also didn't dig for these). But "unrepentant Marxist" Louis Proyect embraces the article as a "mea culpa", comparing it to earlier work by Draister that challenged accusations against Syria's government (see below) he now seems to accept. Proyect has made a long habit of insisting he's against US intervention, but maintains every provided moral reason for regime change and continued war with as much gusto as any Syrian opposition activist.To me, he's clearly either very confused, or a deliberate and likely paid disniformation agent. Unlike Draister, I see no value in reaching out to Proyect or others of his style of thinking. Proyect seems to think or hope Draister is now in the same camp. I hope not.

The fact is much of the populace, and even much of the "anti-war left" has been deluded into supporting this latest - indirect, but brutal and grinding - brand of regime-change campaign. Many who had opposed war on Iraq in 2003 support the anti-Assad fight now, and in 2011 rooted on the swifter mistake in Libya, perhaps just because a Democrat president has been at the helm. With the inevitable victory of Hillary Clinton coming up, naturally there's a fear escalated involvement in Syria is almost as inevitable. 

Draister is clear in his desire to stop this before it starts, and that's laudable. He spends some energy raising doubts among the war-supporting left while trying (too hard, in my opinion) to not appear a supporter of the "brutal dictator," or a possible "Putin troll." It's the John McCains, Hillary Clintons, Recap Erdogans, ... and I guess the Louis Proyects of the world  who need criticized the most for pushing a divisive anti-truth narrative or using it to harm people for some geopolitical gain. Folks like Eric Draister, it seems to me, are just trying to operate in the vast and confusing space between. Bridges need built, people need to be spoken to in their own language, etc.

This is a laudable kind of position to take in general - it won't be the purest truth, but has a better chance of reaching minds that need reached. And I sense that he's sincere in adopting this view, although it suggests he's missed some things. There are pitfalls to such an attempt at balance - like if an unexpected degree of religiously-inspired criminality appears in a slot one ascribes more rational motives to.  You expect x behavior from both sides, some sort of "there are no good guys" so-called "realism." But what if you don't quite get one of the sides as well as you thought?
Be that as it may, the question now before us is this: where do you stand on direct US intervention?
Against, against, against. In all forms and for any given reason. Indirect intervention too. They've lost all credibility and should not be allowed to meddle one iota from about five years ago at least. This question wasn't directed at me. "The left" in general, in the USA in particular, is about to be led - to some degree - to just this question, by their champ Hillary and with suggested answer of "yes," for some reason that will seem to make sense. Please, folks, try and notice this magic spell being cast, and refuse it vigorously!

Ignoring the other good questions for the opposition' supporters, ones I feel compelled to respond to: 

Protesters, Jihadists, and Syria-Russia Bombing
And while the revolutionary content of the rebel side in Syria has been sidelined by a hodgepodge of Saudi and Qatari-financed jihadists – the uprising began as a response to the Syrian government’s neoliberal policies and brutality, among other things – this cannot be taken to mean that countless innocent men, women, and children have not been maimed and killed by Syrian and Russian weapons, jets, and fighters.
Protests against neoliberal policies that were genuinely revolutionary: who said this? How can we know it was true as opposed to just sounding good? If true, how many of the protesters was it true for, and for how long? If they were predominantly liberals, why the quick slide into sectarianism? They were killing soldiers before the end of March, 2011, openly murdering Alawites in the street since mid-April at the latest, and chanting Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave since about the same time. And soon after, some stuff even Draister doesn't know about, some mentioned below.

My impression: at first both kinds of protesters were present, the liberals we could identify with in smaller numbers but put out front. As the sectarian Sunnis and their provocateur snipers took over, the liberals primarily stopped adding their voices to the furor and sided with the government against the terrorist menace, sponsored by an obvious (to them) foreign conspiracy. End of story, pretty much. Dateline: about June 2011 at latest.

Since then, they've primarily joined the government even, with loyal opposition parties allowed under the new constitution. These and their supporters on the street now stand by Syria and its now-elected president, and their friends and relatives serving in the conscription-based and representative Syrian Arab Army. The legitimate Syrian protesters of a few weeks in 2011 would appreciate our understanding and support as times have changed.

