Yassin al-Haj Saleh on Syria and the Global Crisis of Liberal Democracy – via ‘Mufta’

Some good points in this article, from Mufta, as shown in the excerpt below.

Comments please.


* * * *


“Revolutionary change is an uncertain process with no guarantees. The history of the United States, France, and other democracies speaks to this fact. The desire to control or thwart change often occurs from fear of the unknown, and desire for stability. As banal an explanation as this may be, conservative, anti-revolutionary forces do harbor an obvious fear of change, as it is a risk to “safety.”

“The Syrian revolution has been a unique victim of this fear. The dominant political forces of the world, which are themselves rigidly resistant to social and political progress (often due to the incorrect assumption that they are themselves “perfect”), have attempted to control the revolutionary process in Syria and oppose new avenues for positive change, by engineering a war to maintain the status quo.

“Positive, democratic change in Syria was never guaranteed, but, at the beginning of the uprising (and for at least the first two years of the armed struggle), it had a fighting chance. When the revolution became fragmented and dominated by forces seeking to suppress the very possibility of change, however, any alternative to the status quo (namely, of Bashar Al-Assad’s criminal regime) was virtually abolished. Indeed, the war being waged in Syria is an affirmation of the regressive, “anti-change” zeitgeist of the day…

“For this reason, we must begin to conceive of the demand for change in Syria (and elsewhere) as intricately linked to a global desire to unify the world in a struggle for true democracy. Indeed, this underlying impulse toward democracy is precisely why Syrians were motivated to rise up for social and political change in their country, and it is also why, after the collapse of the peaceful uprising, many sought asylum in other democratic countries (especially in Europe).

“Although the rise of the far-right has been a decisive challenge to democracy, the world is increasingly connected by the need for true internationalism”.

(Interview with the author in The Boston Review).

20 thoughts on “Yassin al-Haj Saleh on Syria and the Global Crisis of Liberal Democracy – via ‘Mufta’

  1. This article seems like some sort of comfort food. When events are moving so dramatically what do people say has happened – let alone what will happen next in Syria? Events were every day bombing your views into garbage and yet you have all persisted so long with this refusal to discuss and this almost silence? OK so Syria is a complex mess, nothing new with that. At what point ought people review what they were saying previously on events and make any corrections required? Marxism like this is what the old CPA (ML) was all about when Mao died. It was pathetic then and it got no better as it regularly re-emerged over the next 45 years. What gives with condoning and facilitating such destructive conduct as this issue has thrown in front of everyone? What issues would people like me to look at and what corrections would you like from me?


  2. Patrick, if you wish to comment on the article, written by a Syrian who identifies as a communist and served 16 years in one of the Assad gaols, please do so. If you have me in mind with the comment about ‘every day events bombing your views into garbage’, then I’d be interested to know which views you are referring to, as I have usually been cautious on the rare occasions when I’ve been willing to commit to a view in a public forum. I await your critique of the article.


  3. I will respond to the article later Barry but for now I recomend people contrast the author’s earlier article https://muftah.org/yassin-al-haj-saleh-syria-three-impossibilities/#.WVHhrbzhntQ It is a far better article IMV that speaks to the earlier confusions on what things were and were not possible in what would always be a very protracted struggle to drain this part of the swamp. It was these blinding notions that produced most of the meltdowns over Syria because ‘it could not be’ always came to the fore. So the Emperor always had clothes for most people.

    For example you took a stand on important Syrian issues that were said by you back in December 2015 to be going to be ‘tested over the coming months.’ against my views. The views were tested and the collection of half theory views that you sided with and put forward yourself got barrel bombed into silence.

    More than 18 months ago December 7, 2015 at 8:29 pm YOU said ‘There will be another round of talks in a week or so. We should follow and discuss what happens. Whether we are seeing the process of the end of Assad will be tested over the coming month and year. Will there be a basic ceasefire brokered by the UN? Will a process for drafting a new Constitution be underway (within six months)? Will free and fair elections eventually take place (within 18 months)?’ Reality mugged you and you know it.

    Over those few months back in 2015 and even into 2016 I had made a fair attempt to argue my case against whatever was being put forward from your side and I was correct to do so. You said it would be up to reality to test and all three of you essentially then departed from any further involvement at Strangetimes. My alternative views were worse than scoffed at by Arthur in those last few months that thankfully so irritated him but none of you actually argued much against what I was saying. No doubt you all thought it a waste of time dealing with me but none of you ended up confident enough to publish anything in the MSM and that was the initial proposal. I hope I ‘annoyed’ people to the extent of at least stopping you getting the line you were putting in the MSM.

