Sunday, April 09, 2017

Progressive Perspectives on U.S. Military Intervention in Syria

Yesterday afternoon I joined with approximately 200 others in south Minneapolis to speak out against the Trump administration's unilateral and illegal military action against the Syrian government in alleged retaliation for last Tuesday's chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians. (Though, as journalist Lauren McCauley notes, "no proof was presented to confirm reports that President Bashar al-Assad had ordered the deadly [chemical] strike.")

Although yesterday's rally, organized by the Twin Cities-based Minnesota Peace Action Coalition and part of a series of nationwide demonstrations, was held in response to the recent U.S. bombing of Syria, those who gathered also protested the U.S. government's seemingly endless series of wars and interventions in Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. As a spokesperson of the Minnesota Peace Action Coalition observed, "This new escalation will only lead to more death, injury and displacement."

This evening I share photographs I took at yesterday's rally, along with excerpts from a number of insightful commentaries by and interviews with progressive thinkers on the issue of U.S. military intervention in Syria and other countries in the Middle East.

War opens a Pandora’s box of evils that once unleashed are beyond anyone’s control. The invasion of Afghanistan set out to defeat al-Qaida, and nearly 16 years later, we are embroiled in a losing fight with the Taliban. We believed we could invade Iraq and create a Western-style democracy and weaken Iran’s power in the region. The fragmentation of Iraq among warring factions has left Iran the dominant Muslim nation in the Middle East and Iraq destroyed as a unified nation. We set out to topple President Bashar Assad in Syria but then began to bomb the Islamic insurgents trying to overthrow him. We spread the “war on terror” to Yemen, Libya and Syria in a desperate effort to crush regional resistance. Instead, we created new failed states and lawless enclaves where vacuums were filled by the jihadist forces we sought to defeat. We have wasted a staggering $4.79 trillion on death, destruction and folly as our nation is increasingly impoverished and climate change threatens us with extinction. The arms manufacturers, who have a vested interest in perpetuating these debacles, will work to make a few trillion more before this act of collective imperial suicide comes to a humiliating end.

In war, when you attack one force you implicitly aid another. And the forces we assist by striking the Assad regime are the forces we ironically are determined to eradicate – Nusra Front, al-Qaida and other Islamic radical groups. These are the same Islamic forces we, along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Kuwait, largely created, armed and funded at the inception of the civil war in Syria. They are the forces that have responded to the chaos caused by our misguided military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. They are the forces that execute Western captives, slaughter religious minorities, carry out terrorism in Europe and the United States and collect billions of dollars from smuggling refugees into Europe. They are our sometime enemies and our sometime allies.

. . . The selective moral outrage of the United States, among both Democrats and Republicans, over the alleged chemical attack – I know from two decades of covering war that the truth is very murky and easily manipulated in wartime – ignores America’s primary responsibility for the wholesale carnage that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions as refugees, including 4 million from Iraq and 5 million from Syria. It ignores the 12,197 bombs we dropped on Syria last year. It ignores our role in creating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and our role in arming and funding these jihadists in Syria. We have made sure that the Syrians – 400,000 of whom have died and half of whom have been forced from their homes during the war – have many options when it comes to dying.

– Chris Hedges
Excerpted from "The Pandora'sBox of War"
April 7, 2017

According to reports, the missiles targeted only a single Syrian airfield and not Syria’s air defenses. In other words, the attack does not ground Syria’s air force. Nor did the attack strike any of the Russian aircraft currently bombing Syria. In fact, the Russians were alerted of the attack beforehand (who may, in turn, have also alerted the Syrians). The attack does not significantly degrade the military capabilities of Bashar al-Assad.

So why attack in the first place? Once again, we’re being told by military officials that their actions are intended “to send a message.” What nonsense this is. Will Bashar al-Assad now cease his murderous actions because he’s just been delivered “a message”? How are we supposed to believe there is any strategy to Trump’s actions anyway? Just last week, Nikki Haley, Trump’s UN ambassador, said of Assad: “Do we think he’s a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No.”

