Mission Accomplished? Readers Responses

Peace Activists Respond to Danny Postel's Critique of the Anti-War Movement
By Phyllis Bennis, David McReynolds and David Worley
Portside
October 2, 2013

Responses from Phyllis Bennis, David McReynolds and David Worley to Danny Postel's Critique of the Anti-War Movement

Sorry, I beg to differ.  Danny Postel may have his own ideas about what is needed in response to the horror of the Syrian civil war, but his article is filled with distortions of fact and false accusations.  For some reason he chose to make me a poster girl for the view that "all" that is necessary is preventing a US airstrike. Never has been my position - and I, along with others he cites as having the same view in fact spent huge amounts of time, published numerous articles (including the ones he's quoting from), spoke at numerous teach-ins, to make exactly the opposite argument - that stopping airstrikes is only step one, dealing with chemical weapons isn't enough, and that real diplomacy, starting with an arms embargo and restarting the Geneva process, must come next.

If anyone's interested, some of those articles are at --

http://www.thenation.com/blog/175928/moral-obscenities-syria    (in the Nation)

http://www.ips-dc.org/articles/joint_statement_jackson_bennis_syria (with Jesse Jackson)

http://www.ips-dc.org/articles/talking_points_why_we_shouldnt_attack_syria (talking points on why not attack Syria & alternatives to military strikes)

http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=10632 (why there is no military solution & what alternatives might be)

http://www.democracynow.org/2013/8/28/as_strikes_on_syria_loom_is (Democracy Now interview on what diplomatic alternatives the US is ignoring)

Sorry to personalize my problem with Danny's article, but by selectively quoting only my opposition to US military force, & ignoring everything I wrote about what else SHOULD happen, it's a complete distortion of my position and my work.  Ironically, Danny does cite several other organizations I work very closely with - Peace Action & AFSC among them - for doing the right thing, calling for alternatives.  But he completely ignores my work on that, even invoking the name of my close comrade at IPS Saul Landau, a giant of our movement who passed away two weeks ago, as being a "real" internationalist, while pointing with clear disdain to my IPS project's use of "internationalism" in its name.

The result is a real distortion of the truth.  Danny Postel may have his own ideas about what alternatives to military strikes would be most appropriate, they may well be different than the ones I and so many others have proposed.  But to claim that we don't propose anything beyond stopping airstrikes is completely dishonest.

Below, for those interested, is the most recent iteration of the set of alternatives a number of our organizations are pushing (including Peace Action, FCNL, Just Foreign Policy, and a bunch more including IPS).

Phyllis Bennis

A CALL FOR U.S. ACTION FOR PEACE IN SYRIA

1.    The U.S. should, first, do no harm. Stand against any U.S. military strikes or any further military intervention in Syria. Support UN decision-making, international law and diplomacy instead of military force.

2.   The U.S. should call for an immediate ceasefire by all sides and a comprehensive international arms embargo.  Announce plans to stop sending or facilitating any arms to rebel forces or allowing U.S. allies to do so, and urge Russia and Iran to stop sending any arms to the Syrian government.

3.   The U.S. should immediately re-open plans with Russia for international diplomatic negotiations towards a political solution in Syria. The talks must include all sides in Syria, including non-violent Syrian civil society, and representatives of Syrian, Palestinian, and other refugees and IDPs forced from their homes in Syria. All key parties to the conflict, including Iran, should be included. The U.S. team should support plans to insure that the settlement provide protection for all communities in Syria and the return of refugees, and not exclude whole categories of people who may have served in the government, the army, or armed opposition militias. The U.S. should also support efforts towards accountability and justice for all war crimes that have been committed in the Syrian war.

4.   The U.S. should announce a major increase in refugee and humanitarian assistance coordinated through the United Nations, and call on other countries to increase aid and coordinate through the UN.

5.   The U.S. should support the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons to lead and oversee the transfer of chemical weapons to international control so they may be safely destroyed or removed. The U.S. should support further disarmament efforts by endorsing calls for a Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone throughout the Middle East, with no exceptions.

6.  The U.S. should use the opportunity of Syria negotiations, along with the recent shifts in internal Iranian politics, to reopen broad negotiations with Iran over all the issues of concern to both Tehran and Washington.

