Anti-Imperialism for Dummies: Ignoring Syrians and Their Own Contradictions

By Charles Davis
One of the iron laws of the know-nothing “anti-imperialists” is that if a group is supported by the United States, however minimally, or even just perceived as being aligned with U.S. interests, it goes without saying that the group is very bad and to be opposed by every good practicing opponent of empire. This is why many see no need to learn a thing about Syria beyond what can be found in 140 characters or less from Julian Assange, left-wing class analysis forsaken for conspiracy and a tautology: The U.S. is bad, and it says Assad is bad – maybe because of a pipeline, or because he made John Kerry pick up their last bar tab – Assad is therefore good, or at the very least less bad than those backed by the empire.

Preferring the simplicity of a “regime change” narrative that went from stale to rotten in 2013, when the U.S. eagerly embraced an Israeli-brokered deal with Russia to keep Assad in power, those who believe their theory of everything relieves them of the duty to know a thing about Syria or Syrians in particular long ago settled on claiming that all who fight the regime in Damascus are but unthinking “Contras,” or mercenaries fighting not for their own reasons but for the reasons of the regime in Washington. This, despite the fact that when the U.S. tried to create an actual mercenary army to fight ISIS – and, explicitly, ISIS alone – it managed to recruit all of 54 people.

Despite that, and the nature of the army the U.S. tried to create, and the exclusively non-state focus of the bombs it has dropped in Syria since September 2014, in coordination with the regime it ostensibly wants to change at all costs, the narrative persists: The rebels – all of them, more or less – are Takfiri terrorists backed to the hilt by U.S. imperialism. Again, the attraction of this narrative is not its factuality, but its familiarity and ideological convenience: by inflating U.S. support for the Syrian opposition and ignoring the actual targets of U.S. bombs, one can cater to the narcissism of the Western left by repeating a few of the time-tested talking points we all know and love.

Something bad is happening in the world, like millions of people being forced to leave their homes? Well listen up, Uncle Xenophobe: It’s our damn fault.

The curious thing is that those who embrace this storyline, such as the universally non-Syrian commentators whose comment on the matter has been solicited by the center-left Jacobin magazine, is that while inflating the role of imperialism with respect to the Free Syrian Army, they downplay U.S. support for the Syrian Kurds.

That’s mighty weird, is it not? For if there’s one thing we have long ago established it is that U.S. support sullies whoever’s desperate or dastardly enough to accept it – and those Kurds of the leftist PYD have accepted a mighty lot of it, certainly more than the Contra-Fascist-ISIS-in-waiting FSA.

As Abu Mohammad, a resident of the ISIS-occupied city of Raqqa, told The Guardian: “I like the FSA” – we’ll let that slide for now, my fellow anti-imperialists – “but we need a real one; they are not organized and don’t have supplies.”

That’s a marked contrast to the PYD and its militias, the only parties in Syria who are able to call in U.S. airstrikes, which they have been doing for just about a year now. In October, the communist Kurds received a shipment of no less than “50 tons of ammunition” from Uncle Sam, the first of many to come, Washington having made the Kurds – and not the FSA – its chief proxy on the ground against ISIS.

How does the anti-imperialist left respond to this? Not with an indictment of Kurdish impurity and the annihilation of the Kurds’ agency, but with, well, let’s quote Pepe Escobar: The revolutionaries of Rojava are “somewhat supported by the U.S.,” he writes. And why shouldn’t he? The fact that the avowedly leftist and secular PYD is the preferred vehicle of imperialism in Syria rather undermines the maxim that the only people the U.S. ever supports are the bad guys. Indeed, it points to a rather more complex picture, harder to break down into three 800-word columns a week: of the U.S. having goals other than regime change – the PYD may refer to the “Ba’athist-fascist forces” of Bashar al-Assad, language no self-respecting anti-imperialist would dare use, but it does not fight them as often as the FSA – and of Washington’s rhetoric concerning Syria’s hereditary dictator, eagerly consumed by the typically cynical left, not being matched by the reality of undersupplied “Contras” on the ground.

But then, with left-wing stalwarts like Tariq Ali and George Galloway offering their support for imperialist airstrikes on Syria at rallies ostensibly against the bombing of Syria, the strikes good and just so long as Assad is the accomplice and not the target, the faux-anti-imperialist wing of the Orientalist West has long since passed the point of mere, correctable analytic folly – today it’s a wretched, irredeemable farce, tarred by the blood of the Ba’athist-fascist killing it can’t be bothered to note, much less condemn.

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

3 thoughts on “Anti-Imperialism for Dummies: Ignoring Syrians and Their Own Contradictions”

  1. I think two different strains of western leftist discourse are being conflated here. Pretty much everybody ignores or is ignorant of the revolutionary strains in the FSA, but thats where the overlap ends. Apologists for Assad, fed on a steady diet of Russian approved alternative media, tend to also be very dismissive of the Kurds

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