You are browsing the archive for syria.

Oppose Force to Save Starving Syrians

1:38 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

I’ve been asked to debate Danny Postel on the question of Syria, and so have read the op-ed he co-authored with Nader Hashemi, “Use Force to Save Starving Syrians.” Excellent responses have been published by Coleen Rowley and Rob Prince and probably others. And my basic thinking on Syria has not changed fundamentally since I wrote down my top 10 reasons not to attack Syria and lots and lots of other writing on Syria over the years. But replying to Postel’s op-ed might be helpful to people who’ve read it and found it convincing or at least disturbing. It might also allow Postel to most efficiently find out where I’m coming from prior to our debate.

So, here’s where I’m coming from. Postel’s op-ed proposes the use of force as if force hadn’t been tried yet, as if force were not in fact the very problem waiting to be solved. What he is proposing is increased force. The arming and funding and training of one side in Syria by the CIA, Saudi Arabia, et al, and the other side by Russia, et al, is not enough; more is needed, Postel believes. But “force” is a very non-descriptive term, as are all the other terms Postel uses to refer to what he wants: “air cover,” “coercive measures,” “Mr. Assad … [should] be left behind.”

I find it hard to imagine people on the ground while NATO dropped thousands of bombs on Libya pointing to the sky and remarking “Check out the air cover!”

Or this: “What happened to your children, Ma’am?” “They experienced some coercive measures.”

Or this: “What became of Gadaffi?” “Oh, him? He was left behind.”

When people who experience modern wars that wealthy nations launch against poor ones talk about them, they describe detailed horror, terror, and trauma. They recount what it’s like to try to hold a loved one’s guts into their mutilated body as they gasp their last. Even the accounts of recovering and regretful drone pilots in the U.S. have much more humanity and reality in them than do Postel’s euphemisms.

I’m not questioning the sincerity of Postel’s belief that, despite it’s long record of abysmal failure, humanitarian war would find success in a nation as divided as Syria, of all unlikely places. But Postel should trust his readers to share his conclusion after being presented with the full facts of the case. If Postel believes that the people whose lives would be ended or devastated by “air cover” are out-weighed by the people who he believes would be thereby saved from starvation, he should say so. He should at the very least acknowledge that people would be killed in the process and guesstimate how many they would be.

Postel claims Somalia as a past example of a “humanitarian intervention,” without dwelling on the chaos and violence aggravated and ongoing there. This seems another shortcoming to me. If you are going to make a moral decision, not only should it include the negative side of the ledger, but it should include the likely medium-term and long-term results, good and bad.  Looking at Somalia with a broader view hurts Postel’s case, but so does looking at Libya, Afghanistan, or Iraq. Studies by Erica Chenoweth and others have documented that violent solutions to oppression and tyranny are not only less likely to succeed, but if they succeed their success is shorter lived.  Violence breeds violence. “Force,” translated into the reality of killing people’s loved ones, breeds resentment, not reconciliation.

So, I think Postel’s case for dropping tons of deadly “coercive measures” on Syria would be a weak one even were it likely to resemble his outline. Sadly, it isn’t. The war on Libya three years ago was sold as an emergency use of “force” to protect supposedly threatened people in Benghazi. It was immediately, illegally, predictably, cynically, and disastrously turned into a campaign of bombing the nation to overthrow its government — a government that, like Syria’s, had long been on a Pentagon list to be overthrown for anything but humanitarian reasons.  Postel presents a quick and antiseptic “leaving behind” operation to provide food to the starving, but surely he knows that is not what it would remain for any longer than it takes to say “R2P.” Why else does Postel refer so vaguely to leaving Assad behind?

It may be worth noting that it’s not aid workers advocating for “coercion” strikes on Syria. I spoke with a U.S. government aid worker in Syria some months back who had this to say:

Read the rest of this entry →

They Never Announce When You Prevent a War

6:05 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

There exists, I suppose, some slight chance of this one making it into the State of the Union address, no doubt in a distorted, bellicose, and xenophobic disguise.  Typically, there’s no chance of any announcement at all.

We’re stopping another war.
Peace Baby!!!
There are a million qualifications that need to be put on that statement.  None of them render it false.  A bill looked likely to move through Congress that would have imposed new sanctions on Iran, shredded the negotiated agreement with Iran, and committed the United States to join in any Israeli war on Iran.  This would be a step toward war and has become understood as such by large numbers of people.  Efforts to sell sanctions as an alternative to war failed. Tons of pushback has come, and is still coming, from the public, including from numerous organizations not always known for their opposition to war.  And the bill, for the moment, seems much less likely to pass.

This is no time to let up, but to recognize our power and press harder for peace.

Pushback against the sanctions bill has come from the White House, from within the military, and from elsewhere within the government. But this bill was something the warmongers wanted, AIPAC wanted, a majority of U.S. senators wanted, and corporate media outlets were happy to support.  The underlying pretense that Iran has a nuclear weapons program that endangers the world had the support of the White House and most other opponents of the March-to-War bill.  That pretense has been successfully sold to much of the public. The additional supporting pretense that sanctions have helped, rather than hindered, diplomacy has similar widespread backing. But when it comes to a measure understood as a step into war, the public is saying no, and that public response is a factor in the likely outcome.

In this instance, President Obama has been on the right side of the debate. I’ve never known that to actually be true before. But there’s been a whole infrastructure of activism set up and fine-tuned for five years now, all based around the pretense that Obama was right on various points and Congress wrong.  So, when that actually happened to be true, numerous organizations knew exactly what to do with it. War opposition and Obama-following merged.  But let’s remember back to August and September.  That was a different situation in which . . .

