Russia, Trump and the New ‘McCarthyism in Reverse’

money-nuclear-weapons-and-the-kkk_large

Soviet propaganda: “Money, Nuclear Weapons and the KKK” (source: capl@washjeff.edu)

It is U.S. election season, 2016, and the extremely dumb baseline for presidential-year rhetoric has already been exceeded with gusto thanks to a fake-tanned reality TV blowhard now leading a white nationalist movement as the Republican Party’s nominee. “Could it get even more dangerously silly, though — the discourse?” asks a visitor from a planet yet to be discovered by terrestrial science. Well, this is America, my little green partner: you’re damned right it will.

The how, however, in “how this election will increase the urgency of our desire for an early demise” has come out of far left field. The banal idiocy of the liberal, centrist, and now alt-right debate has been answered by contrarian-left columnists and their invocation of the Cold War witch hunt against allegedly-traitorous alleged communists, except this time it is not right-wing anti-communists being called out for baiting anyone to the left of Joe McCarthy as a red. No, the Soviet Union having collapsed 25 years ago, the roles of left and right have been inverted, and so it is the left-of-center critics of a proto-fascist who risk being outed as rank McCarthyites for criticizing a billionaire’s ties to and fondness for a right-wing authoritarian (one on the verge of a formal partnership with the U.S. war machine).

And with that, the alien craft exits the solar system.

Donald J. Trump, the candidate citing the Cold War as the basis for a new, “ideological screening test” to be imposed on immigrants: a victim of anti-communism? The mere thought of the argument may dull the senses, but it’s an argument that, unlike the USSR, just will not die in the alt-reality of punditry. That matters, not just because bad arguments are bad (certainly they are, but not all are worth rebutting), but because world peace literally depends on it. If the left’s so singularly focused on the worst claim a liberal personality has to offer that it spends more time rebutting than proposing—explaining that Vladimir Putin is not the head of the Illuminati—we’ll never get around to building a genuinely internationalist movement that rejects conspiracy for a consistent opposition to greedy capitalists and vicious imperialists wherever they may be.

In the meantime; instead: “Democrats Are Redbaiting Like It’s 1956,” informs the online magazine Current Affairs, for example, the article to which the headline is attached arguing that 2016 Democrats “have revived a long-dormant practice: accusing those to their left of being Kremlin operatives, and discrediting their political opponents with allegations of grand KGB conspiracies.”

But Russia isn’t red and neither is the Republican nominee for president. Still, though, we persist as if the KGB still exists, not because those engaging in the discourse are dumb, necessarily, but rather: we’re distracted by the dumbest arguments of the moment, and opposing them, to the point that we’re not making better arguments of our own. To wit: By suggesting, for instance, that Russian hackers infiltrated the Democratic National Committee and leaked unflattering emails to harm a candidate the Russian government has reason to hate — conflated, for purposes of knocking a straw-argument out the park, with the decidedly less common belief that Trump is literally a Russian secret agent — liberal Democrats are “conspiratorially positing that those who disagree with them are either intentionally or unintentionally serving the interests of the Kremlin.”

That argument requires no conspiracy, though: Trump has proposed policies that would serve the interests of the Kremlin — which, like the United States, seeks to promote its interests abroad — just as he and others, like Hillary Clinton, have proposed policies that would serve the interests of Saudi Arabia, Israel, Bahrain and other repressive governments. And, just as the U.S. notices when certain factions abroad are perceived as more amenable to its interests, Russia does as well. This isn’t chemtrails.

‘Red-Baiting’ Apologists for a Reactionary Russia

“It’s totally wrong to explain Trump’s success by externalizing him as a simple instrument of the Kremlin,” Ilya Budraitskis, an activist in Moscow with the opposition Russian Socialist Movement, told me. That’s not the dominant charge, but insofar as there are people making it the irony is it’s essentially the same line Putin and his allies use in Russia, “where the opposition is proclaimed to be ‘foreign agents’ and ‘national traitors.’”

Still, there’s no doubt who the Kremlin favors. “Of course Russia, for the moment, would prefer Trump as the next U.S. president,” he said. “The mainstream media inside our country glorify him as a ‘realistic thinking politician.” So while talk of secret agents is to be discouraged, the mainstream debate on Trump’s connections to and policies toward Russia would seem to be a legitimate one.

But the U.S. and Russia have historically been adversaries, something that those calling out McCarthyism, on the left, highlight as a distinguishing feature.

