The Humanitarian-Interventionist Complex and Syria

IRC ad on Facebook, 9-15-18

Over the past few months, my Facebook feed has been showing numerous, very alarmist ads from allegedly “humanitarian” Western NGOs, about the alleged “threats” faced by people in the various portions of Syria that the central government has been retaking  from the well-armed, extremist-dominated rebels who have controlled them for some years. On the right is one recent such ad, from the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

A number of things strikes me about these ads:

  1. The IRC’s fundraising slide on that same ad.

    It seems obscene for these organizations to try to do fundraising (which is what most of these ads ostensibly aim at) on the backs of people suffering from a prolonged civil conflict.

  2. On the basis of what algorithm did FB target me for these ads? Maybe the same algorithm that sends me ads for an Israeli settlement-based, anti-BDS organization?
  3. How can the people who run these allegedly “humanitarian” organizations square the blatantly one-sided nature of their ads– and presumably also of the programs that they run that underlie the ads– with the norms of a humanitarian movement that has traditionally sought to serve all needy humans on an equal, non-political basis and to insulate itself from any political partisanship?

For some time now, I’ve been concerned about the increasingly political– and I should specify, pro-“Western”, pro-militarist– nature of organizations like the IRC, Mercy Corps (which also sends me lots of similar ads), or Human Rights Watch, or even Amnesty International.

Back in 1990, you will recall, Amnesty played a particularly dirty role in the “Kuwaiti incubators” affair. That year, when Iraq was illegally occupying Kuwait, many people in the United States and other Western countries were deeply moved– and in many cases, moved squarely into the pro-war camp— by the “Nayirah” testimony, in which a young Kuwaiti teen tearfully told a US Congressional group that Iraqi soldiers had looted incubators from Iraqi hospitals, tossing out the  babies who’d been in them. That testimony was later revealed as completely baseless, and “Nayirah” herself was revealed to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador in Washington, who had never been in Kuwait during the occupation by Iraq, as she had claimed.

One of the many very troubling aspects of the Nayirah testimony was that at the time, Amnesty corroborated her claims. In a news conference that Pres. GHW Bush gave on Oct. 9, 1991, as he worked to ramp up support for U.S. military action against Iraq, he cited Amnesty’s reporting on a number of alleged Iraqi atrocities– including on the incubator incident, noting that Amnesty had been “debriefing many of the same people at the border [as had Nayirah’s alleged sources.]”

Thus, in the context of a U.S. president working to gin up support for an upcoming war, we saw Bush citing the (as it turned out, completely baseless) claims made by a non-governmental group whose stated raison d’etre had always until then been to rein in and end abuses committed by governments. Go figure.

In recent months, when I started seeing the IRC’s series of extremely one-sided Facebook ads about Syria– they circulated similarly alarmist ads earlier about “Aleppo” and “Eastern Ghouta”– I felt similarly upset at seeing an organization that had originally been founded to provide humanitarian relief to those fleeing Nazism now being so fully co-opted into the partisan, imperialist/militarist agenda of those working for regime change in Damascus.

Over the years, I’ve had quite few dealings with the IRC in my hometown of Charlottesville, VA, where they have a significant “resettlement hub” that is run (under contract from the US government) to provide services to some of the refugees taken in by the United States and resettled in Charlottesville. So I started researching the organization a bit more. Here is some of what I found, both from the 2016 version of the “990” form that they have to file annually with the IRS (downloadable e.g. here in PDF)  and from Wikipedia.

First, from the 990 form:

(A) The IRC may present itself as a worthy citizen organization, and one that desperately needs money from the general citizenry, as claimed in its Facebook ads. But actually, in 2016, it got $415.4 million of its $727.8 million in revenues (57%) from government grants. (Also, that year, its revenues exceeded its expenses by $33.7 million.)

(B) Its Executive President is David Milliband, the former UK Foreign Secretary. For working 37.5 hours/week for the IRC that year, he took home a compensation package totaling $886,884. I imagine that by now it is more?

(C) On its website, IRC lists its board members, many of whom are CEOs of big US corporations or big financiers. It also lists a roster of “Overseers”, who “provide advice on policy, advocacy, fundraising and public relations.” They include Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger. Need I say more?

The IRC’s Wikipedia page currently has a couple of big flags on it, saying:

Nonetheless, the page does provide a lot of very revealing information about the organization, and some useful links that I plan to follow up. Like this one, to a  very expensive book titled “Covert Network: Progressives, the International Rescue Committee and the CIA.”

