The U.S. Peace Movement Has to Decide Which Side It Is On — And Soon
An “Anti-Regime-Change” Position on Syria is NOT the same as a “Pro-Assad” Position!
That is for the Syrian People to Decide Free of Foreign Intervention!
U.S. Peace Council
August 18, 2016
“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state….”
— Article 2 of the United Nations Charter
“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations….”
— Article 52 of the United Nations Charter
And one does not need to be only an “anti-imperialist” to stand for the principles of the United Nations Charter.
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It is a sad irony that a significant segment of the U.S. peace and anti-war movement has now fallen prey to the distortions and misrepresentations promoted by the U.S. State Department, blindly repeating, and even insisting on, the distortions and falsehoods fed to the public by the war-mongers and their corporate media.
A vivid example of this fact was the vicious attacks that started soon after the return the U.S. Peace Council’s fact-finding delegation to Syria on July 30th. Immediately after the delegation’s Press Conference at the United Nations on August 9th, an article subtitled “Syria Serves up the Kool-Aid for Sympathizers,” appeared on the so-called “Talk Media News” web site, which, instead of dealing with the substantive issues raised by the delegation members, blasted a barrage of baseless accusations and slanders against not just the delegation members but the U.S. Peace Council itself, calling it, in a McCarthyite style, a “formerly Soviet-backed council,” in the hope that reviving Cold-War fears in the minds of possible listeners would keep them from hearing the hard facts provided by our delegation.
But being the target of such attacks by “news” outfits like “Talk Media News” is one thing, hearing similar accusations from our friends in the peace movement, like the writers and contributors to In These Times, is quite another.
The August 15th issue of In These Times contained an article titled “U.S. Peace Activists Should Start Listening to Progressive Syrian Voices,” by Terry Burke, described in the footnote as “a long-time peace activist.” It was our hope that her “long-time” activism and experience would have brought her to see the true nature of what is going on not only in Syria, but in all other countries that have been, and still are being, victimized by the United States’ wars of aggression. It was very disappointing to see the opposite.
Implicitly claiming that she knows Syria much better than the rest of the peace movement, Terry Burke starts by saying that “many peace activists know little about Syria’s peaceful uprising,” and as a result, “major organizations in the peace movement,” are now supporting “a dictator accused of monstrous war crimes.” She then goes on to lump together a whole number of diverse organizations with different views and political orientations in her newly invented “pro-dictator” camp. What is the evidence? In her own words: “The March 13 … UNAC anti-war protest” (clearly not “pro-Assad protest”) in which many “left-wing” organizations, including the “pro-Assad Syrian-American Forum,” participated. And what is the charge? Some “people” were “carrying the flag of brutal Assad regime” and “some even wearing T-shirts with Assad’s image….”!
First, it is ironic that people like Terry Burke, who are claiming to be “fighting for democracy” in Syria, have no stomach for it in the United States. Do some Syrians (who are by the way the majority) have the right to support their government and have their President’s image on their T-shirts? Or, from her point of view, they should not exist at all? Isn’t that what ISIS is trying to do?
Second, is the falsification (or lack of knowledge) of the facts despite the author’s claim to knowing Syria better than others in the peace movement: Ms. Burke, Syrian flag is not “the flag of brutal Assad regime.” This flag was adopted as the flag of Syria when Syria became a part of United Arab Republics in 1958, 13 years before Hafiz Al-Assad first became the President of Syria. It does not stand for the “brutal Assad regime,” but officially represents “Syria’s commitment to Arab unity”! Why are you trampling on Syria’s national honor just to score an invalid point?
Third, and more important, is the lumping together of all organizations that participated in the March 13 anti-war protest and using “guilt by association” as a means of accusing “major peace organizations” of the “crime” of being “pro-Assad.” In doing so, Terry Burke is shifting the debate from one about whether people are for or against the war of aggression on Syria to one about whether they are pro- or anti-Assad. And this is exactly what the State Department and the corporate media are trying to do: “you are either with us or with Assad.” And within the peace movement: “You are not a genuine peace organization if you don’t join the anti-Assad camp”!
But this pro- or anti-Assad dualism is a false one that only serves the State Department and its war and regime change policy. It is meant to split, confuse and disarm the peace movement: if you oppose the regime change policy, you must be pro-Assad, and that’s it! And it seems it has been a successful strategy so far in both confusing and splitting the peace movement. With this dualism at work, the only choice left for the peace movement is to either join the State Department or the Assad government—nothing else.
