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Chris writes, regarding the article from the excellent Eternal Spring site that 
I sent, that:

“The author of this article describes the Syrian Democratic Forces as 
"counter-revolutionary", whereas the Free Syrian Army are the "real" rebels.”

While I sent the article because I strongly agree with its overall political 
line (and always do with Eternal Spring), I disagree with the use of the term 
“counterrevolutionary” as a straight adjective for the SDF/PYD in paragraph II. 
Despite my sharp criticisms of these forces, including times when they have 
played an openly counterrevolutionary role, in the messy situation of the 
Syrian revolution I recognise they have led their own revolutionary process 
(which has both deeply positive aspects alongside some very imperfect aspects, 
like others); and while they collaborate with Assad, Russia and the US, this is 
only for pragmatic reasons as they look out for their own interests, rather 
than because they are solidly tied to the counterrevolutionary aims of these 

Chris doesn’t like the author calling the FSA “real rebels” by way of contrast. 
But the author does not say “the real revolutionaries” or some such concoction 
that sectarian leftists might use: he explains in his article that by “rebels” 
he means those who actually *rebel* - ie, against the regime in control of 
massively armed state machine in power, the bloody Assad tyranny – and so this 
excludes not only the various microscopic ex-rebel forces the US has co-opted 
to fight ISIS ONLY while quitting the fight against Assad – eg, Division 30 
(the famous 54), the ‘New Syrian Army’ (another flop in the southeast), 
Mutassem Brigade (now co-opted by Turkey) etc – but also the YPG/SDF, which as 
we know likewise does not fight the regime.

Of course, the main point of the article is to explain this US strategy, which 
he calls “Third party counterrevolution” or “regime preservation by proxy.” 
That is, rather than line up directly with the regime like the Russian 
imperialist invasion has done, US strategy does so in a more roundabout way, by 
co-opting former individual rebel fighters and prodding them to stop fighting 
the regime and instead to become a US-backed Sawhat. (Even in the case of the 
genuine FSA units that the US has given some minimal backing to over time, the 
longer term process also resulted in US pressure for them to drop the fight 
against Assad and only fight jihadists, but with mixed results: I intend to 
publish on this issue soon, but Eternal Spring doesn’t go into that here).

In this sense, we can distinguish the YPG/SDF from the tiny US proxy groups, 
because it already exists in its own right as a mass force with its own aims. 
Therefore, US support for it against ISIS cannot be called counterrevolutionary 
as such; the fact that they *only* fight ISIS and not the regime is their own 
sovereign decision for their own pragmatic reasons, however narrow, which 
happens to perfectly correspond to US objectives, unlike the ex-FSA 
micro-groups who quit their entire purpose to become US proxies. 

But what the author is trying to establish is that the reason the YPG/SDF have 
been given the most massive US support of any force in Syria, including 
systematic use of the US air force for 2.5 years, several air bases in Rojava, 
hundreds of US special forces etc, is not due to the revolutionary aspects of 
these forces, but because they stand aside from the main theatre of revolution, 
because they don’t fight Assad, because they are not rebels. However 
rev-perfect it may be inside Rojava (a disputed point in itself), as long as 
that revolution does not spread within Syria or link and become part of the 
bigger one, yes the US can well support it without it being any threat.

Chris complains that:

“He/she [it is a he – MK] does not recognise that some FSA units have been 
co-opted by Turkey and used in its counter-revolutionary military intervention 
in Syria.  Turkey, with the aid of these groups, has seized Syrian territory in 
the north of Aleppo province.”

I’m not sure whether the author “recognises” this or not, since it is not what 
the article is about, although he could well have included this, because in 
fact it does bear some similarity to the rest of the US Sawhat program, and to 
the YPG/SDF itself: the Turkish-led FSA Euphrates Shield (ES) operation also 
*only* fights ISIS and *not* the Assad regime.

