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Man behind the Curtain for al-Qaeda in Syria is Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wanted the recent Geneva II peace conference to focus on terrorism. He says terrorism is the main problem a...

Monday, July 25, 2016

the most noteworthy success for peace of recent years

an open letter to David Swanson...

The movement that developed against the Vietnam War was one of the leading social movements of the 20th century and I am proud to have played a role in it. It was massive, bringing millions of people to its protests. It drew strength from every segment of the population even though the young were its driving force. It built bridges to the Vietnamese and boldly spread its message within the ranks of the military itself. It was international in character, it wasn't just Americans that protested the Vietnam War. Working on many fronts, over many years, it made it increasingly difficult for the Pentagon to carry forward its war plans, and I believe it helped to end that war.

Because of the organization and education done by the anti-war movement around the Vietnam War, not to mention the abolition of the draft, the Masters of War had rough going for almost three decades. It took the shock and rage generated by the nine/eleven attacks to win popular support for the military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. The peace movement was caught on its back-heels initially by the invasion of Afghanistan, coming so quickly after nine/eleven, but before Bush could carry out his long planned invasion of Iraq, the peace movement had bought out over 15 million people in protest worldwide.

Arlington West, Santa Monica
That represented something of a high point in terms of numbers but the anti-war movement continued to build some enduring institutions and organizations. For a number of years I was a volunteer for the Veterans for Peace Arlington West project every Sunday north of the Santa Monica Pier. More than ten years on this VFP project is still going, and it is not the only group to come out of these early anti-war struggles that continues to champion the cause of peace today.

Still, many find the response of the peace movement to the wholesale destruction of Syria over the past five years disappointing. While as many as a half million Syrians have been killed and upwards of 12 million made homeless in what some call the first holocaust of the twenty first century, there have been few protests from the peace movement. Like the mainstream media in the "advanced" countries in which they live, the anti-war movement and its media have chosen to give little attention to the developing carnage in Syria. It has been as though the conscious of the West has taken a leave of absence.

The result is that the Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad has been able to "burn the country," though many years of bombardment with all manner of weapons, many of which are illegal under international law, and there is almost no popular pressure coming from the United States and Europe to make him stop. He has regularized the state use of torture, rape and starvation as weapons against the people with little resistance from western peace and justice groups. He has even been successful in re-introducing lethal chemical weapons as a tool tolerated for repeated use in putting down popular insurrection under a cloud of confusion generated by the anti-war movement.

There are many causes behind the anemic response of the western peace movement to the war in Syria: It wasn't an American war. With Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and name it, many already had too much on their plate. And then there was the fact, for sick reasons that are beyond the scope, that a certain section of the Left, including the organizations that build some of the biggest protests against the Iraq war, were big supporters of anything the ex-Soviet Union was for, including Gaddafi in Libya, Assad in Syria, Russians in Ukraine, and Crimea in Russia. There was also another large section of this shrinking movement that preferred to defer to this pro-Assad Left rather than do anything that would rock the boat. This "peace at any price" was purchased with the soul of the anti-war movement.

In assessing this state of affairs on David Swanson's WarIsACrime.org, Andy Berman put it bluntly in Syria: Reasserting Dignity in the US Antiwar Movement:
After 5 years of intense bloody conflict in Syria, resulting so far in the death of half a million people, the severe injury of millions more, the destruction of major parts of the nation’s housing and infrastructure and the displacement of 12 million persons, literally half the nation’s population, it is abundantly clear that the entity that calls itself the “US antiwar movement” has failed.
what have been the consequences?

One aspect of this question that deserves more consideration is what effect this failure has had on the people in Syria, and through them, on the whole world. If a robust peace movement during the Vietnam War served to shorten it, what has both the lack of response and the pro-Assad nature of much of the Left response meant to the Syrian conflict? The short answer is that it has served to demoralize and weaken the democratic forces on the one hand and strengthen the regime and extremist forces on the other.

All of those who have been fighting for freedom in Syria have been first surprised and then demoralized as the western "peace and justice movement" continued to ignore a conflict and a regime that was grinding hundreds of thousands of people into the dust. The Syrians in the liberate areas that were trying to build a new society under a constant rain of regime barrel bombs, and the fighters in the secular Free Syrian Army learned their struggle would be all the harder. Many were sophisticated enough to know why their plight was ignored by the mainstream media, but when it was also ignored by so-called progressive outlets like Democracy Now, they had important illusions about these "progressives" destroyed.