We stopped another war.

Raytheon’s stock was soaring. The corporate media wanted those missiles to hit Syria. Obama and the leadership of both parties wanted those missiles to hit Syria.  The missiles didn’t fly.

Public pressure led the British Parliament to refuse a prime minister’s demand for war for the first time since the surrender at Yorktown, and the U.S. Congress followed suit by making clear to the U.S. president that his proposed authorization for war on Syria would not pass through either the Senate or the House.  Numerous Congress members, from both houses and both parties, said they heard more from the public against this war than ever before on any issue. It helped that Congress was on break and holding town hall meetings.  It helped that it was Jewish holidays and AIPAC wasn’t around.

And there were other factors.  After the public pushed Congress to demand a say, Obama agreed to that.  Perhaps he wanted something so controversial — something being talked about as “the next Iraq” — to go to Congress.  Perhaps he expected Congress would probably say No.  In such a scenario, the decisive factor would remain the past decade of growing public sentiment against wars.  But I don’t think that’s what happened.  Obama and Kerry were pushing hard and publicly for those missiles to fly.  When they couldn’t get the “intelligence” agencies to back their fraudulent case, they announced it anyway.  Those lies are just being exposed now, in a very different context from that in which the Iraq war lies or the Afghanistan or Libya war lies have been exposed.  Obama told us to watch videos of children suffering and dying in Syria and to choose between war and inaction.  We rejected that choice, opposed war, and supported humanitarian aid (which hasn’t happened on remotely the necessary scale).

In the space of a day, discussions in Washington, D.C., shifted from the supposed necessity of war to the clear desirability of avoiding war. The Russians’ proposal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons had already been known to the White House but was being rejected. When Kerry publicly suggested that Syria could avoid a war by handing over its chemical weapons, everyone knew he didn’t mean it.  In fact, when Russia called his bluff and Syria immediately agreed, Kerry’s staff put out this statement: “Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used. His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.” In other words: stop getting in the way of our war! By the next day, however, with Congress rejecting war, Kerry was claiming to have meant his remark quite seriously and to believe the process had a good chance of succeeding, as of course it did.  Diplomatic solutions are always available.  What compelled Obama to accept diplomacy as the last resort was the public’s and Congress’s refusal to allow war.

These victories are limited and tentative.  The machinery that pushes for war hasn’t gone away.  The arms are still flowing into Syria.  Efforts to negotiate peace there seem less than wholehearted.  The U.S. puppeteer has stuck its arm up the rear end of the United Nations and uninvited Iran from the talks.  The people of Syria and Iran are no better off.

But they’re also no worse off. No U.S. bombs are falling from their skies.

There could be other proposals for wars that we’ll find much harder to prevent.  That’s precisely why we must recognize the possibility of stopping those proposals too, a possibility established by the examples above, from which we should stop fleeing in panic as if the possibility that everything we do might have some point to it horrifies us.

Any war can be stopped.  Any pretended necessity to hurry up and kill large numbers of people can be transformed into a negotiation at a table using words rather than missiles.  And if we come to understand that, we’ll be able to start dismantling the weaponry, which in turn will make the tendency to think of war as the first option less likely.  By steps we can move to a world in which our government doesn’t propose bombing someone new every few months but instead proposes helping someone new.

If we can stop one war, if we can stop two wars, why can’t we stop them all and put our resources into protection rather than destruction?  Why can’t we move to a world beyond war?
Read the rest of this entry →

Beginning the Ending of War

5:07 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

This article is the Introduction to the new book War No More: The Case for Abolition, published in October 2013.

As I write this, in September 2013, something extraordinary has just happened. Public pressure has led the British Parliament to refuse a prime minister’s demand for war for the first time since the surrender at Yorktown, and the U.S. Congress has followed suit by making clear to the U.S. president that his proposed authorization for war on Syria would not pass through either the Senate or the House.

Now, this may all fall apart in a week or a month or a year or a decade. The forces pressing for a war on Syria have not gone away. The civil war and the humanitarian crisis in Syria are not over. The partisan makeup of the Parliament and the Congress played a role in their actions (although the leaders of both major parties in Congress favored attacking Syria). Foreign nations’ intervention played a role. But the decisive force driving governments around the world and U.S. government (and military) insiders to resist this war was public opinion. We heard the stories of children suffering and dying in Syria, but we rejected the idea that killing more Syrians with U.S. weapons would make Syria better off.

Those of us who believe that we should always have the right to reject our government’s arguments for war should feel empowered. Now that it’s been done, we cannot be told it’s impossible to do it again … and again, and again.

In the space of a day, discussions in Washington, D.C., shifted from the supposed necessity of war to the clear desirability of avoiding war. If that can happen once, even if only momentarily, why can it not happen every time? Why cannot our government’s eagerness for war be permanently done away with? U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the unsuccessful marketing campaign for an attack on Syria, had famously asked, many years earlier, during what the Vietnamese call the American War, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” We have it within our power to make war a thing of the past and to leave Secretary Kerry the last man to have tried to sell us a dead idea.

(An argument will be made that the threat of war aided diplomatic efforts to disarm the Syrian government. It should not be forgotten that when Kerry suggested that Syria could avoid a war by handing over its chemical weapons, everyone knew he didn’t mean it. In fact, when Russia called his bluff and Syria immediately agreed, Kerry’s staff put out this statement: “Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used. His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.” In other words: stop getting in the way of our war! By the next day, however, with Congress rejecting war, Kerry was claiming to have meant his remark quite seriously and to believe the process had a good chance of succeeding.)