    Arthur you and Dave were not just wrong about what Putin was doing in Syria either. You were all wrong in the way you went about dealing with the quite reasonable dispute! There were tiresome gross stunts contemptibly used to avoid dealing with substantive issues from me and that conduct I say was just another example of a much older regularly recurrent problem that I could lead people through if required but right now I want to focus on Syria and why your views got bombed into silence. I want to move on to think about ‘What Now?’ Six months ago I posted about just that and none of you have had anything to say.

    Views were developed over a couple of months of reasonable confusion after the Russians turned up and began the bombing. That is when all manner of people were attempting to make sense of what was going on. Arthur called it early and wrong and you and Dave went along! Arthur then became a mindless wrecker unwilling to bother with my views and you provided this venue for him to post in free from an annoying me. Well he had everything he wanted and the result was silence. The war in Syria has not ended and both views are on record.

    It was wrong to carry on in the manner that he did and that Dave did and that you did and I hope you all stop doing so but with the track records I can reflect on to inform me I have long learnt not to hold my breath waiting for even reasonable behaviour. I live in hope.

    I tried posting before so this is a second attempt fingers crossed.


  4. Patrick, I stand by what I said in December 2015. I was not ‘taking a stand’ but posing a series of questions, which should indicate that I was not confident to make predictions and recognized the limits of my understanding. I don’t feel that reality mugged me (why the hostile tone?) but rather I can only keep trying to understand things better.

    I set up this blog in 2014, prior to any dispute you have with Arthur and David (and apparently me). I’m always happy to have a contribution from either of them.


  5. Repeating – yet again – the tattered old ‘end of story’ line from September 2015 that Putin has used his military in Syria (continuously till November 2017 so now into year 3) to smoothly end the Assad regime, is much less than lame; it’s an insult to all the Syrian dead, refugees and rubble that this Putin led coalition has actually delivered. The democratic revolution has been under attack all along.

    There were and are solid arguments against the repeated ½ theory and they were worth dealing with. The dissenting arguments were systematically laid out and included a series of predictions. Ignoring what eventuated is foolish. There were no ‘deals done’ that were worth the paper that you ridiculously waved about in November 2015! That was 2 years ago and you were all told that what you thought was happening was not so.

    The ‘coalition of the wicked’ I have called HIRISE is fighting a very different war to what ½ theorists thought and rather than ‘done deal’ the region is at war in a manner that has produced the predicted enclaves that will not end the war. There is a coalition of tyrannies fighting against the democratic revolution not any done deal that will see a new democratic Syria emerge. The US led west is not in a state of war with Assad and preparing to occupy territory controlled by ‘him’. Syria is still being carved up into enclaves as the tyrannies see fit.

    Nothing is settled.


  6. Barry you might not have taken a stand and was just posing questions. However my memory of the argument was that there was a position put and that position was that Assad was done for, all we were waiting for was for Putin to find a way to sideline him and this was based on the analysis that Russia could not change the course of the Syrian civil war. The position included high hopes for the Geneva process and intervention by the UN and or NATO and or mythical armies of Syrian refugees. If you want people not to take a hostile tone you just have to give credit to people who have won arguments rather than do anything but that.
    The argument was about what Putin’s role in Syria was and Patrick got it right and its not a theoretical right its a reality right Assad still sits in the Presidential palace he runs important bits of Syria and he owes heaps to his backers Russia, Iran and Hezbollah


  7. This was Arthur’s position in his own words
    By October 22 (more than a month ago) I said:

    “My guess (only) is that change in government has already occurred and Bashir Assad is now already some other government’s figurehead, though not yet announced. So partition with retreat from Damascus to Latakia is no longer a serious option but will continue to be bloviated about along with pontifications in favor of keeping the old regime as the only alternative to Daesh and fulminations about the imaginary Russian mediterranean superpower.

    Transition will be to an eventual representative Syrian government in Damascus dominated by revolutionaries after initial transition to “peacemakers” but without elements from old Assad regime and at war with Daesh. Important thing will be the international forces required for smooth transition without chaos and massacres. Presumbably initial Russian and Iranian handing over to UN helmeted Germans guarding (and temporarily governing) Alawi with Turks and others elsewhere. Could still be long and messy but no longer getting worse or heading towards regional war.

