News Release

Syria and Libya: Avaaz: Interventionist Tool in Progressive Guise?

avaazIn a recent interview, President Obama stated that “failing to plan for the day after” the 2011 U.S.-backed toppling of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was the “worst mistake” of his presidency.

An investigation of the global advocacy group Avaaz, which claims 43 million active members online, shows the leadership of that group has not examined the consequences of its record of pushing for no-fly zones in Libya and Syria.

JOHN HANRAHAN, johnhanrahan5 at gmail.com, @xposefacts
Hanrahan wrote a pair of just-published in-depth pieces for ExposeFacts.org about the global advocacy group Avaaz pushing for no-fly zones in Syria and Libya.

In the first part, “As in Libya, Avaaz Campaigns for Syria No-Fly Zone That Even Top Generals Oppose,” Hanrahan writes: “With the staggering claimed number of 43.1-million members in 194 countries as of mid-March 2016 (anyone who has ever signed an Avaaz petition is considered by the organization to be a member), the New York City-based Avaaz is easily the largest and most influential Internet-based, international advocacy organization on the planet. …

“In its call for no-fly zones in Libya and Syria, Avaaz has turned the concept of progressive advocacy on its head and appears to be untrue to the direction it has followed in the overwhelming majority of its campaigns. Advocacy organizations should be about stopping wars, not asking their members to buy into a dubious military tactic for Syria that even leading U.S. generals say ‘entails killing a lot of people…[and is] a violent combat action that results in lots of casualties’ for those very Syrian civilians that Avaaz argues it is trying to protect. …

“Despite the lies and propaganda emitting from all of the many sides in the Syrian conflict, despite the uncertainties of just who is bombing whom in some situations, Avaaz sticks to its narrative that the Syrian regime — now along with its Russian bombing partners — are virtually alone in endangering civilians and that a no-fly zone is somehow going to make all that right without posing much of a problem, really. …

“Several hundred reporters were reportedly receiving Avaaz’s email briefings [at the beginning of the Syria civil war], putting the organization in a unique position of being the major source of anti-regime news and propaganda coming out of Syria.”

In his second piece, “Avaaz Ignores Libya Lessons in Advocating for Syria No-Fly Zone,” Hanrahan writes: “Hillary Clinton (but not other presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump) is a staunch advocate for a no-fly zone and regime change in Syria.

“Like Clinton and other interventionists, Avaaz — in advocating for a no-fly zone in Syria — has not been chastened by what its advocacy wrought in Libya. Some of the same arguments for a no-fly zone that Avaaz made for Libya, it has made again over the last few years for Syria. …

“As with the other questions we submitted to Avaaz personnel, the organization did not answer whether the Libya experience made the organization’s leaders think twice about taking up the Syria no-fly zone issue. It was possibly obscurely referencing the Libya no-fly zone when [campaign director Nell] Greenberg stated to us: ‘Much of what you’re asking for are reflections on past campaigns given the geopolitical landscape today. But based on the way we work, I cannot tell you how any Avaaz member would feel today about a past campaign without going back and asking them.’

“Our follow-up question made it clear that we were not asking how any individual Avaaz member might feel about the Libya campaign today, but rather how Avaaz’s leaders felt about proposing a no-fly zone for Syria when the Libya military action had turned out so disastrously. To date, Avaaz has not responded to any of our follow-up questions.”

Hanrahan also examines Avaaz personnel, finances and connections: “Since around 2010, the organization is on record as not accepting corporate or foundation donations — although it did receive grants totaling $1.1 million from George Soros-connected foundations in the three years before that.”

Avaaz co-founder Thomas Pravda “is currently serving as the (unpaid) treasurer and a director for Avaaz, while at the same time holding down a post as a diplomat with the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, commonly known as the Foreign Office. He is also co-founder and officer in Res Publica [which co-founded Avaaz with MoveOn.org Civic Action]. … Our research, though, found no example of anyone raising a specific issue about Pravda’s dual role as U.K. diplomat and Avaaz officer, but this relationship looks problematic on the face of it. …

“If I were going to name one chief suspect among Avaaz’s founders as the architect of its no-fly zone advocacy in Libya and Syria, it would be Tom Perriello. More than anyone else connected with Avaaz from its earliest days, Perriello, since leaving the organization — first for Congress and then for the think-tank world before going to the U.S. State Department — has shown himself to be a reliable advocate for war: For continuing the war in Afghanistan, for bombing Libya and ousting Gaddafi, and for taking military action to support Syrian rebels and remove Assad from power. …

“In addition to being a founder of Avaaz and currently serving as its chairman, the Brooklyn-based Eli Pariser … is also currently a member of the advisory board of George Soros’s Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs.”

John Hanrahan, currently on the editorial board of ExposeFacts, is a former executive director of The Fund for Investigative Journalism and reporter for The Washington PostThe Washington Star, UPI and other news organizations. He also has extensive experience as a legal investigator. Hanrahan is the author of Government by Contract and co-author of Lost Frontier: The Marketing of Alaska. He wrote extensively for NiemanWatchdog.org, a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

ExposeFacts.org is a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.