In this book I make the case outlined in the four section titles: War can be ended; War should be ended; War is not going to end on its own; We have to end war. 

Others have made the case that war can be ended, but they have tended to look for the source of war in poor nations, overlooking the nation that builds, sells, buys, stockpiles, and uses the most weapons, engages in the most conflicts, stations the most troops in the most countries, and carries out the most deadly and destructive wars. By these and other measures, the United States government is the world’s leading war-maker, and—in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.—the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Ending U.S. war-making wouldn’t eliminate all war from the world, but ending war-making only by poor countries wouldn’t come close.

This should not come as a shock or an offense to most people in the United States, some 80 percent of whom consistently tell pollsters that our government is broken. It’s been over half a century since President Dwight Eisenhower warned that a military industrial complex would corrupt the United States. Military spending is roughly half of the U.S. government’s discretionary spending every year, dwarfing any other expense. The United States is closely tied with the European Union as the wealthiest place on earth. Surely that money must be going somewhere. Surely a broken government is bound to be at least a little broken in the primary thing it does—in this case, the making of war.

By “war” I mean roughly: the use of a nation’s military abroad. The use of a military at home to establish a police state or attack a sub-population is related to war and sometimes hard to distinguish from war, but usually distinct (the exceptions being called civil wars). The use of military-like tactics by a non-nation group or individual may sometimes be morally or visually indistinguishable from war, but it differs from war in terms of responsibility and appropriate response. The use of a nation’s military abroad for purely non-war purposes, such as humanitarian relief, is not what I mean by war, and also not easy to find actual examples of. By the term “military,” I mean to include uniformed and non-uniformed, official troops and contractors, acknowledged and clandestine—anyone (or any robot) engaged in military activity for a government.

I intend this book for people everywhere, but especially in the United States and the West. Most people in the United States do not believe that war can be ended. And I suspect that most are aware of the significant role the United States plays in war-making, because most also believe that war should not be ended. Few actually view war as desirable—once a widespread belief, but one heard less and less since about the time of World War I. Rather, people tend to believe that war is necessary to protect them or to prevent something worse than war.

So, in Part II, I make the case that war endangers, rather than protecting us, and that there isn’t something worse than war that war can be used to prevent. I argue that war is not justified by evil forces it opposes or by false claims to humanitarian purposes. War is not benefitting us at home or the people in the nations where our wars are fought, out of sight and sometimes out of mind. War kills huge numbers of innocent people, ruins nations, devastates the natural environment, drains the economy, breeds hostility, and strips away civil liberties at home no matter how many times we say “freedom.”

This case is not so much philosophical as factual. The most significant cause of war, I believe and argue in the book, is bad information about past wars. A majority in the United States believes Iraq benefitted from the 2003-2011 war that destroyed Iraq. If I believed that, I’d favor launching another one right away. A majority in Iraq believes the war left them even worse off than they were before it. (See, for example, the Zogby poll of December 20, 2011.) Extensive evidence, discussed below, as well as basic common sense, suggests that Iraqis, like anyone else, actually know best what their own situation is. Therefore, I want to prevent a repeat.

I wish I could have written a theoretical case against war, without mentioning any wars. But, everyone would have agreed with it and then made exceptions, like the school board member where I live who said he wanted to support a celebration of peace as long as everyone was clear he wasn’t opposing any wars. As it is, I had to include actual wars, and facts about them. Where I’ve suspected someone will object to a piece of information, I’ve included a source for it right in the text. I discuss in this book the wars launched when George W. Bush was president and the wars launched or escalated since Barack Obama became president, as well as some of the most cherished “good wars” in U.S. culture, such as World War II and the U.S. Civil War. I also recommend reading this book in combination with a previous book of mine called War Is A Lie.

I don’t recommend taking my word for anything. I encourage independent research. And a few other points may help with keeping an open-mind while reading this book: There’s no partisan agenda here. The Democrats and Republicans are partners in war, and I have no loyalty to either of them. There’s no national agenda here. I’m not interested in defending or attacking the U.S. government, or any other government. I’m interested in the facts about war and peace and what we should do about them. There’s no political agenda here on the spectrum from libertarian to socialist. I certainly place myself on the socialist side of that spectrum, but on the question of war it’s not particularly relevant. I think Switzerland has had a pretty good foreign policy. I admire Costa Rica’s elimination of its military. Sure, I think useful and essential things should be done with the money that’s now dumped into war and war preparations, but I’d favor ending war if the money were never collected or even if it were collected and burned.

Disturbing as it is to run into countless people who believe war can’t and/or shouldn’t be ended (including quite a few who say it can’t be ended but should be ended, presumably meaning that they wish it could be ended but are sure it can’t be), I’ve begun running into people who tell me—even more disturbingly—that war is in the process of ending, so there’s nothing to worry about and nothing to be done. The arguments that have set people on this path distort and minimize death counts in recent wars, define large portions of wars as civil wars (and thus not wars), measure casualties in isolated wars against the entire population of the globe, and conflate downward trends in other types of violence with trends in war-making. Part III, therefore, makes the case that war is not, in fact, going away.

