Sticking to Their Story: UNAC’s New “Statement on Syria”

by Clay Claiborne on December 27, 2012

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
—  Bishop Desmond Tutu

The United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) is a coalition of well known US anti-war groups. On 24 December 2012 they issued a new position statement about the conflict in Syria, titled:

UNITED NATIONAL ANTIWAR COALITION (UNAC)

STATEMENT ON SYRIA

Hands off Syria and Iran! End the Drone Wars!

We Need Jobs, Education and Healthcare, Not Endless War!

Six months before the Arab Spring even began, UNAC had an action program to oppose a US war against Syria. From their point of view, not much has changed since July 2010. They still see the threat of imminent US invasion as the main problem facing the Syrian people. That’s their story and they’re sticking to it. As we shall see, they don’t need to consult concrete conditions in Syria to inform their position so it can remain the same throughout time.

I am including their entire statement in my appreciation of it so that the reader may see what I mean when I say that this statement says more by what it is silent on than it does by what it says. I am breaking it up, as I see appropriate, so I can interject comments, but other than that, it is complete and in the order in which they published it. The copyright police can know that there is no violation as UNAC has asked that it be distributed widely.

And so the body begins:

The ominous signs of impending war with Syria escalate.

There is already a war going on in Syria which this “Statement on Syria” leaves unmentioned. That is the war to overthrow the Assad regime and it has cost more than 40,000 Syrian lives so far, but what is really telling in this first sentence is their identification of the Assad regime with Syria.There have been calls for NATO intervention in support of those forces attempting to overthrow the Assad regime, and there have even been signs that NATO may be preparing to go to war against the Assad regime, but to equate that with a war against Syria is to equate the Assad regime with Syria and to discount the Syrian armed opposition as a legitimate Syrian force. 130 countries no longer recognize the Assad regime as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, but UNAC still does.

The day after UNAC issued its “Statement on Syria,” the head of Assad’s military police defected to the Free Syrian Army.  Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, then became the highest raking officer to defect from Assad. He said he had done so because of the military’s deviation from “its fundamental mission to protect the nation and transformation into gangs of killing and destruction.” He also confirmed the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Homs last week. That’s what finally sparked his defection. This is the reality of Syria that the UNAC “Statement on Syria” doesn’t admit to. They are in an alternate universe.

NATO is massing troops and military equipment on Syria’s borders, and preparing to install missiles aimed at Syria. U.S. warships are stationed off Syria’s coast. ‘Special operation’ units are readied.

I wish the most pressing problems the Syrian people faced right now were worries about future possible NATO attacks.

The U.S. government has been supplying arms and logistical support to a few selected Syrian paramilitary groups favored by the U.S. as “replacements” for Assad.

This is about as close as this UNAC “Statement on Syria” gets to recognizing the massive Syrian opposition to the Assad regime. Is it possible that they think the main struggle playing out in Syria in the last 23 months has been between Syria, as represented by the Assad regime and US imperialism?

The media bombards us with arguments that support foreign intervention, supposedly for “humanitarian reasons”.

That is about as close as this UNAC “Statement on Syria” comes to acknowledging the humanitarian crisis that without question really is going on in Syria. Is it possible that they believe the incredible human suffering and devastation we see every day on YouTube in hundreds of videos is all a fabrication or distraction to be ignored?

Assad’s warplanes attacking civilians in Douma same day UNAC issues statement

Like WMDs in Iraq, alarms are sounded, with no credible evidence, that Assad may unleash chemical weapons, thus establishing a pretext for invasion.

Acknowledging more than 40,000 murdered Syrians or that Assad’s war planes are dropping explosive barrels and clusters bombs on civilians might get in the way of the “no credible evidence” line of reasoning. Those acknowledgements would also show that there already exists many a “pretext for invasion”  so those corpses are conveniently swept under the carpet. No one will ever get a clue how many thousands of children have been slaughtered by this regime from the UNAC “Statement on Syria.”

The ‘facts’ we get are mainly unsubstantiated, sometimes proven to be fabrications and/or overblown. It is hard to sort out the truth about what is happening on the ground in and around Syria today. There are ‘facts’ we do know, however:

It would appear that the “facts that impel” the UNAC are very bias and very selective indeed and don’t admit to the real suffering of the Syrian people let alone its chief cause.

· The Syrian people in their majority, regardless of their political positions re: the current government, have rejected calling for foreign intervention, such as occurred in Libya.

But there have been mass protests in Syria calling for intervention a la Libya. How did “Friday of International Protection”, “Friday of No-Fly Zone”, “Friday of the Syrian Buffer Zone” and “Friday for international military intervention” slip past the UNAC fact checkers? The names of these nationwide Friday protests is even more telling because they are chosen through a fierce on-line competition among activists and then endorsed by Syrians who come out in their hundreds of thousands to demonstrate under those banners.