"(Jihadists have sidelined the "revolutionary" side, but) this cannot be taken to mean that countless innocent men, women, and children have not been maimed and killed by Syrian and Russian weapons, jets, and fighters.": Agreed. These are separate questions that need answered separately based on their own evidence. What could be taken to mean this is evidence that countless people have perhaps not been killed by Russian and Syrian bombs as alleged, and that something else has, at least in large part, been killing them this whole time, without being identified or condemned. And we have such evidence, some of which I'll mention below.

Shades of Gray and Specific Crimes
In the long and convoluted history of this war there have been precious few moments of clear and unmistakable moral judgment. If anything, the portrait of the war in Syria is colored in shades of gray, with little black and white to be found.
I'm a shades of gray person myself, but here I find startlingly dark shades vs. essentially white, at least in comparison. Realism doesn't always mean dividing the crimes down the middle. Character issues matter, and we have a representative, inclusive, secular government with every reason to not wreck the country they have to manage - and parties they trust and have invited to help - vs. - as Draister describes them, "a hodgepodge of Saudi and Qatari-financed jihadists," largely foreign but working with some Syrian Islamists as well, many of who are borderline suicide-bomber fanatics or who can walk away or hide in Turkey - and their foreign backers who get to bleed Syria by remote control.

The way to call this is effectively black-and-white, from a technically shades-of-gray perspective. And the black-and-white is upside-down from the way it's been hammered into our brains over the last years.
If you’re supportive of Assad then it’s a certainty that you’ve chosen to ignore or downplay the horrific violence of the bombings, the brutality of the torture chambers, and other unspeakable atrocities (I admit that I have often strayed too far into the latter) out of a desire to uphold the nominally anti-imperialist position.
That's not a certainty and it's not true in my case. In general, however, this is a real problem. Many folks ignore these allegations as inconvenient, or poke a few lazy holes of doubt and declare the claim sunk and discredited, or respond with bland "whataboutism" (what about US prison torture, etc.) I prefer to engage all such things and see what's up, on the premise of "what about this?" I encourage those in the "pro-Assad" camp along with me to more clearly address these issues even an ally like Draister gets stumped over. Our efforts so far have mostly been unconvincing, it seems.That's not because there's no truth to be found, but because most just aren't trying hard enough to discern it, or we do but it doesn't get heard. And I acknowledge it's not easy, if one is not in the habit.

He gives links with two crime categories he feels people are ignoring. I'll take those as good examples I'll address (again, in both cases):

"the violence of the bombings":
Independent (UK) report from 13 October cries 150 killed in 2 days bombing (Oct. 11-12) in Aleppo, "rescue workers say." It used to be "activists say," but they've got helmets now and might even rescue people sometimes, in between propaganda sessions. Draister probably doesn't buy the critiques of White Helmets as sectarian Jihadist allies, but can probably see how that's at least partly true. We should all understand why their claims are worth questioning, not just pointing to as facts.

As for the deaths, the opposition Violations Documentation Center (VDC) database shows only 67 Aleppo civilians killed by warplane shelling, even taking 3 days (Oct. 10-12). Is this a case where they cite the national total as the main news area's total? Not even quite that: nationwide, same 3-day span, only 97. (VDC records aren't necessarily complete, but get updated and are shown to be more detailed and credible than vague freeze-frame number-only tallies by SOHR or White Helmets)

Of the 67, 63 were killed in the cited 2 days, mostly in Bustan el-Qassr (the cited area of mass bombing). Oct. 11-12 deaths are all by Russian forces, as the VDC says: 46 men, 10 boys, 9 women, 2 girls. 7 men named al-Deeb were killed, with no children, and possibly no wives. This is the sort of weird demographics that underlie all alleged bombing massacres.

In that same span, the same bombing as usual said to kill ZERO rebel fighters in Aleppo. Really? Not a single strike aimed at and successfully hit a single rebel? The same results are seen in Sept. 19-Sept. 30 (12 days), and Oct. 16-17 - all times I've checked lately yield a combined ZERO rebels killed by mostly Russian bombing, to 585 civilians, primarily men, but with some whole families.

This prevalence of men can mean random chance, laundered rebel fighter deaths, or captive men, or a mix. I usually lean to hostages, including here. But in this case, it's quite likely we're also seeing lots of killed rebels passed off as civilians, to help "clarify" the moral stakes of bailing out Aleppo like we bailed out Benghazi, to avert a "bloodbath."