As the revolution had to face the reality that the promise of serious western military support would never be fulfilled, the willful-ignorance of the US peace movement made most Syrians in revolt feel that they couldn't even get moral support from the West. The cynicism and nihilism generated among the ranks of anti-Assad fighter by a western peace movement gone MIA on Syria has been a gift that keeps on giving for the Salafists of Daesh and al Nusra. It has allowed them to mock those who looked to the west for support in their struggle against the Assad regime.

More useful to Regime or Daesh?
The Syrian regime, on the other hand, could delight in the pro-Assad character of some of these western "anti-war" protests. Pictures of groups like Veterans for Peace marching with Assad's flag could be useful in regime propaganda and demoralizing to its opposition, so the regime was very thankful and openly flaunted these demonstrations of western peace movement support before both its friends and its enemies. For the reactionary extremists of Daesh and al Nusra the hypocrisy of this peace movement was further proof of the complete bankruptcy of western values and teachings.

David Swanson, while you accepted some of Berman's points, you also thought it left out some important successes, you said:
I think the public pressure in the U.S., UK, and elsewhere that stopped a massive U.S. bombing campaign of Syria in 2013 deserves a great deal of credit and far from being an example of a peace movement that has completely failed constitutes the most noteworthy success for peace of recent years.
Dave Swanson, if you looked at this episode from the point of view of the Syrian people and its effects on the flows of both refugees and terrorists from Syria since then, you might have second thoughts about calling it the most noteworthy success for peace of recent years. But before we get to that, I want to address this idea that a massive US bombing campaign was stopped. In the fall of 2013 no massive bombing campaign was going to happen. That campaign is only now really getting started.

Thanks to an interview with then Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Foreign Policy, 18 December 2015, we now know a lot more about what was planned and when and how it was stopped:
It was Aug. 30, 2013, and the U.S. military was poised for war... Hagel had spent the day approving final plans for a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missile strikes against Damascus. U.S. naval destroyers were in the Mediterranean, awaiting orders to fire.

Instead, Obama told a stunned Hagel to stand down.
The French were planning their own independent strike against Assad for the chemical attack. The next day he told the French to stand down as well. Anne Penketh wrote in The Independent, 29 September 2013:
French President Francois Hollande called off military strikes against Syria on 31 August following a phone call from the US President only hours before fighter jets were set to take off, a French weekly magazine has revealed.
The French felt a special responsibility to act because Syria was a former French colony. Chuck Hagel was just making what he thought were appropriate plans given Obama's threat and Assad's actions, but Obama never had any plans to bomb Assad. Throwing it to congress was a face-saving ploy. Note that it was after 31 August that the peace movement swung into action demanding that Obama do what we had already done, stop the bombing. This is why the claims that the peace movement forced Obama to stop the bombing remind me of the little boy in a Dark Vader costume who thinks he just used "The Force" to start the family car.

Anti-war protests against any military response to sarin attack
Times Square New York City | 7 September 2013
Houston | 1 September 2013
Winnipeg, Canada | 7 September 2013
London | 8 September 2013

This would also be a good time to consider how the above pictures looked from various Syrian perspectives. This is my opinion: The Assad regime felt supported, those suffering under the regime felt denied, and the Islamic extremist felts vindicated in their rejection of the West.
Where are the anti-war protesters now? Is it that hard to understand why the average Syrian has come to believe that, as a practical matter, the Left is on the side of the regime?

In any time of great social upheaval, the masses are shaken from their normal stances and pulled both to the right and the left in search of solutions. Is it that hard to understand the relationship between the Left's rejection of the Syrian people's aspiration to be rid of a 46 year old dictatorship and the gains the right-wing, especially the Islamic extremists, have made in recruiting from that same population?
the deal

Instead of military retaliation, there was the deal brokered by Putin. Secretary of State Kerry said:
“We struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out.”
Many in the peace movement hailed it as a peaceful solution to the crisis and congratulated themselves for helping force Obama to chose diplomacy over war. With that deal in the works and the threat of any military retaliation dead, it seemed like the peace movement was again washing its hands of Syria.

