For those of you in or near NYC, or planning to be there around the NPT PrepCom, please consider attending this conference on Saturday, May 3. Peace Action is a co-sponsor, and Field Director Judith Le Blanc and PANYS Executive Director Alicia Godsberg will be among the speakers.
Facing the Dangers of 21st Century Great Power War
A Conference on the Centenary of World War I
Saturday, May 3, 2014 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Assembly Hall, Judson Memorial Church
229 Thompson St., Manhattan
South of Washington Square Park
9:30-11:00 Looking forward, looking backward: WWI, today’s risk of great power war, peace movements, and disarmament.
• Dr. Erhard Crome, Rosa Luxembourg Foundation.
• Zia Mian, Princeton University.
• Andrew Lichterman, Western States Legal Foundation.
11:30-12:45 Risks of Great Power War: Regional Perspectives
• Joseph Gerson, American Friends Service Committee
• M.V. Ramana, Princeton University
• Irene Gendzier, Boston University.
12:45-1:45 Lunch (See registration information below)
1:45-3:00 The Risk of Great Power War: Regional perspectives: BRICs, Sub-Imperialisms, and Post-Cold War conflicts
• Michael Klare, Hampshire College
• Emira Woods, Institute for Policy Studies
• Paul Lansu, Pax Christi Europe.
3:00-4:15 Limits of the Moral Imagination: Industrialized Warfare, Moral Thresholds, and the Forgotten History of Arms Control:
John Burroughs, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
Paul Walker, Global Green
Götz Nuneck Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, University of Hamburg.
4:15-5:30 Disarmament Movements, Peace Movements, and What Is To Be Done.
• Reiner Braun, International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms
• Akira Kawasaki, Peace Boat
• Judith LeBlanc, Peace Action
To Register: Write to Jennifer Sherys-Rivet at JSherysr@afsc.org. For more information, call 617-661-6130. (Lunch available with pre-registration $10)
Conference conveners and Sponsors: American Friends Service Committee, Peace and Economic Security Program; International Peace Bureau; and the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms and its U.S. affiliates, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and the Western States Legal Foundation, Rosa Luxembourg Foundation. Endorsing Organizations: Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons, Peace Action
Readers discuss what kind of armed forces we need to face the threats of the 21st century.
To the Editor:
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s plan to reduce the size of the Army is a step in the right direction. It underscores the fact that waging a large-scale ground war in Iraq and a major counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan were tragic mistakes that should not be repeated.
Critics of the proposal will argue that it will hobble our ability to wage two ground wars at once, without acknowledging that it was not in our interest to do so in the early 2000s and will not be in our interest to do so in the foreseeable future, if ever. This is particularly true with respect to the current situation in Ukraine, where it makes no sense for the United States to take military action regardless of the size of our armed forces.
I hope that Mr. Hagel’s move will set off a larger debate: What kind of armed forces do we need to face the most likely threats of the 21st century?
Given that the most urgent threats we face, from climate change to cyberattacks, cannot be solved with military force, we should substantially downsize our armed forces across the board and invest some of the resulting savings in diplomacy, targeted economic assistance and other nonmilitary foreign policy tools.
WILLIAM D. HARTUNG
New York, March 4, 2014
The writer is director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.
Mr. Hartung poses an important question — what sort of armed forces do we need to deal with 21st-century threats to the United States? — and leaps to unwarranted conclusions in trying to provide an answer.
His assertion that it will not be in our interest to wage simultaneous large ground wars “in the foreseeable future, if ever” is particularly brazen. Can he state with confidence that the complex and evolving geopolitics of this century will not produce a situation in which the United States must take on two large adversaries at once? I might on the contrary suggest that the relative decline of America, along with the rise of China and other assertive new powers, makes such a situation increasingly plausible.
Mr. Hartung claims that the most significant threats of the present and future, “from climate change to cyberattacks, cannot be solved with military force.” It is true that larger numbers of soldiers will not solve these problems. But dealing with cyberattacks, for example, requires not a diminution of military forces but a repurposing of those forces to take on new foes in new ways.
Climate change is not in itself a military problem, but science tells us that it will likely lead to a world of overstretched resources, increased natural disasters and displaced populations — a world, that is, in which wars and conflicts are ever more likely to break out. This is not a convincing argument for a reduction in the armed forces.
It is common sense to think about the future security challenges we face, and how best to adapt to them; but it is nonsense to assume that, in the 21st century, we no longer have to worry about land wars and threats of a more traditional nature.
