A Slice of the Anti-war/Syria position in NYC

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, June 11, 2013

It shouldn’t be easy for a group of Antiwar.com writers and supporters to just walk in and dish about foreign policy at the Left Forum, which claims to be the biggest annual convocation of Leftwing activists in the country.

But it was — easy, that is. In fact, some of us probably made it harder for the Leftwing participants at the New York City confab to prove to us that that they weren’t just humanitarian “imperialists” in disguise. Imperialists – that’s a dirty word in these parts, on any side of the aisle.

Which made for an interesting panel discussion on Saturday, moderated by this writer, who was trying to drill down on the question of whether the United States had any moral obligation to intervene in Syria because a) there was (or at least it began as) an organic freedom movement trying to topple a repressive government that had been tacitly supported by America for years, and b) there is a growing human crises that stands to get worse, not just for Syria but for the entire region, which is already fragile from war, refugees and sectarian strife.

This question is particularly salient today because the Obama Administration is expected to “decide” this week whether the U.S will start assisting the rebels with heavy arms (something my co-panelists and many in the audience clearly oppose). And while President Obama has already ruled out “boots on the ground,” there is an ongoing debate about the “less likely” option of helping to impose a no-fly zone and “deploying American air power to ground the regime’s jets, gunships and other aerial assets,” according to an Associated Press report on Sunday.

With help from the Russians and Hezbollah on the ground fighting for Bashar Assad’s Syrian Army forces, the government has in the last week taken back the city of Qusair and is on the march north to recapture Homs and Aleppo, the very source of the rebellion’s strength. The fall of Qusair blocks a strategic supply route for the rebels and the fall of the two other major cities would reopen the government’s access to the coast and a vital corridor of predominantly Shia-Allawite support. In other words, it’s not looking too good for the revolution.

I was joined Saturday to talk about these developments and more by Gareth Porter, John Walsh, Chase Madar, Evan Siegel, and Lorraine Barlett, all of whom who would either consider themselves Left or libertarian, but decidedly anti-war and comfortable working with the Right end of the spectrum on national security issues. All save for Seigel have written for Antiwar.com or The American Conservative magazine.

The audience was decidedly Left, and, judging from the exhibition hall downstairs, way more comfortable with Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky than Randolph Bourne or Ron Paul. But judging from many of the knowing smiles and murmurs of agreement throughout the nearly two-hour discussion – surprise – we had a lot in common, at least on foreign policy.

First off – there seemed to be a hard line against intervention in Syria or anywhere else. “Bombs for peace” didn’t hold well with this crowd. “(Intervention) will only complicate and cause more death than help in Syria,” said Siegel, an adjunct professor at the New York City College of Technology and veteran peace activist. “They have to work it out for themselves,” said Walsh, a microbiology professor who co-founded ComeHomeAmerica.us and over the course of his own activism has shifted from Left, closer to libertarianism. He appeared the most unyielding of them all on the panel, saying any move to assist the rebels would be seen as imperialist in nature.

Porter agreed. “Don’t be suckers,” he said simply. A mantra for our times. More seriously, Porter entered into an exposition in which he explained that the National Security State — the Armed Forces, the National Security Council, Joint Chiefs and Pentagon — were disinterested in a Syrian intervention anyway. “It’s not in the interest of the National Security State,” he insisted, “because they believe the cost of war to the National Security State itself would be greater than the benefit to the National Security State. In other words, it’s about their bottom line.”

In that vein, Madar, who has written extensively on recent U.N. Ambassador nominee Samantha Power, said fierce liberal interventionists like her pick and choose their “crises” and show their bias when they conspicuously leave politically unfeasible or inexpedient conflicts off their list of struggles worthy of outside assistance.

When I interviewed a few of the audience members after the session they seemed to share much of the sentiments. “It’s ridiculous to push on one side and not give them the chance to decide for themselves,” said Linda D’Angelo from Ohio. “We can’t put our fingers in all of the dykes.”

Not everyone was digging the tone and direction of the speakers, who were basically asserting that the excuse of “humanitarianism” was often used to meddle, but that the United States has only really intervened for its own interests, and in Syria, there was no interest at stake. Furthermore, whether there was an “interest or not,” all five speakers advocated a consistent hands-off policy. For at least one bespectacled man in the audience who spoke up, this equated with allowing a “slaughter” to continue.

He waited patiently to be called upon and when he was, unleashed a Gatling gun of invectives on the panel, calling them and Antiwar.com, “apologists for genocide,” “Islamophobes,” and “crypto-Stalinists.”