The history “of linking your political opponents to Russia,” The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald said in a recent interview with Slate, “is a really dangerous and ugly one in the U.S.” In The New York Daily News, columnist Michael Tracey likewise argues that, “business dealings with sketchy Moscow oligarchs” aside, the linking of Trump to Putin “harkens back to the old days when McCarthyite slurs were regularly heaped on anyone who dared deviate from foreign policy orthodoxy.”

But McCarthyite slurs were not “heaped on anyone”: they were heaped on liberals and leftists by conservatives and fascists who believed the foreign policy establishment, not the fringe, was too soft on the Soviets. It was a right-wing movement that carelessly slung baseless charges of disloyalty and likened liberal domestic reforms to what at the time was the least appealing version of “the left” on the international stage, just as conservatives today link any left-of-center agenda to the economic crisis in Venezuela—or, still, democratic socialism with Stalinism.

But Trump does break with the U.S. establishment on foreign policy, and on Russia in particular, yes? Because that’s where the meat of this is supposed to lie: Whether the allegations are true or not that are ostensibly tainted due to the fact Trump is not being attacked due to the factual merits of his ties to Russia, like $12.7 million in secret payments from Ukraine’s deposed pro-Russia ruling party to Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort, according to The New York Times, and Russian elites making up “a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” according to Trump’s son, Donald Jr. No, it’s his alleged break from the “orthodoxy” — his adherence to a “coherent philosophy that is non-interventionist,” as Greenwald told Slate — that sullies the discussion.

Does he really break from the Washington consensus in a meaningful, coherent manner, though? Trump is a critic of his opponent’s foreign policy, as one would expect of an opponent, but he is an avowed interventionist in his own right, calling for stepped up airstrikes in Libya and tens of thousands of combat troops in Iraq and Syria. But this is where tackling the dumbest version of an argument from a Clinton surrogate leads: a myopic compulsion to rebut the week’s most inane talking point very often compels absurdity and the hasty abandonment of one argument for the next.

Just over a week after telling Slate that Trump is an unorthodox isolationist, for instance, Greenwald was back with a column that argued the Republican nominee is, actually, in step with Washington’s foreign policy elite. Among other things, Trump has been “attacked by Democrats” over “his desire to cooperate with Putin in Syria,” Greenwald noted, but — and this will make the libs feel silly — “there’s another politician who advocates many of these exact same policies. His name is… Barack Obama.” And Barack Obama, the president of the U.S. empire, “wants to work in cooperation with, not opposition to, Russia, and has proposed a partnership to achieve that.”

A remarkable own, but of who? I venture: The Discourse just owned the columnist. Instead of writing a piece condemning a U.S. plan to escalate its air war in Syria — 5,000 airstrikes and 1,000 dead civilians — by sharing intelligence with and bombing Syria alongside Russia in a formal war partnership, Greenwald and other lefty anti-imperialists are preoccupied with scoring debate points in the game we call “the hegemonic binary discourse.” Escalating a war is accepted as mere “cooperation,” with opposition to that escalation confined to an aside on social media, if that — a distraction from the main point, which is: Trump is a victim of liberal McCarthyism because he breaks from the militarist status quo of the new Cold Warriors, but, also, he advocates the exact same policies being actively pursued by the most powerful people in the world.

An Allergy to Complexity

But vertigo-inducing Trump contrarianism is a symptom of a broader problem on the left, particularly its name-brand pundits. Rather than challenge the consensus on what the debate is with an independent, left-wing perspective, the parameters of debate are abided by those who think they’re breaking down walls by pointing out the room has four of them, not only two.

Instead of pointing out, front and center, that dropping bombs alongside Russia and dropping bombs on it are both undesirable, it accepts, for purposes of the discourse, a logic that an Intercept writer might well call Orwellian, with going to war billed as the opposite of going to war. Covered in the filth of the media trenches, the pundit slays talking points with talking points until the connection to reality is almost completely severed.

This speaks to the lack of a real, left-wing vision. On foreign policy, which is what the “McCarthyism” debate is all about, there is only reaction, with ahistorical references to anti-communist hysteria acting as what libertarian socialist Murray Bookchin described as “a form of McCarthyism in reverse”; a means of shutting down an intelligent conversation about U.S. policy and the left’s stance toward Russia. This leads to stasis: Talking points haven’t been updated since 2006, popular uprisings are conflated with externally imposed regime change and ongoing U.S. interventions — including ones planned with Russia — are omitted in favor of a Simplified Anti-Imperialism for the choir that hits all the familiar notes.

