Libya and Syria: the pro-NATO viewpoint
Source Louis Proyect
Date 12/07/02/14:13
Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong
By Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp

REFLEXIVE OPPOSITION to Uncle Sam's machinations abroad is generally a good thing. It is a progressive instinct that progressively declined in the 1990s, as presidents Bush Sr. and Clinton deftly deployed the U.S. military to execute “humanitarian” missions in Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans and progressively increased in the 2000s, as Bush Jr. lurched from quagmire to disaster in transparent empire-building exercises in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, what is generally good is not good in every case. The progressive instinct to oppose anything the U.S. government does abroad became anything but progressive once the Arab Spring sprang up in Libya and Syria, countries ruled by dictatorships on Uncle Sam’s hit list. When American imperialism’s hostility to the Arab Spring took a back seat to its hostility to the Ghadafi and Assad regimes (their collaboration with Bush Jr.’s international torture ring notwithstanding), the Western left’s support for the Arab Spring took a back seat to its hostility to American imperialism.

Desperate times call for desperate measures in Syria.

The moment the Syrian and Libyan revolutions demanded imperialist airstrikes and arms to neutralize the military advantage enjoyed by governments over revolutionary peoples, anti-interventionism became counter-revolutionary because it meant opposing aid to the revolution. Equivocal positions such as “revolution yes, intervention no” (the one I defended) were rendered utopian, abstract, and useless as a guide to action by this turn of events.

“Libyan Winter” Heats Up

By any means necessary, or by any means we in the West deem acceptable?

To say that the Libyans were fortunate that anti-interventionists were too weak to block, disrupt, or affect NATO’s military campaign would be an understatement. Libya would look like Syria today if the anti-interventionists won at home in the West.

In both cases, the Western left mistakenly prioritized its anti-imperialist principles over its internationalist duty to aid these revolutions by any means necessary. By any means necessary presumably includes aid from imperialist powers or other reactionary forces. If this presumption is wrong, then we are not for the victory of the oppressed by any means necessary and should remove those words from our vocabulary in favor of by any means we in the West deem acceptable.

When the going got tough and the F-16s got going over Libya, the revolution’s fairweather friends in the West disowned it, claiming it had been hijacked by NATO. Instead of substantiating this claim with evidence that NATO successfully pushed the Libyans aside and seized control of their war against Ghadafi, the Western left instead 1) focused on the alleged misdeeds of the National Transitional Council (NTC) and 2) hid behind phrases such as “Libyan Winter” and “civil war,” implying that the Arab Spring in Libya froze the instant NATO jumped in and that neither the rebels nor Ghadafi deserved anyone’s support.

Women in Benghazi hold signs that say “no negotiation” and “no fly zone.”
Both evasions of the central issue – that NATO’s air campaign had mass support among revolutionary Libyans which was faithfully reflected by the NTC’s stand against foreign invasion and for foreign airstrikes – were very serious methodological mistakes that only a handful of commentators managed to avoid, Clay Claiborne of Occupy LA being the most prominent. Far from freezing over, the struggle in Libya became a long hot summer of multifaceted conflict with international, conventional military, tribal, and underground dimensions that eventually culminated in Ghadafi’s grisly execution, raising and personalizing the stakes for Assad.

Anti-imperialists were so focused on the NTC’s cooperation with NATO, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and repressive Arab governments that they were as blindsided as Ghadafi was when forces independent of NTC control – Berber militias in Western Libya and underground networks in Tripoli – overthrew his regime in a surprise move on August 20. The NTC that the Western left portrayed as all-powerful due to its CIA and Arab state patronage was not able to move into Tripoli for weeks afterwards. To this day, the NTC has not disarmed rebel fighters, contrary to the confident predictions born of anti-imperial hubris by anti-interventionists who sought to convince us that the revolution was a mirage and that the West’s pawns chosen from above were firmly in control of post-Ghadafi Libya.

Broken Records Lead to Broken Crystal Balls

When NATO launched airstrikes in Libya, the anti-interventionists heard the same pretexts about human rights and freedom used to justify wars for empire and oil in Afghanistan and Iraq. This identical stimulus triggered an identical reaction – they used the contradictions and hypocritical flaws in the official rationales for intervention as the basis for opposing NATO’s action – just as Pavlov’s dogs reacted as if they were being fed when they heard a bell ring, regardless of whether any food was actually served.

