Kevin Zeese / AntiWar.com & Rania Khalek / Al Jazeera America – 2014-01-31 23:32:30
Is Syrian ‘Peace’ Conference Laying the Foundation for War?
Kevin Zeese / AntiWar.com
(January 31, 2014) — The Geneva II conference which claims to be seeking to end the war in Syria seems designed to fail and instead to provide an excuse for military intervention by the United States and its allies. Human rights activist, Ajamu Baraka, describes the negotiations as an “Orwellian subterfuge” designed to provide justification for war and a lot of facts support his view.
The negotiations are destined to fail because of the way they have been set up and the preconditions of the United States and its allies in the Syrian opposition demanding that President Bashar al-Assad agree to leave government before negotiations go forward.
The setup for failure begins with the limited participation. The rigged nature of the negotiations was demonstrated when the UN had to rescind an invitation to Iran to participate at the demand of the United States and the Syrian opposition group.
Iran is a close ally of Syria and keeping them out of the negotiations is an effort to weaken and isolate Syria. It is an indication of a desire by the United States for a preordained conclusion rather than a fair negotiation between the parties.
The exclusion of Syrian civil society from these negotiations, beyond the militant fighters, is especially egregious. Many of these groups were working for transformation of Syria before the terrorism and war began.
One example is the exclusion of woman, although women from across Syria have been meeting and put together a Syrian Women’s Charter for Peace, their request to be included in the talks has been denied. Women and children comprise the majority of the millions who have been internally displaced or forced to flee the country. And they have suffered in horrible ways.
Only one opposition group is included, the Syrian National Coalition, one favored by the United States but rejected by 13 key rebel groups in Syria. There are scores of others involved in the bloodshed in Syria, but these on-the-ground fighters are not included. How can peace, even a partial peace like a cease-fire, be negotiated if those involved in the fighting are not participating?
In fact, an agreement by the participants to stop fighting would entrap Assad. Groups not included in the negotiations will continue to fight and Assad will respond. When Assad responds to attacks, he will be accused of violating the peace agreement. This will provide an excuse for outside military intervention. The US and its allies will claim: “Assad is violating the peace agreement; there is no other choice than to enforce the agreement with military force.”
The second and most important problem with the negotiations is the precondition of the United States and the Syrian National Coalition that Assad must agree to step down before negotiations can begin.
The US and its allies falsely claim that the removal of Assad has already been agreed to the “Geneva communiquÃ©” signed by Syria’s ally, Russia. As Shamus Cooke points out, the communiquÃ© does indeed call for a negotiated political transition, but nowhere does it state that such a transition must exclude Assad.
US Secretary of State John Kerry kicked off the conference by demanding the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power. And, this has become the central issue in the discussions so far, leading to a stalemate. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, accused the US and its Middle East allies, particularly Turkey and Saudi Arabia, of supporting terrorist groups seeking to destabilize Syria and working to put forward their own plans for a new government.
The Syrians put forward their own plan that would begin with ridding the nation of foreign terrorists. They argue it is up to the Syrian people to decide who their leaders are and what type of government they want.
The kickoff of the conference coincided with a propaganda campaign. A report funded by Qatar claimed the Assad government had tortured and killed 11,000 prisoners. There has been a history of torture in Syria; in fact, the United States sent people to be tortured in Syria as part of its rendition program, so on its face the claim does not seem far-fetched. But did they prove the case?
Reporter Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor points out some of the problems with the report. He writes it is “a single source report, from an unidentified man, who is related by marriage to a similarly unidentified member of the ‘Syrian National Movement.'” The Syrian National Movement is an opposition group funded by Qatar that has been trying to remove Assad since 2011.
Further, the report was rushed to publication; the source was “interviewed on Jan. 12, 13 and 18 of this year. The report was provided to reporters yesterday, Jan. 20.” This resulted in no thorough examination of the photographs. Further, Murphy reports the document actually indicates 835 individual cases were examined, not all of them were shown to have been killed or tortured, and the 11,000 figure that made headlines was an extrapolation.
Yet, this has been trumpeted in the media as fact. A Washington Post editorial published on January 22 treated the 11,000 killed and tortured by Assad without any doubt. They quote Secretary Kerry saying the report shows Syria conducting “systematic torture and execution of thousands of prisoners.”
The editorial revealed how the peace process could lead to war: “Mr. Obama probably could force the measures Mr. Brahimi is seeking [i.e. Assad resigning] by presenting Mr. Assad with the choice of accepting them or enduring US airstrikes.” It is notable that the Post is putting military strikes on the agenda now — even before the negotiations fail or a peace agreement is violated.
