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In June the influential Center for New American Security (CNAS) issued a report that urges greater U.S. military involvement in Syria to defeat ISIS and bolster Syrian opposition groups. The report calls for more American bombing, the deployment of additional U.S. troops on the ground, the creation of so-called ‘no-bombing’ zones in rebel-held territory, and a range of other coercive military measures that would significantly increase the scale of U.S. involvement.

Also in June a group of more than 50 U.S. diplomats used the State Department’s ‘dissent channel’ to issue a public appeal for U.S. air strikes against the government of Syria, arguing that attacks against the Assad regime would help to achieve a diplomatic settlement.

Several of those advocating greater military involvement in Syria are senior advisers to Hilary Clinton, including former Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, who chaired the CNAS task force. If Clinton wins the presidency she will face significant pressure to deepen American military intervention in Syria.

I agree that the United States should do more to try to end the war in Syria and reduce the threat from ISIS and violent extremist groups, but greater American military intervention is not the answer. The proposed plans for more bombing and troop deployments would create more war in the region not less. It would increase the risk of military confrontation with Russia, lead to more American casualties, and could escalate into another major U.S. land war in the Middle East.

Alternative approaches are available, and they need to be pursued vigorously to help resolve the crises in the region and isolate ISIS and violent extremist groups.

Rather than plunging more deeply into the war in Syria, the United States should:

  • place much greater emphasis on seeking diplomatic solutions, partnering with Russia and states in the region to revive and strengthen local ceasefires and create political solutions,
  • continue and intensify efforts to impose sanctions on ISIS and block the flow of foreign fighters into Syria,
  • support local groups in the region that are pursuing peacebuilding dialogue and nonviolent solutions,
  • increase humanitarian assistance and accept refugees fleeing the conflict.

Current diplomatic efforts under the auspices of the United Nations should be sustained and strengthened, despite the many setbacks to the process. The United States should partner directly with Russia, Iran, Turkey and other neighboring states to revive and strengthen local ceasefires and create a long-term plan for political transition and more inclusive governance in Syria. Iran should be invited to co-chair the diplomatic process and asked to use its extensive leverage with Syria and Iraq to facilitate diplomatic and political solutions.

UN Security Council Resolution 2253 adopted last December requires states to criminalize support for ISIS and take vigorous measures to prevent their nationals from traveling to fight with the terrorist group and its affiliates. Greater efforts are needed to implement these measures and stem the flow of foreign fighters into Syria.

Many local groups in Syria are utilizing nonviolent methods to oppose ISIS and pursue peacebuilding dialogues and reconciliation efforts. Maria Stephan of the U.S. Institute of Peace has proposed a range of options for using civil resistance to defeat ISIS. These efforts by Syrian women, youth and religious leaders need international support. They will become critically important when the fighting eventually diminishes and communities face the grueling challenge of rebuilding and learning to live together again.

The United States has been a leader in international humanitarian assistance for the migrants fleeing the fighting in Syria and Iraq. These efforts should be continued and expanded. Washington must also follow the lead of Germany in accepting a greater number of war refugees into the United States and providing assistance for local governments and religious and community groups that wish to house and support the refugees.

It is also necessary to support longer term efforts to resolve the underlying political grievances in Syria and Iraq that have driven so many people to pick up arms and resort to violent extremist methods. This will require more inclusive and accountable governance across the region and greater efforts to enhance economic and political opportunity for all.

If we want to prevent more war, we have to show that peace is the better way.

The release last week in London of the Chilcot Committee report is a welcome reminder of the lies and deception that led to the war in Iraq. In a report of some 2.6 million words, more than seven years in the making, the Iraq Inquiry Committee came to the following conclusions:

  • the supposed intelligence used to justify the war was flawed,
  • Iraq in 2003 did not pose a threat to international security, and
  • the moral and legal case for war was highly questionable.

No surprise in any of this, but it is important to focus on the results of the British inquiry and to ask whether such study should be conducted in this country.