Adam Johnson uses his platform at The Nation, for instance, to slam the liberal media’s warmongering on Syria. Some ugly souls want to “do something” about kids being slaughtered there—they want another Libya!—and this media analyst is here to check the media’s push for a “humanitarian” war. Curiously, or not, two years of U.S. airstrikes, or the war that is actually happening, make it through the column without even passing condemnation. It is the threat of Nicholas Kristof that preoccupies, and usefully so: a year before Johnson was warning of “radical, medieval wahhabists” taking over the country, adopting the rhetoric of the neoconservative right in order to score a debate point against the do-something liberals. Thousands of U.S. airstrikes later and it might be awkward to acknowledge the target is actually the “wahhabists,” not the regime whose viral victims Johnson suggests could help escalate a war.

That the actual escalation with a chance of happening is being mapped out by John Kerry and Russia’s Sergey Lavrov, and has nothing to do with saving the victims of the latter and its Syrian ally? If it’s not described as “cooperation,” it’s not described at all. The narrative insists. The media war demands.

This is a problem. A left that doesn’t wish to confront the hard questions posed by reality retreats to lazy “media analysis” and the comfort of its tried and true talking points, winning social media debates in the eyes of the like-minded while losing the war for hearts and minds outside the internet subculture. Incapable or unwilling to provide an alternative to a dichotomy — neoconservativism or isolationism; Russia as a partner in war or the target of one — it rebuts arguments made of straw for purposes of self-satisfaction, not social change.

In an age of right-wing revanchism, left-wing pundits are providing too few answers to real world questions, preferring the smarmy certainty of stale cliches to developing a genuine alternative to dumbed-down binaries, with war framed as peace — or the framing at least accepted for purposes of the all-important argumentation — while actually existing airstrikes are omitted in arguments against war. If this is all the left has to offer, less and less people are going to sign up for its lectures and the genuinely left, genuinely antiwar movement we need to upend 21st century capitalist imperialism will continue to be an afterthought, on the left and among those in power.

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Going Die-ral: A Story for Our Time

Guest post by Carlos De La Paz

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental — SYKE, LMAO.

Yohann Jensen could have passed for a Hollywood star, after a disfiguring accident involving an exasperated anti-communist planting a shovel in his face — handsome, in other words, for a man of online letters: one-hundred-and-forty of them.

Yohann was a star, of sorts, in his own way, some might argue; a terrifying master of a medium that defined a generation, as Karl Marx (complete sentences) and Vladimir Lenin (revolution, bitch!) mastered theirs. Like a little sweet mockingbird that just won’t stop singing it’s little heart out three hours before the sun comes back from wherever it goes, Yohann was what one might call a “persistent” user of social media, ingesting and regurgitating aggregated takes, capping screens and calling out normie chumps, all with an exhausting clarity of purpose: shares, likes and the occasional direct message from a tipsy female follower fresh out of a bad relationship.

Yohann’s fame — if you will, some might say — came from his politics — if you will, some might say — picked up over the previous 18 months from roadside diners, used cocktail napkins and an ex’s hastily abandoned notes from a 2007 lecture at Columbia University by a Prof. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But with more retweets comes more problems: imitators and haters.

Ned Borton was both. And Ned Borton was determined: Ned Borton was going to kill Yohann Jensen.

END OF PART ONE

Ned Borton knew he was special by the time he was in third grade, when, intimidated by his ability to rapidly distill facts into pure persuasion, no one in class would be his partner on the science project. Ned Borton dissected the frog himself, which was unfortunate for him as that was not the project, Tony the Toad’s death further alienating him from his peers and resulting in a two-year family counseling sentence, his first exposure to the workings of the U.S. injustice system. The episode would mark him for years to come, Ned’s social isolation well preparing him for the echoing chamber of his later, online years.

Ned’s rise on the world wide web had been rapid, his star beginning its ascent on Wikipedia, where liberal mods feared his contributions to the Great Patriotic War stub. From composing underground, politicized YouTube covers of Taylor Swift songs he was soon covering some of the hottest columnists in the whole punditry game for SmashShare, a highly trafficked internet website for radicals, liberals, centrists and socially moderate conservatives. But Ned wanted more.

Unlike Yohann fucking Jensen — one of his many good friends, Ned would say if you asked him — Mr. Borton had actually read The Chomsky Reader, able to quote from two or three of the renowned public intellectual’s most relatable essays in the time it took YJ just to load up BrainyQuote.com on his Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn. Why should this blockheaded late-bloomer get retweets from teenage Hoxhaists when I, who can actually explain why Albania was an anti-revisionist workers’ state, am stuck DMing 7,000-follower accounts for sympathy likes, young Ned wondered to himself as he scrolled himself to sleep, alone.