Also when they say this, whether they know it or not, they are just reinforcing the imperialist line for doing nothing:

MS. NULAND: I think our position on this hasn’t changed. As we have said, the vast majority of the Syrian opposition continues to speak in favor of peaceful, nonviolent protest and against foreign intervention of any kind, and particularly foreign military intervention into the situation in Syria, and we respect that.

· Sanctions harm the people of Syria by causing food shortages, power outages, and blocking the distribution of goods.

This is true, but right now the Syrian people are suffering a lot more from artillery bombardments and air attacks than they are from sanctions but those attacks aren’t mentioned in the UNAC “Statement on Syria.” Probably the UNAC is also opposed to any arms embargo against the Syrian government.

The next four paragraphs in their “Statement on Syria” are about the US, not Syria. All their “facts” are disputable, but I don’t want to be distracted by that minutia and instead direct the reader to my other writings about the Syria revolution.

· The U.S. is directly involved in arming and training a few selected Syrian militias favorable to the U.S., contributing to the escalation of violence, direct foreign military intervention, and total destabilization.The people who always suffer the most are the people not engaged in the armed struggle.

Which is why it is better to fight back and why every day more and more Syrians are fighting the Assad regime.

· We see the results of ‘humanitarian’ U.S. wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya today, where the people, especially women and children, are worse off than before, with millions dead, injured, and/or displaced, an infrastructure and economy in shambles, and where there is no peace. A country that has a river of Iraqi, Afghan, and Libyan blood on its hands has no right to tell other countries what to do.

In other words, since Obama kills kids with drones, he has no right to demand, along with the majority of countries in the world and the majority of people in Syria, that the mass murderer Assad step down.

What does US moral authority, or the lack of it, have to do with anything?

Of course this “Statement on Syria” is not about Syria, but even if it were about countries in the region and not the US, they shouldn’t try to get away with lumping Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya all together.

· The U.S. government’s goals in Syria are to gain dominance in a part of the world that holds the vast majority of the known oil reserves and to gain strategic advantage as it seeks to isolate and contain competitors like Russia and China.

And exactly why are the US government’s goals the main focus of the UNAC “Statement on Syria?” Because the goal of the majority of Syrians to see an end to the Assad regime is not spoken of. They have demonstrated their determination with “rivers of blood” and a two year struggle that is on the verge of succeeding without international intervention on their side but the UNAC says nothing of this.

There has been international military intervention on the side of the Syria government by Iran, Hezbullah and Russia but the UNAC doesn’t object to that. Governments like the Assad regime have a “right” to ask for international assistance; the Syrians, upon which the Russian cluster bombs rain, do not. That’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

The U.S. has no interest in democracy or the humanitarian well-being of a country’s peoples anywhere in the world, especially in areas where the U.S. has economic or strategic interests.

Their emotional dislike of the US, which is really the focus of the UNAC “Statement on Syria” causes them to make such categorical statements and not see that the US does have an interest in establishing bourgeois democracy as a more stable method of bourgeois rule in many cases and that they are actually interested in “humanitarian well-being,” as they are interested in the health of their workers, if only to the extent they need to be to protect profits.

· The U.S. has a long history of thwarting the emerging economies and progressive initiatives of the third world while supporting repressive regimes.

One could only wish that insight would help the UNAC understand why US imperialism really is in no particular hurry to see the Assad regime go, and has actually been throttling, rather than helping, Assad’s opposition.

While activists may hold different views of Syria’s internal political system,

This is code for the fact that some members of the UNAC actually support the fascist Assad regime but in the interest of “Left” unity, they have decided to be neutral as to the Syrian people’s struggle to overthrow that regime, as noted above.

You will notice that while there are many “facts” and assertions in this “Statement on Syria” that the SNC and FSA would object to; there is nothing in it that would trouble the Assad regime much; nothing that is in conflict with their narrative on the situation.

we must all agree that the U.S. government has no right to impose its will on other countries, especially those formerly colonized and exploited by the West.

This is like an axiom that is easy to agree with except its placement in this “Statement on Syria” together with the four paragraphs above makes it sound like the main thing troubling Syria now is the U.S. government trying to impose its will. This may well be the ego-centric view of the U.S. Left, but I’m here to tell you that is not main thing going on in Syria.

Here again, the UNAC has rendered the courageous two year revolutionary mass struggle of the Syrian people invisible.

In all cases, we must support the right of nations to self-determination – that is to be able to decide on and resolve internal conflicts free from any foreign intervention.

