Kirkuk, Catalonia, Brexit, Scotland and Syria

I haven’t been following international affairs in any depth, but will risk some bloviation.

The title combines numerous disparate issues. I don’t know enough about any of them to shed much light.

But others who know as little or less tend to view them from a nationalist perspective pretending to be the perspective of national liberation struggles in the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution.

I view them from an opposite perspective. The reason why communists supported and always will support revolutionary democrats fighting against national oppression was and is that it is the only road towards the union and assimilation of peoples in which the international “shall be the human race”.

The basic principles expressed by Stalin in Marxism and the National Question are now widely accepted by most bourgeois democrats, let alone revolutionary democrats. Even Trotsky paid them the backhanded compliment of pretending that Stalin could not possibly have been the author.

There is still reactionary opposition, but neither oppressor nations nor minority nationalities are as likely to go to war over competing national identities.  “Identity politics” in the developed world is only stirred up by the pseudoleft and far right.

I suspect this is well illustrated by all the recent “national” issues listed in the title.

In Kirkuk, the Kurdish peshmerga has in fact accepted Iraqi government authority over the city as it was obliged to do following the collapse of Daesh in Mosul.

Hot headed denunciations from Barazani’s faction at Rudaw do not reflect reality. The two Kurdish tribal federations that speak different dialectics and administer different territories have not yet formed a basis for a nation state. The referendum was a factional move, not a national one. The Kurdish autonomous region will not be invaded and its authority will not extend to Kirkuk without a full settlement. The minor skirmishing and small scale loss of life that has just taken place reflects both the absurdity of the posturing and the actual restraint of all sides.

For Kurdish nationalism far more important things are happening in Syria with implications for Turkey and Iran as well as Iraq. It is natural that as the end of the regime gets closer (and its victory and permanence are duly announced by “analysts”) that the various opponents are less united and more inclined to fight each other for territory. But in the long run the national and nationality issues throughout the whole region will have to be settled democratically, as outlined by Stalin and as they largely have been in Europe.  The fate of Kurds requires solidarity, not enmity with both Iraqi and Syrian Arabs, as does the fate of democracy throughout the region.

In Catalonia the “nationalist” skirmishing has been even less dramatic with even less loss of life. If both sides had the same grasp of democratic principles as the English and Scots there would be even less drama. But certainly there is no more appetite for war between Catalans and other Spaniards than there is between say Flemings and Walloons in Belgium.

The various European states may separate as Norway did from Sweden or unite as Scotland did with England, or thrash around pathetically as with “Brexit”, but they are already part of a European economic territory and already part of a “Western” culture (with English as a common second language) that makes it largely irrelevant whether they do or don’t. There will be no more national wars in Europe.

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.

Notes on Trump – 3

Looks like I will be preoccupied with other things for quite a while and won’t be able to keep up with current affairs well enough to write even half-baked articles.

Meanwhile, I will still try to do quarter-baked incoherent notes occasionally.

Latest developments still leave me convinced Trump is overwhelmingly focussed on keeping his base angry enough to mobilize for 2018 primaries and his opponents in the Democrats and media are actively assisting by their cluelessness. Trump’s opponents in the Republican party (the overwhelming majority of the GOP establishment) are not as clueless as the Democrats and are not actively helping him win but still don’t seem to have come up with a viable strategy to prevent a Trumpist takeover of the GOP.

Georgia special election in what used to be a very safe Republican district is a pointer towards mid-terms. Democrats are running a candidate who emphasizes bipartisanship, support for infrastructure spending etc backed with massive funding from Democrat establishment committed to that strategy (for contestable districts – with an opposite “identity politics” strategy for safe Democrat districts). The Republican candidate is mainstream GOP – avoiding any close identification with Trump. Serious possibility of a Democrat victory resulting in one more vote for the economic policies Trump needs to win a second term (jobs growth via big deficits, infrastructure projects etc) and one less traditional Republican blocking such policies.

Whether or not the Democrat actually wins in such a safe GOP district, that pattern is likely to be repeated in seriously contestable seats likely to swing to Democrats in the mid-term – doing Trump no harm whatever. (With side benefit that a Democrat majority in the House of Representatives not only guarantees less coherent opposition to Trumpist economic policies but also impeachment with no evidence that could result in actual removal from office by two-thirds majority of Senate and plenty of opportunities for Democrats to continue making idiots of themselves and really annoying everybody else as they just did with Comey).

In most safe GOP districts Trump opponents will be challenged by Trumpists in the 2018 primaries, whether or not Trump openly backs those challenges and whether or not the incumbents suck up to Trump or openly oppose.

The result can be expected to be a large Trumpist Republican party in Congress,  smaller and thoroughly disoriented traditional GOP still committed to being in the same party as the President, and badly split Democrat majority with hopelessly inept leadership.

Only one third of Senate seats up in 2018 most vacancies in Democrat States. No major change expected since nobody gets a 60% majority or an ability to abolish that requirement for legislation. But a small Trumpist faction might arrive there too and Democrats might become more split.

On foreign policy I still don’t feel confident in any prediction.

