Gilbert Achcar on Libya and Syria

I have come to the conclusion that there are only two possibilities that can explain Gilbert Achcar’s detachment from reality in regards to the conflicts in Libya and Syria. Either he is woefully misinformed, or he is intentionally deceptive. And while I am still not convinced which is the case, one thing is for certain. Like nearly all propaganda campaigns, it’s not so much what Achcar said, or is still saying, but what goes unspoken. The narrative he frames is very selective and revealing. How he tries to shape the image of the supposed revolutionary forces, and how he omits, limits or downplays their politics and violence, or their subservient role to the American Empire, is very troubling to say the least. Troubling because Achcar is supposed to be a leftist, anti-imperialist and anti-war activist.

Libya

In his March 19, 2011 interview with Stephen Shalom (“Libyan Developments”) Achcar discusses what he says is the “composition of the opposition,” which he said was the case for “all the other revolts shaking the region.” They were “very heterogeneous,” and that in “all the disparate forces [there] is a rejection of the dictatorship and a longing for democracy and human rights.”1

This was written and published nearly a month after numerous reports began coming in about vicious “rebel” attacks on black Africans. But for Achcar, who says nothing of the plight of black Africans, their tormentors long for “human rights.”

As for these “disparate forces” Achcar said “the Libyan opposition represents a mixture of forces, and the bottom line is that there is no reason for any different attitude toward them than to any other of the mass uprisings in the region.” But there were not, in places like Egypt, Bahrain and Tunisia, former regime officials (with the likes of former Libyan justice minister, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil) leading the rebels in alliance with the West, nor the racist attacks on minorities. Egypt and Tunisia didn’t need several months of NATO bombings to overthrow their governments, nor did they need to carry out terrorist attacks, indiscriminately shelled civilians, torture, execute and deny humanitarian assistance. And unlike Benghazi, Egyptian and Tunisian didn’t fly Al Qaeda flags over their courts following their revolutions. Achcar’s “bottom line” is simply false. There was and still are plenty of reasons to have a different attitude towards what happened in Libya and what happened in Egypt and Tunisia.2

In Egypt and Tunisia the uprisings were actually greeted with popular support. In Libya it was the Gaddafi regime which retained the popular support, as witnessed by the massive pro-government rally3 in Tripoli in July of 2011, the “citizen volunteers”4 of Sirte, and the residents of Bani Walid5 who have reclaimed their town since the fall of the government. It’s worth remembering that Libyan “rebels” would never have been able to overthrow the government and unleash the nightmare that they did without the help of NATO. Or as Luis Rumbaut, a Cuban-American lawyer put it:

At its peak, the 26 of July Movement had some 300 fighters, ill fed and poorly armed, bitten by mosquitoes and accompanied by the rain. Against them, Gen. Fulgencio Batista mobilized an army, a navy, an air force, a coast guard, and the Rural Guard, aside from a network of spies and irregular bands of enforcers at his command.

How could the 26 of July Movement have achieved victory? The majority of the people were against Batista and for the 26 of July. There was also an active underground, and organized resistance among student, union, and political organizations. Batista fell because he had no support. Revolutions succeed when the system they replace can no longer survive.

Libya’s rebels are a different story …6

In the same interview with Shalom, Achcar spoke of “the urgency of preventing the massacre that would have inevitably resulted from an assault on Benghazi by Gaddafi’s forces, and the absence of any alternative means of achieving the protection goal,” by saying that “no one can reasonably oppose” UN Resolution 1973.

The problem that many on the left had was not so much the wording of the resolution—though it was pointed out how one-sided it was in that the resolution demanded “that the Libyan government comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law and take all measures to protect civilians and meet their basic needs, and to ensure the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance,” but said nothing of the legal obligations of the rebels—but that hardly anyone expected the US and NATO to actually protect civilians, de-escalate the conflict, or accept a cease fire (which the resolution made its first demand for). In fact, by the time the resolution was adopted, and Achcar’s interview was published, the Libyan government had already offered a cease fire which was rejected!

Here is a list of the numerous ceasefire offers. The source of the offers is revealing.7

February

25| Gaddafi’s Son Sees Negotiaton, Ceasefire in Libya

25| Gaddafi’s Son to Negotiate Ceasefire

March

18| Libya Calls Ceasefire in Response to UN Resolution

18| Pro-Gaddafi Forces to Observe Ceasefire

18| Libya Ceasefire Analysis

18| David Cameron Cautious over Libya Ceasefire Offer

18| Gaddafi’s Ceasefire May Split Coalition

18| Clinton Unimpressed by Libya’s Ceasefire Pledge

19| Libyan Minister Claims Gaddafi is Powerless and the Ceasefire is Solid

21| US-led Forces Reject Gaddafi Ceasefire

27| Turkey Offers to Broker Ceasefire Talks

April

1| Libyan Rebels Prepared to Accept Ceasefire if Gaddafi Lifts Sieges, Allows Protests