What the erratic flip-floppery of Trump’s foreign policy really means is that America’s foes can easily manipulate the Trump administration into greater and greater military quagmires.

– Moustafa Bayoumi
Excerpted from "Trump's Senseless Syria Strikes Accomplish Nothing "
The Guardian
April 7, 2017

I think [the Trump administration's bombing of Syria] is simply a symbolic attack. Let us not forget that the U.S. had told the Russians beforehand that they were going to do it. They hit a lone air base. This won’t really damage the capabilities of the Assad regime to do what it is doing.

I also would like to highlight that regardless of the fact that it’s the first so-called U.S. response on the Syrian regime, the U.S. has been bombing Syria since 2014, killing hundreds of civilians. So, for me . . . there can be nothing positive, nothing at all, from the U.S. regime, nor the Russian regime, in their bombings and invasions of Syria. . . . Both these superpowers, with other reactionary forces in the region, do not give a damn about Syrian self-determination nor justice for Syrians, like they don’t give a damn about other communities in the region, from Bahrain to Yemen to Palestine. So, I have no hope, with the Putin regime or the Trump regime, in whatever they do. They can say whatever they want, but their actions have proven that they really don’t care.

. . . [T]here continues to be a big problem in the discussions of Syria, where geopolitics and ideological lines are defining over and beyond the rights and dignities of people. So this has been going on, and it’s still going on 'til this day. The conversations about U.S. bombing of an airfield in Syria has generated a sense of hysteria. Some people, the so-called anti-imperialist front, are saying this is the beginning of World War III, which is a ridiculous statement. And other people say this is the first time America has intervened in Syria. And this is not true.

In every type of government, nothing unites people behind the leader more quickly, reflexively or reliably than war. Donald Trump now sees how true that is, as the same establishment leaders in U.S. politics and media who have spent months denouncing him as a mentally unstable and inept authoritarian and unprecedented threat to democracy are standing and applauding him as he launches bombs at Syrian government targets.

Trump, on Thursday night, ordered an attack that the Pentagon said included the launching of 59 Tomahawk missiles which “targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.” The governor of Homs, the Syrian province where the attack occurred, said early this morning that the bombs killed seven civilians and wounded nine.

The Pentagon’s statement said the attack was “in retaliation for the regime of Bashar Assad using nerve agents to attack his own people.” Both Syria and Russia vehemently deny that the Syrian military used chemical weapons.

. . . The Trump White House is preliminarily indicating that this was a limited strike, designed to punish Assad for his use of chemical weapons, rather than a new war to remove him. But such aggression, once unleashed, is often difficult to contain. The Russian and Iranian governments, both supportive of Assad, have bitterly denounced Trump for the attack, with a Putin spokesman calling it a “significant blow” for U.S.-Russian relations. Russia already announced retaliation in the form of suspending cooperation agreements.

Even if it is contained, there are endless implications from Trump’s initiation of military force against the Syrian Government.

– Glenn Greenwald
Excerpted from "The Spoils of War:
Trump Lavished With Media and Bipartisan Praise
for Bombing Syria
The Intercept
April 7, 2017

Let’s look at the history of the U.S. in the region and the legacy of U.S. intervention, whether it’s Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. It’s all been terrible for the local people. . . . [W]e all care about the Syrian people. Let’s look at what we can do. And I think that means going to Congress, going out in the streets and saying we don’t want further U.S. intervention, but we do want something that will be positive for the Syrian people. That means the immediate lifting of the Trump ban on Syrian refugees coming to the United States, of funding of the $5 billion that the U.N. says is desperately needed to help the humanitarian crisis facing the Syrian refugees. [It also means] demanding that the U.S. work with Russia to finally come to a ceasefire and work for a political solution, and that the United Nations get involved in this. I think this is an opening that we have to seize to say enough is enough: enough people have died, more war is not the answer. Let’s find a political solution.

