Peace groups are launching a petition drive — calling on members of Congress to vote against authorizing military action against Syria — with a rally at Representative Jan Schakowsky’s office, 5533 N. Broadway, on Wednesday, September 4, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“U.S. military intervention is far more likely to make matters worse, not better,” argues an online petition from the Illinois Coalition for Justice, Peace and the Environment .
Schakowsky joined local representatives Danny Davis and Bobby Rush last week in signing a letter initiated by Rep. Barbara Lee  of California calling on President Obama to seek congressional approval for any action, which he has since decided to do. But yesterday Schakowsky’s husband, political consultant Robert Creamer, posted a “progressive case” for authorizing military action on Huffington Post .
Those responsible for chemical attacks should be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court, and the U.S. should maintain humanitarian aid for refugees and step up diplomatic pressure for a negotiated settlement to the two-year conflict in Syria, said Marcia Bernsten of Chicago Area Peace Action , one of the groups organizing the Wednesday rally.
“Using chemical weapons is completely atrocious, but we don’t have the facts, and even when we do, it’s not the job of the U.S. to punish the perpetrators, it’s the international courts,” she said. Not only has there been no attack on the U.S., she argued, but the risk of attacks on the U.S. increases “if we go around bombing people.”
She cited a statement from former president Jimmy Carter  pointing out that “a punitive military response without a U.N. Security Council mandate…would be illegal under international law” and “will only harden existing positions and postpone a sorely-needed political process to put an end to the catastrophic violence.”
An attack would also risk extensive civilian casualities, would further destablize the region and potentially provoke retaliation by Syria or its allies, Bernsten said.
The American Friends Service Committee  is also urging people to contact Congress and ask for a “no” vote on military authorization, said Mary Zerkel.
“While we unequivocally condemn any use of chemical weapons along with continued indiscriminate killing of civilians and other violations of international humanitarian law, military strikes are not the answer,” the group said in a letter to President Obama  signed by 26 national organizations.
“Rather than bringing an end to the violence that has already cost more than 100,000 lives, they threaten to widen the vicious civil war in Syria and undermine prospects to de-escalate the conflict and eventually reach a negotiated settlement.”
A citywide coalition has called for a march and rally at noon on Saturday, September 7, at the Federal Plaza. The Syrian American Forum is supporting the action, in part because a military attack on Syria is simply “not in America’s interest,” said Dr. Matar Matar.
“As an American citizen I don’t see how it helps American national security in any way,” he said, stressing the danger of being drawn into a wider war — and of giving a military boost to groups allied with Al Qaeda now fighting the Syrian government.
“They are the most powerful component of the military opposition,” and include groups and individuals identified as terrorist by the State Department, Matar said. “They are not there to bring democracy and freedom to Syria.”
A military attack will increase the refugee problem and further damage the nation’s barely-functoning economy, Matar said. “People in conflict areas are vulnerable to radicalization when they see no jobs, no education,” he said.
The U.S. should pressure the Gulf States to stop arming and financing the Islamist militias and convince the political opposition to join negotiations that were discussed last month but dropped, he said. He believes negotiations could result in new national elections, supervised by the U.N.
Not enough is known about the chemical weapons attack last month, Matar said. But once documented, “it doesn’t justify a war on Syria,” he said. “It’s not the whole country that is responsible. They should bring the people responsible for those attacks to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.”
In the wake of reports of a chemical weapons attack, analysts warn against the “false binary” choice between two options only: military action or (as Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies  put it in an internet forum sponsored by Moveon.org ) “they get away with it.” (This, by the way, is Creamer’s approach.) There are other options.
Diplomacy in this situation is not going to be easy, they say — not with a fractured opposition fighting among itself, and a range of agendas at play in Syria, from the “new cold war” between the U.S. and Russia to the rivalry of Iran and the Saudis — but it’s the only approach with the potential to actually bring an end to the killing.
The Obama administration initially gave diplomacy short shrift because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looked weak, writes Trira Parsi for Reuters . It’s clear now “that Assad is neither so weak that he will lose, nor so strong that he can easily win. In short there is a stalemate, which provides fertile ground for negotiations to achieve a durable cease-fire.”
“What we’re going to have to have — and it’s going to be now or it’s going to be later — is more diplomacy, tougher diplomacy, harder diplomacy,” Bennis tells Real News . “It’s going to take diplomacy and negotiations to end this war, to stop any possible use in the future of any weapons, certainly including chemical weapons….
“That means engaging directly with the regime in Syria, as well as with the opposition. It means engaging with those who support both sides. So the U.S. needs to be engaging directly with Russia, as well as with Iran.” The Obama administration previously opposition Iranian participation in talks, a position Bennis calls “crazy.”
The U.S. needs to pressure Russia and Iran to stop resupplying the regime with arms, and in turn ensure that U.S. allies including Saudi Arabia stop funding and arming opposition groups, Bennis said. “Until we have a halt to the new weapons coming in, there’s no way that talks toward a ceasefire are going to work.”
Comments Glenn Greenwald : “There are few things more bizarre than watching people advocate that another country be bombed even while acknowledging that it will achieve no good outcomes other than safeguarding the ‘credibility’ of those doing the bombing.” He adds, “it’s hard to imagine a more potent sign of a weak, declining empire than having one’s national ‘credibility’ depend upon periodically bombing other countries.”