Syria. Could intervention by peacemakers help?


DJ responds to my recent post about not intervening in Syria (promoted from the comments.) He helped broker peace in the vicious Sri Lanka civil war. Could the same process happen in Syria?

It bothers me that the idea of this post is to sit back and let people kill each other – or rather, let a handful of combatants kill tens of thousands of civilians. I’m not advocating military involvement, but rather “conflict resolution” involvement – and our government may not be the best tool for that job, since it seems to exacerbate conflict wherever it goes.

I’ve been listening to NPR commentators asking why the U.S. Government doesn’t have more people on the ground in Syria. My question is, why don’t peacemaking organizations have more people on the ground? (Or am I missing something?) We had them in Iraq – and some of them died for their work (think Christian Peacemakers, who were Mennonites espousing peace, not Christianity). In Sri Lanka, I was one of those folks on the ground. Our group took a conflict that no one seemed to understand, made sense of it, and eventually helped bring about a four-year cease-fire, the longest in that thirty-year war. Yes, conflicts CAN be intervened in and resolved – but generally not with guns.

We as human beings are obligated to prevent the killing of innocents where we can. Failing to do so is immoral. Yet it is equally immoral to rely on our government as a surrogate for our own efforts. It is a poor substitute, with goals that are often not in the interest of real peace.

Outside powers don’t appear to care much about what happens to the people of Syria, most of whom probably just want to get on with what once was their lives. Some urban dwellers in Syria are now living in caves, for God’s sake. And their economy is now a shambles.

Would a peacemaking group even be safe in Syria now? In Sri Lanka the sides were obvious and clear. There were also safe areas where combat wasn’t happening. I’m not sure if any of that exists in Syria.Who would peacemakers talk to? There are dozens of militias, rebel groups, and by now, probably war lords. The opposition doesn’t have a singkle identifiable leader. Also, who would protect the peacemakers?

I’m not comfortable with letting innocents die either. But even the most seasoned UN peacekeeping missions have had no luck. Worse, the conflict is spilling across borders into Lebanon, and possibly Turkey, Israel, and Jordan too.

The fundamentals of radical, transnational counterinsurgency

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

There’s a lot of hate speech floating around out there. You’re used to it by now. The President is a black Muslim Nazi, LGBT destroy families, immigrants are disease-ridden criminals. It’s not just that these lies are offensive, though, is it? It’s that they hint at something darker, more wicked underneath. The argument isn’t that immigrants have diseases (they don’t), so let’s try to help them. It’s that they have diseases, so they’re filthy and must be hunted down and annihilated. The folks who spread this hate speech are not lying out of altruism or compassion, they’re lying as an expression of the dangerous, sociopathic capacities they possess. We know this from our foreign policy as well. It’s not just that the overt anti-semitism of terrorist videos will double you over with vomit, it’s the psycho undercurrent of suicide bombings that really keeps us awake at night.

I thought about this when I read Steve Hynd’s “COIN is like Soviet Communism?,” wherein he exposes counterinsurgency not as a strategy, but an ideology. He’s right, but it’s not just that counterinsurgency is a demented ideology, that it propagates vicious lies like obliterating a houseful of Afghan civilians is “protecting the population.” It’s that COIN is a symptom of an idea more primeval and dangerous: violence is the solution. The fundamental idea behind counterinsurgency is that war is the right tool for the job. It may look different and sound different, but it’s still war, still violently brutalizing a population, us and them, for isolated and selfish political ends. Continue reading “The fundamentals of radical, transnational counterinsurgency”

Handful of Sri Lanka refugees allowed home

BBC headline trumpets, “Tamil refugees are allowed home.”   But read the article.  In fact, only 4,000 of the hundreds of thousands of Tamil refugees got to leave the camps this week.

How many refugees are there?  The number commonly cited is 300,000– yet BBC says Vavuniya-adjacent Menik Camp alone holds 300,000 displaced people.  Anecdotal reports suggest there may be more than half a million refugees in camps throughout northern Sri Lanka.

Every one of those refugees must be “screened,” says the government, “to root out anyone associated with the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.”

Given that many of these folks lived under the LTTE administration for the last few years, some of them could have been “associated” in administrative ways.  Often, the LTTE forcibly drafted at least one son or daughter from every family.  What happens to those draftees?  To the families who gave them up?

The fighting may have stopped, but the humanitarian crisis is far from over in Sri Lanka.