Here’s what I think are some key paras in the Wikipedia page:

… So, in light of all of the above, I started to re-think the goal of all those ads– from Mercy Corps, as well as the IRC– that I keep seeing on my Facebook page.

Neither of these organizations needs the paltry number of $$ that I might be able to donate to them, if so moved. Neither do their heads who (like the heads of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty) pull in salaries that are more than 20 times what I ever earned at the height of my career as a researcher, writer, and columnist.

Despite all their window-dressing, these are not (any longer) organizations that are earnest, grassroots-based endeavors to pool the efforts of a great mass of citizens to work for the common good. No. They are an adjunct to the military-industrial complex– one that I like to call the Humanitarian-Interventionist Complex.

Of course, throughout the centuries of Western imperialism and colonialism, these countries’ leaders have always attempted to “sell” their more aggressive/imperialist military actions against other countries to their domestic publics as being in some way “humanitarian” ventures. That tradition goes back a long way, and has been revived in many new forms since the advent of social media. Libya and some of the stages of the US-led war effort in Afghanistan (“save the poor Afghan women”, etc) are just some recent examples.

But Syria seems to be the place where the Humanitarian-Interventionist Complex has in recent years had the greatest amounts of US/Western government funding to play with… and they’ve used a portion of that funding to help their governmental backers gin up support for Western war aims there.

And that, it seems to me, is what most of those social-media ad buys from HIC groups like the IRC or Mercy Corps are really aiming at. They truly cannot care very deeply if you or I would respond to the ad by giving them our paltry donation. But what they principally aim to do, on behalf of their governmental and big business backers, is to keep framing the narrative that the real story in Syria is one of “innocent civilians facing a dire threat from the Syrian government.” They bring the names of those allegedly threatened communities constantly to people’s attention: “Aleppo”!”Eastern Ghouta”! “Idlib”! (How many Americans, honestly, could even find these places on a map, know how to pronounce their names, or know anything about the people who live there and what they lived through during their time under the control of the “rebels?)

… And the credibility that these HIC organizations have with the generally “liberal” portions of the Western public is a huge political asset to the warmongers.

So it’s Nayirah’s testimony all over again, re-made for a social-media environment. Don’t click on the “Donate” button of such organizations. If you do want to give to an organization that provides relief services to the war-ravaged people of Syria on a basis of non-partisanship and need rather than Western war aims, then probably giving to the International Committee for the Red Cross would be your best bet…

Elizabeth Tsurkov on the failings of Syria’s “rebels”

Elizabeth Tsurkov is a young Research Associate with the West Jerusalem-based “Forum for Regional Thinking”, who has published several articles and hundreds of tweets over the past two to three years that were all strongly supportive of the anti-government forces in Syria. All the more notable, then, that on July 10, FORTH (as it is known) published a lengthy article in which Tsurkov reported that disaffection and hatred toward the leaders of the rebel factions and all associated with them is widespread among the ordinary Syrian residents of the dwindling number of rebel-held zones.

Tsurkov also highlights the fact that most “international” reporting of the situation (including popular attitudes) inside the rebel-held zones is deeply flawed because,

reporters for international media outlets have rarely ventured into these regions. Even when they do, they are heavily reliant on local fixers who are supporters of the revolution and motivated by the desire to highlight the atrocities perpetrated by the regime and its allies against the population…

Most Syrian opposition media outlets and media activists in rebel-held territories do not strive to offer objective reporting and see themselves as part of the revolutionary struggle against Assad…

Another factor that has reduced coverage of discontent among civilians toward the rebels is journalists’ fear of reporting and civilians fear of complaining about rebel abuses and corruption, as journalists and civilians who have done so have been threatened, attacked, kidnapped and tortured by rebels.

By contrast, she writes that in her past 17 months of investigations (which she describes as “research”), she

made an effort to seek out unemployed, impoverished Syrians, without connections to rebel factions, media outlets or activist collectives, while also relying on traditional sources such as interviews with rebels, NGO workers and media activists, as well as monitoring conversations and posts of Syrians online. The names of all interviewees were changed for their safety.

She had, she wrote, conducted all the interviews she did with people inside Syria via various messaging apps.

