Saturday, August 31, 2013


                                        History says, Don’t hope
                                        On this side of the grave.
                                        But then, once in a lifetime
                                        The longed-for tidal wave
                                        Of justice can rise up,
                                        And hope and history rhyme.


President Obama is presenting Congress and the American people with a false choice: either approve a US military strike against Syria or “do nothing” and “turn a blind eye” to the murderous use of chemical weapons.   

Have we really reached the end of the road on political efforts to deal with dangerous problems? Do we give up on determined efforts to advance international cooperation despite differing interests? Do we conclude that the UN can be bypassed with impunity?

There is a lot of talk about “credibility”, the bad precedent that would be set by not following through on a “red line”. There is a far more dangerous message if the US military does go through with the assault on Syria: that international law can be enforced by violating it, and that the US will act as supreme judge and enforcer. That will never be acceptable. It would be “a shot across the bow” at efforts for international cooperation. Extremely difficult problems and crises abound that require seeking levels of consent among nations despite the interests that separate them.

If there is conclusive evidence on responsibility for the chemical weapons attack, why not bring it before the United Nations? Willingness to bomb Syria should not be the litmus test for the world’s readiness to condemn chemical warfare and hold perpetrators of war crimes accountable. Despite serious political complications, there is no reason to think that Russians, Chinese and the British are more willing than Americans to accept a world in which chemical warfare is permissible.

Friday, August 30, 2013


A speculation on the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the imminence of a US military strike:

Why did whoever ordered a major chemical assault decide to do it?

Most likely the responsibility for the attack falls on Assad and the Syrian military. Certainly, though, they had to know that Obama would feel compelled to deliver a response, that there was a real risk of a US military strike. One answer given is that it was a tactical military decision driven by desperation over the regime’s inability to clear out rebel-held areas near Damascus. I speculate that it may also have been a strategic decision to call Obama’s “bluff” and drag the US into an open act of intervention, which they expected could only be limited, unpopular, and futile. Surviving a limited US military response could change the dynamic from a civil war to one in which the Syrian government appears as defending Arab nations against US imperialist intervention.

If this speculation is more than “conspiracy theory", there are a couple of caveats. Despite the fact, as probably expected, that the US resort to a military response has run into enormous difficulties mustering support, the “strategists” may have miscalculated. The overwhelming opposition to a US military assault doesn’t alter the reaction of universal horror over the use of chemical warfare and other forms of slaughter inflicted on the Syrian people. They may also have underestimated the destructive effects and consequences of even a time-limited military strike.

None of these considerations alter the fact that another military intervention by the US in the Middle East will be another tragic and illegal action that makes matters far worse. Nor do they lessen the folly of declaring “red lines” that reduce serious problems to a big and deadly game of chicken.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Answering a survey by Democracy for America, which asks:

Based on the current situation, do you support U.S. military intervention in Syria?

Military action can only make matters worse. As President Obama's interview yesterday with PBS acknowledged, it offers no solution. We should have learned from Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention Vietnam) the terrible cost and ultimate failure of military intervention in the crises and conflicts of other nations. However hard and complicated, the only hopeful course is political and diplomatic, coupled with the full pressure of world opinion and maximum aid to suffering populations. It's past time to reject the destructive illusion that bombs can serve humanitarian purposes rather than exacerbate current political problems and human suffering. Instead of replicating Bush's "coalition of the willing" for war, we should work ceaselessly to lessen the impasse with Russia and China and make the UN more effective.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013



Stand with Syrians for peace. Act now.

Leon, like you, we were horrified by reports last week of the attacks around Damascus that claimed so many lives. We condemn these attacks and any use of chemical weapons in Syria in the strongest terms possible.
As the world watches, the US and other governments are considering responses. Syria's men, women and children already have endured terrible suffering since this conflict began more than two years ago. Instead of focusing on military options and arming the parties involved, President Obama, President Putin and other world leaders should intensify peaceful efforts to end the conflict, before Syria is destroyed and the region made even more unstable.
As Oxfam works on the ground to provide much-needed humanitarian aid, we call on the Obama Administration to show courage against the tide of war and do all they can to find a peaceful, political solution to end the bloodshed in Syria.

Secretary Kerry: Stand with Syrians for peace, not war

After the horrifying attacks reported last week around Damascus, the world's eyes are on Syria.
Oxfam condemns the indiscriminate targeting of civilians in Syria and any use of chemical weapons in particular, in the strongest terms possible, and we urge all parties involved to respect international humanitarian law.
However, these attacks must not be used to justify military intervention or pouring more arms into the conflict. There is a clear risk that military intervention will make the situation worse. Instead, the Obama Administration and other world leaders should be intensifying peaceful efforts to find a political solution to the crisis.
More than 100,000 lives have been lost due to this conflict over more than two years of fighting, and millions of people are in need of immediate humanitarian aid. It has been especially devastating for children: Just last week, the UN announced that one million Syrian children are now refugees. Many have seen their homes bombed, their schools reduced to rubble, their communities destroyed. The military intervention currently under discussion will not, and is not aimed at stopping this violence.
Syria's men, women and children have endured terrible suffering. As Oxfam works on the ground to provide them with much-needed humanitarian aid, we join Syrians in their call for an end the bloodshed once and for all.
It's time to show courage against the tide of war. It's time to take concrete action and hold peace talks – which were promised months ago, but have yet to happen. A peaceful, political solution can be found if world leaders act urgently to make a peace summit happen.
Stand with us and the people of Syria. Urge Secretary of State Kerry and the Obama Administration to push for peace talks and find a political solution to end the bloodshed now.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