1| Libyan Rebels Seek Ceasefire as US Vows to Withdraw Jets

6| Gaddafi Accepts African Roadmap to End Libya Civil War Including Ceasefire

7| Gaddafi Writes to Obama, Urging End to Airstrikes

10| Libyan Rebels Spurn African Union Ceasefire Unless Gaddafi Gives Up Power

11| Ceasefire ‘Must Meet UN Conditions’ says Hague

11| Benghazi Rebels Reject African Union Truce Plan

13| Crucial Libya Talks as Rebels Again Reject Ceasefire

19| UN Appeals for Libya Ceasefire

30| Gaddafi Calls for Ceasefire as NATO Strikes Tripoli

30| Muammar Gaddafi Calls for Ceasefire in Libyan TV Address

30| Libyan Rebels Reject Gaddafi Offer

30| Libyan Opposition Rejects Gaddafi Truce Offer

30| Rebels and NATO dismiss Gaddafi Truce Offer

May

3| Turks Offer Libya Ceasefire Plan as Western, Arab Officials Meet in Rome

26| Libya Ready for Ceasefire, Demands End to NATO Strikes

26| Libyan Regime Makes Peace Offer that Sidelines Gaddafi

26| Libya’s Prime Minister Calls for Ceasefire

26| White House Says Libya Ceasefire Not Credible

26| Libya Ceasefire Offer Regarded Coldly by the West

26| Libya Approaches Spain for NATO Ceasefire

27| Comment: Why no mention of a Ceasefire for Libya, Obama?

27| US Rejects Libya Ceasefire, Vows War will Continue

28| Talks Under Way to End Libya Fighting

29| South Africa PM to Visit Gaddafi, Push for Ceasefire and Talks

31| Zuma Says Gaddafi Ready for Truce

31| Gaddafi Wants Truce in Libya, Says Zuma, but Terms Remain Unclear

June

2| Comment: NATO’s Strategy in Libya is Working – Talks with Gaddafi Won’t

10| Libya’s Gaddafi Writes to Congress for Ceasefire

11| Gaddafi Ceasefire Letter to USA

11| Gaddafi’s Letter to Congress Urges Ceasefire

21| Arab League Chief Calls for Ceasefire and Political Solution

22| Italy Asks NATO to Consider Ceasefire in Libya

22| Italy Ceasefire Call Exposes NATO Split on Libya

22| Italy Urges Suspension of Hostilities

22| Downing Street Rejects Allies’s Call for Libyan Ceasefire

22| France Rejects Italian Libya Ceasefire Call

23| Italian Minister Calls for Libyan Ceasefire

23| Italy Breaks Ranks to Call for Ceasefire in Libya so Aid can Get Through

26| Calls for Ceasefire in Libya Ring Louder

[Arab League has Second Thoughts About Air-Strike]

26| Gaddafi Vows Not to Put Pressure on AU Peace Talks

27| Comment: Libya is not Ready for a Political Solution

July

3| Libya Rebels Welcome African Union’s Gaddafi-Free Talks Offer

12| Nato Suggests Ramadan Libya Ceasefire

17| NATO Chief Cautious on Libya Ceasefire

20| France: Ceasefire Deal Could Include Gaddafi Remaining in Libya

21| France Says Gadaffi Can Stay in Libya if He Relinquishes Power

22| UN Peace Envoy Suggests a Ceasefire to be Declared

22| UN Plan Sees Unity Government in Post-Gaddafi Libya

26| Comment: Libya’s Stalemate Shows it is Time to Tempt Gaddafi Out, Not Blast Him Out

28| UN Official: Truce and Transitional Pact Key to Ending Libya Crisis

August

12| UN Calls for Ceasefire in Libya and Political Talks by Gaddafi and Rebels

15| UN Envoy Seeks Ceasefire to Break Impasse in Libya with Tunisia Meetings

18| Gaddafi Regime Urges Ceasefire as Libya Rebels Claim Control of Key Refinery

18| Casualties Mount in West Libya as Regime Urges Ceasefire

18| Libya Regime PM Calls for a Ceasefire

19| Libya Regime Calls for Ceasefire

24| Gaddafi’s Son Offers to Broker Ceasefire

September

1| NATO Keeps War Footing Until Gaddafi Regime is Smashed

4| The UN was Hijacked on Libya

28| Venezuela Calls for Libyan Ceasefire

Notice the date of the offers and those that preceded Achcar’s interview and his comment about “the absence of any alternative means of achieving the protection goal.” And let’s not forget that President Obama responded to the African Union’s attempt to negotiate a peaceful settlement by sending an envoy to the region to pressure them to stop their efforts.8

Which brings up another thing. Achcar wrote of “the urgency of preventing the massacre that would have inevitably resulted from an assault on Benghazi by Gaddafi’s forces.” Elsewhere in the interview Achcar also said, “The fact remains, nevertheless, that if Gaddafi were permitted to continue his military offensive and take Benghazi, there would be a major massacre,” and that “from an anti-imperialist perspective one cannot and should not oppose the no-fly zone, given that there is no plausible alternative for protecting the endangered population.”

