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Congress: Vote ‘No’ On Arming Syrian Militias

September 16, 2014

Here is our analysis that we shared with Congress today on the effort to arm the Syrian Militias. You can take action to ask for a no vote here.

Arms transferred to “moderate” rebel groups have wound up with ISIS

It has been documented that ISIS has captured U.S.-manufactured weapons in both Syria and Iraq — and they are using them on the battlefield.[i] Advocates for arming the rebels hold out hope that improved “transparency and accountability measures” will ensure U.S. weapons and other support are not misused. But it’s quite naïve to think bureaucratic rules will hold sway over the fighters once they return to the heat of battle.

In fact, “moderate” rebels have acknowledged sharing weapons with al-Qaeda-linked forces to gain ground against Assad.[ii] As Mark Kukis pointed out in Time: “By definition rebel groups do not answer to authority. They tend to take whatever arms, training and funding they can get from friendly governments and pursue their own agenda.”[iii] In Afghanistan with tens of thousands of US troops, weapons have fallen into the hands of the Taliban. This type of transfer is likely to be rampant with far fewer U.S. minders.

U.S.-backed forces have fought with or even defected to al-Qaeda and ISIS

By far, the number one objective of the Syrian rebels is to fight against the Assad regime. The fighters have local city-based, and ideological loyalties that will trump financial support. Therefore “moderates” are willing to fight alongside the al-Nusra Front (the al Qaeda affiliate).[iv] Earlier this year Jamal Maarouf, the leader of the “moderate” Syrian Revolutionary Front said “’I am not fighting against al-Qaeda… it’s not our problem”.[v]

There have also been reports of rebel fighters, including command leadership, defecting to al-Nusra (i.e. al-Qaeda).[vi] Entire units have reportedly defected to ISIS.[vii] The amendment before Congress can prescribe funding for jihadist groups like al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham but, once fighters are on the battlefield, aspirations expressed in D.C. or in training in Saudi Arabia won’t control the fighters’ behavior.

The initial $500 million would grow to cover more fighters. The plan would also likely necessitate U.S. air cover with its associated costs.

The initial $500 million is very likely to grow. Many supporters of arming the “moderate” rebels are calling for a much wider program since the initial 2300-3000 fighters is a relatively small force.[viii] Some supporters foresee a program of several billion a year for arms and training and another up to $22 billion a year for U.S. air support.[ix] With airstrikes come at least some U.S. boots on the ground in Syria for targeting etc. [x] All these costs could, combined with the effort in Iraq, do harm to the U.S. economy.

The U.S. could be dragged into an unlawful[xi], preventative war in Syria

All of this adds up to a “preventative war” in Syria to combat a force that is still not an imminent threat to Americans at home. [xii] A military campaign including airstrikes would undermine the international norm against using military force inside other states.[xiii] This is problematic given that the preventive war is being driven by what some counterterrorism experts describe as threat inflation[xiv] or “members of the cabinet and top military officers … describing the threat in lurid terms that are not justified.”[xv]

We would be supporting Syrian militias with serious human rights problems – including their own beheadings

The militias that we would be supporting have their own serious human rights violations including beheadings.[xvi] Amnesty International worried that “it would be reckless for the US or others to provide military aid to any party in the conflict. Islamic State has committed serious war crimes, but other militias supported by the Iraqi government have also attacked civilian populations in revenge and the Iraqi military itself has shelled residential communities.”[xvii]

[i] Islamic State may have taken anti-tank weapons from Syrian rebels, WaPo,, 9/7/14

[ii] ‘I am not fighting against al-Qa’ida… it’s not our problem’, Independent 4/2/14

[iii] It’s a Huge Mistake to Back Rebel Groups, Time, 9/12/14

[iv] U.S. Pins Hope on Syrian Rebels With Loyalty All Over the Map, NYT, 9/11/14

[v] ‘I am not fighting against al-Qa’ida… it’s not our problem’. Independent, 4/2/14

