The latest statement from the poorly named United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) is entitled "No more wars—US out of the Middle East!" The very first line reads: "The White House's June 13th announcement that it would begin directly supplying arms to the opposition in Syria is a dramatic escalation of the US/NATO war against that country." Anyone with a modicum of sophistication should see the problems with this formulation right off the bat. Let's put aside the fact that the White House promise of arms to the insurgents is a completely empty one, since the shipments have been held up by Congressional fears that war material could find its way into jihadist hands, as Reuters reports. The more important point is the assumption that Syrians' most pressing problem is the hypothetical threat of the US arming the rebels—while for two years the Bashar Assad dictatorship has been vigorously waging war against its own people, with a death toll topping 60,000, with reports of "cleansing" of Sunnis by forces loyal to the regime, and the UN Security Council urging the International Criminal Court to open a war crimes investigation.
The statement has its obvious appeal. There is lots of verbiage about US imperial motives, which are obvious, and this will be eagerly received by activists wary of a replay of the Iraq nightmare. But then comes the sneaky little sucker-punch: "[T]he now-escalating war in Syria and the growing threats against Iran are part of a coordinated regional effort by the United States, Britain and France to dominate this oil-rich and strategic region." In other words, the entire uprising is a charade created by the US, Britain and France. The Syrian people have no right to rebel, and Assad bears no responsibility for his own endless atrocities. How many of the signatories are even aware that the Syrian uprising began two years ago when security forces in the city of Deraa detained children painting a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries? That the situation escalated to an armed insurgency only after regime troops opened fire on peaceful protesters —again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again?
It is, of course, superfluous to mention that a lot of unseemly jihadist types are now exploiting the Syrian insurgency, hoping to enflame a sectarian war, as they did in Iraq. Ironically, some prominent signatories to the statement were avidly rooting for those same jihadists in Iraq just a few years ago! And the US, contrary to the widespread propaganda of those now rooting for the Assad dictatorship, is not sponsoring the jihadists; the most prominent such group, the Nusra Front, has been added to the State Department "foreign terrorist organizations" list.
It is also superfluous to mention that the US has its own imperial interests in Syria and the region, which are ultimately inimical to those of the Syrian people. But being quick to judge those who will seek allies where they can find them in a desperate situation—under relentless attack from an utterly ruthless regime—is beneath contempt. And, contrary to the impression conveyed by the statement, there persists even now a civil unarmed resistance in Syria with secular and progressive politics. We have noted the Local Coordination Committees, the Syrian Nonviolence Movement, the National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change, even Syrian anarchists. These are the people in Syria who demand our solidarity—our natural allies as progressives in the West. By failing to even mention them, and by implciitly apologizing for the regime that oppresses them, the UNAC statement constitutes a shameful betrayal of these forces. No "anti-war" movement that would engage in such a betrayal is worthy of the name.
The signatories to the UNAC statement include several groups and individuals who should really know better. These include, most painfully, my (former?) comrades at the Socialist Party USA. Also disappointing are the inclusion of Veterans For Peace; the Green Party USAand their presidential candidate Jill Stein; Voices for Creative Nonviolence and their foremost spokesperson Kathy Kelly; Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report; Heidi Elizabeth Boghosian of the National Lawyers Guild; Kevin Zeese; Honduras Resistencia USA (what, Lobo bad, Assad good?); SOA Watch-LA; the Nicaragua Network (also very painful); Voices for Justice in Palestine (except the Palestinians getting bombed by Assad, eh?); Women Against Military Madness (except Assad's military madness, eh?); Anarchy in Action, Buffalo (How dare you call yourselves "anarchists"?), et cetera.
These signatories allow their names to appear on the same list as ANSWER and Workers World Party, entities that enthusiastically support any brutal regime that happens to find itself on the outs with Washington—whether it is Serbia, China, North Korea or now the Assad dictatorship. UNAC appears to be a creation these entities, which always seek new front groups to keep neophytes confused. We noted in the early days of the Arab Spring that these groups were cynically cheering on the protesters in US-backed Egypt, but would be quick to cheer on the dictators if the protests spread to Qaddafi's Libya and Assad's Syria. Now this has come to pass, and this contradiction has happily cost these odious formations some international prestige. Cynthia McKinney, another signatory to the UNAC statement, was called out by some of her erstwhile Palestinian comrades for her support for the Qaddafi dictatorship two years ago.
But large swaths of the left in the US continue to be either naive or cynical enough to loan their names to such propaganda. "No more wars"? As if Syria were not already at war, with its own ruler the ugliest party to the conflict. This recalls George Orwell's observation: "Pacifist literature abounds with equivocal remarks which, if they mean anything, appear to mean that...violence is perhaps excusable if it is violent enough."
Finally, there is one signatory to the UNAC statement with which I am, if unintentionally, associated. In 2007, I won an award from Project Censored for my reportage for Yes magazine on the civil resistance movement in Iraq—trade unionists, socialists, feminists and secularists who opposed both the US occupation and the jihadist insurgency. Project Censored's endorsement of the UNAC statement constitutes a betrayal of precisely this kind of civil resistance in Syria. I have expressed my problems with Project Censored before. But this time the irony is too bitter. I must officially renounce the award in protest of this egregious error of judgment.
I challenge Project Censored to run this statement on their website, and also call upon them to run a disclaimer linking to it where-ever my name appears in their online material.
A last word. If progressives are looking for a statement to sign on Syria, try this one: "Solidarity With the Syrian Struggle for Dignity and Freedom."