By which they mean foreign intervention on the side of the people, because while there is a mountain of proof of foreign intervention in support of the Syrian government, they raise no objection to that.  We know this because in an earlier statement they complained “State Department spokespeople are targeting Iran and Hezbollah for alleged military support to the Assad government.” They even put this on their list of “alarming new threats” back in October 2012 and in June 2012, when Amnesty International called upon Russia to “end its shameful silence,” UNAC called it “a campaign to support military intervention at the very time that the U.S. is openly feeding the violence in Syria by providing weapons, foot soldiers and logistical support.”

The principal they wish to create is that when a people attempt the overthrow their government, which is already in possession of massive military hardware and advanced weapons, or when a people are being slaughtered by their government for any reason, there should be no international assistance given to those people. The “principal” of self determination is here perversely interpreted as the duty to allow an unarmed minority to be slaughtered by their government unless they can stop it themselves. In accordance with this “principal” the UNAC would have objected to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade that fought in the Spanish Civil War and many other examples of militant internationalist support.

And that’s it. That’s how they end the “Statement on Syria.”

The worst thing that can be said about this “Statement on Syria” is that it is ignorant of the realities facing the Syrian people now, the hardships they have endured or their striving for freedom from the fascist Assad dictatorship, The “Statement on Syria” was drafted with the requirements of the drafters in mind, not those of the Syrian people.

Anti-Assad demonstration today in Jobar neighborhood of Damascus | 26 Dec 2012

  • K

    You are right that the UNAC statement seems to be very soft on Assads regime, but you seem to making the opposite mistake. “There has been international military intervention on the side of the Syria government by Iran, Hezbullah and Russia ” and on the other side Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Nevermind the joint operation between Turkey and the FSA against the kurdish areas. Lining up with either group of butcherers is not something socialists should do. That doesn’t mean I think we should be neutral, but being naive or ignorant about either the regime or the FSA is a grave mistake. I support all and any non-secterian groups and their right to defend their areas from attacks either from the government or militias affiliated with the FSA.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      The Free Syrian Army is a non-sectarian group. See their Christian unit:
      http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=2528

      They have Alawi commanders:
      http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=2813

      If you don’t like the Saudis or Qatar arming the Syrian revolutionaries, where do you support them getting arms to defend themselves and their communities from? Soviet Russia? North Korea?

      • K

        If the FSA is non-secterian what then of the attacks on kurds and alawites? The Saudis and Qatar have their own interests in this so too does obviously the U.S and Turkey. Both they and the regime has pushed what was initially a popular uprising against Assads regime towards a secterian civil war. That turkey is extending their war against the kurds with FSA’s help should be alarming, the kurdish groups had managed to set up a degree of autonomy but are now facing attacks both from the regime and the FSA.

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          So the FSA is guilty of sectarianism until proven innocent? That’s pretty terrible method of analysis.

          Hopefully you take this opportunity to educate yourself a bit about the situation in Syria and the sectarian attacks you references (without sources, I might add):
          http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/09/30/241008.html?PHPSESSID=sasr6cp5hk3jcs7o8brmnqvh26

          http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/10/02/241431.html?PHPSESSID=sasr6cp5hk3jcs7o8brmnqvh26

          http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/10/07/242344.html?PHPSESSID=sasr6cp5hk3jcs7o8brmnqvh26

          There are sectarian elements among revolutionary forces, but they tend to operate independently of the FSA precisely because it is not a sectarian force:
          http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=3829

          The last link gives us the real story of the FSA-Kurdish dust-up in Aleppo. The FSA actually did not attack them — that was Jabhat al-Nusrah.

          I’d put in more links about the FSA’s non-sectarian, nationalist character, but you have enough to read already.

        • http://www.dailykos.com/blog/Clay%20Claiborne/ Clay Claiborne (@clayclai)

          It is still a popular uprising against the Assad regime. It was forced to become an armed struggle by the armed attacks of the Assad regime. The Assad regime has always painted it as a secterian struggle and has worked hard to divide Syria along secterian lines.

          The FSA is not secterian, and neither is AJE, which is paid for by Qatar, but all those trying to support the Assad regime try to paint it as a secterian struggle with the innocent people in the middle.