Many of us who attempted to prevent the war in the months before the 2003 invasion made many of the same arguments as the Chilcot report. The Sanctions and Security Project of the Fourth Freedom Forum and the Kroc Institute produced a series of research studies, assessing official reports of UN weapons inspectors and the impacts of sanctions in Iraq, to document the following:

  • UN weapons inspectors during the 1990s systematically dismantled Iraq’s nuclear weapons program and its chemical weapons and ballistic missile programs, and found no evidence of those weapons being rebuilt.
  • When UN inspectors returned to Iraq in 2002, after being removed in 1998, they conducted more than 400 inspections in all known weapons sites. They found no evidence of any nuclear weapons development. The head of the IAEA told the UN Security Council in January 2003 “no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities has been detected.”
  • The UN oil embargo and trade sanctions on Iraq reduced the government’s earnings by more than 90 percent, leading to a drop in Iraqi military spending from $22.5 billion in 1990 to $1.2 billion in the late 1990s. Sanctions blocked Iraqi attempts to import weapons-related goods.

These and many other facts about the lack of justification for war were plainly available at the time and could be easily compiled now to produce a U.S. version of the Chilcot report. Such a report would confirm what almost everyone now concedes: the United States and Britain engaged in an unnecessary and unjustified military attack against another country. By invading Iraq without UN Security Council authorization they violated international law.

No U.S. government agency will support an inquiry into these inconvenient truths, so perhaps a team of independent scholars and former officials should be formed to produce a version of the Chilcot report on this side of the Atlantic. The goal would be to learn the lessons of the war and prevent such disasters in the future. The suggested title: Never Again!

Visiting Israel Palestine is a sobering experience for a scholar of peace. The ubiquitous Wall of separation, the constant sense of insecurity and fear, knowing as we walk through Jerusalem’s Damascus gate for example that a number of fatal shootings and attacks have occurred there recently. The pervasive military presence in Israel, the 20-somethings in uniform carrying Uzis in train stations and malls, troops on duty in so many public places and check points.

Our sympathies naturally lie with the Palestinians, whose land has been stolen historically, with settlers encroaching ever more, their right to statehood denied, the West Bank under military occupation, their communities walled off and isolated, transportation disrupted, with drastically lower living standards and access to water and sanitation.

But I also sympathize with Israel, which has the right to exist, and to be safe from invasion by neighbors and terrorist attacks against civilians. Israel is a prosperous democratic country, but its success is built on the back of Palestinian suffering. It is tragic that a people who suffered so much from separation in the past should now feel compelled to impose it upon another.

The political situation seems hopeless and is getting worse. Several interlocutors predicted an explosion in the coming months. Hardliners are gaining ground in the Israeli government and Knesset. Hamas retains its grip in Gaza and belief in terrorist methods. It praised as ‘heroic’ the fatal shooting of civilians in a Tel Aviv restaurant this past week.

In this bleak setting it’s hard to have any hope or sense of a solution, but a few facts seem indisputable.

For the Palestinians there can be no military solution. The resort to violence and terrorism only makes matters worse. In the 1980s and during the first mostly nonviolent intifada there was some hope for improvement. Then came the second intifada and the killing of more than 800 Israeli civilians, leading to the Wall and increased militarization. No just cause is gained through the killing of innocent people in cafes.

Israel’s security is based on an unsustainable foundation of oppression. The occupation of the West Bank and the building of settlements in Palestinian territory is a violation of international law.  Israel can never be truly free and secure without justice for the Palestinians.

The core parties to the dispute—Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas—remain light years apart in their positions and show no interest in negotiating a genuine settlement.  The Oslo framework has collapsed and a two-state solution seems ever more distant, made less relevant daily by Israeli facts on the ground and the re-engineered landscape of enclosed Palestinian ‘bantustans.’

In light of these facts, or so they seem to me, initiatives for change are needed from the outside. These could take several forms, all aimed at encouraging reconciliation. The US and EU could use their diplomacy, international aid, security assistance and other policy instruments to orient Israel away from occupation and settlements toward compliance with international law. They could also engage with the Palestinians to find achievable political solutions that assure their dignity and freedom as a people within the context of the same rights for Israelis.