However, most of the large rebel formations of the north are at least partly 
represented in Euphrates Shield, both FSA and Islamist (except Nusra/JFS of 
course); and elsewhere in Syria, these very same militia are fighting the 
regime and still, rightly, see it as the main enemy. Yes, one may argue they 
have been co-opted by Turkey in the ES operation; and the fact that this time 
(unlike when Turkey first suggested driving ISIS from the Jarablus-Azaz region 
in 2015), Turkey/FSA have got support from the US, and indeed even more 
prominently from Russia, is precisely because this time, in this zone, the 
rebels are not fighting Assad. So the same Russia that has been bombing in 
support of Turkey and the FSA against ISIS in this region is bombing these very 
same FSA and Islamist brigades right now in south and west Aleppo, Idlib and 
elsewhere; and the very same US which has also lobbed a few bombs in support of 
Turkey/FSA against ISIS in this region has never before given air cover to any 
FSA/rebel offensives against ISIS; the US only gives air support to the YPG/SDF 
against ISIS in northern Syria, and to Assad against ISIS in the south 
(especially Deir Ezzor, but also the very direct and open role just played by 
the US in bombing together with Assad and Russia in their latest reconquest of 

The US (let alone Russia!) has never given air support to rebel offensives 
against ISIS before because these rebels also want to continue fighting Assad 
(ie, being *rebels*), which is a red line for the US. That is despite the fact 
that the rebels drove ISIS permanently out of the whole of western Syria in 
2014, without the support of any air cover, indeed with Assad’s air force 
bombing them to support ISIS.

But then why are these rebel brigades, which are still *rebels* elsewhere in 
Syria, acting as Turkey/US/Russia proxies in this region? Quite simply, because 
here they are blocked from fighting Assad in this region, geographically. 
Before February 2016, the rebels in northern rural Aleppo (Azaz, Mare etc) were 
directly connected to the rebel capital of East Aleppo city (and from there to 
south and west Aleppo and Idlib and Hama). However, that month the YPG, 
directly backed by massive Russian air strikes, conquered a swathe of 
Arab-majority, rebel-held territory, centering on the iconic revolutionary town 
of Tal Rifaat (from where the great rebel attack on ISIS began in 2014), which 
cut the corridor between Aleppo city and the Turkish border in half. In the 
east, this YPG offensive met up with ISIS-held territory northeast of Aleppo 
(near al-Bab) and stopped. Since neither the YPG nor ISIS fight Assad, this 
meant there was a solid barrier between the northern rebels and Aleppo.

This meant that when Assad launched his full encirclement siege of Aleppo, 
which led to its final crushing the end of last year, a major reason, if not 
the major reason, for Assad’s victory was this YPG bloody occupation of Tal 
Rifaat (from where thousands fled north) which blocked the entire north of 
Syria (the fact that the siege itself was also directly aided by the YPG’s 
blocking of the Castello Rd, the eastern entrance, is another thing that I’m 
sure some will be able to explain away).

So the Turkey-backed rebels in ES don’t fight Assad there because they can’t, 
and the reason they can’t, and the reason Turkey’s operation therefore got 
US-Russian blessing, was because of the YPG’s own reactionary actions. Late to 
complain. Of course, for the rebels in Azaz-Mare, after being cut off by the 
YPG, it was entirely logical to get Turkish aid to drive ISIS from the entire 
strip of Arab - and Turkmen – majority territory up to Jarablus, and including 
al-Bab. It was former rebel territory (and has nothing to do with ‘Rojava’). 
Nothing wrong with that; they were already fighting ISIS for years. 

What many believe was wrong, however, and here is the US/Russian Sawhat 
connection, the connection to “counterrevolution by proxy”, was that apart from 
these local trapped rebels, Turkey also encouraged some thousands of rebel 
fighters to come the long way around, via Turkey’s Idlib border, from Idlib and 
southwest Aleppo, overland hundreds of miles via Turkey, to Jarablus, to join 
the ES operation, rather than stay and therefore be ready to defend Aleppo when 
Assad launched the second, decisive, siege (Turkey had encouraged this after 
the rebels broke the first siege of Aleppo last August, as if that was the end 
of the story). From Turkey’s point of view, it may well have simply been about 
putting its own nationalist interests ahead of the Syrian rebellion, nothing 
unexpected from a local capitalist state; but some claim it was worse: that it 
was part of Erdogan’s deal with Putin: that Turkey deliberately allow Assad to 
conquer east Aleppo in exchange for Putin’s support to Erdogan seizing that 
part of northern Syria to prevent a US-backed irredentist drive by the YPG to 
“link” Kurdish Afrin with Kurdish Kobani by conquering this non-Kurdish region. 

