18 September 2014

Knocking the Paint Off Sen. Merkley and Sen. Wyden's Peace Credentials

This post is to place on the record that both Senator Ron Wyden and Senator Jeff Merkley were placed on notice at about 4 a.m. on September 18, 2014 of the facts stated in my emails to them, reprinted below. That was many hours before both joined a majority of the Senate in authorizing President Obama to provide weapons and training to the Syrian opposition, ostensibly to fight the "terrorist organization," the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State.

That authorization was tucked in yesterday as an amendment to H.J.Res. 124 --- Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2015, and became section 149 in the bill that passed the House a few hours later. The Senate passed the same bill today unaltered, without any debate allowed. That was a decidedly sneaky ambush method for Congress to authorize war against Syria, obviously designed to avoid public participation.

The authorization unless vetoed by President Obama plainly constitutes a declaration of war against the the nation of Syria.

UPDATE 1: Oregon's Representatives in the House voted as follows on the Bill, by district number:

  1. Susan Bonamici, Aye
  2. Gregg Walden, Aye
  3. Earl Blumenauer, Aye
  4. Peter DeFazio, No
  5. Kurt Schrader, No (but see update 5 below)
UPDATE 2, 5, 6, and 7: Press statements: Merkley, BonamiciDeFazio, Schrader. (Note that Schrader's statement is confusing, claiming that he voted against arming the Syrian opposition but for the continuing appropriation, but in fact they were both in one bill. The House Clerk's roll call records him as voting No.) A later collection of quotes from The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes. Email reply by Wyden to my email reprinted below. Later more detailed email reply by DeFazio.

UPDATE 4: Statements by all but Blumenauer before the vote. Two more by Merkley evidencing prior awareness of the problems with weapons supplied to "moderates" in Syria winding up in the hands of terrorists.

UPDATE 3: Related article on this site: The Lesser of Two Evils Is Still Evil

My email to the two senators follows:

I understand that the House yesterday passed a bill authorizing President Obama to arm the Syrian opposition in order to do battle with ISIL. http://www.politico.com/story/2014/09/house-vote-syria-rebels-isil-111075.html

I vehemently oppose that authorization because the moderate Syrian opposition willing to do battle with ISIL, to the extent that it ever existed, disappeared last week. This is a situation I have been closely monitoring for years now.

The day before President Obama announced his plan to arm the opposition to fight ISIL on September 10, The day before Obama's speech, an explosion in an underground bunker located in Idlib Province, Syria, killed the leader of the Qatari-funded Ahrar al-Sham force and 45 of that group's top commanders. http://www.breitbart.com/Breitbart-London/2014/09/11/ISIS-Opposition-Killed-Bomb (;) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/syria-rebel-leader-ahrar-al-sham-hassan-aboud-killed-isis-fight/ (.) Curiously, no one has taken credit for the strike.

Ahrar al-Sham was by far the most potent and largest fighting force within the Syrian Islamic Front, a group of Islamists fighting the Assad government and ISIL, with somewhat moderate credentials. For example, Ahrar al-Sham seeks a Syria ruled under Sharia law but has said it would respect other religions and make no changes in women's rights. That is consistent with the Qatari-funded Muslim Brotherhood movement's position throughout the Mideast.

The loss of experienced leadership is devastating, albeit Ahrar al-Sham promptly named a new leader. But it is expected to emerge as a much smaller and poorly-led organization; hence it can not within the foreseeable future serve as a counterweight to ISIL.

The U.S. officially-designated "moderate" Syrian opposition until days ago was the Free Syrian Army ("FSA"). But two days after Obama's speech on September 10 announcing his ISIL "strategy," the FSA reportedly agreed to a non-aggression pact with ISIL, that "the two parties will respect a truce until a final solution is found and they promise not to attack each other because they consider the principal enemy to be the [Assad] regime." http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140912/syria-rebels-non-aggression-pact-near-damascus (.) Note well that the officially designated and controlled U.S. "moderate" Syrian opposition has just inked a non-aggression pact with ISIL.

That leaves the Saudi-funded Jabhat al-Nusra Front as the only remaining major "rebel" force in Syria still battling ISIL. But al-Nusra, a designated wing of al-Qaeda in Syria, has been officially named as a terrorist organization by the U.S. since 2012. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/12/201759.htm (.) In August the U.S. voted for U.N. Security Council Resolution 2170, which established al-Nusra as an official U.N.-designated terrorist organization. http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2014/sc11520.doc.htm (.) That would seem to render al-Nusra ineligible as a "moderate" Syrian opposition for the U.S. to support even were al-Nusra willing to continue battling ISIL.

But there are strong signs that al-Nusra is also seeking peace with ISIL to focus on defeating the elected Syrian government (and thereby block the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline. Al-Qaeda's leadership has lauded ISIL's victories and has begun to call for an end to the infighting between ISIL and al-Qaeda's various wings. http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/09/al_qaeda_branches_ur.php

So Mr. Obama has a sudden shortage in the "moderate" Syrian opposition category that are inclined or able to do effective battle with ISIL, or to put it another way, a shortage of the Syrian "boots on the ground" to fight ISIL that are essential to Obama's stated strategy.

