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Monday, May 25, 2015

Response to Veterans for Peace on Syria

Written by Andy Berman, 25 May 2015, republished with permission. Andy Berman is a member of VFP Chapter 27 in Minneapolis, MN and the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria [CISPOS]. Earlier he was in the US Peace Corps [1967-69], the US Army [1971-73], a telecommunications engineer and Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Bell Laboratories. He became a Vietnam war resister and has been a solidarity and peace activist since then. He blogs at andyberman.blogspot.com.

A former VFP board member writes:
No doubt Assad is a scumbag and a murderer. But those against him (Al Nusra and ISIS) are too. So why do you keep harping on this? What is it you think VFP should do about this? In my view we need to get the US the hell out of there, since US bombing only fuels the fire. Every day you harp on this, and it gets tiresome.

Andy responds:

Thanks for your comments and questions. You posed them very civilly and I therefore should respond to you.  There have been more than a few extremely nasty insults directed my way in this vfp-all forum and in personal emails. Those I ignore (and I have the authors emails automatically sent to my spam folder).  But civil discourse is definitely worthwhile. I appreciate your effort.
So here’s my response or all your concerns. It’s a bit long, but the situation in Syria is complex. Please give this serious consideration.
  1. Thanks for saying that Assad is a “scumbag and murderer.”  Several who post on vfp-all are overt supporters of the fascist dictator. We see a lot of forwarded posts here from a group called the “Syria Solidarity Network”.  That group explicitly supports the scumbag-murderer.  You can see that easily at their website. At the recent UNAC conference, which our vice-president reported so positively on, there were several speakers from groups that openly support the scumbag-murderer, including the Syrian-American Forum, ANSWER, IAC, FRSO.org and others.  Some of these folks have travelled to Syria to endorse the fraudulent elections last year or otherwise try to legitimize Assad. You are right. Assad is a tyrannical bastard.  VFP should be clear about that.  Code Pink has denounced Assad’s war crimes. We should too. We do not have to choose between Assad and US Imperialism.

I am sorry to read that you find my posts about Syria “tiresome.”  They are intended to give fellow VFPers  reliable news reports and analysis that encourages them to rethink,  to speak out and to take action to help stop this horrible war. What I find truly tiresome in vfp-all are the repetitious rants and reposts from sensationalist and conspiracy websites. And tiresome too is the knowledge that every single day barrel bombs are being dropped in Syria while so many of my antiwar friends in the US remain silent.

I am glad that you recognize that Assad is a pig, but it is also clear that your understanding is not a universal sentiment in VFP, an organization I have been part of for many years.  Hence I feel the need to post material that is intended to inform my fellow VFP members that we should be very clear about Assad’s brutality.  While we reject US imperial ventures around the world, it is a serious error for peace activists to support in any way tyrants that find themselves in confrontation with the US:  be they Assad, Saddam, Pol Pot, Qaddafi, or anyone else. We can and should speak out against US imperialism and brutal dictators as well.

I am sure you are familiar with US Left history, and are probably aware that there were indeed US “antiwar” activists who, in the name of opposing US militarism, backed Pol Pot in Cambodia. There are other historical precedents, including those in the antiwar movement who claimed in the early 1930s that stories of Hitler’s roundup of communists and Jews was just an excuse by FDR to build up the US Navy.   

I know there are a great many decent and committed peace activists in VFP. I post politely without rancor so that they may see another side of the Syria story. The position that VFP now takes, seeing only US imperialism as the source of all conflict,  and concerned only with the US role, is very misguided. It does not help further the cause of peace. We should be wiser and stop seeing the world only through our “Americanist” eyes.

  1. You ask what should VFP do about Syria, the bloodiest war on the planet.  Here’s what I think we should be doing:  We often issue VFP Position Statements.  We should issue a position statement that includes the following:
  1. VFP urges the resumption of an international conference on Syria, including the parties to the conflict, Russia, Iran, and the US, and others, following the guidelines of the Geneva I protocol, which calls for a transitional government, a ceasefire, and a withdrawal of all foreign fighters.
  2. VFP urges the United Nations Security Council to put enforcement mechanisms in place to support the existing Security Council resolutions for full access by international aid agencies bringing food and medical aid to all parts of Syria and its resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria including chlorine gas.
  3. VFP urges the US government to conduct serious bilateral discussions with Russia and Iran seeking to find a negotiated end to the war. We recognize that the US still has considerable bargaining power with Russia over issues of NATO expansion and economic re-integration, and considerable common interest in stopping the spread of fanatical ideologies. We recognize that the pending multiparty nuclear agreement with Iran could lead to normalization of US-Iran relations, including a settlement of the Syrian war.

In addition to our criticism of US drone strikes that often kill innocents, VFP should openly criticize the use of barrel bombs, a true weapon of terror, that is now used by the Syrian government on a daily basis, slaughtering far more innocents than US drones.

