Parsing the Leftist Outrage Over the Syrian Pullout

Last week, Donald Trump unilaterally ordered for the US military to withdraw from the Syrian’s civil war theater. Coming as somewhat of a surprise to the Pentagon, this prompted the high-profile resignations of both Secretary of Defense James Mattis and anti-ISIS coalition envoy Brett McGurk. A bipartisan condemnation ensued, accusing Trump of abandoning allies and setting a dangerous precedent for future military excursions.

This also enraged the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces primarily responsible for waging the lion’s share of the war it took to dislodge ISIS from control of vast swaths of Syria, largely with the help of coalition air support from the United States and Russia. Some 2,000 US military personnel on the ground, training SDF forces and providing targeting information over the last several years, were reportedly deeply unhappy as well with the order to abandon the SDF’s mission.

While ISIS isn’t quite, as Trump declared, extinguished in Syria, the idea that they would regain significant territory or pose a threat beyond guerrilla terror actions is a slim chance. Assad, as his father before him did, has endured the war and will likely seek Russian-guided mediation with the remaining fractured rebel groups. The NATO proxy now abandoned, reconciliation between the SDF and Assad also seems likely as the two rarely fought during the war.

On paper, this seems like a tidy end to what has been a devastating, terrifying conflict for the region. Supporters of Donald Trump attracted to his isolationist foreign policy rhetoric cheered the move and chided Democrats that otherwise normally encourage reductions in US military involvement in foreign lands as flip-floppers, even accusing them of being in line with the neoconservatives so reviled by so-called libertarians and anti-war liberals alike.

Some anti-imperialist internationalist “far-leftists” decried the pull-out too, eyeing the social revolution in Kurdish Rojava (a presently semi-autonomous zone carved out during the war, seen as an opportunity for a Kurdish homeland) and its vulnerability to being crushed by an imminent invasion from Turkey, citing elements of the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) operating within or controlling entirely the YPG/YPJ (People’s Protections Units, largely Kurdish militias that spearhead the SDF) as casus belli. Other anti-imperialist internationalist “far-leftists” praised the move, citing that a reduction in US military imperialism as more important than a burgeoning revolution, likely still bitter that an ostensibly anarcho-communist influenced militia made the frankly pragmatic move to accept US military support in exchange for not being completely wiped out by ISIS at the peak of their strength just a few years ago.

There’s a lot going on here, it’s extremely confusing, there’s a lot of acronyms, and making sense of the various viewpoints and ideological axes to grind is tough to do.

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Fooled By the Robot Men

In my early twenties, when I was Very Involved in politics, some of the fiercest disagreements I had with close friends was in regards to space exploration and the objectivity of technology and civilization divorced from a capitalist context. I’ve surmised a lot of my steadfastness, even in the face of what I’d conceded as good arguments I also agreed with, came from a profound appreciation for perceived left-wing science fiction from writers like Ursula K. Le Guin and Kim Stanley Robinson. Marx’s premise of “technology liberating the worker” as laid out in Capital also resonated with me; as did an understanding that Earth seems to be fresh out of frontier and I had a theory that even if it was a business or state enterprise getting us apes off the rock, that could open up space for horizontal social and economic experimentation as well as the hopeful opportunity of marginally more bloodless pushes for autonomy by becoming pioneers on dead worlds.

Colonization without displacement, subjugation, or genocide but with all the possibilities of homesteading in intentional communities. Literal distance creating freedom by simply being ungovernable far enough away from authority. Sowing arguably, at this moment in human history, the rarest resource in the known universe: life, in an effort to back up consciousness and continue observing where time, space, and entropy take existence.

Anarchists on the Moon

It’s some real Stephen Hawking stoner bullshit, perhaps, having a desire to existentially preserve the species by ensuring nuclear war, global warming, disease, or some other cosmic calamity on Earth doesn’t wipe out the only confirmed sentience so far. The most common counterpoint I heard was usually about how the money and resources invested in even the present nascent space programs could be spent fixing problems we have on Earth. While I don’t disagree, there’s something to be said about return on investment. Scientific and technological breakthroughs made through that research have helped revolutionize a variety of fields that could help mitigate a myriad of issues, particularly in the Global South, in regards to things like water sanitation and food cultivation in harsh environments.

Medical marvels like modern prosthetics and the CAT scan were developed largely in part because of technological advances made in the Space Race. It’s easy to reduce launching giant missiles into orbit as basically a weapons test dick waving contest between geopolitical rivals, but you’re discounting the scientific progress that has genuinely helped millions of impoverished and/or sick people by utilizing the harsh laboratory of space. These ballistics can sometimes have ulterior motives.

Why couldn’t the same be true for social sciences? There’s a powerlessness, lack of space, and opportunity to do just about anything as an alternative to capitalism associated with living on a planet which has already had it’s land carved up and parceled out by a dominant economic and political culture. Time after time, revolutionary movements are crushed or co-opted by a stagnant status quo that has seemed to engineer its soft power in a way that makes even small rips in an oppressive social fabric colossally difficult to pull off. What if voluntary association, a central tenant to most anarchist philosophy, was actually an option and people could just… leave?

The capitalist will tell you that because the system is designed to promote competition, the best ideas and solution rise to the top in the marketplace of ideas. Observing western civilization since the fall of the Soviet Union, however, certainly makes the case that capitalism festers into a min/max game of widening inequality and nepotistic cronyism becomes the dominant social force once there isn’t a “sufficient” rival. Continue reading →