Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’


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The Backroom Deal That Could’ve Given Us Single-Payer


It’s not so much that Obama “sold us out” to a powerful constituency as that he picked the wrong powerful constituency. A quick look at the financial details reveals that health insurance nationalization was always the real “path of least resistance.”

Back in March 2009, leaks from the White House made it clear that a single-payer health insurance system was “off the table” as an option for health care reform. By doing so, the President had ruled out the simplest and most obvious reform of the disaster that is US healthcare. Instituting single-payer would have meant putting US health insurance companies out of business and extending the existing Medicare or Medicaid to the entire population. Instead, over the following weeks the outlines of the bloated monstrosity known as Obamacare emerged; an impossibly complicated Rube Goldberg contraption, badly designed, incompetently executed, and whose intended beneficiaries increasingly seem to hate.

The decision to abandon the nationalization of perhaps the most unpopular companies in the US is correctly attributed to the fundamental conservatism of the Obama White House, and its unwillingness to take on the health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, or any interest group willing and able to spend millions lobbying, hiring former politicians, and donating to campaigns. Obama’s “wimpiness,” his need to always take the path of least resistance, became common tropes among the American left. Obamacare, liberals claim, is the best possible reform that could’ve been wrangled out of the health insurance industry.

But were the many backroom deals that make up Obamacare really an easieralternative to nationalization? A look at the financial details reveals the opposite conclusion. In strictly financial terms, nationalization would have been the easiest way forward, costing relatively little and delivering immediate savings while making access to health care truly universal. Politically, Obama could have counted on the support of a unlikely ally of progressive causes: health insurance shareholders, the theoretical owners of those very companies who would have been relieved of their then-dubious investments with a huge payout.

As of the end of 2008, the private insurance market covered 60 percent of the US population. For-profit insurers accounted for a large and growing share. The top five insurers accounted for 60 percent of the market — all but one of them for-profit companies. Absent a Bolshevik revolution, implementing a single-payer system would have required proper compensation for the owners of these institutions for their loss of future income — shareholders in the case of the for-profit insurers and, allegedly, the supposed policyholders in the case of most non-profits.

How much compensation? Well, in mid-2009, the total market capitalization of four out of the five top health insurers (the fifth is a nonprofit) amounted to about $60 billion. By then, the stock market had already rebounded nicely from the lows of the crisis, and the uncertainty over Obamacare had largely dissipated, so these were not particularly depressed valuations. Extrapolating this valuation to the rest of the health insurers would have a put a price tag of about $120 billion on the whole racket.

This means that buying out the entire health insurance industry at an enormously generous premium of, say, 100 percent, would have cost the Treasury $240 billion – about 2 percent of 2009 gross domestic product. And this figure is highly inflated —premiums for buying out well-established companies rarely exceed 50 percent and are usually closer to 20 percent. Also, I am valuing the dubious claims of non-profit policyholders on par with the more vigorously-enforced property rights of for-profit shareholders.

Other than the big smiles on the faces of health insurer shareholders across the country, what would have been the US Treasury’s payoff for writing a $240 billion check? Once again, the numbers are simple, and startling. US private insurance, whether for-profit or otherwise, may well be the most wasteful bureaucracy in human history, making the old Gosplan office look like a scrappy startup by comparison. Estimates of pure administrative waste range anywhere from 0.75 percent to 2.6 percentof total US economic output.

Extrapolating again from the biggest four for-profit insurers, in 2008, the industry as a whole claimed to spend 18.5 percent of the premiums it collected on things other than payments to providers. (The other 81.5% that is spent paying for actual care is known as medical loss ratio. Keeping this ratio down is a health insurer CEO’s top priority.) Medicare, by contrast, spendsjust 2 percent. The difference amounts to $130 billion, to which we must add the compliance costs the private insurers impose on health care providers — $28 billion, according to Health Affairs. The costs incurred by consumers are difficult to measure, although very real to anyone who’s spent an afternoon on the phone with a health insurance rep.

So, to recap, nationalization of the health insurance industry in 2009 would have cost no more (and almost certainly a lot less) than $240 billion. The savings in waste resulting from replacing the health insurance racket with an extension of Medicare would have resulted in no less than $158 billion a year. That’s an annualized return on investment of 66 percent. The entire operation would have paid for itself in less than 18 months, and after that, an eternity of administrative efficiency for free. And, of course, happy shareholders.