There are some problems with her investigative methods– including the basic ethical problem of a Research Associate at a very Israeli institution conducting “remote”, vox-pop interviews with citizens of a country that is in a long-unresolved state of war with Israel, and some of whose key territory remains under Israeli occupation 51 years after 1967. But still, Tsurkov’s report contains some intriguing information and a first attempt to explain the attitudes she uncovers that does a lot to counter the views so widespread among Western publics (as inculcated by many years of deeply flawed “reporting” by the Western corporate media) about the strength of the popular support allegedly enjoyed by the various rebel leaderships and the depth of the antipathy most Syrian citizens allegedly have toward their country’s government.

The evidence she adduces about the hatred that many Syrian citizens have toward the rebel leaders is fragmentary but intriguing. A couple of little examples:

Hossam, a medical worker in Daraa told me “most civilians here hate the rebels”, due to abuses against civilians, in particular kidnappings for ransom and of people who voice opposition to them. Raed, an activist in western Aleppo said that rebels kidnap “anyone who disagrees with them or says anything bad about them, civilian or rebel.”

In fact, the “native informants” whose views she recounts seem uniformly critical of the various rebel factions, along with the media organs and other NGO’s associated with them, and the outside powers whose flows of aid allow the rebel factions to survive and to continue to conduct their oppressive and parasitical rule over the populations under their control. Not a single one of the twenty or so anonymized individuals whose views she reports says anything to excuse or explain the actions of the rebel leaders. That is pretty stunning, given how strongly her previous writings had been in their support of the anti-government movement. But as she wrote in this latest report, “Interviews I have conducted online with civilians inside rebel-held Syria throughout the war indicate that the level of dissatisfaction [with the rebels] has only grown in 2017 and 2018.” (My emphasis.)

Built around the richly suggestive (but still fragmentary) tapestry of anonymized vox-pop quotes in Tsurkov’s report she produces some still preliminary attempts to analyze and explain her findings. At one point she writes:

Some failings of local governance can be attributed to regime bombings and policies, mismanagement, lack of funding for aid and services. Many other problems stem from corruption, nepotism and wanton disregard for the lives of civilians.

This formulation makes it seem as if she is willing to start considering that the rebels’ own failings are at least as much to blame for the popular disaffection as are the admittedly harsh effects of the government’s military actions, if not more so. To me, that is intriguing– especially, coming from her.

Back in late Spring 2011, I was one of the very few people in Washington DC who knew something about Syria who argued publicly that support for the Syrian government was much more widespread among the Syrian public than was support for the anti-government forces, and that this situation was therefore very different from that obtaining in Tunisia or Egypt, which had both seen the recent overthrow of their leaders by nonviolent mass movements. The presentation I gave at DC’s Middle East Institute in May 2011 starts at 4:18 in this partial video of the event, and continues into this segment. In November 2011, I gave this presentation on the topic at the Turkish-American think-tank, SETA.

My voice in the US national discourse on Syria speedily got drowned out by other voices that (unlike mine) were always heavily funded and supported by interested outside parties. A veritable tsunami of GCC funding flooded into the Washington DC think-tanks, always strongly insistent that the views on Syria only of dedicated anti-government analysts would be supported and promoted. The Middle East Institute was just one of those places, along with many others. SETA, of course, always had close ties with the Turkish government. I was never invited back to speak on Syria at either place and neither as far as I know was anyone else who dared to question the strong anti-Asad bias of the funders.

If the tsunami of GCC and Turkish funding was enough to stifle reasonable discussion in Washington DC, then of course those same streams of funding (and weapons), as well as those that speedily came along from Washington itself, had a far more catastrophic effect within Syria itself– both in creating and fueling the armed opposition movement that has kept the country mired in terrible civil war for the past seven years and in stifling any discussion of the shortcomings of the anti-Asad movements and leaders.

But now at last, as numerous centers of previous “rebel” control have surrendered back to the government, the voices of the Syrian people long held under the iron fist of the foreign-funded “rebels” are starting to emerge back into the global discourse. This has certainly started to happen in the areas where the government has regained control, through the reporting of Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett, Robert Fisk, and others; though it remains deeply shocking, the extent to which these people’s on-the-ground reports from inside Syria are still pooh-poohed and demeaned by the overlords in the global discourse-policing business, who deride these people as misguided “Asad-lovers” or whatever.

So what will the global discourse policers say now, about Elizabeth Tsurkov’s latest article, which reports on the rebel-critical attitudes of many people who remain in the areas controlled by the rebels, and which comes from someone with a long and well-demonstrated sympathy for the rebels? Let us wait and see…

Why does Washington’s imperialist warmaking continue?

