Class Not Dismissed!
Joseph Daher, a Syrian Marxist, wrote an article titled “Assad Regime Still Reliant on Fractions of the Sunni Bourgeoisie” that explains why the division in Syria was more about class than faith:
The Asad-Makhluf cartel could include external actors into their ‘asabiyya[ii] (group solidarity or social bond) such as Mohammad Saber Hamsho, who is still a prominent Syrian Sunni businessman in the country. A few years prior to the uprising in 2011, he became a powerful political and economic figure as a result of his association with Maher Al-Asad, the brother of Bashar, following his marriage with Maher’s sister in law. He was ‘elected’ as deputy in Parliament in 2003 and 2007 (Donati 2013: 40).
Before the uprising, many other examples of old fashioned Sunni state bourgeoisie turned into private entrepreneurs existed, such as former Minister of Defense Mustapha Tlass and sons (owners of MAS Group, a chain of different commercial and semi-industrial companies) and the sons of former Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam (owners of Afia, one of the country’s largest food firms, which produces food conserves, olive oil and bakery products) (Matar 2015: 110). These new businessmen became prominent in the economic life of Syria, increasingly taking over the positions occupied by traditional bourgeoisie.
They had class interests in common with the family dynasty that ruled Syria. Those who were gunned down in Baniyas, Homs, Aleppo, and Ghouta suffered from the “neoliberalism” Blumenthal referred to in a single sentence at the start of Chapter Six. Their class interests were the same as those who protested throughout the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. In some cases, the elite was Sunni and the underclass was Shi’a. In other cases, the non-Sunnis were on top.
In all cases, the only way to make sense of the conflict was to examine class relations, something that is of little interest to a conspiracy theory journalist like Blumenthal.
In her chapter in Raymond Hinnebusch and Tina Zintl’s Syria: from Reform to Revolt, Syrian scholar Myriam Ababsa describes the desperation of the underclass that is never mentioned once in Management of Savagery. In the agricultural heartland of Syria, drought had left the peasantry in ruins. In 2009, 42% of Raqqa governorate suffered from anemia because of inadequate nutrition.
Deepening the distress, farmers were forced to use polluted river water to irrigate their crops, which led to widespread food poisoning.
Poverty forced small-scale farmers, herders and landless peasants to stop sending their children to school. According to the UN, school enrollment decreased in eastern Syria by 70% after April 2008, leaving illiteracy rates at much higher levels than the well-off urban neighborhoods that backed Assad. Up to 220 villages were abandoned in the rural Hassaka governorate.
These modern-day versions of the Joad family ended up in the outskirts of Aleppo, Damascus and other major cities. They either entered the informal economy or scraped by in low-paying jobs just like Latino immigrants to the USA. When the Arab Spring came to Syria, they rose up alongside the young urban activists who simply wanted freedom.
None of them cared about whether women should be able to wear full-face veils or not. They wanted food on their tables, school for their children, and the right to speak out without being tortured or killed by snipers.
Blumenthal certainly understood this when he wrote about the Zaatari refugee camp in 2012 but calculated that his career was more important than telling the truth.
Ironically, it has been his unseemly propaganda work for Assad that has lost him writing gigs now that much more of the left is aware of the dictatorship’s depravity.
Why Verso would find it in their interest to publish this book is another story altogether, except to consider the possibility that Tariq Ali’s own pro-Assad loyalties might have mattered more than book sales.
Bombing Anyone Opposed to Assad to Send a Message: Stop Rebelling!
While most victims of Assad’s scorched earth tactics died because of bombs or bullets, the chemical attacks tend to get the biggest headlines (although they only account for less than 1% of the fatalities). Those who try to absolve Assad of these attacks always repeat the same defense, namely the illogic of using such weapons when he has such a one-sided battlefield advantage.
What’s missing from this calculation is the psychological effect of chemical weapons that terrorize everybody opposed to Assad into submission whether they are the target or not. If he is willing to defy public opinion and risk empty threats of reprisals from the West, such attacks are as key to his strategy as bombing hospitals or any other measure meant to punish civilians in rebel-controlled areas.