There would have been nothing exceptional about the arrangement, either. Examples abound of states buying out private shareholders on mutually agreeable terms. The British takeover of the “commanding heights” of the economy after World War II is perhaps the best known, but there have also been potash miners in Canada, New Zealand’s railroads, and Swedish ore producers among others. None of these cases were precursors to the Gulag.

In fact, in most of those cases it was the taxpayer who ended up getting fleeced, buying lemons at inflated prices. That would not have been an issue in this case – we’d have been going in knowing that we’re buying lemons.[MU2]  After the deal closed, there would have been very little to do beyond shutting down operations, selling the buildings, and auctioning off the furniture. Everybody wins.

So what would make a self-described market-lover like Obama take such an obvious solution off the table before the discussions even began? As it turns out, Obama is a fan of a very specific kind of market – the kind of complicated, opaque market full of rules, moving parts, variables, exceptions, and complexities that generate lots of opportunities for rent extraction.

Since one person’s waste is another’s income, it is useful to look at the $130 billion (closer to $150 billion today) not so much as waste but as rent extraction. Rent extraction by whom? A look at private insurers’ financial statements sheds some light.

In 2007, the adjusted net profit margin of the average health policy amounted to just 0.6 percent (adjusted to account for the fact that many large employers self-insure, and simply pay an insurer to handle the administration of the plan; the insurer then reports only the fee paid by the employer as revenue, which skews their published profit margins upwards). Out of every $100 paid in premiums to a private insurer, the net profit extracted by its putative owner was just sixty cents. This may not be the appropriate venue to shed a tear for the poor anonymous shareholder, but it is clear that she did not exactly have a privileged place at the trough. Of all the loot extracted by the health insurance companies she invested in, just 4 percent ended up in her pocket.

Where does the rest go? Mostly, salaries for the industry’s nearly half a million employees, who get paid on average 46 percent more than the typical American worker. Health care CEO pay is the highest among all sectors of the economy, and insurance executives are the highest paid of all. United HealthCare’s CEO extracted for himself a very nice package of $42 million in 2011, and the average among the Big Four for-profit insurers was $14.1 million. By contrast, poor old Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs took home a mere $9 million.

The picture that emerges of health insurance rent extraction is that of college-educated managers in the middle; at the top, a miasma of the impeccably credentialed and connected executives, consultants, lobbyists and PR hacks that make up the backbone of post-industrial America’s upper echelon. Instead of an Andrew Carnegie, we get a hundred Tom Daschles. Except this time, no libraries, just ten thousand MBAs droning on in front of a Powerpoint slideshow – forever. Not exactly an improvement.

So what would be the costs if we had a president willing to nationalize health care now that Obamacare is the law of the land? Since 2009, when single-payer was taken off the table, the stock market has been lifted by the Federal Reserve’s desperate attempts to compensate for fiscal austerity and public and private disinvestment. The Treasury check would have to be bigger today, perhaps on the order of $500 billion – much less if the payoff to shareholders went from colossal to merely enormous, for instance. The public’s return on investment would still be over 30 percent.

The current system is mind-bogglingly wasteful. Its elimination would free up so many resources that a huge payoff for shareholders can be considered almost as an afterthought. However, the half-million people who currently work in the industry would have to seek gainful employment. That would include thousands of seven-figure executives, lobbyists, consultants and PR hacks. Such a tragedy will not unfold on Obama’s watch.

The US does not have a health insurance problem. It has a health care cost problem – the uninsured are a symptom, not the illness itself. The parasitism of the actual health insurance companies is just more obvious than others. But from overpaid doctors, to usurious hospitals that charge $500 for a stitch, to snake oil-peddling pharmaceutical companies charging thousands a year for dubious treatments, there are simply too many people collecting too much money just because they can.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, they all seem to have a very good friend in the White House.

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REAL NEWS NETWORK: Rania Masri and Chris Hedges On Obama’s Syria Address

A new MUST READ article by our regular guest on the show (most recently: Show #47)

As we should all be realizing, the problems of this world are more often than not manufactured for the nefarious purposes of the economic power-elites who benefit from them. The partisan argument then becomes a sad joke just like our democracy.

9 Ways America Has Fueled the Bloody Civil War in Syria

U.S. policy has undermined efforts to bring the Syrian people the ceasefire and peaceful political transition they need.

