Steve Weissman / Reader Supported News & International Peace Bureau – 2016-10-24 00:34:11
PARIS (October 23, 2016) — “I’m going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria,” Hillary Clinton repeated again in the third presidential debate. “Not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to, frankly, gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians so that perhaps we can have the kind of serious negotiation necessary to bring the conflict to an end and go forward on a political track.”
Clinton has pushed a no-fly zone and safe havens in Syria since the early days of her campaign in the Democratic primaries. But over the last month her remarks have revealed why these measures have little chance of ending the slaughter in Syria, whether in Aleppo or elsewhere in the hideously ravaged country.
“The situation in Syria is catastrophic,” she said in the second debate. “Every day that goes by, we see the results of the regime, by Assad in partnership with the Iranians on the ground and the Russians in the air, bombarding places, in particular, Aleppo, where there are hundreds of thousands of people, probably about 250,000 people still left.
And there is a determined effort by the Russian Air Force to destroy Aleppo in order to eliminate the last of the Syrian rebels who are really holding out against the Assad regime.”
Clinton was telling part of the truth, and masking the rest. Crushing Aleppo as it earlier crushed the Chechen rebels in Grozny, Russia and its Syrian allies were refusing to pull their punches just because the rebels were using a quarter of a million civilians in east Aleppo as human shields.
But Clinton never mentioned that American and coalition air forces similarly killed thousands of human shields in conquering Fallujah and will likely kill many thousands more in their current attempt to capture Mosul.
The Saudis have been doing the same in Yemen, enabled by weapons, refueling, intelligence, and increasingly direct participation from Britain and the United States.
Horrific in the extreme, the medieval-like siege of Aleppo follows the modern logic of asymmetric warfare — the rich and powerful have air forces while the rebels generally do not, though they are beginning to use drones.
Like most mainstream American pols and pundits, Clinton also failed to mention that the rebels â€“ armed and supported by the US, Qatar, and the Saudis — have fired back, killed civilians, cut off the water supply, and done extensive damage to west Aleppo, which Assad’s forces now hold.
Nor did she admit that as many as 900 of the rebels “holding out” in east Aleppo were militants of the former Jabhat al-Nusra, which ostensibly separated from al-Qaeda in July and rebranded itself as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
Nor did she explain why Washington’s Saudi and Qatari allies had also funded the Islamic State (ISIS), or how her making the fight against Assad a priority over fighting ISIS ensured that the slaughter would go on and on, as the Sunni kingdoms of the Gulf continue to pursue their Washington-backed campaign to force regime change in Syria.
Wrapping herself in the holy cloth of humanitarianism, Clinton has also kept a tight lip about one of the more telling aspects of the campaign. The White Helmets, who were loudly touted for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, turn out to have a highly suspect relationships with the jihadis, as the tireless Max Blumenthal recently documented.
The White Helmets also played a central role in providing the heart-rending photograph of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh and eyewitness testimony and other purported evidence that the Russians and/or Syrians bombed the UN’s humanitarian aid convoy.
As most Western media have conveniently failed to report, a “former” British intelligence officer, James Le Mesurier, created and still runs the White Helmets operation, and most of the funding comes from USAID, the British Foreign Office, and a host of Western nations. Welcome to the world of humanitarian aid.
Clinton continues to play down the Saudi, Qatari, and covert parts of her plans for Syria. What she plays up is her focus on Vladimir Putin and the Russians. She does this to discredit Donald Trump as a Putin puppet, shamefully echoing America’s long history of red-baiting. But even more disturbing, she is building public support for either a new Cold War with Russia, or a very hot one.
In the third and final debate, host Chris Wallace asked Clinton about her plans to impose a no-fly zone in Syria. “President Obama has refused to do that because he fears it’s going to draw us closer or deeper into the conflict,” Wallace reminded her. “And General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says you impose a no-fly zone, chances are you’re going to get into a war — his words — with Syria and Russia.”
“If you impose a no-fly zone and a Russian plane violates that,” asked Wallace, “does President Clinton shoot that plane down?”
This was one of the most consequential questions of the debate, and Clinton ducked it completely, sounding more like Trump and his hopes of doing a deal with Putin.