          • Patrick A

            Aren’t there powerful sectarian feelings within the FSA? I cant remember where I heard this, and I dont know if its accurate, but I heard the FSA is 75% Sunni, while Syria as a whole is 60% Sunni. The rest of the FSA is mainly Kurds and the overwhelming majority of Alawites support Assad. As a result there are sectarian feelings, feelings of betyral and the sort. I have the impression that there are powerful sectarian forces in Syria and the FSA does in fact have a big sectarian issue at its base, despite a leadership that may have nationalist views (I really don’t know enough). But, I think its not just a question of what the leaders of the FSA stand for, but how are they percieved. If there is a significant perception that the FSA is fighting for Sunnis against the Allawite betrayers, I think that’s a problem (I say “if” because I really dont know). I still think a quick FSA victory might be the best. But Im worried, even with the fall of Assad, sectarianism could be a big problem going forward. I know Syria 2012 is not Iraq 2003. But, after Saddam’s regime fell (something the Kurds celebrated, Sunnis opposed, and Shias tolerated) a sectarian civil war broke out after. So, am I wrog about this? Are there dangerous sectarian feelings and perceptions develping? If so, what is the FSA doing now to deal with sectarian feelings? Are they making political appeals to Allawites?

            • http://linuxbeach.net Clay Claiborne (@clayclai)

              After 40 years of rule by a dictatorship that stoked secterian divisions of course there is a lot of secterianism. How could it be otherwise.

              It’s like saying there still maybe problems with racism after our civil war.

            • Brian S.

              @Patrick A. I for one would never dismiss concerns about growing sectarianism in or around the Syrian opposition forces. But to evaluate this we need to be clear what we are talking about – quite a few people have started tossing the term “sectarian” around in confusing and inconsistent ways (e.g. Aron Lund whose Foreign Policy article I linked to in my thread on Salafist influence – http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=4024). If by “sectarian” you mean that political alignments closely follow religious identities (what I would call “objective sectarianism”) then the Syrian conflict largely follows such “sectarian” lines. What that reflects is the “objective sectarian” foundation of the regime – its inner core coming from one community, the Alawites. (Clay is partly wrong to say that the regime has “worked hard to divide Syria along sectarian lines”: in fact it has played a double game – constructing its networks of power along “objective sectarian” lines while professing public non-sectarian values and seeking to underpin its position with a power bloc of sectarian minorities and sections of the Sunni upper class) .
              Anyone who tells you that they know the sectarian composition of the FSA is lying (would you take a sociological questionnaire around the alleyways of Alleppo at the moment?); anyone who tells you that they know the sectarian demography of Syria is not much better (consistent with its professed “nationalist” outlook the Syrian government doesn’t collect such statistics). But the broad assertion that the FSA draws most of its support from Arab sunnis, who probably make up 65% or so of the population, while the regime has a social base centred on sectarian minorities who comprise some 26%, would be in the right ballpark.
              If however by “sectarian” you mean promoting conflict or violence between communities with different sectarian identities then the issue is rather different. The regime has certainly played on the fears of minorities surrounded by a majority Arab-Sunni population. Historically the opposition has crossed confessional lines (with an important Christian component) and that was true of the initial civil protests. Here is an account of what went on in the oppositionist Damascus suburb of Daraya, until the Syrian army’s bloody reassertion of control in August this year:
              “With no security forces on hand to make arrests, activists would stand at major intersections and hand out leaflets designed to educate residents on the key principles of the revolution, as drawn up by committees of local men and women. The leaflets said there must be equality between all religious and ethnic groups in the new Syria and stressed the importance of ensuring justice and rejecting revenge in dealing with regime officials. They also spelt out that with new freedoms would come enormous responsibilities and duties for every citizen, including caring for the environment and conserving scarce water resources.” http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/daraya-the-defiance-that-led-to-the-syrian-massacre-of-hundreds#ixzz2GMwymflS
              These are the real values of the Syrian revolution – but as the struggle drags on they are getting pushed to the side by the brutal realities of the war. For a balanced discussion see http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/sectarianism-casts-shadow-over-syrias-uprising#full
              For an update on some recent concerns see my Salafist thread ( link above).
              If you want to discuss this further post back here – happy to engage.

            • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

              You can’t overcome sectarianism (a problem in the material world) with appeals and programs, no matter how perfect or finely worded. The Assad regime was built on a sectarian basis in order to withstand a popular insurrection.

              Can you find a single example in two years of mass killings by the Free Syrian Army of Christians, Druze, or Alawis in any of the territory they hold? As far as I know, there is none. This hue and cry over fears sectarianism emanates mostly from the Assad regime and finds an echo among Syria’s minorities communities and (ironically) Western opponents of imperialism who seem to look for any excuse not to aid the revolution (not a specific charge against you as an individual but rather a characterization of the left’s complete and utter inaction over Syria).

  • Arthur

    “The worst thing that can be said about this “Statement on Syria” is that it is ignorant …”

    Surely that would not be the worst, but the best one could say about it. The ignorance is self-inflicted and results from malice.

    Fortunately however these groups are completely isolated and irrelevant. Target should be the dominant mainstream indifference and isolationism.

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