DAVID A. McM. WILSON
Brookline, Mass., March 5, 2014
The true issue that should be addressed is not whether we can fight one small war or two but rather, under our nation’s current financial constraints, whether we can continue to afford our existing military establishment. If we opt for the quick solution of fewer “boots on the ground,” it will simply further reduce our capability to respond militarily in settings varying from local weather disasters to major geopolitical conflicts.
What is really required is an attack by the Defense Department on the gross overlapping of military responsibilities, and the concomitant bureaucratic conflicts, delays and simple waste of scarce financial and human resources.
Numerous obvious opportunities exist. Does the Army treat wounds differently from the Navy? Does a chaplain say Mass differently in the Air Force? Are the rules for procurement different? If not, why are these functions not consolidated?
Indeed, does there remain any logic, other than simple hubris, for separate services?
FRANKLIN L. GREENE
Loudon, Tenn., March 5, 2014
The writer is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.
I agree that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s plan to draw down the Army is a step in the right direction. As Mr. Hartung says, the simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were catastrophic mistakes that should not be repeated, so there is no reason to keep the Army at its current size.
But even if we did repeat those mistakes in the future — sadly, not a wholly implausible prospect, given that less than 30 years separated the fall of Saigon from our invasion of Afghanistan — that possibility would still not be an argument for keeping the Army at its present size. Historically, we’ve drawn down our forces after wars, without thinking that we weren’t going to have similar wars in the future. When we decided to go to war again, we increased the size of the Army again.
Policy Director, Just Foreign Policy
Urbana, Ill., March 5, 2014
The proposed reduction in troop levels could be the beginning of a new direction of American foreign policy by reducing our capacity for ground wars and occupations. If the reductions were enacted, it would restrict future presidents from pursuing land wars, which would be welcomed by a war-weary public.
Unfortunately, the debate over reducing troop levels is usually derailed by fear mongering on national security. Never has the argument supporting troop reductions been stronger.
The Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon’s strategy document, issued this month, outlines an approach that relies on multilateral military actions, with allies as partners in addressing security issues or natural disasters.
National security and most pressing global issues, such as the climate crisis or cyberattacks or civil conflicts, cannot be solved through military action, or through the action of one country alone. Multilateral action and cooperation are crucial. The situation in Ukraine is yet another example of that reality.
JUDITH LE BLANC
New York, March 5, 2014
The writer is the field director for Peace Action.
Mr. Hartung asks, “What kind of armed forces do we need to face the most likely threats of the 21st century?”
If this had been asked a hundred years ago, in March 1914, what would the answer have been? No one knew that World War I would soon break out, nor could anyone have anticipated World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan or any other military actions that we have been involved in.
Besides, unanticipated world events that changed our military needs have arisen without warning, or our ability to control them — the Communist revolutions in Russia and China, the violent tensions in the Middle East. Is there any reason to think that war game policy planners can find the answer to Mr. Hartung’s question today?
Do we still wish to be a world power, and, if so, what defines that role today and tomorrow? This is what we need to ask before we determine the new size of our armed forces.
Easton, Pa., March 5, 2014
The writer is a professor of sociology at Lafayette College.
The Writer Responds
The responses strike a good balance in asking not just how large our armed forces should be, but also how we should prepare for an uncertain future and what role the United States should play in the world.
Mr. Wilson asserts that it is “increasingly plausible” that the United States might have to fight two large adversaries at once. But he does not say who those adversaries might be. No American leader would be reckless enough to engage in a land war against Russia or China, and there are no other large adversaries on the horizon.
Mr. Schneiderman points out that it is extremely hard to predict the next war. But the most damaging and costly American wars of the past half century — Vietnam and Iraq — should have never been fought. Opponents of these conflicts rightly predicted that they would have disastrous consequences. And as Mr. Naiman indicates, the United States has increased the size of our forces at times of war rather than keeping the Army on a permanent war footing between conflicts. Uncertainty is not a valid reason for giving the Pentagon nearly half a trillion dollars a year.
American foreign policy needs to move beyond a narrow focus on military solutions and invest more in civilian institutions and programs that can help address pressing problems like extreme poverty, climate change and the spread of nuclear weapons. The United States can’t be the world’s policeman, but it can be a leader in addressing the most urgent threats to America and the world.
When it comes to war, the American public is remarkably fickle.
