Saturday, August 31, 2013

Syria: Prevention Better than Being Punitive

By Michael Shank and Rep. Raul Grijalva

Beaver County Peace Links via Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Shank is director of Foreign Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The views expressed are their own.

August 29, 2013 - The Americans don’t want it. The Germans don’t want it. And the Brits don’t want it. The overwhelming consensus of public opinion in the Western world is that a war with Syria would be a bad idea. This now gives President Barack Obama some flexibility to back away from his red line, save political face, and do what’s necessary to prevent further violence in Syria.

But before spelling out ways we can help bring peace to Syria, it’s worth first identifying some problematic trends in America’s tack towards war. This is not unique to President Obama and was visible in past presidents’ penchant for war. There is a precedent here.

First, the idea that America can be “precise” and “limited” and “strategic” while attacking another country is completely misplaced. It inevitably leads to further or escalated violence.  It always has.  We wanted to be brief, precise and strategic in Iraq by bombing Baghdad, thinking “shock and awe” would intimidate the country and its recalcitrant leader into submission. This is not dissimilar to how we are now thinking that a “punitive” strike on Syria would send a stern message that President Bashar al-Assad, one to which he would be responsive.

Never mind the fact that al-Assad has made it clear that he’s not operating from a rational place, and would never respond rationally to punitive measures – there is no way that a strike on Damascus would last only three days, as the Pentagon has predicted. The responsibility for the ensuing chaos – from scores of civilians dead to increased likelihood of chemical weapons use – would fall on the United States.  We would be embroiled in an unraveling that would beckon more missiles, more troops, and more air and sea support. Observe every major U.S. intervention over the last 15 years. This is exactly what happened, despite the rhetoric of precise, limited, strategic and brief action.

More from GPS: All or nothing Syria

Second, the idea in Washington that an attack, strike, or punitive action, is not an “invasion”, is an absolute fallacy. This is a relatively new definition promulgated by Washington’s defense community, and the think tanks that support it.  It’s a convenient semantic reframing so that America is not perceived as the “evil Western invader” – or part of some, to quote President Bush, “crusade” – but rather seen as a short-lived intervener, a savior who will exercise discretion while quickly getting in and getting out.

The problem with this attempt at a reframe is that the rest of the world – especially those being bombed by America – doesn’t consider it anything less than an invasion, whether by air, sea or land. Boots on the ground is not the only kind of invasion. There are air invasions, with air raids (see Iraq) or drone strikes (see Yemen or Pakistan or Somalia).  There are sea invasions, with Tomahawk missiles launched from ship (see Libya and the same plan for Syria).  And there are ground invasions, with massive troops on the ground (see Afghanistan).

Third, the idea that we must act in haste, and bomb quickly without Congressional approval or authorization, is a dangerous undermining of the checks and balances instituted by our founding fathers. Most presidents, when planning for war, impress upon the American people the urgency of now, of invading immediately, because we don’t have time for Congressional oversight. Syria is an excellent example of this. With some 100,000 dead over nearly a two year time span we’ve had plenty of time for talk between the executive and legislative branches.  The estimated 355 dead from the alleged chemical weapons attack, while absolutely deplorable, shouldn’t have created a new urgency that wasn’t already there.  We should have been talking about preventing mass atrocities years ago, not after the house of Syria was nearly burnt down.

So what to do now? Invasion is the wrong course because it merely inflames the violence further, both within Syria and without. We must exhaust the following paths first before seeking a military course of action.  Convene all the stakeholders who have a say with Syria’s al-Assad and who can put pressure on the president. That means more than just Russia, our go-to on the Geneva II peace talks. That means everyone from Iran, Lebanon, and Hezbollah, to the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. These are the entities that have entry into the Syrian president’s inner circle. If we truly want al-Assad to act differently, we have to talk to those who have sway.

Then, if the diplomatic track fails to work, and after it has solidly been exhausted, we must engage the U.N. Security Council in a conversation about the International Criminal Court and an indictment of Assad for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.  This path is consistent with America’s support of international law and the ethical frameworks undergirding the Geneva Conventions.

Throughout this process, we must continue work with the United Nations to not only ensure weapons inspections are executed properly over the coming weeks, and weapons flows and arms trafficking are stopped or slowed, but that we ramp up humanitarian aid for the millions of refugees inside Syria and in neighboring countries. This is essential if we care about saving Syrians.

This is the path we must pursue and the only way forward. It is time for something preventive before we press play on the punitive.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stop US Attacks on Syria!

