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      Friday
      Jun142013

      Can Public Opinion Stop U.S. War in Syria?

      Smoke rises over a battle-scarred Saif Al Dawla district in Aleppo, Syria, on October 2, 2012. (Photo: Manu Brabo)

      We are edging closer to the neo-conservative dream of total conflagration in the Muslim Middle East. Despite only 11 percent public support for US military intervention in Syria, a reluctant President Barack Obama is being pushed into escalation. 

      The given reason is that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons “on a small scale multiple times in the past year,” according to the White House. Intelligence officials say 100-130 people died from the attacks. Even if the chemical testing proves accurate, that can only be a pretext in a conflict, which has claimed at least 93,000 lives and seen barbarism on both sides.

      The real reason appears to be that the balance of forces has changed somewhat in Assad’s favor since the recent victory at Qusayr by his troops and their Hezbollah allies. Fearing the collapse of rebel forces, the US is stepping onto the treadmill of escalation. Whatever steps are taken now by the US and NATO, of course, if they choose, can be countered by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. 

      Obama’s reluctance is reflected in a statement by his adviser Ben Rhodes, responding to hawks like Senator John McCain:

      “People need to understand that not only are there huge costs associated with a no-fly zone, not only would it be difficult to implement, but the notion that you can solve the very deeply rooted challenges on the ground from the air are not immediately apparent.”

      Rarely has a call to escalation been so muted. 

      Obama is under intense pressure from the Saudis and their Sunni allies, together with the McCain Republicans, to take any measures to avoid defeat at the hands of Assad, the Russians, Iran and Hezbollah. The hawks believe Obama cannot afford to be seen as doing nothing in the face of mounting casualties. 

      Bill Clinton gave the overriding political rationale this week: “Sometimes it’s best to get caught trying, as long as you don’t overcommit.”

      Decoded, this advice means that Obama is better off by a gesture of intervention than being blamed for staying out, as long as he avoids another prolonged quagmire. That is considered wisdom in the world of statecraft. 

      The Libya model looms large, especially with the recent ascension of Samantha Power and Susan Rice to the posts of UN representative and national security adviser. Both are fervent advocates of “humanitarian intervention.” In the case of Libya, the dictator Muammar Qaddafi was attacked in his convoy by drones, and then ultimately killed, perhaps with the involvement of the French secret service. An ungoverned land of militias has replaced his regime, and the terrorism wars have spread to Mali and North Africa as a direct result. In addition, the Russians are convinced they were misled by the US at the United Nations over the Libyan war authorization, and therefore have hardened their defense of their Syrian ally. 

      US thinking might also be shaped by the Balkans model, where Clinton employed months of bombing and almost intervened with American ground troops in the Nineties. Yugoslavia and Serbia were both dismantled and the new state of Kosovo carved into existence as a result. That intervention was chronicled and strongly supported by then-journalist Samantha Power. The Western world has never looked back, and considers the Balkans outcome a win for NATO in a zero-sum game. 

      But are Libya or the Balkans any template for Syria and the Middle East? A drone killing or assassination of Assad – like the killing of Qaddafi – probably would intensify the civil war in Syria and deepen the engagement of powerful proxies. Either Iran or Hezbollah would be free to retaliate at any number of other targets, including Israel or western ones. Trying to create a no-fly zone would transform the conflict into “the clash of civilizations,” and at best carve out a territorial enclave for the rebel groupings. In any scenario, the war with grind on, all parties desperately assuming that the next escalation will finally succeed. That logic leads to regional war and beyond. The poisonous residue of Cold War thinking probably prohibits the US from signing off any result appearing to be a gain for its adversaries. 

      Peace and progressive movements are somewhat divided at this late hour. There is no consensus even on whether the undemocratic dictator Assad should go, for example. Or whether anyone has the capacity to organize a cease-fire, partition, and interim arrangements for stabilization and humanitarian assistance. Or whether the war can only be settled realistically when one side “wins” and tries to impose a cold peace. 

