David Swanson D.R.
Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You are the most active and the most coherent anti-war activist in the United States today. How analyze you the situation in Syria ?
David Swanson : It’s a major humanitarian crisis – in other words : a war, fueled on both sides by outside arms and ammunition. It will be deescalated by deescalating it, halting the flow of arms, creating a ceasefire, even an imperfect one at first, and negotiating a settlement. It will not be improved by further escalation or prolongation of the violence.
From the perspective of the antiwar movement in the United States, something extraordinary has just happened. Public pressure has led the British Parliament to refuse a prime minister’s demand for war for the first time since the surrender at Yorktown, and the U.S. Congress has followed suit by making clear to the U.S. president that his proposed authorization for war on Syria would not pass through either the Senate or the House.
Now, this may all fall apart in a week or a month or a year or a decade. The forces pressing for a war on Syria have not gone away. The civil war and the humanitarian crisis in Syria are not over. The partisan makeup of the Parliament and the Congress played a role in their actions (although the leaders of both major parties in Congress favored attacking Syria). Foreign nations’ intervention played a role. But the decisive force driving governments around the world and U.S. government (and military) insiders to resist this war was public opinion. We heard the stories of children suffering and dying in Syria, but we rejected the idea that killing more Syrians with U.S. weapons would make Syria better off.
Those of us who believe that we should always have the right to reject our government’s arguments for war should feel empowered. Now that it’s been done, we cannot be told it’s impossible to do it again … and again, and again.
In the space of a day, discussions in Washington, D.C., shifted from the supposed necessity of war to the clear desirability of avoiding war. If that can happen once, even if only momentarily, why can it not happen every time? Why cannot our government’s eagerness for war be permanently done away with? U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the unsuccessful marketing campaign for an attack on Syria, had famously asked, many years earlier, during what the Vietnamese call the American War, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” We have it within our power to make war a thing of the past and to leave Secretary Kerry the last man to have tried to sell us a dead idea.
(An argument will be made that the threat of war aided diplomatic efforts to disarm the Syrian government. It should not be forgotten that when Kerry suggested that Syria could avoid a war by handing over its chemical weapons, everyone knew he didn’t mean it. In fact, when Russia called his bluff and Syria immediately agreed, Kerry’s staff put out this statement: “Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used. His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.” In other words: stop getting in the way of our war! By the next day, however, with Congress rejecting war, Kerry was claiming to have meant his remark quite seriously and to believe the process had a good chance of succeeding.)
If U.S. peace activism helped stop France from attacking Syria too, then perhaps we’re even. France put up a valiant effort to stop the United States from attacking Iraq, so we’ve owed them. Perhaps now would be a time to revive awareness of the French-US led Kellogg-Briand Pact which legally bans war.
How do you explain that the United States and the Westerners generally claim to fight the terrorism, while they always supported the most reactionary factions knowing that the wahabism equips the jihadists in the Arab-Muslim world ?
Why does the U.S. government pretend outrageously untrue or nonsensical things that no one could possibly believe? Because the U.S. corporate media repeats them dutifully so many times that a lot of people begin to believe them. In this time the attempt went too far. The U.S. government has spent over a decade painting Al Qaeda as the devil on earth. Proposing to jump into a war on the side of Al Qaeda resulted in many people who’d never objected to any war before demanding that Congress say no to this one.
An acute economic crisis pushes people to the suicide in West, in the context of financial and political scandals diverse as corruption and manipulation of mass for the ruling class. How do you envisage a resistance against the diktats of the diverse lobbies who control all of the wealth of the humanity and who leave on the sideline a tired silent majority ?
We are going to have to bring the anti-war movement together with the anti-poverty movement and the anti-environmental destruction movement. We are going to have to be more local and more international, and less nationalistic in our thinking. We are going to have to create our own communications system and learn to believe in our own strength in the face of noisy opposition and skilled propagandists. We can and must make war unacceptable, create a wall of separation between oligarchy and state, and democratically redirect our public priorities toward necessary and beneficial projects.
What is the real impact on the western societies of the scandal Prism and the gigantic commitment of the whistleblowers as Snowden or Julian Assange or still Chelsea Maning ? Can we link these revelations and this scandal with the refusal of the war by the western peoples ?