The Black Panthers’ stance on gun control finally came to him, as if in a dream. He put aside all self-doubt in his mind’s draft folder. Like a pale Fred Hampton, he knew what the moment required of him.

END OF PART TWO

Standing over Yohann’s lifeless body, Ned felt better than he had when his .@ to Kenneth Roth went viral. Sure, he hadn’t planned for Goldman the labradoodle, thinking the beast would be away at day camp, but he wasn’t going to let some canine collateral damage undermine him the way liberal guilt and his creator’s bourgeois politics undermined Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov. History and a blue check mark would absolve him.

The more pressing issue was the weak internet connection in Yohann’s penthouse, the deceased unwilling to part with his WiFi password before departing this world. Ned was literally on Edge. Hillary Clinton’s deadly neoliberalism would, for now, be safe from his shareable insights. But seriously, though: 2G in downtown Brooklyn. More like crapitalism. God, he really needed that password.

After 20 minutes of trying to guess the code — USSR1234; password1917; Bashar_The_Lion69 — Ned returned to cleaning up what a Third Way Democrat weakened by sentimentality would consider a crime scene. It was then he noticed Yohann’s iPhone and the comfortingly familiar icon indicating a high-speed internet connection. He picked up the product of 21st Century Maoism with purpose and began to swipe. “Yohann here. Going away for a while. Follow @nedborton. I’m fine.”

Ned was pleased with himself — the Chomskyisms viralized for the timeline-scrolling hoi polloi were his now — but fatally distracted. “Shit!” he blurted as the bookcase he backed into came toppling down.

As he lay prostrate on a designer beanbag chair, his legs pinned by a library he knew to be inferior to his own, Ned saw Yohann’s last mocking revenge in the form of an unread book that had just whacked him in the back of the head: How to Read Lacan.

“Fucking. Zizek.”

It was then that Ned, his vision blurred by bad philosophy, heard a rustling from another room. “Surely, no?” Surely, yes: It was Slavoj Zizek, his hair still wet, in a white bathrobe, his eyes darting back and forth with a sudden violence.

“I’m afraid,” the Slovenian said, wiping his nose erratically, “your deal with Verso just got canceled. You, @nedborton, are logging off.” He then bludgeoned the young blogger with a copy of The Chomsky Reader. Zizek had degenerated to doing cheap irony. Fascist.

The last thing Borton ever saw before passing away was a notification on his phone, which he managed to check one last time, the life draining from his body faster than the battery on his Samsung Galaxy: The Interject’s Grayson Griswald just retweeted your tweet on the liberal imperialist, anti-Corbyn bias at Popular Science.

Ned smiled.

DEACTIVATED

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In midst of war, United Nations wants Syrians to quit smoking

1280px-Smoking_Hookah_in_the_Muslim_Quarter_Jerusalem_during_Ramadan

Life expectancy in Syria has dropped by 30 percent since the start of the conflict there in 2011, with over 400,000 people dying violent deaths and countless others passing away before their time due to inadequate medical care in a country where hospitals have come to be considered a legitimate target for airstrikes. And the United Nations’ health agency says it is concerned—about shisha, the flavored tobacco smoked with a hookah.

“Notwithstanding the current crisis in the country,” reads a June 1 press release from the World Health Organization, the U.N. agency is stressing “the urgency for controlling tobacco and shisha consumption among the population—especially among youths, women and teenage school children.”

This urgent call was made by WHO’s representative to Syria, Elizabeth Hoff, on the occasion of World No Tobacco Day 2016. “Many youths, women and school-age children in Syria have taken to shisha smoking believing that it is fashionable and less harmful than cigarettes,” Hof said. “The truth is that shisha smoking is 20 times more dangerous.”

Hoff, according to the press release, urged Syrian health authorities to enforce “plain packaging” for tobacco products, while Syria’s Deputy Minister of Health, Ahmad Khlefawy, noted that his government has endorsed a ban on public smoking and “will continue to discourage tobacco consumption—including shisha.”

The government’s commitment to protect Syrians from tobacco, if not their government, came at an event hosted by the United Nations which, according to WHO, “featured presentations of poems, essays, and cartoon drawing by youths and school children to reflect the harmful effect of tobacco consumption.”

According to the monitoring group Siege Watch, “there are over 1 million people currently suffering under siege in Syria,” with most of them besieged by allies of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose security forces helped kickstart the destruction of the country by torturing and killing those, including children, who expressed opposition to the regime by way of poems, essays and cartoons. On the same day WHO issued its press release, the Syrian government allowed an aid shipment to enter the Damascus suburb of Darayya for the first time since 2012. It contained medicine, baby milk and vaccines, with food “excluded from the convoy as a confidence-building measure,” according to The Guardian.