Photo Credit:

September 4, 2013  |
President Obama’s threats against Syria are framed by the carefully crafted image of a responsible superpower reluctantly drawn into a horrific conflict caused by others.  But the reality is very different.
For more than two years, U.S. policy has quietly fueled the escalation of the conflict in Syria and undermined every effort to bring the Syrian people the ceasefire and peaceful political transition they need and want.  Whoever is directly responsible for hundreds of deaths in the latest alleged chemical weapons incident, the critical covert and diplomatic role the United States has played in a war that has killed at least 100,000 people means that their blood is also on our hands.
As Haytham Manna, a leader of the  National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change (NCB) in Syria recently  told Le Vif, the largest French language news magazine in Belgium, “The Americans have cheated.  Two or three times they have withdrawn at the very moment that an agreement was in the works… Everything is possible but that will depend mainly on the Americans.  The French are content to follow.  A political solution is the only one that could save Syria.”
So, if Manna is correct, we Americans have played a decisive role at the critical moments for war or peace in Syria, including the one we are now confronting.  If it comes as a surprise to you as an American that you are responsible for the horrific nightmare taking place in Syria, please review the well-documented record of what has been done in your name, albeit secretly and without your knowledge in many cases:
1)  As protests spread through the Arab world in 2011, the mostly leftist groups who organized the Arab Spring protests in Syria formed the NCB to coordinate peaceful protests and resistance to government repression.  They agreed, and they still agree, on three basic principles: non-violence; non-sectarianism; and no foreign military intervention.  But the U.S. and its allies marginalized the NCB, formed an unrepresentative “Syrian National Council” in Turkey as a government-in-exile and recruited, armed and trained violent armed groups to pursue regime change in Syria.
2)  The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar began flying in fighters, weapons and equipment to turn the Syrian Spring into a bloody civil war.  Once they had overthrown the government of Libya, at the cost of 25,000 to 50,000 lives, they began adapting the same strategy to Syria, despite knowing full well that this would be a much more drawn-out, destructive and bloody war.
3)   Even as a Qatari-funded YouGov poll in December 2011 found that  55% of Syrians still supported their government, unmarked NATO planes were flying fighters and weapons from Libya to the “Free Syrian Army” base at Iskanderum in Turkey.  British and French special forces were training FSA recruits, while the CIA and US special forces provided communications equipment and intelligence, as in Libya.   Retired CIA officer Philip Giraldi concluded, “Syrian government claims that it is being assaulted by rebels who are armed, trained and financed by foreign governments are more true than false.”
4) Over the past two years, we have learned more about who is doing what in Syria.   Anti-government sources acknowledged in June 2013 that 2,100 of the 16,700 rebel fighters killed so far in Syria were foreigners, while only 145 of 41,600 loyalists killed in action were foreign Hezbollah members.
5)  Journalists in the Balkans have reported that wealthy Gulf Arab paymasters fund  hundreds of hardened mercenaries from Croatia and elsewhere, who earn up to $2,000 per day as rebel snipers and special forces in Syria.   Saudi Arabia has sent convicts to fight in Syria as an alternative to prison and  funded shipments of weapons from Croatia to Jordan.  Qatar has spent $3 billion to pay rebel fighters and ship at least 70 planeloads of weapons via Turkey.
6) On the diplomatic front, as Haytham Manna told Le Vif, the United States has played an equally insidious role.  As Kofi Annan launched his peace plan in April 2012, the U.S. and its Western and Arab monarchist allies made sure that their Syrian proxies would not comply with the ceasefire by pledging unconditional political support, backed up by more weapons and generous funding.
7) The US joined France and its other allies at three Orwellian  “Friends of Syria” meetings to launch what French officials referred to as a “Plan B”, to escalate the war and undermine the Annan peace plan.  At the second Friends of Syria meeting, nine days before Annan’s ceasefire was due to take effect, the U.S and its allies agreed to provide funds for the Free Syrian Army to pay its fighters, while Qatar and Saudi Arabia pledged to increase their supply of weapons.
8) Annan finally assembled all the permanent members of the Security Council and other governments involved in the war in Syria  in Geneva at the end of June 2012.  The Western powers briefly dropped their previously non-negotiable demand to remove President Assad as the first step in a political transition, so that all sides could finally sign on to the Annan plan.  But then the U.S. and its allies rejected a UN Security Council resolution to codify the agreement and revived their previous demands for Assad’s removal.
9) In May 2013, after tens of thousands more Syrians had been killed, Secretary Kerry finally went to Moscow and  agreed to renew the peace process begun in Geneva in June 2012.  But since May, the United States has once again reneged on the Geneva agreement and chosen to escalate the war even further, by providing direct weapons shipments and now missile strikes to support its proxies in Syria.
So, far from being reluctantly dragged into a terrible conflict not of its own making, the United States and its allies have in fact followed a quite coherent policy of regime change, modeled roughly on their successful overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011.  The main difference has been the absence of foreign air support for the Syrian rebels.  In Libya,  NATO conducted 7,700 air strikes, demolishing Libya’s air defenses in the early stages of the campaign and thereafter bombing at will throughout the country.  The fact that Syria possesses a far more extensive, modern, Russian-built air defense system has successfully deterred the West and its Arab royalist allies from following the same strategy in Syria.
Until now that is.  The somewhat arbitrary “red line” regarding chemical weapons is serving as a pretext to launch missile strikes, degrade Syria’s air defenses and expose it to future air strikes.  While President Obama tries to assuage liberals with promises of limited and proportionate strikes, there has been a steady parade of hawkish Republicans emerging from closed door meetings at the White House reassured that,  as theGuardian wrote on Tuesday, this is indeed “part of a broader strategy to topple Bashar al-Assad.”
In fact, Obama admitted in  an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg for the Atlantic in March 2012 that his entire assault on Syria is itself part of a broader strategy to isolate Iran by destroying its strongest Arab ally.  When asked what more the U.S. could do to topple Assad, Obama laughed and said, “Well, nothing that I can tell you, because your classified clearance isn’t good enough.”
But enough details have now emerged of the true contours of this policy to make his crocodile tears for alleged nerve agent victims seem grotesque.  The atrocious position in which he has placed the American public in whose name he acts should spur outrage, at a political class who connive in such cynical and murderous policies; at commercial media who laugh all the way to the bank as they misinform and mislead us; and yes, at ourselves for being patsies for serial aggression and genocide, in Vietnam, Iraq and now Syria.
To paraphrase Mr. Obama speaking in Sweden on Wednesday, the world set a “red line” when the  UN Charter prohibited the use of military force except in self defense or in legitimate collective security operations mandated by the UN Security Council.  The US Senate set a “red line” when it ratified the UN Charter by 89 votes to 2.  As Obama said, “The international community’s credibility is on the line, and America and Congress’s credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.”  And when we are talking about war and peace, it is not just our credibility that is on the line, but the very nature of the world that we live in.
So please take a few minutes and call your “Representatives” in Congress to insist that they vote “No” on the authorization of U.S. aggression against Syria.  Ask them instead to pass a resolution recommitting the United States to the June 2012 Geneva peace plan, which starts with a ceasefire by all parties to the conflict, including the United States.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is author of Blood On Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He wrote the chapter on “Obama At War” for the just released book, Grading the 44th President: A Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.