Of course that doesn’t answer why these rebels would have fallen into that 
trap. Most likely they thought Turkey would help them get to help Aleppo from 
the north, either by driving the YPG occupation from Tal Rifaat, or by driving 
the ISIS occupation from al-Bab. The first never happened, and the second only 
really began after Aleppo had fallen.

“Since the start of the anti-Assad rebellion in Syria, Turkey has given weapons 
and other aid to some Syrian rebel groups. But this aid came with strings 
attached, including a requirement to support Turkey's anti-Rojava policy.”

How did this “requirement” manifest itself? Leaders can say what they want (and 
some of it was bad, but often their own political limitation; other times it 
was much better). But Afrin, Sheikh Maqsud and Kobani lived in a kind of 
strained at times, friendly at times, co-existence with the rebel-held 
territories all around them for years, until the onset of the Russian invasion 
in September 2015, when the YPG attempted to close the Castello Road out of 
Aleppo, the rebels’ life line, while PYD leaders were welcoming the invasion.  
That is when the current round of hostilities began (and neither side have 
particularly clean hands in this).

“Turkey had different priorities and followed a different policy. It was still 
obsessed with the Kurdish threat, and continued to aid ISIS in its war against 
Rojava. It is only recently that the Turkey-ISIS alliance broke down, leading 
to fighting in al-Bab (though attempts have been made to patch it up).”

Wow, Turkey/FSA have driven ISIS from a great swathe of territory in northern 
Syria but Chris assures us that attempts have been made to “patch up” the 
alleged Turkey/ISIS cooperation. No idea where that comes from. I think it is 
true that Turkey momentarily manoeuvred with ISIS against Kobani in late 2014, 
not by “supporting” ISIS in any material way as such, but by preventing PKK 
fighters from crossing to aid the defence etc. But this conjunctural manoeuvre 
where Turkey tried to hurt a worse enemy (from its viewpoint) did not reflect 
any overall Turkish policy of “supporting ISIS” as we often sloppily hear; on 
the contrary, Turkey has been tightly allied to ISIS’ main enemies for years 
and indeed armed them during the great rebel drive against ISIS in 2014. 

“For the SDF, Turkey and ISIS are the most immediate threats.  Hence the 
cooperation with the US against ISIS, and the recently reported cooperation 
with Assad forces in the west of Manbij district against the Turkish invasion. 
Of course, neither the US nor Assad regime is a reliable ally.” 

The only reliable allies of the Kurds are the Syrian masses, and the divide 
between the Kurdish and Arab masses, between Kurdish-led and Arab-led 
revolutionary forces is indeed a major problem for the revolution, but trying 
to pin the blame for it entirely or even mostly on the rebel side is a laugh. 
Leaderships on both sides have shown a great deal of short-sightedness, and 
while that may be expected from the generally non-leftist traditions of most 
rebel leaderships, it is a major stain on the PYD which many are talking up not 
just as leftist in origin but as the … “true revolutionaries.” “Recently 
reported cooperation with Assad” indeed Chris. Much, much older than that. 

Yes, the foreign interventions, all of them, are a major part of this problem 
of division, including of course Turkey’s anti-Kurdish policy, and the fact 
that, abandoned by the world, the rebels had little choice but to depend on 
Turkey which gave them a life-line for its own reasons (mainly because Turkey 
was overwhelmed with 3 million Syrian refugees and hence saw the need to try to 
remove the source of this massive instability, ie the Assad regime). If the 
rebels had taken Turkish air cover to conquer Kurdish majority Afrin or Kobani 
from the PYD it would have been a major crime, but that never happened. What 
did happen was that the YPG took Russian air cover – air cover from the major 
global imperialist ransacker and destroyer of Syria – to conquer Arab-majority 
territory from the rebels, which later led to Assad’s crushing of Aleppo.


From: Marxism <marxism-boun...@lists.csbs.utah.edu> on behalf of Michael 
Karadjis via Marxism <marxism@lists.csbs.utah.edu>
Sent: Saturday, 4 March 2017 5:33:06 PM
To: Chris Slee
Subject: [Marxism] US Arab Spring policy? Third party counter-revolution 

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