Part IV addresses how we should go about causing war to go away. Largely, I believe that we need to take steps to improve our production, distribution, and consumption of information, including by adjusting our worldviews to make ourselves more open to learning and understanding unpleasant facts about the world—and acting on them. More difficult tasks than the abolition of war have been accomplished before. The first step has usually been recognizing that we have a problem.

This article is the Introduction to the new book War No More: The Case for Abolition.

Ending One War, Ending All Wars

11:21 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Remarks on September 21, 2013, at the Nashville Festival for Peace, Prosperity, and Planet.

Thank you to Elizabeth Barger and the Nashville Peace and Justice Center and to all of you, and happy International Day of Peace!

From a certain angle it doesn’t look like a happy day of peace.  The U.S. government is engaged in a major war in Afghanistan, dramatically escalated by the current U.S. president, who has been bizarrely given credit for ending it for so long now that a lot of people imagine it is ended.  The same president goes through a list of men, women, and children on Tuesdays, picks which ones to have murdered, and has them murdered, often with missiles shot out of unmanned drones, drones that circle people’s villages endlessly threatening immediate annihilation moment after moment for weeks on end, missiles that often miss their targets and often kill random people too close to their targets.  The CIA with war powers.  Secret military operations in dozens of nations.  Expansion of U.S. troop presence in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.  Some 90 percent of the world’s nations with U.S. troops in them.  Prisoners force-fed in Guantanamo.  Black sites.  Iraq ruined without reparations.  Libya thrown into anarchy without apology.  Activists treated as enemies.  Journalists treated as spies.  Whistleblowers locked up in cages.  Our Constitutional rights treated as dispensable.  The United Nations used, abused, and circumvented.  U.S. weapons provided to dictatorships and democracies around the globe.  Tennessee’s U.S. Senator Bob Corker going on television repeatedly for weeks to tell us that the United States is covertly aiding one side of a war in Syria.  Does he not know what “covertly” means, or does he not know how television works?

But I believe that, despite all of that and much more, there is huge reason to celebrate a happy international day of peace.  At most events where I speak there is a time for questions, and almost always there is someone whose question is really more of a speech to the effect that war opposition is delusional and hopeless; if the government wants a war, it gets a war — so this person always tell us.  Well, no more.  From this day forward, that person’s comments should be no match for the laughter that greets them, because we just prevented a war.

Congress members heard from many thousands of us, and what they heard was over 100-to-1 against attacking Syria.  When it became clear that not even the Senate would authorize such an attack, talk shifted immediately from the inevitability of war to the desirability of avoiding war.

Secretary of State John Kerry said that President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a war by handing over all the chemical weapons his government possessed.  Russia quickly called that bluff and Syria agreed to it.  Syria had tried in the past to negotiate a Middle East free of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, but the United States had been opposed, not wanting to stop arming Egypt and Israel.

Secretary Kerry, apparently panicked by the possible delay or prevention of missile strikes, put out a statement that he had only been making a “rhetorical argument,” not a real proposal.  But when the White House saw the writing on the wall in Congress, Kerry claimed to have meant his comment seriously after all.  He was for his own idea after he’d been against it.

Of all the many ways in which John Kerry has tied himself in knots before, this is the first time he’s had to do so because the people of this country and the world rejected a war.  Remember when Kerry asked how you could ask someone to be the last man to die in the war on Vietnam?  We have it in our power to reject the next war and the next war and the next war and make John Kerry the last man to have tried to sell us a dead idea.

War is a dead idea, an idea whose time has gone.  The abolition of war is an idea whose time has come.  But the government isn’t ready to announce that for us.  That’s why we need to celebrate this victory.  And not just us at this festival.  This was everybody.  This was the people of Syria who spoke against an attack on their nation.  This was the people of Iraq and Afghanistan who said don’t do to others what you’ve already done to us.  This was the people of the world and of Russia and of China who said you won’t paint this crime as legal with our help.  This was the people of Britain who moved their House of Commons to reject a prime minister’s request for war for the first time since the surrender to the French and Americans at Yorktown.  This was low and high ranking members of the U.S. military saying “We didn’t sign up to fight for al Qaeda.”  This was government experts risking their careers and their freedom to say “If President Obama’s excuse for a war happened, he’s guessed it right, because the evidence doesn’t establish it.”  This was the majority of the U.S. public telling pollsters, yes, we care about suffering children; send them food and medicine, don’t make it worse by sending in missiles.”  This was the victory not of a moment but of a decade of cultural enlightenment.  When you’ve got the Pope and Rush Limbaugh on your side you’ve built something very broad.  Remember when they called resistance to war “The Vietnam Syndrome” as if it were a disease?  What we’ve got now is the War on Terror Inoculation.  This is health, not sickness.  War is the health of the state, said a World War I resister.  But war resistance is the health of the people.  The people are the world’s other super power.

So, yes, I say celebrate!  Start seeing successes.  Drone attacks are down dramatically.  Environmental groups are beginning to oppose military base constructions.  States are beginning to work on conversion of war industries to peaceful industries.  Larry Summers has been denied a chance to do more economic damage.

Imagine the euphoria — or don’t imagine it, just remember it — when this country elects a new president whose main redeeming feature is that he isn’t the previous president.  For personality fanatics that’s big stuff.  And there are big parties.  For policy fanatics — for those of us interested in seeing policies change rather than personalities — that kind of moment is right now.  The first step in overcoming an addiction, whether to war or alcohol, is recognizing that you have a problem.  The second step is believing that you can shake it if you try.  We’ve just taken the first two steps!  The war addicts said Syria needed an intervention.  We gave the war junkies an intervention instead.  We pointed them toward the path of recovery and showed them a preview of what it will look like.

