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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Report on Convention: Veterans for Peace gives Assad & ISIS a new tool

According to the BBC, at least 96 Syrian civilians were murdered, and another 240 injured by government air strikes on a market near Damascus on Sunday. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian air force jets fired at least 10 rockets into Douma's central market, then attacked again after rescue workers arrived. They became the latest victims in a war that began more than four years ago when the Syrian army started machine gunning peaceful protesters and has taken an estimated quarter million lives to date. The Syrian American Council, the largest Syrian-American organization in the US, is demanding a no-fly zone after this latest Douma massacre and United Nations Under-Secretary-General Stephen O'Brien exclaimed "Attacks on civilians are unlawful, unacceptable and must stop."

Aftermath of Regime air strikes in Douma | 16 August 2015

He went on Monday, 17 August, to describe what he had seen in his three day visit:
In Homs I saw with my own eyes inestimable human suffering. In the Old City, I saw that almost every home had been completely destroyed.

Behind the broken windows of each destroyed home, I was sharply conscious that there had been people whose lives have also been shattered.
It is civilians who have borne the brunt of this conflict for over four years. At least a quarter-million Syrians have been killed, more than a million injured and almost half of the population have been displaced from their homes.
What does Veterans for Peace care about Syria?

The United Nations certainly hasn't done enough to stop the carnage in Syria but at least it expresses concern. If Veterans for Peace could care less about this four year long tragedy, the worst humanitarian disaster of this decade, its hard to imagine how that could have been better demonstrated at its recent national convention at the Town & Country Resort in San Diego, CA., 5-9th August 2015.

There was almost nothing about Syria at the convention! (My contributions excepted.)

Leaving aside what I brought to the convention. There was not a single mention of Syria, not even a single small picture or graphic, on any of the other tables in the tabling room. The room was so crowded with "Peace & Justice" displays that VFP had reduced the table sizes from the promised 8 ft. to 6 ft. so as to accommodate more tables, but apart from Linux Beach, none of those tables gave Syria so much as a mention. Even where concern was shown for Palestinians, it was restricted to those under siege by Israel. It they were being starved by Assad in Yarmouk, they got no love here. Had I not paid the VFP conference and tabling fees, put together the banner and other display materials, taken 4 of my vacation days and drove my '86 Honda to San Diego, there would have been absolutely no recognition of this tragedy that has taken a quarter million lives in the whole room. That is why I can't think of anything they could have taken away to show that they could care less about Syria.

The Linux Beach Table
In addition to no mention of Syria at any of 27 other tables in the tabling room, the convention had no workshops on Syria, no speakers on Syria and no films on Syria. Much the same could be said about two important new issues that the conflict in Syria has played a big part in fuelling, the rise of ISIS and massive refugee crisis. Many other areas received attention from the convention: Vietnam, of course, Korea, both North and South, Palestine and Israel, border and immigration issues, renewable energy, GMOs, Chelsea Manning and trans-gender rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Cuba and counter recruitment, and so on. But the issue that has made half of all Syrians homeless and one tenth of all Syrians dead, had only "Resolution 2015-3: Stop All Foreign Intervention In Syria" as its focus. This resolution only opposes US intervention in Syria which VFP imagines is the cause of all of Syria's problems and is silent on the Russian and Iranian intervention that has made it possible for Assad to keep bombing markets long after most Syrians have abandoned him.

Other than that, there wasn't anything in the official program about Syria. One Friday morning workshop that may have touched upon Syria was "The Middle East and Ukraine-Peace or War" led by Ray McGovern, Phyllis Bennis and Marjorie Cohn. Both Ray McGovern and Phyllis Bennis, along with the convention's banquet keynote speaker, Seymour Hersh, have been very outspoken on Syria. All three came out strongly to defend Assad from charges that he used sarin to murder civilians in Douma and East Ghouta two years ago, while remaining silent as to his day to day slaughter of those same people before and since by more conventional means. All three are consider to be pro-Assad by those supporting the fight to overthrow the regime. Giving them such prominent billing at the convention marked it as a pro-Assad event in the eyes of all who oppose this tyrannical regime.