      But further war only makes the war worse. Denying the president, Congress, and the war lobby a popular mandate is not only possible, but would be a significant restraint in complicating the path of escalation. As the bloodbath expands, it will once again be critical for domestic progressive groups – the AFL-CIO, NAACP, Sierra Club, etc. – to decide where they stand: in the fray or on the sidelines? After all, Obama’s promised turn to “nation-building at home” is on the line.

      Lyndon Johnson’s fatal mistake was in believing he could deliver on pledges of both “guns and butter.” He learned too late that he could not. Domestic progressives will be completely out of line with their constituents’ priorities if they remain silent as another president is pushed into war.

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      Reader Comments (21)

      This is indeed a "late date." It seems people do not object until they are deep in the slaughter themselves. All war games show this type of encounter in the Middle East spinning out on control. It is extremely dangerous. Israel and the religious right are pushing hard for it. We need to get all organizations we can influence to send a clear vote of NO SUPPORT FOR THIS WAR.

      June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara Tinker

      Whereas, I usually agree with Tom Hayden, now that we have become players in "the big game," we have to consider the consequences of Assad's remaining in power. This would mean that Putin's Russia would be calling the shots. I think it's better to respond to Assad's offensive with measured retaliation. The idea would be to have the UN take control of a stalemate. Come on, Tom, it's great to be a peace-maker, but do you really want to have Assad's rotten regime wiping out his opposition? I don't.

      June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLen Carrier

      Let's see some visibility for Mairead Maguire and her recent delegation of peace activists to Syria and their report that the vast majority of Syrian people want an end to the proxy war, support the survival of the current government which many want to challenge through the political process. "An appeal to end all violence and for Syrians to be left alone from outside interference was made by all those we met during our visit to Syria. We have tried to forward it to the International community in our Concluding Declaration." Maguire reports that many Muslims and Christians and others are concerned about the rise of fundamentalist Islam which is the position of many of the rebels. Read her report at the Information Clearing House and share it.

      June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Scarr

      Yes. Do speak up. I emailed the White House and the Democratic National Committee that since Obama is getting us into still another war, I will never vote for a democratic party presidential candidate again. I told them :" After 13 years in the Peace Movement, I am sick of your wars. I am done.

      June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSchool Teacher

      @Tom Hayden: I just sent this piece to a fellow KPFA Radio News reporter who's going to try to get in touch with you for tomorrow's newscast, but at the same time I have to question your use of the word "neoconservative" in this otherwise precise description:

      "We are edging closer to the neo-conservative dream of total conflagration in the Muslim Middle East. Despite only 11 percent public support for US military intervention in Syria, a reluctant President Barack Obama is being pushed into escalation."

      What is more neo-conservative than neo-liberal about this? Absolutely nothing. Neo-liberal Bill Clinton has been putting as much pressure as anyone on his neo-liberal protegé Barack Obama to go to war with Syria. "Bill Clinton: Barack Obama making 'mistake' staying out of Syria," http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10119023/Bill-Clinton-Barack-Obama-making-mistake-staying-out-of-Syria.html

      "Liberal" and "conservative" are terms that no longer have any meaning except with regard to cultural issues like gay marriage and reproductive choice.

      June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Garrison

      Once again, those clinging to the "lesser evil" argument to explain their support for Obama are claiming (hoping?) he is being "pushed" into deeper intervention in the Syrian civil war. The pretext of chemical warfare is the current version of WMDs and Tonkin Gulfs and just as false.
      As in his two escalations of the AfPak war, Obama is portrayed as being "pushed" as if that explains why he acts in the face of dominant public opinion--unexpressed as usual by groups labeled as "peace" and "progressive."