Trump’s declarations of support for Saudis against Qatar contrary to actual policy of State Department and Pentagon is very strong evidence for a plausible theory that Trump is ONLY interested in mobilizing his base (by shouting at terrorists as excuse for cosying up to Saudis) and not really coordinating a coherent foreign policy – which is being largely left to the establishment. Likewise for tweets annoying everyone by blaming Iranian regime for Daesh terrorist attack on it.

Europe becoming more nervous and spending more on defence won’t do any harm. Leaving the climate change agreement is also sensible as well as popular with Trump’s base. Isolationism and protectionism are still a “work in progress” – the real dangers more likely to emerge in a second term.

But the last superpower is now even weaker than before and therefore even more heavily into both strategic and tactical deception. I am still impressed with the fact that the George W Bush administration managed to convince the Iraqi Baathists they were only going to get rid of Sadaam even though that alienated the Shia and Kurdish forces they were actually allied with – and managed to get Turkey to stay out by asking it to join in – and managed to convince everybody including me that the war wouldn’t start until the 4th infantry division had arrived in Kuwait after being blocked from coming through Turkey.

There is some complex stuff going on in alliance with the Iranian supporting militias in liberating Mosul while negotiating ceasefire and transition from the Assad regime with them and getting Saudi support for safe zones and occupation of Raqqa. Having just confirmed the dropping of sanctions against Iran, the US may simply be sending confusing messages to keep the Saudis confused.

Some of the “derangement” that left me unable to figure out what having Mike Flynn as National Security Advisor implied is topped by confirmation that he was an unregistered foreign agents working for the (Muslim Brotherhood) Turkish Government. That is so cognitively dissonant that the media have hardly mentioned it and focus on “Russian connections” instead.

Conceivably the indisputable incoherence is once again, deliberate. Certainly Trump has a good grasp of such deception strategies as demonstrated by making it completely irresistable for the Democrats to go crazy over Comey by contradicting Trump’s staff reminding them that Comey should have been sacked over Clinton emails, suggesting it was to block the Russian inquiry (when in fact he knew and actually SAID he knew that the result of the sacking would be to prolong and intensify that utterly weird demonstration of extreme liberal bankruptcy). Inviting the Russians into the oval office the next day, and allowing their media in while excluding the US media was a bit of overkill, but it certainly confirmed there is no danger of liberals paying attention to any warnings that they are being played as their heads really and truly have exploded, splattering their brains all over the walls and carpet.

So I only feel confident in having a good theory about what’s happening domestically. Not at all confident about foreign policy (which is opposite of my usual situation).

Fighting on all fronts: Women’s resistance in Syria

“As the state collapsed women have often taken a leading role in supporting their communities and building alternatives to the state’s totalitarianism. Today they work as doctors, nurses and teachers in underground clinics and schools. They volunteer for the White Helmets and sacrifice their lives to pull victims of airstrikes from the ruins. They provide logistical support for armed groups and in some instances have taken up arms themselves, establishing women-only battalions. In the case of the Alawite general Zubaida Al Meeki, they have even trained Free Army fighters”.

Leila's blog

123%d8%ad%d8%b1%d8%a7%d9%8a%d9%94%d8%b1_%d8%b3%d9%88%d8%b1%d9%8a%d8%a7This was originally published in Al-Jumhuriya

As eastern Aleppo falls, pounded by regime and Russian airstrikes, and stormed by Iranian sponsored militia on the ground, one young woman risks everything to communicate to the outside world the horror of the last days in the liberated part of the city.

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Save Aleppo! Oh, hang on, Aleppo is not Kobani …

I like the passion and anger and the use of the term ‘left-fascists’ in the article below. But the author falls short of the obvious logical conclusion: the west, led by the US, must now intervene on the side of the people, and that means militarily. No matter what the risks, the situation cannot be allowed to continue as it is. The point has been reached where the UN has to be bypassed and a coalition of the willing brought together. The millions of refugees in Germany and Turkey and elsewhere could be given the option of forming an army of liberation, as part of an expeditionary force to liberate Syria from Assad. Sorry, but all the rage and anger, and identifying the ‘fascist-left’ is meaningless and hard to take seriously unless the option of external military intervention on the side of the Syrian people is considered and recognized as valid. Boots on the ground will also be necessary to protect the Alawite enclave once Assad is overthrown and, of course, to maintain the peace and ensure that elections are democratic and free and fair.

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Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis

Please help the people of Aleppo, just like we helped the people of Kobani. Oh, hang on, Aleppo? Kobani? Oh, that’s right. In Kobani they were Kurds. Civilised, secular, “progressive”, feminists, even green warriors apparently. They were like “us.” “We” (western imperialists and western … “anti-imperialists”) understand them. Therefore, they deserved to be saved from ISIS beasts, said the imperialist leaders, and their “anti-imperialist” echo in unison. Aleppo? Facing a fascistic enemy that has massacred twenty times as many people as ISIS fascists could ever manage, is not full of Good Kurds. It is full of Arabs. And we all know what western imperialist leaders, the far-right, neo-Nazis, Trumpists, racists, and “left-wing anti-imperialists” think of Arabs, especially when they live in Syria. They are all backward, blood-thirsty, barbaric, “jihadis” and “head-choppers,” *all* of the above categories tell us, yes, the left-fascists just as emphatically as any of the others. So…

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Syria: links

free syria flag

Nothing much happening at Strange Times so I’m hoping to kick-start some new links to information and analysis – and discussion – about Syria.