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A number of good points are raised in this piece, though I do want, first to sharply take issue with the general positions advanced on this point, by Gilbert Achar, who was enthusiastic about the Libyan fiasco. He is, unless I'm in error, working from a Trotskyist point of view similar to that of the International Socialists here in the US.

I'd also suggest, when mention is made of the truly complex and tragic events in Serbia/Bosnia/Croatia of former Yugoslavia, that it would have helped if we had had a better grasp of the history of that area, in particular of the Croatian fascists in World War II, and of the deceptive role of the Bosnian leadership. I'm not sure what the solution might have been, but the NATO bombing of civilians in Serbia was wrong as were other aspects of the West's response to Serbia - that is water (and blood) under the bridge and I'll leave it aside for now. (And I do NOT write this in defense of the Serbian government of the time).

What I do want to do is to urge the peace movement to explore what it might do - and leave aside the question of whether "we" should demand (or have the right to demand) that Assad step aside. Of the brutality of his actions I have no doubt, and that there are legitimate, secular forces in opposition I also believe true.

We can push for an international conference to find a political resolution, and such a conference needs to find a seat for all groups that can be brought to the table, from the Islamists to Assad. If you want to make peace you don't make it with friends and good guys. You make it with people you think are bad, and consider enemies. This is an extremely hard lesson for us to learn. We want to have both peace and justice. In fact we are unlikely to get both - at best we can achieve some arrangement by which the warring parties can stop killing each other.

There are other actions that can be taken in terms of establishing relations with the nonviolent groups in Syria, as well as something as "revolutionary" as visiting Syrian Missions to talk to their staff.

There are church groups - Christian and Muslim - with whom the peace movement should be engaging.

And there is the whole range of civil groups that would want to help with the deepening humanitarian crisis.

I agree with the author, fully, that stopping the military strike was not good enough. Unlike him, I think we need to be cautious about our actual limits and very careful about giving a kind of ideological front for military actions by France, Britain and the US.

David McReynolds

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What to do indeed. The problems are that the Baath regime has proved that it has a large base of support in Syria society (unlike the Mubarak clique), and more important, the U.S. and allies deliberately scuttled the possibility of negotiations between the Baath regime and its secular-liberal opposition by 1) Setting up a government in exile led by long-time exiles (including some U.S. citizens!) and ignoring the secular-liberal opposition inside Syria; 2) Arming and facilitating a guerrilla army (FSA) based on Sharia-law parties, which has turned the rebellion into a sectarian civil war; 3) Making the internationally brokered peace conference originally scheduled for July impossible by a) allowing/encouraging "their opposition" to refuse to take part, b) trying to exclude Iran, and c) demanding that the Damascus government agree to dissolve itself in advance as a condition; 4) Allowing Saudis and Turkey to arm, fund, and recruit the most violent and intolerant Islamist organizations in the region so that the very idea of political compromise without first military defeat of the jihadists seems impossible.

Now that it's clear that the FSA was not headed for a quick victory via mass defections from the Syrian army, the "West's" underlying "strategy" changed to something quite sickening (which has been openly stated by many pro-intervention pundits): to bleed, as they suppose, Iran and its allies as long as possible by keeping the civil war going with no end in sight. So much for their care for the Syrian people.

For the Left in all countries: No doubt our preference would be for the overthrow of the Baath dictatorship and the installation of a nonsectarian democratic constitution in which our movement would be able to organize and agitate freely. Clearly, the military victory of the sharia law parties (which have now openly repudiated the U.S.-Brit government in exile and embraced many of the most violent jihadists) would be a step backward in Syria. Also, there is no reason to believe that their victory would accord with the wishes of a majority of the Syrian people. So what to do: The international Left must advocate as strongly as possible for convening as soon as possible the Geneva peace conference with no exclusions of legitimately interested parties. The Left should also agitate with wherever we have influence for a ceasefire and beginning return of refugees and for a political solution based on free elections for a constituent assembly organized and supervised by the U.N. Syrian parties that refuse to attend the peace conference, reject a cease fire, and/or refuse to cooperate with international supervision of the cease-fire and elections in areas under their control, must be cut off from all external funding and arms and treated as terrorist groups; neighboring countries that continue to support these militias after they have rejected cease fire and elections should be subjected to political and economic sanctions.

David Worley

October 2, 2013