The so-called Irish Anti-War Movement is just a single example among many. Their common train of thought relies on the same falsification and/or delusion about the nature of the ongoing mess in the Middle East. In other words, the main problem is their answer to the very simple question: Whose war is this?
Allow me to quote other example on how this falsification and/or delusion works from well-known “left-wing” academics. This is Gilbert Achcar speaking to the Lebanese paper Al Akhbar:
“What does the US want from the Arab revolutions? Is it behind the train, on board, or ahead?”
“GA: America certainly isn’t ahead of the train. Washington and its ally the Zionist state were and continue to be extremely concerned about the changes in the Arab world. We know from the Israeli press that they are even concerned for the Syrian regime, because at least it provides a measure of stability. But the US wasn’t entirely surprised by what happened.”
Here’s another one; Alex Callinicos of the Socialist Workers’ Party, criticisizing Tariq Ali’s analysis of the situation in Syria as “recolonization”:
“The idea that Syria is being ‘recolonised’ implies that it is a long-standing Western priority to remove the Assad regime. But there is no evidence of this. Under Bashar’s father Hafez, the Syrian state established itself as a brutal but reliable capitalist manager.”
He continues by claiming, despite the fact that the “outbreak” in Syria encouraged the regional and Western opponents of the Syrian regime, the chances of sending troops, even providing air cover for the “rebels” are remote. Then we come to the following conclusion:
“The fighting bears all the hallmarks of an improvised and desperate armed rising. We can argue over whether it was wise politically for the rebels to militarise their struggle so quickly. We may regret the absence of the independent working class action that has been so important in the Egyptian revolution.”
“But the way that its Syrian counterpart has so rapidly developed into a civil war doesn’t alter the fact that its roots lie in popular revolt.”
Yet another example; this time from the other side of the Atlantic… This is Immanuel Wallerstein speaking:
“Yet, I don’t think that, a year or two from now, we will find that Assad is gone or the regime basically changed. The reason is that those who are denouncing him the loudest do not really want him to go.”
“Yes, the Israelis continue to obsess about Iran. And yes, Baathist Syria continues to be an Iran-friendly power. But when all is said and done, Syria has been a relatively quiet Arab neighbor, an island of stability for the Israelis. Yes, the Syrians aid Hezbollah, but Hezbollah too has been relatively quiet. Why would the Israelis really want to take the risk of a turbulent post-Baathist Syria? Who would then wield power, and might they not have to improve their credentials by expanding jihad against Israel? And wouldn’t the fall of Assad lead to upsetting the relative quiet and stability that Lebanon now seems to enjoy, and might this not end up with the further strengthening and renewed radicalism of Hezbollah? Israel has a lot to lose, and not too much to gain, if Assad falls.”
“But isn’t that exactly why Obama and his advisors see no good options? They were pressured into the Libyan operation. The U.S. didn’t lose many lives, but did they really gain geopolitical advantage as a result? Is the new Libyan regime, if one can say there is a new Libyan regime, something better? Or is this the beginning of a long internal instability, as Iraq has turned out to be?”
“So, when Russia vetoed the U.N. resolution on Syria, I can imagine a sigh of relief in Washington. The pressure to up the ante and begin a Libyan-style intervention was lifted. Obama was protected against Republican harassment on Syria by the Russian veto. And Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, could shift all blame to the Russians. They were ‘disgusting,’ she said, oh so diplomatically.”
Having read these statements, let’s go back to the original question: whose war is this?
According to these “leftist” academics, it is definitely not the war of imperialism. According to Achcar, the best description of what is happening is “revolutionary process”. According to his colleague Callinicos, it is a “revolution” rooted in popular uprising. According to all three (and for many more in the Western academia indeed), the chances are open for the near future; there are quite distinct possibilities and imperialism is simply trying to take the process under control.
Hence the formula of these gentlemen is this: do not lend credence to the “anti-imperialistic rhetoric” of the left; do not lend credence to the “orientalists” and “islamophobes” who complain about Islamist extremists, the Salafists, the Al Qaeda etc.; support the “revolution” as it is rooted in popular causes though it is not led by any genuine class force.
Let’s dissect this formulation for a while:
- Is it just rough anti-imperialist rhetoric?
What factors would you look for in order to decide whether an ongoing process is in line with the interests of imperialism, hence manipulated and oriented by imperialist centers? Probably, first and foremost, you would check whether reactions on a clear class base against imperialism and capitalist rule are getting intensified or not. Then, you would check the status of forces that are positioned against the interests of imperialism for current and political reasons. And along with this, you would check how the alliances and cooperation structures of imperialism are getting transformed.
When we look at the events ongoing in the Middle East for almost the last two years now in view of these three criteria, what do we see?
Can we say that the workers of the region are now waging a more conscious, massive and stronger against imperialism and capitalist powers? In other words, can we say that the workers of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria etc. are now closer to become class-for-itself after all these happenings? Although one can cite several partial gains in Tunisia and Egypt, no one can give a satisfactory answer to the question, how the overthrow of dictatorial regimes made positive feedback on working class organization and struggles even in these two countries. In contrast, we observe that in these countries bourgeois rules have been “restored”, preserving the backbone of the old regimes. We now have new capitalist orders in the region, with greater advantages. They have greater advantages, because the Western mainstream media, think tanks, etc. with the participation of “leftist” intellectuals as well, granted them the label of being “revolutionaries”. As we underlined in a recently published pamphlet, any political force that take the power with a social revolution is legitimate. So they are granted a great deal of legitimacy by all apparatuses of Western powers. Hence, we now have bourgeois political powers which are backed by the mass bases of islamist organizations, and equipped with the ideological advantages of Islamism in ruling their own toiling classes, as well as in their pursuits vis-à-vis the peoples of the region.
