NEW YORK — In April, in the days after Western diplomats, aid workers, and reporters yet again accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons against his own people, the renowned foreign correspondent Eva Bartlett found herself watching a video clip of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman interviewing Glenn Greenwald, a co-founder of online news publication The Intercept, who said this:
So obviously, the use of chemical weapons in any instance is horrific. It’s a war crime. It’s heinous. And it ought to be strongly condemned by everybody. I think that it’s — the evidence is quite overwhelming that the perpetrators of the chemical-weapons attack, as well as [the] previous one, is [sic] the Assad government, although in war, there are always lots of reasons to doubt, and we certainly shouldn’t run off and make hasty decisions, until there’s a real investigation, to make the evidence available.”
Bartlett was beside herself. Having spent considerable time reporting on the conflict in Syria, Bartlett tends towards the view that allegations of chemical attacks by Assad are false-flag operations — and ham-handed ones at that — manufactured by the U.S. and its allies in Europe and Israel as a pretext to bomb Syria, reduce it to rubble, and send in Western multinationals to pillage the vanquished country.
Not only does it defy logic that Assad would massacre civilians living in territories under government control — in a war that he is winning in a rout, no less — but the best available evidence is that the rebels bear responsibility for the deployment of any nerve agents since the war began six years ago, if indeed there was such an attack in the first place. In the latest incident, in April, the Trump administration bombed Syria before there was even an investigation to establish that chemical weapons were in fact used in the Damascus suburb where the offensive is alleged to have occurred.
Bartlett and Greenwald have at it
So Bartlett took to social media to voice her concerns with other progressives. Didn’t Goodman and Greenwald understand that the Trump administration wanted to lay waste to Syria in precisely the same manner that the Obama administration had destroyed Libya, the most prosperous country on the African continent? Had it not occurred to the two progressive pundits, that the Trump administration’s allegations of chemical weapons are an unimaginative ruse for war similar to the Bush administration’s baseless accusations of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
Bartlett told MintPress in a phone interview:
You can’t say that you’re an anti-interventionist and yet support the dubious claims that you have to know will lead to intervention. It’s reckless.”
The Twitter spat that followed was perhaps a Fox News wet dream, as the two progressive journalists sparred publicly. In an exchange that Bartlett posted on Facebook, Greenwald wrote:
She also forgot to include the 20 minutes I spent arguing against intervention of any kind in Syria by the U.S., Israel or NATO. She singled out the one sentence she regarded as blasphemous and spent all day crowing about it. Why? To help Syrians? No, to feel good about herself.»
So you retract your assertion that the Syrian govt is guilty of the alleged and unverified [chemical weapons] attack and all prior?»
It’s live TV. Sometimes you say things less than ideally. I think the most likely perpetrator of this attack is Syrian Govt. I think evidence is overwhelming for prior attacks. I don’t think one can say «overwhelming» for this attack. I am 100% against Western intervention.»
Bartlett had the last word:
I definitely agree with you that sometimes one says things less than ideally, and have done so myself. However, you have now with luxury of time and thought reiterated your accusations against the Syrian govt. So, thanks for clarifying your position.»
In her Facebook post, she concluded:
Still think he’s an honest journalist? Why so cavalier about Syrian lives…”
Calling out the Right-lightness of the mainstream Left
Across social-media platforms, and progressive convenings that stretch from one end of the Americas to the other, the most radical progressives and activists of color are beginning to question — in increasingly strident terms — the commitment, judgment and even the motivation of more mainstream leftists — mostly white. There is no single list agreed upon by everyone but the names most often cited include Greenwald; Goodman; former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges; the writers Paul Street and Tim Wise; the founder of the Real News Network, Paul Jay; MSNBC hosts Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes; and the economist and journalist Doug Henwood, among many others with lesser profiles.
Said Bartlett in a MintPress interview:
They are dangerous in that they are seen as truth-tellers but what they’re actually doing is misleading all these people into believing the Syrian government is responsible for these chemical-weapons attacks. We really don’t know but the best available evidence points to the rebels. They’re regurgitating all this propaganda on Syria and this is the same kind of propaganda that led to the destruction of Libya.”
The critical racial dimension of the Left’s internecine conflict
A longtime Chicano activist in northern California’s Bay Area, Al Osorio said racial tension played a pivotal role in derailing radical progressive movements like Occupy Oakland. While Occupy initially showed some promise when it debuted in the summer of 2011, internecine squabbling, and microaggressions widened the rift between young, white activists and Blacks and Latinos — many of whom, like Osorio, had begun organizing street protests against police brutality and gentrification years earlier. The faction of mostly white anarchists known as the Black Bloc was particularly nettlesome, Osorio said: on the one hand, they weren’t afraid to respond in kind to physically abusive police officers; but on the other hand, their actions in the streets weren’t always defensive.
They would throw rocks and bottles without recognizing their own white privilege. When the police start to respond by drawing down, they get the fuck out and leave black and brown people holding the bag. It’s the kind of thing that ties into our (African-Americans’ and Latinos’) natural distrust. . . because that’s the kind of thing that will get us killed.
Osorio said that at planning meetings, white activists would sometimes peer outside a window and see that one or two black activists owned luxury cars:
They’d say that was proof that people of color weren’t committed enough, that we were really just bourgeois. Occupy Oakland wasn’t a coalition; it was really a white movement and they don’t know how to talk to our people.”
Osorio compared some Bay Area white Leftists to Pete Carroll, the white head coach of the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks, who angered his black football players when he infamously called a goal-line pass play in the final seconds of the 2015 Super Bowl rather than hand the ball off to the team’s star black running back Marshawn Lynch. The pass was intercepted, the Seahawks lost the game, and several black players later said that Carroll didn’t want the outspoken and popular Lynch to be the game’s hero.