Banner Details
Syria rarely mentioned

I heard Syria come up twice in the Thursday evening plenary at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, San Diego. The first time was when Nadia Keilani spoke. She mentioned it as one of the countries, along with Yemen, that Saudi Arabia was sending weapons to. She is a San Diego Lawyer and Arab American who campaigned against an Obama strike after the August 2013 sarin gas attack. Then she opposed a military response in the name of concern for Syrians, saying "It will only hurt the Syrian people." Then she claimed to be Syrian. She told me she was Iraqi. Then she falsely claimed that Syrian rebels had been caught with sarin in Turkey and the UN commissioner had said that the rebels had used sarin. These were false stories, widely spread, that seem to have had their origins with the Assad regime.  She had a lot to say about Syria then, when Obama was making noises like he might actually follow though on his promise to take military action if Assad used "a whole bunch of chemical weapons." Once that danger had passed, she went silent on Syria. In her talk that evening, the one mention of Syria was "Saudi Arabia buys half the weapons output of the US, and we know were they go - Syria and Yemen." That was it! Her group, KARAMA, had a table. It was all about the Middle East but it didn't mention Syria. When I asked Nadia what she thought of the Syrian American Council, she said she had never heard of it and implied that it couldn't be that significant if she had never heard of it.

The second mention of Syria came when the moderator, Dylan Ratigan asked the panellist what important victories for peace they had won recently. Michael T. McPhearson, Executive Director of VFP, cited the campaign to stop Obama from attacking Syria in the wake of the 21 August sarin attack, saying "We stopped a war with Syria." I imagine that was welcome news to the people that lost their lives to a government air strike in Douma on Sunday.  Even though Obama is now at war with ISIS in Syria, he is careful not to interfere with Assad doing things like he did on Sunday.

Later, at the convention, I was able to explain to Michael that Obama never had any real intention of attacking Assad after the massive chemical murders anyway. Obama only made his "red-line" statement to tell Assad there would be no military intervention from the US so long as he kept killing the old fashion way. All that VFP and others in the peace movement did with their "No War on Syria" protests of September 2013 was to give Obama "Left cover" for his plan to renege on his promise to the Syrian people.

I met Steve & Mary of  Minnesota VFP in SD
I don't remember VFP, or anyone on the "Left" objecting to Obama's promise when he made it in August 2012, as I did, and it is not honorable to remain silent when a promise is made in your name and then object only when the time comes to fulfil it, but that is exactly what VFP and most of the "Left" did.

When Obama publicly promised America would hit Assad if he used "a whole bunch of chemical weapons" on 20 August 2012, they voiced no objections. After Assad used "a whole bunch of chemical weapons" precisely a year after Obama's red-line promise and killed more than 1,400 people, they voiced all kinds of objections.

Veterans for Peace invited to the convention, as honored guests, three people who acted like Assad's attorneys after the sarin attack. Phyllis Bennis, Ray McGovern and Sy Hersh where all prominent in defending Bashar al-Assad from charges that he was responsible for the chemical murders before he turned over his sarin stockpiles and the OPCW made the match. After the "danger" to their "client" had passed, they dropped interest in finding the real killers. They should have acted like the people's prosecutors in a mass murder case, instead they played the role of the devil's advocate. They should have been out for justice for the victims no matter where it led, but they were only in it to get Bashar al-Assad off. 

It was obvious Michael hadn't given much thought to the effects of this decision inside Syria where it was cheered by Assad supporters and seen as a knife in the back by his opposition. He wasn't aware of the massive defections from the Free Syrian Army to the jihadists that this precipitated and he hadn't seen the connection between America's reneging on that promise and the rise of ISIS and the fall of Mosul, Iraq in its wake. The Syrian conflict is very complicated and it can't be understood without serious study.

Hanging out at the table

I spent almost all my time at the convention at my table and there I had many interesting conversations about the situation in Syria and even sold a few Free Syria scarves. Many of the vets would complain about the Islamization of the Syrian conflict. This was a common theme. Some would even claim that the Assad regime should be supported because at least it was secular whereas the Islamists were not. I would point out that using such a narrow criteria, we would end up supporting the American Nazi Party over Rev. Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Some who never supported the Syrian uprising at any point are now willing to say there was a democracy movement worthy of their support in the beginning but not any more because it is all Islamists. Now, according to these experts, it has all devolved into religious sectarianism and there is absolutely no one involved worthy of our support.

I support these Syrians. I even met folks from Kafranbel when SAC brought them to Los Angeles
I heard this more than once.

Its true that the Syrian conflict has become more religious over the years. Anyone familiar with mass struggles, for example the civil rights struggle in the United States, knows that an oppressed people will turn to their religion in times of conflict because, in the words of Karl Marx, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions."