United for Peace & Justice
Dear Friends,
As UFPJ honors the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, U.S. Navy Ships approach Syria with the threat of an imminent attack. We can’t help but think back to the words of  Dr. Martin Luther King about the travesty of war.  Dr. King stated that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Please take action and make your voice heard.  Let’s stop a US attack in Syria before it starts.
  • Sign this petition and help spread it through social media!  
  • Call the White House at 202-456-1111 or  the Switchboard at 202-456-1414
  • Call your elected Representatives and Senators in their State or District offices (they are on recess) – Demand NO military intervention in Syria. To find the phone number:
  • Organize a peaceful protest, march, vigil at your local communities (city hall, federal building, etc.) anytime this week, call for "NO attacks on Syria!"
  • If the U.S. attacks Syria, organize local actions, after the attack begins, either 6PM on same day if the attacks begin during U.S. day time (local Syria evening time), or 5PM the next day if the attacks begin during U.S. evening time (local Syria day time)
For peace with justice,
Michael McPhearson, Veterans For Peace
Jackie Cabasso, Western States Legal Foundation
Michael Eisenscher, U.S. Labor Against War
Rusti Eisenberg, Brooklyn for Peace
Lisa Fithian, Alliance for Community Trainers (ACT)
Lee Siu Hin, National Immigrant Solidarity Network
Siri Margerin, Civilian Soldier Alliance
Gael Murphy, UFPJ Legislative Working Group
Terry Rockefeller, Peaceful Tomorrows

United for Peace & Justice

Click Here to Donate!

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Monday, August 26, 2013

What You Need to Know About the Egyptian Crisis

Egypt’s unions join protests.

By Bill Fletcher Jr.

Via The Progressive Magazine

August 24, 2013 - One of the most striking features of the current Egyptian crisis has been the response by most of the US Left and progressives. It is not that US leftists and progressives are ignoring the crisis, but that there has been an utter failure to engage with Egyptian leftists and progressives despite the fact that the latter have been writing regular analyses of events, analyses that frequently differ from that created on this side of the Atlantic.

In a political situation that ranks as among one of the most complicated and contradictory of our lifetime, the points of view of Egyptian leftists and progressives have been largely ignored here in the USA or treated as if they are mouthpieces for the Egyptian military if they have stood against the Morsi government.

In order for us—in the USA—to get a better sense of the complications and tragedies connected with the ongoing struggle in Egypt, one must recognize that there has been an on-oing battle for much of the last century between two distinct “projects.” Those projects, and their progeny, help to set the context for the engagements underway.

National populism vs. Islamism

Beginning with the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, which overthrew the monarchy and ultimately led to the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser as president, a particular current emerged that has been described by Egyptian Marxist theorist Samir Amin as a “national populist project.” Arising out of the Egyptian anti-monarchist/nationalist movement that had begun much earlier, this project was a nationalist initiative at progressive change that aimed at moving aside classes and formations that were compromised with colonialism and proceeded to engage in progressive and anti-imperialist development. It was not, however, the same thing as socialism. In national populist projects, as witnessed in Egypt under Nasser, there was limited political democracy, capitalism as such went unchallenged, and the process of change was led by a small group. Though Nasser had considerable popular support, there were very restricted means for the grassroots to involve themselves in the change process. Similar change processes were untaken in other states in the global South including in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, the Sudan and much later, Libya.

Operating within the national populist coalitions was generally to be found the political Left, though the relationship was almost always rocky. Nasser, for instance, had a strong relationship with the Soviet Union, but would periodically turn on the domestic Egyptian Left. This tension resulted, throughout the Arab World, in constant debates and struggles within the Left as to how best to relate to nationalist leaders, such as Nasser in Egypt and Qassem in Iraq, who were perceived as anti-imperialists while at the same time being unwilling (and sometimes unable) to advance the domestic change process very far. This tension resulted in historic miscalculations by the Left, including in Iraq and the Sudan where the Left constituted a significant force but held an almost uncritical stand toward nationalist leaders.

Countering the national populist projects were two main forces. The obvious one was external and was represented by the imperial interests of the global North. They and their domestic allies were constantly trying to undermine independent development and turn these various nation-states into neo-colonies.

The other opponents were those forces who came to be known as Islamists. This movement has its origins in the 19th century and early 20th century where an intellectual movement emerged against both Western imperialism and republican-nationalism (and the imperialism of the Ottoman Empire). The Islamists of the 21st century, led by organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, had a very different project. Their project was Pan-Islamist in nature and thoroughly reactionary at its core. It called for a return to a mythical caliphate state.