This conditioned reaction to the broken record of justifications led anti-interventionists to conclude that NATO’s end of the Libyan war would resemble the Afghan and Iraq wars and so their case against intervention was built around the following predictions:

1) Mass civilian casualties due to Iraq or Viet Nam-style aerial bombardment;

2) Foreign invasion/occupation due to imperialist “mission creep”;

3) Future interventions would be easier and more likely elsewhere;

4) A neocolonial regime would be installed in Tripoli as the result of NATO-led “regime change,” the logical conclusion of the “revolution was hijacked” conspiracy theory.

NATO’s methods and the war’s outcome were totally at odds with what the anti-interventionists envisioned:

1) There was no massive NATO bombardment of civilian targets, there was no Libyan highway of death, no Black Hawk Down, no Wikileaks-style helicopter gunship atrocities. The absence of wanton slaughter of civilians by NATO compelled Ghadafi to fake collateral damage incidents and civilian funerals and arbitrarily exaggerate the number of civilians killed.

2) The anti-interventionists believed that NATO would be compelled to send ground troops by the logic of “regime change,” by the inability of forces loyal to the NTC to make significant headway against Ghadafi’s forces. They seized on the presence of small numbers of NATO military advisers and special forces in Libya as a vindication of their prediction and as proof that the West put “boots on the ground.” In reality, NATO boots played a secondary role; Libyans did the fighting and the dying, not Westerners. Out of 30,000 people who were killed in the Libyan civil war, how many were NATO personnel? Zero. That number would have been higher if NATO ground forces were in the thick of combat or invaded (much less occupied) the country.

3) Paradoxically, NATO’s successful campaign in Libya made a future U.S./NATO campaign in Syria less likely. Russia and China are now determined to block any attempt to apply the Libyan model to Syria at the United Nations Security Council and the Obama administration is not willing to defy either of them by taking Bush-style unilateral military action for the time being.

4) The proponents of the hijacking theory failed to address the most obvious and urgent question that flowed from their own analysis: what could the Libyans do to take their revolution back from NATO’s hijacking? A hijacking is a struggle for control between legitimate and illegitimate actors where the rogue elements get the upper hand. (Never forget 9/11.) Not one of the Libyan revolution’s progressive detractors outlined how NATO could be elbowed aside by Libyans to regain control of their struggle.

This was no accident or coincidence.

The hijacking narrative did not arise from a factual foundation but from a simplistic, reflexive ideology, albeit an anti-imperialist one. The anti-interventionists did their best to substitute weak suppositions, NATO’s bald hypocrisy, and guilt by association for the evidence they lacked to support their hijacking story. For them, the Libyan revolution’s constituent elements lost their political independence, initiative, and lifeblood the instant NATO fired its first cruise missile. Nothing else mattered except that NATO chose to act; what Libyans said, did, thought, and organized was simply not a factor for them.

These anti-imperialists airbrushed the Libyans out of their own revolution.

This image became very popular among Western leftists prior to NATO’s intervention. Revolutionary Libyans did not feel that U.N.-backed airstrikes constituted foreign intervention, a term they used to describe invasion and other forms of unwanted imperialist meddling. The Western left disregarded the thoughts and feelings of their Libyan comrades and called for an end to NATO airstrikes against Ghadafi’s forces.

The driving force behind the military offensive by Berber militias in western Libya that was timed to coincide with the surprise uprising in Tripoli that ousted Ghadafi was not NATO. NATO did not organize the underground network of neighborhood cells in Tripoli that penetrated Ghadafi’s secret police. And NATO certainly did not pick August 20, the day Muhammad entered Mecca, as the day to launch a risky grassroots insurrection in Tripoli.

Hammered by NATO’s airpower from above, by the Berbers from without, and by revolutionaries from below, Ghadafi’s forces in Tripoli melted away. The “Libyan Winter” proved to be the hottest chapter of the Arab Spring thus far.

Post-War Libya

Rebels who stormed Ghadafi’s Tripoli compound were eager to expose his regime’s relationship with imperialist powers and one of their commanders sued the British foreign minister for handing him over to Ghadafi to be tortured, hardly the acts of anyone on the CIA payroll.