(This is v.2 of this blog post. I edited it to try to give a better picture of the casualty tolls in Iraq from the 2003 decision to invade. But those numbers are still really hard to capture. ~HC.)

In the months leading up to March 19, 2003, when Pres. George W. Bush launched an unprovoked and completely optional war of “total regime change” against Iraq, I was proud to take part in several of the broad and spirited antiwar demonstrations and other actions that took place all around the United States and the world.

But we failed to stop Bush from launching his illegal war.

It was 15  years ago this week, on March 19, 2003, that Bush unleashed the war. The negative consequences of that decision– primarily on Iraq and its people, but also on the United States and the integrity of the global order– were massive, and continue to this day. They include (but are not limited to) the following:

  1. The number of those who died directly or indirectly as a result of the invasion of Iraq or the numerous secondary conflicts sparked by the invasion has been estimated at around half a million. Around 4,500 U.S. service-members lost their lives. The numbers of those Iraqi residents wounded or displaced during the 15 years of conflict has been considerably higher. All these casualty figures continue to rise.
  2. The physical infrastructure of Iraq, a country of some 33 million souls, whose schools, hospitals, universities, road system, artistic infrastructure, etc, had already been very badly damaged by 13 years of extremely punitive, US-led sanctions, received considerable additional blows, leading to numerous public-health crises and de-development.
  3. Continue reading “Why does Washington’s imperialist warmaking continue?”

Syria, the Western “left”, and the Palestinian-rights movement

I’m sorry that I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for so long. There has been a lot to ponder in international affairs. But I’ve been busy for the past 7-plus years publishing other people’s work. I feel very good about what my publishing company, Just World Books, has achieved. But I regret that because I’ve poured so much of my time and attention into the publishing, I’ve had so little time left to do my own writing.

Crucial among my concerns has been the question of how and why so much of the western “left”– a force that played such a strong role in the antiwar and broadly anti-imperialism movement in the lead-up to the Iraq war in 2003– has become so deeply co-opted into the allegedly “liberal/humanitarian” wing of the imperialist movement over the past 14 years.

There is much that I hope to write about this over the coming months. My thinking on the topic still evolves. But it already seems clear to me that a number of processes have been at work:

  1. The erosion of the whole memory/immediacy of the question of imperialism and the need to counter it, as I understood it back when I was young in the UK, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many younger people in the west today think that imperialism/anti-imperialism is “tired old dogma” or whatever. Or, they talk glibly, in re Syria, about “dual imperialisms”– that is, Russian along with US/Western– without any appreciation of the relevance of the history of western imperialism in the M.E. region or the significance of the fact that Russia is in Syria as the invited ally of the legitimate government of Syria wile the US/Saudi/western forces are there to disrupt, hobble, or topple the country’s entire governing system, in the continuation of plans that the Zionists and Americans have pursued for many decades now.

Continue reading “Syria, the Western “left”, and the Palestinian-rights movement”

Brahimi on how to understand Syria

I just saw this May 18 interview with Lakhdar Brahimi. In it, the UN’s recently retired negotiator for Syria said:

I think the Russian analysis was right at the beginning, but everybody thought that it was an opinion and not an analysis. The Russians were saying that Syria is not Egypt and it is not Tunisia, and the president of Syria is not going to fall in a matter of two or three weeks. People thought that this was not an analysis, it was an expression of position: ‘We are going to support this regime’…

Maybe, maybe if people listened to them, and went to them, and said, listen you clearly know the situation in Syria better than anybody else. Let’s sit down and see how we can help Syria solve its problems. Perhaps things would have been different. But that did not happen.