While the United Nations has been unable to obtain Syrian government consent for airdrops to other besieged communities, the international community can take solace in one fact: the food-less aid convoy also excluded tobacco, meaning that the residents of Darayya and other besieged communities are more likely to die of starvation than shisha.

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These are a few of my favorite things

I wrote some things in 2015, some of which I remember having written. Here are 11 of them in no particular order.

For teleSUR, I interviewed a neo-Nazi leader who said he loves Donald Trump so much he’s running ads and raising money on his behalf — and recruiting more Nazis as a result. He later threatened to sue me because I called him a Nazi, but then he didn’t, because Nazis are cowards.
Also for teleSUR, I reported on a document I obtained along with The Intercept confirming that the U.S. embassy in Caracas is full of spies working for the NSA and CIA, who were using the cover of diplomacy to conduct an electronic eavesdropping operation targeting PDVSA, the state oil company, among other tings. This was the first story I got to see printed in an actual newspaper, though I only saw it by looking over a guy’s shoulder on the Caracas subway. Nicky Maduro also weighed in, which was cool. Cool, cool, cool.
In another piece for teleSUR, the voice of the Global South, I spoke to a Syrian refugee whose home was destroyed by government airstrikes who spent more than 2 years trying to get a visa to live in the United States. When she finally got it, she found that the stress and costs of living in a new country — with her husband and four young children — was all on her. Freedom.
Abraham Lincoln helped abolish one form of slavery, but others persist today, in the developed and developing world alike. For Good Magazine, I explored a case involving dozens of Thai immigrants who were kept as slaves at a sweatshop just outside LA, interviewed one of the woman who helped get them out, and looked at how slavery persists in California today.
At The Intercept, I wrote about the U.S. trend of criminalizing extreme poverty and profiled one homeless man in Los Angeles who is hoping to avoid another stint behind bars.
At The New Republic, I reported on the dozens of Mexicans, many no more than teenagers, who have been killed by U.S. border agents with impunity.
“Anti-imperialism” ain’t what it used to be, as I noted in this piece for Pulse Media on Syria and leftists who think they are fighting the empire by smearing Syrians and siding with a fascist dictator.
Getting a job sucks and employers are determined to make it suck even more. In this piece for The Baffler, I report on the new ways capitalists are making the application process even more embarrassing and discriminatory.

For Salon, I spoke to a Russian communists on some of the Western left’s love for — or at the very least, defense of — Vladimir Putin and Russian imperialism.
The U.S. government sends young people overseas to kill on its behalf and then puts them behind bars when they come back all fucked up. For TakePart, I attended a court in Orange County, California, that aims to help former soldiers avoid prison, and spoke to veterans about the pros and cons of this alternative system of criminal justice.
Feds make terrible friends. At Salon, I wrote about how the federal government pays people to encourage the desperate and often mentally ill to give in to their demons and do stupid shit — so that it can then put them in prison in the name of fighting terrorism.
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No need for conspiracy: US seeks ‘regime preservation’ in Syria

The problem I have with Seymour Hersh’s latest thinly and anonymously sourced conspiracy theory about Syria is not that I find it implausible that the U.S. government would conspire to preserve the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad — by, in part, passing it intelligence on “jihadists” through a third party — but that we already know this is the case and need not rely on the word of a chatty “former adviser” to the Pentagon who happens to be friends with a famous journalist.

The real problem for Hersh and others like him these days is that ever since the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011 they have cast in terms of conspiracy, abandoning class analysis to suggest it was, from the start, or damn near close it, a U.S-Israeli plot to effect regime change, not the predictable and indeed predicted result of authoritarian neoliberalism, poverty and the closing off of any means for Syrians to achieve meaningful reform through politics or pacifism.

Reality has not been kind to this narrative. When the U.S. began bombing Syria in September 2014, it came not for the Assad regime but for the Islamic State, al-Nusra and even a couple factions associated with the Free Syrian Army. “Before the international coalition struck a couple of military targets of Daesh inside Syrian territory, Secretary [of State John] Kerry asked me to deliver a message to the Syrians,” recalls Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jafari. “I agreed to deliver this message to Syrians.”

After the bombing began, the Council on Foreign Relations’ president emeritus, Leslie Gelb, while advocating an open alliance with the Syrian dictator, noted that “Assad seems to be turning off his air-defense system when U.S. aircraft attack his territory.” Of course he was: He was informed of the strikes ahead of time and those strikes were targeting those who weren’t him, furthering his long-stated desire to be part of a U.S.-led war on terror, again.

