by Danny Haiphong
The left has always been small in the U.S., but now much of it cannot be called “left” at all. Jacobin throws its weight behind the jihadists waging holy war in Syria on behalf of US imperialism and its junior partners” – a reflection of “the infantile state of the anti-war left in the US.” Imperialism has a twisted, phony left face. “Rather than defend Syria's self-determination, many in the West have bought into the imperialist narrative.”
Which Side Are You On? The Western Left's Obsession with Empire
by Danny Haiphong
“The anti-war left's attachment to the anti-Assad narrative is based in a colonial mentality which presumes that Westerners have the right to determine the destinies of peoples residing in what was formerly known as the Third World.”
The Trump Administration's decision to conduct tomahawk missile strikes on a Syrian Arab Army airfield prompted activists in the US to hit the streets in protest. Protesters marched and spoke out against the airstrikes, which killed over a dozen Syrian soldiers on April 6th. The strikes come amidst intense pressure on the Trump Administration to abandon his campaign promises to ease relations with Russia and end regime change policy in the Middle East. In the days prior to the strike, Trump removed Steve Bannon as a formal leader in the National Security Council. Then, an alleged chemical weapons attack hit Idlib province, prompting President Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley to reverse their position that the future of the Syrian government rested in the hands of the Syrian people. Once again, the anti-war movement was put to the test.
The Western left struggles with the question of war because its ideology is rooted in the social relations of imperialism. In the US in particular, the social relations produced by over two centuries of white supremacist war on Black and indigenous peoples has cemented the notion that all who fall outside of the flexible spectrum of whiteness can be made expendable at a moment’s notice. Furthermore, war has historically advanced the level of development in the US. While World War II destroyed much of Europe, the US came out of the rubble with the most prosperous capitalist economy on the planet. This only intensified the thirst for war among the ruling elites. The US military took advantage of capitalist prosperity by turning its guns toward former European and Japanese colonies in East Asia, beginning with the carpet-bombing of Korea from 1950-1953.
“In the US, the social relations produced by over two centuries of white supremacist war on Black and indigenous peoples has cemented the notion that all who fall outside of the flexible spectrum of whiteness can be made expendable at a moment’s notice.”
Now fast forward to 2017. The US is hotly involved in a war to destabilize the Syrian government. Since 2011, there has been a wall-to-wall corporate media attack on Syria that paints the Syrian government as a murderous dictatorship led by President Bashar Al-Assad. Assad has been accused of “killing his own people” with the most ruthless of methods. In 2013, the Obama Administration accused President Assad of using sarin gas on civilians in Ghouta. Journalist Seymour Hersh eventually corroborated what US intelligence likely warned Obama at the time: that the gas attack was the work of "rebels" (terrorists) who were supplied by an intricate rat line network involving Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The world was destined for another US military confrontation that year when Russia stepped in to diffuse the situation.
Anti-war activists find themselves in a very similar predicament almost four years later. Throughout the duration of the war on Syria, strong lines have been drawn on the question of the Syrian government’s future. A small segment of the anti-war left has defended Syria's right to self-determination. Others have done extensive work, such as Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett, traveling to Syria and documenting concrete evidence that contradicts the corporate media narrative of the conflict. Indeed, much evidence suggests that the so-called "rebels" are merely jihadist mercenary groups sponsored by the Empire's many players. Washington and its corporate masters have been foaming at the mouth to bring Syria to heel since at least 2001, when the secular government was placed on a list with six other countries targeted for destabilization.
“The 2013 gas attack was the work of ‘rebels’ (terrorists) who were supplied by an intricate rat line network involving Turkey and Saudi Arabia.”
However, rather than defend Syria's self-determination, many in the West have bought into the imperialist narrative. This includes a large section of what passes for the left in the Western world. Jacobin, for example, calls itself a leading voice on the American Left but has historically aligned with US imperialism. After April 7th's US airstrikes, Jacobin posted a statement about why opposing Assad matters too. The statement falsely compares Palestine's struggle against Israeli occupation with the mythical struggle of the Syrian people against President Bashar Al-Assad.