    Meanwhile EU will have to rapidly crank up supply chains for winter housing of refugees and other migrants. Winter housing cannot be built quickly and neither can gas heating be installed quickly. Electric blankets and hot water bottles in tents only stop overnight freezing but daytime electric radiators in tents are substantial increase in electricity demand that could again destabilize the European grid given the lead-time for recommissioning German nuclear reactors that were abruptly shut down causing previous destabilization.

    They would be much better off immediately starting to recruit Syrian refugees for an expeditionary force (plus other local Arab citizens as translators etc). Needed militarily in Syria as well as not leaving refugees in limbo like Australia does.”

    Same day responded to Anita’s subsequent reference to “imminent coup”

    Three weeks later this was fully confirmed by link A49 terms agreed by Russia and Iran as well as others in Vienna November 14.

    Focus should now be on the needed Western occupation forces for implementation. Cameron still fantasizing. No time to waste on speculations set in parallel universes. Did this summary as need one for myself not with intention to discuss further here.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Barry if the English language is still what we are using then “My guess (only) refers to the first sentence as to whether Assad has already been replaced. The rest is a definite position up to and including the advice about hot water bottles. What I’m suggesting is that when people are clearly defeated in an argument they just acknowledge that this is so and alter their positions so that their position aligns with reality.


  8. The rest of the quote refers to what is needed in Syria: “Transition will be to an eventual representative Syrian government in Damascus dominated by revolutionaries, etc”, “Could still be long and messy but no longer getting worse or heading towards regional war”, “EU will have to rapidly crank up supply chains for winter housing of refugees”, and most importantly: “Focus should now be on the needed Western occupation forces for implementation”.

    I see no problem with these points, though it is taking much longer than anyone could have anticipated and there have been big setbacks, such as Aleppo and Trump. .


  9. I don’t think the “UN” link makes anything official any more than my views do.

    Headline misleading. The UN reps message was that rebels have not (and implicitly cannot) win, not that they have lost. Its interesting that he is now going to be at the Astana talks.

    Actual situation as far as I can see is that things have been dragged out for far longer because of Western refusal to intervene.

    I certainly did not expect the fall of Aleppo or the widespread defeatism and expressions of outsider’s asking Syrians to put up with Assad regime for longer.

    But reality remains that regime cannot last but still has nobody to surrender to until both a negotiated settlement regarding a transitional regime and external armed forces to enforce it.

    There never could have been any Russian attempt to reverse that reality as there is obviously no way they could either hope to do so or particularly care about doing so. I am still not interested in debating anyone carrying on about that.

    Meanwhile it seems clear that Western obsession with Daesh has prolonged the Assad regime far longer than I expected. As Daesh neared its end, conflict among other forces has intensified as Kurds, Turks and Syrian Sunnis all know the regime won’t survive and are seeking to consolidate their own positions.

    There are now US combat forces on the ground as I expected. Far larger numbers will be needed for a viable settlement, but meanwhile the level of casualties has been sharply reduced and getting rid of Daesh does smooth the way for ending the regime.

    Key issue is what happens with Al Qaeda. I haven’t been following enough but my impression is that they are now far more separated from rebels than they were when there was a united front against both Daesh and the regime.

    It is essential that the united front against the regime after defeat of Daesh not include Al Qaeda who are far more dangerous than Daesh precisely because they were not stupid enough to unite with Daesh.

    US policy is still unpredictable but so far there has been no sign of actually working for Assad regime to remain long term (as opposed to tactical liaison while concentrating on Daesh).

    Russia and Iran with Hezbollah and Iraqi militia cannot sustain it even if they wanted to.

    My (uninformed) take on the link is that the negotiations are about to get more serious again.


  10. PS I said: “So partition with retreat from Damascus to Latakia is no longer a serious option but will continue to be bloviated about along with pontifications in favor of keeping the old regime as the only alternative to Daesh and fulminations about the imaginary Russian mediterranean superpower.”

    Not sure that anyone is still bloviating about partition. Whoever is governing in Damascus is engaged in negotiations in Astana for a transition, not plans for a fighting retreat to a potentially viable statelet. The opposition is not weakened but massively strengthened by defeat of Daesh, although the sequence was to suit Western priorities rather than save Syrian lives.