Somehow it is anti-imperialist to go along with an imperialist intervention on the dubious grounds that it’s a “humanitarian intervention.” And like other pro-interventionsts at the time, Achcar says nothing about the validity of the claim itself. Had he bothered to look he would have found out that the claims were made by the rebels themselves, and there was no evidence to support the claim. Nearly three weeks before Achcar talks of “the urgency,” the Russian government said their satellite images revealed no truth to the claim.9

This kind of incident is not without an historical precedent. It was in August of 1990 when the US launched Operation Desert Shield for the claimed purpose of protecting Saudi Arabia from an Iraqi invasion, which was said to be imminent as Iraqi troops were moving towards the border. Like the Benghazi claim, Russia furnished evidence to the contrary.

Even the person at the UN who spread the Benghazi claim, later admitted he had no evidence and was basing it on what the rebels told him. It was Dr. Sliman Bouchuiguir, the Secretary-General of the Libyan League for Human Rights, who went to the UN to make the claim without it ever being verified. It was accepted hook, line and sinker, and the rest is, as the saying goes, history.10

And it wasn’t just that many saw the UN resolution as an escalation of the conflict, rather than a de-escalation. Many also didn’t think the US/NATO would protect civilians. Again as noted, by the time the resolution was adopted it was already known that NATO’s racist rebels were already committing massacres of black Africans. And as time went on these massacres turned into a full-blown campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide, all of which received no concern or interest from the NATO powers who were “protecting civilians” in Libya, and certainly not activists like Gilbert Achcar who saw the perpetrators as “longing for democracy and human rights.”

Worse, at one point Achcar actually had the nerve to write that he “won’t dwell on the unacceptable arguments of those who try to shed doubt on the nature of the uprising’s leadership.” For Achcar, anyone who dared to criticize them “are most often the same as those who believe Gaddafi is a progressive.” It was very troubling to read a leftist scholar like Achcar say that it is unacceptable to doubt leaders, and to claim that those who do are apologists for a dictator. This was the same argument the pro-war right-wingers used against anti-war activists in the rush to war with Iraq in 2003. If you opposed the war then you were an apologist for Saddam Hussein. This is an observation worth consideration, especially when Achcar’s pro-US war in Syria is being repeated.11

Considering Achcar’s silence on the things mentioned above and his comment in the interview with Shalom that “one must maintain a very critical attitude toward what the Western powers might do,” it is hard to imagine he himself maintained such an attitude. Where was the critical attitude towards the rebel leadership, which he said it was “unacceptable” to have? Where was the critical attitude towards their claims?

It would be bad enough that he made the colossal mistake once, but now Achcar is making it again. This time in regards to Syria. The difference between his mistake on Libya is that he at least had some (though not much) protection of criticism since his comments preceded much of the nightmare that happened afterwards.

For example, the ceasefire offers by the Libyan government continued, while the rebels rejected them and carried out massive war crimes.

Earlier this year the UN released its Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya, where it too notes that there was no evidence of genocide by Gaddafi’s forces. While they did find excessive use of force against their political opponents, “the Commission has not found evidence that one particular group was targeted more than others.” However, they did find extensive evidence of the rebels targeting various communities, including Tawerghans. It also noted that “from the beginning of the uprising in February 2011, dark-skinned migrant workers were targeted – including being killed,” and that, “The Commission continues to receive reports of sub-Saharan Africans, some long-term residents of Libya, being arbitrarily arrested and beaten in detention.” It also noted that it is “deeply concerned that no independent investigations or prosecutions appear to have been instigated into killings committed by [the rebels].” Much of the documented crimes committed by the rebels amount to genocide, though of course considering the politicization of the UN it is not likely that their reasonable “recommendations” will ever be implemented, or that the UN will ever refer it to the ICC.12

The report also found no evidence of Gaddafi using mercenaries, or child soldiers. This is not surprising because there was never any proof of the “mercenaries.” Amnesty International was in Libya looking into this from late February to late May. After three months of looking this is what they had to say,

We examined this issue in depth and found no evidence. The rebels spread these rumors everywhere, which had terrible consequences for African guest workers: there was a systematic hunt for migrants, some were lynched and many arrested. Since then, even the rebels have admitted there were no mercenaries, almost all have been released and have returned to their countries of origin, as the investigations into them revealed nothing.13

That being said, Amnesty International could have identified foreign mercenaries operating in Libya … against the will of the population. And the whole world already knows the location of their headquarters. They are a composite of professional soldiers from different countries and belong to a single organization they call NATO, whose headquarters is located in Brussels, Belgium.

Back to the UN report. It said that while they “received reports of theft on a small scale perpetrated by Qadhafi forces during the conflict,” what they were able to establish was “widespread pillaging and destruction of public and private property across the country” by the rebels.