The responses of Americans to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars provide telling examples. In 2003, according to opinion polls, 72 percent of Americans thought going to war in Iraq was the right decision. By early 2013, support for that decision had declined to 41 percent. Similarly, in October 2001, when U.S. military action began in Afghanistan, it was backed by 90 percent of the American public. By December 2013, public approval of the Afghanistan war had dropped to only 17 percent.
In fact, this collapse of public support for once-popular wars is a long-term phenomenon. Although World War I preceded public opinion polling, observers reported considerable enthusiasm for U.S. entry into that conflict in April 1917. But, after the war, the enthusiasm melted away. In 1937, when pollsters asked Americans whether the United States should participate in another war like the World War, 95 percent of the respondents said “No.”
And so it went. When President Truman dispatched U.S. troops to Korea in June 1950, 78 percent of Americans polled expressed their approval. By February 1952, according to polls, 50 percent of Americans believed that U.S. entry into the Korean War had been a mistake. The same phenomenon occurred in connection with the Vietnam War. In August 1965, when Americans were asked if the U.S. government had made “a mistake in sending troops to fight in Vietnam,” 61 percent of them said “No.” But by August 1968, support for the war had fallen to 35 percent, and by May 1971 it had dropped to 28 percent.
Of all America’s wars over the past century, only World War II has retained mass public approval. And this was a very unusual war – one involving a devastating military attack upon American soil, fiendish foes determined to conquer and enslave the world, and a clear-cut, total victory.
In almost all cases, though, Americans turned against wars they once supported. How should one explain this pattern of disillusionment?
The major reason appears to be the immense cost of war — in lives and resources. During the Korean and Vietnam wars, as the body bags and crippled veterans began coming back to the United States in large numbers, public support for the wars dwindled considerably. Although the Afghanistan and Iraq wars produced fewer American casualties, the economic costs have been immense. Two recent scholarly studies have estimated that these two wars will ultimately cost American taxpayers from $4 trillion to $6 trillion. As a result, most of the U.S. government’s spending no longer goes for education, health care, parks, and infrastructure, but to cover the costs of war. It is hardly surprising that many Americans have turned sour on these conflicts.
But if the heavy burden of wars has disillusioned many Americans, why are they so easily suckered into supporting new ones?
A key reason seems to be that that powerful, opinion-molding institutions – the mass communications media, government, political parties, and even education – are controlled, more or less, by what President Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex.” And, at the outset of a conflict, these institutions are usually capable of getting flags waving, bands playing, and crowds cheering for war.
But it is also true that much of the American public is very gullible and, at least initially, quite ready to rally ‘round the flag. Certainly, many Americans are very nationalistic and resonate to super-patriotic appeals. A mainstay of U.S. political rhetoric is the sacrosanct claim that America is “the greatest nation in the world” – a very useful motivator of U.S. military action against other countries. And this heady brew is topped off with considerable reverence for guns and U.S. soldiers. (“Let’s hear the applause for Our Heroes!”)
Of course, there is also an important American peace constituency, which has formed long-term peace organizations, including Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and other antiwar groups. This peace constituency, often driven by moral and political ideals, provides the key force behind the opposition to U.S. wars in their early stages. But it is counterbalanced by staunch military enthusiasts, ready to applaud wars to the last surviving American. The shifting force in U.S. public opinion is the large number of people who rally ‘round the flag at the beginning of a war and, then, gradually, become fed up with the conflict.
There would certainly be less disillusionment, as well as a great savings in lives and resources, if more Americans recognized the terrible costs of war before they rushed to embrace it. But a clearer understanding of war and its consequences will probably be necessary to convince Americans to break out of the cycle in which they seem trapped.
Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com), syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is “What’s Going On at UAardvark?” (Solidarity Press), a satirical novel about campus life.
By Harry Wang and Rebecca Griffin
Special to The Bee
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 – 12:00 am
We all know that Congress has a lower approval rating than cockroaches and the much-maligned rock band Nickelback. Now we can add another thing to the more-popular-than-Congress list: the recently negotiated deal to constrain Iran’s nuclear program. This historic diplomatic achievement has widespread support from the American public. The question now is whether Congress will ruin a popular plan that Americans understand is the right one.
Sacramento-area Rep. Ami Bera can have a powerful voice on this issue as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He should use it to support the negotiations and ensure his colleagues don’t scuttle a long-term diplomatic deal.