Now, if you don’t want to celebrate because there’s too much work to do, because Syria is in greater danger without its weapons (look what happened to Iraq and Libya), and because the pressure for war is still on, I can respect that.  I’ll be with you starting tomorrow.  But it’s hard to imagine we’ll find the most effective strategy, much less motivate all the doom and gloomers to work their hardest, if we refuse to recognize when we’ve actually made progress, no matter how limited.

If you don’t want to celebrate because you don’t think public pressure made any impact and don’t think it ever can, I’ve looked at enough of the recent history and distant history to say, with all due respect: I don’t believe you.  And if you believed yourself you wouldn’t be here today.

Now, there is endless work to be done when we get back to it in the morning.  Congressman Cooper was pretty noncommittal, I understand, as quite a few Congress members were.  He kept an open mind.  Maybe, just maybe, he must have thought, it makes sense to deescalate a war by escalating it, maybe these magic missiles with Raytheon pixie dust on them will kill only the people who really need killing while empowering fanatic heart-and-liver eaters who execute their prisoners to establish a secular democracy, and perhaps we really can uphold the norm against chemical weapons that our own nation violates with some regularity by blatantly violating the norm against attacking other countries with missiles, and maybe we’ll enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention against a nation that never signed it by shredding the UN Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact as long as we call ourselves “The International Community” and if we can’t get France to help maybe Puerto Rico would count as a Coalition of the Willing, and perhaps, perhaps just maybe Assad really is out to get us and just might be a threat to Nashville, Tennessee, and if not isn’t the only thing that really matters President Obama’s manhood and the respect he can only maintain if he behaves like a sociopath?  Some part of this must be roughly how undecided members of Congress looked at this thing.  Senator Harry Reid said Syria was the return of the Nazis, and he himself looked just like Elmer Fudd warning of a dangerous wabbit, but maybe he was right, think our elected representatives.  There is work to be done.
Read the rest of this entry →

Admit It: Things Are Going Well

6:59 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Photo by ilovememphis

Photo by ilovememphis

When something goes right
Oh, it’s likely to lose me
It’s apt to confuse me
It’s such an unusual sight
—Paul Simon

Larry Summers has proven unacceptable to oversee the continued destruction of the U.S. economy. The U.S. public has successfully rejected proposed missile strikes on Syria. My Congressman was among the majority who listened. Today was beautiful. The Orioles won. The Cowboys lost. The University of Virginia avoided losing by not playing. My family is expecting a new baby. I’ve finished a new book, which Kathy Kelly has written a beautiful foreword for. I have a sense that if the universe were right now campaigning on “hope and change” I might seriously consider voting for it.

I’m also pretty sure that if everything in my personal life were going slightly to hell and Larry Summers were crowned king of Wall Street, and the Dallas Cowboys were to win (darn them!), my sense of this moment in the movement against U.S. militarism would remain essentially the same. A major victory has been won, and we need to claim it and celebrate it.

Imagine the euphoria — or don’t imagine it, just remember it — when this country elects a new president whose main redeeming feature is that he isn’t the previous president. For personality fanatics that’s big stuff. And there are big parties. For policy fanatics — for those of us interested in seeing policies change rather than personalities — that kind of moment is right now. We need some parties, and if spontaneity is beyond us, perhaps we can use the International Day of Peace on September 21st for a combination celebration / discussion during which we explain to ourselves that it really is OK to celebrate.

Yes, many people in this country and around the world are suffering horrible tragedies in their personal lives and as a result of public events.  Yes, the horrors in Syria, as in many other places, continue. Yes, the CIA is arming terrorists in Syria. Yes, the president whose missile strikes we prevented is taking credit for that restraint, just as he would have taken credit for the carnage had we not stopped him — and he’s threatening to bring the missile strikes back. Yes, if we let down our guard for a moment, the president and Congress and the CIA will do their worst. Yes, the danger for Iraq and Libya really loomed large after they had given up nuclear and chemical weapons, not before. Yes, lots of people opposed bombing Syria because they didn’t think Syrians deserved such favors. (No, I’m not making that up.) Yes, the corporate media is pretending that the threat of war brought peace, ignoring the successful insistence on peace by the people of the world.

But that’s why we have to celebrate what really happened. We have to announce it. The point is not to take credit. No one person or group did this.  People espousing a variety of ideologies did it. And they did it over many years. Millions contributed. The point is that war was popularly rejected.

Why does this matter? It’s not a case for optimism, or for pessimism. I continue to have very little use for either bit of self-indulgence. The forces that press for more wars have not gone away. Neither have they been empowered. The point is that those who nonsensically proclaim that stopping wars is impossible cannot get away with saying that anymore.

You know the types. They show up at meetings, wait for the question-and-answer period, and then give a speech on how everything is utterly hopeless. Those speeches should be laughed away within the first five seconds now. And the many, many people who had begun ever so slightly to take that defeatist nonsense seriously can now be relieved of that weight. The danger now is not of being a sucker who proclaimed good news just before a genocide. The danger is of joining in the foolish campaign of the war propagandists by pushing the lie of powerlessness on people just after they prevented a war.