As far as sexual violence the report found that most of the claims against Gaddafi’s forces “cannot be relied upon” because they “believe that there is a strong possibility that the confessions were made under torture.”

Furthermore, the claim that Gaddafi attacked civilian institutions was confirmed, however in many instances the Commission either “could not determine without further investigation whether schools, hospitals and mosques and other civilian objects were hit deliberately,” or found that the civilian objects were being used by the rebels and therefore “could not consider them as purely civilian objects,” and “after these buildings could be said to have taken on a military character by encouraging or supporting combat operations [...] their targeting would not necessarily violate international law.”

In other words, the overall picture puts “the disparate forces” who long for “democracy and human rights” as the main perpetrators of the genocidal violence, not Gaddafi’s forces.

Syria

As noted, it is one thing that Achcar made such a mistake once, but twice?

In a recent interview on Syria, again features on ZNet, Achcar says that, “The Syrian National Council is a heterogeneous combination of people.”14

Déjà vu.

He also says that, “The SNC is held together by the pressure of various states intervening in the Syrian situation,” and that the SNC is staffed “with a number of figures linked to Western governments, the US or France in particular.” This may be the most truthful thing he says, though he downplays it by not specifying the “figures linked to Western governments,” and by stressing that, “The Syrian opposition within the country starts, of course, with the Local Coordination Committees (LCC),” who Achcar says is “the most authentic representation of the uprising in the sense that they are its principal organizers” of which he says “are networks of people, mostly young, coordinating the mobilization.”

As with Libya, it’s worth noting that Achcar steers away from the specifics. Those with links to the Western governments that are holding the SNC together, or the links off the LCC’s to the SNC and foreign governments, again, goes un-named. As is the quality of their claims. Though there is already plenty to draw from. Writers like Patrick Cockburn of The Independent UK and Robert Dreyfuss of The Nation have written on the propaganda of the Syrian activists.

Before continuing it should also be pointed out that Achcar, in his recent interview, continues to defend his pro-intervention position on Libya even after all that is now known. While he says that in Libya there was “no other group challenging [the TNC] as representing the Libyan opposition,” he fails to note how much more popular the regime was, or how it took a nearly eight-month long bombing campaign, coupled with rebels committing ethnic cleansing and indiscriminately bombing civilians and disrupting the delivery of humanitarian aid to overthrow the government, or how the rebels faced stiff resistance from “citizen volunteers” in places like Tripoli, Bani Walid, and Sirte.

And even after Achcar says that Libya is now “a chaotic country with the state being replaced by independent armed groups” he goes on to refer to what happened in Tripoli as “liberation,” with no mention of the well-documented tortures, massacres and executions that followed. And Achcar certainly doesn’t call what the residents of Bani Walid did when they took back their town a “liberation.” In fact, Achcar simply ignores them and their struggle, like that of black Africans or the people of Sirte where Achcar’s rebels said the people “chosen to die” by not siding with them.15

Achcar even points out that last August he was opposed to continued NATO bombing (note he doesn’t say he was opposed to it entirely, just “the continuation of the bombing by NATO”), though was “calling instead for arms deliveries to the insurgents.” But by August “the insurgents” were already well underway to committing massive war crimes, and crimes against humanity and Achcar continued to support arming them. In fact, Human Rights Watch (HRW)16 reported on rebel abuses and said that, “How the rebels behave in towns that have supported Gaddafi gives an indication of what they may do if they gain control in other areas, especially if they approach Tripoli.” And when they did approach Tripoli their indication proved all too true. In an article by Independent journalist Kim Sengupta in late August, titled “Rebels settle scores in Libya”, [17]

The killings were pitiless.

They had taken place at a makeshift hospital, in a tent marked clearly with the symbols of the Islamic Crescent. Some of the dead were on stretchers, attached to intravenous drips. Some were on the back of an ambulance that had been shot at. A few were on the ground, seemingly attempting to crawl to safety when the bullets came.

Around 30 men lay decomposing in the heat. Many of them had their hands tied behind their back, either with plastic handcuffs or ropes. One had a scarf stuffed into his mouth. Almost all of the victims were black men.17 [emphasis added]

Back to Syria.

In “The United States Should Stay Out of Syria,” by The Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss, the writer wastes no time and gets to the point:

Lined up in support of regime change in Damascus are the Middle East’s major Sunni powers, led by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Also backing regime change, though less publicly, is the international network known as the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni powerhouse that is providing much, if not most, of the increasingly militarized Syrian opposition forces, especially in Sunni strongholds such as Homs. And backing the Sunni-led regional forces for regime change is NATO, the United States and its allies, who are outraged, just outraged, that Russia and China would dare to veto a carefully crafted UN Security Council resolution targeting President Bashar al-Assad.18

Dreyfuss then goes on to quote Aisling Byrne of Asia Times as writing, “What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime ‘more compatible’ with US interests in the region.”

