I’d hoped you might have changed your tune – or at least laid off the Kool Aid and for once kept your head down on things Syria. You haven’t though. Above is your bizarre tweet in response to that leaked OPCW report, subject of my post last week, Syria: the lies unravel.
For a man of letters, you seem prone to imprecision. I’m bothered less by the hackneyed nature of “baying for blood” than by its wild-eyed lack of focus. It has a touch of the unhinged about it. Who is baying for blood, George? And whose blood do they want? Take a deep breath, gather your thoughts and try in your own words to tell us what on earth you could possibly mean.
What’s that? Didn’t quite catch it. Never mind. I’ve bigger fish to fry. Without doing anything so mundane as addressing details which had sounded alarm bells for Peter Hitchens and Robert Fisk, you dismiss that leaked report as:
… one person’s contentious account of a single atrocity while ignoring the vast weight of evidence for chemical weapons use and conventional massacres by the government…
You are not a stupid man. So why do your critical faculties, evident in highly lucid pieces on the environment, desert you the moment you see fit to sound off on Syria? I do wish to know, not least because there are those who – having given up on you as a house leftie, in situ to preserve the Guardian’s liberal credentials and mark the Overton Window’s left border – say I pull my punches when it comes to your Syria output. Maybe they’re right, but I’m still curious.
Where do they go, your critical faculties? I know you have them. I’ve seen them at work in many fine pieces – loved that one on red squirrels and pine martens by the way – on capitalism’s war against nature. But they vanish the moment you turn to Syria. It’s as if you hadn’t seen that the same logic – the same laws of accumulation at work in fracking, deforestation and fuelling our unsustainable addiction to meat, milk and motors – also fuel regime change in the Middle East.1 The rapacious madness demanding “economic growth” at whatever cost to the planet demands too that no nation may stand in the way of its asset grabs for imperialism.2
Enlighten me. No one in your position could be so obtuse, and selectively so, as to be unable to join the dots here. Syria’s ‘civil war’ may not be viewed – a smart teenager could tell you this – in isolation, as though Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya had never happened.
And as if the West had not planned to overthrow Assad long before the 2011 protests at Daraa.3 Protests from a people sufficiently nuanced in its reasoning, thanks in no small part to a Hafez Assad who for all his ruthlessness had raised literacy to above Western levels,4 to differentiate between his popular son and the authoritarian state he wants to liberalise. Sufficiently nuanced too to value Ba’athism’s secularist welfarism, underwritten by state ownership of key sectors. This did not, of course, prevent Western media from presenting the Daraa protests in Ladybird binary as anti Assad, nor from ignoring evidence that the original protestors had gone home in disgust at Islamist infiltration.5
So again I ask: where do they go, these critical faculties of yours? Where do you put them while stepping into overdrive to move us along – nothing to see here! – from cracks in the narrative on Bashar al-Assad, a man given a sweeping mandate in the 2014 presidential elections your paper, unable to depict them as rigged, chose to ignore.
I’d particularly appreciate your input on two things. First, why call the leaked OPCW report a ‘contentious account’? Isn’t it too specific for that? It is either false, surely, else a matter of great significance. There aren’t any third options. If you find Henderson at fault in his closely argued findings, his grounds for saying that holes in a roof could not have been made by poison gas cylinders dropped from Assad’s helicoptors, does it not fall to you to say where you find him in error? You can see, can you not, that dismissing him as “contentious” doesn’t quite cut it?
Not least it doesn’t because the OPCW response to Hitchens’ questions on Henderson’s report, far from refuting his findings, chose simply to (a) lie twice about his status and (b) describe the leaking of those findings as “unauthorised”.
Second, doesn’t your tweet ignore the far from trivial point that if the Douma claims are flawed then there just might be a pattern here, one that may well unravel should your “vast weight of evidence” prove less damning under the kind of critical scrutiny you refuse, for reasons beyond me, to bring to bear.
(A useful start would be to engage politely with the experts you ignore or trash. I mean former UN weapons inspectors Scott Ritter and Ted Postol. I mean CIA renegades like Philip Giraldi, and former UK ambassadors Craig Murray and Peter Ford. And I mean Reagan appointees Paul Craig Roberts and Stephen Cohen. All these and more – mine is by no means an exhaustive list – have addressed other aspects of this vast weight of evidence, only to find the whole a good deal less than the sum of its parts.)
Let’s be clear why this matters. At issue is a prima facie case that allegations, music to the ears of those bent on Middle East regime change, are elevated to seemingly proven status by your profession, your paper absolutely included. The methods are (a) trial by media, high conviction rates ensured by saturation coverage, (b) piggy-backing on earlier unproven claims – Evil Assad gasses his own again – and (c) use of tainted sources. These last include, in ascending order of infamy: NGOs compromised by funding from states bent on regime change (see Tim Anderson on this), the Coventry based one-man band, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the criminal White Helmets and Western intelligence sources who, their lamentable record forgotten, now want us to accept that “we have evidence” is, well, evidence.
Worse though are the lies of omission. I already noted the silence on Assad’s electoral victory but that’s the least of it. What have you or your Guardian done to tell us of the West’s conflicted interests here? How many articles highlight the lucrative contracts at stake, were Assad only to see Wall Street’s point of view on the best route for piping oil across Syria to suppy the world’s biggest energy market? How many have brought to our attention that Cheney, Murdoch and other cheerleaders for war on brown skinned peoples are stakeholders in Genie Energy, set up to exploit recently discovered oil in the Golan? How many present the plethora of evidence of a US led privatisation agenda6 to which Baa’thism poses an obstacle so great as to make jihadi terror the lesser evil? Finally, how many words have you or your employer spent on placing your evidence-free (indeed, motive-free) slurs on Assad within the geopolitical context of a slow but sure slippage of power to Eurasia and One Belt One Road?
Again, you are not stupid. Maybe I’m the stupid one, perplexed at your disregard for the basics of sound journalism given a proven ability to exemplify them on other matters. Maybe I’m over complicating this, and should accept what others say: that on matters of central import to our rulers it matters not whether you’re simply credulous, or the latest in a long line of left-dressed shills for empire. But I can’t shake off my curiosity, so do tell. What’s the story, George?
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- As Jonathan Cook has said of you, “Monbiot has repeatedly denied he wants a military attack on Syria. But if he weakly accepts whatever narratives are crafted by those who do – and refuses to subject them to meaningful scrutiny – he is decisively helping to promote such an attack.”
- I stand by the nine word definition of imperialism I gave in a recent post, Profit and the Arms Economy, as “the export of monopoly capital and repatriation of profits” (underwritten, as the more direct rule of colonialism had been, by armed might).
- France’s former Foreign Secretary, Roland Dumas, revealed that two years before Daraa he’d been told by senior British intelligence officials of plans for the overthrow of Assad: https://youtu.be/jeyRwFHR8WY
- I wrote of “a Hafez Assad who for all his ruthlessness had raised literacy to above Western levels”. Given the opposition to “Arab socialism” of the Muslim Brotherhood, I might with more accuracy have replaced “for all his ruthlessness” with “because of his ruthlessness”.
- One irony here is that Assad’s popularity did take a hit, post Daraa, because he was judged too soft on Islamists bent on Sunni Rule. See Professor Tim Anderson’s Dirty War on Syria for evidence that the very people who’d backed Bashar’s liberalisation agenda – and urged greater pace in this most dangerous of projects – now pined for the Good Old Days of his no-nonsense father!
- Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine makes for instructive reading. It predates Syria but, as well as the chapters on privatising Russia and post-apartheid South Africa, has an impeccably detailed chapter on the fire-sale of post Saddam Iraq.