Number 537 September 6, 2013

This Week: Syria

"Quote" of the Week: "The solution to the Syrian crisis will not be found in escalated violence"
A Primer on the U.S. and Syria

To read this issue of Nygaard Notes in PDF format, click here.


I don't have room for a "real" Editor's Note this week, nor for a good list of activist groups working against U.S. war in Syria. So all I will do is recommend that you use your search engine and type in "No U.S. Intervention in Syria" and the name of your state, then follow your links until you find a group that appeals to you. Then support them. Join them.

Talk to your friends.

Organization is crucial for successful opposition. I hesitate to recommend any particular groups in this regard, since there are different ones doing different things that will appeal to different people. That's how "movements" work. But one group that seems to be doing good tactical work aimed at averting this particular drive to war at this particular time is United for Peace and Justice. Click on their "Take Action" link which is the first thing you'll see. There's a link to your Congressperson and Senators, among other things. Call and write them.

If you know of a local anarchist, anti-imperialist, or other revolutionary group, they are no doubt working on this issue, too. Support them.

That's all for now.




"Quote" of the Week: "The solution to the Syrian crisis will not be found in escalated violence"

"The solution to the Syrian crisis will not be found in escalated violence, but rather in means and mechanisms that de-escalate the violence and create a platform for reconciliation. Working with all stakeholders, state and non-state, to apply new non-military mechanisms to weaken the engaged parties' capacities and motivations to commit atrocities against civilians is the only way to make that happen."

From the statement "SYRIA: No Time for Military Intervention" by Friends for a Non-Violent World.


A Primer on the U.S. and Syria

When it comes to Syria, most people will agree on a couple of things:
1. Lots of people are suffering and dying in Syria.
2. There are deep divisions in the country.

Beyond that, nearly every aspect of the conflict is disputed. The job of the "international community," in this context, is to help alleviate the suffering and help to heal the divisions by promoting a process that will lead to a lasting political settlement. How best to do those two things should be what we are talking about in the United States, which remains the most powerful nation in the world (even if its power is lessening by the day).

Here are SIX POINTS to consider as we speak, act, and organize to help the Syrian people and promote a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Syria.

1. There Is No Military Solution

The idea that the crisis in Syria can be resolved by military action has been rejected by far too many people and groups to list here. Here are four voices speaking to this point:

* White House press secretary Jay Carney said on August 27th, "We have stated it for a long time, that there is no military solution available here, that the way to bring about a better future in Syria is through negotiation and a political resolution."

* The U.N. News Centre reported on August 28th that "Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged members of the Security Council to explore all diplomatic options to bring all Syrian parties to the negotiating table, stressing there is no military solution to the crisis."

* On September 4th The Times of India reported, "As the crisis in Syria deepened, India said there could be no 'military solution' to the ongoing conflict, preferring to wait for the UN investigation report on the chemical attack in the West Asian country."

* If you haven't heard of The Elders, you're missing something. The Elders include people like Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, Gro Harlem Brundtland, and Kofi Annan. (Learn about them HERE. ) On September 4th The Elders issued a statement on the Syria crisis that included the following statement: "There is no military solution to this conflict. Therefore every effort must be made to stop further bloodshed and to re-energise the political process to put an end to the conflict that has devastated and brutalised Syria. The horror of this attack should bring the international community together with renewed determination to secure an urgent solution to the conflict in accordance with accepted principles of international law and justice."

2. There Are More Than Two Choices

On September 4th in Stockholm, President Obama said in regard to Syria that "the moral thing to do is not to stand by and do nothing." And the Corporate Media has generally reinforced the idea that there are but two choices for the U.S. in Syria: Military intervention, or "Nothing." That's just not true, and many voices can be heard saying so.

I just signed a petition to my elected representatives that said, in part, "Creative diplomacy is the best way to respond to the alleged use of chemical weapons. I urge you to work for a ceasefire, to pressure Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and Turkey, to halt the flow of weapons, and to pressure Russia and Iran to do the same."

