Saturday, July 25, 2015

VFP White Paper on Syria

Part I: Background

The war in Syria is currently the bloodiest war on Earth, having caused over 230,000 deaths since the latest uprising began in March 2011. Half the population of Syria has been displaced from their homes.

Four million Syrians are now refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other nations. The conditions of life in the refugee camps are at best difficult, with a sense of hopelessness for the future widespread among the refugees. There is often hostility from non-Syrians who see the refugees as rivals for jobs and services. The conditions of life for civilians who remain in Syria are often likewise dire, with major problems of access to food and decent shelter for much of the population. Gainful employment and access to education are likewise difficult, if not impossible for many. Syria, once known for its relatively educated population now suffers a major crisis in education.

The conflict in Syria is uniquely dangerous for all humanity because it is a multiparty conflict, involving both civil war in Syria and military intervention by numerous outside nations and entities. Weapons flow into the conflict from Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, the United States and other nations and entities. Large numbers of foreign fighters have joined the conflict from Iran, Lebanon (Hizbollah) and elsewhere. Alliances between different factions within the conflicting groups have shifted as the situations on the battlefields have changed.

Adding to the conflict has been the occupation of a significant part of Syrian territory by the fanatical “Islamic State”. The longstanding struggle of the Kurdish population in the middle east for autonomy has also added to the complexity of the struggle. This is truly a multiparty conflict in every sense of the word.

The Syrian war has involved the repeated use of outlawed chemical warfare and untargetable barrel bombs that claim the lives of far more civilians than combatants.

Indeed the civilian population of Syria is experiencing the worst effects of this war, including food shortages, limited or complete lack of access to medical care, the mass destruction of housing and basic infrastructure, and the breakdown of economic activity.

The war in Syria has aggravated relations between the United States and Russia and aggravated US relations with Iran, while a peaceful just settlement in Syria would go far towards resolving these ominous tensions.

The Syrian people have made remarkable positive contributions to the progress of humanity since ancient times despite many eras of occupation and tyranny. In this time of great duress, they deserve the attention and heartfelt concern of all humankind.

Part 2: The US Peace Movement and the role of Veterans for Peace:

The war in Syria, despite the horrific violence and suffering it is causing, has proved difficult for the US Peace Movement to effectively analyze and react to. The high degree of complexity in the Syrian conflict generally has baffled us and led us to simplistic views.

Well-versed in seeing US Imperialism as a primal cause of war and conflict in the modern world, we have often responded with the implied claim that ending US involvement in the Syrian conflict is the solution or the road to a just solution. And, as a corollary, it is often stated or implied that our responsibility as US peace activists ends there. The resulting “action” taken by most of the US peace movement has often been merely raising the banners “US Out!” and “End the US War against Syria”.

As the war continues now in its fourth year, with no viable resolution in sight, it is clear that this analysis is highly inaccurate and our response to the war in Syria has been insufficient and out of alignment with our principles as peacemakers.

Veterans for Peace is a leading organization in the US Peace Movement. We are a recognized NGO of the United Nations. We are widely respected in the general US Peace Movement and by peace activists abroad. As men and women who have served in the armed forces, we rightfully claim a special legitimacy when we speak and work on issues of war and peace. In the US peace movement our influence is great, often greater than we think. We are looked to for leadership and we have an obligation to provide leadership.

Our Mission Statement in Veterans for Peace commits us to “an obligation to heal the wounds of wars…and most significantly [to] working to end all wars.” By any honest measure, with regard to Syria, we have so far failed in both respects. We have not participated in any significant way in supporting the heroic efforts of humanitarian organizations to provide relief or heal the wounds of the Syrian people. We have not spoken out with a plan, a program or a valid demand to end the war in Syria.

Part 3: Proposals for action:

Given the situation outlined above, VFP must move to take action and work for peace and justice in Syria. The following proposals are offered as a suggested beginning

1) Veterans for Peace shall call upon all its members to stay closely informed about developments in the complex Syrian conflict by seeking out news and analysis from a variety of sources with different points of view, including those of Syrians and Syrian-Americans and the reports of United Nations agencies that monitor the conflict.

2) We will seek out ways to use our status as a recognized NGO at the United Nations to pressure widely for a just resolution to the conflict. The myriad of ways that we have and can use this status are well-documented on our web site. We call upon VFP members and chapters to review and incorporate those ideas in their work.

3) Veterans for Peace shall publically denounces the war crimes, including torture and massacres of civilians and prisoners, that are committed in the Syrian conflict and well-documented by UN agencies and other non-partisan authorities. VFP denounces these crimes regardless of which party has committed them.

4) Veterans for Peace urges all chapters and members to initiate or get involved in existing projects that provide medical, food and other humanitarian relief to Syrians inside Syria as well as those in refugee camps. They might include the following organizations which have done effective, non-partisan work in this area: Doctors Without Borders, Syrian-American Medical Society, White Helmets, American Refugee Committee, and Oxfam.

5) Veterans for Peace calls upon the international community and the United Nations to press for a resumption of the stalled Geneva peace conference on Syria

6) Veterans for Peace urges its members and chapters to speak out for a just and peaceful settlement to the war in Syria in all appropriate venues. We shall avoid simplistic slogans and analyses that ignore the deep complexities of this conflict.

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