If you want to avert war and stop the spread of nuclear weapons, it’s hard not to like this first-step deal negotiated between the United States and its partners and Iran. In exchange for modest sanctions relief, Iran reins in its nuclear activity, making it much more difficult to get anywhere near a nuclear weapon. Its facilities will be open to daily inspections, the most intensive inspections program ever. This deal offers an opportunity to build confidence on both sides as they work toward a more permanent arrangement that will make the world safer.
Smart people around the world are lining up behind this reasonable, realistic approach to addressing nuclear proliferation concerns. The deal was negotiated with major allies such as Britain and France who have been part of the administration’s ongoing pressure campaign on Iran. Experts from Brent Scowcroft to Madeleine Albright to a group of former U.S. ambassadors to Israel have lined up in support.
Still, there are people who resemble those stalwart Nickelback fans, raising their lighters to the old song about bombing Iran. Some can be dismissed as delusional, like Ben Shapiro at Breitbart.com, who described a deal that largely skews toward U.S. interests as “worse than Munich.” But there are people with actual power in Congress who are tenaciously working to undermine this deal.
Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., are trying to push through another round of sanctions despite opposition from the Obama administration. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., described the deal as dangerous and may bring a bill to the floor this week to put unwieldy restrictions on the agreement and undermine the diplomatic process. We’re still waiting for any of these opponents to offer a viable alternative.
It might be tolerable to let these members of Congress spout their hawkish rhetoric if the situation weren’t so delicate. The United States and Iran are working through decades of tension. The countries have talked more in the past three months than in the last three decades. Congressional belligerence will empower hard-liners in Iran who want to scuttle negotiations and could shatter the fragile trust that is being built.
If that trust is shattered, sanctions alone won’t stop Iran’s enrichment program and pressure will increase for U.S. military action. Every member of Congress who acts to undermine the current diplomatic process is tacitly supporting either allowing Iran to continue to enrich uranium unobserved or launching a costly military attack that experts believe would at best only delay Iran’s nuclear program.
As White House spokesman Jay Carney pointed out, “The American people justifiably and understandably prefer a peaceful solution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and this agreement, if it’s achieved, has the potential to do that. The alternative is military action.”
After the diplomatic Hail Mary to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles and this historic agreement with Iran, the American people are finally getting a chance to see diplomacy work. It turns out they like it, as polls show the public supporting the deal by a 2-to-1 ratio and wanting Congress to hold off on new sanctions. The lack of appetite for another war after more than a decade of fighting is abundantly clear.
If this deal is going to turn into a stable long-term solution, there are tough months of negotiating ahead. Congressional leaders must step up and do everything they can to make that process a success. California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have expressed their support for a deal. Feinstein said she is baffled that Congress would think of ratcheting up sanctions at this time.
In an embarrassingly misinformed hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Bera exceeded the low bar set by his colleagues by acknowledging that we have to at least try negotiating with Iran. But the political moment calls for more forceful leadership in favor of smart diplomacy.
Dr. Harry Wang is the president of Physicians for Social Responsibility/Sacramento. Rebecca Griffin is the political director of Peace Action West.
‘Iraq Replay’: Kerry Demands Immunity for US Troops in Afghanistan
Suraia Sahar: ‘Immunity is just another extension of occupation’
- Sarah Lazare, staff writer
US troops set out on a patrol in Paktika province, Afghanistan. There are currently 87,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including 52,000 U.S. troops.(Photo: David Furst/AFP/Getty Images)Secretary of State John Kerry is demanding immunity for U.S. military service members in Afghanistan as a precondition for a ‘bi-lateral security agreement,’ which would allow 10,000 U.S. troops in the country past the 2014 withdrawal date.
Critics are slamming this as another example of U.S. refusal to account for war crimes as it pushes for continuing military occupation in Afghanistan. “I don’t believe these occupiers should be protected from prosecution for war crimes,” Suraia Sahar of Afghans United for Justice told Common Dreams. “Immunity is just another extension of occupation.”
U.S. officials say that jurisdiction over crimes committed by U.S. service members in Afghanistan remains an unresolved potential deal-breaker in negotiations whose most recent round started late Friday. Karzai stated that he will refer the issue of immunity to the loya Jirga, a body of elders and leaders in Afghanistan.
On the U.S. side, in contrast, the agreement does not have to be run by the Senate, because it is made with executive powers, Al Jazeera Americareports.