The Obama administration and the US peace movement may have liked the deal but how well did it work out for the Syrian people? Within weeks of the big sarin attack, the regime was using another chemical weapon, chlorine gas, with little protest. It has used both chlorine and mustard gas many times since then and in May, the Washington Post reported that it has returned to using sarin:
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, apparently relying on a government source, reported May 2 that Assad’s forces used sarin gas last month against Islamic State fighters after they attacked two Syrian air force bases east of Damascus. Stockpiles of this deadly gas were supposed to have been removed from Syria in 2014.
...
Chemical weapons have become part of “the new normal” in Syria, according to a report in February by the Syrian American Medical Society. The group said that in 2015, there were 69 chemical weapons attacks in Syria, mostly chlorine bombs dropped by Assad’s air force.
In 2013 the UN inspectors found over 1,300 tons of chemical weapons, if he still retains as much as 20%, as we reported on Tuesday, the net effect of the deal was to remove Syria's CW assets as a strategic threat to Israel but allow Assad to retain enough to use as a terror weapon against his own people.

the massive bombing campaign now

On Wednesday we wrote about the massive bombing campaign the US is now carrying out in Syria, while the Charles Davis in the Daily Beast pointed out the lack of anti-war protest:
The relatively muted response among committed anti-interventionists to actually existing U.S. intervention in Syria—over 4,600 airstrikes and counting—is striking, having something to do, perhaps, with the antiwar left having already declared victory years ago. In 2013, the left credited itself with staving off airstrikes against the government of Bashar al-Assad after his forces used chemical weapons, a stated “red line” for U.S. President Barack Obama.
Now we are seeing US military intervention in the Syrian conflict, together with massive US bombing being coordinated with more of the same from the Russian and Syrian air forces, but this is not the attack on Assad that was threatened in 2013. Not one of those 4,600 US airstrikes have been against the Assad regime. They have all been against Daesh or they have been against those fighting the Assad regime. Nor does this represent a shift in strategy or sides, we wrote about US plans to bomb al Nusra in 2013, six months before the "red-line" was crossed, and now they are actually doing it.

US President Barack Obama's "redline" challenge was a bluff, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called him on it. There was never any serious threat of a massive U.S. bombing campaign of Syria in 2013 because Obama has never really wanted to see Assad overthrown. You can't believe everything he says, look at what he does. If Obama had wanted Assad stuck after the sarin murder of over 1400, he would have just followed through with his promise and struck him. As commander and chief he had that power. Like his drone assassinations, he wouldn't have put the question to congress where he knew it would fail, and he wouldn't have made the French abort their own independent retaliation.

David Swanson, you see stopping the massive Syria bombing of 2013 as one of the peace movement's most noteworthy successes, but what if you are wrong and no massive bombing was in the works? Then all the peace movement has done by turning out for the first time in large numbers on Syria to oppose any military response to this murder of 1400 with sarin, was to give Left cover to Obama's decision to renege on his "red-line" promise.

David Swanson, you are proud of your refusal "of Hillary Clinton's desired 'no fly zone,'" but what do you say to these Syrians?

Friday of "No Fly Zone" | Daraa | 28 Oct 2011

Friday of Immediate Military Intervention | Homs | 16 Mar 2012

I guess it really doesn't matter. You won and they lost. The only no-fly zones in Syria have been the ones created by Assad and his Russian allies for Daesh ruled areas. Probably by now many of these Syrian peace demonstrators have been killed by barrel-bombs or fled Syria to avoid them. The failure to create a no-fly zone in Syria made the current Syrian refugee crisis inevitable.
the "red-line" in Syria

To understand the Syrian point of view on the "red-line" episode we have to go back a year before the sarin attack to 20 August 2012, when the statement was first made. That would have been the best time for an American to voice an objection, when the promise was being made in our name, not when the debt so incurred became due. Few did. I did. David Swanson, did you even notice what the president had said? Did you comment at the time?

Most people on the Left didn't notice when Obama made the promise because they weren't paying attention to Syria then. Pro-Assad, pro-Putin Leftist Stephen Lendman did notice and a week after Obama made the threat Lendman compared it to Risking Nuclear Armageddon. As if speaking for Assad, he assured us:
Syria won’t use chemical weapons except in self-defense. It won’t give Washington pretext to intervene.
Of course, Syria was already fighting a war of self defense, according to the regime, and with more than 40,000 dead and counting, Washington didn't want for "pretext" to intervene.