The US media had been pushing for war with Syria during the last run-up to war when Obama decided to send the decision to Congress. Thanks to opposition across the political spectrum in Congress and among the American people, the war was prevented. Russia’s intervention which put forward a compromise that ridded the Syrian government of chemical weapons provided a face-saving escape for the Obama administration.
Since then the claims that Sarin gas was used by the Syrian government from Syrian-held territory have been put into doubt. The New York Times, Human Rights Watch and others who favored a US attack had claimed the rockets came from Syrian territory based on a vector analysis of the angle of the rockets. But, this fell apart when experts concluded the rockets did not have the range to reach the targets. The NY Times was forced to quietly distance itself from a front page story making these claims.
We are already seeing a media drum beat for war gearing up. The media is consistent in repeating several lies about the Syrian negotiations, and constantly blaming Assad for refusing to abide by nonexistent requirements of the Geneva communiquÃ©. We can expect the hawkish US media to escalate the drumbeat and put forward war propaganda as the failure of the peace negotiations continues.
And Reuters reports that weapons aid to Syria has been “secretly” approved by Congress. Weapons approved include antitank weapons and small arms. Reuters writes “The weapons deliveries have been funded by the US Congress, in votes behind closed doors, through the end of government fiscal year 2014, which ends on September 30. . .”
How does the Congress have secret votes to approve war-making actions? According to Reuters “Congress approved funding for weapons deliveries to the Syrian rebels in classified sections of defense appropriations legislation, two sources familiar with the matter said.”
So, on one hand the US claims to be seeking peace and with the other it is fueling war with weapons. In public, the Congress opposed war with Syria, but in secret votes it provides funding for weapons for the Syrian war.
Americans who oppose war better get prepared now. There has been a long-term agenda to remove the Assad family from power in Syria and the US foreign policy establishment has not given up on that goal, nor have US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia. This seems to be one more time when peace negotiations are a likely prelude to war unless the people of the United States see through these actions and prevent it.
This article was originally published on Truthout. We discussed these matters in detail with Ajamu Baraka and Alli McCracken of CODEPINK on our radio show, Clearing The FOG, this week. You can listen here.
Kevin Zeese, JD and Margaret Flowers, MD are participants in PopularResistance.org; they co-direct It’s Our Economy and co-host Clearing the FOG. Their twitters are @KBZeese and MFlowers8.
Syria’s Nonviolent Resistance Is Dying To Be Heard
Rania Khalek / Al Jazeera America & Popular Resistance
(September 12th, 2013) — Many civil society activists who continue to defy the Assad regime are not convinced by the case for US air strikes
Much of the debate over US intervention in Syria boils down the conflict there to a clash between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and an armed rebellion in which al-Qaeda affiliates play a significant role. Typically ignored in that conversation are the voices of the non-violent opposition movement that took to the streets to challenge Assad in March 2011, and which has persisted against great odds.
“No matter how beleaguered it is, civil resistance continues,” says Mohja Kahf, a Professor of Middle East studies and literature at the University of Arkansas and a member of the Syrian Non Violence Movement (SNVM). A network of peaceful groups remains active in opposition to the regime inside Syria, their activities plotted by SNVM on an interactive map that can be viewed online.
Although it was the activists in such groups that originally drove the nationwide uprising against the Assad regime, these days much of their activity involves triage, mitigating the impact of the civil warand building the capacity for self-governance in towns no longer under regime control.
Reem Salahi, a Syrian-American civil rights attorney who spent time in Syria over the summer, witnessed a flourishing alternative media infrastructure, grassroots councils to run local government and organize humanitarian relief in areas vacated by the regime, and projects such as the Karama Bus — or “bus of dignity” — which travels around Idlib province offering psycho-social support for internally displaced children. “For Syrians living in Syria, just surviving and engaging in daily activities is a form of opposition, a form of activism,” said Salahi.
Many such efforts are funded by the Syrian diaspora. Rafif Jouejati, a Syrian-American activist organizing solidarity work describes its results as including schools in Idlib, media centers in Aleppo, relief-distribution in Homs and a planned water-treatment facility in Deir Ezzor.
And while many Syrians who first engaged in peaceful protest later turned to arms in the face of the regime’s crackdown, others continue to do non-violent political work. Their views on the question of proposed US military strikes to punish the Assad regime for a suspected chemical-weapons attacktwo weeks ago are ambivalent.
Somar Kanjo, 30, joined the first wave of protests in Damascus in the spring of 2011, then fled to his hometown of Saraqeb in the northern Idlib province. While he has dedicated himself to non-violent projects such as producing educational materials for displaced children in rebel-controlled areas, Kanjo supports those who have joined rebel fighting groups. “I’m against being armed, but it was necessary,” he told Al Jazeera by phone from Turkey, where he was visiting his parents. “The regime made it necessary.”