To download the mp3, right-click Punkonomics2013-9-2 and select “Save link as…”

We based our discussion on Sandy’s most recent article:

From Ohlendorf to Obama (September 2013 By Nicolas J.S. Davies)

It’s available for members only and I highly recommend joining Z-Magazine here:


In the meantime, I recommend reading another of Sandy’s articles on Syria from almost a year ago to in order to understand how we got to where we are now…

Armed Rebels and Middle-Eastern Power Plays: How the U.S. Is Helping to Kill Peace in Syria

November 06, 2012
By Nicolas J.S. Davies (Nicolas J.S. Davies’s ZSpace Page)

A member of the Free Syrian Army with his face covered with the pre-Baath Syrian flag patrols with comrades in Idlib in northwestern Syria. Syrian security forces on Sunday flooded a tense neighbourhood where a mourner was shot dead in the largest anti-regime rally seen in Damascus, activists said, blunting calls for a “day of defiance.”

As President Obama confirmed in an interview with the Atlantic on March 2, 2012, one of the strategic goals of U.S. policy in Syria has been to weaken and isolate Iran by removing or helping to remove its strongest Arab ally. Asked what the U.S. could do to accelerate the removal of President Assad, Obama replied, laughing, “Well, nothing that I can tell you, because your classified clearance isn’t good enough.”