Events shortly after Ghadafi was toppled provide even more evidence that the revolution was not hijacked by NATO. When rebels stormed Ghadafi’s compound, they were quick to show Western reporters the dictator’s scrap book featuring himself arm-in-arm with Condoleeza Rice. A top rebel commander publicly accused the British government of handing him over to Ghadai’s regime to be tortured right before he filed a lawsuit against Jack Straw, Britain’s former Foreign Minister for authorizing the rendition. The new Libyan government refused to hand over Ghadafi’s son Saif to the International Criminal Court (now it has even arrested their lawyers), the body responsible for dispensing NATO’s “justice” to Slobodan Milosevic. No U.S or NATO bases have been established in Libya unlike in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo.

In other words, Libyan sovereignty emerged from the revolution intact despite NATO’s involvement. This would not be the case if NATO was directly or indirectly in charge of Libya or set up some sort of neocolonial regime.

The bottom line is that the bulk of the Western left could not bring itself to wholeheartedly support a democratic revolution that co-opted foreign intervention for its own ends. The revolution landed safe and sound at a qualitatively more democratic destination precisely because control of the revolution never left Libyan hands.

"No to Help" would have been a more honest slogan than "hands off Libya."
Today, Libyans enjoy freedom of speech, freedom to protest and organize, and most importantly, freedom from fear of state repression. The Western left ought to join the revolutionary masses of the Arab and North African world in celebrating this historic victory, not isolate ourselves from them by mourning (or slandering) it.

Instead of trying to learn from their mistakes, the anti-interventionists simply moved on to Syria to make the same errors without a second thought about why the reality of post-intervention Libya looked nothing like their dire forecasts. This willful blindness makes them incapable of understanding why any Arab revolutionary in their right mind would look to Libya as a model, why Syrians would chant, “Bye, bye Ghadafi, Bashar your turn is coming!” while crowds in Tahrir Square chant, “If they want to be Syria, we’ll give them Libya” in response to the Egyptian military’s latest power grab.

The Main Enemy In Syria

The anti-interventionists are repeating their mistakes over the Libyan revolution blunder-for-blunder over the Syria revolution. In place of their attacks on the Libyan NTC, they denounce the Syrian Nation Council (SNC); they dwell on the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) U.S. backing, just as they painted Libya’s rebels as tools of the CIA; instead of “hands off Libya,” they put forward the slogan “hands off Syria,” as if Syria’s death- squads were Uncle Sam’s handiwork and not Assad’s.

Hyperbolic condemnations of the FSA, SNC, or the coordinating committees do nothing for Syrians whose lives do not depend on the anti-imperialist credentials of these groups but on whatever assistance they can provide. Similarly, criticisms that the Syrian revolution should rely less on armed struggle and more on strikes by workers have a questionable relationship to reality at best. Since when has a strike ever stopped a death squad from breaking down a door and murdering a sleeping family or prevented a civilian neighborhood from being shelled by artillery? Does anyone seriously believe that the Syrian struggle is being led astray by trigger-happy gunmen (most of whom are working for Assad, not against him)?

German socialist Karl Liebknecht wrote an anti-war leafleft in 1915 under the title, “The Main Enemy Is At Home!”

Our first duty in the West is to do whatever we can to aid, abet, and provide material support for our Syrian brothers’ and sisters’ fight against the Assad regime. Our main enemy is at home in the West, but theirs is not. Washington, D.C. is not sending death squads door-to-door to execute women and children, the regime in Damascus is; the Pentagon is not shelling civilian targets and killing journalists in Homs, the regime in Damascus is. Their main enemy is at home, just as ours is.

This grim reality must be our starting point in any discussion about Syria, not a hypothetical U.S. military action down the road, the contours of which cannot be known in advance. We cannot have the same attitude towards U.S. airstrikes on Assad’s forces and a full-scale ground invasion of Syria because their impact on and implications for the revolution would be completely different. The contours of imperialist intervention must shape our attitude towards it. Sending the FSA small arms and anti-tank missiles or video cameras is not the same as sending American marines into the streets of Damascus, although they are all forms of U.S. intervention.