Well, what are the implications of these restored bourgeois powers in terms of imperialism’s alliances and collaboration structures in the region? Do the “leftist” intellectuals who claim that Israel is uncomfortable with the developments in the region see the fact that the same Israel is accelerating its military operations in the Sinai Peninsula (officially) after thirty years as a sign of its “discontent”? Or is it just a reflection of the great void opened in front of Israel in which it is now maneuvering? Is it too difficult to comprehend that, after these developments, Israel grabbed the chance of smashing Iran’s alliance structure into pieces, which is a situation that it could not even imagine two years ago? Furthermore, does it mean nothing when the officials of the Zionist state make statements on the so-called chemical weapons of the Syrian regime and using it as a pretext for a possible intervention? Does it mean nothing when they threaten Syria, Lebanon and Iran with military intervention and have almost no counter-reaction from the rest of the world?
Let’s look at Turkey… Yes, the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government has been warmongering in such a fervor that it has even been stretching the nerves of the U.S. administration before its presidential elections. It is also a fact that it has taken uncalculated risks as seen in the examples of the developments in Syria’s Kurdish region and the growing tensions among the Alawite population of Turkey. Yet, anyone who even has the slightest idea about Turkey can see that this government is convinced that its neo-Ottoman delusions, for which it has invested a lot for at least the last decade, have finally met the chance to come true with the so-called “Arab Spring”. The AKP government is not troubled by the developments in the region, but it is troubled vis-à-vis the possible hurdles before the roles it is willing to play. Those who were cheering Erdogan two years ago because of his “stand against Israel” should think about how the same Erdogan became a political figure drawing put “operational plans” against Syria with his NATO allies.
- Who is an orientalist?
In Tunisia and Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood seized the power. In Libya, a more complex and larger coalition of islamists took the power. In Syria, the political force closest to seizing the political power is the islamists as well. It is true that in some of these countries islamist organizations have a strong popular base, which largely has a plebian, poor and popular character. However, our “leftist” intellectuals who celebrate the victory of the islamists seem to forget that the islamist movement as a political actor in these territories have been part of the old status quo as well. Hence, the following logic is the logic of orientalism itself: the islamists have never seized the power in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria or Libya, but they have a mass support; therefore they assumed the representation of the oppressed. It is an orientalist approach, because it pictures the Middle East from an alien’s point of view based on his or her presumptions and prejudices. It is a picture, a mental construct of the political geography of the region, since the islamist movement have been a component of the power structure and the official ideologies in the region in many sequences. It is only the islamist organizations themselves that have not come to power until the last two years.
Another implication of the genuine orientalism is to codify the entire heritage of enlightenment in the Middile East as exterior, alien; something imposed by despotic regimes. However, this geography has a deep tradition of class movement; a heritage of anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, anti-Zionist struggle. The belief that popular powers can be built only by islamist forces in the Middle East is sheer orientalism.
Therefore, assuming that the defeat of the working class movement, even before it could generate a genuine representation and organization for its own interests is quite ordinary for this geography is just another reflection of orientalist approach. This approach makes an implicit assumption such that the working class forces in the Middle East can only become a component of “democratic popular struggle” against dictatorships, neoliberalism etc. Hence, it is deemed sufficient to label these processes as “labor movements” and the regime changes as “revolution” only because toiling masses participated in the events. Yet, even purely bourgeois movements could not manage to accomplish a restoration at such scale without the participation and support of the toiling masses to some extent.
- Can there be a working class revolution without working class organization?
For all practical purposes, the following is an odd case to defend: certain Western “left-wing” intellectuals in the genre of Achcar, Wallerstein and Callinicos talk about “revolution”, “revolutionary process” or “popular uprising”. Yet there is no solid indication showing that the working class organization has developed further in the countries where regime changes occur. What is the basis of calling these developments as “revolution” then, while the working class could not even proceed further as regards its level of economic and political organization, let alone seizing the political power?
Another problematic issue is that, they make no qualitative distinction between the events in Tunisia and Egypt and those that occurred afterwards. Large masses participated in the events in Tunisia and Egypt. However, in Libya, we cannot talk about a “popular movement” even at the start or the end of the process. We only had a well-planned operation that had been carried out by imperialist powers and their accomplices.
And in Syria, it is difficult to say on which side we have “popular support”. It is even enough to look at the representatives of the so-called “Syrian opposition” in order to see this bare ambiguity: former officers of the Assad army; the jihadists who fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya etc.; the Muslim Brotherhood whose popular base is way smaller compared to its Egyptian counterpart; former diplomats, academics, politicians etc. who mostly reside in Western countries… These represent the so-called Syrian opposition at large.
On the other hand, since March 2011, we saw many popular rallies in support of the Ba’ath regime, the massiveness of which cannot even be denied by the Western media. It is almost common knowledge that the Alawi, Christians, most of the Kurds, even most of the Sunni poor living in the suburbs of Aleppo and Damascus do not support the so-called “rebels”.
Of course, these facts do not “prove” that the mentioned sections of the Syrian population support Beshar al-Assad unquestionably. This is yet another indication of how the so-called “popular uprising” undermined the possibility for the development of a genuine mass movement against the Ba’ath regime. Most of the Syrian people now feel compelled to take sides with it; because of the dirty war waged on their country and their future by the Western proxies. So what kind of “popular” uprising is this?