Former US Officials Explain Why US Should Get Out of Syria
August 10, 2017
Oriana Pawlyk / Military.com & David Swanson / World Beyond War
What's at stake for the US being involved in a conflict that grows more complicated by the day? Everything, said former State Department official Matthew Hoh and former CIA analyst John Kiriakou. US military planes and drones kill a lot of people. Airways has identified thousands of civilian deaths from US and allied airstrikes (4,734 to 7,337 in Syria and Iraq). What purpose is served by US planes over Syria?
US Should Get Out of Syria, Former American Officials Say
Oriana Pawlyk / Military.com
(August 8, 2017) -- As news broke that an Iranian drone came within 100 feet of a US Navy F/A-18 landing on the USS Nimitz in the Persian Gulf, four analysts in Washington, D.C., reiterated their call to remove American forces from the region. [Read the complete article online at Military.com – EAW]
What's at stake for the US being involved in a conflict that grows more complicated by the day? Everything, said former US State Department official Matthew Hoh and former CIA counterterrorism analyst John Kiriakou.
Hoh and Kiriakou were accompanied by legal analyst Christie Edwards, and author and activist David Swanson.
"We are on the brink with a war with Russia," Hoh told an audience at a National Press Club event Tuesday.
Hoh resigned as the senior civilian representative in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, in 2009, making him the first known US official to resign in protest of America's war in Afghanistan. A former US Marine Corps captain, he had previously served two tours in Iraq.
He said the involvement of US and Russian warplanes over Syria -- still a sovereign state -- is a clear violation of international laws. And as each country continues to bait the other -- mainly in the Baltics and Ukraine -- the basis for involvement in Syria becomes even more misconstrued, Hoh said.
To further Hoh's point, Edwards, a legal analyst with the American Society of International Law and chair of the Lieber Society on the law of armed conflict, said Russia and the US make contradictory claims for their presence in Syria. . . .
It doesn't help that Congress has not approved a new authorization of military force, or AUMF, in the region, she said. The Pentagon has been operating under the 2001 AUMF.
"Article 51 [of the United Nations Charter] does allow for collective self-defense of states but not necessarily non-state armed groups like the SDF. To be clear, the US has not claimed that the SDF is a de facto organ of the United States -- it's providing some support, but it's not claiming it's a de facto organ under its control," Edwards said. . . .
Recently, Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, confirmed to Military.com that American pilots made the call to shoot down aircraft over Syria on three separate missions, including the Su-22 shootdown. He said the acts were all within the parameters of the rules of engagement.
"We're here to fight ISIS, but we're going to protect our forces from Syrian pro-regime entities," Corcoran told Military.com during a recent trip to the Middle East.
The general, however, did raise another point: Such calls may happen with more frequency as ISIS continues to lose ground in Syria, where a civil war has raged since 2011, and the US finds itself operating in airspace increasingly congested by forces loyal to Assad and backed by Russia. . . .
Thus far, the US has spent $14.3 billion in operations related to ISIS since kinetic strikes began on Aug. 8, 2014, according to the Defense Department.
Kiriakou, who served in the CIA from 1990 to 2004 and identifies himself as a CIA whistleblower, on Tuesday said, "The only way to save that country from becoming a failed state or an ISIS state is to sit at the table with all of the stakeholders, including the Syrians, the Russians -- and, whether we like it or not, the Iranians."
"We have to accept the fact that al-Assad is not going anywhere, nor should he," he said. "His is the internationally recognized government of Syria -- and that is no matter what [US President Donald] Trump nor [former President Barack] Obama have said. "We should sit across the table from Bashar al-Assad," Kiriakou said.
The former CIA analyst said the Russians have been invited by Syria to be there, while the US has not. But Swanson disagreed with the alleged legality of Russia's invite.
"Can an exiled dictator create legality by inviting other nations to attack his country? No, these are nonsense arguments for war," said Swanson, the director of WorldBeyondWar.org. He added there are no legal statutes that say, "War is OK if a dictator asks you to help with it."
"The US is committing a crime in Syria. So is Russia," Swanson said.
Purposeless Death in Syria
Statement by David Swanson, Director of World Beyond War
at DC press conference August 8, 2017
View C-Span video: here.
I won't have time to list all the reasons I want US military planes and drones out of Syrian skies much less all the reasons people have noted in comments on our petition, but there's no question what my first reason is, although it's not a reason always given much weight here in Washington.