Syrian revolutionaries know damn well what atrocities Uncle Sam is capable of – Iraq is right next door – and the Arab world knows better than we in the West ever will what the colonial boot feels like. To lecture them of perils and pitfalls they know better than we do is to insult their intelligence. To pretend that we know the dangers of dealing with imperialist devils better than Third World revolutionaries do is a kind of white anti-imperialist’s burden, and its arrogant paternalism is just as misguided as its colonialist antipode.

We have no business criticizing the SNC, FSA, or the coordinating committees unless and until we have fulfilled our first duty by matching our words of solidarity with deeds and acts that can make a difference in the revolution’s outcome, however small they might seem.

Self-Determination and Intervention

The biggest obstacle to Syrian self-determination today is the Assad regime which increasingly rests on Russian bayonets drenched in Syrian blood. He is determined to stay in power by any means necessary and will not rest until their struggle for self-determination (which is what a democratic revolution is) is buried, in mass graves if need be. Respect for Syrian self-determination means respecting how Syrian revolutionaries organize their struggle and their choices even when they conflict with our own preferences and choices.

If Syrian revolutionaries ask for Western airstrikes because they lack an air force to counter the Assad regime militarily, who are we to oppose those airstrikes? Who are we to tell them that all-out defeat is better than the triumph of a revolution “tainted” by an unavoidable compromise with imperialists powers? Who are we to tell them they must face Russian helicopter gunships without imperialist aid because “the revolution will be won by Syrians themselves or it won’t be won at all”? Do we really want our Syrian brothers and sisters to confront tanks with rocks and slingshots as so many Palestinians have?

While the Western left is raising a hue and cry over the minimal aid Syria’s rebels receive from the CIA and reactionary Gulf states, Russia is overtly ramping up its military aid to Assad. Whether we like it or not, the struggle between the Syrian revolution and Assad’s counter-revolution has been internationalized just as the Spanish civil war of 1936-1939 was. The Western left in those days demanded foreign intervention in the form of arms, military aid, and volunteers for the Spanish Republic. The anti-interventionists (mostly fascists or fascist sympathizers) were more than happy to see the Republic starved in the name of “non-intervention” while Hitler bombed Guernica and did everything possible to ensure Franco’s victory.

Those who oppose Western military action today against Assad in the context of a revolution that has developed into a full-blown civil war where segments of the revolution and the people are begging for foreign arms, aid, and airstrikes while the counter-revolution imports arms to slaughter them follow in the anti-interventionist footsteps of the Spanish Republic’s opponents whether they are aware of it or not.

“Hands off Syria” should be the slogan raised at demonstrations in front of Russian embassies and consulates around the world, not the one directed at foreign powers aiding the rebels lest we become little better than Assad’s unwitting executioners in the eyes of revolutionary Syrians. Instead of focusing our fire on the shortcomings of the SNC, FSA, and the coordinating committees, we should be organizing events and fund-raisers for humanitarian relief, fact-finding missions, and video and communications equipment with the aim of smuggling it into Syria. These activities are already taking place but not with the participation of the Western left since we are more worried about our precious anti-imperialist principles and hypothetical Libya-style airstrikes (as if the outcome there was a step backward and not a step forward) than tackling the ugly realities of the Syrian revolution whose straits become more desperate with each passing hour.

We fiddle furiously while Syria burns and Syrians bleed.

The most important thing for the Western left to do is to forge close and enduring relationships with revolutionary Syrians living abroad by demonstrating our unequivocal support for their revolution through deeds, through joint work with their communities. Only in that context and on that basis can criticisms we have about deals with U.S. imperialism or mistakes made by the SNC, FSA, and the coordinating committees gain a hearing among the people who count: revolutionary Syrians.

One way to begin building these relationships would be to organize forums and debates over the question of intervention with revolutionary Syrians of various shades of opinion. The single most embarrassing aspect of the Western left’s opposition to NATO’s Libya operation was the way revolutionary Libyans were barred from Libya forums organized by anti-interventionists.

This outrage was the absurd but logical outcome of the white anti-imperialist’s burden, a burden we must cast aside if we hope to act in concert with the Arab Spring.


The Western left should reject knee-jerk anti-imperialism because its unthinking, blind, reflexive, nature put us at odds with the interests and explicit demands of first the Libyan and now the Syrian revolutionary peoples and in line with the interests of their mortal enemies.