Hoping to set this up as a separate page soon. But for now… contributions welcome.

Just to start things off:

  • The ceasefire, which some people regarded as doomed to failure before it had even started, has been working, in the main, for nearly six weeks now. It has provided breathing space, with parts of Syria under rebel control able to commence reorganisation of their localities. For the first time in years, Syrians have been able to take to the streets again demanding the regime’s overthrow. Some humanitarian aid is getting through where needed, but this is still a problem area in places where the regime is obstructing aid delivery – and further isolating itself (and strengthening the case for miltiary intervention on the side of the pro-democratic forces).
  • Assad is increasingly isolated, with Putin looking for a way out and supporting the UN transitional plan; a plan that means the end of Assad’s rule.
  • The next round of talks might happen within a week. The co-ordinator for the Higher Negotiation Committee has said that there is no international will, especially from the US, which means that the rebels continue to want greater international involvement and support, especially from the US.
  • As the talks progress and the regime remains more intransigent and isolated, the need for some form of military ‘boots on the ground’ will become more acceptable as a way of resolving the situation and allowing the transition’s timetable to be followed in an effective way. A ‘coalition of the willing’ will be required to ensure that the terms of the transition are enforced, and that the Syrian people will be able to assert their sovereignty in free and fair democratic elections as aimed for in the timetable.

 

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Syria – Partial ceasefire has saved lives, but still a long way to go…

It will inevitably require boots on the ground to enforce a more complete ceasefire and for the transition to free and fair elections in Syria late next year.

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The following is from the Syria Campaign.

Dear Friend,

“Can you hear that? … It’s the birds singing…” That’s what one of the rescue heroes of the White Helmets said over the radio on the first day of the partial ceasefire in Syria.

Over the past few days there have been dozens of violations of this break in the fighting. We’ve been reporting sniper fire, barrel bombs and Russian air raids.[1] But while the violence has not stopped, it has reduced. And that means innocent civilians that would otherwise have been killed in the extreme carnage of Syria are still alive today. In short, the partial ceasefire has saved lives.

But right now the ceasefire is extremely fragile and it’s not just the violence that endangers it.

A key part of the agreement negotiated by the US and Russia was that aid would be delivered to areas under horrific ‘starvation sieges’ at the start of the ceasefire. This hasn’t been honoured. The Assad regime which is denying access to 99% of those under siege in Syria continues to block aid trucks.[2] Apart from a few small deliveries by the UN to some areas, the vast majority of those going hungry have seen nothing. In one of the worst hit towns, Daraya, many are on the very edge of starvation.

The continued denial of aid to besieged areas is a major breach of the ceasefire and threatens the whole agreement.

But there is something we can do. Tomorrow, in less than 24 hours, the most powerful countries in the world that make up the international “Humanitarian Task Force” on Syria will meet in Geneva to negotiate aid delivery.

These are diplomats and politicians that respond to public scrutiny and together have sway over the Assad regime. If they feel the pressure from the world outside their negotiation room, they will push harder to get this aid in. It’s the best hope of keeping this fragile ceasefire alive.

Take a moment to sign this urgent petition to the Humanitarian Task Force to ensure aid delivery to besieged areas like Daraya today. Let them know we’re watching:

http://act.thesyriacampaign.org/sign/save-ceasefire/

In solidarity,

James

NOTES

[1] We’ve been monitoring possible violations of the ceasefire at www.syriaceasefiremonitor.org

[2] Read more about the situation of sieges in Syria at http://www.breakthesieges.org

The battle for democracy

David McMullen wrote a very good post last month at his new site, Different Wavelength, and has given me permission to republish it below.

Among the best sites for keeping tabs on democratic progress or otherwise are:

Freedom House

Human Rights Watch

Reporters without borders

Amnesty International

Electronic Frontiers

Transparency International

(Let me know of any that should be added to the list!)

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We have had quite a bit of progress on the democratic front in recent decades although there are still some very big and serious challenges.

Let us look first at the progress. Latin America is no longer run by military dictators and they are becoming the exception in sub-Saharan Africa. Then of course there is eastern Europe where most countries are now democracies.

However, the picture is still pretty grim when we consider the continuing extent of tyranny.

In Russia, democracy is more formality than substance and most the other states of the former Soviet Union are rather dodgy or downright nasty.

China is a police state. Dissidents are jailed. The Internet as we know it does not exist. Lots of western news sites are blocked. There is no Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. And they employ an army of censors taking down anything taboo. And by the way, North Korea only exists because of Chinese support.

Then we have the Middle East. It has more than its fair share of tyrannies and authoritarian governments. At the risk of seeming perverse, I would suggest that the present civil war in Syria could indeed be a bright spot on the democratic front. This will depend on the Western powers recognizing that their inevitable intervention can only end the civil war if it brings democracy.

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