Interestingly, after a brief skirmish broke out, with members of the panel and the audience defending the speakers from his accusations, the man abruptly walked out. But not before he was quietly jeered by both sides on his way to the door.

Siegel, Madar, Porter, Walsh & Barlett at LeftForum 2013

Siegel, Madar, Porter, Walsh & Barlett at LeftForum 2013

But the question of whether the U.S might have some obligation to do something in the face of a humanitarian crisis that stands to affect half of Syria’s 20 million population by the end of the year (already, 1.5 million refugees have left Syria, while 4.5 million are displaced inside), still seems to make some uncomfortable. The conversation often drifted toward the history of U.S war policy, empire and the broader principles of anti-interventionism. There seemed to be some consensus around imposing a total arms embargo in order to let both sides fight it out without interference from the Gulf States, Europe, Russia, Iran, U.S.., etc., but then most conceded that it was likely too far gone for that anyway.

Probably the most heartening thing to come out of the 50-minute exchange in that university classroom was the largely positive (not counting the singular fury that left the room) reaction from the audience. One gentleman admitted he had no idea there was this common ground with “the other side” of the political spectrum before.

There were nodding heads all around. Mission accomplished? Perhaps.

 

 




33 Responses to “A Slice of the Anti-war/Syria position in NYC”

  1. I wasn't "furious". Instead I was nauseated by the crypto-Stalinist apologetics for Putin and Bashar al-Assad. I was not up for puking that early in the morning.

    You people are a bunch of disgusting Islamophobes worse than Paul Berman or Christopher Hitchens. Plus, you cherry-pick news from Syria just to make your pro-Baathist bullshit acceptable. This sort of thing will never enter your calculations.

    BNP leader Nick Griffin arrives in Syria after invitation from Assad regime
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/jun/11/bn

    Syria asks IDF to hold fire as it battles rebels | JPost | Israel News
    http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Report-Syria-ask

  2. I am a former U.S. Marine who has spent a lot of time in Syria (as a civilian)…

    How is staying out of Syria an apologetic for the Assad regime?
    Would you have it that more Marines like myself and my buddies die for some remote sectarian civil war that has nothing to do with U.S. defense?

    Nearly all of my buddies that are still in the military are sick of all these exhausting foreign adventures and entanglements. These panel speakers who went against the mainstream "we must do something" mentality are the true patriots.

    People like you disgust me. You probably know next to nothing about Syria, and you probably do not speak Arabic, and you likely have never travelled to the region – yet you and others like you claim to have grand plans for intervention and change in the region.

    HANDS OFF SYRIA!
    At the very least, you should care enough about American lives to want to stay out of this mess!

  3. If you were Obama, what would you do?

  4. Great column by Kelley Vlahos.
    But as Kissinger and Walt will tell you right out, humanitarian considerations have nothing to do with US foreign policy and actions – except to get the support of the yokels for war.
    And now we know what a fringe lunatic that guy Proyect is. Truly an educational event, it would seem.

  5. Louis is part of that dwindling band of Trot sectarians who have thrown all in for the Syrian "Revolution" no matter how dirty or how much it serves the interest of the vicious Wahhabi overlords of Saudi Arabia, Israel, or Western Imperialism.

    As for the Islamophobic epithet, it doesn't wash when the rebels are murdering anyone who doesn't agree with them, like that poor 15-year-old boy brutally murdered in Aleppo. Hezbollah was right to call them "Takfiri" which means a Muslim intolerant of any sect not their own. As for the revolution, does he really thing more arms and intervention will solve anything? And a revolution backed by the UK, France, Turkey who have all been in their turn colonial occupiers of Syria?

    It won't be too long before a bunch of them walk over to the neo-con side. It has been the most appalling bout of insanity I have seen, and has really discredited the ISO types who seem to chase anything that labels itself a "revolution" regardless if the endpoint are sectarian, reactionary, or nihilist.

  6. As it happens Nick Griffin is getting plaudits from British "Lefties" and the moment, and establishment Liberal newspapers getting slated, "we hate Nick Grffin's right wing views, but now we find we agree with him on this! h is the only British politician talking sense!".

    That is what is appearing in the comment columns of the British press.

  7. American readers should know that Louis Proyect _ how did he get into the meeting – is typical of British "Trotskyite" or "Trots" – they believe in a evolution by the "working class" so are absolutely determined to believe, whatever the evidence to the contrary, that the Syrian Counterrevolution is really a genuine popular movement. and nothing will get them away from that.

    This despite the fact it was a Color Revolution from outside the country on which a fortune of the taxpayers' money of the countries concerned had been spent on organising, crossing palms and training.