I’d just like to note that the analysis that “Syria is not Egypt and it is not Tunisia, and the president of Syria is not going to fall in a matter of two or three weeks…” was not solely a “Russian” analysis. It was also the conclusion reached by several people in the United States who have studied Syria for a long time, myself included. Back in May 2011 (MP3) and again in late November 2011, I made precisely these same points during public presentations I made at two non-trivial think-tanks in Washington, DC– the Middle East Institute and SETA. So anyone in the city who was prepared to acknowledge that I had a fair bit of expertise on the topic could have heard and learned from what I said.
I don’t know how many of the people who heard me ended up being persuaded by what I said. (Why not, I wonder? An interesting question. Perhaps because I don’t have Haim Saban or the late Sidney Harman’s money behind me. Perhaps because I am female. Who knows?) But what is clear is that none of the people who opposed my positions in those panel discussions have had their analyses vindicated. I have. If anyone cares to go back and read the 80-plus earlier posts on my blog in which I wrote about Syria, from 2003 through 2013, or to read any of my earlier writings on Syria (including two books that dealt with Syria in detail), he or she is welcome to do so.
Actually, I think what happened in 2011 was not my failure to persuade members of the Washington DC power elite but rather, the absolute insistence among members of the power elite (including a number of people with alleged “expertise on Syria”, like Steven Heydemann) most simply, that “Asad has to go”– antecedently to encouraging Syrians to engage in negotiations on any other forms of reform.
This position did not come out of nowhere. It was a continuation of the strong support that most members of Washington’s elite have given for decades to a straightforward policy of “regime change” in Syria. That policy had its origins with the imposition of the first US sanctions on Syria in the late 1970s– punishments that were ratcheted up considerably in the 2000s, under George W. Bush, along with his introduction of increased covert funding to Syrian dissidents under MEPPI– a policy that Obama then continued after January 2009.
This deep and longstanding US push for regime change in Damascus is so durable that it even managed to survive several periods in which, at the surface level, relations between the two governments appeared to be somewhat improved, e.g., during Syria’s participation in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, in the Madrid peace conference of 1992, and in many years of the post-Madrid peace diplomacy; and more recently, when it gave a degree of tacit support to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. But still, regime change– the end of Baathist rule in Damascus–was the enduring bedrock of what the neocons, AIPAC, and all their zombies in Congress, the media, and the military-industrial complex continued to push for.
The eruption of “Arab Spring” protests in Tunisia and Egypt– and the undoubted excitement these protests aroused in many parts of the Arab world, including in Syria– gave them the opportunity they sought to implement their plan.
Brahimi makes some important points in his interview. But I think it’s important to note that the analysis in question was not purely “Russian”. People in Washington DC certainly had the chance to hear a very similar assessment being made.
As I’ve noted here on the blog before, it gives me no pleasure to say, “I was right on Syria.” None whatsoever. But anyone in Washington DC or elsewhere who currently claims that she or he “cares a lot” about what has happened to the Syrian people probably owes an apology to those of us who back in 2011 made a well-informed, and as it happened correct assessment of the sources and endurance of the regime’s power.
If they want to carry on pursuing their imperialistic and arrogant policies of imposing regime change on Syria and thereby keeping the country’s people trapped in the current carnage, then I suppose they are still able to do that– at least, until the Syrian people in their millions tell the “westerners” decisively to end their illegal, divisive, and extremely harmful intervention in the internal politics of sovereign Syria.
But after three long years in which the regime-changeistas’ assessments of the “imminent collapse” of the regime have all been decisively proven false, they’d do well to eat a bit of humble pie, admit they were wrong– and most importantly of all, to undertake the course correction needed to provide real help to those Syrians (all Syrians, including both supporters and opponents of the regime) who want to bring this terrible war to the speediest possible, and preferably negotiated, end.

The Russia-Syria deal: What it means and what now?

Watching Syrian FM Walid Muallem on the TV news announcing his country’s acceptance of Russia’s plan to consign all Syria’s CW stockpile to international control and then destruction was an amazingly powerful sight. With this one stroke, all the air went out of the campaign Pres. Obama has been ramping up, to win public and Congressional support for a U.S. “punitive” military attack against Syria. (Shortly after Mouallem’s announcement, the Democratic leader of the senate, Harry Reid, withdrew the war resolution from consideration there…)

As of now, the Moscow deal looks like win-win-win all round for everyone with legitimate interests in the Syria situation:

  • First of all and most importantly, it is a win for the vast majority of the Syrian people– those who are desperate for an end to the conflict and want nothing more than to go home and see their country’s war-ravaged fabric (physical and social) repaired. Under what political circumstances? Still to be determined. But at least they have a much better chance of this happening now than if U.S. Cruise missiles had been used to further stir up the  stew of their country’s conflict.
  • It’s a win for both Pres. Obama and the American people. The American people had shown, overwhelmingly, that they (we) neither wanted nor needed this war. But Obama was still kind of hoisted on the self-created petard of his various pronouncements about Syria’s CW– not only the various ‘Red Lines’ statements he made earlier, but also all the recent statements claiming a surety of knowledge about what happened August 21st that has never yet been backed up by the public provision of any evidence. Here in the United States as around the world, there were loud calls for him to present his evidence. He never has. As this made-in-Moscow deal goes forward (which I expect it will), Obama will likely be relieved that he never has to show what, by many accounts, seems to have been a very weak evidentiary hand. Continue reading “The Russia-Syria deal: What it means and what now?”