In practice, as President Obama implied, the U.S. government has played a “disguised, quiet, media-free” but nonetheless significant role in the escalation of violence in Syria. As early as last December, even as a Qatari-funded YouGov opinion poll found that 55% of Syrians still supported President Assad, former CIA officer Philip Giraldi reported that unmarked NATO planes were delivering weapons and militiamen from Libya to Turkish air-bases near the Free Syrian Army (FSA) headquarters in Iskanderum. British and French special forces were training FSA recruits, while CIA officers and U.S. special forces provided the FSA with communications equipment and intelligence. Turkey was already committed to attacking or invading Syria whenever the West gave the green light.

Obama didn’t bother to mention the new hope for a peaceful settlement of the crisis with the appointment of Kofi Annan as a U.N. Special Representative to Syria just a few days before this interview. In fact, just as Kofi Annan launched his last-ditch peace plan, the U.S. and its allies took critical steps to ensure that the forces they were supporting in Syria would keep fighting, instead of agreeing to the ceasefire that was the essential first step in Annan’s plan.

President Sarkozy of France initiated a series of international meetings under the Orwellian rubric “Friends of Syria,” at which the U.S., its NATO allies and the absolute monarchs of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) publicly offered unconditional support to their Syrian proxies instead of pressing them to cooperate with the Annan plan. Saudi Arabia and Qatar pledged more weapons, backed by a U.S. commitment of $15 million in “non-lethal” aid, including satellite radio systems like the ones NATO’s proxy forces used in Libya in 2011. As the New York Times noted in June, “What has changed since March is an influx of weapons and ammunition to the rebels.” The same article described Turkish Army trucks delivering anti-tank weapons to the Syrian border, and CIA officers in southern Turkey controlling the flow of weapons into Syria.

The timing of the three “Friends of Syria” meetings could not have been worse for any hope that Western-backed forces would comply with the Annan plan. The first meeting was held in Tunisia the day after Annan’s appointment and the second was in Istanbul on April 1, nine days before the initial cease-fire was due to take effect. At that meeting, the Syrian National Council (SNC) declared it would use its newfound financial support to start paying salaries to FSA fighters, a timely move that discouraged rebels inside Syria from laying down their arms.

It’s no coincidence that the main “outside” players in Syria’s civil war are the same countries that led and supplied the “NATO rebels” in Libya in 2011, in a war that cost at least 25,000 lives and plunged Libya into a state of chaos with no clear end in sight a year later. U.S. officials pay lip-service to the obvious differences between Libya and Syria, but their actions and those of their allies reveal that the same forces are trying to adapt what they see as a successful regime-change strategy in Libya to achieve a similar goal in Syria, knowing full well that it will be even more bloody and destabilizing.

In Libya and Syria, Western powers and Arab monarchies turned the Arab Spring on its head. They diverted the world’s attention from their efforts to contain or repress nonviolent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and not least, U.S.-occupied Iraq, harnessing the hopes raised by the Arab Spring to their own interests. In Libya and Syria, as in Iraq, they have exploited sectarian and ethnic differences to divide and conquer with little regard for human life or for the integrity of these complex societies, sowing the seeds of long-term instability and future “blowback.”

The Western media have stoked fears of impending bloodbaths and cast the schemes of Persian Gulf emirs and Western policy-makers as reluctant “humanitarian interventions.” The resulting violence has been far greater than the violence it claims to be preventing, but this predictable cause and effect has been easily buried in the frenzied media coverage of escalating wars. Rwanda, where the West failed to intervene, is pulled out as a trump card to justify each new intervention, establishing a pattern in which the West has ensured maximum violence everywhere — on the one hand by failing to stop genocidal violence in Rwanda and the DRC and on the other hand by aggression and escalation everywhere else, from Kosovo to Syria.

The post-Cold War doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” or “R2P” (responsibility to protect) is an effort to carve out an exception to the U.N. Charter’s universal prohibition on the use of military force. R2P’s emotional appeal to the court of public opinion challenges the wisdom forged in the hell of two world wars that war is too terrible to be justified by such arguments. In practice, R2P has provided cover for a new U.S. doctrine of “information warfare” which Major Ralph Peters explored more honestly for military readers in a U.S. Army War College journal article in 1997:

One of the defining bifurcations of the future will be the conflict between information masters and information victims… [Information] seduces, betrays, yet remains invulnerable. How can you counterattack the information others have turned upon you?… Societies that fear or otherwise cannot manage the flow of information simply will not be competitive. They might master the technological wherewithal to watch the videos, but we will be writing the scripts, producing them, and collecting the royalties. Our creativity is devastating… The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing. We are building an information-based military to do that killing… We are already masters of information warfare.

