James W. Carden — Consortium News April 24, 2017
The Resistance, a self-aggrandizing term for what amounts to a relatively small but still powerful claque of embittered Clinton surrogates, has been keeping itself busy of late, fanning the flames of McCarthyite recriminations against anyone who dares question the rather flimsy public evidence that Russia influenced the results of the 2016 election, all the while cheering on President Trump’s expansion of the war in Syria.
Like its approach to the question of Russia and the election, the Resistance will brook no dissent over whether or not President Trump did the “right thing” in unleashing 59 Tomahawk missiles on a country which we are not at war with and which has never attacked us.
As with their hysterical claims that Russia stole the election from Hillary Clinton, the Resistance is loathe to allow facts, logic or evidence to get in the way of its view that Donald Trump acted in the security interests of the United States by bombing the Syrian military which (with air support from the Russians) is currently in the process in routing ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Neoliberal Clinton partisan Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post wrote that in her view “Trump is, if not behaving normally, at least adopting normal positions.” Bombing Syria, in the absence of a legal mandate from the United Nations or with expressed authorization of Congress – both legal requirements if the U.S. Constitution and American treaty obligations are to be respected – is, to Marcus anyway, evidence of “Trump’s good judgment.”
Nor was Marcus alone. Clinton herself endorsed Trump’s decision to use force just hours before the attack, telling a crowd of well-heeled Resisters in New York that “I really believe that we should have and still should take out [Assad’s] air fields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them.”
Former high-ranking Obama State Department officials Antony Blinken and Anne Marie Slaughter – he in the pages of the New York Times, she on Twitter – also praised Trump’s bombing of Syria as “the right thing” to do. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza declared, “The moral case for President Trump’s strike on Syria is uncontroversial.”
Punishing Anti-War Democrats
In the days following the Tomahawk missile attack on Syria, it became obvious that antiwar voices need not apply to the Resistance, which clearly remains in thrall to the 25-year-old interventionist orthodoxy begun under President Bill Clinton and which continues to be treated as unassailable dogma within the Democratic Party to this day. Those few who had the temerity to dissent from the Resistance party line were to be given no quarter.
One of the few prominent elected officials in Washington to voice skepticism of the Trump administration’s case for military action against Syria was Hawaii’s Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who condemned the attack in a statement which accused the administration of having “acted recklessly without care or consideration of the dire consequences of the United States attack on Syria without waiting for the collection of evidence from the scene of the chemical poisoning.”
The knives came out for Gabbard even before the proverbial ink on the statement was dry. To no one’s surprise, The Washington Post quickly ran a smear job by Elise Vieback titled “What is Tulsi Gabbard thinking on Syria?” In it, Viebeck declared that “Gabbard has dug herself into a hole in recent weeks with her bizarre but insistent views about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his country’s bloody six years of civil war.”
But what really seemed to offended Vieback – and by extension, her employers at the Post – was Gabbard’s effrontery in committing an act of lese majeste against that which all right-thinking people in Washington “know” or, as Vieback put it: “her striking departure from the consensus that Assad’s government launched the attack.”
Vieback chronicled the Resistance’s disgust with the Congresswoman’s penchant for independent, critical thinking. No less a Resistance figure than MSNBC’s Joy Reid tweeted that “People who have insisted Gabbard is the future of the Democratic Party may need to consider her outré views on issues like Assad.” Other Resistance leaders piled on, too: The Daily Kos; Center for American Progress president and close Clinton adviser Neeera Tanden; and former Vermont Governor and ex-Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean all voiced their opinion that Gabbard should face a primary challenge in 2018. Indeed, according to Dean, the heath insurance lobbyist, “Gabbard should not be in Congress.”
Of course, all the handwringing over Gabbard’s comments were simply another opportunity for the right-minded to double down on their criticism of Gabbard’s controversial meeting with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in January. Then as now, the Washington Post was at the forefront of the character attacks, running a piece by Josh Rogin titled “How Tulsi Gabbard became Assad’s mouthpiece in Washington” on Jan. 29. Yet Rogin’s piece was so sloppy and error-ridden that the Post had to append a humiliating paragraph long correction to it after it was published.
Ignoring Syrian Reality
Nevertheless, the Resistance’s cry of “what about Assad?” is a case of Democratic luminaries polishing up their reputations for virtue and signaling their commitments to career advancement, nothing more. It leaves out the fact that the Syrian opposition also bears responsibility for the start of the violence in 2011.
As Father Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch missionary to Syria who was murdered by rebel forces in 2014, put it: “From the start, the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”
The murdered Dutch priest also observed as early as 2011, that “The opposition of the street is much stronger than any other opposition. And this opposition is armed and frequently employs brutality and violence, only in order then to blame the government.”
The “what about Assad?” line also begs us to ignore what the likely consequences of his removal from power would actually mean: Who exactly do they think would fill the vacuum? The obsession with Assad also willfully ignores the immorality of U.S. policy, which involves repeatedly bombing Syria while funding and training violent extremists who seek to overthrow a sovereign government.
U.S. policy, wholeheartedly supported by the Resistance, tramples international law and makes a mockery of the tenets of Just War Theory. It results in violence, death and destruction abroad and sets the stage for retaliatory acts of violence upon our own people at home.
And so, in order to elide these considerations, the neoliberal left returns to the eternal, tiresome: “But what about Assad?” To which there is a pretty straightforward answer: Assad is fighting (quite successfully at present) the same enemies who attacked us on 9/11 in an attempt to stave off the wholesale takeover of Syria by Saudi-sponsored Salafists who would, as they promised in the early days of the uprising, drive “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave.” Never mind what they would do to women, Shia and other apostates should they topple Assad and gain power.
Anti-interventionist and pro-peace Democrats object to this joint Saudi-Turkish project of turning Syria, which under Assad had been a secular, multi-confessional police state, into a theocratic Sunnistan, thereby carving out a state for our worst enemies.
Backing the Terrorists
The Resistance may need reminding that international politics, like domestic politics, is about choosing, and the choice that pro-war Democrats (the vast majority of whom are die-hard Clinton supporters who still have not been able to reconcile themselves to her defeat) have made is clear: they’ve thrown their support behind radical Islamist terror groups in Syria because they have bought into the tedious fiction about the existence of “moderate” Syrian rebels.
But the Resistance would be better off leaving the fantasy of peace-loving moderate Syrian rebels to the hipsters at VICE and the neocons and neoliberal war hawks comfortably ensconced at Brookings, the Center for American Progress, CNN, The Daily Beast, The Atlantic magazine, and The Atlantic Council.
Another trend among the self-fashioned “Resisters” these days is towards an unthinking acceptance of U.S. government talking points, particularly with regard to Russian hacking and the Trump administration’s declassified four-page report on the Syrian chemical weapons attack.
Yet given the less than inspiring record of American interventions based on faulty, distorted or simply fabricated intelligence, as in the cases of Iraq (2003) and Libya (2011), the question isn’t why someone like Gabbard is out there questioning the Trump administration’s story, the question is: why aren’t more doing so? And wouldn’t questioning Trump’s unilateral, illegal decision to bomb Syria seem to be the right and proper role of something which bills itself as “The Resistance”?
But no. As a friend and colleague of mine recently put it, if they were honest, the Resistance’s motto really ought to be: “Long live the Cold War with Russia. Long live neoliberal Wahhabism and chaos in the Middle East.”
Yet the Resistance drones on, drowning out anti-war, anti-Wahhabi, pro-detente voices all in a bid to reinforce the neoliberal foreign policy orthodoxy within the Democratic Party in the vain hope of solidifying their positions of power and influence within it.
James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.