Civil society must play a role. Especially important are the international solidarity programs that have been created by religious groups and NGOs to accompany and protect Palestinians at check points in Hebron and other sites of Israeli and settler abuse. These programs should be supported and expanded to bring into the West Bank and eventually Gaza the presence of ever growing numbers of international observers and peace builders from global civil society.

In the United States we bear a heavy burden. It is our government more than any other which sanctions, funds and arms Israeli crimes and thereby upholds the cruel separation and oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel is on a reckless path, and it needs tough love to come to its senses. The Palestinians too are in bad shape with corruption in Ramallah and militancy in Gaza. They also need our help.

For civil society our duty is to organize politically in support of a policy for Israel Palestine that helps the parties find a way of living together, two peoples in one land, free from violence, fear and oppression.

Hats off to Joe Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, for his brilliant take down of David Samuels’ recent New York Times Magazine article and attack against the Iran nuclear deal.  Cirincione counters Samuels’ distortions about the negotiated agreement and shows the importance of defending it against those who would tear it up.

Samuels’ article is mostly about Ben Rhodes, the influential speech writer and communications guru in the National Security Council who has helped to shape President Obama’s thinking on foreign policy over the past seven years. Rhodes also played an important role in winning support for the Iran deal. When the official implementation process began earlier this year many of us hailed the agreement as a triumph of diplomacy over war.

Not Samuels. He portrays it as a White House propaganda coup engineered by Rhodes and a step toward U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. As Cirincione writes, the Samuels critique is “utter nonsense.”

So far the agreement has produced positive benefits. Iran has removed two-thirds of its uranium enrichment capacity, shipped almost all of its enriched uranium fuel out of the country, completely dismantled its plutonium production reactor, and accepted “an airtight inspection regime tougher than any ever negotiated.” In return the U.S. and the European Union have lifted nuclear-related sanctions. As long as the deal remains in force and implementation continues, Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon.

The expectation of this outcome is why hundreds of retired generals and admirals, former diplomats, nonproliferation experts, scientists and religious leaders endorsed the Iran deal. Several Israeli former military and intelligence leaders and former U.S. ambassadors to Israel also supported the agreement.

The Ploughshares Fund, the Iran Project, the National Iranian American Council, the Arms Control Association, the Win Without War coalition and many other progressive foreign policy groups in the U.S. mounted substantial educational and advocacy efforts in support of the agreement.

The debate generated by the Samuels article reminds us that in the policy world we must not only fight to achieve victories but also work to defend those victories against counterattack. Right wing political forces in Israel and the U.S. have not abandoned their opposition to the Iran deal. They are continuing to mobilize against it. The opponents of diplomacy want to turn back the clock toward a policy of greater confrontation with Iran.

Diplomacy worked in limiting Iran’s nuclear program. That important accomplishment needs to be understood and defended, so that diplomacy can be applied again in other settings as a viable alternative to war.

It was exactly one year ago that more than 800 of us met in Washington DC for the conference “Vietnam the Power of Protest.” Here is a link to the conference program.

It was an exhilarating and inspiring event that brought together some of the most important voices of the Vietnam antiwar movement (Tom Hayden, Cora Weiss, Julian Bond, Dan Ellsberg and many others). The program called attention to the important role of antiwar opposition in bringing the war to an end.

The conference last year marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. escalation of the war and also of the beginning of mass antiwar protest. Preceding the public conference was an academic program sponsored by Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute and New York University entitled “The Vietnam War Then and Now: Learning the Critical Lessons,” featuring a keynote address by former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman.

Many public commemorations of the Vietnam War have occurred and will continue in the years ahead. Most focus on honoring the soldiers who served in the military (I was one of them), but very few acknowledge or pay tribute to the massive social movement that arose against the war. Even fewer events mention that widespread antiwar protest also emerged among many of us who were in the military. That’s how I became interested in and committed to working for peace, as I wrote previously.

Now comes a Congressional Resolution to pay tribute to the antiwar movement, introduced last week in the House of Representatives by that always reliable defender of justice and peace (and speaker at the “Power of Protest” event) Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California. It’s a marvelously succinct and powerful declaration that acknowledges our debt as a nation to the millions of people who took a stand for peace and worked to end an unjust war.

Take a look at the Resolution and urge your member of Congress to become a co-sponsor.

