Saturday, September 14, 2013

Playing the Al Qaeda card on Syria (continued)

As I noted a few days ago:
Following western debates about the ongoing Syrian catastrophe, I find it interesting that many of the same people who usually go out of their way to make excuses for jihadist violence by murderous theocratic fanatics (whose actions, after all, are just understandable "blowback" provoked by western violence against Muslims) reject any measures to assist Syrian opponents of the Assad regime on the grounds that the rebels are ... murderous theocratic jihadist fanatics.
Of course, such people are not the only ones playing this rhetorical game in connection with Syria.  The Al Qaeda card is also being flourished by plenty of other people who consistently denounce Islamist fanatics and jihadist violence.  For example, there is world-stateman-of-the-hour Vladimir Putin (whose incredibly brutal war in Chechnya has helped to motivate a lot of jihadist fanatics around the world).

In fact, this theme has brought together an unusually wide assortment of figures from all over the ideological spectrum, in the US and elsewhere, ranging from right-wing isolationists to figures from the "anti-imperialist" (or simply anti-American) left.  No, it's not unheard-of for those different tendencies to find themselves in accord on some issues.  But they don't often sound so indistinguishable.

A few random examples:

Robert Fisk:
If Barack Obama decides to attack the Syrian regime, he has ensured – for the very first time in history – that the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa’ida.
George Galloway:
The relatives of those who were lost on 9/11, who were cruelly murdered in their thousands, must be asking themselves how their country ended up in bed with Al Qaeda.  And not just in bed, but arming them to the teeth, acting as their air force and their armorer and their financier.
Rand Paul:
Twelve years after we were attacked by Al Qaeda, 12 years after 3,000 Americans were killed by Al Qaeda, President Obama now asks us to be allies with Al Qaeda.
Glenn Beck:
Twelve years ago we stood united against a common enemy. And that enemy was killed. [Photos of Bin Laden.]  And why are we still fighting? Last night American watched as the President of the United States actually argued something that I believe is treason—that we should join forces with that very same enemy!
Rush Limbaugh:
Anyway, here's the point, folks: Four different people now, and the third one was just this morning, are asking, "What if Bashar didn't do it? What if Bashar is being framed? What if Al-Qaeda is setting off their own chemical weapons on their own people, if the rebels are nerve gassing their own people to create exactly what is happening, us mobilizing to get rid of Bashar because they can't for some reason." So they use chemical weapons on their people, it gets blamed on Bashar, we go in and take Bashar out or do something and end up on the same side as "the rebels," in this case Al-Qaeda. [....]

[W]hat is Obama doing in the Middle East? The [Obama} regime's agenda appears to be eliminating dictators in favor of Muslim radicals. He got rid of Mubarak. He's a dictator. He might have been a horrible guy, but he was stable. Khadafy may have been a horrible guy, but he was stable. We're getting rid of all of these dictators — which, of course, sounds great — but they're being replaced with Muslim radicals, i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Al-Qaeda is basically who's in Syria. If they get rid of Bashar in Syria, it will be Al-Qaeda. Muslim radicals. Sharia is on the march in the Middle East is what's taking place here.

Further examples would be easy to multiply, but why bother?

One other point does strike me, though, concerning the US right-wingers in this drama.  Rand Paul is a long-term, consistent, and principled isolationist, so it's not surprising that he should be reaching for any propaganda lines he can find to help increase public opposition to US involvement in Syria (military or otherwise).  But people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, as well as other right-wingers now singing the same tune, have no record as dyed-in-the-wool isolationists.  It's pretty clear that their positions on Syria are based simply on reflexive opposition to anything Obama proposes and an across-the-board commitment to demonizing Obama whatever the circumstances or issues involved, whatever the repercussions, and whatever company it puts them in.  As Glenn Beck put it (sounding remarkably like the obsessively anti-American Australian/British ranter and one-time journalist John Pilger):  Nowadays Vladimir Putin "looks like the Nobel Peace Prize winner, and our President looks like the mad killer."

=> In this crowd, Putin's formulation of the Al Qaeda theme in his New York Times op-ed looks measured and nuanced by comparison.  True, Putin's piece is full of claims that are misleading or demonstrably false; tendentious and hypocritical arguments (e.g.,"We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law."); and laughably implausible speculations presented as verified assessments.  But I'm speaking in comparative terms.
There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. [....] This threatens us all. [....]

[JW: In themselves, those statements are not incorrect. Putin then moves into a series of increasingly misleading and dishonest claims, about Syria and about Russian policy, and arrives at the punch-line.]

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored. [....]
As far as I'm aware, no serious analysts would agree "there is every reason to believe" that rebel forces, rather than the Syrian army, were the ones who launched the poison gas attacks around Damascus on August 21. (On the contrary.) But I'm pleased to see that Putin has suddenly become so solicitous about the safety and well-being of Israelis. Maybe he should communicate these humanitarian sentiments to his allies in Iran and in Lebanese Hizbullah?

=> At all events, we know that politics often makes for strange bedfellows. Is this a stranger collection than most, or nothing out of the ordinary?

—Jeff Weintraub