And so, in Libya, the “information masters” ensured that the world saw only the rag-tag NATO rebels, never the British, French and Qatari special forces that armed, trained and ferried them along the coast on board NATO warships and led them to victory, even when Qatari special forces led the final assault on Libya’s Bab Al-Azizia military headquarters in Tripoli. U.S. forces were even more invisible, as they “led from behind” and conducted their share of 9,700 total air strikes in six months, the heaviest bombardment anywhere since Iraq in 2003.

Once the dust has settled on tens of thousands of graves, some latter-day Lawrences of Arabia will cut book and film deals to tell us the “inside” story of how they brought down and butchered Gaddafi. But the dramatic images they produce will still be subject to the careful manipulation of the information masters, who will by then have the benefit of hindsight as they decide how the heroic liberators of Libya should be remembered. As Winston Churchill cheerfully told his cabinet when British voters sent them packing in 1946: “Never fear, gentlemen. History will be kind to me, for I shall write it.

But one of the basic questions that historians will have to answer about the Arab Spring is this: why did revolutions against Western puppets in the Arab world remain mainly nonviolent, while those against independent governments turned into bloody civil wars? The initial response of the Libyan and Syrian governments to nonviolent protests was no more brutal than in Egypt, Iraq, Bahrain or Yemen. Every government killed peaceful protesters, disappeared and tortured dissidents and tried desperately to hold onto power, and the early death tolls were comparable.

The critical difference was the role of the U.S. and its allies: the “information masters.” In response to rebellions in Libya and Syria, Western politicians and media used pro-Western exile communities as critical tools in their regime-change strategies, shaping narratives that ensured Western public support for violent anti-government forces. They promoted exile groups as governments-in-waiting in a way that would have been unthinkable in Yemen, Bahrain or Iraq, where U.S. special forces instead continued to train and support regime forces as they committed atrocities that Western media consumers were only dimly aware of.

Western public perceptions of the new battlefield in Syria were shaped by a sophisticated “information warfare” operation that used Western media coverage to demonize the Syrian government, legitimize unsubstantiated reports of large numbers of civilian casualties, broadcast sometimes fabricated reports by “Syrian activists” directly into Western living-rooms, and present the Western public with the classic false choice between “doing something” and “doing nothing.”

From the outset, the U.S. and its allies selectively supported the Turkish-based Free Syrian Army and Syrian National Council (SNC) instead of the National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change (NCB)that was formed by the political opposition that took to the streets in Syria in March 2011. The Western “information warfare” narrative that peaceful protesters were forced to take up arms by the severe repression of the Syrian government ignores the clear distinction between the NCB and the FSA, and it fails to explain why this only appears to have happened in Libya and Syria.

The NCB was formed in June 2011 by 15 opposition groups and several independent figures who were leading anti-government protests. The three fundamental principles they have consistently agreed on are nonviolence, non-sectarianism and opposition to foreign intervention in Syria. Their detailed plan for a political transition in Syria has many common points with Kofi Annan’s peace plan, suggesting broad Syrian and international agreement on a way forward that belies Western claims that no political solution exists and that violent regime change is the only viable option. These common points include the release of political prisoners; withdrawal of the army from urban areas; allowing foreign journalists free access throughout the country; and a political transition leading to free and fair elections.

A review of the 15 parties that make up the NCB helps to explain why capitalist Western governments and their monarchist Arab allies do not support it. It is chaired by Hassan Abdul Azim, the leader of the Democratic Arab Socialist Union, and it includes the Arab Revolutionary Workers’ Party; the Communist Labor Party; the Democratic People’s Party; Together for a Free Democratic Syria; the Arab Socialist Movement; and the Syrian Union Party; along with four Kurdish parties and several regional parties.

The NCB has serious differences with the Turkish-based Syrian National Council (SNC), which the “Friends of Syria” meeting on April 1, 2012 recognized as “the umbrella group under which opposition groups are gathering.” Despite these differences, the NCB has tried to engage with the Western-backed opposition-in-exile. It has taken part in meetings with the SNC and other groups to try and develop a unified political opposition in Syria, and NCB delegations have travelled to Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and Arab capitals, and met with Western ambassadors in Syria.