To the shores of Tripoli?

Pentagon officials are proposing air strikes and the use of special operations forces in Libya to counter the growing threat from ISIS. This potentially dangerous escalation of U.S. military involvement in the Middle East is being decided without public debate or dialogue. Is it really a good idea to open a new front in the expanding war in the region?

U.S. military strikes have not brought stability and peace to Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia or Syria. Why do we think they will solve the problems now in Libya? Military strikes can destroy targets and kill fighters (along with civilians), but they cannot solve the underlying political problems and lack of accountable governance that are at the root of these conflicts.

The United States fought a major war in Iraq to suppress Al-Qaida, but that organization morphed into the even more dangerous menace of ISIS. We fired the Iraqi army and sent some of its senior officers to prison, where they became radicalized by jihadists. Today many of the military leaders of the so-called Islamic State are former commanders of the Iraqi army.

Military involvement in the Middle East is the problem not the solution. As we have seen in other countries, American military intervention creates a rejection response that drives many people into the arms of the extremist groups.

As Scott Atran recently observed, an extreme reaction from the United States and other Western countries is exactly what the strategists of Al-Qaida and ISIS want. The more we become bogged down in the region, the happier they are. They want to cause chaos and ‘vexation’, forcing the West to become directly involved militarily.

External military intervention reinforces the false narrative of the extremists that the West is waging war on Islam. Bombs falling on another Arab country will be a bonanza for ISIS recruiters.

The U.S. has conducted 10,000 military strikes against extremist targets in Syria and Iraq over the past 18 months, but the threat from ISIS in the region remains formidable and is now spreading to Libya.

Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations confirmed in a recent analysis that American bombing in Iraq and Syria has not achieved its strategic objectives. Pentagon officials claim that U.S. strikes killed 25,000 ISIS fighters last year. Yet military officials also acknowledge that the number of estimated ISIS fighters in the region today remains about the same as before. Bombing alone cannot stem the flow of extremist fighters.

Keep in mind that U.S. bombing strikes in 2011 created the chaos in Libya in the first place, causing the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime and the collapse of the Libyan state, spreading lawlessness and armed conflict across the Sahel.

Yes, we need to do more to stop the spread of ISIS, but U.S. bombing will create a backlash that could worsen the extremist threat. We need to act, but we also need to heed the warning: do no harm.

Rather than further stoking the flames of chaos, let’s focus instead on encouraging negotiations among Libya’s competing political factions. The only hope for a resolution to the crisis in Libya is political agreement among the local parties. U.S. intervention could shatter the thin hopes of forging a viable coalition government.

Now is an especially bad time for external military intervention as the Libyan factions have been engaged in internal political discussions and are taking tentative steps toward forming a unity government. Encouraging and supporting that political process should be our top priority.

A stable government in Libya would be more than capable of containing the threat from ISIS and could contribute to greater security in the region. Let’s focus on that task rather than the risky business of widening the war in the Middle East.

It was a landmark event last week when the International Atomic Energy Agency officially certified Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. The news received some press coverage, but it deserved much more.

Tehran has now exported 97% of its enriched uranium, disassembled 13,000 centrifuges (two thirds of its total), and poured concrete into the core of its former plutonium reactor. In return the US has lifted nuclear proliferation-related sanctions and returned frozen assets. Germany and other European states have done likewise and are already moving to renew investments.

Iran has dismantled its infrastructure in record time, at a faster pace than other cases of denuclearization. The experience with Iran stands in sharp contrast with the prolonged and confrontational disarmament process in Iraq after 1991. The disarmament approach with Iran has been much quicker, smoother and also more effective because it includes unprecedented inspection access.

Some of the most rigorous monitoring protocols ever established are now coming into place in Iran, all with the full consent and cooperation of Iranian authorities. It’s the most comprehensive nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated.

Now that’s something to celebrate. Let’s make “Implementation Day” an annual holiday as a tribute to effective diplomacy and peaceful nuclear nonproliferation.

Plan now for your local party on the date next January!

In the meantime, let’s keep vigilant and do what we can to ensure that the compliance process continues to run along smoothly.