Knee-jerk anti-imperialism leads to our enemies doing our thinking for us: whatever Uncle Sam wants, we oppose; whatever Uncle Sam opposes, we want. This method plays right into U.S. imperialism’s hands because the last thing Uncle Sam wants is a thinking enemy.

{ 14 comments… read them below }
Diana Barahona July 1, 2012
There are several false premises in this article, which lead to the absolute wrong conclusions.
The major false premise is equating the militias and the Western-created governments in exile with the “revolution.” The latter, in the case of Syria, is not even composed of Syrians, but expatriates, according to Elaine Hagopian, the most knowledgeable and unbiased expert on the crisis that I know of.

And according to Hagopian, the initial revolution in Syria was and continues to be nonviolent. It was based in the Local Coordinating Committees, which have not changed tactics to embrace violence or foreign military intervention, but have been rendered marginal since the West began sending in money, equipment, fighters and weapons to a variety of violent, extremist militias, who are not united and do not represent the Syrian people. (Listen to Flashpoints on June 12, June 26, and check out and
On a more fundamental level, the article lacks a class analysis. If the author wishes to lecture to Marxists it would be a good idea to base his arguments in Marxism, which must always start from the structure, the fundamental social classes in conflict, state power, and imperialism. Then we would have a common point of departure on which to discuss the issue. But the way that the arguments are framed are so biased in favor of the transnational capitalist class and the aspiring Syrian transnational capitalist fraction in their bid to take over the state as to leave us with no points of agreement. Ideologically we might as well be on different sides of the class divide.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street July 1, 2012
- The FSA arose to protect the nonviolent protestors from armed attacks. They are not a foreign body and are essential to the revolution’s continuation. How do you propose to protect Syria’s peaceful protestors from snipers, tank shells, artillery, and rockets?

- The point of this article is not to present an overview of the Syrian revolution, its forces, and its context but to focus more narrowly on what revolutionaries in the West ought to do to aid the revolution. If the CIA sends the FSA video cameras and small arms, should we try to block those shipments?

- Syria is already ruled by a capitalist class, which is fighting tooth and nail to keep its power from any challengers, whether they be workers (many of whom are fighting for the revolution) or an “transnational capitalist fraction.” Their desire to defend the status quo by any means necessary is what underpins the counter-revolutionary slaughter they are carrying out. Over 15,000 have been killed already. The killing will stop when the revolution triumphs as it did in Libya. It is in the interst of Syria’s workers to have maximum democracy and democratic rights, and this revolution is their best shot at winning both.

- Occupy LA is not a “democratic centralist” organization and has no “party line” on imperialism or anything else. The article never claimed he was a spokesman or somehow represented Occupy LA, just that he participated. There is nothing unethical about being factual.

Diana Barahona July 1, 2012
Have you even listened to Elaine Hagopian? The “Free Syrian Army” is not a unified army. It is a collection of foreign-backed, foreign armed militias, each with its own reasons for trying to topple the government, including mercenary motives. Not a single one of them is secular, democratic or revolutionary. They did not “arise” to protect peaceful protesters, but jumped into the fray to pursue their own objectives. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are backing them because they are Sunni dictatorships and the government, although secular, is mainly Alawi, which is a Shia subgroup. As always, the U.S. and NATO are fomenting sectarian violence to destabilize the country.

If these fanatical militias are there to protect civilians, why are they murdering so many of them? The al-Houla massacre and the attack on the TV station are just two examples of a daily toll of innocents being killed by the terrorists’ car bombs, machine guns, rockets, grenades and, in al-Houla, knives and small arms. In the face of their lack of popular support and their inability to defeat the Syrian army, they resort to terrorism.

You should not use the word, “we,” when talking about the left, if you are going to take positions in favor of war. As Hagopian has said, the violence must stop. The Syrian people do not want war. 51% of Syrians do not favor ousting Assad, according to a poll carried out by Qatar, a country which wants Assad out and has been sending Libyans to Syria to fight the government. This is a majority of the Syrian people, who want the violence to end, not more violence.

Yes, it is possible that 15,000 Syrians have died, a good many of them police and soldiers doing their job, and many of them civilians murdered by the terrorist militias, and many of them militia members. Yes, government forces have also killed Syrian civilians, but to say that these deaths are the result of the failure by foreign-backed militias to topple the government is absurd. They have died precisely BECAUSE of this war of destabilization. And the killing will only increase under NATO bombardment and in the process of overthrowing the government, because the militias are sectarian fanatics who will carry out confessional, revenge and territorial killings, just like the militias have done and are doing in Libya today.