In an interview with the French newspaper L’Humanite on July 29, the NCB’s Haytham Manna was asked whether the peaceful and democratic popular movement that began the revolt in 2011 had now been dispossessed by the mainly Islamist armed groups. Here’s his reply (my translation):

The armed groups and the military solution adopted by the regime have eradicated civil resistance. So, whatever the strength and the number of peaceful demonstrations today, they are less than a tenth of what we saw a year ago. There’s a retreat from peaceful action. And today, if there’s a small demonstration in a village, nobody pays attention, as if it doesn’t make any difference. Military action has taken the upper hand over a political discourse that could regroup and create a peaceful solution in the short term in Syria.

Asked whether the NCB’s divisions with the SNC and the FSA are weakening the opposition, Manna replied,

The idea that something had to be built from the outside weakened what was happening inside the country. They thought that a structure outside the Syrian people could represent it internationally. But it’s a structure that’s really not representative of Syrian society or political forces in the country and, what’s more, it depends on the will of three states: France, Turkey and Qatar. The SNC, despite the financial, diplomatic and media support it has obtained, has not achieved its goal. Now there’s a search for another formula to unify the opposition. Meanwhile, the armed groups have gained ground and become radicalized. Because the money came from Salafist groups all along. This “Salafization” of some of the military groups has plunged us into civil war. On one side, there is fear of extremism in a moderate society where 26 religious and ethnic groups coexist. Foreign intervention, whether it’s official or not, has favored an Islamist ideological trend to the detriment of democratic and secular forces. It’s also favored acts of vengeance and political assassination on a sectarian basis. These acts are manipulated and influenced by non-Syrian jihadist movements that are starting to find a place in the country and who coordinate with the Islamist armed groups. The power vacuum is a danger, because civil resistance is poorly organized or often absent because of the presence of the armed groups. The political solution for a transition period doesn’t exist. There’s no timetable agreed on among different opposition forces. This lack of coordination gives the advantage to the most extreme Islamist groups. Secular leaders were murdered by the regime in the first months, which opened the door to the Islamists. When you marginalize the political solution, you marginalize democratic forces.

Finally, L’Humanite asked Manna about the Annan plan. He said:

Annan’s proposals were a chance for a peaceful transition. Sadly, right from the start, Qatar buried the plan and opted to militarize the opposition. Western powers were also thinking of a “Plan B.” So, without regional and international support, a plan like this can’t succeed. They’re leaving arms to settle the issue, whether it’s the loyalist army or the dissident or Islamist armed groups. We will pay very dearly for this absence of a political solution. There are local conflicts breaking out. This is compost for a civil war that can lead to rule by militias, but certainly not to the creation of an army that can protect the population in a time of transition.

Clearly, Kofi Annan’s peace plan presented a problem for what Haytham Manna referred to as the West’s “Plan B.” Installing a pro-Western government in Syria as in Libya requires Western-backed forces to gain military control of Syria to dictate that outcome. As in Libya, there are Western-based exiles who could fit the bill, and the SNC could function as “the umbrella group under which opposition groups are gathering,” as the Friends of Syria declared. But the kind of peaceful political transition that Kofi Annan’s plan called for would not achieve that result — there is still too much support for the Baathist government, and the legitimate political opposition inside the country, as represented by the NCB, would not stand for a Western-Islamist takeover of Syria.

So, the West’s Plan B seems to require that Syria must first be torn apart by a bloody civil war that will kill hundreds of thousands of people, until Syrians become so desperate that the loss of their sovereignty will seem a small price to pay for a restoration of peace. On the other side, the Syrian government is equally determined to use as much force as necessary to prevent this from succeeding. Lakhdar Brahimi’s effort to revise and revive Annan’s peace plan is a final chance for the U.S. and its allies to rein in their proxies and step back from the brink. The Syrian government agreed to his call for a cease-fire during the three-day Eid al-Adha holiday, but once again, the Western-backed rebels rejected it. The stage is set for far greater bloodshed and chaos, and the U.S. government’s actions have been critical, maybe even decisive, in plunging the people of Syria into this crisis and preventing a peaceful resolution.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is author of Blood On Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He wrote the chapter on “Obama At War” for the just released book, Grading the 44th President: A Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.

From: Z Net – The Spirit Of Resistance Lives