The issue of immunity for U.S. troops has long been a point of contention for the Afghan people in a U.S.-led occupation characterized by a staggering civilian death toll and high-profile atrocities. The 2012 Panjwai massacre, in which 16 Afghan civilians were gunned down and killed, and 6 wounded by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, added fuel to calls from within Afghanistan for those accused of war crimes to stand trial in Afghanistan. Despite these demands, Bales was whisked out of Afghanistan to face trial in the U.S.
“This has been brewing for a while,” Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action, toldCommon Dreams. “This is what they were trying to do in Iraq, but the U.S. couldn’t get Iraq to agree. This is almost an exact replay.”
Kerry sought to assure the Afghan government that the U.S. will thoroughly prosecute war crimes, drawing on similar agreements in South Korea and Japan where immunity exists.
Yet, critics scoffed at these examples. “These are not very good agreements,” Martincontinued. “The people of Okinawa are furious at rape and sexual assault by U.S. troops.”
“This is part of our country’s sickness and addiction to militarism,” he added. “There is no reason the people of Afghanistan should accept immunity.”
Many hope that the disagreement over immunity will hasten a U.S. withdrawal from an occupation that continues to bring death and destruction to the people of Afghanistan. “It’s in the best interest of Americans and Afghans for US troops to withdraw as soon as possible. The Afghan people must have the space to decide their own future,” Rebecca Griffin from Peace Action West told Common Dreams. “The disagreement about jurisdiction over US troops may help speed along that process.”
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The Island Now
Thursday, September 26, 2013
By Bill San Antonio
As the executive director of Peace Action, the nation’s largest grassroots disarmament organization, Kevin Martin said Tuesday he has seen firsthand the militarization of the United States’ foreign policy in the last decade.
But in his lecture at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation entitled “Endless War on Peace,” Martin said he was confident that America’s recent history of military strikes and occupations of nations seen as a threat to national security would evolve into a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy – particularly because of the recent diplomatic efforts to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons and the start of talks with Iran.
“At a certain point, we’re just not going to buy that anymore,” Martin said. “We’re just not going to buy that there’s a terrorist at every corner of the globe.”
Martin began the lecture, which was sponsored by the Shelter Rock Forum, the Great Neck SANE/Peace Action and the Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives, by calling out the names of 11 nations — China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, Brazil and South Korea – whose combined military budgets equals what the United States spends on its own military each year.
But for all its spending, Martin said the United States is ranked No. 99 on the Global Peace Index, tied with Papua New Guinea despite being known as the world’s last superpower.
“We can’t keep doing this, we can’t keep marauding around the world and trying to kill more terrorists than we create, because we will fail,” Martin said.
Martin said the U.S. spends approximately $600 billion each year on its military and $1 trillion on national security, and in the next 10 years will implement a $200 million arms refurbishment program.
“How do we have any credibility going to Iran or anyone else, saying they shouldn’t have weapons of mass destruction, shouldn’t have nuclear weapons, when we not only intend to keep ours, we intend to modernize them?” Martin said.
Martin also cited a University of Massachusetts study that said military spending is the worst way to create jobs and stimulate the economy, adding that the money America puts toward military spending could better serve the job market if it were used on education.
“Military spending does not help our economy in any way other than keep people employed,” Martin said. “If you can separate the nonsense about the economic benefits of military spending from the real security issues we have in this country, we can win that argument.”
Martin said the mainstream media has more recently played a role in more diplomatic measures in America’s foreign policy.
With Syria, Martin said the mainstream media took greater interest in covering the different angles toward President Obama’s recent request to Congress for a military strike on Syria after those who have been known to be pro-war were coming out against the strike.
Within a day or two, Martin said the media began covering what he called “better alternatives” to avoid the strike, such as sending supplies and weapons to those who are fighting off the Syrian army and rebel fighters who may have ties to terrorist organizations.
“That’s when I knew Obama was sunk, because he could try to scare us or try some fandango, but once better alternatives were out there, he lost control of the conversation,” Martin said.
Martin added that there could be a “spillover effect” from the diplomatic solution toward America’s approach to Syria that could impact future negotiations with Iran over the destabilization of its nuclear program.
“Now diplomacy seems like this limb we’ve learned to use again,” Martin said.
Martin said he does not think major arms manufacturers will continue to have a strong influence in lobbying the federal government into increased military spending, if better alternatives continue to present themselves in America’s foreign policy and people continue pushing for peace.