The key question you keep avoiding is, what will be the class character of the government that Western powers (and Saudi Arabia and Qatar) will impose once they have overthrown the current one? It will not be revolutionary or democratic. It will be a neoliberal government composed of gangster technocrats, whose only interest will be giving away Syrian gas and setting up U.S. or NATO military installations near Iran. This is what all of the bloodshed that you support will bring for the Syrian people, along with a lot of sectarian violence.

It is indeed unethical to sign articles that take controversial positions with an affiliation. It has nothing to do with OLA being democratic centralist, but it does have everything to do with OLA opposing militarism, NATO and threats of war against Iran. It is standard and customary for people, when they must list an institutional affiliation, to state that their stand on a particular issue does not reflect the positions of their institution. Claiborne should respect OLA’s values and leave OLA out of his warmongering articles.

Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street July 2, 2012 at 12:33 am
Why would I listen to Elaine Hagopian when I can listen to the Syrians themselves? Did you look at any of the photos posted in this article? What do you say to the Syrians who called for protests in Syria under the title, “Friday for International Protection”

“The key question you keep avoiding is, what will be the class character of the government that Western powers (and Saudi Arabia and Qatar) will impose once they have overthrown the current one?”

The Western powers aren’t driving the conflict in Syria nor will they control the future government.

Diana Barahona July 2, 2012
Elaine Hagopian is Syrian, as you well know. And quoting Al-Jazeera, which is owned by the Qatari royal family and who everyone knows has been manufacturing news ever since the Qataris joined in with NATO and the U.S. to overthrow Gaddafi, doesn’t impress anyone. Your statement that the West will not control the future government is not just absurd, it is propaganda. Just like your statement that all the CIA is providing is video cameras and small arms. Are we talking about the same agency?

Diana Barahona July 2, 2012
And thank you, but I will pass up your invitation to go to Turkey and block CIA deliveries of “cameras” to their militias. But if you want to organize a protest outside of a Russian embassy or consulate, you could probably get Reporters Without Borders to help you. (Oh, that’s right–it was your side that killed seven media workers. But RSF could at least denounce the lack of press freedom in Syria.) Then there’s also the journalist, Michael Deibert, who was very helpful in the overthrow of the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. And Robert Kent, a New York City librarian who is experienced in destabilization campaigns against Cuba. Good luck with it.

Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street July 2, 2012
Again, you refuse to deal with the fact that large numbers of revolutionary Syrians are explicitly asking for arms and airstrikes since they don’t have guns or an air force. Playing “change the subject” is not helping you win any arguments.

Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street July 2, 2012
Al-Jazeera is quoting the protestors accurately. Do you have proof to the contrary? If they said the sky was blue, would that be a Qatari lie too?

I see you have evaded my central questions: Why would I listen to Elaine Hagopian when I can listen to the Syrians themselves? Did you look at any of the photos posted in this article? What do you say to the Syrians who called for protests in Syria under the title, “Friday for International Protection”?

Diana Barahona July 1, 2012
Also, Clay Claiborne is, indeed, a participant in OLA. However OLA has never taken the position that Claiborne has taken in his incessant cheerleading for NATO, so for him to sign his drivel by identifying himself with OLA is extremely unethical. It is also unethical for the editor, who knows this fact, to repeat that Claiborne is with OLA, and thus continue to taint OLA with a pro-imperialist position.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) July 2, 2012
First, for the sake of clarity, I have not been active in OLA [ which is down to GAs of 50-60 people] in many months.

And now on to the discussion at hand. Diana, you say:

And according to Hagopian, the initial revolution in Syria was and continues to be nonviolent. It was based in the Local Coordinating Committees, which have not changed tactics to embrace violence or foreign military intervention,

Do you not remember the Syria wide mass protests of September 9, 2011 named the “Friday of International Protection” that called for foreign intervention or the March 16, 2012 “Friday of Immediate Foreign Intervention” mass protests? How can you pretend that foreign intervention has not been a popular demand among the Syrian protesters for many months now? You then go on to say:
but have been rendered marginal since the West began sending in money, equipment, fighters and weapons to a variety of violent, extremist militias, who are not united and do not represent the Syrian people.