Since it fell to rebel forces over a year ago, Saraqeb has been a target of relentless government shelling, which is why, according to Kanjo, most Syrians in the town welcome US military intervention.
But in Damascus, most of which remains under regime control, even many opponents of the regime also oppose US intervention, according to Khaled Harbash.
Harbash, 21, joined the uprising in April 2011 by helping to organize demonstrations as head of the Hama Civil Team. He moved to Damascus last year, where he has continued to engage in political activism with Building the Syrian State Current, a non-violent opposition group whose members organize meetings and democracy-building workshops among Syrian youth in hopes of building an inclusive foundation for a post-Assad government.
The Current opposes outside intervention and armed opposition and favors a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Though it operates independently of the internationally recognized opposition groups, its members inside Syria continue to be targeted by the Assad regime.
Harbash is equally disdainful of all outside parties engaged in Syria’s conflict. Russia, the Gulf states, the West and Turkey are all “part of the problem and complicit in the crimes committed against civilians in Syrian villages and cities,” Harbash said. “What started as interference is now an assault on Syria’s sovereignty.”
He fears that outside intervention prolongs Syria’s war and could turn the country into “a failed state.”
“The United States is not an international judge who can punish and forgive as they please,” said Harbash. “Any military strike would not be against the regime, but against the entire country. And Syrians who for two and a half years have suffered from the war will bear the consequences.”
Osama Nasser, 35, is an activist with the SNVM who recently moved from Damascus — where he’d been in hiding — to East Ghouta, the rebel-controlled area targeted in the alleged gas attack two weeks ago.
Although he also opposes the proposed punishment strike over the Ghouta attack, he’s angrier that the international community had done nothing to stop the violence that has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the past two and a half years. “The West cares only about its reputation or its image,” he said, “not about innocent lives slaughtered every single day.”
Nasser has little faith in a limited US action that will leave the regime intact. “Besides,” he says, “the history of such intervention doesn’t show that this will bring peace or democracy for the country.”
When asked why he committed to nonviolent resistance instead of joining the armed rebellion, Nasser said: “I believe in people power. Arms don’t bring democracy.”
Building the Syrian State Current co-founder Rim Turkmani, based in London, argues that a US military strike will exacerbate the bloodshed, emboldening more extreme elements of the armed rebellions and hampering the civil society resistance she sees as the vital foundation of a future democratic Syria.
“This is not a regime that you can remove with military confrontation from the air without killing millions,” she told Al Jazeera. “We want to force the regime through a political solution to start sharing power to put the country on the path to democracy.”
Ending the war through diplomatic means, says Turkmani, is the only way to weaken both the Assad regime and the al-Qaeda-linked groups because it will open up a space for the non-violent resistance that initiated the uprising to reassert itself.
But Reem Salahi believes that the strength and influence of al-Qaeda groups in the rebellion has been exaggerated. “The Syrians I met didn’t like these foreign fighters,” she said. So much so that residents in some rebel-held areas have demonstrated against extremist fighters. Earlier this year, the town of Mayadeen erupted in protests as residents demanded that fighters from the al-Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front leave their town.
Still, Salahi is ambivalent about US military strikes. “I reject this binary analysis of do we strike or not strike,” she explained. “For me it’s about how we end the bloodshed.” Still, Salahi sympathizes with Syrians who support US strikes, saying, “It breaks my heart that the only hope that a lot of Syrians I’ve met is the dropping of foreign bombs.”
Despite their ambivalence over the prospect of US military strikes in Syria, many of the non-violent opposition activists are skeptical of some of the arguments against intervention coming from the antiwar left in the West.
“I need for people who are against the strikes to understand that there are valid reasons and invalid reasons to be against the strikes,” said Kahf, who strongly opposes US strikes and advocates instead for diplomacy.
“Wringing your hands and screaming al-Qaeda or Iraq is not a valid reason. You need to get to know Syria, and not deny the legitimate struggle of the Syrian people and not equate rebel atrocities with hugely exponentially greater regime atrocities.”
Kahf has written that many in the antiwar left ignore the grassroots base of the Syrian uprising, viewing it “only through the endgame of geopolitics,” a narrative that turns the uprising into “nothing but the proxy of US imperialism” — a view she strenuously rejects. Instead, she and others argue that making sense of Syria, today more than ever, demands that more attention be paid to the opposition voices of Syrian civil society whose voices have been increasingly drowned out by the sounds of war.
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