To: Detroit/Seattle Workers' Voice mailing list
May 14, 2017
RE: Syria and selective solidarity
Below are excerpts from the May 3rd interview of Anand Gopal on "Democracy Now!" The full transcipt can be found at https://www.democracynow.org/2017/5/3/journalist_anand_gopal_the_sheer_brutality under the title "The Sheer Brutality of the Assad Regime Has Led People to Join ISIS".
Amy Goodman: Democracy Now!'s Nermeen Shaikh and I recently spoke about Syria with Anand Gopal, a well-known journalist who's lived in the Middle East for years, fellow at The Nation Institute, has reported extensively from the region. Anand Gopal is the author of "No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes". He began by talking about the U.S. policy in Syria.
ANAND GOPAL: Well, I think it's important to understand that there's no regime change policy from the United States toward Syria. And there never has been a regime change policy. The Obama administration said, innumerous times, Assad must go. But what they mean is, "Assad should step down, and somebody else in the regime should take over, and there should be a continuation of the regime in the interest of stability" — and I put that in quotes, because stipulating from their point of view — "and in the interest of fighting terrorism." This is essentially the model that took place in Yemen, where you had the dictator step down, but you had the continuation of the dictatorship, in a way. It's also really a continuation of what happened in Egypt. And that's been the goal from the beginning. And so, the U.S. has never actually pursued a policy of regime change. If you want to see how regime change looks, you can look at how the U.S. did that in Afghanistan in the 1980s or even in 2001 in the air war. And neither of those have actually taken place in Syria.
ANAND GOPAL: ... I would say the only difference between Russia and the United States is Russia probably wants Assad himself to continue, whereas the United States is more interested in stability and wanting the regime to continue. And we see this in many ways. For example, there's cases where, when there's rebel groups that are fighting against the regime, and they're getting weapons and funding from the United States, the U.S. will cut off funding to them unless they focus their fighting on ISIS only.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And can you say a little, Anand, about what the impact of the Russian military intervention in Syria has been, in terms of the situation on the ground, in terms of civilian casualties and so on.
ANAND GOPAL: Well, in any discussion of Syria, it's important to state at the outset that the two biggest sources of violence in the country — number one is the Assad regime, which has just killed incredible numbers of civilians, tortured, maimed, executed anybody who resists, essentially. And the second biggest source of violence in Syria is the Russian regime. And Russia's role has been essentially to prop up the Syrian government at a time when it was looking very weak. When Syrian government ... retook Aleppo a few months ago, it would not have been able to do that without Russian air power.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, last week, Democracy Now! spoke to former Guardian Moscow correspondent Jonathan Steele. He questioned whether the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical attack in Idlib in Syria earlier this month, saying the principal beneficiaries were the U.S. military-industrial complex and those in the Trump administration wanting to prove the president is not a puppet of Putin. He went on to outline the benefits to the opposition groups in Syria from the chemical weapons attack.
ANAND GOPAL: The principal beneficiary of the chemical attacks was the people who carried it out, which was the Assad regime. This ... this comes in the context of, just a week before that, you had statements from the American administration, from Tillerson and from Trump, saying that the Syrian question is up to Syrians to decide, which is a implicit way of saying that even our very weak statement prior to this, that Assad must go, even that we're dropping. So, he was now operating from a position of what he saw as basically impunity. ...
ANAND GOPAL [In reply to a question about the relationship of Trump's diplomacy to Obama's]: Well, I think this has been a logical culmination of eight years of Obama's policy in the Middle East. And Obama said again and again that Assad must go, but didn't give the opposition the means to actually make that happen, and, in fact, spent most of his time policing the opposition to make sure that Assad wouldn't be ejected. When the Trump administration took office, they dispensed with that formality, and they said, "Look, our focus is ISIS. We don't even need to talk about having Assad go." And that's what that signaled, which was that, "Look, we just need to focus on ISIS, and Assad can stay as long as he wants, essentially." That's what — that was the message that was sent to the regime, and it's not a surprise that a week later you saw a chemical attack.