Why do you not mention the Free Syrian Army? Do you not know that the FSA is the main body carrying out armed struggle against the Assad regime? “extremist militias” as you call them or “armed terrorist gangs” as Assad calls them may or may not exist. I’ve seen no definite proof that they do exist. Just as I’ve seen no definite proof of money & guns from Qatar.

What I have seen is a great many videos of Syrian soldiers who, in some cases even show their IDs, and pledge allegiance to the FSA. The FSA started when a colonel who was ordered to open fire on protesters on July 29, 2011 “Friday of ‘Your Silence Is Killing Us’” defected with his troops and founded the FSA. What is the FSA? It is soldiers that have defected from Assad’s army, supplemented by Syrian citizens who are taking up arms for the first time. And I’m sure they have some foreign advisers from Libya passing on the military lessons of their revolution. That is who Assad it fighting, that is the armed opposition, the soldiers and workers of Syria and it is ridiculous to try to make them out as something separate from the Syrian uprising that came with the Arab Spring.

And why do you say the mass protests have been rendered marginal when the Friday protests continue and in spite of the constant attacks by Assad’s forces on them, continue to be the back bone of this movement. You should visit my blog and see what Assad did to Douma this weekend as soon as the UN stood down, and then see the videos of the heroic mass rallies all across Syria in support of Douma. Seriously, you need to look at that stuff before you talk about “rendered marginal.” Are you really that clueless as to who is driving this process? It is the Syrian masses.


Luke Cooper July 2, 2012
I have the middle position (no to western military intervention, yes to revolution and support for it by any other means, e.g send weapons etc), so don’t agree with thrust of this article.

Your discussion of the question “by any means necessary” is telling. That slogan has always been taken to mean any EFFECTIVE means, i.e, in the prefigurative terms of occupy how you struggle has to reflect the goals you are trying to achieve. I fail to see how dependency on the overwhelming military force of an imperial power can have anything other than ultimately negative consequences for a revolution.

For all the talk about “surgical” attacks, the aim of air strikes are ultimately to intimidate and demoralise a people through use of overwhelming technologically-savvy force.

In Libya, the same forces that pushed for western intervention are, unsurprisingly, responsible for the bourgeois decay of that revolution; unsurprising because it is written into the DNA of bourgeois politics in the south and east that you should not rest on the organic mobilisation of subaltern classes.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street July 2, 2012
1. Sending weapons is a form of intervention. Sending “advisers” to teach people how to use those weapons is also a form of intervention.

2. “By any means necessary” has nothing to do with prefiguration. Malcolm X said he would kill any Klansmen that came to his house to protect his family. That had nothing to do with what kind of society he wanted to see. The question, as Trotsky said, is whether the means lead to the end, not are the means good or bad.

3. Are you saying that the Libyan revolution’s tactics with regard to NATO were ineffective or “ultimately negative”? They won. Now they have strikes, demonstrations, protests, and elections whereas before they had torture, repression, and a chance to resist neoliberal encroachments.

4. Intervention in Libya was called for as a last, not first, resort by the NTC. The same is happening in Syria. For more on that, see:

5. How do you think the Syrian demonstrators who risked their lives to call for imperialist airstrikes (Sept. 9, 2011 was named the “Friday of International Protection” and was the first time the movement as a whole put forward an explicit demand for foreign intervention; on March 16, 2012 the opposition called the protests the “Friday of Immediate Foreign Intervention”) would react to your” middle position”?

Rupen Savoulian July 2, 2012
I have been following the ongoing debate about the Libyan and Syrian interventions, and wanted to make a number of points. Some are in support of the above article, and some are critical comments.

There is no question that the Qadhafi regime abandoned its socialist rhetoric a long time ago, and oriented to the US, Britain, France and other imperialist powers. His participation in the rendition of terrorism suspects is particularly heinous. However, Libya’s resource nationalism, and Qadhafi restrictions on some foreign investment in the oil sector, did mean problems for the imperialist corporations. Putin in Moscow has been friendly to big business investment, but has exercised total control over the lucrative oil and gas sector in Russia, something that incurs the hostility of the imperialist countries.