Curiously, in this piece published almost a year before the big sarin attack, Lendman tells us of the Russian origins for conspiracy theories that would later be adopted by much of the western Left to explain it away:
At the same time, [Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady] Gatilov expressed concern about Washington perhaps instigating insurgent nonconventional weapons use blamed on Assad. Doing so gives America pretext for war.
The US has intervened with a lot less pretext when it wanted to in the past. Most of those 40,000 dead were civilians and most the result of Assad's superior firepower. Some close observers thought the statement was chiefly a warning to Assad not to transfer CW to Hezbollah and saw it as an electoral gesture towards Israel. Charles Shoebridge of the Guardian said "headline could have been US rules out no fly zone.." Since Assad was already killing tens of thousands without using chemical weapons and Obama's statement seemed to rule out any military response from the US until he did, most supporters of the fight against Assad began calling Obama's "red-line" a "green light" to Assad to continue the slaughter by conventional means. And that is exactly what he did, killing another hundred thousand Syrians, even using sarin in small amounts, before he dropped it big time on East Ghouta.


The one saving grace, the one positive thing that could be said about America's red-line pledge was that if Bashar al-Assad ever did use "a whole bunch of chemical weapons" the most powerful country in the world, the country that likes to brag that it stands for freedom and democracy, human dignity, etc., etc., would actually step up to the plate and do something.

That is how matters stood on Obama's "red-line" statement before the morning of 21 August 2013.


On that morning over 1400 people, hundreds of them children, were killed by an attack of rockets carrying sarin to suburbs of Damascus that had been under siege by the Assad regime for many months.

Who was really behind the attack has been a matter of some controversy. While the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian opposition, the US government and most of the world blame the Assad regime. The Assad regime and its supporters, including Russia and a big section of the US Left, blame the opposition for trying to do what Gatilov said in 2012. The UN did determine that the sarin used came from the stockpile of the Syrian military but the Russians vetoed any conclusions. I don't want to reopen that debate in this article. I have responded to the various "alternative theories," yes, that's a nicer word, elsewhere, including:
11/16/2015Left's sarin song: still "Regime Change" after all these years!
04/10/2014Seymour Hersh's chemical weapons fetish
03/09/2014UN: Assad sarin used in attacks | The Left's response?
12/09/2013Whose Seymour Hersh?
09/25/2013Where Robert Fisk's defense of Assad falls down
09/23/2013منت برس(Mint Press) تكشف دعمها للأسد.AntiWar.com يقدم اعتذاره.
09/20/2013Mint Press exposed as Assad apologist, AntiWar.com apologizes
09/16/2013UN hints Assad used Russian rockets in sarin gas attack
09/09/2013Secret Intel Source of Ray McGovern & VIPS Revealed!
09/09/2013Why did Assad Regime first Deny CW Attack if Blameless?
09/09/2013Witness to CW Attack: When Paradise turned to Hell.
09/08/2013Dr. Zaher Sahloul on the CW Attacks in Syria
09/08/2013Why would Assad use CW with UN Inspectors in Syria?
09/07/2013My dare to Ray McGovern & VIPS on Syria CW attack
09/03/2013Who Used Sarin in Syria?
09/02/2013How Obama Helped Assad Kill with Poison Gas in Syria
08/30/2013Obama Denied Gas Masks to Assad's Victims
08/29/2013Obama's Dilemma and Assad's Opportunity
08/22/2013AntiWar.com Disparages Chemical Attack in Syria
08/21/2013Assad Knows: Chemical Attacks Kill Children First!
08/21/20131300+ Dead after Obama "Green-lights" new CW attack in Syria
08/05/2013Syria: New Poison Gas Attacks Reported in #Douma & #Adra
06/03/2013More False Reports of Sarin Usage by Assad's Opposition in Syria
05/06/2013Syria Sarin Blame Game: Is Carla Del Ponte at it again?
01/06/2013NY Times: Assad has sarin in bombs at airfields
12/22/2012BREAKING: Chemical weapons first use reported in Syria
12/12/2012AP on Obama's Green Light for Assad's slaughter in Syria
08/20/2012Obama "green lights" Assad's slaughter in Syria
The people of East Ghouta didn't need an MIT professor's calculus to tell them where the rockets had come from. They could hear the launch of the rockets from the nearby Assad stronghold, they'd heard that sound often enough. That's why they had the children sleeping in the basements. The difference this night was the sound they made when they hit. Instead of the bang of high explosives, these sounded almost like dudes. Almost. And the sarin sought out the children. The basement turned out not to be such a safe place to sleep that night.