    Pontifications about keeping the old regime as the only alternative to Daesh grew with the focus on Daesh and must now collapse with collapse of Daesh.

    Possibility of an Alawi regime trying to hold out from Latakia seems to have faded away. Beliefs that they can hold Damascus with the imaginary Russian mediterranean superpower persist in the same fantasy worlds that have the Russians now occupying the US whitehouse.


  11. ‘President Putin and President Trump agreed to ‘free and fair elections’ in Syria, supervised by the UN, with refugees and diaspora Syrians eligible to participate in’ https://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2017/11-november-president-putin-and-president-trump-agreed-to
    2 years ago a similar document was waved about to scoff at and dismiss those of us that thought the democratic revolution was what was under attack and that the document would be dishonoured. Those that waved it about were shown by events to be WRONG to have done so. Those who said that the paper was rubbish were proved correct by events.

    There was instead of elections a war waged by a coalition of the wicked that resulted in hundreds of thousand more refugees being bombed out of their homes just as the Assad led war had been doing. The HIRISE is an anti democratic cow. Aleppo fell as a result of HIRISE war making. Sufficient forces were found by that cow to fight the anti democratic war.

    The Sunni towns that are currently being captured are falling to 3 different forces. HIRISE is not ‘liberating’ the people in the territory that it captures but the US/Kurd/SDF are liberating the people in the towns that it is capturing. HIRISE are regionally focussed. They can’t win elections so they won’t hold them. They can and do supply enough men and material to wage their war. That is where the 1/2 theory went wrong. Focussing on Russia it did not spot where the troops would come from. Those troops came and they occupy and in doing so have the other regional power (the also undemocratic KSA) enmeshing itself in Syria and other parts of the region.

    There was no grand plan of deception. The Russians turning up was and is a disaster and the creation of a HIRISE cow is important. The enclaves as currently carved out are real as is the efforts now being made to ‘tidy’ them up and bring ‘peace’. Anti democrats do not bring democracy.

    The Erdogan led Turks had to create their own no bomb zone in the north for the FSA and are now establishing another as they simultaneously contain the Kurd’s. The US have had to do the same east of the Euphrates with the Kurds and will have to do the same in the south.

    These territories will not be handed over to HIRISE management with or without Assad still heading up the regime nominally in power. Long term enclaves are thus on the agenda. Similar anti democratic enclaves exist in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.

    I hope that documents supporting democracy signed by Putin are not to be waved about yet again.


    • I saw that link in my daily Trump feed and was thinking of treating it as just another example of complete inability to analyse anything typical of all articles mentioning Trump.

      But you are right. It is not just another Trump piece but more typical of what the US foreign policy establishment does think is going on in Syria.

      Unlike them, I don’t believe either Russia or Iran imagines that they can govern Syria nor do I believe that either of them wants to. It is the same sort of imperial fantasizing that led them to assume the Bush administration was trying to govern Iraq.


  12. No doubt people are once more paying some attention to the Syrian war as the ancient ‘end of story’ agreements are a little dead to say the least – even the NEW agreements that the Turks got are not fooling anyone. The Turks certainly now have their hands full… ‘Turkish FM says Assad government isn’t just attacking but extending its territory in Idlib. “The government couldn’t have done that without Iranian and Russian permission. They must stop it immediately”’ and ‘FM Çavuşoğlu: Iran and Russia need to realize duties as guarantor states in Syria and stop Assad government violations ‘ Just more of the usual dudding by the Russian and Iranian forces.

    As for the US under Trump, they ARE still fighting and positioning to fight even more; and they even rumble like they might recognise a new democratic Syrian government in the Kurdish dominated territory. So, ‘Turkey Summons US Charge d’Affaires over Washington Support to Kurdish YPG’ appears to look like the US have been forced ever deeper into this complex and long term swamp draining, and that’s good; yet Trump can’t even deal with the Palestinian issue in any sensible manner! One thing at least the US military under Trump are not being micromanaged.