Yet the most explosive comment was when Dreyfuss wrote that,

The killings in Syria are ugly, but no doubt wildly exaggerated. Nearly all, repeat all, of the information about the violence in Syria is coming from a handful of exiled Syrian opposition groups backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and various Western powers. Did 200 people really die in Homs this past weekend, conveniently just on the eve of the UNSC debate? Who knows? The only source for the fishy information, though ubiquitously quoted in the New York Times, the wire services, the network news and elsewhere, are the suspect Syrian opposition groups, who have axes galore to grind.

It’s not just the Times, but even the BBC, and nearly all of the mainstream press.

As for the BBC, in their online article “Syria crisis: Shelling ‘kills dozens’ in restive Homs” we read about how, “The worst shelling has been in the Baba Amr district, where activists say 50 people were killed on Wednesday alone.”19 [emphasis added]

Who are these “activists”? Why “The Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of anti-government,” of course, or as Dreyfuss put it: “a handful of exiled Syrian opposition groups backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and various Western powers,” and getting considerable coverage from the dominant press.

Patrick Cockburn of The Independent has also written on the propaganda element that is facilitated by the Western media:

The Syrian opposition needs to give the impression that its insurrection is closer to success than it really is. The Syrian government has failed to crush the protesters, but they, in turn, are a long way from overthrowing it. The exiled leadership wants Western military intervention in its favour as happened in Libya, although conditions are very different.

The purpose of manipulating the media coverage is to persuade the West and its Arab allies that conditions in Syria are approaching the point when they can repeat their success in Libya. Hence the fog of disinformation pumped out through the internet.20

Writing for al Akhbar in late February, Sharmaine Narwani wrote in her piece “Questioning the Syrian ‘Casualty List'” about Nir Rosen’s coverage within Syria. Narwani quoted Rosen as saying,

Every day the opposition gives a death toll, usually without any explanation of the cause of the deaths. Many of those reported killed are in fact dead opposition fighters, but the cause of their death is hidden and they are described in reports as innocent civilians killed by security forces, as if they were all merely protesting or sitting in their homes.21

All of this, on the claims of the Syrian opposition, precede Achcar’s interview by months. It is amazing that in the nearly 3,500 words Achcar questions the validity of their claims.

And again there is absolutely nothing about the violence of the Syrian opposition. The torture, terrorist attacks, murder, using civilian institutions as military installations, and killing of foreign journalists doesn’t get any mention from Achcar.

While there was a lot of coverage in the mainstream press about the two Western journalists who were killed in Syria earlier this year, it is noteworthy that there was considerable less attention and outrage at a French journalist killed in Syria, especially after it was revealed the victim was killed by armed opposition forces. There is another aspect about the most recent killings of the two journalists that is (predictably) not being emphasized on: they were not only embedded with the Free Syrian Army, but the “media center” they were operating from was in an apartment building—a residential building.

According to Spiegel Online, “They had been in the back of the apartment serving as the “media center” when the first missile shook the room.” Later the article notes that, “Increasingly little word was coming from the surviving activists in the “media center,” which was moved from the third to the first floor of a residential building.”22

Initially, articles were questioning whether or not the Syrian government was specifically targeting these journalists. Case in point, this recent article by the New York Times says that “citizen journalists in Homs have been killed recently in what activists interpret as part of a deliberate campaign to choke off news of the opposition.” The article also notes that “the two journalists died after shells hit the house in which they were staying…”23

What is interesting about the coverage is that there is no questioning the FSA for using residential buildings for military operations even though that is a serious war crime. It is using the people as a human shield, and increases the civilian casualty rate. There was no condemnation from the US or other Western powers, and certainly not Qatar, Saudi Arabia, or even Gilbert Achcar.

So when the Times reports that, “The French foreign minister, Alain Juppé also said in a statement that he had called on the Syrian government to order an immediate halt to the attacks on Homs and to respect its ‘humanitarian obligations,’ ” it is strange how there is no mention of the “humanitarian obligations” of the Free Syrian Army, nor was any similar statement issued when Gilles Jacquier was killed at a pro-government rally last month by the resistance, along with Belgian journalist Steven Visner and seven civilians. Rather, Juppé called on the Syrian government “to ensure the security of international journalists on their territory, and to protect this fundamental liberty which is the freedom of information.” To be sure, for the recent incident, Juppé didn’t call on the FSA to provide similar protections.24

This is all a part of the overall coverage, or lack of, that is coming out about Syria. Not only is their quite a bit of silence about the political, religious, and sectarian views of the “resistance,” and their support coming from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, but much of the relevant context is missing. All one is likely to find is a repetitive anti-al-Assad presentation. Al-Assad is evil incarnate, the “resistance” are glorious liberators battling a genocidal dictator. If you don’t support the rebellion then you are an apologist for the dictatorship. The truth is not nearly so black and white.