Do we still have to prevent a war again this week? Of course, we do.  o we have to take on the larger task of organizing peace and preventing crises? We do. Do we need to build a movement for the abolition of war that reaches beyond opposition to each immediate war proposal? You’d better believe it. But this is what we wanted in 2001 and 2003. Well, some of us did — that’s the point. We’re larger now, even if it’s not made visible. As long as we went on failing to prevent wars, people could say we’d never prevent them. There’s no science or logic behind such an assertion, but it still has power in it. Or it did, until now. Now we can claim with equal validity that we’ll stop every single war proposed from here on out. Of course we might or we might not, but we know that it’s up to us, that it depends on what we do, that little steps that appear useless at the time can help, and that changes to our culture can outweigh changes to the Pentagon budget, the global climate, crises in capitalism, or any other supposedly unstoppable force.

After World War I, people in the United States understood the need to eliminate war. Again, after Vietnam, many understood it almost that much. They developed the Vietnam Syndrome, a level of healthy resistance to more wars lamented as a disease by Washington. Now we’re moving back in that direction. War resistance is the health of the people. We’re not developing a syndrome. We’re developing an immunity. We’ve been vaccinated against war. We’re not as allergic to the propaganda as we once were. We’re war resistant, and our task is to compel those in power not to lament our syndrome this time, but to share in our contagious good health.

The Other Super Power Is Winning

5:19 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

It’s not Russia. It’s not al Qaeda. It’s not Bashar al-Assad. The other super power is the people of the world — and the people of, but not by or for, the United States.

Syria War Protest

Can people power win against the warmongers?

The world’s people are protesting. U.S. citizens abroad are protesting at U.S. embassies. The British Parliament said no to war for the first time since Yorktown.

The U.S. polls began with single-digit support for attacking Syria, climbed a little with the corporate media onslaught, and then started sinking again as the propaganda push shifted into self-defeating top gear.

Taking the stage after Colin Powell, the Obama-Kerry war marketing team was compelled by public pressure, foreign pressure, government-insider pressure, past public statements, and the inability of even the corporate media to keep a straight face, to take this war proposal to Congress — and to do so while Congress members and senators were at home in their districts and states, where people were able to get in their faces.

Congress has been feeling the heat. Sure, there is greater willingness by some Republican members to oppose a war if the president is a Democrat. But there are also Democrats openly supporting the war because the president wants them to. The decisive factor has been public pressure. Senators and representatives have been turned around by their constituents, and that minority still supporting an attack on Syria openly says they’re defying the people who elected them. If there is no vote in Congress, it will be because the vote would fail.

Now is the time for Congress and the president to hear our voices more loudly than ever.

Secretary Kerry stressed on Monday that he hadn’t been serious about a diplomatic solution. It was just “rhetoric.” He was just pointing out the “impossibility” of Assad handing weapons over.  He didn’t want anyone to take it seriously. Not when we have to get a war started. Not when the clock is ticking and he has already Colin-Powelled himself in front of his old committee with his wife behind him and protesters with bloody hands filling the room and everybody snickering when he claimed al Qaeda would install a secular democracy. Not after all THAT!

How can you ask a man to be the last one to lie for a dead idea?

But warmongering senators and presidents and presidential wannabes jumped at the chance of a way out of watching Congress vote down a war, and watching Congress vote down a war because we made them do it. Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee has a proposal for a diplomatic resolution. Republican Congressman Chris Smith has proposed a United Nations war crimes tribunal. (One might hope it will even look at the crimes of both sides in the Syrian war.) The always obvious, but hidden, fact that there are alternatives to bombing people is bursting out all over.

Sure, some people dislike this war because it would cost money, or because the Iraqis are ungrateful for the destruction of their country, or because Obama was born in Africa, but mostly people oppose this war for very good reasons — and the financial cost is not really a bad reason. From right to left, people don’t think the United States should be the world’s vigilante. From left to right, people don’t believe the justifications presented without evidence. From right to left, people understand that killing people with the right weapons to protest their being killed with the wrong weapons is little bit crazy. From left to right, people don’t believe tales of short and easy wars that will pay for themselves. And, across the political spectrum, people have begun to be able to smell lies, even when those lies are wrapped in flags and uniforms.

We should give our government credit for listening — if it listens. By no means are we out of the woods yet. If you want to be able to say you were part of the movement that prevented a U.S. war, now is the time to email and telephone and join in activities. We should not, however, fantasize that our government secretly held our position against the war it was trying to roll out, before we compelled it to hold our position.

Read the rest of this entry →

Kerry Couldn’t Sell a Used Car

11:52 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

After Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that President Bashar al-Assad avoid a war by handing over any chemical weapons his government possesses, Russia quickly seconded the motion, and Assad agreed to it.  Just as quickly, apparently panicked by the possible delay or prevention of missile strikes, Kerry’s staff put out this statement:

“Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used.  His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.”

Could Assad be lying?  Could he hope to stash away a hidden weapons stockpile? Yes, and then at least a U.S. attack would have been delayed and more time gained to work on preventing it.  But that’s not likely.  Inspectors are very good.  That’s why Prsident George W. Bush wanted them pulled out of Iraq, where they had done a stellar job and the weaponry been eliminated.  That could conceivably also be why President Barack Obama wanted them kept away from the site of the August 21st attack and wanted to send missiles into Syria before the inspectors reached any results.

So, to all appearances, Assad has immediately done what Kerry just declared impossible.  How reliable, then, are other assertions of which Kerry professes to be certain?

Is it really an important international norm that one nation should bomb another in support of fanatical terrorists and on the stated basis that people had been killed with the wrong variety of weapon?

Is it really true that this war will be both unbelievably small and a significant blow to the Syrian government?