Syria in the crosshairs of the west

2013 is very far from being the time that independent Syria has been targeted by the west (sometimes, including Israel.) The history of western intervention in the country has been long– starting from, of course, the protectorate that France established there in the wake of World War I, under the guise of a ‘Mandate’ from the League of Nations– though not, of course, from the Syrian people. In 1949, just three years after Syria won its independence from France, the CIA engineered a coup by the head of the Syrian armed forces, Hosni Zaim, against the democratically elected president Shukri Quwwatly. CIA operative Miles Copeland wrote later (Game of Nations, 1969, p.50) that he and his colleagues had judged Quwwatly “not liberal enough”… and therefore he had to be toppled by a coup. (Echoes in Egypt today, anyone? People organizing a military coup in the name of “liberalism”?)

Sticking, for now, with the record of purely American interventions in Syria, this record is long indeed, running (in more recent times) through:

  1. 1979, when the State Department put Syria on the list of “states supporting terrorism” back in 1979– which triggered economic sanctions that have lasted until today, and have been progressively tightened ever since;
  2. December 2003, when Congress– in the first flush of enthusiasm that the U.S. victory in Iraq could be speedily replicated in Syria and Lebanon– passed the punitive “Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act (SALSRA)”. In late spring 2005, after the growth of the Lebanese popular movement that followed the killing of former PM Rafiq Hariri, Syria did indeed withdraw from Lebanon the troops that had been deployed there since they first went in (at, it has to be said, Washington’s urging) back in January 1976. But even the restoration of Lebanon’s sovereignty was not enough to ease up the sanctions Washington maintained on Syria. Actually, the SALSRA was a great big dog’s breakfast of a sanctions bill; and it has been cited more recently as a source of legitimacy for U.S. punitive action against Syria on account of Syria’s CW capabilities.
  3. From 2009 until today: The funding of clandestine opposition movements in Syria under the MEPPI program that George W. Bush launched (with Liz Cheney supervising much of it in the early years.) Crucially, after Pres. Obama took office, he continued this program– as was revealed in some of the Wikileaks cables in April 2011. Continue reading “Syria in the crosshairs of the west”

Notes as the imperial will starts to collapse, Pt. II

(Part I of this was here.)

Citizens here in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world have had ample chance, in the 12 years since 9/11, to see the results of U.S. military actions– in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya and (a little covertly), in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. In none of these cases have the results been anything that anyone can take pride in, to say the least.

Americans (outside the Washington Beltway) are not stupid. We have seen all these terrible outcomes… outcomes, that is, that have been terrible for our fellow-humans who are citizens of those targeted countries– but also, terrible because of the way they have helped to make the world a much more unstable and terrifying place and to further deepen the hatred for Americans in many parts of the world. The U.S.’s profligate use of military power in all these situations in the past 12 years has ended up being quite counter-productive in terms of making the word a better, safer place for Americans (and others.) And somehow, finally, an increasing number of Americans are seeing that this has been so.

Two years ago, on September 10, 2011, I wrote:

I believe that today, more Americans understand the futility and damaging nature of wars– all wars– than did ten years ago. But still, far too many of our countrymen and -women remain susceptible to arguments like those made in favor of the military “action” or military “intervention” in Libya earlier this year.

That was two years ago. Since then, a lot more Americans’ eyes have been opened as to the counter-productive nature of war– whether in Libya, in Afghanistan, Iraq, or (I hope) anywhere else in the world.

We definitely heard some of that during the meeting we had with Rep. Robert Hurt here in his district office in Charlottesville, on Thursday. And he told us, then, that the calls he’s been receiving on the Syria issue have been running “overwhelmingly” against the idea of a U.S. military attack. This is great. This is new. This is the result, in part, of new great awakening of Americans on issues of war, peace, and security. It’s the result, too, of the patient work of everyone in the anti-war movement who has kept on steadfastly organizing and making their (our) case even throughout the past 12 years of the crazy American wars.

