U.S. Occupation and Siege Impose Starvation and Desperation on Syrians

Massachusetts Peace Action Statement

The US continues to occupy Syrian territory, stealing its oil resources and blockading grain imports. This has had the effect of starving and freezing Syrians as well as impeding initiatives to unite and rebuild the country. We note that US, Turkish, and Israeli bombing of Syria –  for whatever alleged purpose – is contrary to international law and constitutes war crimes. We declare that flooding arms and funding to Syrian opposition militias, especially to extremist sectarian groups, by the US, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies, were and remain unlawful and opposed to the interests of the Syrian people. Such intervention has contributed to prolonging the war and extending the suffering of all Syrians.

In addition, the draconian Caesar sanctions imposed by former President Trump and the U.S. Congress (both Republicans and Democrats) are designed to cut off the country from desperately needed imports and the ability to trade. This crippling siege is intended to bring down the Syrian government by “making the economy scream”. But what it is really doing is leading to hunger and deprivation that is crushing much of the population. It is also, by intention, preventing the rebuilding of Syria after so many years of war.

This same policy of siege was used against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq in the 1990s. It did not bring down Saddam, but it did kill 500,000 Iraqi children, causing two United Nations officials overseeing the policy to resign in disgust. These were war crimes in Iraq. And they are war crimes in Syria today.

Massachusetts Peace Action calls on all progressives and peace activists to support the following demands:

  1. Ending U.S. military intervention and occupation of Syrian territory.
  2. Ending U.S. military and diplomatic support to the armed opposition,
  3. Ending the cruel U.S.-imposed sanctions on Syria so the country can re-build after a devastating civil war.

The Syrian civil war is a story of unmitigated horror and suffering for much of the country’s population. Of a population of about 21 million, some 6 million are internally displaced and another 5 to 6 million are refugees who have fled the country for varied reasons. Some of them opposed the Assad government; others fled the fighting in general, looking for economic opportunity or seeking to avoid military service with either side in the conflict. Many would like to return to Syria when the situation in the country stabilizes. The majority of the internally displaced fled from opposition-controlled areas and would return to their homes if circumstances permitted them to do so in safety and with rebuilt local infrastructure.

Most Americans would be surprised and even shocked to learn of the major role our governments have played in the destruction of Syria. Far from doing “too little” in Syria as some liberals and pro-interventionists argue, the US bears a major responsibility for the tragedy in Syria. It funneled billions in arms to Syrian rebels and winked at its allies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia who intervened even more massively, including their facilitating the entry of violent religious extremists across the borders of Syria from Turkey and Jordan. And the U.S. is not the only outside country occupying or bombing Syria today. Israel regularly bombs the country and Turkey’s army brutally occupies a swath of Northern Syria – even though Syria has not threatened Israel, the U.S., or Turkey. Conversely, Iranian and Russian forces are involved at the request of the Syrian government.

The beginnings of the war go back to legitimate protests against a dictatorial government, lack of human rights, corruption, and economic hardship caused by severe drought and the imposition of free market economic policies. But these original demands for reform were soon displaced by armed groups funded by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Qatar, and other Gulf monarchies. The rebels were dominated by extremist sectarian groups like Al Qaeda and other jihadist militias, including Sunni jihadist fighters from numerous countries, with weapons supplied externally.

Much of the military arsenal that the U.S. supplied fell into the hands of Al Qaeda and other sectarian militias. This was not considered a problem because the U.S. and its allies were fixated on regime change in Syria. At the same time, the Syrian army was being attacked by ISIS, suffering losses of lives and territory but remaining resilient. The last thing most Syrians wanted– even those who opposed the Assad regime – was to live under the rule of these radical sectarian groups or of ISIS.

Facing the unlawful interventions into Syrian territory described above, the Assad government which held Syria’s seat at the UN, asserted its right to self-defense under the UN charter and sought Iranian and Russian help in fighting both ISIS and the opposition armies. Meanwhile, U.S. troops dispatched to Syria to destroy ISIS did so without agreement of the Syrian government. Ironically the Syrian government and its Iranian and Russian allies were on the same side as the U.S. and its Kurdish allies fighting ISIS, making Syria one of the most convoluted wars in history. Western media and official statements ignored the role of the Syrian, Iranian, and Russian governments in combating ISIS, amplifying instead the role of the US and its Kurdish allies.

Today Syrians are deeply divided in their opinions. Any group outside Syria claiming to speak for “the Syrian People” is dissembling. The Syrian government has the support, whether active or passive, of a significant number of Syrians – including Christians, Druze, Alawites, and liberal Sunni urbanites. The jihadist groups now gathered in Idlib province command the allegiance of a minority of Syrians.

The complexity of the Syrian internationalized civil society is obscured by the massive and effective propaganda campaign that gives voice only to representatives of the opposition and portrays U.S. intervention as “humanitarian”.  The reality is that the voices of millions living in Syria are erased to justify continued U.S. intervention, occupation of Syrian territory, and economic strangulation of the country.

Our hope is for the realization of the Syrian people’s aspirations for a more democratic and transparent government that promotes a multi-ethnic and secular social order. But, as we learned in Iraq after 2003 and Libya after 2011, the expectation that “freedom” and “democracy” can be attained through outside military intervention and support for armed rebels is entirely delusional. We demand an end to US military involvement in Syria, recognition of Syria’s territorial sovereignty, respect for international law, and assistance in the country’s reconstruction.

Written by Massachusetts Peace Action’s Middle East Working Group