The arc of attack, well-mapped: relevant or not?
This is interesting because Draister called a similar pattern regarding last year's Douma market Attack, which he wrote about at Counterpunch but didn't mention here. That was a decent but not well-informed piece, raising some valid questions about the alleged fighter jet attack, and some invalid ones. He thought the reported 100+ fatalities being almost entirely men could mean they were rebel fighters killed in a government strike on some base of theirs. Proyect makes a fair case about Draister's sub-par analysis there - it's not hard to see four rockets hit public market areas, killing and wounding an unclear number. I trump them both with forensic evidence the markets were hit with terrorist (Jaish al-Islam) rockets fired from the south, not from a government jet, and for the victims - mostly men, but apparently civilians - being massacred already before those rockets were fired, obviously all by people working as a team. (see review)

The same pattern he noted, and was burned by his reading of, is a real oddity running all throughout the Syrian conflict. Time and again, dozens or hundreds are allegedly killed in random shelling, and they're usually 80-100% men. If these were laundered rebels, the war would have been over long ago. But, what else explains the strange gender distribution of the people living in the homes supposedly hit by careless government bombs? It's worth risking or sustaining a burn to wonder about that, as Draister did.

The problem runs way back. In Homs' Khalidiya district 138 people were reported as killed in their homes by random government shelling, in early Feb. 2012. Records show those 138 were 130 men and 8 mostly older boys. The counter-claim fits: they were minorities and government supporters taken hostage and then killed by the terrorists, in order to blame the government. (ACLOS) Prisoners would be largely men (often reckoned as 13+) or gender segregated anyway, and I kind of suspect this story is the true explanation. And I fear the same explanation might hold down though the years and to the present day, though with fighters mixed in too, in spots. For example, in Aleppo now, there's likely  a large number of dead fighters swept under the civilian rug. If so, the war may be over for them soon, and they might be too busy dying and running to finish executing all their hostages.

I don't suppose this reading will convince anyone who's sure Syrian and Russian shelling simply kills lots of civilians, and mainly men. They'll keep presuming this is how Syrians live, all segregated, and the regimes in Damascus and Moscow just keep bombing them to death, by accident or design, while hardly killing any militants in the same bombing. Why and how don't matter, just so long as the regimes are eventually made to pay. This is just the thinking underpinning the destabilization and bleeding of Syria. 

"Torture chambers":
For this, Mr. Draister links to the New Yorker piece on the "Assad Files" (April, 2016), which only indirectly connects to the "Caesar torture photos" story dating back two years earlier, which he might have intended to cite. I already tore up this later report with Regarding those "Assad Files": it seems the smuggled documents are legitimate and reflect only the government responding to a crisis, with reasonable measures re-painted in ominous and damning colors.

After digging for the juiciest material there is, the worst they could quote, and the biggest problem for Assad supporters, was one official speaking of some fairly extreme torture, which he heard a report of, and that he angrily demanded be stopped. Everything else is less clear than that, so apparently, they failed to find much. There was apparently no order connecting to the mass killing of prisoners supposedly proven by the "Caesar photos." But they fill in some gaps with supposed prisoners, steered to them by Qatari-sponsored activist groups and such, who implicate those same named officials with dramatic stories they tell. These stories may be prime evidence in future war crimes trials, "based on a true story" and just loosely.

The investigators remixing all this, like those who drafted the report supporting the claims of "Caesar," are professional regime-blames ("war crimes" investigators and/or prosecutors), getting paid by someone with a vested interest and deep pockets. They should be suspect of crafting  impressions of guilt where there may be no genuine basis for it. They might be credible and honest, but that shouldn't be taken as a certainty as one points to their work as a supposed fact. 

Further, the source they had speak with the New Yorker's writer, has a rather propagandistic and unlikely narrative. "Mazen Hamada" says he was arrested in 2012  for smuggling infant formula into Daraya, which was considered "terrorism." And he says that's why he was in a regime prison where he witnessed some scenes right out the "Caesar photos." 