That a deepened US attack on Syria risks engulfing millions of people in horrific violence gives lie to the notion that bombing can be understood as a humanitarian effort, a narrative peddled at the New York Times, which ran an article claiming that Trump bombed the Syrian government because his heart swelled over the victims at Khan Sheikhun. Even if one wants to believe that Trump – the Islamophobic bigot and butcher of people in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen – aims to protect Syrians, and even if it turns out that the Syrian government carried out a chemical attack, the idea that the US should bomb Syria to save Syrians is untenable.

The entire notion of humanitarian intervention, whereby the US military and its partners protect people in the Global South from themselves, is pernicious. In reality, so-called humanitarian wars are barely concealed efforts to assert US domination of the countries they attack. Liberating women was a supposed justification for the 2001 US-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and the result has been a war that’s been going on for more than fifteen years that’s left thousands dead, and contributed to a refugee crisis, the formation of an Afghan ISIS outfit, and abysmal social indicators that cannot be described as anything like emancipation.

– Greg Shupak
Excerpted from "Resisting the Bombing"
April 9, 2017

Above: Former FBI agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley being interviewed by citizen journalist Bill Sorem.

In 2002 Coleen jointly held TIME magazine's "Person of the Year" award with two other women credited as whistleblowers: Sherron Watkins from Enron and Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom. She also received the Sam Adams Award for 2002.

Above: Longtime justice and peace activist, writer, and my good friend Sue Ann Martinson.

Left: With fellow justice and peace advocate Barbara – Saturday, April 8, 2017.

Trump’s emotional reaction to the deaths of these particular children [killed in the most recent chemical weapons attack in Syria, highlights his] hypocrisy [and] selective outrage . . . that this group of children somehow sparks the outrage that didn’t exist when children were slaughtered under U.S. bombs in Mosul, when children were killed trying to make the crossing with their parents to a United States that would not accept them, that was slamming a door in their face, and drowning on the beach as a result. You know, [the Trump administration's bombing of Syria] is not about a strategy. This is about a lashing out. It may be tied to concerns about all the political ways that the Trump administration is losing support. That’s certainly part of it.

. . . [W]e also have to recognize that, historically, the role of the United States in the region has included a long-standing relationship with the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his father, whether it was recruiting the father in to bring his air force to help the United States bomb Iraq in 1991, where Syrian planes were part of that coalition; in 2002, when Bashar al-Assad agreed that the United States would be able to outsource torture and interrogation to Syria, because they were experts at that, and sent U.S.-held detainees to be tortured by the Syrian regime in Syria. So, you know, this history of relationship, collaboration, and coalition with the Syrian regime . . .has nothing to do with concerns about the people of Syria. There are now at least eleven separate wars being waged in Syria, and only one of them has something to do with the people of Syria. Whether we’re talking about the war between Turkey and the Kurds, the war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the war between the U.S. and Russia, which is in transition right now, all of these wars are being waged in Syria. And the effect in Syria is that it’s Syrians doing the dying. It’s not Syrians who stand to gain from any of these wars. The only thing we need to do with these wars is . . . to end [them], to end the fighting in Syria.

[T]he United States existing level of bombing and special forces engagement and intervention in Syria has now been escalated to direct bombing against the regime’s targets. This is going to make things worse, not better. The call, I think, needs to be to stop the bombing, stop the claim that somehow there is a military solution here, acknowledge there is no military solution and figure out how to make the kind of massive investment of high-profile time, of money, of attention, of all the things [needed for] diplomacy, negotiations, a new approach that’s not going to be based on the clearly false assumption that somehow this is a war that can be won. It cannot be won. It has to be ended instead.

[We] cannot keep ignoring the fact that the Syrian people’s cause is just and that their right to freedom is as important as anyone else’s. We need to address the root cause of the refugee crisis and formulate a genuinely internationalist response to the Syrian catastrophe.

Being contra-empire and pro-refugee is not enough. It is simply unacceptable to stand by and see a brutal regime like Assad’s get away with emptying Syria of its own people. Syrians have a right both to live and to live freely in their homeland. No regime should be allowed to massacre its own people or force them into a life of permanent exile and displacement.