[vi] Free Syrian Army rebels defect to Jabhat al-Nusra. Guardian, 5/8/13

[vii] Hundreds of Syria rebels pledge loyalty to Qaeda groups, Reuters 9/20/13

[viii] MH17 affects the calculus on aiding Syria’s rebels LA Daily News, 7/29/14

[ix] How to Turn Syria’s Opposition Into a Real Fighting Force Foreign Affairs , Sep. 2014

[x] Syria airstrikes need boots on the ground, USA Today, 9/12/14

[xi] WH Has No International Legal Justification for Hitting ISIS, Daily Beast, 9/15/14

[xii] Struggling to Gauge ISIS Threat, New

[xiii] We don’t need another dumb war, Foreign Policy, 9/11/14

[xiv] Threat Inflation And The Case For War, Ctd, The Dish, 9/12/14

[xv] Struggling to Gauge ISIS Threat, New York Times, 9/10/14

[xvi] American Fighting for ISIS Is Killed in Syria New York Times, 8/26/14

[xvii] Amnesty International Responds to Obama Speech

Urgent: don’t bomb Iraq

June 16, 2014
John McCain is shaking his fist angrily and calling for military action. Lindsey Graham is invoking terrorist attacks and describing American air power as “the only option.” The president is huddled with his advisers considering military options for Iraq. Did we just travel in a time machine to 2003?

Sadly, we are having yet another debate about using the blunt and ineffective instrument of military force to deal with a complex crisis in Iraq.President Obama just announced that he’ll decide on military action “in the days ahead” and the US is reportedly moving an aircraft carrier to the area. 

Take action now. Tell Congress to speak out strongly and forcefully against air strikes on Iraq.

President Obama recently laid out his foreign policy vision in a speech at West Point, saying “Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.” So why isn’t he looking for other tools in his toolbox?

We’ve seen this play out before. The gains made by ISIS militants and the Iraqi government’s lackluster response require a smart strategy. Dropping bombs on a volatile situation is likely to escalate the conflict, not resolve it, with innocent civilians losing their lives in the process.

We stopped the bombing of Syria because we responded quickly and loudly, and Congress raised a ruckus.  Tell them to do it again.

In some ways this feels like déjà vu all over again. But a lot has changed in the past decade. The American people have learned a lesson about the reckless use of military force. Let’s make sure our leaders don’t forget it.

Supporting champion for peace Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

May 29, 2014
Peace Action West staff and board with Sen. Jeff Merkley in San Francisco

Peace Action West staff and board with Sen. Jeff Merkley in San Francisco

Peace Action West supporters came together in San Francisco on May 16th to thank Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) for his leadership on ending the war in Afghanistan, opposing military intervention in Syria and more. This November is his first time up for reelection, and Peace Action West supporters donated more than $15,000 to help make sure he returns to the Senate next year.

You can support one of our strongest allies on the Senate by donating here.


Action alert: wars are not gym memberships

May 29, 2014

Our longest war just got even longer. 

President Obama just announced that the US will have boots on the ground in Afghanistan for another 2 ½ years. When Congress voted to authorize the war way back in 2001, they surely didn’t know they were authorizing a 15-year occupation.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has a bill calling for a congressional vote on any US troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014. As the senator said in response to the president’s announcement,“Automatic renewal is fine for Netflix and gym memberships, but it is not the right approach when it comes to war.”

Tell your senators to cosponsor this bill to make our voices heard about staying in Afghanistan.

While it’s encouraging that the administration is reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan and setting a clear timeline for withdrawal, it’s not good enough. 9,800 troops is 9,800 too many, and we need our tax dollars here at home.

Our friends in the House tried to bring up a similar amendment last week, but the Republican leadership was too afraid to watch the antiwar sentiment play out on the floor and blocked a vote.We need to turn to the Senate now and make sure they fight for more oversight over the war.

Click here to tell your senators to cosponsor Sen. Merkley’s bill for a vote on Afghanistan.

Children who were in elementary school when this war began are now old enough to fight in it. It’s well past time to stop risking lives and wasting tax dollars in Afghanistan.

Thank you for speaking out.

Action alert: no more Pentagon slush fund

May 15, 2014

When we enter the 14th year of war in Afghanistan in October, how much will we spending to keep our troops there? We don’t know, and neither does Congress.

