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Giving Diplomacy a Chance in Syria and Iran Should Override Power of America’s War Machine

Posted on Apr 6, 2016

By David Swanson

  Negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program in Switzerland in 2015. (U.S. Department of State)

The following excerpt is from David Swanson’s book, “War Is A Lie: Second Edition.” The excerpt is published with the permission of Just World Books and cannot be republished without express permission from them.

    War Is A Lie
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Once you allow that there is an option other than war, your effort to start a war is doomed, or at least must be delayed. Bush had said he would not attack Iraq if Iraq turned over its weapons. But he had quite possibly known that Iraq did not have the weapons and therefore would not be turning them over. Syria actually had the weapons that Kerry said it could turn over and avoid being bombed. Syria had proposed years earlier to turn over those weapons as part of establishing a WMD-free Middle-East, an initiative blocked by Israel.

In 2015, former Finnish president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari said that in 2012 Russia had proposed a process of peace settlement between the Syrian government and its opponents that would have included Assad stepping down. But, according to Ahtisaari, the United States was so confident that Assad would soon be violently overthrown that it rejected the proposal. U.S. and European diplomats deny that this is what happened by claiming that the Russian diplomat making the proposal couldn’t really speak for Moscow and shouldn’t really have been taken seriously, but their denials make clear that they were not open to believing any possibility of peace was worth pursuing. Incidents like this one—and the fact that Spain wanted the matter of the Maine to go to international arbitration, that Japan wanted peace before Hiroshima, that the Soviet Union proposed peace negotiations before the Korean War, and that the United States sabotaged peace proposals for Vietnam from the Vietnamese, the Soviets, and the French—wreak havoc with the public pretense that war is a “last resort.” When a Spanish newspaper reported that Saddam Hussein had offered to leave Iraq before the 2003 invasion, U.S. media took little interest. When British media reported that the Taliban was willing to have Osama bin Laden put on trial before the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, U.S. journalists yawned. Iran’s 2003 offer to negotiate ending its nuclear energy program wasn’t mentioned much during the 2015 debate over an agreement with Iran—which was itself nearly rejected as an impediment to war. The catastrophic Syrian civil war since 2012 has followed U.S. adherence to actual U.S. policy in which peaceful compromise is usually the last resort.

In January 2015, a scholarly study found that the U.S. public believes that whenever the U.S. government proposes a war, it has already exhausted all other possibilities. When a sample group was asked if they supported a particular war, and a second group was asked if they supported that particular war after being told that all alternatives were no good, and a third group was asked if they supported that war even though there were good alternatives, the first two groups registered the same level of support, while support for war dropped off significantly in the third group. This led the researchers to the conclusion that if alternatives are not mentioned, people don’t assume they exist—rather, people assume they’ve already been tried. So, if you mention that there is a serious alternative, the game is up. You’ll have to get your war on later.

And that’s exactly what the White House did in the case of Syria. It kept the arms and trainers flowing, even though in polls the U.S. public opposed sending arms and trainers even more strongly than it opposed the missiles, and even though a CIA report produced for President Obama found that arming and training rebels, in numerous cases in the past, had pretty much never worked, even on its own terms (an exception claimed as a success by the CIA was the arming of the Afghan rebels who later became al Qaeda; with that kind of success, who needs failure?). The question of whether to send arms and trainers was never made into a public question in the media or Congress. The U.S. government refrained from any serious effort to resolve the crisis through disarmament, diplomacy, and aid. It bided its time, waiting for a better package of lies. The lies of generosity had not been enough. Something more was needed, even if it would require coming into the war in 2014 on the opposite side from that presented as a moral obligation in 2013.

But why were generosity and global policemanship not enough? Well, some people may be somewhat aware of numerous places where the U.S. government supports brutality rather than using it as an excuse for war: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Guantanamo, etc. During the Arab Spring of 2011 and after, the United States had done what it could to protect its loyal dictators while claiming to support democracy. So the pretense of generosity may not fool everyone. But polls also suggested that a large section of the U.S. public believed falsely that past wars, like that in Iraq, had benefitted the locals while harming Americans—and that the Iraqis were not even grateful. This delusion resulted in bizarre debates in 2013 between those opposing bombing because the Syrians would not even appreciate having their country bombed, and those favoring bombing because the Syrians are just as good as you and me.

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