– Bashir Abu-Manneh
Excerpted from "Why Being Against Assad Matters Too"
April 9, 2017

Related Off-site Links:
Observers Warn That Syria Attack is Trump's "Wag the Dog" Moment – Lauren McCauley (Common Dreams, April 7, 2017).
In Striking Syria, Trump Risks Confirming the Worst Fears About His Presidency – Aaron Blake (The Washington Post, April 7, 2017).
"Illegal Act of War": Trump's Unilateral Attack on Syria Condemned – Nadia Prupis (Common Dreams, April 7, 2017).
 Trump Launched Missile Strikes on Syria Without Congressional Authorization – John Nichols (The Nation, April 7, 2017).
Trump's Syria Strike Was Unconstitutional and Unwise – Conor Friedersdorf (The Atlantic, April 7, 2017).
Elites Are Giddy Over Trump’s Airstrike in Syria, and That’s Terrifying – Isaac Chotiner (Slate, April 7, 2017).
Trump Surrenders Element of Surprise by Warning Russia of Planned Strike on Its Ally Syria – Robert Mackey (The Intercept, April 7, 2017).
Why Are Liberals Now Cheerleading a Warmongering Trump? – Owen Jones (The Guardian, April 9, 2017).
The Real Targets of Trump’s Strike Were His Domestic Critics – Greg Grandin (The Nation, April 7, 2017).
Five Top Papers Run 18 Opinion Pieces Praising Syria Strikes – Zero Are Critical – Adam Johnson (FAIR, April 7, 2017).
How Many Times Is Killing People Going to Make Donald Trump "Presidential"? – Jack Mirkinson (Fusion, April 7, 2017).
Making Sense of Syria – Alex Gourevitch (Jacobin, April 7, 2017).
U.S. Should Get Out of the Middle East – Jeffrey Sachs (The Boston Globe via AlterNet, April 4, 2017).
Why These Missile Strikes Won’t Make Things Better for the Syrian People – Stephen Zunes (Yes!, April 7, 2017).
Syria and the Arab Spring: Unraveling the Road to Syria’s Protracted Conflict – The Asan Institute for Policy Studies (January 17, 2013).
My Arab Spring: "I Envisioned a New Syria, But It Never Materialised" – Ahmad al-Rashid (The Guardian, April 7, 2016).

UPDATES: Raytheon Stocks Surge After Chemical Attack, Personally Benefiting TrumpDemocracy Now!, April 10, 2017).
It's Not Just Syria. Trump Is Ratcheting Up Wars Across the World – Trevor Timm (The Guardian, April 10, 2017).
MIT Expert Claims Latest Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria Was Staged – Tareq Haddad (International Business Times, April 17, 2017).
With Error Fixed, Evidence Against ‘Sarin Attack’ Remains Convincing – Theodore A. Postol (TruthDig, April 21, 2017).
What We Still Don’t Know About Trump’s Syria Strike – Daniel Kurtz-Phelan (New York Magazine, April 21, 2017).
The Syrian People Have Been Betrayed by All Sides – Mehdi Hasan (The Intercept, April 20, 2017).
Why Support for Syria’s Nonviolent Fighters Is Key to Ending the War – Maria J. Stephan (Waging Nonviolence, April 21, 2017).
Trump’s Chaos Is Covering for Stealth Escalation Overseas – Katrina vanden Heuvel (The Washington Post via Common Dreams, June 27, 2017).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The War Racket
"It Is All Connected"
Sami Rasouli's Holiday Invitation from Iraq to Donald Trump
On International Human Rights Day, Saying "No" to Donald Trump and His Fascist Agenda
Malala Yousafzai: Prayers Are Not Enough for the Children of Aleppo
Saying "No" to Endless U.S. Wars
In the Wake of the Paris Attacks, Saying "No" to War, Racism and Islamophobia
Vigiling Against Weaponized Drones
Rallying in Solidarity with the Refugees of Syria and the World

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

1 comment:

McAuley Hentges said...

Thank you, Michael, for your constant witness for peace.