Certainly, the world has shown the Syrian people just how heartless it can be. A tyrant is being allowed to use a modern air force to murder his own civilians, year after year, while the world does nothing to stop it. Even threats to act if he used sarin for the mass murder of children turn out to be so much bluster. Sure, he is forced to turn over his stockpiles of sarin, which tests to be the same sarin used in the attacks, but then he is allowed to go on killing children with chlorine. [See these on Assad's strategy: Assad's New Strategy: Nothing Makes People Flee Like Murdering Their Children , 07/28/2013 and Assad Knows: Chemical Attacks Kill Children First!, 08/21/2013 - this is the guy VFP is offering absolution to!]

Assad's attack on the market Sunday and the resulting death and destruction were a result of Veterans for Peace policy successes. For four years now, VFP has campaigned against the imposition of any no-fly zone that would have taken away Assad's ability to bomb his people whenever and however he liked, and for four years now VFP has opposed anyone providing any weapons, including air defense weapons, to the people Assad is bombing. Former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford was interviewed by the BBC after the Douma airstrike. He said the fact that Assad can bomb civilians with impunity and the opposition has no effective air defense weapons are the result of "a conscious American decision." These are decisions that VFP supports. The real Obama policy has been one of "closet support" for the Assad regime from the beginning. It is a policy that VFP has given "Left" cover to.  By seriously opposing Obama's pretend policy of regime change, VFP has help him sell it despite all evidence to the contrary.
Nearly a hundred people were murdered on Sunday in an entirely predictable and entirely preventable attack by a certain government on it own people and it has become so ordinary that it is almost ignored by the world's media. Even on Amy Goodman's 60 minute long Democracy Now, it got only 17 seconds on Monday and 1 minute 10 seconds on Tuesday - and this show bills itself as "The War and Peace Report." This is typical of the "Left" response to the Syrian Revolution, BTW. The world has all but ignored Assad's war against civilians even as it is forced to deal with the consequences - ISIS and immigration. Meanwhile Veterans for Peace celebrates "No War with Syria" because they help stop the people who were murdered on Sunday from having a UN-sanctioned no-fly zone to keep Assad's air force grounded or from even being able to acquire modern anti-aircraft weapons with which to defend themselves.

So, given the lack of love shown to these people by the secular world, no one should be the least bit surprised that they have looked to their God for salvation, that over the years of bombardment and siege, religion has played an expanding role, or that those that warned of Western betrayal should gain increasing sway. The irony is that the resulting turn towards religion and away from secularism is now used by those that never showed much concern about the people of Syria, as one more reason to abandon them to their murderous government and its foreign backers.

Seymour Hersh: Saturday's Keynote Speaker

Of course, Sy Hersh spoke about Syria in his keynote dinner speech and what he said was entirely predictable. Because of Assad's supposed role in "The Resistance" to Israel, Hersh has been a fan of his since as early as 2003, when he interviewed the Syrian president and described him as "Tall, gangly, and seemingly shy and eager to please." They began exchanging emails and Hersh became something of a Syrian connection to the White House. After visiting Assad in 2009, Hersh wrote:
He has since consolidated his position—both by modernizing the economy and by suppressing domestic opposition—and, when we spoke, it was clear that he had come to relish the exercise of power.
Sy Hersh was never bothered much by Assad's methods of "suppressing domestic opposition." That was the Syrian people's problem, not his. Sy Hersh liked Bashar Assad then and that didn't change when his people rose up against him and it didn't change when Assad began shooting them down.

I caught Hersh's performance because the tabling room had been closed to make way for the banquet. Unfortunately, because I spent most of my time by the table, I have little first-hand knowledge about what went on in the workshops or plenaries. I can say that none mentioned Syria in their title. One workshop, US Policy in the Greater Middle East, which was led my Eduardo Cohen on Friday afternoon, had this to say about Syria in its description:
The U.S. is largely responsible for the prolonged war in Syria - that has cost the lives of 200,000 or more Syrians
That is also a good summary of the resolution on Syria, which I criticized here, and which I was told was passed by the convention in a straw vote. Quarter million dead and its all America's fault. It lets the Assad regime with its Russian and Iranian backers, completely off the hook. This is what Veterans for Peace has to say about the tragedy of Syria when it bothers to speak of Syria at all. It's all about Veterans for Peace "anti-imperialist" posturing and cares little for the Syrian people or the real-world plight they find themselves in.  It proclaims to be in opposition to US imperialist plans for Syria but I think I have shown that it is really supportive of them.