The NTC is a collection of former Qadhafi allies, CIA assets, fundamentalist Islamists and other opponents of the Qadhafi regime. While it pays some lip service to Libyan Arab nationalism, it has so far followed a course that is in line with the neoliberal agenda of privatisation and increasing foreign investment. Oil has been privatised, and the domestic situation is deteriorating, with the new regime also practicing torture, and ignoring the tribal clashes and rivalries throughout the country that have erupted into open warfare.

If the NTC does have broad popular support, how come it is unable to impose its control over the majority of the country? The various militia groups have gained control over various portions of the country, and thus Libya is fragmented into competing entities. NATO bears direct responsibility for this political fracturing. As I understand it, Salafist groups have been protesting in recent days, demanding the introduction of strict Islamist Sharia law in the new Libya, something opposed by other sections of Libyan society.

The NATO intervention played a decisive part in the overall military success of the rebels, degrading the Qadhafi regime heavy weaponry and limiting the ability of the Qadhafi forces to impose control over the country. Qadhafi waged a brutal counter-insurgency war – no more or less savage than the numerous counter-insurgency wars waged by the United States and its proxy forces in Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries. The US and NATO powers are the main political supporters of the new Libyan militias, and their political complexion will be influenced by NATO’s over-arching agenda. While much was made by the corporate-controlled press about an impending massacre of anti-Qadhafi rebels in Benghazi in 2011, there was a massacre of pro-Qadhafi forces and civilians in the town of Sirte, supported by NATO forces, which basically punished the entire town and wiped if off the map.

Qadhafi had been a pan-Arab nationalist and ‘socialist’ in the early days of his rule. He promoted Arab nationalism as a counter to tribal and sectarian affiliations. This of course did not erase tribal identities, but Qadhafi clung tenaciously to Arab nationalism till the very end.
The rebel militias introduced the element of sectarian and ethnic cleansing into the conflict, even in the early days of the Libyan uprising in March 2011. The sub-Saharan Africans have been targeted by the Berber militias, as well as Arab-majority towns that have been Qadhafi strongholds until today. Qadhafi’s rightist turn from the early 1990s was criticised by socialist and left parties, and awareness of this political orientation makes it all the more imperative to oppose NATO intervention and the imperialist agenda for the post-Qadhafi Libyan government. I do not see how the reactionary turn of the Qadhafi government makes it possible to support NATO intervention.

I think it is presumptuous to categorically state that the majority of Libyans wanted foreign intervention. There were a number of conflicting reports in the early days of the uprising about the political orientation of the rebel militias, and whether the majority wanted foreign intervention. Given the long history of foreign occupation of Libya by the European colonial powers, their brutality in governing the country and violently repressing the Libyan nationalist resistance led by Omar al-Mukhtar, I think it is difficult to say whether the majority of Libyans viewed foreign intervention in a positive light. Qadhafi certainly built his early credibility in the 1970s by closing the US military base in the country. I am unaware of any demands by the rebel militias, or the NTC, to expel the NATO presence in the country.

Just my two cents worth….in the spirit of comradely debate.

Rupen Savoulian


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street July 2, 2012 at 9:03 am
“The NTC is a collection of former Qadhafi allies, CIA assets, fundamentalist Islamists and other opponents of the Qadhafi regime.”

You neglected to mention the middle-class lawyers and other political activists that formed the core of the NTC. Whether this is deliberate or not is unclear to me, but the one-sided view of the NTC will skew your conclusions.

“If the NTC does have broad popular support, how come it is unable to impose its control over the majority of the country?”

The NTC has broad popular support, but so do a lot of the militias and other forces that are competing with the NTC for power and influence. Broad, popular support does not mean 51% in all areas of the country at all times. Now that Ghadafi is gone, I suspect support for the NTC decline. That’s what usually happens after a revolution’s first stage is victorious — it splinters.

“I think it is presumptuous to categorically state that the majority of Libyans wanted foreign intervention.”

I said the majority of revolutionary Libyans. Not all Libyans supported the revolution.

Pretty much all Libyans oppose foreign invasion, which is what is usually meant by “foreign intervention.” I have yet to find a single revolutionary Libyan who opposed the airstrikes in spring of 2011. Have you?

“I am unaware of any demands by the rebel militias, or the NTC, to expel the NATO presence in the country.”

Since NATO never occupied Libya, why would anyone demand NATO’s expulsion?

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