Why Peace Activists Should Stop Cheering for Russian Bombs in Syria

By David Swanson, originally published at teleSUR

There’s a view of Syria, common even among peace activists in the United States, that holds that because the United States has been making everything worse in Syria and the entire Middle East for years, Russian bombs will make things better. While the actions of the United States and its allies will lead to victory for ISIS, horror for millions of people, and chronic chaos in Syria along the lines of post-liberation Iraq and Libya, Russian bombs — this view maintains — will destroy ISIS, restore order, uphold the rule of law, and establish peace.

I’ve been informed repeatedly that because I’m opposed to Russian bombing I’m opposed to peace, I’m in favor of war, I want ISIS to win, I lack any concern for the suffering Syrian people, and my mind is either overly simplistic or somehow diseased. This line of thinking is a mirror image of the many self-identified peace activists in the United States who for years now have been insisting that the United States must violently overthrow the government of Syria. That crowd has even found itself alligned with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry who in 2013 told the U.S. public that if we didn’t support bombing Syria we were in favor of Syria murdering children with chemical weapons. To our credit, we rejected that logic.

Advocates for U.S. bombs and advocates for Russian bombs each see a particular evil and wish to remedy it. The evil of the Syrian government, while often exaggerated and embellished, is real enough. The evil of the U.S. government, and what it has done to Iraq and Libya and Syria, can hardly be overstated. Both groups, however, place their faith in violence as the tool for remedying violence, revealing deep beliefs in the power of force, clearly at odds with professed commitments to peace.

Dropping bombs kills and injures civilians, traumatizes children who survive, harms infrastructure, destroys housing, poisons the environment, creates refugees, fuels bitter commitments to violence, and wastes massive resources that could have gone into aid and rebuilding. These are all well documented facts about every past bombing campaign in the history of the earth. In theory, peace activists agree with these facts. In practice, they are not outweighed by other concerns of realpolitik; rather, they are avoided entirely.

When the U.S. bombs a hospital in Afghanistan we’re outraged. When Russia is accused of bombing a hospital in Syria, we avoid knowing about it. (Or, if we’re from another camp, we put on our outrage for Syrian bombs but imagine U.S. bombs planting little flowers of democracy.) In wars that we oppose, we debunk claims to precision from the bombers. But good bombs are imagined has hitting just the right spots. After so many endlessly drawn-out U.S. wars that were advertised as quick and easy, we’ve begun to recognize the unpredictability of campaigns of mass murder — and yet awareness of war’s unpredictability doesn’t seem to play at all into praise for Russian bombers joining in an already chaotic civil/proxy war.

The United States is accusing Russia of murdering people it armed and trained to murder different people. Some of those people are now asking for missiles with which to shoot down Russian planes. Russian planes have nearly come into conflict with Israeli and U.S. planes. A major figure in the Ukrainian government wants to help ISIS attack Russians. Congress members and pundits in the United States are urging conflict directly with Russia. Warmongers in Washington have been working hard to stir up conflict with Russia in Ukraine; now their hope lies in Syria. Russian bombs only heighten U.S.-Russian tensions.

When you unscramble the chaos of forces, and questionable claims about those forces, on the ground in Syria, some facts stand out. The United States wants to overthrow the government of Syria. Russia wants to maintain the government of Syria, or at least protect it from violent overthrow. (Russia in 2012 was open to a peace process that would have removed President Bashar al Assad from power, and the United States dismissed it out of hand in favor of his imminent violent overthrow.) The United States and Russia are the world’s major nuclear powers. Their relations have been deteriorating rapidly, as NATO has expanded and the U.S. has orchestrated a coup in Ukraine.

A war with Russia and the United States on different sides, and all sorts of opportunities for incidents, accidents, and misunderstandings, risks everything. Russian bombs solve nothing. When the dust clears, how will the war be ended? Will Russian bombs leave behind generous good-willed people eager to negotiate, unlike U.S. bombs which leave behind anger and hostility? We’ve learned to ask the U.S. government to spell out its “exit strategy” as it dives into each new war. What is Russia’s?

Here’s my position. Murder is not moderate. You cannot find “moderate” murderers and engage them to kill extremist murderers. You cannot bomb the extremist murderers without producing more murderers than you kill. What’s needed now, as in 2012 when the United States brushed it aside, is a peace process. First a cease fire. Then an arms embargo. And a halt to training and providing fighters and funding by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United States, and all other parties. Then major aid and restitution, and a negotiated settlement in which, in fact, Russia should be included as it is located in that region of the world, and the United States should not as it has no legitimate business being there.

This is what has been needed for years and will continue to be needed as long as it is avoided. More bombs make this more difficult, no matter who’s dropping them.

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  • September 25th, 2015 US Cooperation with Russia on Syria?

    Days after 9/11, retired General Wesley Clark visited then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon “No one will tell us where or when to bomb”, he was told. Military commanders said Iraq would be attacked. On a second visit, Clark was told plans were to “destroy the governments in seven countries,” he explained. Besides ongoing war on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran would be targeted.