“I think we could strike a deal and make it very clear to the Russians and the Syrians that this was something that we believe was in the best interests of the people on the ground in Syria, it would help us with our fight against ISIS,” she said.
Is Clinton suddenly pulling back from the war-like ways that our country’s foreign policy elite and some of our military mavens, like Gen. David Petraeus, now favor? Or, as seems far more likely, is she simply side-stepping any discussion of a likely military conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia? Either way, the American people need to know, as do the Syrians.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold.
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.
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ACTION ALERT: Campaign to Stop Syria War
Civil Society Movements Call for Immediate Action to Stop the Syrian War
International Peace Bureau
October 19, 2016. The mass slaughter and war crimes we witness today in Syria merit the highest level of citizen engagement: they demand a worldwide commitment to achieving a ceasefire and opening a process to reach a political solution. The matter could not be more urgent.
In the wake of discussions at its Berlin congress (early October), IPB proposes the following 6 elements of a peace plan. It is not an exhaustive strategy, but it does offer an orientation for international civil society action in the coming weeks and months, especially for those of us in Western countries.
1. Do no harm.
There are limits to what any government — including the US, the most powerful — is actually capable of doing. But when the actions taken by them on the ground are actually worsening the situation, the response to those actions must be based on the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm. This means stopping airstrikes by all sides, stopping the destruction of people and cities. Attacking hospitals and schools is a war crime.
Right now in Aleppo the main culprits seem to be the Assad regime and Russia. However the US and some of its allies also have a long record of aerial attacks on civilians — in their case in other parts of Syria and in countries ranging from Afghanistan to Libya to Yemen.
Every bomb is one too many — especially as they in fact tend to strengthen extremist organizations. Furthermore, it is not only a question of attacks from the air. Ground fighting, training, supplies by external military forces must also cease.
2. Make “no boots on the ground” real.
We call for the withdrawal of all troops including special forces, and also the removal of foreign planes and drones from Syrian airspace. However we do not support the call for a noâ€fly zone, which would require air patrols by Security Council members, which means a risk of direct conflict between the US and Russia.
This is especially dangerous at a time when tensions between them are increasing, and also could further intensify the fighting on the ground.
The presence of US troops provides exactly what ISIS and other extremist organizations want: foreign troops on their territory, providing potential recruits with renewed evidence of Western meddling in Muslim countries, as well as providing thousands of new targets. This is identical to alâ€Qaeda’s goal of 15 years ago, which was to provoke the US into sending troops to their territory in order to fight them there.
Having said that, our aim is not to leave the field open to the Government forces. The intention of removing foreign forces is to deâ€escalate the conflict and rapidly open up talks on a political settlement. While this of course contains some element of risk to civilians, so do the current policies, which allow the mass slaughter to continue.
3. Stop sending weapons.
IPB believes steps should be taken in the direction of a full arms embargo on all sides. The USâ€supplied Syrian ‘moderates’ are often overrun by (or their fighters 2 defect to) ISIS, alâ€Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, or other notâ€soâ€moderate militias.
Whether these weapons are deployed by extremists or by the USâ€backed supposedly ‘moderate’ governments or militias, the result is more and more violence against civilians.
Western governments must end their practice of ignoring the violations of human rights and international law committed with their weapons and by their allies. Only then will they have the credibility to urge Iran and Russia to end their own arming of the Syrian regime.
The US could, if it chose, bring an immediate halt to the Saudi, UAE, Qatari and other arms shipments heading to Syria by enforcing endâ€user restrictions, on pain of losing all future access to US arms.
While it is true that a Security Council vote to ban arms sales would almost certainly be vetoed by one side or another, an important avenue for enforcement has opened up with the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty. In addition, unilateral arms transfer bans could and should be put into operation immediately.
4. Build diplomatic, not military partnerships.
It is time to move diplomacy to center stage, not just as a sideline to military actions. The bigâ€power diplomacy we see endlessly on our TV screens must be matched by Syrian diplomacy.