For far more in-depth discussion of the missing Syrian "moderate" opposition issue with lots of links to source materials, see this article by Patrick Poole, who has long been on the trail of U.S. use of the "moderate" Syrian opposition as a conduit to train and arm terrorist organizations. http://goo.gl/PIFk3O

Thus, the question is fairly raised whether Mr. Obama actually intends to provide arms and training to forces of ISIL, al-Nurah, and al-Qaeda in Syria as he has repeatedly done before. There is no "moderate Syrian opposition" organization left that is willing or able to do effective battle with ISIL. In that light, the U.S. voted for U.N. Security Council Resolution 2170, adopted on August 15 of this year, which is binding law on the U.S. through the Constitution's Treaty Clause, and provides in relevant part:

“Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, ...

“10. Reaffirms its decision that States shall prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer to ISIL, ANF [al-Nusra Front] and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al-Qaida from their territories or by their nationals outside their territories, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned, and technical advice, assistance or training related to military activities[.] ...

“11. Reaffirms its resolution 1373 (2001) and in particular its decisions that all States shall prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts and refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts, including by suppressing recruitment of members of terrorist groups and eliminating the supply of weapons to terrorists;

“12. Recalls its decision in resolution 2161 (2014) that all States shall ensure that no funds, financial assets or economic resources are made available, directly or indirectly for the benefit of ISIL, ANF or any other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al-Qaida, by their nationals or by persons within their territory, and reaffirms its decision in resolution 1373 (2001) that all States shall prohibit their nationals or any persons and entities within their territories from making any funds, financial assets or economic resources or financial or other related services available, directly or indirectly, for the benefit of persons who commit or attempt to commit or facilitate or participate in the commission of terrorist acts, or for the benefit of entities owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by such persons and of persons and entities acting on behalf of or at the direction of such persons[.]"

The "direct or indirect" phrase repeated in those provisions imposes upon the U.S. the obligation to ensure that weapons or training provided to others for deployment in Syria do not indirectly benefit ISIL, al-Nusra, or al-Qaeda. Yet there is a very long history of that being the result of prior U.S. provision of arms and training to the "moderate Syrian opposition."

At this point, there only remains the question of who Mr. Obama would provide the weapons and training to, given that there are no remaining "moderate Syrian opposition" forces willing to do battle with ISIL that are able to do so effectively. The predictable result can only be that described by veteran Mideast investigative reporter Patrick Cockburn in his new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/jihadis-return/ (:)

"The triumph of ISIS in Iraq in 2013–14 came as a particular surprise because the Western media had largely stopped reporting on the country. This lack of coverage had been convenient for the US and other Western governments because it enabled them to play down the extent to which the 'war on terror' had failed so catastrophically in the years since 9/11.

"This failure is also masked by deceptions and self-deceptions on the part of governments. Speaking at West Point on America’s role in the world on May 28, 2014, President Obama said that the main threat to the US no longer came from al-Qa‘ida central but from 'decentralized al-Qa‘ida affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused on the countries where they operate.' He added that 'as the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.' This was true enough, but Obama’s solution to the danger was, as he put it, 'to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists.' By June he was asking Congress for $500 million to train and equip 'appropriately vetted' members of the Syrian opposition. It is here that self-deception reigns, because the Syrian military opposition is dominated by ISIS and by Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), the official al-Qa‘ida representative, in addition to other extreme jihadi groups. In reality, there is no dividing wall between them and America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies.

"An intelligence officer from a Middle Eastern country neighboring Syria told me that ISIS members 'say they are always pleased when sophisticated weapons are sent to anti-Assad groups of any kind because they can always get the arms off them by threats of force or cash payments.' These are not empty boasts. Arms supplied by US allies such as Qatar and Turkey to anti-Assad forces in Syria are now being captured regularly in Iraq."

Given the U.S. failure to adequately vet recipients of its weapons and training in the past, what changes has Mr. Obama implemented to ensure that such weapons and training do not continue to flow to the terrorist organizations subject to U.N. S.Res. 2170? I have encountered no information indicating any such heightened vetting process.

When the horns of war sound loudly, it is time for restraint and careful examination of the actual situation. Two American journalists being executed in a war zone is scarcely grounds for a new war that will inevitably kill thousands of innocent civilians. More than three dozen journalists have been killed in the Iraq and Syrian civil wars thus far. The only distinguishing feature of these latest two deaths is that their executions were staged as propaganda events obviously intended to lure the U.S. into waging another foreign war. Responding to such an invitation begs the question of who is controlling U.S. foreign policy, the U.S. or ISIL?

The actual risk to Americans of terrorist-inflicted death or injury outside the U.S. is miniscule. The State Department reports for the years 2011-2013 show the following statistics:

* 2011: 17 killed, 14 injured. http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2011/195556.htm

* 2012: 10 killed, 2 injured. http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2012/210030.htm

* 2013: 16 killed, 7 injured. http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2013/224833.htm

And if one checks the nations in which those people were killed or injured, nearly all were in Afghanistan and Iraq (the statistics include U.S. military contractor employees). So as long as Americans take the common sense step of avoiding war zones, there is almost zero risk of their death or injury at the hands of terrorists.

Those who voluntarily enter war zones presumably voluntarily assume the risk of their death or injury because of those wars. That is scarcely a valid reason for the U.S. to launch a new war that will inevitably kill and maim thousands. There is no such thing as a humanitarian war. I am a decorated U.S. Army combat veteran of 27-plus months service in Viet Nam. War is Evil, pure and simple.

Therefore, I call upon you to vote against the requested authorization to provide weapons and training to the Syrian opposition.

Paul E. Merrell, J.D.

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