The Syrian government retains a lot of support, and has shown considerable constraint over the last year—much more than one would expect from the U.S. and other nations who are shedding crocodile tears. When the Arab League sent in an observer mission in December and January progress was made, but when the observer mission issued its report (which noted its success and warned that its discontinuation could lead to a worsening of situation), which was suppressed and the mission suspended the U.N. Security Council quickly tried to push through a resolution that only called for the Syrian government forces to cease fire and withdraw. With Syria facing a foreign-directed rebellion and no serious prospect of a fair settlement coming from either the Arab League or the UN, but rather a concerted effort for regime change, it’s not surprising that they moved in on the rebel stronghold. How indiscriminate the regime is being is hard to tell since the only information we have to go on is coming from the rebels, and even they admit they are operating from “residential buildings.”

So it is strange to read that while “The UN mediation has been accepted by all factions of the Syrian opposition,” according to Achcar, “most people are skeptical about the Syrian regime’s true willingness to implement Kofi Annan’s plan.” Achcar says that, “The regime knows too well that if it were to actually withdraw its armed forces from the cities and stop its bloody repression, the popular mobilization against it will immediately reach new heights — similar to the huge popular rallies that took place in Hama last summer when the regime’s forces refrained from attacking the demonstrations for a short while.”

Notice he talks about the regimes “bloody repression” but says nothing about that of the rebels, or how he mentions “huge popular rallies that took place in Hama last summer” but says nothing about the much larger pro-government rallies, or how one poll found that 55% of Syrians supported retaining al-Assad out of fear for their country (i.e. they fear what the rebels represent more than the tyranny of al-Assad).

As for the claim that “most people are skeptical about the Syrian regime’s true willingness to implement Kofi Annan’s plan,” we can look to the Arab League’s report from earlier this year to get an idea of how accurate that statement is.25

For starters, here are some comments about the “opposition”:

In Homs and Dera‘a, the Mission observed armed groups committing acts of violence against Government forces, resulting in death and injury among their ranks. In certain situations, government forces responded to attacks against their personnel with force. The observers noted that some of the armed groups were using flares and armour-piercing projectiles.

[…]

In Homs, Idlib and Hama, the Observer Mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against Government forces and civilians that resulted in several deaths and injuries. Examples of those acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children, and the bombing of a train carrying diesel oil. In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two police officers. A fuel pipeline and some small bridges were also bombed.

[…]

In Homs, a French journalist who worked for the France 2 channel was killed and a Belgian journalist was injured. The Government and opposition accused each other of being responsible for the incident, and both sides issued statements of condemnation. The Government formed an investigative committee in order to determine the cause of the incident. It should be noted that Mission reports from Homs indicate that the French journalist was killed by opposition mortar shells.

[…]

Recently, there have been incidents that could widen the gap and increase bitterness between the parties. These incidents can have grave consequences and lead to the loss of life and property. Such incidents include the bombing of buildings, trains carrying fuel, vehicles carrying diesel oil and explosions targeting the police, members of the media and fuel pipelines. Some of those attacks have been carried out by the Free Syrian Army and some by other armed opposition groups.

While the opposition is blowing up buses, killing journalists, attacking government security forces and civilians, bombing trains and other acts of sabotage and terrorism, we read how, “In Latakia, thousands surrounded the Mission’s cars, chanting slogans in favour of the President.”

And while the “armed gangs” continue to carry out attacks, the report notes how,

Based on the reports of the field-team leaders and the meeting held on 17 January 2012 with all team leaders, the Mission confirmed that all military vehicles, tanks and heavy weapons had been withdrawn from cities and residential neighbourhoods. Although there are still some security measures in place in the form of earthen berms and barriers in front of important buildings and in squares, they do not affect citizens.

Furthermore, even after we are informed that the government has opened up to an observer mission, offered amnesty, released thousands of detainees, and “withdrawn from cities and residential neighbourhoods” we read of an “armed entity” roaming the streets and “attacking Syrian security forces and citizens, causing the Government to respond with further violence.” More on this in a moment via Wikileaks.

As for the Syrian governments behavior during the mission it is reported that, “The Mission noted that the Government strived to help it succeed in its task and remove any barriers that might stand in its way. The Government also facilitated meetings with all parties. No restrictions were placed on the movement of the Mission and its ability to interview Syrian citizens, both those who opposed the Government and those loyal to it.”

And ever mindful of what happened in Iraq and Libya, the report found that “the citizens believe the crisis should be resolved peacefully through Arab mediation alone, without international intervention.” Translation: We don’t want a NATO “humanitarian intervention,” thanks. No wonder Qatar, who has come out in support of an armed intervention and pretends to support “democracy,” has suppressed the report and went along with the suspension of the mission. Which is at odds with the report itself.26

In the conclusions, it asked for “administrative and logistic support in order allow it to carry out its tasks.” The report said it must have “the media and political support required to create an appropriate environment that will enable it to fulfil its mandate in the required manner,” which includes a “political process [that] must be accelerated and a national dialogue [that] must be launched.” According to the report, “That dialogue should run in parallel with the Mission’s work in order to create an environment of confidence that would contributes to the Mission’s success and prevent a needless extension of its presence in Syria.” The report gave the following warning: “ending the Mission’s work after such a short period will reverse any progress, even if partial, that has thus far been made.” That was very likely the reason for ending the mission, silencing the report, and its ultimate leak. Some want war and regime change, regardless of what the mission observers, or the people of Syria want.