The House is voting on the Pentagon budget next week and the administration still hasn’t decided how much the war is going to cost or how many troops will be there. But they’re not worried because for years, war money has been a separate pot outside of the regular Pentagon budget. There are no caps and no real accountability. It’s time for that to change.

Tell your representative to demand accountability on war spending.

In these tight budget times, both the Pentagon and Congress have taken advantage of the lack of transparency and constraints on war spending. The war budget has become a slush fund for pet projects that aren’t really related to war spending but can’t fit in the capped (but still huge) base Pentagon budget. The military has indicated that they want to keep using this irresponsible practice for years to come, even though we’re supposed to be leaving our decade of war behind.

A bipartisan group of representatives is working to shine a light on this practice. They are circulating a letter to the president calling for an end to limitless war spending outside the budget and strict standards for what counts as war spending. If we’re going to rein in this reckless spending, we need to show Congress that we’re paying attention and push as many of them as possible to speak out.

Let’s shut this slush fund down. Tell your representative to sign the letter to end limitless war spending.


Action alert: we need the truth about drones

April 9, 2014

When the CIA says there aren’t that many civilians being killed in drone strikes, we should trust them—right? Wrong.

We’ve seen far too many examples lately of the government not being straight with Congress and the public. There are independent groups that document the casualties from drone strikes, but the government is keeping their own information in the dark.

Help shine a light on the US’s drone policy. Tell your representative to cosponsor the Targeted Lethal Force Transparency Act. 

Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) have introduced this bill that would require an annual report detailing casualties from drone strikes, and a retroactive report on the last five years. It sounds simple, but it’s a crucial piece of the puzzle we need to challenge the government’s targeting killing policy. Our campaign to rein them in is hobbled by a lack of information about what is actually happening, and this bill will help us get it.

Take action now to get the information we need to expose out-of-control drone strikes.

Hiding this information isn’t necessary for our national security. It keeps people from taking away a tool that the government is abusing, with horrendous consequences. There is ample evidence out there that US drones strikes are terrorizing communities and creating a backlash that could have serious consequences. If we speak up now, we can show Congress that the public demands this information and won’t stay quiet until we get it. The more information Congress gets straight from the source, the more tools they have to engage in oversight and raise important questions about an unexamined policy.

Let’s bear witness for the people killed by US drones and make sure our government is held accountable. Tell your representative to cosponsor the bill.

Thank you for taking action.

Action alert: A raise for nukes?

March 25, 2014

Join the National Call-in Day

Two new bills give Congress an opportunity to step up and make cuts to nuclear weapons.

The president’s budget request for 2015 shows that his priorities are still dangerously backwards, asking for yet another increase for nuclear weapons while crucial domestic spending continues to be slashed.

Our allies in Congress are stepping up to take these misguided priorities head on. Companion bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that would save $100 billion in the next ten years by cutting nuclear weapons and related programs. In the Senate, Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-MA) bill is the SANE Act (S. 2070) and in the House, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has introduced the REIN-IN Act (H.R. 4107).[1] We need you to call your representatives right now to get them on board to cut nukes.

Click here to call your representatives right now and tell them to cosponsor these important bills.

If Congress grants the request for a 7% increase in the nuclear weapons budget this year, it would be one of the only parts of the entire federal budget that would get such a large increase in its budget. How would you like to get a 7% raise this year? Or for your child’s school to get a 7% increase in its budget? Call your representatives to tell them that nuclear weapons are the last thing that should get a raise this year.

Sen. Markey and Rep. Blumenauer have stepped up to introduce bills that would challenge these insane spending increases, and save $100 billion that should be spent in our communities. Organizations all over the country are working together to urge members of Congress to cosponsor these bills and stand for cutting nukes. Our calling tool makes it quick and easy for you to join the National Call-in Day.

Click here to call your representatives and tell them to cosponsor the SANE and REIN-IN Acts to cut nukes spending.

[1] Click here for the text of the SANE Act.
And for the text of the REIN-IN Act.


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