Anyway, for the purposes of this piece, there is no need to revisit the fight over who used sarin on 21 August 2013 because people respond to what they think happened and among Syrians, outside of regime propagandists, people think the regime did it. It really doesn't matter what Leftists in the US have found it convenient to believe. None opposed to Assad think that Obama was justified in reneging on this "red-line" pledge because elements of the opposition used sarin on opposition areas.

the effects of betrayal

In the Daily Beast, 27 January 2015, Jami Dettmer said:
the "already high skepticism over American policy toward the war in Syria" among the opposition "skyrocketed when the Obama administration failed to enforce in 2013 its “red line” against Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, and the skepticism has merely grown since."
Obama's famous "red-line" proclamation of August 2012 has turned out to be his most cynical and destructive con job to date. Here we had the "Good Cop" saying, I may not be able to stop the "Bad Cops", Assad and Putin, from shelling hospitals and barrel bombing schools, but I'll be damned if I'm going to let them kill you with chemical weapons too. It was a con from the minute he said it. Who uses language like "a whole bunch of chemical weapons" in an ultimatum he wants taken seriously?

When the Sting came, it was devastating. I have been told by Syrians with close ties to those carrying out the struggle in-country that it is hard to over-estimate the negative effect on the morale of Obama's failure to take military action. If an army travels on its stomach, a revolution lives or dies by the morale of the masses, and it would seem that too many Syrians had a misplaced faith in Obama and the United States, so when he reneged on his promise, they took it as a shot to the gut, or rather a knife in the back. I'm told that no battlefield defeat, no new outrage from Assad, had the destructive effect on the fighting spirit of the people against Assad as this one betrayal.

Like so many people before them, they had to learn the hard way about the gap between US words and US actions. It yielded predictable results, some quit the Free Syrian Army for more Islamic brigades, some dropped out of the struggle altogether, some said "Fuck America" and joined Daesh. The net effect was to weaken the FSA and other democratic forces and to strengthen the Islamic extremists like Daesh.


While certainly not the only factor, Obama's betrayal was a big contributor to what has happened since. Once it was clear there would never be a no-fly zone or a western military response to his slaughter, Assad greatly intensified it. Two-thirds of the people killed during the five years of the Syrian conflict have been killed since Obama reneged on his promise and Assad and his supporters have done 95% of the killing. With artillery, barrel-bombs, and frankly, everything short of nuclear, Assad has made many areas not under government control unlivable. The worst refugee crisis in many decades was the inevitable and tragic result.

While the US invasion of Iraq, and Assad's support for jihadists fighting it, laid the basis for Daesh. It was the festering wound that the Syrian conflict was allowed to become [It's not like we don't know how to stop barrel-bombs. Its not cancer.], and safe-haven given the group by Assad in Raqqa, that allowed it to become the worldwide menace that it has become. After Obama reneged, many more fighters cast their lot with the terrorists. In October, as the balance of power was shifting, Daesh began to make moves against the Free Syrian Army in Raqqa. We can only speculate whether what Daesh might call their "red-line" recruits played a significant role in their taking control of Fallujah and Ramadi in December and Raqqa in a January bloodless coup against the FSA, but after Obama's betrayal the group was on a roll, by June 2014 it had taken Mosul and Tikrit.

Now those that thought Syria was not their problem are being forced to take another look as right-wing fascists threaten to ride to power in the United States and Europe by using demagoguery and fear of dual threats widely portrayed as coming out of Syria, refugees and terrorists.

I was on the steps of the Pentagon in October 1967 when we mourned the passing of Che Guevara and I have been a part of the peace movement for half a century. After the Arab Spring, after Occupy, I think this movement lost its way on Syria. That seemed like a small defect, but the Syria issue grew, and deepened. What started in Syria didn't stay in Syria and a peace movement that thought it could sweep these defects under a rug and pay them no never mind, is now going to have to grapple with them head on if it is to have any credibility or relevance going forward.

In no war in my lifetime has the peace movement gotten so much of what it wanted. It demanded that there not be a no-fly zone and there hasn't been. It demanded that the Assad regime not be bombed and it hasn't been. The current state of affairs with regards to Syria is, in part, the result of the polices you have championed. So David Swanson, I hope you will begin by reconsidering your proclamation that stopping Obama from bombing Syria represents the most noteworthy success for peace of recent years.


Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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