ANAND GOPAL: Well, it's interesting, because what he [Stephen Cohen, a Russia expert who is a pro-Assad apologist] said is basically a perfect summary of American policy in Syria, not actually Russian policy. And Syria is a dictatorship. Syrians do not have the ability to decide. When they wanted to try to decide for themselves, they had a revolution. And so, when people say it's up to Syrians themselves to decide, when Russia or the United States says that, it's a coded way of backing the Assad regime. And, you know, he said that the Assad regime is the main force fighting terrorism in Syria, and that's absolutely false. The regime does not fight terrorism. It's actually the single biggest cause of terrorism in Syria. ...
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you explain what you mean by that, that the cause of ISIS or what gave birth to ISIS in Syria is in fact the Assad regime? Because that's not what's commonly understood.
ANAND GOPAL: Well, I've spent a good portion of the last few months actually interviewing a number of ISIS fighters and defectors from ISIS. And one of the things I've made a point to do is actually ask them, "Why did you join this group?" You know? And to a person, they all say they witnessed some horrific atrocity or massacre conducted by the regime. I've never heard anybody give another reason other than that.
(Democracy Now! has carried many interviews with opponents of the struggle against the Assad regime, such as Seymour Hersh, Stephen Cohen, Jonathan Steele, and Noam Chomsky. In the full version of the above interview, one can read Gopal's replies to Cohen and Steele in more detail.) <>
On April 6, following Trump's missile attack on an airbase of the Assad regime, the War Resisters League issued the statement reproduced below. It vehemently condemned US militarism and imperialism, but also condemned "those who systematically practice selective antiwar politics, who have ignored calls from Syrian people to stand with them against a repressive regime and imperialisms of Russia, Iran and the International Coalition." Alongside the statement, it made the following recommendation for strengthening the protests against US military action: "If you are mobilizing to an action today that is only in response to the U.S. missile strikes last night, bring expanded messaging about the Syrian revolution and a true antimilitarist stance against all bombing and attacking of Syrians, so that we can educate each other in and out of the streets."
It's over a month since the WRL statement, but the issue of selective solidarity isn't going away. I don't share the statement's belief in what passes today for international law, but its denunciation of the acts of the imperialist wolves is right to the point. It reads in full as follows:
Last night, President Trump authorized 59 U.S. military missiles to strike Shayrat Airfield in Homs governorate, Syria in reaction to this week's chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib province. Met with condemnation from the international community, this week's terrifying chemical attacks and last night's U.S. strikes not only violate basic national and international legal code, but undermine our fundamental ethical, moral, and political sensibilities — tempting the aggression of global powers at the expense of Syrian lives.
War Resisters League condemns the chemical weapons attack and U.S. military actions of the past week within the context of the catastrophic, six-year Syrian war. We condemn Bashar al Assad regime's ongoing murder, barrel bombing, chemical and conventional weapons use, torture and imprisonment of Syrian civilians and activists. We condemn every one of the 7,912 US-led International Coalition strikes since 2014 on Syria, resulting in *countless civilian casualties*. We condemn Russian airstrikes, Iranian ground troops attacking Syrians in alliance with the Syrian Army, and their funding of Bashar al Assad's regime.
We condemn Trump's military escalation and proposed increases to an already inflated military budget of $1.45 trillion (nearly half of our total federal budget). We condemn the corporations profiteering off militarism as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman's stocks soared this morning. We call on those paying war taxes to recognize federal income taxes pay for U.S. military weaponry -- like the Raytheon Tomahawk missiles dropped last night, each with a price tag of $1.59 million.
We condemn those who systematically practice selective antiwar politics, who have ignored calls from Syrian people to stand with them against a repressive regime and imperialisms of Russia, Iran and the International Coalition. This is not the time for exceptional anti-imperialism. By this we mean an anti-imperialism which condemns only US-imperialism -- such as those hosting anti-fascist protests in response to Trump's missile strikes last night, without recognition for the last six years of repression in Syria. And, for those just now awakening to U.S. militarism and war-making, we must remember to highlight and condemn it all: continued U.S. militarism in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Libya now, or the Obama administration's dropping of 26,172 bombs in these countries, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan last year.