The Obama administration’s train-and-equip program for rebels was explicitly directed at the Islamic State. “You should not shoot a bullet against the regime,” one commander recalls being told. When the program inevitably failed, rebels unwilling to serve the United States’ ISIS-only policy, the Obama administration redirected its money to Syria’s Kurdish militias, who enjoy an uneasy truce with the Assad regime.

Rather than concede that President Obama was more swayed by Washington’s stability-minded “realists” than the neoconservatives of George W. Bush’s first term, Hersh — who claimed the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attacks were “false flags” designed to spur intervention — is required to embrace conspiracy, while the more sophisticated embrace dull revisionism. If the U.S. isn’t set on regime change now, it goes, that’s only because it recognizes what the Islamophobic left and right have been saying for the last four years: that every Syrian outside the Assad regime and its base is a jihadist, or a potential one.

In fact, according to Hersh, this belated realization only came after patriots at the Pentagon bravely decided to undermine the policy of the elected president of the United States and to funnel intelligence to the Assad regime, staving off its collapse. That such a subversion of democracy is now welcome, from a journalist of the left, speaks to the strange times in which we now live.

Thankfully, I suppose, no such subversion was ever required. Contra the dumbed down regime change narrative, the U.S. would have much preferred a stable Assad remaining in power for many years to come when the uprising against him broke out nearly five years ago. “There’s a different leader in Syria now,” said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in May 2011, after hundreds of Syrians had been killed in the previous weeks by that leader’s security forces. “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”

In August 2012, after the death toll had reached the thousands, President Obama was forced to lay out his famous “red line” — which, in fact, was a message to the Syrian government that conventional slaughter was fine, but don’t make it any harder for the imperialist, humanitarian West to look the other way than it already is.

Here’s something: When the Assad regime tested that red line and in fact crossed it, Obama, unlike as in Libya, went to Congress for authorization to carry out strikes he clearly did not want to carry out — and then eagerly agreed with Russia to accept a deal proposed by Israel to save the Assad regime from even the threat of a few bombings instead.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not publicly claim credit for that deal, a former adviser told The New York Times, for fear “somebody will say it’s an Israeli idea, Israeli conspiracy, maybe it’s a reason to stop it.”

Neither Hersh nor any Assadist “anti-imperialists” have been interested in noting this Israeli conspiracy, not-so-oddly enough: It undermines the narrative they’ve sunk too many years into defending. The realization one has been defending an Israeli-preferred fascist responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 people… but from the left? Yikes.

U.S. officials may, if pressed — and not wrongly — see Assad the man as a liability when it comes to preserving that U.S./Israeli-friendy “stability,” but their actions have, for years, belied whatever humanitarian rhetoric they still shamelessly mutter. Their actions, in fact, show their agreement with what the RAND Institute found to be the Washington consensus back in 2013: Collapse of the Assad regime is “perceived to be the worst possible outcome for U.S. strategic interests.”

There’s no need for the Pentagon to go around a president who pursues the same “stability”-focused, jihadist-obsessed policy they desire (and which much of the left has now embraced). And you don’t need a convoluted conspiracy theory to explain U.S. policy in Syria, but as it dawns on discredited journalists and pro-war “antiwar” idiots on the world’s social media that their views, in fact, are shared by every major imperialist power, expect a good deal more of it. Admitting error is far too much to ask from those who long ago doubled down on apologism for mass murder.

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Paris, Beirut and Douma: A tale of three bombings

Much has been made and said and think-pieced on the fact that the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 132 people and left over 350 injured received significantly more coverage in the Western press than the double suicide bombings days earlier in Beirut that killed 43 people and wounded 400 others.

One compelling answer has been: expectations. In Western Europe, it comes as a shock when “medieval” militants strap bombs to themselves and engage in wanton murder. When it happens over there, in the Orient, where the population is generally less pasty, it comes as little surprise. Well, that’s what they do, isn’t it? The Iraq phenomenon, in other words, where bombs going off in Baghdad is met with a shrug and a wire article on page 9.

That is not what they do in Lebanon, of course: Since the end of the civil war in 1990, it’s typically been what Israel has done there — blowing up Lebanese people — but not the Lebanese themselves or any outside non-state terrorists. The attacks that killed more than three dozen people were then a huge, devastating shock to people not used to such violence in their own neighborhoods.