Afterwards one of the observers came out and said that,

The Arab League is entirely discredited by burying the report of its own observers’ mission and its appeal to the Security Council. It missed the opportunity to participate in the settlement of the Syrian affair. All it can offer in the future will be worthless.27

This is at odds with Achcar’s statement about the willingness of the Syrian government to accept and honor a peaceful mediation.

Achcar finds no room for mentioning the violence of the opposition, or the Arab League report. And he certainly doesn’t mention that Wikileaks has already shown that the U.S. has been supporting the opposition forces since before Obama took office,28 or how the U.S. has only been pushing for the Syrian government to cease fire while ignoring the violence and war crimes of the opposition forces. There is also no mention of the new Wikileaks release of Stratfor emails.29

In an email written in December of 2011 it is stated that “SOF teams (presumably from US, UK, France, Jordan, Turkey) are already on the ground focused on recce missions and training opposition forces,” and that while the U.S. “distanced themselves” from a bombing campaign because “Syrian air defenses are a lot more robust and are much denser, esp around Damascus and on the borders with Israel” it was noted that the plan “is to commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces, elicit collapse from within.” This means, “There wouldn’t be a need for air cover, and they wouldn’t expect these Syrian rebels to be marching in columns anyway.”

The Stratfor emails makes another startling comment. “[U.S. forces] think the US would have a high tolerance for killings as long as it doesn’t reach that very public stage.” If there can be “enough media attention on a massacre” then the U.S., who is “already on the ground . . . training opposition forces” would find it easier to carry out a bombing campaign like they did in Libya and “would have a high tolerance for killings as long as it doesn’t reach that very public stage,” which with the current state of media subservience to the Western establishment is very likely. U.S. use of force is almost always treated as “constructive,” whereas so-called “enemies” use of force (i.e. Syria under al-Assad) is “nefarious.”

The last interesting revelation on the Stratfor email is the date: December 7, 2011. This is just over two weeks before the Arab League sent their observer mission.

Why is it that Achcar doesn’t mention the bogus propaganda of the opposition, or their violence, or the Arab League report, or how the Stratfor emails show that the US plan “is to commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns”?

It all comes to a disastrous end when Achcar ends his recent interview on Syria by saying that,

Anyone who is truly not a supporter of Bashar al-Assad and opposes hypothetic arms deliveries to the Syrian insurgents — in the name of an idealistic commitment to non-violence, for instance — should focus their opposition on the very real and massive Russian and Iranian arms deliveries to the Syrian regime in order to remain consistent.

Yet again we are told that unless you “focus [your] opposition on the very real and massive Russian and Iranian arms deliveries to the Syrian regime”—what Achcar calls remaining “consistent”—then you are a “supporter of Bashar al-Assad.”

There is no concern for consistency in regards to opposing the violence and politics of the armed rebels that are serving the American Empire’s interests. It is not even a concern for consistency to get the facts right. The “focus” should be on Iran and Russia arming the Syrian regime that is defending itself from a foreign-directed rebellion using civilian buildings as military installations for their terrorist and guerrilla attacks, assassinations, torture and more. Even Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the SNC late last month expressing their “concern about increasing evidence … of kidnappings, the use of torture, and executions by armed Syrian opposition members.” Again, arousing no comment from Achcar.30

What are readers to make of Achcar’s position on Libya and Syria? The one “consistent” theme I have found in Achcar’s position is he is selective in how he approaches and frames them. He ignores the violent and criminal aspect of the foreign-directed rebellions, and says anyone who doesn’t support them is a supporter of the dictatorship. He claims we must “focus” on the crimes and armaments of America’s enemies, and even attempts to describe this as an “anti-imperialist perspective.” This is a very odd position for a supposed anti-imperialist leftist to take. It is also radically juxtaposed to Noam Chomsky’s comments to the UN about the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, which the conflicts in Libya and Syria are intimately a part of:

The discussions about R2P, or its cousin “humanitarian intervention,” are regularly disturbed by the rattling of a skeleton in the closet: history, to the present moment. Throughout history, there have been a few principles of international affairs that apply quite generally. One is the maxim of Thucydides that the strong do as they wish while the weak suffer as they must. A corollary is what Ian Brownlie calls “the hegemonial approach to law-making”: the voice of the powerful sets precedents. Another principle derives from Adam Smith’s account of policy-making in England: the “principal architects” of policy — in his day the “merchants and manufacturers” — make sure that their own interests are “most peculiarly attended to” however “grievous” the effect on others, including the people of England – but far more so, those who were subjected to “the savage injustice of the Europeans,” particularly in conquered India, Smith’s own prime concern. A third principle is that virtually every use of force in international affairs has been justified in terms of R2P, including the worst monsters. Just to illustrate, in his scholarly study of “humanitarian intervention,” Sean Murphy cites only three examples between the Kellogg-Briand pact and the UN Charter: Japan’s attack on Manchuria, Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, and Hitler’s occupation of parts of Czechoslovakia, all accompanied by lofty rhetoric about the solemn responsibility to protect the suffering populations, and factual justifications. The basic pattern continues to the present.31