We call for strategic thinking by movement leaders, in the U.S. and beyond, to act in deep solidarity with those who stood for Syrian Revolution in 2011 and everyday since; for Syrians who have died, endured unjust conditions, and fled in search of refuge to face closed borders, travel bans, and inadequate, nonexistent, or unsafe shelter. Against cynicism and despair, militarism and empires, we stand with Syrians surviving and fighting for self determination and justice. End all airstrikes, all occupations of Syria. We demand accountability for all war crimes + freedom for Syrians!
-- April 6, 2017
The bioethicist Xavier Symons wrote several days ago on the continuing war on health care by the Assad regime. Below are excerpts from his article:
May 11, 2017
Few events in Syria have attracted as much attention as the alleged chemical weapon attack on the town of Khan Shaykhun. The callous use of biological agents to target civilians is a "crime against humanity" and a serious violation of international law, according to human rights experts.
Far less attention has been given to the Syrian government's targeting of health-care facilities in rebel territory. ...
The Syrian American Medical Society reports that at least 168 attacks on medical facilities were carried out in the second half of 2016. These injured at least 80 medical staff and killed 26. This adds to an estimated death toll of over 800 medical personnel since the conflict began.
The 1949 Geneva Convention contains a series of strictures that all parties involved in international conflicts must “respect without prejudice”. Convention IV emphasises the need to respect and help with the provision of health care for civilians. And Convention I extends this principle to enemy combatants.
Sadly, most of the articles of Geneva Convention have been systematically violated in the years following their ratification. But the targeting of health care in Syria constitutes a particularly egregious violation of strictures pertaining to the provision of humanitarian care.
Specifically, it is an example of what scholars are calling the "weaponisation of health care" – a multi-dimensional tactic that includes practices such as attacking health-care facilities, targeting health workers, obliterating medical neutrality, and besieging medicine.
The primary international organisation affected by government bombings has been MSF [Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders]. The most infamous attack occurred in late April 2016, when Syrian jets bombed the MSF-supported Al Quds hospital and surrounding neighbourhood in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. The attack killed at least 55 people, including patients and at least six medical staff.
What may not have been apparent to an international audience is that this attack was preceded by five years of targeting health-care facilities. Apart from the hundreds of medical personnel killed during the conflict, almost all hospitals in cities such as Aleppo have been closed.
The full report may be found at
The Syrian American Medical Society was founded in 1998 and describes itself as a "a non-profit, non-political, professional and medical relief organization that provides humanitarian assistance to Syrians in need and represents thousands of Syrian American medical professionals in the United States". In January of this year, it issued a report on the destruction of health facilities in Syria as a means of war. Below are a few excerpts from this report.
None of our work would be made possible without Syria's doctors, nurses, medical assistants, ambulance drivers, hospital staff, and humanitarian workers. Their inspiring work amidst the most dire of circumstances continues to inspire us to help amplify their voices. ....
Our hearts go out to the medics of Aleppo, who endured a brutal siege during this reporting period, and who continued to share stories of courage and perseverance during the siege.
For more than five years, healthcare has been used as a tool of war in Syria, with hospitals and medical personnel being repeatedly targeted by various parties. International Humanitarian Law has been continuously violated with impunity for perpetrators. This is best illustrated by our data from 2016, the most dangerous year for healthcare workers since the onset of the crisis.
This report examines the pattern of attacks on healthcare in the latter half of 2016, following the May 3, 2016 passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2286, which condemns attacks on medical facilities and personnel in conflict. It is shocking and deplorable that since the passing of this Resolution, the rate of attacks on hospitals and health workers in Syria has increased by 89 percent.
In Syria, attacks on healthcare facilities and personnel have become the norm. In 2015, the rate of targeting of medical facilities and personnel was once every four days. In October 2015, following Russia's intervention in Syria in support of the Syrian government, this rate doubled to *one attack every 48 hours*.
The full report is available at https://www.sams-usa.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/UN-fail-report-07-3.pdf <>
The April 30, 2017 issue of the D/SWV list reported on the Brazilian
general strike of April 28. It should have said that this was the first
general strike in Brazil since 1996, not 1966. <>
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Posted on June 17,
with a typo corrected.