These photos - a running story since January, 2014 - also exist, and remain poorly tackled by most supporters of Syria's government. There are the exceptions of at least Rick Sterling (Syria Solidarity Movement report) and myself (Fail Caesar series). My impression: they seem to be unidentified bodies given reference numbers; some rotted a bit before being documented and some were found alive and show signs of efforts to save them. About 40% of the photos aren't even shown, because they show killed soldiers and the scenes of rebel attacks. But among the 60% publicized (around 6,700 men and boys, and one token woman) it seems there are several kinds of dead people; some look like killed rebel fighters, and some soldiers killed and found out-of-context. Numbers suggest there were at least 10,000 unidentified bodies processed - if so, we're seeing only about 67% or less. Perhaps the missing half made it even clearer who these people were?
victims #215-3669 and 215-3670, w/Shia-suggesting tattoos

But most victims among those shown seem to be terribly abused prisoners, as alleged. They don't seem like government prisoners, however, lacking uniforms, but like terrorist hostages, gender-segregated like all those alleged bombing victims. They include many Shi'ites or Alawites (just going by tattoos) and at least some Christians. They were killed en masse, many it seems by a toxic gas like chlorine, after starvation and varying levels of abuse or torture. I believe the terrorists (likely Jaish al-Islam) gave each victim a false "regime prisoner ID #" on forehead tape before they were dumped for the government to find, and to be photographed that way by sympathetic insider "Caesar," or whomever he got the photos from, etc.

Not Mentioned
Further, we could add the sectarian massacres like in Al-Houla (May, 2012) and Al-Bayda, (May, 2013) with entire families slaughtered with great cruelty. But these were a while ago, and best evidence suggests terrorists carried these out while in charge of the massacre areas, killing families that supported the government, or converted to Shi'ism, with Alawites killed separately but at the same time. Or how about the supreme original sin of shooting protesters and police and army defectors who refused to shoot? All the same stories were untrue during the coordinated terrorist takeover of half of Libya in February, 2011. Why should we presume they're true in Syria?

Why aren't these mentioned, as Draister cites newer and more widely-accepted claims? Probably because he knows there are at least serious questions over "activists say," versions 1 and 2 aired from 2011-2013. It would better in arguing the case, whatever your reason for arguing it, to rely on the more nuanced claims that came after activists rounded that learning curve. Massacres no longer happen in town squares or private homes that rebels can access, as they can access half the country now. So their way to get evidently proven regime crimes is having the death come from the bottoms of aircraft above, or from within a controlled regime prison. 

 Assorted Responses
Words like “traitors,” “cowards,” and “terrorists,” are shamefully applied to ordinary Syrians fleeing to Europe and elsewhere in hopes of saving their families. Indeed, it is precisely this narrative that is at the core of the white supremacist, fascist ideology that underlies a significant amount of the support base for Assad and his allies (see David Duke, David Icke, Alexander Dugin, Brother Nathanel, Alex Jones, Mimi al-Laham, Ken O’Keefe, and on and on and on).
This strikes me as provocative and likely unfair. I've seen Mimi say she identifies as white and make arguably antisemitic comments, and there's David Duke. The rest I don't know. I really don't read around enough to bother refuting this "white supremacist, fascist ideology" claim. But I've got no stock in Alex Jones or David Icke anyway.

As for the refugees, they likely have a mix of motives, including terrorism and salafi networking, etc, besides innocent motives.
To the pro-Assad Syria fetishists, I ask: Will you continue to pretend that the only crimes and atrocities being committed are those veiled behind Old Glory?
I try not to be an "Assad fetishist," but might fit his definition. I for one don't say all - just most, or perhaps all serious crimes have been by the opposition side, be it ISIS or FSA, as far as I can tell. And it's not pretending, but an informed opinion based on the samplings we've taken and researched.
Are you comfortable in the knowledge that this war will continue on indefinitely so long as all outside actors continue to use Syria as merely a square on their respective geopolitical chessboards?
No. Outside actors - aside from those invited by the legitimate inside actor (Syria's sovereign government) clearly should butt out.
Will you continue to delude yourselves by refusing to accept the plainly obvious truth that no state or group has the best interests of Syrians at heart? 
I will continue, call it delusion if you want, that Syria's government wants what's best for its people. Russia's full motives may be more mixed, but they seem to be on the right side and carry the right spirit, so I refuse to accept they're a part of the real problem here. The USA, UK,  France, KSA, Turkey, other governments clearly do not want what's best for Syrians, and the sorry state of the country today is a testament to their plans getting the upper hand for years straight. The prevalence of false claims against the government has provided some moral cover for this.
Will you allow yourselves to be the useful idiots of carefully calculated political maneuvering?
Hell no, I hope. Question for Eric: Will you?
...our responsibility is to the people of Syria and to peace and justice.
Indeed, and truth is fundamental. This is why we owe it to them to question our own assumptions, consider the true problem as if we may not grasp it yet - because we may not.

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