  • cettel

    I see no indication in David Swanson’s articles, that he has any way to justify FDR’s having sought to get the U.S. into WW II to defeat the Axis Powers. This is why I don’t respect his views.


      Well, if you really feel that strongly about it..


      September 17, 2014 US Pursues 134 Wars Around the World

      The US is now involved in 134 wars or none, depending on your definition of war …The White House spent much of last week trying to figure out if the word “war” was the right one to describe its military actions against the Islamic State.


    • ClubToTheHead

      US puppets all over the world have to wonder why is Russia is so special? Why isn’t it occupied by US armed forces like so many other so-called independent nations?

      The failure of an effective US left to restrain US aggression has resulted in a response from Russia. There is no reason to cheer this failure.

      This is a subtlety beyond comprehension to war pigs.

  • Jams O’Donnell

    No chance of any “peace process” anywhere as long as the US arms industry is in need of profits. The US government will only back peace when it becomes bankrupt though the displacement of the dollar as the main world currency and overspending on defence. Then bye-bye US empire – peace MAY break out, as long as China doesn’t become as arrogant as the US.

  • Jim G

    My current thoughts on the matter of Pacifism is that it requires a free press that will report oppression and brutality. Gandhi enjoyed the sympathy of the British and American press. Obviously our corporate media isn’t reporting anything it doesn’t want to – ever since about 11 September 2001. If Gandhi were Syrian, now, I don’t think he would get too much sympathy. In fact, I’ll go a step further. I am sure there are people in Syria and Palestine, and the US for that matter, right now that are very much like Gandhi, and aren’t getting any notice.

    There has been a change in Syria and the Mid-East. Certainly it was prearranged. I think someone with “Big Money” decided the didn’t want to bankroll the American wars in the Middle East any more. I think the Big Money person wasn’t getting the return he thought he would – instead he is losing his shirt. Empires are very expensive to maintain. As the decision seems to have been made in Europe, I bet whoever is paying for the Ukraine failure might be upset with the US. So perhaps it is the IMF; it might even be Soros who lost big time. But it was certainly planned a while ago. Some people just weren’t told about it before hand. Germany announced it would take its missiles out of Turkey some weeks ago, and the US removal of sanctions had to occur before Iran could go in on Syria’s side. From Obama’s interview on 60 minutes it didn’t seem like he wanted to be tied up in the Mid-East forever – it’s too expensive. And when I think of the trillions of dollars the War Party has spent on this vain holocaust of violence since 2001, I become upset, and so would every other voter in the country. We need to de-fund the Pentagon, CIA, and DEA. And that would be very popular with the voter.

    Also, Duff at Veterans Today says that there is a lot of overlap between ISIL, the Ukrainian / CIA nationalist terrorists, and Chechnya terrorists. It isn’t like the Russians aren’t already involved in the war. Russia is a lot closer to the Middle East than we are. We forget they border on Afghanistan and Turkey, and pretty much Iran. Also, both the US / CIA Syria and the Ukraine operations were implemented to hurt Russia.

  • Jim G

    By the way, this issue was very much on the minds of activists during the 60s. Getting on the news and getting covered seemed to be the thing that did it, that and the cultural revolution thing. The way the Congress stopped the war then was to de-fund the Vietnam war. Now that is the secret. De-fund the bastards.

  • Charles Fasola

    Charles Fasola

  • Brockland A.T.

    The article’s entire argument against Russian intervention depends on ignoring the concept of defensive war, and calling all war murder. By implication, Russia is therefore a villain, as United States government propaganda demands. The real villains in the Pentagon, White House, and Main Street may then at least enjoy the fiction of moral equivalency with Syria’s defenders.

    Yet, defensive war is the just war; this is intuitively understood as moral common sense. Even the ‘Promised Land’ mythos of the Judeo-Christian tradition, modern imperialism’s original and root sin, depended on a faux defensive argument; defending the supposed word and will of God (which they, not God, made up). The United States and other imperial powers go out of their way to plant false flags and contrive a fig leaf of defensive war upon their wars of aggression for this very reason.

    Every article on Assad by supposed advocates of peace, ritually condemn his dictatorship, ignoring his popular and legal legitimacy to pro-government Syrians, who have been repeatedly been reported as the Syrian majority. The Syrian people have the right to live under the political leadership and system of their own choosing. Perhaps Assad would not have been their first choice in 2011, but he’s their only option now, and Syria has made constitutional reforms.



    Arguing against genuine defensive war is an argument of entitlement to the spoils of war of aggression, based on a false moral equivalency between the invader and the defender, not a product of genuine moral reasoning. War is murder is a fantasy based on the shallow argument that both sides kill people and therefore the context of the killing should be ignored by calling it all murder.

    The soft benefactors of imperial war are so used to being on the delivering end of wars of aggression, they can’t recognize the perspective of the ‘other’, the original victim, any more than the hard benefactors of wars of aggression can recognize the other’s right to life, liberty, and security of person and property.