Debate Magazine

Selective Opposition: Where Are the Peace Protests Over Syria Bombing?

By Eowyn @DrEowyn


SFGate: Maybe it’s war fatigue. Maybe climate change is consuming all the protest energy right now. Maybe momentum just needs to build.

But most likely, all of the above are the reasons antiwar protests didn’t erupt throughout the Bay Area, veteran activists say, after U.S. warplanes roared over the Syrian border Tuesday to bomb more than a dozen enclaves of Islamic radical jihadists into rubble.

Some activists even conceded that many people weren’t going into the streets because the militants being targeted deserved to be dealt with, if not killed.

By Tuesday afternoon, there were still no loud demonstrations to be found. Major military incursions in years past launched seas of banners down San Francisco’s Market Street, but this time? Nothing — at least right off the bat.

“People are war-weary and have already been very disappointed in President Obama for some time,” said David Hartsough, executive director of the Peaceworkers antiwar group in San Francisco. He said he and other longtime activists are outraged at the bombing and believe nonviolent solutions to jihadist terror would be more effective — but the groundswell to hit the streets just isn’t there.

I think a lot of people are focused on the climate right now, especially young people,” Hartsough said, noting that weekend protest marches on that issue in cities including New York and Oakland collectively drew hundreds of thousands of people. “That seems to be closer to heart, and I think on war we as a nation have been numbed.”

“Just think: When, in a young person’s lifetime, have we not been at war or dropping bombs on someone?” Hartsough said. “People hear that over and over and they get numbed.”

Plans weren’t made

U.S. officials said last week that they planned to strike targets in Syria, so there was plenty of time to plan for big protests before warplanes targeted the Nusra Front, the Khorasan Group and Islamic State, the group that aired videos of the beheadings of two U.S. journalists.

Sunday was even celebrated by activists all over the globe as International Day of Peace — but that’s when the main events sucking up headlines centered on climate change. The actions that did come by Tuesday evening were limited.

The Credo progressive group in San Francisco started a national online petition drive Sunday to demand that Congress vote to end the air war, and two dozen antiwar activists — including several with Bay Area roots, such as Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin — protested outside the White House. And in Walnut Creek, the Mount Diablo Peace Center staged a demonstration against the bombings.

“We felt like we needed to do something quickly and let the world know that even in places like Walnut Creek, people are angry about this,” said Margli Auclair of the Mount Diablo Peace Center.

“It’s early still, and for the moment this is an air war and not a ground war,” said Credo President Michael Kieschnick, whose petition drive had collected 40,000 signatures by Tuesday evening. “I think Americans get most concerneed when there are soldiers on the ground at risk.” (As if a pilot isn’t at risk when flying over enemy territory?)

‘Bombing won’t work’

“And look, Americans are horrified by ISIS,” Kieschnick said, using one of the alternative names for Islamic State. “There’s a natural instinct to at least pause before critiquing. These are murderous thugs, and they should be called out and dealt with.”

“But bombing won’t work. It never works,” Kieschnick said. “And a different form of protest will emerge when bombs go awry and hit a wedding party, or when someone calls in a strike labeling someone as ISIS when they’re not. Then, things will look different.”

Even the Bay Area’s famously liberal congressional delegation was largely silent, and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer issued a statement saying, “We cannot stand idly by while barbaric groups threaten America and the entire world.”

Stephen Zunis, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco, said the unusually murky nature of alliances and enemies in this latest of many U.S. fights in the Middle East make it tough to muster focused outrage.

“I think a lot of people are torn,” he said. “At the start of all classes last year, I explained to my students that the U.S. government might be on the verge of war against the Syrian government, and now I have to explain why we’re going to war now against Syrian rebels. It’s a very muddled situation over there.

I see now – it’s “climate disruption”, a “muddled situation” and a “murky nature” to bomb Syria. Spare me the faux excuses. We all know why they aren’t protesting.

Messiah Obama


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