As professor Fawaz Gerges told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! on September 3, "the regional powers—Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Iran—and the United States and Russia must sit down and basically find a way to ease Assad out of power, to preserve the central state and institutions inside Syria."

Almost a month ago the European Council on Foreign Relations (EFCR) published "Eight Things to Consider Before Intervening in Syria," ( ) in which they said, "An attempt to rethink the region should therefore focus on a strategy, the centre point of which is regional de-escalation, requiring more, not less, diplomacy with those with whom we disagree both in the region and beyond, notably Iran and Russia."

The EFCR adds, "A planned meeting this week on Syria between the US and Russia has already been postponed and the UN Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has been marginalised. That needs to change and a more concerted and blunt diplomatic effort needs to be made, including to bring the opposition to the negotiating table and to engage Iran on Syria and not just on the nuclear file. It is hard to see how a military strike enhances the prospects for diplomacy."

3. Regional Destabilization a Real Risk

Here's Fawaz Gerges again: A military strike "would exacerbate tensions inside Syria and in neighboring states. It would intensify sectarian tensions inside Syria and neighboring states, in particular in Lebanon and Iraq. It would deepen the involvement of regional powers further in Syria, particular Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, on the one hand, and Iran, Hezbollah and, to a smaller extent, Iraq. Once American bombs fall on Damascus, many people would forget the alleged use of chemical weapons and would focus on previous American attempts to dominate the region . . . that's the collective memory of the people in that part of the world. An American military campaign would also go a long way to really turning Assad into a hero, an Arab hero, a hero standing up to the might of the most powerful Western nation in the world. And there is the risk of a widespread regional war. . . Lebanon is ... on the brink of all-out war. There is a fierce battle taking place inside Iraq. Jordan is in a very fragile position. So, the consequences are tremendous, not just for Syria, but for the region as a whole."

And the EFCR says that "the greatest threat from the region is a cycle of sectarian escalation with Syria at its core, that this is fueling radicalisation, which is giving rise to unprecedented chaos and new ungoverned spaces, that is threatening to push Lebanon and Iraq deeper into the abyss and to generate a new momentum for anti-western jihadism."

4. We Ignore International Law at Our Peril

There is no escaping the illegality of any proposed military strike. The Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald noted on August 29th, "The US is searching for an international legal justification to attack. But there is none." It's worth noting that Australia is not only a close ally of the United States, but is the current Chair of the U.N. Security Council.

The esteemed Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) on August 30th noted that "The Syria situation under international law is clear. The UN Charter only allows one state to undertake military action against another state in two cases: in self-defense against an imminent attack and in response to a Security Council resolution. Neither will apply in this case, because any resolution would be vetoed by Russia and China."

The New York Times on August 27th published an opinion piece by Ian Hurd, identified as an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University, under the headline, "Bomb Syria, Even if It Is Illegal." Said the professor, "There are moral reasons for disregarding the law, and I believe the Obama administration should intervene in Syria."

And the Sydney Morning Herald, in the article above, said essentially the same thing: "The world now faces an acute moral question whether doing the right thing requires us to violate international law."

This is dangerous, imperialist thinking. When the world's most powerful nations choose to ignore whatever laws they find inconvenient, then it should be no surprise when others choose to ignore the laws that they find inconvenient. Laws about chemical weapons, for example.

5. U.S. Goals in the Region ("Morality" Does Not Top the List)

Although little-reported, the ultra-establishment magazine Foreign Policy reported on August 26th that the U.S. supported the use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein back in 1988, when such weapons were seen as advancing U.S. goals in the region. The report said: "The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq's favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration's long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn't disclose."

These are the same chemical weapons that Secretary of State Kerry now condemns as a "moral obscenity." On the very day that the Foreign Policy story was released, Kerry said, "President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people." I'm sure he meant to add, "When their use does not serve U.S. interests."