Some of (the whites) are Pete Carroll activists; we may share the same goal but we have a different way of getting there. Ours is with the community and theirs is how they want it done; ours is about life and death, theirs is about ideology.”
The atomization of the political Left largely along racial lines is hardly new. The African-American writer Richard Wright’s classic novel Native Son is principally a scathing critique of white Communists’ failure to address problems unique to Blacks, as is Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel, Invisible Man. In the 1960s, black activists with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, purged white members, telling them that the civil-rights and antiwar movements would be better served if whites organized and educated their own first.
Malcolm X famously derided white liberals as posers whose real objectives weren’t significantly different from conservatives — an assessment not terribly far removed from Richard Nixon’s — and Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party excoriated a plan by 800 white activists to provoke a confrontation with Chicago Police in the fall of 1969 as “muddleheaded” and “Custer-istic.” Hampton’s assassination by Chicago police later that year deepened the split between white activists who believed that white men were the vanguard of the New Left, and radicals like Bernardine Dohrn who argued that whites should defer to people of color, who have historically been the engine of liberal democracy in the Americas.
Bartlett, who is white and from Canada, said that the prioritization of white men by commercial media creates an echo chamber:
I suppose it’s to maintain the funding; . . . news and opinion are dominated by access to official sources who are usually white men so most of the people quoted on these things are not in Syria.”
Of her own grassroots reportage which is highly-regarded by many leftists, she said:
I can think of so many Syrians and Palestinians whose voices are far more eloquent than mine but no one listens to them, I guess, because they are not some middle-aged white guy. I remember this very elegant Syrian doctor once and he was crying, saying ‘I’ve been saying these things for years but no one would listen to me.’”
“Identity politics” can be part of the class struggle
Activists of color say that their white liberal critics most commonly use the pejorative “identity politics” to dismiss their particular concerns as lacking a class analysis. One African-American intellectual, Otis Griffin, said that he tangled on Facebook in recent months with white, progressive writer Paul Street, who pilloried Black demands for reparations. Street, Griffin said, said the cost of reparations would be shouldered mainly by working-class whites, when reparations could take many forms — including, say, homeowner relief for black communities targeted by banks — or community control of tax-increment finance districts.
Forrest Palmer, an African-American writer and environmental activist, said Street recently took him to task on Facebook for criticizing another white progressive, the former New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges, who has criticized radicals’ use of violence, even in self-defense. Said Palmer:
I made some satirical remarks about the hallowed Chris Hedges and Paul Street took umbrage at my saying such revolting things about Hedges … Anyone with a brain could tell that I was being over the top in my comments .. about the useless liberalism at [Hedges’] core.”
Palmer said he later learned that Street unfriended him.
Another frequent critic of so-called identity politics is Doug Henwood, a writer, author and contributing editor to The Nation magazine. A self-proclaimed Marxist, Henwood, who is white, “often rails against the rich and powerful,” said the journalist Michael Yates, but doesn’t walk it like he talks it. He is the co-editor of TLR Analytics, which sells “high-resolution research” to Wall Street money managers for a subscription price of $7,500 annually.
Describing Henwood as a “liberal elitist in radical clothing,” Yates told MintPress:
[Henwood] often speaks and writes about the evils of inequality, yet he is indirectly contributing to it. He has long criticized ‘ultra-leftists’. . .as detrimental to the left project. Thus, he championed Syriza and dismissed those on the left, within and outside Greece, who were critical of Syriza and were appalled at the government’s capitulation to the Germans, the international financial institutions, and the EU governing bodies. He has had former Syriza finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who believed that capitalism had to be saved so that it could be destroyed later, on his radio show [‘Behind the News”’ on WBAI in NYC] some 17 or 18 times.”
Continuing, Yates said:
Henwood favored the invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. He is close to Jacobin magazine, which is left-liberal at best, and of course, we have already mentioned The Nation, which is the liberal magazine, par excellence. He has dismissed arguments that a left worth its salt would aggressively oppose the prison system in the U.S. and fight for its abolition . . . [arguing] that this wouldn’t resonate with the working class. He criticized Angela Davis and others who have been struggling for many years to abolish the prison system . . .[and] for many years has argued what some call the “class first” position. That is, the struggles against racism and patriarchy are divisive and only universal programs that benefit the entire working class should be championed by the left. How exactly, say, a full employment program could ever be effectively undertaken without simultaneously addressing racism he never says. In fact, he often argued that racism was on the decline in the U.S.. . .”
Ajamu Baraka — national organizer for Black Alliance for Peace, and the Green Party’s 2016 nominee for vice-president — said that a group of nearly 20 mostly-white protesters denounced him, at last month’s Left Forum in New York City, for his opposition to U.S. efforts to overthrow Syrian President Assad. Organized by the “white left,” the protesters, almost entirely white, raised placards urging conferees to boycott Baraka, who is African-American.
He told MintPress:
They characterize me as an ‘Assadist’ when a careful reading of my writing makes that assessment very difficult. We are very clear on the Syrian elites’ ties to neoliberalism and the excesses of the Baath Party but the whole democratic reform movement in Syria got undermined by U.S. Imperialism.”
Continuing he said:
The left has moved so far to the right that they have no memory or understanding that many of us on the left come out of a black revolutionary tradition.
In their mind, they’re always the ones who should be running shit.”
Top Photo | A composite image of Glenn Greenwald and Amy Goodman. Associated Press | MintPress News
Jon Jeter is a published book author and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist with more than 20 years of journalistic experience. He is a former Washington Post bureau chief and award-winning foreign correspondent on two continents, as well as a former radio and television producer for Chicago Public Media’s “This American Life.”