Fascinating article on Syria, even if I don’t agree with everything Ahmad writes; below the opening paras — you can read the full article in Guernica Magazine, here.
The problems with the “anti-imperialist” position on Syria.
Image from Flickr via david_axe
By Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
Earlier this month, the British street artist Banksy produced a video on Syria that attracted over five million viewers in three days. At a time of intensifying state repression, the target of Bansky’s satire was not the regime in Damascus but its opponents. By contrast, the most-watched video from the chemical attack in August, showing a traumatized young survivor, managed only half a million hits in over a month.
Six weeks after the attacks on Ghouta, the belt of densely populated suburbs of Damascus, that killed hundreds of civilians, regime forces have choked off food supplies to the targeted neighborhoods. Survivors of the chemical attack are now facing the threat of starvation. Children have been reduced to eating leaves; clerics have issued fatwas allowing people to eat cats and dogs.
The belated discovery of the Syrian conflict by “anti-imperialists” after the US government threatened war has inspired impassioned commentary. The strangulation of its vulnerable population has occasioned silence. But dog whistles from issue-surfing provocateurs like Banksy are unexceptional; they merit closer scrutiny when they come from respected essayists like David Bromwich.
The mix of nativist isolationism and Kissingerian realism that Bromwich espouses was perhaps better articulated by Sarah Palin: “Let Allah sort it out.”
In a recent front-page article for the London Review of Books, Bromwich identifies many rogues in the Syrian drama: Barack Obama, John Kerry, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, “the jihadists.” Conspicuously absent is Assad’s Baathist regime. Vladimir Putin is the closest Bromwich admits to a hero. The Syrian people are denied even a cameo.
When the Yale literature professor uses a tautology like “anti-government insurgency” to refer to Assad’s opponents, it is reasonable to assume intention. The word “government” conveys a certain benign authority; and when it is also said to be opposed by the universally reviled “jihadists,” then there is only one place a bien pensant reader can invest sympathy—and it’s not with the opposition.
Bromwich’s elegant prose barely conceals his clunky polemical apparatus. The validity of his claim—that the Obama administration was engaged in illegal aggression against Syria until Putin intervened—hinges entirely on his treatment of the events of August 21.
“Nobody doubts that an attack took place,” writes Bromwich. But “nobody yet knows with reasonable certainty who ordered it.”
The words are carefully chosen. It is true, nobody knew with reasonable certainty who ordered it—but it had been established beyond reasonable doubt who carried it out. One can perhaps dismiss the conclusions of British, French and German intelligence agencies given their earlier record of failure. But by early September even independent munitions experts and Human Rights Watch had ruled out the possibility that anyone other than the regime could have carried out the attacks.
To understand the absurdity of Bromwich’s dodge, consider the napalming of a school in Aleppo a week after the sarin attack. The bomb was dropped from a jet; and since only the regime possesses airpower, the responsibility for the attack was easy to establish. But as in Ghouta, no one could know “with reasonable certainty who ordered it.” Nor was it relevant.