MERIP notes the contradiction, saying, "Clearly, the military strikes [against Syria] are not about 'punishment' or 'protecting' anyone, but rather about tilting the balance of a devastating conflict in favor of the Western-backed forces. And securing hegemony in the oil-rich region." And so it has been for years. Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker back in 2007 that "the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush Administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction" in the Middle East. One of the elements of the strategy was that "the Saudi government, with Washington's approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria. The Israelis believe that putting such pressure on the Assad government will make it more conciliatory and open to negotiations."

Professor Fawaz Gerges notes that, in "any particular potential U.S. military action. . . the United States would be taking sides." And the "side" is the anti-Iran side. As Hersh reported, "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is 'a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,' separating 'reformers' and 'extremists'; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were 'on the other side of that divide.'"

That was in 2007, but the goal was reiterated in 2011 by the infamous Elliot Abrams (of the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations). His "Policy Innovation Memorandum No. 9", written for the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that "The goals of U.S. policy [in Syria] should be to end the violence [and] bring down the Assad regime," since "The end of the Assad regime would be a great gain for the United States."

6. Further Isolation of the U.S.

It's well known that the U.N. Security Council will not approve military action against Syria. But the opposition to U.S. plans is much broader than just the Council.

The Arab League: "Following emergency meetings in Cairo on Monday [September 2], [Arab League] secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby, said the League held the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad responsible for the August 21 attack, but a 'military option is out of the question'." (Reported by al Jazeera)

NATO: "The suspected use of chemical weapons in Syria demands an international response but NATO will not take part, alliance head Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Danish media on Friday [Aug 30]. 'I see no NATO role in an international reaction to the (Syrian) regime,' Rasmussen told reporters in the Danish town of Vejle, [the Danish daily] Politiken reported." [DAWN newspaper, Pakistan)

England: Aug 30 headline in the LA Times: "Britain Won't Back Syria Strike; Parliament Rejects Use of Force as a Response to an Alleged Chemical Attack near Damascus." And The [British] Independent reported this week, "By a margin of two-to-one, the British people oppose President Barack Obama's plan for military strikes against the Assad regime and say that the UK should keep out of all conflicts in the region for the foreseeable future."

Italy: "Italy's foreign minister, Emma Bonino, told The Daily Beast that even United Nations backing would not trigger the 'automatic' support of Italy. She went on to say that Italy would bar any nation from using NATO bases for attacks. The Vatican, under popular Pope Francis, has also called for dialogue before action is taken. . . There wasn't even room for debate in Italy, where the prime minister told the state-run RAI television that Italy would certainly not participate in any military action against Syria unless the United Nations approves. 'If the United Nations doesn't back it, Italy won't participate,' said Enrico Letta." (Aug 30 Daily Beast)

France: "[French President Francois Hollande has been a leading hawk, employing a 'war-mongering' tone that has run counter to public opinion in France..." (Sep 4 Christian Science Monitor) "A poll conducted in France has revealed that 64 per cent of respondents reject military intervention in Syria. Despite his vocal support for the US-proposed strike against the Assad regime in Damascus, a majority of the French people do not believe that President Francois Hollande will go ahead with it. (Middle East Monitor, Sep 1)

Germany: "Berlin has ruled itself out of participation in any military action." (BBC, Sep 4)

United States: Pew Poll Sep 1: "Would you favor or oppose the U.S. conducting military airstrikes against Syria in response to reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons?" Favor: 29 percent. Oppose: 48 percent. Or... ABC News Poll: 59 percent opposed. Or... NBC News Poll: 50 percent opposed. Or... Reuters/Ipsos poll August 24: "About 60 percent of Americans surveyed said the United States should not intervene in Syria's civil war, while just 9 percent thought President Barack Obama should act [militarily]."

No "Coalition of the Willing" this time around.

Take action now.