We should be listening to Syrian voices! There are Syrians and Syrian-Americans in many US cities. They have a variety of viewpoints. Most are desperate for peace, and understand that reconciliation is not possible with Assad in control.  The Syrian American Council is one place to hear and contact them. The Syrian American Medical Society is a great resource for information about the humanitarian crisis. And there are many internet sites, and facebook pages where different Syrian voices are heard.  I will put some links at the end of this message. If you look at them you may be surprised that Syrians in general are much better informed about the America than Americans are informed about Syria!

Syria is the deadliest war on the planet. Why are we not listening to Syrian voices?
We would not think about taking a position on African-American matters without the input of African-Americans.  Yet we basically take our Syria politics from American bloggers.

Another point that needs clarification is your understandable desire to get the “US the hell out of there because it only fuels the fire. “ I agree absolutely! The US track record of military intervention is not a good one. Indeed, the democratic, pluralistic part of the anti-Assad rebels has made it clear that the US bombing, supposedly aimed at ISIS, is in fact bolstering the Assad regime.  

Yes, the US should get out of Syria. But so should Russia and Iran, by far the major suppliers of the weapons of war to Syria. And so should Saudi and Qatar and Hezbollah get out of Syria.  VFP should not be shy about pointing the finger at all the war makers!  A US pullout is a good idea, but alone it stops not one barrel bomb. It stops not one starvation siege.

The war in Syria raged for 3 years without significant US military aid to any of the parties. It would surely continue without US involvement.  Far more than a “US pullout” is needed to stop this war. The war in Syria is now an international war. International action is required to end it. Our focus only on the US is lazy politics, and does not advance our sacred goal of ending war as an instrument of policy.

The world has changed a great deal since the Vietnam era when Dr. King courageously said that the US was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.  Today there are other big purveyors of violence. Globalization is the new world order. Russia is no longer a socialist country. It is a capitalist oligarchy with military intervention in Ukraine and a base in Syria. Iran has 10,000 military advisors in Syria and is directing a proxy war in Yemen. Saudi bombs Yemen and invades Bahrain.

While our emphasis as an American veterans organization should be on US military intervention, to ignore completely the military aggression of other nations is hypocritical. It betrays our commitment as international citizens. In Syria today, US military intervention is not the main cause of the massive slaughter there of the last four years or the last 50 years of brutal dictatorship. To say so is a fantasy. It is a lie.

One more point needs clarification: The nature of the anti-Assad rebels. The uprising against Assad that began in 2011 was based on massive, non-violent, secular demonstrations of young people throughout Syria. It followed directly anti-dictator uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Its demands were for an end to the 50 years brutal dictatorship of the Assad family and the establishment of a democratic, pluralistic regime.

Tragically, Assad responded with extreme violence and some demonstrators moved to armed resistance. Defectors from Assad’s army founded the Free Syrian Army. And most tragically, outside powers, namely Saudi, Qatar, Iran, Hezbollah, Turkey and others have intervened massively with their own agendas, not the needs or desires of the Syrian people. A result has been the corruption of the uprising initial goals, and the rise of Islamic-based military groups in the anti-Assad forces, including Al-Nusra, the Islamic Front and several other groups, often not cooperating with each other.  The democratic, secular groups, centered in the Free Syrian Army, are now only a part of the opposition.   

In recent weeks, however, the anti-Assad groups have improved their military cooperation. Assad’s forces have been defeated in several key battles.  The situation is now fluid. The Assad regime is far less stable.  

Complicating all this is the rise of ISIS, coming into Syria from the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s disbanded Iraqi army, fueled by historic Sunni/Shia conflicts and funded by religious fanatics in the region.  The conflict in Syria is now at least a three-way conflict, a bloody mess of historic proportions.  There is no easy solution in sight.  When the Assad regime does indeed fall, as it inevitably will, the aftermath is likely to be messy.

So what should we do? In VFP we should be watching this war closely, keeping ourselves informed and listening to all the parties to the conflict. We should stand by our basic principles, call for serious peace negotiations, condemn war crimes regardless of who commits them, and pressure our government to use diplomacy with Russia and Iran.  We should be involved in fundraising for humanitarian aid to the millions of Syrians inside and outside the country who are suffering so greatly from this conflict.

Thanks for listening.  Go in peace,
Andy Berman, US Army 1971-73, VFP Chapter 27

As promised are some links that can help folks get better informed about Syria:
http://www.syriadeeply.org/     excellent unbiased daily news from Syria
https://planetsyria.org/en          the non-violent civilian resistance
http://www.etilaf.us/                  UN reps of the political wing of the democratic resistance
http://syriatimes.sy/                     mouthpiece of the dictator
https://www.facebook.com/kafrev?fref=ts    from a Syrian city under FSA control

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