The following open letter is published on MR Online (Monthly Review) on May 7, 2018. You can sign it here.
As of May 11, the letter has been signed by 88 people. Roger Annis is a signator: we publish his brief comments.
As long-time anti-war and anti-imperialist activists, we were deeply disheartened to see the recent open letter ‘A call to defend Rojava’ signed by a number of people with records of anti-war activism [in New York Review of Books, April 23, 2018] .
We empathize with the suffering faced by Syria’s Kurds at the hands of ISIS, the Turkish military and foreign-backed paramilitary forces, but the “Call to Defend Rojava” makes a number of serious errors, particularly by demanding what amounts to an escalation of the criminal and disastrous U.S. military intervention in Syria, which has underpinned much of the violence face by all Syrians, including Kurds, since 2011.
We wish to reiterate the following points:
- Demanding continued U.S. support for the SDF in Syria, which means maintaining an illegal presence of U.S military bases, soldiers, advisors and special forces is nothing less than a call for an escalated, criminal U.S. military intervention in Syria.
- Kurds have a right to self-defence against ISIS and against Turkish aggression, but the U.S. cannot, has not, and will not play a positive role in the Syrian war, however one wishes to characterize it. The U.S. military and security forces are not supporting the SDF because they are concerned about Kurdish civilians’ lives, and certainly not because they support anarchism. American military support for the SDF is entirely self-interested, and the United States will betray Syrian Kurds at the first opportunity.
- Kurds are not the only people in Muslim and Arab countries to fight for progressive causes, including feminism and secularism. Implying that they are, in order to win support for the SDF among American leftists and liberals, plays on racist stereotypes about Arabs and Arab political history.
- Turkey’s aggression in northern Syria is a war crime, but Turkey is far from the only aggressor in Syria. American activists singling Turkey out for criticism for its role in Syria only serves to whitewash, excuse, and obscure America’s own ongoing military intervention in the region, including in Syria. Turkey should not be a NATO member because NATO should not exist. Implying that NATO could play a positive role in world affairs simply by scapegoating Turkey is a serious error.
- The final constitutional structure and peace settlement in Syria needs to be determined by Syrians, not by external great powers. It is important to remember the disastrous history of imperialist powers drawing and redrawing borders in their former colonies, particularly in the Middle East. In fact, an ethnic and sectarian partition of Syria has been a goal of many neoconservatives for some time, not for particularly altruistic reasons.
- S. military intervention is never humanitarian. Every advocate for U.S. “humanitarian interventions” has been wrong: in Iraq, in Yugoslavia, in Afghanistan, in Libya, and now in Syria. “A Call to Defend Rojava” demands an escalation of U.S. military intervention in Syria, which is particularly shocking and disappointing because it betrays the principles and better judgement which many signatories have defended in the past.
Fundamentally, we are motivated by the conviction that the chief responsibility of anti-war and anti-imperialist activists living in imperialist countries is to oppose the imperialist policies of their own governments. “A Call to Defend Rojava” betrays this principle. While anti-war protest movements are not always successful, betraying anti-war principles in order to provide left cover for imperialist wars is never successful.
We live in very dangerous times, and one of our most urgent priorities must be to rebuild the networks, politics and movements of international solidarity and resistance to imperialist wars.
Comment by Roger Annis:
Point number 5 in the open letter above might have mentioned the discussion taking place in Syria over amendments to the national constitution to extend formal rights of political autonomy to Syria’s Kurdish population and other national minorities. Russia sparked this discussion some 18 months ago by making a formal proposal to the Syrian people and government.
The open letter states “The chief responsibility of anti-war and anti-imperialist activists living in imperialist countries is to oppose the imperialist policies of their own governments.” I would add a phrase to the end of this sentence, namely: “and provide meaningful solidarity in all other forms possible.” This could include material aid such as medical and reconstruction assistance.
I published ‘A call to defend Rojava’ on the ‘World news’ page of my website along with the following comment by myself:
An open letter by 20 U.S. intellectuals calls for an escalation of the U.S. military presence in Syria in the form of more weapons and diplomatic support to the Kurdish-led SDF military forces. It also calls on the U.S. to impose arms sanctions against its fellow NATO member Turkey.
The letter makes an equivalency between the Turkish military intervention into Afrin, Syria and the national self defense of Syria by the country’s armed forces. It writes, “While the attack on Afrin is a violation of international law comparable to those of the Assad government, the Trump administration has made only feeble protests against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s depredations.”