Achcar’s comments on Libya and Syria also stand in stark contrast with Chomsky’s classic work on “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” where Chomsky wrote nearly fifty years ago that, “Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments [and their media parrots], to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions,” and that, “Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us.” In short, Chomsky argues persuasively that, “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.”32

Rather than expose, analyze, seek, and speak the truth lying hidden behind the propaganda that has been filling the media, Achcar has apparently accepted and repeated much of it.

Opposing the rebellions doesn’t necessarily make one a supporter of Gaddafi or al-Assad, just as opposing the Iraq War didn’t make one an apologist for Saddam Hussein. It is sufficient to oppose the armed rebellions on the grounds that they are not popularly supported, and run the very real risk of making things worse, as Vietnam, Rwanda, Congo, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and now Syria can attest to. If one wants to “remain consistent” they would look at not only the crimes and injustices (or how much support they retain) of the various dictatorships, whether they are supported or opposed by the US, but that of the armed opposition as well. When it comes to Gilbert Achcar on Libya and Syria it is hard to imagine he did so, and come to the remarks and conclusions he draws.

  1. Libyan Developments, Gilbert Achcar, Znet, March 19. 2011. []
  2. Flying proudly over the birthplace of Libya’s revolution, the flag of Al Qaeda, Daily Mail UK, November 2, 2011. []
  3. One Third of Libya Turns Out to Support Qaddafi in World’s Largest March Ever, Mathaba, July 7, 2011. []
  4. Fighters Enter Qaddafi Stronghold City as Toll Rises, NYT, September 26, 2011. []
  5. Libya: Libyan city of Bani Walid still run by Gadaffi loyalists, AllVoices, March 1, 2012. []
  6. NATO’s Rebel Forces, Luis Rumbaut, MR Zine, August 24, 2011. []
  7. [7] []
  8. US bids to break Gaddafi Regime, Financial Times, August 9, 2011. []
  9. “Airstrikes in Libya did not take place” – Russian military, RT, March 1, 2011. []
  10. Humanitarian War in Libya : There is no evidence !, Youtube, November 28, 2011. []
  11. Libya: a legitimate and necessary debate from an anti-imperialist perspective, Gilbert Achcar, ZNet, March 25, 2011. []
  12. Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya, UN Human Rights Council, March 2, 2012. []
  13. Es fand eine regelrechte Jagd auf Migranten statt“, derStandard, July 6, 2011. []
  14. There’s a fear that the fall of Assad would lead to worse for Western interests and Israel…‘, Gilbert Achcar, ZNet, April 6, 2012. []
  15. Libya: exodus from Sirte as thousands flee rebel offensive, The Telegraph UK, September 28, 2011. []
  16. Libya: Contact Group Should Press Rebels to Protect Civilians, HRW, July 15, 2011. []
  17. Rebels settle scores in Libyan capital, Kim Sengupta, The Independent UK, August 27, 2011. []
  18. The United States Should Stay Out of Syria, Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation, February 6, 2012. []
  19. Syria crisis: Shelling ‘kills dozens’ in restive Homs, BBC, February 9, 2012. []
  20. Whose hands are behind those dramatic YouTube pictures?, Patrick Cockburn, The Independent UK, January 15, 2012. []
  21. Questioning the Syrian “Casualty List”, Sharmine Narwani, Al-Akhbar, February 4, 2012. []
  22. Syria’s ‘Srebrenica: Situation Grows Increasingly Grim in Rebel Stronghold of Homs, Spiegel Online, February 23, 2012. []
  23. Two Western Journalists Killed in Syria Shelling, NYT, February 22, 2012. []
  24. French journalist, several others killed in Syria, MSNBC, January 11, 2012. []
  25. League of Arab States Observer Mission to Syria, Global Research. []
  26. Syria Accuses Qatar of Arming Rebels, Defense News, January 18, 2012. []
  27. What you won’t read in the Western and Arab media, The Angry Arab News Service, February 8, 2012. []
  28. U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show, Washington Post, April 17, 2011. []
  29. INSIGHT – military intervention in Syria, post withdrawal status of forces, Wikileaks. []
  30. Open Letter to the Leaders of the Syrian Opposition, HRW, March 20, 2012. []
  31. Statement by Professor Noam Chomsky to the United Nations General Assembly Thematic Dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect, July 23, 2009. []
  32. The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Noam Chomsky, Chomsky.info, February 23, 1967. []

Michael McGehee is an independent writer, and working class family man from Texas. He has a blog, and writes a column for the NYTimes eXaminer. He can be reached at: michael.mcgehee7@gmail.com. Read other articles by Michael.