Another aspect of the attacks that has been much commented upon has been the fact that when the media did cover the massacre in Beirut, it described the location of the bombings as a “stronghold” of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia. This description, critics, many Lebanese among them, created the perception that perhaps the target was something other than civilians — that the killed were not just, by and large, politically support of Hezbollah, but militants themselves who took up arms for the group.

Of course, the defensive editor might note, a “stronghold” can also be used to describe an area that staunchly supports a certain political party — when it comes to presidential politics, California is a Democratic stronghold, for instance, and that isn’t taken to mean that Californians are willing to take up arms for the Democratic Party (Republicans are another matter).

But that doesn’t quite cut it: Lebanon, being a part of the Middle East, is associated with violence, like the war being waged next door in Syria that has left more than a quarter-million people dead. Intent may matter in a courtroom, but when we use words what should be hyper-aware of is the effect and, intended or not, a stronghold in the Middle East will strike some as a legitimate military target.

About Syria, though, where millions have people have fled from routine violence to the relative safety of next-door Lebanon: Just two weeks ago there was a bombing there that, according to Doctors with Borders — a trusted source among the left when it comes to the U.S. bombing of its hospital in Afghanistan — at least 70 people were killed and another 550 injured in airstrikes and shelling on a marketplace in Douma.

“This was an extremely violent bombing,” said the director of a nearby hospital run by the group. “The wounds were worse than anything we’ve seen before, and there were large numbers of dead. We had to do many amputations.”

A total of 250 people required surgery to treat their wounds, the group said.

On a commentary posted by the watchdog group, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), Jim Naureckas takes Vox’s Max Fisher to task for arguing that the media did a fair enough job trying to cover the attacks in Paris and Beirut. Naureckas notes that The New York Times covered Beirut on page 6 but ran three front-page stories on Paris the day after the attacks there — and six in total that day, and 15 more the the day after.

Beirut itself only seemed to get six dedicated stories, by my count, including wire articles that the Times republished, though the attacks there were mentioned in articles about Paris.

As for Douma? Neither the Times nor FAIR seem very interested in what happened there, despite a casualty count higher than either Beirut or Paris. The Times ran one first-day story to which the first four paragraphs were devoted to Douma and the final three about violence in other parts of Syria. It also ran an article from the AP, now unavailable on its website, about the bombings of hospitals in both Syria and Yemen. And that was it.

A search of “Douma” on FAIR’s website brings up no results.

What gives? The aforementioned Iraq phenomenon: We’re used to death in Syria, it’s what people do there, at least since the 2011 uprising was crushed in a heil of bullets and barrel bombs. For the media-skeptical left, the violence in places in like Douma is also inconvenient. The perpetrator of the October 31 attack was the Russian-armed government of Bashar al-Assad, which according to the United Nations “remains responsible for the majority of the civilian casualties.”

With much of the left stuck on a narrative that’s become increasingly untenable since Barack Obama’s “red line” on the use of chemical weapons was crossed in 2013 and the U.S. responded by bombing every group in Syria except those allied to the Syrian government, noting these attacks would be considered as aiding the imperialists’ cause — the one’s in Washington who perceive the collapse of the Assad regime as “the worst possible outcome for U.S. strategic interests,” not the one’s in Russia who don’t bother with the rhetoric critical of a hereditary dictator.

Syrian lives matter, but only if their deaths serve the story many on the anti-imperialist left refuse to abandon, despite the 14-month U.S.-led air campaign in Syria targeting not Damascus, but places like the Islamic State “stronghold” of Raqqa. And no one objects to that language because, rather than glassy-eyed nuance, it’s been more convenient to cast Syrians not aligned with the Syrian government as terrorists, plus Russia and that government occasionally bomb Raqqa too, for sovereignty.

It is of course true, and people are right to point out, that the corporate press in the United States and Western Europe privilege certain victims over others, justifying deaths here and ignoring there — the sad thing is, to those of us who expected better, the bleeding-heart left does too.

 

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Was the Cold War good for the world?

Was the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the many hot proxy wars it spawned in Asia and the Americas, a good thing for mothers and their children and other living things? That’s what Patrick Cockburn, long-time war correspondent argues in a recent piece intended to show that yet another escalated proxy war between major powers could, in fact, be great for the long-suffering people of Syrian.

A go-to expert on world affairs for center-left news organizations and British lawmakers alike — last month he encouraged the latter to quit worrying and join the increasingly crowded war on terror in Syria’s skies — the latest column from “our respected commentator,” as his employers at The Independent describe him, should call into question whether he is fact worthy of respect from those on the left. Titled, “Syria crisis: Let’s welcome Russia’s entry into this war,” Cockburn argues that the bombs being dropped by the Russian state should be welcomed by those of his readers outraged by the thousands of bombs dropped by the U.S.-led coalition over the last year.