      June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike Munk

      It is time to stop letting Obama off the hook for his decisions to drag America into one war after another and for the murder of thousands of people killed at his direction? Sure he was the second worst candidate running for president in the last election, but Americans elect the president and Congress, and we have the responsibility to hold him and Congress accountable for their actions. I for one am not going to waste any time supporting him or any of the other Washington meat puppets in either major party who have proven over and over that they are owned by munitions manufacturers, oil companies and globalized super rich capitalist exploiters. Want to stop this war and prevent future wars? Then stop playing a rigged game where the workers and poor always lose. Build an electable third party willing to end the wars, dismantle the military industrial complex, reject globalized capitalist imperialism and re-build the life support system on planet earth so humans and countless other species don't die off in a massive eco-collapse. After 50 years of trying to reform the Democrat party, it is time to recognize that they will not change because they are owned by the same super rich elite as the Republicans. In short its too late for liberal reforms or and trying to shame right wingers and liberals to do the right thing. We don't have time to play that game any longer. The planet is overpopulated, tipping into eco disaster and civil order is breaking down on a worldwide scale as one nation after another becomes more and more violent. The left must become much more radical, win elections by peeling away workers and poor from both major parties and show America that radical democratic restructuring of the social, economic and electoral framework is the last best hope we have to avoid extinction.

      June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeter McNamee

      It'll be our Spanish Civil War, which was the proving ground and warm-up for the second world war. All hell will break loose. No place will be spared or unaffected.

      June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNews Nag

      Dear Tom
      In spite of my great respect to your opinions and work for peace , however I think that
      You went completely in the wrong direction with your analysis of the situation in Syria.
      I have requested your voice to stop the events in Syria long time ago when peaceful demonstrations were faced with live bullets and torture on a large scale.
      I requested your voice when 13 year old Hamza El-khatib was tortured to death, his body returned to his family mutilated with broken bones, and various signs of trauma and torture, his only crime was that he wrote some graffiti requesting freedom and dignity,
      I requested your voice when thousands of peaceful demonstrators were killed by the Assad's militias, the people of Syria wanted to have peaceful civilian disobedience, and continued to do that for more than 6 months, but they were attacked by the Assad's militias (al Shabiha), they were humiliated, imprisoned, attacked, tortured, and killed, women were raped in front of their families, even children at young ages were tortured to death from the age of 5 months old on, it is only this extreme brutality and unlimited cruelty that caused the defection of the army soldiers, who refused to kill civilians to form the FSA. and start the armed struggle against the Assad's Mafia.
      I have requested your voice and the voice of peace loving organizations to avoid the killing of more than 10.0000 civilians, before it was too late for a peaceful solution.
      now to set the records straight, the situation is Syria is a confrontation between a tyrant, supported by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, against the vast majority of his nation, in addition to that the continued inaction of the US administration was promoted by the neoconservatives, AIPAC and other Israeli sympathizers and was a hidden message given to Assad to try to suppress the public uprising quickly.
      And forgive me, after about 93.000 civilians killed, 2.4 million houses destructed , 150,000 imprisoned, 1.6-2.0 million refugees, 7 millions in need of assistance, targeting of hospitals, and bakeries, destructing water plants and electric power supplies, Assad, is no longer an " undemocratic dictator" but a mafia leader and a war criminal that needs held in the international court of justice . And forgive me the atrocities that took place on the hands of his militias are too many to count and are cruel beyond any description. You can search the internet for " torture in Syria” And find for yourself, If you do not believe these facts.
      Dr Sakkal

      June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAhmed Sakkal

      Bashar Assad's father was a brutal dictator. That doesn't mean that Bashar is as well. His bad ass brother was supposed to be the new dictator until he was killed in a car wreck. Bashar was in London pursuing a career as an opthamologist. Please provide unbiased (i.e., no Sunni or Israeli sources) documentation of his alleged crimes against his own people. From what I can determine, he is the only Middle East leader who supports women's rights and religious toleration and instituted democratic reforms. Naturally, he is demonized by the imperialists and Zionists regardless. It is no accident that the Christians in Syria support him.

      http://stefanmikarlsson.blogspot.fr/2013/01/bashar-al-assad-feminist-dictator.html

      June 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Hamilton
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