Eventually, that means everyone involved needs to be at the table: the Syrian regime; civil society inside Syria including nonviolent activists, women, young people, internally displaced, and refugees forced to flee Syria (Syrian, Iraqi, and Palestinian); the Syrian Kurds, Christians, Druze, and other minorities as well as Sunnis, Shi’a, and Alawites; the armed rebels; the external opposition and the regional and global players — the US, Russia, European Union, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and beyond.
A tall order perhaps; but in the long run, inclusion will be more effective than exclusion. Meanwhile, Kerry and Lavrov would do well to put on the table immediate plans to pull out their own military forces. Tensions between the two nuclearâ€armed giants are already far too high. Solving Syria might — just possibly â€ be the project that finally teaches them a peace lesson. There is no military solution.
Russia, like other players, has its definite geostrategic interests. It rightly points to the double standards of Western politicians and their media supporters, which are evident when we look at their actions (direct or indirect) in fomenting hostilities right across the region. But Russia too has civilian blood on its hands and cannot be regarded as a disinterested peace promoter. This is why a wider grouping of states needs to be brought together.
The search for broader diplomatic solutions in the United Nations covering both ISIS and the civil war in Syria means, in the short run, greater support for efforts to negotiate local ceasefires, to allow humanitarian aid into, and evacuation of civilians from, besieged areas. What is not needed is another Coalition of the Willing; instead we should be making an early start on a Coalition of the Rebuilding.
5. Increase economic pressure on ISIS â€ and all other armed groups.
Islamic State is a special case and represents an especially lethal threat. It must indeed be rolled back; but brutal counterâ€force, such as we now see in the assault over the border on Mosul, is unlikely to provide a satisfactory longâ€term solution. It fails to get at the roots of the problem and we share the fears of UN officials that it could provoke a huge humanitarian disaster.
The West must instead work harder to tighten the funding flows to ISIS, notably by preventing oil companies, and especially Turkish middlemen, from trading in ‘blood oil’. Bombing oil truck convoys has serious environmental as well as human impacts; it would be more effective to make it impossible for ISIS oil to be sold.
Furthermore, Washington should crack down on its allies’ support for armed factions, including al Qaeda and ISIS. Most analysts agree that a major part of ISIS and other armed groups’ funding comes from Saudi Arabia; whether it comes from official or unofficial sources, the Kingdom certainly has enough control of its population to end the practice.
6. Increase humanitarian contributions for refugees and expand resettlement commitments.
Western powers must massively increase their humanitarian contributions to United Nations agencies for the millions of refugees and internally displaced people both inside and fleeing from both Syria and Iraq. Money is desperately needed both inside Syria and in the surrounding countries.
The US and EU have pledged significant funds, but much of it has not actually been made available to the agencies, and more must be pledged and delivered. But the crisis is not only financial. IPB argues that we should open much wider the doors of western countries to refugees.
It is unacceptable that Germany takes 800,000 while other countries — including those who promoted the Iraq War in the first place — accept only a few thousand, and some, like Hungary, flatly refuse the concept of interâ€European solidarity and sharing.
The action we propose is not simply that required by normal human solidarity. It is our legal obligation as signatories to the Refugee Convention. While we recognise the political difficulty of such a position given the current public mood, the responses of rich Western countries are simply inadequate.
Specific measures can be taken: for example, humanitarian corridors should be established (with organized transport), so that people fleeing war don’t have to risk their lives all over again on the Mediterranean. Winter is coming fast and we shall see many more tragic deaths unless a new policy is adopted rapidly.
CONCLUSION: Syria is tough. Everyone knows the political solution is extremely challenging and will take a long time to resolve. Yet it is precisely when the situation is most serious that negotiations need to be pursued. The fact that some of the interlocutors have committed unacceptable acts is not a reason to abandon talks.
We call for local and regional ceasefires, humanitarian pauses and any other means that allow the rescue services to reach the civilian population. Meanwhile we urge an immediate shift in key policies, such as putting in place an arms embargo on all sides, and removing foreign forces from the battle zone. We also call for a review of all sanctions against Syria, some of which tend to penalise the civilian population.
Finally, we urge our colleagues in the civil society movements in all continents to maintain and build up their mobilisations. The politicians and diplomats need to know that world opinion wants action and will not tolerate any further prolongation of this appalling carnage. Winning the war (by any side) is not an option now. What matters is ending it.
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