‘Slippery slope to an unnecessary war’ — liberal groups muster popular opposition on Syria

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Yesterday Adam picked up a report of the public mobilization against an attack on Syria, citing statements from Moveon.org and Votevets.org against such an attack. Both groups say that overwhelming percentages of their members are against a strike: 73 percent of Moveon’s 8 million members, 80 percent of Votevets’ 340,000 members.

What are their positions? Votevets argues against the strike on military grounds, saying that removing chemical weapons will necessitate ground troops. But first Moveon.org

It has taken the issue on fully, with teach-ins and a petition drive against an attack calling for political resolution of the crisis:

We urge you to show real leadership in protecting the people of Syria with a more creative, effective, and prudent approach than military action.

• Galvanize world leaders to demand a multilateral cease-fire…

Do not be fooled into thinking that war-making will protect or defend a population.

And here is Moveon’s initial declaration of opposition, three days ago, citing the members’ vote and calling a strike on Syria a “slippery slope to another ill-advised and unnecessary war.” From its statement:

“We will mobilize to make sure our members’ and allies’ voices are heard in Washington and will work to prevent this nation from getting on the slippery slope to another ill-advised and unnecessary war.  We will join with allies in holding national days of action, urge MoveOn members to contact their members of Congress to have their voices heard, and use a variety of other tactics, including paid media.

“We have seen the rushed march to war before. We cannot allow it again. Congress, and the nation, should not be forced into a binary debate over strikes or nothing.  In response to the tragic reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, the US needs to lead in the way in engaging with the international community, while rigorously exploring alternatives to military action, including negotiations, economic sanctions, diplomacy, and promotion of humanitarian aid.”

At VoteVets.org, the largest progressive veterans’ group, which represents 340,000 former troops, Jon Stoltz says that striking Syria isn’t justified on military grounds, but is an act of war that would likely drag the U.S. into the Syrian civil war. He says the goals of the action are unclear, and that preventing the use of chemical weapons will require boots on the ground. Stoltz has had to overcome the fact that two faces on the action, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, were personal inspirations to him.

First, there is no doubt that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a horrific tragedy, and a violation of human rights. But, I think back to Carl von Clausewitz, who we all study in the military. He said, “No one starts a war — or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so — without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.”

Missile strikes, as limited and justified as they may be, are an act of war against the Assad regime. Yet, I get no sense that the United States has any clear idea of our strategic or operational endstate. We want to deter the regime from using weapons but, according to the hearings yesterday, we don’t want to conduct decisive actions against Assad that could lead to his defeat by Syrian insurgents.

If our goal is to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons cache, then missile strikes, alone, won’t achieve that goal. There is a 100 percent chance that we will not eliminate his chemical weapons. Using airstrikes on chemical sites can create disaster of its own, leaking the dangerous gases into the air (a possible root cause of Gulf War Syndrome in our veterans). But, it’s the ability to deliver chemical weapons that is critical. Missiles or artillery rounds could be used. These weapon systems are legitimate targets, but many could be deployed throughout populated areas as the Syrians prepare for an attack, making them extremely hard to target.

Therefore, ground troops would be required to seize chemical weapons, a consideration that is “off the table” (although we are currently building a large military installation in Jordan, that has parts of the 1st Armored Division’s staff deployed)….

In short, any military action without a decisive end, like strikes, further obligates the United States military to another war, either because the regime will continue to kill in large numbers, use chemical weapons again, or because we feel we must tip the balance of the war. Then, in the aftermath, we must deal with the post-Assad Syria, only without many of our allies. In Syria, where many of the rebels have ties to terrorist groups, the enemy of our enemy also happens to be our enemy. Both sides fought US troops in Iraq, and both sides would fight US troops in Syria.

I fully understand that President Obama has painted himself into a political corner, but VoteVets.org cannot support this rush to conflict. At this point, if we want to help without committing the United States to another war, humanitarian assistance to bolster a moderate opposition still represents our best course of action in Syria.

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