These planes kill a lot of people. The US military's casualty figures have such a record of error that I would trust them about as far as I could throw a Pentagon contract. Airwars identifies thousands of civilian deaths from US and allied planes (4,734 to 7,337 in Syria and Iraq). And such counts generally turn out to be many times under the counts that comprehensive post-war studies arrive at.
On top of which we have the problem of all the people killed who are not counted by virtue of not being labeled civilian -- always an empirically and morally iffy labeling process.
Then there are the injuries that almost always outnumber the deaths, the homelessness, the extremely long-term effects of the US use of depleted uranium fired from some of those planes we want removed, the starvation that could have been prevented for a fraction of the cost of the planes, and of course the top killer of US troops: suicide.
The primary reason that what would otherwise be considered mass murder is given little heed is that it is understood to serve some higher purpose in both the moral and legal senses. But what purpose is served by US planes over Syria?
If longer than most major wars of the past isn't long enough to figure that out, how about a purpose served by bombing Afghanistan or Iraq or Pakistan or Libya or Yemen?
Apart from selling weapons and creating more enemies for the next war, what has been accomplished? Former CIA Bin Laden Unit Chief Michael Scheuer says the more the US fights terrorism the more it creates terrorism. The CIA's own July 7, 2009, report "Best Practices in Counterinsurgency," says drone killing is counterproductive.
Admiral Dennis Blair, a former director of National Intelligence, says the same. Gen. James E. Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says drone strikes could be undermining long-term efforts:
"We're seeing that blowback. If you're trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you're going to upset people even if they're not targeted."
That's true whether or not the plane has a pilot.
Maintaining the momentum of permanent war is obviously not a high moral purpose. Jodi Rudoren in the New York Times on September 6 reported that:
"For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad's government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis. 'This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don't want one to win -- we'll settle for a tie,' said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. 'Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that's the strategic thinking here.'"
This endless war for war's sake may be done in the name of democracy. And you may be able to get television viewers to cheer momentarily for missiles launched from a ship -- which have almost all the same problems as those launched from the air -- but people in the very same polls that cheer for those missiles say the US should get out of the war. Public pressure was key to preventing the start of a US air war in Syria in 2013.
Never has the public or the Congress advocated for or authorized this war. It is a war destructive of the rule of law. Nowhere does the UN Charter or the Kellogg-Briand Pact permit this action, from air, ground, or water. Special Operations Command chief Army General Raymond Thomas two weeks ago admitted it was illegal.
Claiming to defend US troops in Syria against aggression by Syria is not a legal argument for defensiveness but a declaration of imperial lawlessness.
President Obama's decision to arm and train proxies was against the law, dramatically against public opinion, and against the report he had commissioned from the CIA on whether such efforts had ever succeeded in the past.
President Trump's announcement that he will cease those efforts and henceforth fight on only one side of this war is a nod to reality, law, and possibly decency -- given the account of his decision having followed his viewing a video of CIA-backed fighters killing a child. But the war continues to kill children.
This is all before mentioning the risk of apocalyptic nuclear confrontation with Russia as a result of Russia also fighting an immoral, illegal, and counterproductive war in Syria. That alone is reason to remove every US plane or drone.
This is also without considering the environmental damage done to Syria and to our atmosphere. You can drive your car all year and not pollute the sky like one flight of one military plane.
And then there's the financial cost. National Priorities Project puts the cost of war on ISIS at $16 billion and counting -- more than the UN says would be needed annually to have clean drinking water everywhere on earth, and more than half what the UN says it would take to end hunger, not just in Syria, but globally.
And this war serves as the top public justification for military spending that adds up to about $1 trillion a year in the US That choice of how to spend our resources kills more people than all current wars put together because of where that money is not spent.
A fraction of that spending could be invested in diplomacy, aid, disarmament, and unarmed peacekeeping to far better effect. These alternatives have been available since day one and still are. The United States spent years sabotaging UN attempts at peace in Syria.
According to Former Finnish president and Nobel peace prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, the United States dismissed out of hand a Russian peace proposal for Syria in 2012. The US ruined last year's ceasefire by firing on Syrian troops.
Nothing is going to quickly bring peace and prosperity to Syria. But continuing to do what we know makes matters worse has to end. We have to give peace a chance.
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