Kerry is trying to sell the same used car to people who want an ambulance and other people who want a tank.

Nobody’s buying.

It’s not entirely Kerry’s fault that he had to come on stage after Colin Powell’s performance, but it is his fault that he’s flubbed all of his lines.

If Obama withdraws his demand for Congressional authorization of war, it will not be because he and John Kerry played 12-dimensional chess and secretly hope to bring peace to the earth.  It will be because they played duck-duck-goose with such incompetence that they managed to knock each other unconscious in the process.

If a war is prevented here — and it’s way too early to say that — it will be the result of public opinion in the United States and the world, the courage of Parliament in Britain, and the glimmerings of actual representation beginning to sparkle through the muck and slime on Capitol Hill.

If celebrating Obama and Kerry’s super brave and strong heroism in stumbling into a Russian barrier to their madness gives them the “credibility” to put their guns back in their pants, then by all means celebrate that fiction.

But if we get this crisis behind us, we should understand that Parliament acted against war for the first time in centuries, and the public stopped Congress for the first time ever.  If President Obama doesn’t ask for an authorization, it will be because it is not going to pass.  Even if he didn’t expect to use it right away, he would want it passed if possible.

Congress’ apparent willingness to say no is the result of many factors, including the perversity of partisanship.  But the primary factor is public pressure.  That public pressure needs to intensify now that victory is in sight, not diminish.

And if it succeeds, Syria will still be in desperate need of a cease-fire, disarmament, a peace settlement, and actual aid (as opposed to humanitarian bombs).  Let’s not allow those needs to be forgotten if they depart from our television screens.  Those same television screens have tried to move us into support for war and failed dramatically.  We’re in charge now.  We run this country. They fill fluff that no one listens to into the spaces between advertisements for crap no one buys.  Fill the government in on the new arrangement. Read the rest of this entry →

This War Too Is A Lie

6:31 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Some smart people thought, and perhaps some still think, that the 2003-2011 war on Iraq was unique in that it was promoted with the use of blatant lies.  When I’d researched dozens of other wars and failed to find one that wasn’t based on a foundation of similar lies, I wrote a book about the most common war lie varieties. I called it War Is A Lie.

That book has sold more than any of my others, and I like to think it’s contributed some teeny bit to the remarkable and very welcome skepticism that is greeting the U.S. government’s current claims about Syria.  The fact is that, were the White House telling the truth about the need for an attack on Syria, it would be a first in history.  Every other case for war has always been dishonest.

The United States sought out war with Mexico, not the reverse.  There was never any evidence that Spain sank the Maine.  The Philippines didn’t benefit from U.S. occupation.  The Lusitania was known to be carrying troops and arms.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened.  Iraq didn’t take any babies out of incubators.  The Taliban was willing to turn bin Laden over to be tried in a neutral court.  Libya wasn’t about to kill everyone in Benghazi.  Et cetera.  Even wars that people like to imagine as justified, such as World War II, were nonetheless packaged in lies; FDR’s tales about the Greer and the Kearney and supposed secret Nazi maps and plans were a step on the steady trajectory from Woodrow Wilson to Karl Rove.

The idea that Syria used chemical weapons is more plausible than the idea that Iraq had vast stockpiles of chemical, biological, and (in some versions) nuclear weapons and was working with al Qaeda.  But the evidence offered in the case of Syria is no stronger than that for Iraq.  It’s harder to disprove merely because there’s nothing to it: no documentation, no sources, no science.  Congress members who have seen the classified version say it’s no better than the declassified.  Experts within the government and reporters in Syria who have seen more than that say they don’t believe the White House’s claims.  The assertions masquerading as a case come packaged in dishonest claims about how quickly Syria gave access to inspectors, and are written in a manner to suggest far greater knowledge and certainty than they actually assert on careful examination.  The latest claims follow a series of failed claims over a period of months and stand to benefit a Syrian opposition that has been found repeatedly to be manufacturing false propaganda aimed at bringing the United States into the war.  It seems, at this point, unlikely that the Assad government used chemical weapons two weeks ago, and already certain that even if it did, President Obama and Secretary Kerry don’t know it — they’ve only guessed it at best.

The debate over chemical weapons, itself, is framed by the lie that a law against chemical weapons can be enforced by one nation attacking another.  In fact, Syria is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.  If it were, it would be subject to prosecution in court.  In any event, it is subject to the judgment and action of the world and its courts, not of one vigilante representing 4% of the world.  The bizarre idea that bombing a country can be a form of law enforcement dishonestly hides the fact that the action itself violates the U.N. Charter and the Kellogg Briand Pact.

Wars, a central lie maintains, are fought against evil.  But Assad is not the devil incarnate.  He’s a horrendously awful ruler, pushed in bad directions by those around him as much as they by him.  He’s someone who has proposed disarmament in the past and been rejected by the United States.  He’s someone who has done evil things in cooperation with the United States, including lawless imprisonment and torture.  He’s not going to eat American children in their sleep.  He’s never threatened the United States, and has shown remarkable restraint in the face of threats by the United States and the CIA’s efforts to undermine and attack his government.  Residents of the United States in search of dangers to get excited about shouldn’t arrive at Bashar al Assad until far, far down the list past poor diet, poor healthcare, lack of exercise, automobiles, obesity, industrial pollution, unsafe workplaces, gun accidents, chain saws, lightning strikes, and countless other causes of death.