    Also the Jihadist fundamentalist movement had been reactivated to follow up with a paramilitary campaign from people drawn largely from outside the country bent on turning it into a Jihadist emirate under Sharia law.

    You would think that even they had some sense.

    They claim it is being "taken over" by America., Britain and the Islamists, but

  8. I don't think more than a very few in the US have any real understanding of Syria, its history, its political and economic dynamic, or its constitutional reform process. Nor do they have any sense of the extent of U.S.- NATO involvement in this conflict and the media propaganda war that has existed from the very beginning. I also doubt that many of those who opine about the aspirations of the Syrian people, or what they want or do not want, have ever visited, let alone spent any length of time, in the country meeting with the large mosaic of peoples and institutions, or have any other way to know what the Syrian people want. Only the Syrians really know that and it should be their choice. In Feb, 2012, they did overwhelmingly endorse their government and the constitutional reforms, and Assad right now is estimated to have 70% support of his people. Not bad for a leader that Clinton, Rice, Obama and every other Tom, Dick and Harry in the US Government declared, and continue to declare illegitimate. In any case, it's for the Syrians to decide. We have our own serious problems to sort out. So, apart from sending humanitarian aid (which might also be referred to as reparations), the U.S. should pull out its foreign operatives and proxies and leave Syria to the Syrians and their government and whomever else it asks for help.

  9. Very well said!
    There's way too much ignorance about Syria out there… too many people in high places talking about it as if they know. Power combined with ignorance is a very dangerous thing as American has proven in the last few decades.

  10. I say, TOTAL ARMS EMBARGO! I will never happen, but we can dream… at minimum, STAY OUT OF THE MIX, U.S.!!!!

  11. You are an IDIOT, sir! There are VERY GOOD REASONS for what you glibly dismiss as "Islamophobia".

  12. [...] continue these hot discussions in the White House this week. It looks like my friend Gareth Porter was right the other day when he said the “National Security State,” which includes the armed services, the [...]

  13. If your buddies are that sick of being mercenaries for ZOG's wars then they need to get the hell out as soon as their enlistments are up. Otherwise they remain the enemy as long as they wear a government-issued costume.

  14. Also the Jihadist fundamentalist movement had been reactivated to follow up with a paramilitary campaign from people drawn largely from outside the country bent on turning it into a Jihadist emirate under Sharia law.

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  17. Neither you nor any of us opposed to U.S. meddling in Syria are Syrian. Underlying this "apologist for the regime" accusation is that we Americans have some divine right to decide for Syrians who should rule their country. Syria could have been allowed to unfold the way it did in Tunisia, Egypt and now Turkey, but Obama opted for his Libya policy, sans the air war (so far). Obama and his Gulf Cooperation (Among Arabian Monarchs) Council sock puppets opted for destabilization via a proxy army. This supplying of weaponry to the opposition has been the chief motor of the so called civil war and is where ultimate responsibility for all the death that has followed since. Any other sovereign state would have responded in a similar manner if faced with such an internal, foreign back threat.

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  20. So, smart one, when will your people be calling for support of the Palestinians living under the cruelest of occupations?
    People like you make me sick.

  21. Your war policy, and Obama's decision to arm the rebels and possibly enforce a no-fly zone and put boots on the ground are way off base and your characterization of those who disagree is not only wrong-headed, it is moronic. By CIA and NATO estimates, Assad now enjoys the support of 70% or more of the Syrian people, including many of those who were disaffected with him before and, unless you are blind, it's easy to see why. So, let the Syrians determine who should be their leader, and let us get the hell out and stop supplying the jihadists and the opposition. Better to pull the jihadists, stop arming the opposition, and get amnesty for all who lay down their arms, in exchange for a cease fire, peace negotiations, and internationally monitored Presidential elections which are open to all candidates including Assad.

    If, instead, you want to perpetuate the war in Syria, sign up, sign your kids up, and go to the rebel front lines, but don't tell them you're not a fundamentalist muslim if you're not.

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  25. If Nick Griffin opposes aid to Syrian terrorists then good for him! He has much more credibility than the Trots who peddled propaganda for them, serving “imperialist” interests they pretend to oppose and only backpedaled once the genocidal cannibals could no longer be posed as innocent democrats.

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  28. Louis is part of that dwindling band of Trot sectarians who have thrown all in for the Syrian "Revolution" no matter how dirty or how much it serves the interest of the vicious Wahhabi overlords of Saudi Arabia, Israel, or Western Imperialism.

  29. And now we know what a fringe lunatic that guy Proyect is. Truly an educational event, it would seem.

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