These whistleblowers have had a tremendous impact on the world’s view of the U.S. government and on the U.S. public’s view of the U.S. government. And the response from the government of attacking whistleblowers as traitors has amplified the impact. People are coming to understand that war is not an enterprise that advances the interested of one nation against others, but rather an enterprise that advances the interests of certain powerful wealthy people against everyone at home and abroad. This is an important shift in perspective that should be encouraged.
You certainly saw in the New York Times the publication of the Middle East’s map in which we see an Arab world decomposed into several micro – States. Do you think that the explosion of the Arab world would benefit the imperialist power and is not this map the beginning of a new Sykes Picot 2 ?
I don’t think so, because I don’t think the people of that region will stand for it. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and other nations have seen people turn dramatically, and with some success, against Western Imperialism and against corruption and violence. Awareness of the power of nonviolence is growing rapidly, as is awareness of the destrutiveness of violence, as in Libya and Syria, as well as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, etc. The imperialism has never left Washington, D.C., and is certainly on the rise in some quarters, but it is as scorned in the United States as it is in Egypt. It must be lied about and disguised to be engaged in by the Pentagon. And this is becoming harder and harder to do.
We notice a strong comeback of the Russian diplomacy. Can one say that the time has come for the end of the US hegemony and it for the survival of our species ?
Morally it has always been time to end US imperialism, and not because Russia or anyone else was stepping up. President Obama at the United Nations a couple of weeks ago complained that the United States must always bear ultimate responsibility for the important global duty of bombing the hell out of people. It’s a shame, he suggested, that other nations don’t step up and help. Well, no nation should help with criminal actions. They should be abandoned. What we need to see, and what Russia, China, India, Brazil, Europe, and others can help with is a democratized UN or a replacement for it, and a truly international ICC that does not just prosecute Africans. We don’t need a new balance of nations, but the institution of international law and structures under which nations and people have equal rights.
Many western intellectuals asserted me that you should not matter on the American politicians and that it is necessary to be wary of the foreign policy of the United States. Some often repeat me that the one who believes to be protected by them makes an error because the USA think only of their interest. What could you tell to the leaders of my country, particularly to those who often declare that Algeria is the permanent target of the imperialism because of our principal positions about Palestine and the political settlement of the Syrian crisis for example ?
While a global movement is needed, this movement cannot ignore or reverse the reality of where the greatest support for war originates. The United States builds, sells, buys, stockpiles, and uses the most weapons, engages in the most conflicts, stations the most troops in the most countries, and carries out the most deadly and destructive wars. By these and other measures, the U.S. government is the world’s leading war-‐maker, and -‐-‐ in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. -‐-‐ the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Ending U.S. militarism wouldn’t eliminate war globally, but it would eliminate the pressure that is driving many other nations to increase their military spending. It would deprive NATO of its leading advocate for and greatest participant in wars. It would cut off the largest supply of weapons to the Middle East and other regions. It would remove the major barrier to a reunification of Korea, and the major barrier to legal consequences for Israeli war-‐making. It would create U.S. willingness to support arms treaties, join the International Criminal Court, and allow the United Nations to move in the direction of its stated purpose of eliminating war. It would create a world free of nations threatening the first-‐use of nuclear weaponry, and a world in which nuclear disarmament might proceed more rapidly. Gone would be the last major nation using cluster bombs or refusing to ban land mines. If the United States kicked the war habit, war itself would suffer a major and possibly fatal set-‐back. For this reason, the war abolition movement around the world will need to be directed at U.S. military bases as well as local governments, and major U.S. wars as much as local militarism. In other words we need your help.
Max Blumenthal’s new book on Israeli military abuses and outrages, called « Goliath, » discusses Albert Camus’s refusal to support a popular demand in Algeria that all French-Algerians depart. Camus is quoted as saying he would put his mother before justice. I’m pretty sure that’s a false choice. I am opposed to the United States deporting Mexicans, and would be, just the same, if my mother were one of them I am also opposed to exploitative and abusive U.S. policies toward Mexico, even though my mother is in fact not Mexican. I’m opposed to giving Mexico back the northern half of its country, but in favor of reducing the power of both the United States and the Mexican national governments, strengthening international human rights, and empowering people locally in New Mexico and Arizona to live as they choose. Similarly, Jews and Arabs in Israel/Palestine are going to have to arrive at a point where they are happy their children are getting married, without concern for which group the beloved belongs to. We have a long way to go.
Interview realized by Mohsen Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Published on Algeriepatriotique the 21/11/2013