The crux of Cockburn’s argument is that what the war in Syria needs is to become even more of a war by proxy between the world’s most powerful nations. He quotes U.S. President Barack Obama pledging not to let that happen — and then he proceeds to make what he believes is his killer point.

“But the U.S.-Soviet Cold War, and the global competition that went with it, had benefits for much of the world,” Cockburn asserts. “Both superpowers sought to support their own allies and prevent political vacuums from developing which its opposite number might exploit,” he writes. “Crises did not fester in the way they do today.”

That Cockburn, a respected commentator, could write the above and agree to have it published in a public forum where others can read it calls into serious question whether he is in fact worthy of respect, from those on the left and/or those familiar with the history of the world, as someone who comments on things for a living. From his comfortable perch in Britain, aided by the comforting distortion of nostalgia, Cockburn can look back on his 20s with his fondness, the Cold War characterized by bad-ass action flicks and those halcyon days of no-string college hookups.

For developing countries, though — for much of Asia and the Americas, or rather: the world — the friendly competition between the globe’s leading imperialist powers was a festering sore that promoted the forces of reaction wherever its influence was felt (“left” as well as right) and often enough led those who fought for progress and social justice to a mass grave.

The extinguishing of millions of lives was directly linked to an imperial desire not to extinguish the merest chance that people in one country might side with another. The U.S. may have cynically deployed the rhetoric of anti-communism to dispatch with anyone to the left of Ronald Reagan, but the Pentagon Papers, the classified account of the U.S. war in Indo-China, revealed that U.S. policymakers were as stupidly paranoid as their policies made them seem.

In the late 1940s, State Department officials declared in an internal memo that they had discovered evidence of a “Kremlin-directed conspiracy” in “virtually all countries.” The one glaring exception: Vietnam, the country where U.S. intelligence had itself funneled arms to the Vietnamese communist, Ho Chi Minh, to aid his fight against imperial Japan. That lack of evidence of a Soviet connection to a former U.S. ally, however, was taken as all the more evidence that such connection existed. Indeed, “It may be assumed,” the department asserted, “that Moscow feels Ho and his lieutenants have had sufficient training and experience and are sufficiently loyal to be trusted to determine their day-to-day policy without supervision.”

Well over a million non-British, non-Russian, non-U.S. citizens died in Vietnam as a result of this festering competition in deranged paranoia. And it wasn’t just the U.S., of course, that killed because of it, though it does enjoy the ignoble privilege of scoring the highest body count.

In 1956, workers in Hungary, dissatisfied with the USSR’s shift from war communism to state capitalism, demanded a return to the Soviet-system that prevailed at the dawn of the Bolshevik revolution: workers in councils making decisions, democratically, rather than receiving dictates from an unaccountable party above. The subsequent uprising led to Hungary’s exit from the Warsaw Pact — and then the Soviet Union sent in the tanks, unwilling to lose what it saw as a defensive buffer between it the free-market capitalist West, the demands of the proletariat be damned. Hundreds were killed and thousands more detained, the workers who ought to form the basis of a workers’ state, and who if listened to may have prevented the Soviet Union’s eventual collapse, dismissed as the product of capitalist subversion.

In the name of preserving relations with the West, however cold, the Soviet Union also turned its back on internationalism, urging revolutionaries in the developing world to embrace a go-it-slow approach to socialism. In Nicaragua and Cuba, for instance, armed insurrections launched by the Sandinistas and the 26th of July Movement against U.S.-backed dictators were discouraged and succeeded despite the early opposition of Moscow’s loyal Communist branches.

And when success did come in spite of Soviet opposition? The USSR’s “opposite number” swooped in to support the forces of counter-revolution, helping kill 50,000 Nicaraguans — backing a deposed dictator’s Contras in the name of democracy — and embargoing Cuba for more than half a century. At least 70,000 died in El Salvador because the U.S. preferred a military-run regime to the prospect of someone on the center-left assuming the title of president.

This is what Patrick Cockburn wishes for Syrians: For imperial powers to compete, and in effect collude, and determine the future of millions of people whose wishes and mere existence is too insignificant to note in his columns focused exclusively on the great powers and their statecraft. This sort of thinking, I would say, typifies the privilege of one for whom conflicts that kill a quarter-million people are merely fodder for columns in a British newspaper — and it belongs in a graveyard.

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