“If peace actually breaks out, you just can’t justify using such a huge percentage of our tax dollars on tanks and missiles and that $200 million over the next 10 years to refurbish our weapons,” Martin said. “You just can’t justify that anymore.”
If the United States opted for diplomacy more frequently, Martin said the short-term effect would be that other countries would fear and hate the United States less, though its history of invasions and military attacks would likely mean it would take longer for the world to “love us more.”
But the process of healing America’s reputation around the world starts with money coming out of the “war machine” and being put toward more “life-affirming functions,” and for people to “stand up for the values this country says its for” and be more vocal about a peaceful and diplomatic foreign policy, Martin said.
“We have hope, we have real solutions, we have better alternatives, we have better policies,” Martin said. “They have a lot of money and guns and weapons, but really all they have is fear.”
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin’s Senate Floor Speech Opposing Military Involvement in Syria
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
I have come to the floor today to stand up and speak to the important debate we are having about the most sobering issue I face, as a Senator, as a Wisconsinite, as an American- the issue of military action by the United States.
Let me start by saying the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people is morally reprehensible and a serious violation of long standing international law.
The various treaties and conventions addressing these issues have been ratified by most of the world’s nations. There is a reason why almost the entire world has gathered under the Chemical Weapons Convention to ban these weapons. It is because chemical weapons are truly barbaric in nature. They are a global threat, and they therefore require a global response.
The President made the right choice to seek Congressional authorization for any potential military action in Syria.
The gravity of the issues before us are significant, and they deserve a full debate. President Obama should be praised for understanding and appreciating that fact.
We must demand that all Presidents—not just this President—come to Congress to get approval before taking military action in another country in instances where we are not facing an imminent threat. I have made that case with both Democratic and Republican Presidents.
But, I strongly believe that our response to this situation must not be a unilateral military action. This is not America’s responsibility alone. And it is not in our interest to set the precedent that is our responsibility alone. Syria violated international laws and should be held accountable by the international community.
America must not act alone.
The use of chemical weapons is a global atrocity and it demands a global response. That is why I oppose going to war in Syria.
That is why I oppose authorizing military involvement in Syria’s civil war.
Not for one day, not for 60 days. Not for a decade.
I do not believe in engaging and involving ourselves militarily in the middle of a brutal, years-long civil war. That will not strengthen America’s national security.
But the answer is not to do nothing. The answer, rather, is to create a situation where these crimes against humanity can be dealt with effectively by the UN and other international institutions.
So we must continue to focus on building a global coalition to support the encouraging developments in the past few days to resolve this crisis without the use of unilateral military engagement in Syria.
By working through the United Nations and institutions, we strengthen international frameworks that can help resolve the conflict in Syria, and build a safer and stronger international community going forward.
I firmly believe that the recent potential for progress, in today’s UN discussions, is a testament to American democracy. By President Obama fulfilling his Constitutional duties to come to Congress, and by our serious, deliberate debate here on Capitol Hill, I believe America has helped drive a more constructive international debate and engagement on the Assad regime’s atrocities.
We must now give the opportunity of a path forward without military involvement in Syria a chance to succeed.
President Barack Obama is clearly trying to get out of the corner he has painted himself into regarding Syria. The bottom line of the president’s speech on Syria tonight is he doesn’t have the votes for war, even in the Senate which was thought to be more pro-war, so he is backing off. He’s asked Congress to postpone a vote on authorization to attack Syria. The president is, reluctantly, giving peace a chance, specifically the Russian proposal for Syria to give up its chemical weapons, which the Syrian government has agreed to do. The Devil in the Details to be worked out soon, hopefully.
We, the peace forces, are winning the day. Who woulda thunk that just ten days ago when an bombing attacked looked imminent.
But there’s no time for us to stop our advocacy, agitation and mobilization, especially that aimed at Congress, no time to stop posing better alternatives, not just for dealing with the horrific Syrian anything-but-civil war, but for expanding the U.S. foreign policy toolkit to emphasize tools other than bombs.
While the news tonight is generally very positive – again, postponement of the war authorization vote, more time for diplomacy – the president’s muddle on several points needs to be challenged.
On the point that failure to attack Syria would embolden Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, that is not only a reductionist, simplistic absurdity, it’s the wrong message to send to Iran. We could really use Iran’s help in negotiations with Syria, which need to extend beyond just the response to and disposition of the chemical weapons issue, but to ending the war in Syria.
