Five of the mostly gray-haired protesters were arrested for blocking a White House gate after insisting they meet with President Barack Obama or a senior official to discuss their concerns.
“It’s urgent that we meet with him!” a woman shouted to Secret Service agents, to no avail. The bombing of Syrian jihadis, the protesters said, would only strengthen fundamentalists who have declared a caliphate in eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq. Instead, they recommend humanitarian aid and an arms embargo against all groups in Syria.
“War is terrorism,” said John Dear of Campaign Nonviolence, who was among those arrested. “Of course we’re against this stupid bombing of Syria and Iraq.”
Dear, a Roman Catholic priest, said “peaceful means are the only path to a peaceful future.”
Four of the arrested protesters played dead on a sidewalk as Dear held an anti-war sign.
Activist David Swanson said the airstrikes are an irrational, fear-driven response to the beheading of two American journalists by the Islamic State group.
“As if the Saudi government to which we ship our weapons with great generosity didn’t behead people,” he said. “Do you think peoples’ heads are going to stay on their body?”
“The alternatives are obvious and they don’t include loving beheadings,” he said. “We need more people in the streets.”
Swanson said Obama should be protested “everywhere he sets foot” and that constituents should hector members of Congress for what he described as cowardice.
Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who like Swanson was not arrested, said Obama’s justification for the current U.S. military campaign “sounds like George Bush all over again.”
“The American people were on our side just a couple months ago, then we heard this constant, constant drumbeat about the beheading of journalists,” she said, predicting public support will dip after reports of civilian casualties.
Congress voted last week to approve arms and training for so-called moderate rebels fighting the Syrian government. The CIA previously armed Syrian rebels, and some of those weapons were reportedly taken by religious fanatics.
Obama did not seek – and say he doesn’t need – congressional approval for open-ended strikes against jihadis in Syria and Iraq. Many legal experts doubt he has such authority, particularly in Syria. Obama sought congressional approval in 2013 to intervene in Syria’s civil war – at that point against the government – but abandoned the plan due to public and congressional opposition.