    The military top dogs are now barking at each other and it would seem that the Russians are not happy – ‘Russia’s Ministry of Defense says Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, spoke today with his US counterpart, the Chairman of the @thejointstaff, Gen. Joseph Dunford. The two discussed Syria according to Russia’s MoD’. And this; ‘Russia has asked Turkey to control armed groups in Idlib area after drone attack – Russian defense ministry newspaper’
    Also this a few days back – ‘Russian defense Ministry denied reports about attack of 31 drones on Hmeymim’

    I say this war is still being fought in the manner I said it would be with enclaves still being carved out and a democratic peace still in the distance. For Marxists here to sleep on in a predicted silence to these facts is Strangetimes indeed.

    Long term enclaves are now worth at least respectfully considering. The anti-democratic HIRISE forces obviously control much more now than they did when the ½ theory was first put forward only weeks after the Russians turned up. But so do the US backed forces AND the Turkish backed FSA footprints keep some Syrians safe from HIRISE attacks. Lots of no bomb zones now exist and those safe havens will eventually thwart the anti democrats.

    We are now into 2018 and Assad is surprisingly to some (even me) still in control of a chunk of Syria. So 2 years and three months down the track instead of end of story; it is time to face the end of the ½ theory credibility gap.

    ‘White Helmets: Over the last 11 days, the government has targeted E. Ghouta with increasing intensity. 353 air raids; 440 surface-to-surface missiles fired; 2,311 artillery shells fired; 121 civilians killed; 580 civilians injured’ Assad’s SAA ARE still cleansing territory!

    Arthur has remarked ‘What remains criminal is the lack of solidarity from the advanced West to the rest of the world and especially Syria. War was and is required to end war wherever those democratic principles do not prevail. If the Dutch had taken the same attitude to the English revolution it would have taken a lot longer and been a lot bloodier than the 48 years from 1640 to 1688.’ AND people should also note that what also remains criminal is what Putin turned up to do! He did not turn up to end the war and bring the democrats to power as Arthur thought. His bombers turned up to kill the revolutionaries as I said they would do! The ½ theory was comprehensively wrong and the associated wrecking behaviour pure personal issues. 21stC has quite predictably NOT become a quality site for people trying to understand what is happening in Syria and the debate that people avoided is recorded elsewhere.


    • 1. I haven’t been trying to follow Syria in detail. Several reasons, including personal and because no chance of affecting anything.

      2. Have not changed my view of underlying reality. Neither Russia nor Iran could possibly be under any illusion that they can sustain any regime in any part of Syria. Not seen anything happening that refutes it or refutes the fact that I have no ability whatever to estimate timescale.

      3. Reminders every couple of months that Patrick still remains convinced he is right are entirely reasonable, despite the irrelevant focus on “Arthur”. As for wrecking behaviour I welcome the fact that refusing to tolerate continuous repetitive angry and loud shouting about Russia drowning out any attempt at analysis has resulted in, or at least been followed after a very long time, by this improvement.

      4. My regular “Notes on Trump” are unrelated to Syria and I still don’t have a clear view on what the implications of that unexpected development in US domestic politics are for US foreign policy and international affairs. But there is an indirect connection to immunization against excessive focus on Russia. The utterly bizarre spectacle of “the Russia thing” dominating fantasy thinking and shouting in American politics should help. There is an even more widespread and mainstream belief that Putin and Russia are central to events in America than there is concerning Syria and it is dramatically more bizarre. I am comfortable being in the minority that regards those fantasies as a really weird expression of political hysteria rather than being worth discussing at all on their own terms.

      5. The situation in Iran looks interesting. Again I have not been able to follow it. But I haven’t noticed anything happening there recently that undermines my view that the Iranian regime could not be under the delusion that it can sustain any regime in Syria any more than the Russians could have that delusion. It is worth remembering that the US Johnson administration recognized internally that it would have to leave Vietnam to the Vietnamese in 1968 but withdrawal did not happen until many years later and collapse of the puppet regime a “decent interval” after that.

      6. I still expect a negotiated transition from the Assad regime, facilitated by Russia and Iran. The territorial gains by the regime could, if they are suicidally inclined, be preparation for an ongoing war in which they hope to remain in charge. Certainly I was not expecting those gains and it confirms my complete inability to get a handle on timescales. But I see no sign that they are inclined towards suicide and no sign that they are gaining forces rather than just territory that will cost them a continued depletion of forces if they choose to keep fighting. As far as I can make out the opposition does not view itself as defeated and reports that it has been are from the same media that goes on about “the Russia thing” in the US.

      Liked by 1 person

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