The president’s contradictory description of an attack — “the U.S. military doesn’t do pinpricks” so it would be a serious strike but wouldn’t fundamentally change the balance in the war, we don’t seek regime change, an attack will send a strong message but we won’t put boots on the ground, we’re not the world’s policeman but we’re the only country with the capacity to act with force, the chemical weapons attack was heinous but the regime supposedly responsible will stay in power — seems to get worse all the time. No wonder he has so little public or congressional support.
The president expressed his “deeply held preference for peaceful solutions.” Really? Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan, twice. And somehow I think the families of the hundreds of civilian victims of his drone strikes would beg to differ that his solutions are peaceful.
“Resolutions and statements of condemnation are not enough” was an absurd “straw man” argument by the “leader of the free world.” That’s not what we advocate. We advocate serious grown-up multilateral diplomacy, massive humanitarian assistance, adherence to and faithful use of international law and institutions. We advocate democracy. Obama didn’t try to counter our real proposed solutions and alternatives to bombing, because he can’t.
On the good news front, the president said he and his administration are talking to Russia, France, the UK and China about a UN Security Council resolution on Syria, specifically eliminating its chemical weapons (however, he didn’t mention that it might seek authorization for the use of force by the U.S. if the Russian proposal for Syria’s chemical disarmament falls apart, likely an intentional omission). Also, of course we need to give UN inspectors time to report their findings regarding alleged chemical attacks of August 21.
The last word for the night comes from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV – “Military might is not what defines a superpower. You have to have super patience. You have to have super negotiating power and diplomatic resources. And you have to have super humanitarian aid where needed. We have the possibility of doing all of that.” Dang, didn’t know they grew Gandhis in West Virginia!
Well here’s the actual last word, the awesome rock jam band Phish playing the song that’s the title of this post:
THE CHOICE IS NOT WAR OR NOTHING – WE HAVE OTHER OPTIONS
We can call for a second UN weapons inspection team, to determine who was responsible for the chemical weapons attack.
We can recommend that whoever is found responsible be brought to justice at the International Criminal Court, understanding that timing of such indictments might require adjustment to take into account ceasefire negotiations in Syria.
The US (maybe with Russia) can call for a meeting of the signers of the Convention Against Chemical Weapons – to decide collectively how to respond.
Most important, we must urgently to help end the war in Syria, starting with a ceasefire and arms embargo on all sides. Russia, Iran, and others must stop arming and funding the Syrian regime. Washington, Saudi Arabia and other US allies must stop arming and funding the armed Syrian opposition. Washington may have to threaten the Saudis and Qataris that if they don’t stop, we will cancel all existing weapons contracts with them.
MILITARY STRIKES ARE ILLEGAL
International law, the UN Charter, allows military action only in two cases – immediate self-defense or authorization by the Security Council.
Syria hasn’t attacked or threatened the U.S., so there’s no self-defense claim. And the Security Council hasn’t authorized force, and likely won’t. The UN Charter deliberately makes it really hard to get all the major powers to agree on going to war.
U.S. law says only Congress can declare war – President Obama has asked Congress for approval, but claims he has the right to go ahead even if they vote no. That would violate the Constitution – and with or without Congressional approval, a military strike would still violate international law.
MILITARY STRIKES ARE IMMORAL
Military strikes threaten harm to Syrian civilians – the Pentagon admits cruise missiles aren’t always accurate. And the Syrian government is reportedly moving more military offices to populated areas, increasing the likelihood of civilian casualties.
The Obama administration admits its planned “limited surgical strikes” won’t do anything to bring the horrifying Syrian civil war to an end any quicker.
MILITARY STRIKES ARE DANGEROUS
Military action will increase the levels of violence and instability inside Syria, within the region, and potentially even globally.
Extremist forces in the region have the most to gain from military strikes, which will use the direct US involvement as a recruitment tool and potential target.
Syrian civilians could face greater repression by the government in retaliation for US military strikes, as happened in Kosovo in 1999 when many more Kosovars were thrown out of their homes after the US/NATO bombing began.
Military strikes could fuel escalation of all five wars underway in Syria: the civil war, the regional power war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the global war of words between the US and Russia, the sectarian war between Shi’a and Sunnis, and the war over nuclear policy between the US/Israel and Iran – all now being fought to the last Syrian.
WHAT HAPPENS THE DAY AFTER?
If Syria retaliates against US troops or ships, or US bases in neighboring countries, or Israel, it is almost certain the US response would risk regional escalation and a dramatic expansion of US involvement in Syria’s civil war.