Wars, a common lie holds, are fought in defense.  But Syria is no threat to the United States, and when President Obama suggests that theoretically it could be, the laughter you hear from most listeners is the correct response.  The White House hasn’t sought to build much of a case for “defensive war” against Syria, even on the Benghazi model, and that deficiency is a major weakness.  Most people have no tolerance for non-defensive wars.  Exceptions are sadists and believers in humanitarian bombings, or — to name a category that encompasses both of those groups — imperialists.
Read the rest of this entry →

The Bill Congress Should Pass Instead of War

5:35 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Here’s a preliminary draft of what the United States Congress could pass this week if it were sincerely interested in human rights, international norms, the rule of law, and peace in Syria.  You are welcome to suggest it to your Congress members, who are more than welcome to tinker with it.  You might also share it with any friends or uncles or neighbors who demand to know: “If you’re against missile strikes then what are you in favor of?” Send me any suggested changes.

US Capitol

US Capitol

Non-Lethal Aid to Syria

Joint Resolution

No Military Solution

Sec. 1

a) The Congress does not authorize military action or support of military action in Syria, and such action by the Central Intelligence Agency and any other agencies of the United States must cease immediately.

b) The United States respects the position of the United Nations Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, as parts of the Supreme Law of the Land.  The United States will not violate these treaties by military action or threat of military action against Syria.

Chemical Weapons

Sec. 2

a) The United States will encourage Syria, as well as Egypt, Israel, Angola, North Korea, and South Sudan to ratify and abide by the Chemical Weapons Convention.

b) The United States will eliminate in the swiftest manner that safety allows the entirety of its own chemical weapons stockpiles, and urge other nations, including Russia, to do the same.

c) The United States will forthwith cease to maintain or make use of as weapons: white phosphorous, depleted uranium, or any form of napalm, and will assist Iraq in its recovery from their use.

d) The Congress urges the president to sign the United States on as a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

e) The United States will forward to the UN Security Council and to the prosecutor of the ICC all evidence of violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

f) The United States will urge the United Nations to send human rights monitors to Syria.

Humanitarian Aid

Sec. 3

a) The United States will transfer 1% of the current year’s Department of Defense budget to non-military aid programs for Syrian refugees and those suffering as a result of war in Syria and around the world.

De-Escalation

Sec. 4

a) The United States will diplomatically urge Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, and all other nations to cease providing arms and ammunition, or funding for arms and ammunition, to fighters in Syria on both sides of the war.

b) The United States will diplomatically urge Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, and others involved to urge the Syrian opposition and the Syrian government to establish a cease-fire. The United States will use all available pressure, including ceasing to itself provide arms to nations involved.

c) The United States will work with the international community to bring both sides in the Syrian civil war to a neutral negotiating table, with no pre-conditions.
Read the rest of this entry →

A Modest Proposal for Syria

6:13 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

It is a melancholy object to those who view videos of Damascus, when they see the streets, the roads, and doorways, crowded with the bodies of those reportedly killed with the wrong weapons by the wrong people.

I think it is agreed by all parties that this 1,000 or more bodies is an outrage not to be tolerated in a nation that has killed off 100,000 or more in recent years with perfectly respectable weapons and seen its neighbors in Egypt murder thousands just a few weeks ago, to the clear satisfaction of the International Community.

Conceivably, Syria will set itself aright and return to more acceptable styles of population elimination. But my intention is very far from being confined to providing only for the next 10,000 or 100,000 corpses.  There are some 20 million people in Syria, some of whom may die rightly, and some wrongly, if left to chance.  To make matters worse, they are fleeing the nation by the millions at an increasing pace.

This need not be.  We in the United States have a responsibility.  Syrians are not less worthy of proper deaths than ourselves.  We need spare no financial expense due to prejudices of religion or ethnicity.  It is time for us to step up as the International Community, while the rest of the world’s nations fail.  We can make sure Syrians meet a proper end.

Let me be clear, when we used White Phosphorus to burn holes straight through men, women, and countless children in Fallujah, the International Community approved.  When we deployed new types of napalm despite the apparent lack of jungle foliage in Iraq, the International Community was satisfied.  There is no more proper death than through depleted uranium, injestion of which brings a most glorious chemical demise.  All of these avenues are available, and we should let a thousand flowers bloom in the Syrian streets.

But the ultimate solution is one which we have become the supreme masters of: cluster bombing.  The United States stands nearly alone in the world as a proponent of the legal use of both land mines and flying land mines, also known as cluster bombs.  These weapons are efficient and beautiful, creating a great variety of injuries as well as death.  Most importantly, they will generate terror.  Refugees will flee in all directions in such numbers that starvation and disease will wipe out huge swaths of the population.

As hunger takes over, opportunities will be found to restore a proper, if temporary, balance to the Syrian diet.  I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in Virginia, that a young healthy Syrian child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled. Sources within Syria report that hearts and livers are a delicacy.

The benefits of my scheme are so numerous that one is apt to forget the central and most significant objective, which will be accomplished with complete and total success if our actions are swift and comprehensive.  That is: we will stop the wrong people killing anyone with weapons deemed unacceptable by the International Community.

Enough with halfway measures, I say!  Enough with telling the Democrats we won’t join another endless war beyond our control on the side of Al Qaeda! Enough with assuring Republicans we’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with terrorists until Iran is destroyed or Russia launches nukes! We have the technology. We have the stockpiles. Wipe every Syrian out with acceptable weaponry today! It’s our humanitarian responsibility!

Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal” that the poor eat their children as a form of SATIRE. Unless you know what satire is, please do not contact me about this article. Thanks!