Like all other defenders of the dictatorship, Blumenthal regards such attacks as “false flags” intended to justify “regime change.” In reviewing the aftermath of the sarin gas attack in East Ghouta six years ago, he credits the OPCW for preempting Obama’s empty “red line” threats:
The Syrian opposition had banked everything on American intervention, but to their dismay, diplomacy wound up winning the day. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov rescued Obama from the interventionists, arranging a last-minute deal that required the Syrian government to dispose of its entire stock of chemical weapons under the supervision of the OPCW. The agreement was a rare example of de-escalation in an era of permanent war. For its successful destruction of the Syrian chemical stocks, the OPCW was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
Contradicting Himself on the OPCW
Among the four people serving on the OPCW committee overseeing investigations is one José Bustani, a Brazilian diplomat and at one time the director general of OPCW, the highest position in the organization until he was forced out. The circumstances of his removal buttress Blumenthal’s characterization of it as a trustworthy UN Agency.
In 2002, Bustani was negotiating with Iraq join the OPCW, thus allowing its inspectors full access to Iraq’s purported “chemical weapons arsenal.” If Bustani had succeeded, this would have impeded the Bush administration’s war plans, by removing one of their “weapons of mass destruction” pretexts.
When John Bolton got wind of Bustani’s efforts, he demanded his resignation. In a phone conversation between the two men reported in The Intercept, Bolton is quoted:
“You have 24 hours to leave the organization, and if you don’t comply with this decision by Washington, we have ways to retaliate against you.” After a moment’s pause, Bolton specified the consequences of not resigning: “We know where your kids live. You have two sons in New York.”
Given the OPCW’s integrity and independence, it should be the ultimate judge on whether Assad was responsible for using sarin gas in East Ghouta in 2013 and a chlorine attack in Douma last year that left 43 dead. While it is out of the OPCW’s purview to assign blame, the report on East Ghouta implicitly held the dictatorship responsible. The Russians deputy foreign minister Sergei A. Ryabkov stated: “We think that the report was distorted. It was one-sided. The basis of information upon which it is built is insufficient.” There was the same response to the chlorine gas attack in Douma. Not guilty.
Blumenthal goes so far as to say that the only traces of chlorine found in Douma were the same as those that could have originated from household cleaners or swimming pools. He even credits Robert Fisk’s version of what took place, based on what a doctor told him. The truth was that no chemical attack had taken place at all and that jihadis had manufactured evidence to create the illusion of one, just as some conspiracy theorists view the Apollo Moon landing as a staged event.
Despite the fact that the “good” OPCW helped to avert American intervention after East Ghouta, it became “bad” after a leaked report from a former OPCW employee claimed that the weaponized chlorine tanks were placed in the building where 43 people died as a “false flag” rather than dropped from a helicopter.
Recently, Blumenthal’s Grayzone endorsed the leaked document, thus rendering the account found in Management of Savagery of a faked massacre as fraudulent. This is consistent with the journalistic tendency of the Assadist left to throw stuff against a wall to see what sticks.
If the purpose of Management of Savagery is to educate the world about the need to resist Salafist proxy wars against a secular government with broad support, it would behoove the author to take account of the state of the Middle East following the almost total victory of the Baathists in Syria.
If the acid test is only whether American interests were thwarted, such a balance sheet will be so narrowly circumscribed that it will be next to useless. Much of Blumenthal’s analysis of Syria is based on the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood that he lumps together with ISIS, al-Qaeda, the FSA and any other armed group that opposed Assad. To be consistent, he’d have to support General al-Sisi’s “war on terror” in Egypt that took the form of a bloodbath coup against President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who died of a heart attack during a kangaroo court hearing last month. Under al-Sisi, Egypt has put the military in charge in the same way it was under Mubarak. Political rights are non-existent and subsidies to the poor have been slashed.
In 2016, al-Sisi stated that “Our priority is to support national armies, for example in Libya to assert control over Libyan territories and deal with extremist elements. The same with Syria and Iraq.” Given both dictator’s resistance to Salafist elements, their affinity makes perfect sense. Given Assad’s close ties to Russia, there is another basis for shared diplomatic and political interests. Last year, Putin signed a Strategic Partnership Treaty with Egypt that should have gratified Max Blumenthal even if its benefits were lost on the Egyptian working class.
Finally, there is Saudi Arabia, the arch-demon in Max Blumenthal’s worldview.
What is the current relationship between the main sponsor of jihadi terrorists worldwide and the Baathist dictator that it was supposedly bent on overthrowing?
It has joined other Middle Eastern monarchies and dictatorships in re-establishing ties to Syria. After Assad regained control of 90 percent of his country, the Sunni states decided to mend their fences with the Alawite President in the interest of stability.
This should not come as any great surprise since the rich Sunnis in Syria never had a problem with Assad in the first place, so why should they?