ABOUT THE FUTURE — An Uncharacteristic Doubt

As I wrote in my blog on EGYPT — Looking Back (August 20, 2013), most times when I reconsidered “the big picture” in the wake of important happenings, my estimates and outlook have proved overly optimistic.  I‘m afraid my pendulum is finally swinging the other way. Try as I may, I’m having trouble keeping faith that this sick world might one day really heal. It’s hard to envision how we might move from where we are today to a society truly organized on the basis of liberty, equality and fraternity, one fundamentally committed to peace and justice.

I dislike and resist this outlook. I know that it can sap the sense of what is good and beautiful about life, about people, about struggles that are vital to all progress, about ideals and commitment to combat oppression and exploitation. These values remain indispensable. They are a way of life, without which existence would be mean and empty. I also believe that every new generation will produce its challenge to the way things are, will not be bound by an older generation’s loss of faith in humanity’s future — and maybe one day will prove that a different and much better world is possible.

But I can’t be at all sure, as I once was, that a socialist world can emerge out of capitalism’s ruins.  It’s not just about the current implacable horrors in Egypt and Syria that have overtaken the Arab Spring, or the imminence of new US military action to compound a poisonous legacy of unending imperialist intervention. Overall it’s recognition of how deep are the roots of this failed capitalist system in the ways of the world.  In its decaying stage of imperialism (politely termed “globalization”), its stranglehold on economic and political “norms” engulfs all governments and suffocates aspirations for fundamental structural change. Major social reforms are always possible through determined popular pressure and struggle, but revolutionary efforts to transform nations repeatedly are undermined or corrupted by enormous pressures to conform to established mores of the existing “world order”.

Of course many rebellions and revolutions have been crushed by brute force: Chile, Guatemala, the Congo and the Czech “Spring”, to name just a few. But issues more difficult to understand abound in examining the revolutions that were sustained for a significant period in the last almost one hundred years, the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, South Africa and others. The differences between them are substantial, even fundamental, but all have been distorted and deflected significantly from their original course in adjusting to the “real” world.

The disappointments and even tragic contradictions don’t negate the enormous achievements of each of these revolutions for their own people and for the world. That’s a separate matter, though it’s important to reject gross misrepresentations that dominate the media and much conventional history.

But as I am looking reluctantly today at the downside of events, troubling questions persist. Yes, we can make big strides forward on vital social issues — but is there “world enough and time” to break free of the dead weight of a system whose essence is greed and inequality, the planet be damned?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

EGYPT — Looking Back

When important and unexpected developments shake up world and national affairs, I have the impulse to step back and take another look at my own sense of  “the big picture.”

Sometimes I see (and hope) for major “turning points” when nothing fundamental has changed or where the “turn” is to a new form of an old crisis.  For me, the optimistic wish often proves father to the thought. Examples: the belief that the post-World War II agreements reached at Teheran made likely an era of “peaceful coexistence” between the victorious allies; elation over the prospect that Gorbachev’s reforms would achieve democratic socialism; overestimating the transformational impact of Obama’s election.

With the murderous events now overtaking Egypt, I can’t help but look back painfully at what I wrote in my blog of February 28, 2011, Seeing the World By Way of Egypt:

“Egypt is the latest example that relatively peaceful popular democratic revolts can arise even under conditions of severe repression and dictatorship. It’s not that the dictatorial regime shies away from using violence to the maximum extent feasible: the Egyptian Health Ministry reports a toll of 365 deaths during the uprising. It’s that it may not be feasible to unleash its full arsenal of violence against a united, courageous and determined mass opposition while the whole world is watching. Such revolts have ousted tyrants and toppled their governments, although they have usually fallen short of achieving fundamental social change.”

The 2011 blog outlines pretty fully my view at the time of the “big picture”, how the “Arab Spring” reflected changing world realities. It has enough conditional clauses and qualifications that I could fall back on in the spirit of pundits who can never acknowledge personal fallibility. But the terrible news from Egypt doesn’t leave me in a mood to minimize a grievous miscalculation.

I’m sure readers of my blog have better things to do, but I’d appreciate it if some of you clicked on the February 27, 2011 post and sent me some comments. My thoughts on the present situation in Egypt seem so meager against the scale of the tragedy. Whatever one feels about Morsi and the Brotherhood, the military dictatorship is a catastrophe. It’s unconscionable that the Administration and Congress fail to cut the military support that makes us partners in the blood bath.[