It is in the context of this false dualism that Terry Burke talks about the “progressive Syrian voices” and sets them up against those in the peace movement she mockingly calls “anti-imperialists.” However, she herself falls victim of the same dualism she has created and inevitably ends up on the side of the State Department. Let’s take a look:
First, throughout the whole article, all you constantly read about is the “crimes” of the “Assad regime” and not a single word about the savage crimes of mercenaries and terrorists like ISIS, or about the innocent civilians that have been killed by US bombs and Saudi weapons. This is only a natural outcome of her argument: with regard to Syria, you can only be on one side or the other. And for her, the safe side is the side of the State Department. Thus the absolute silence on crimes that the US government and its allies are committing in Syria.
Another fact that reveals her true position is the terminology she uses and the “progressive Syrian opposition” she identifies with. First, she (probably inadvertently) refers to the ISIS-occupied territory of Syria as “liberated areas”! Interesting. Now ISIS has become a “liberating” force for Syrians. Then she goes on to talk about the “remarkable ongoing successes and organizing efforts of grassroots groups” in these “liberated areas.” Well, the scenario becomes complete: ISIS has “liberated” parts of the Syrian territory and has empowered the “progressive Syrians” to “organize” in these “liberated areas.” Didn’t George Bush claim that he “liberated” women of Afghanistan and the freedom-loving people Iraq? Didn’t Obama “liberate” the Libyan people from the “criminal dictator” Qaddafi? Are we looking for the same kind of “liberation” in Syria with the help of ISIS and the “progressive Syrians” it is harboring in the “liberated areas”? Could these “progressive Syrians” survive the wrath of ISIS if they demanded anything other than the toppling of Assad government? Have we not witnessed the beheadings that are going on in those “liberated areas”? Only “barrel bombs” are killing the Syrian people?
Anticipating objections from the peace movement that the same fate is awaiting all of the Syrian people, she simply claims that the case of Syria is different: “The analysis that the United States was promoting regime change was correct in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Cuba (1960-2015), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003). But Syria is not Iraq. It is not Afghanistan. Syria is Syria. It has its own unique history and culture—and its own Arab Spring of a genuine popular uprising against nearly five decades of the brutal Assad family dictatorship. This revolution is real, and beyond U.S. control.”
Indeed, a “real revolution” with the help of U.S. arms, Saudi and Qatari funds, Turkish logistical support and Israeli intelligence is under way. But it is certainly not the Syrian people’s revolution. In fact, such revolutions were planned by the Bush Administration for 7 countries including Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran, as testified by Gen. Wesley Clark, former supreme commander of NATO. And one by one they are being implemented.
We certainly oppose this kind of “revolution” and “liberation.” For us, the choice is much more than what Terry Burke has put before us. The Syrian situation is more complicated than that. We are dealing with two levels of reality that should not be collapsed into one. One level is the war imposed by the U.S. Government and its allies against the independent state of Syria. In this war, we are on the side of the Syrian Government and the U.N. Charter. The second level is the relationship between the Syrian Government and the Syrian people. On this level, we are always on the side of the Syrian people. The Syrian people have the right to change their government if they want to. But it is solely their decision. And the only way they can express their will is when they are free of any foreign intervention.
Terry Burke goes so far as accusing all independent journalists and others in the peace movement — all those whom she repeatedly mocks as “anti-imperialists” — as racists who are “behaving like imperialists,” by not listening to the “progressive Syrian voices” and “imposing their point of view on poorer countries voices.” But she is putting herself in the same “imperialist” boat by taking an anti-Assad position as an American — no American has any right to decide Syria’s future — and ignoring the voice of the majority of Syrian people. The true progressive opposition forces are inside Syria, not in the ISIS-“liberated areas,” and our delegation has met with many of them. They have many disagreements with the Assad government, but strongly believe that they should join with their government against foreign attack and invasion, like any patriot would. The “progressive Syrian voices” that Terry Burke is identifying with do not have the monopoly on truth. She would be well served if she listened to the other opposition forces within Syria as well.
It is one thing for the Syrian people to oppose their government if they choose to. It is another thing for the foreigners to take the position of “Assad must go!” The latter is a clear imperialist demand that violates the international law. Our support in this case, as in any other case, is for the international law, the U.N. Charter, and the people’s right to self-determination — and not for or against any particular government or leader.
We hope that this has become clear once and for all.