One might assume that since VFP thinks "The U.S. is largely responsible for the war in Syria," it would demand that the US do something to mitigate this war's terrible effects upon civilians. I do that even though I think the US has a much more distance responsibility for this tragedy. The U.S. was "largely responsible" for Vietnam War and in that case VFP has a long list of projects and demands designed to alleviate the effects of the war on ordinary people. With Syria, its a difference story. "As of the summer of 2015, nearly half the entire population of Syria is displaced," according to the New York Review of Books but as far as I know, and I'm sure someone would have told me, not one thin dime was raised for Syrian refugees at the Town & Country Resort in San Diego, CA over those 5 days, and not a nickel for Doctors Without Borders or the White Helmets.  Again, its hard to see how this VFP National convention could care less about the Syrian people and the plight they find themselves in. 

This convention was mainly about old soldiers getting together again and having a good time. They rightfully feel proud about the good work that Veterans for Peace does and if they hadn't decided that they needed to "intervene" in the Syrian conflict by passing an ill-thought-out resolution on it, I wouldn't be writing this.

If this convention had said nothing about Syria, that would have been entirely legitimate. While Syria certainly deserves more attention than it has received, it is also true that not every group can address every issue. If the convention is one indicator, and the actual content of the resolution is another, Veterans for Peace has not spent a lot of time studying the very complicated and grave situation that is Syria today.

However, that didn't stop them from pontificating and passing their resolution on Syria and they may be quite comfortable with their Syria resolution because it sounds like the same thing they have been saying for years about US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Syria ain't Iraq or Afghanistan and this ain't no fucking game. In the real world, in Syria, this resolution will cost lives.

It will cost lives because, for better or worst, Veterans for Peace still has some respect in the world, and people reading the resolution later won't realize it was passed by a couple hundred veterans without a lot of thought. In Syria, it will be used to dishearten the people and strengthen their enemies. In Syria, where people are dying everyday in a politically driven conflict, it will cost lives. It will cost lives because it misuses the integrity of Veterans for Peace to misinform people about Syria. The Assad regime will use it, as they have used declarations by US peace groups in the past, to show that these so-called "Peace & Justice" groups support its terror campaign, and ISIS will use it to show that even the so-called "Peace & Justice" movement in US supports the fascist regime and a complete turning away from the West is required.

For Veterans for Peace, taking a serious look at the situation in Syria would have taken them out of their comfort zone and this convention at the posh Town & Country Resort in San Diego was all about being comfortable.

News flash...

I have just received late word that Andy Berman has submitted the following draft resolution on Douma for the VFP Board:
Draft 20150717a
VFP Statement on the Atrocity in Douma, Syria

Veterans for Peace views with shock and disgust the large-scale massacre that occurred in Douma, Syria on August 16, 2015.

Reliable reports indicate that over 100 persons, mainly civilians in a public market, were killed in air strikes by the Syrian Government of Bashar al-Assad in this suburban town just north of Damascus. Over 300 more were wounded.

The United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, currently in Damascus, said that he was “horrified” and that the targeting of non-combatants in the country’s war was "unlawful, unacceptable and must stop".

Over 250,000 people have been killed in the last four years of conflict in Syria. Half the population has been displaced from their homes with millions fleeing the country for refugee camps in neighboring countries.

Veterans for Peace denounces all war crimes in Syria, regardless of which party commits them. We urge the United Nations and the international community to restart the Geneva peace talks to find a just and peaceful end to this bloodiest of wars on the planet.
So now we'll see what they do with that.


My posts on Veterans for Peace:
Critique of Proposed VFP Resolution 2015-3 Stop All Foreign Intervention In Syria , 5 Aug 2015
Response to Veterans for Peace on Syria, 25 May 2015
The Response of Veterans for Peace to the Syrian Conflict | a time-line, 11 Aug 2013

My posts on Seymour Hersh:
Whose Seymour Hersh?, 9 Dec 2013
Seymour Hersh's Believe It or Don't, 8 April 2014
Seymour Hersh's chemical weapons fetish, 10 April 2014
Mỹ Lai and Sy Hersh, a Reappraisal, 12 Apr 2014
After Hersh lays smoke screen, Assad lobes gas bombs, 13 Apr 2014
How Seymour Hersh confuses Syria with Libya, 23 Apr 2014

My posts on Ray McGovern:
My dare to Ray McGovern & VIPS on Syria CW attack, 7 Sept 2013
Secret Intel Source of Ray McGovern & VIPS Revealed!, 11 Sept 2013

My posts on Phyllis Bennis:
To Phyllis Bennis: Where is the non-violent opposition in Syria?, 30 June 2012
Phyllis Bennis twists reality to fit politics on DN , 24 June 2014

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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