Of course, Jacobin fails to provide any proof that the Syrian people are in fact waging a struggle to overthrow Bashar Al-Assad. No mention of the Syrian government's decades-long solidarity with Palestinian resistance is cited. Jacobin repeats the imperialist line that Assad is murdering “his own people” and causing hundreds of thousands of Syrians to flee the country. Yet the statement omits the fact that Assad was reelected with nearly ninety percent of the vote in 2014. Also left out are the reputable opinion polls that prove President Assad is more popular than any other force operating in Syria at the moment. Jacobin instead throws its weight behind the jihadists waging holy war in Syria on behalf of US imperialism and its junior partners.
“The so-called ‘rebels’ are merely jihadist mercenary groups sponsored by the Empire's many players.”
Since the fall of Libya, tens of thousands of jihadists have flooded into Syria to overthrow the Syrian government. The jihadists have been given both air and media cover from the US-led coalition operating in Syria. In September of 2016, the US coalition bombed an airport in Deir ez-Zor, killing around 100 Syrian soldiers. The airstrikes gave ISIS cover to lay siege to the area and claim additional territory. And for over five years, sources such as Amnesty International and the US-UK-French funded White Helmets have peddled the narrative that the Syrian Arab Army has been massacring Syrians even as evidence suggests that NGOS such as the White Helmets are completely embedded in the membership of Al-Qaeda affiliated, head chopping organizations.
That Jacobin condemns Washington's failure to transfer anti-aircraft weaponry to the jihadists yet ignores all of the evidence against Washington's official narrative on Syria should make clear where the "leading voice" of the left stands. History completely contradicts their narrative. Washington and its allies have never come to the aid of the oppressed in their struggles for liberation. Rather, it has acted as the primary dictator of imperialism's rabid exploitation of the sovereign nations. What Jacobin essentially demands is a brand of "internationalism" that arms and funds head-chopping, imperialist-backed mercenaries at the expense of the Syrian people.
“The vast majority of so-called progressives can be herded to disseminate pro-war propaganda without the added labor cost associated with direct infiltration by the state.”
Such a distortion of internationalism is in keeping with the infantile state of the anti-war left in the US. The anti-war left's attachment to the anti-Assad narrative is based in a colonial mentality which presumes that Westerners have the right to determine the destinies of peoples residing in what was formerly known as the Third World. It is the same mentality that drives the criminalization of Black America, reducing mass incarceration and police murder to products of the innate criminality of Black people. The white supremacist, colonialist worldview is the most useful tool in the imperialist toolbox. When wielded properly, the vast majority of so-called progressives can be herded to disseminate pro-war propaganda without the added labor cost associated with direct infiltration by the state.
Many questions arise from the behavior of those individuals and organizations caught in the ideological web of US imperialism. Is Jacobin's support for the overthrow of the Syrian government at all beneficial to workers and oppressed people in the US and West? Do their conclusions about Syria stem from verified study of the objective conditions in the region and its relevant historical context? Can anti-imperialists really occupy neutral space between the dialectic of imperialist war and self-determination for the oppressed? Or is such an attempt merely a cleverly disguised project meant to legitimize the very imperialist system that the left claims to oppose? The answer to these questions will depend on the recipient, but the fact they must be asked indicates that the US anti-war movement needs serious reconstruction.
“The task of ending imperialism will have to rest on the shoulders of a new anti-war movement.”
There may not be time for such an overhaul barring a significant change in the objective situation in the US and West. Recent developments over the course of five years suggest that at any given moment, the world struggle against imperialism could transform into a global military confrontation between the big powers. The threat of US military escalation in Syria cannot be isolated within a national context. Russia and Iran's presence in Syria ensures that any US move to overthrow Bashar Al-Assad by direct military means will have an impact far beyond Syria’s borders. Solidarity with Syria against US-sponsored war is thus of utmost importance for the future of humanity. However, don't expect the Western, white dominated left to drop its chauvinistic worldview anytime soon. The task of ending imperialism will have to rest on the shoulders of a new anti-war movement, one based on the respect of self-determination for all oppressed peoples and an internationalist worldview that connects exploitation within US borders to the ceaseless war imperialism wages from without.
Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at [email protected]