By David Swanson
It’s not hard to do. You can probably accomplish it at home quite easily. In These Times just published an article, for example, that calls Veterans For Peace, United National Antiwar Coalition, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Seymour Hersh, Gareth Porter, Kathy Kelly, Counterpunch, Consortiumnews, Antiwar.com, and many more, including me supporters of Bashar al Assad.
How did I win this honor? I spent years denouncing war making by all parties in Syria. I wrote article and books questioning the hypocrisy that held Assad to have been a good torturer when he was working for the United States but a bad torturer now. I severely criticized my fellow peace activists when some of them cheered for Russian bombings in Syria. I even went after Russia for its warmaking in Syria repeatedly on Russian television. I wrote not one article or blog post and gave not one speech defending Assad’s atrocities in any way, shape, or form. That record ought to have been enough, I suppose, to get me accused of supporting Assad and Putin. No good deed goes unpunished and all that.
But I also made the truly fateful mistake of trying to accommodate the “You’re an Assad lover” crowd. Someone named Andy Berman sent me nasty messages with that false accusation. I proposed that he write down exactly what he thought I had been so nefariously censoring. He did. And I published it with my own response afterwards but with not a word or a comma edited. Here was an attempt at civil discourse over an issue that has divided peace activists, and what did it get me?
Andy Berman’s wife, Terry Burke, is listed as the author of the attack piece for In These Times accusing me of all the same tired old lies. She didn’t contact me. No editor, if In These Times has those, contacted me. There’s no quote or paraphrase of anything I supposedly said. Instead, there’s a denunciation of having been a speaker at a rally. But, as I would have pointed out if asked, I wasn’t at the rally at all or within 500 miles of it. It was, however, a rally that I had helped promote before it happened. Burke might have looked at those promotions, rather than at what someone showed up at the rally waving, in order to figure out what I was for or against.
Clearly that would have been too much to ask. Others became Assad lovers on even less basis. Some were denounced for having gone to Syria and met with Assad. I interviewed someone who went on that trip and asked her whether they had confronted Assad with his crimes. You can listen to the response on my website. Clearly Burke didn’t bother to even contact the people she libeled. But most of those condemned as Assadites by In These Times are so condemned on no stated basis whatsoever.
Now this is getting very tiresome after all of these years of it, and a couple of dangers loom ahead for activists who can’t seem to graduate from preschool mentalities. The fact is, of course, as many of us are sick to death of having to explain, that denouncing the war making by all parties in Syria does not put you in the camp of cheering for whichever party somebody else has chosen as the Bad Guy.
If the United States and Russia escalate a joint bombing campaign in Syria, things will go from very bad to even worse for those not killed in the process. Will those who have thus far believed that bombing by only one of those parties or the other is evil come to grips with the evil in bombing conducted by the pair of them?
And if Hillary Clinton launches a greatly escalated effort to overthrow the Syrian government by bombing campaign, will those who oppose that criminal catastrophe have to listen to more chants of “Assad lover!” “Assad lover!” Does criticizing Hillary Clinton about anything win one the accusation of “privilege” anyway? As if living in one of the countries she doesn’t want to bomb isn’t a huge privilege for all of us!
This was my response to Berman’s article:
Thank you to Andy Berman for giving me and Code Pink a bit of credit in this article. I think more credit is do more groups and individuals. In particular, I think the public pressure in the U.S., UK, and elsewhere that stopped a massive U.S. bombing campaign of Syria in 2013 deserves a great deal of credit and far from being an example of a peace movement that has completely failed constitutes the most noteworthy success for peace of recent years. Of course it was incomplete. Of course the U.S. went ahead with arming and training and bombing on a much smaller scale. Of course Russia joined in, killing even more Syrians with its bombs than the United States was doing, and it was indeed deeply disturbing to see U.S. peace activists cheer for that. Of course the Syrian government went on with its bombings and other crimes, and of course it’s disturbing that some refuse to criticize those horrors, just as it’s disturbing that others refuse to criticize the U.S. or Russian horrors or both, or refuse to criticize Saudi Arabia or Turkey or Iran or Israel.
All of this selectivity in moral outrage breeds suspicion and cynicism, so that when I criticize U.S. bombing I’m immediately accused of cheering for Syrian bombing. And when I read an article like this one that makes no mention of the 2013 bombing plan, no mention of Hillary Clinton’s desired “no fly zone,” no mention of her position that failure to massively bomb in 2013 was a mistake, etc., I have to struggle not to wonder why. Then when it comes to what we ought to do about this war, I’d love to have seen some acknowledgment that the party that has repeatedly blocked exactly what is proposed in point #5 (a negotiated settlement) has been the United States, including rejecting a Russian proposal in 2012 that included Assad stepping down — rejected because the U.S. preferred a violent overthrow and believed it was imminent.
I would also like to have seen greater recognition that people usually have the most influence over their own governments, as opposed to over the governments of others. I think one also has to have a view of U.S. imperialism to explain U.S. actions in Syria, including its failure to condemn Russian cluster bombs and incendiary bombs while U.S. cluster bombs are falling in Yemen, and while Fallujah is newly under siege. One has to have an understanding of Iraq and Libya to know where ISIS and its weapons and much of the weaponry of other fighters in Syria come from, as well as to understand the conflicted U.S. policy that can’t choose between attacking the Syrian government or its enemies and that has resulted in CIA and DOD trained troops fighting each other. I also think a negotiated settlement has to include an arms embargo and that the greatest resistance to that comes from the greatest arms dealer. But I think the broader point here, that we should oppose and be aware of and work to end war, regardless of who is doing it, is the right one. And I think part of making that work will be both including a comprehensive list of criticisms of all parties in any mention we make of a conflict, and giving each other the benefit of the doubt rather than making accusing each other our top priority.
Coleen Rowley added this comment to my response:
“A good place for Berman to look to regain some of his own dignity would be to stop pushing for U.S. “regime change” in Syria and elsewhere. When he parroted the official pre-condition for any peace negotiations that “Assad must go,” and when he constantly promoted speakers and writers, even neocon groups, engaged in the bloody effort to topple the Syrian government, they essentially doomed Syria to continuing and worsening war and the destabilizing vacuum that allowed ISIS to grow. From the start, Berman sided with speakers who advised not to worry about the al Qaeda presence among the “rebels” but to focus only on toppling the Syrian government. In any event, here is an article that Margaret Safrajoy and I co-wrote in December 2014 when this sick hypocrisy had become so painfully clear: https://consortiumnews.com/2014/12/25/selling-peace-groups-on-us-led-wars/
“Another sign of Berman’s constant pushing for more US military intervention on the side of the “rebels” (which includes jihadists aligned with Al Qaeda) can be seen in his social media posts encouraging people to contact members of Congress to support HR 5732, the “Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act.” The bill would be great if it actually would serve to protect civilians but in actuality, it increases sanctions against Syria and requires the U.S. President to present proposals regarding the establishment of safe zones and a no-fly zone as U.S. policy options in Syria. (“No fly zone” being a code used by “humanitarian war hawks” for bombing a country to smithereens if you recall what happened to Libya.)
“(Naturally) MN Rep Ellison who supported the previously announced plan to bomb Syria in 2013 (and I think even supported the earlier US-NATO bombing of Libya) is one of 17 co-sponsors of H.R 5237, which bill was introduced by Israel’s best friend, Eliot Engel, with uber-hawk Ros-Lehtinen another co-sponsor.”