There are three main groups of people here in the United States who, as of now, don’t see things this way. They are:

  1. Leaders of the military-industrial complex and their flaks.
  2. AIPAC (the America Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the leaders of some other prominent pro-Israeli organizations.
  3. Some liberal hawks.

Okay, let’s take the liberal hawks first, because they are the smuggest and the least well informed.

Continue reading “Notes as the imperial will starts to collapse, Pt. II”

Notes as the imperial will starts to collapse

In 1997, I had the good fortune to move with my family to a place sufficiently far from the hype-soaked, MIC-funded confines of Washington DC that a person could actually have real conversations in public about issues like the Palestine Question without immediately being accused of being a traitor, or an anti-semite, or worse. Our Member of Congress here in Virginia’s 5th district is currently Robert Hurt, a pleasant but fairly good-old-boy-ish Republican who first won the seat in the Tea Party-inspired upheaval of 2010.

On Thursday, I was part of a 20-person citizen delegation organized by the indefatigable peace activist David Swanson that went to see Rep. Hurt, with the two goals of (1) pressing him to express his own position on the possibility of a US military attack on Syria and (2) expressing our own opposition to such an attack. (A fairly good local-news report of the meeting is here.) On the first point, Hurt said he “remained to be convinced of the need for the attack”, but he would “listen to the president and hear the administration’s briefings with an open mind.” During the meeting, I pressed him to listen to the admin’s briefings with a critical mind, as well, and not to be afraid to ask for questions and clarifications. He said he would. This seems all the more important in light of Rep. Alan Grayson’s account in today’s NYT of just how unsatisfactory he found the briefings that he was given on the subject, in his role as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Grayson, a Democratic member from South Florida, has emerged– along with libertarian-inclined Rep. Justin Amash of Wisconsin– as a leader of the DontattackSyria movement. (Any US citizen reading this who has not yet signed the petition there should do so asap.) All the more surprising because, as MJ Rosenberg has noted, Grayson had previously had something of a reputation as an AIPAC dupe.

* * *

Continue reading “Notes as the imperial will starts to collapse”

Asad’s survivability, and US MSM

David Sanger in NYT today:

How did Mr. Obama find himself in this trap? Partly, it was an accident of history: in the early, heady days of the Arab uprisings, no one bet that Mr. Assad would survive this long, in a country where his Alawite sect is a minority.

Not true. Of course, responsible analysis of foreign affairs is not a casino, so what analysts do is not “bet” on possibilities; rather, they make their best assessment based on the knowledge/experience base they have and their powers of analysis. On that basis, since the beginning of the uprising in Syria, I have expressed my judgment that Pres. Asad has had much stronger support in Syrian public opinion than, for example, former Pres. Mubarak had; and that all the pundits saying “Asad won’t last until ‘the end of 2011’,” or whatever other timeframe they put on it, were ill-informed and wrong.

In 2011, based on my many decades of experience analyzing and writing about matters Syrian, I was able to have my views heard in Washington a tiny bit– at two small think tanks. Did David Sanger or any other wellpaid participant in the MSM ever seek my views, or those of other analysts who, also knowing a lot about Syrian internal affairs, voiced the same conclusions? No. Instead, they all just kept quoting the same denizens of the media-Beltway bubble (with the ‘quoting’ often led by people at the so-called ‘Washington’ Institute for Near East Policy, which is actually the AIPAC-spawned Institute for NEP… not designed to be a source of cool, impartial analysis or policy advice.)

This bubble/echo-chamber mentality among the MSM and the rest of the along-the-Acela-line elite had consequences. In April 2012, one mid-level official in the U.S. diplomatic machine told me in exasperation, “We never imagined that Asad would still be in power this long! We were convinced he would be out by the end of 2011.” I reminded this person that I had warned all along that Asad’s regime had more popular support and political resilience than the other regimes that had toppled the previous year.

Anyway, all this is just for the record at this point. But please, don’t let David Sanger get away with his claim that “in the early, heady days of the Arab uprisings, no one bet that Mr. Assad would survive this long.” I was there, David Sanger, and I was presenting my analysis. It was just that you– and too many others like you– weren’t paying attention.

Crucially, if more people in the U.S. power elite had tried to really understand the dynamics inside Syria, the Obama administration would not have taken the step, in August 2011, of declaring that “Asad has to go before there can be any intra-Syrian negotiations.” It is that position, steadfastly hewed to by the administration since then, that has condemned the Syrian people to two additional years of wrenching internal struggle and horrific levels of destruction of their infrastructure and their society.