“Humanitarian” intervention in Syria?

The prospect for another US war front is rearing its head in Syria. The pretext, predictably, is humanitarian.

What one has to ignore in order to take this pretext seriously is the actual historical record of US interventions in the last 50 years, including those launched purely on putative “humanitarian” grounds. The record leads to an altogether different set of conclusions than those advanced by today’s popular humanitarian interventionist advocates, Samantha Powers in the leading role. Rob Prince, professor at the Korbel School of International , is full of acumen on this point as he critiques a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times which advocates US intervention:

Calling for military intervention as a way to end or at least reduce the bloodshed in Syria does pull at certain ethical heartstrings. But it is, at best, a desperate appeal, and at worst, quite frankly, a cynical move meant to give cover to a not especially humane long term geo-political considerations.  

Indeed perhaps the sorriest assumption of their argument is that the United States can save the day and end the humanitarian tragedy in Syria by  riding in on its white heavenly horse filled with Cruise missiles, drones. Are they forgetting Washington’s long record of supporting totalitarian regimes in exchange for oil in the Middle East and elsewhere, and whose involvement in the Syrian tragedy is, incidentally, far from innocent?

One must make a distinction between `humanitarian intervention’ in times of war, and military intervention using humanitarian pretexts. The latter actually has a very long and sordid history going back several hundred years and has been used by virtually every colonial and neo-colonial military intervention and massacre. It is nothing new, although lately, through the thinking of certain American intellectuals (Samantha Powers and others) it has been given a new intellectual gloss.

Pulling out the `humanitarian’ pretext has become more in fashion in this post Cold War era when the United States can no longer argue that countering `the Soviet threat’ is a pretext for political and military intervention. Even during the Cold War, the United States would frequently invoke a humanitarian pretext (intermingled with anti-communism) for its Third World interventions, C.I.A. coups, whatever. The bodies of hundreds of thousands of Chileans, Argentinians, Brazilians, Guatamaltecas, Nicaraguans Salvadoreans, liter the fields and oceans as evidence of the results of that policy.

Pulling out the `humanitarian’ pretext has become more in fashion in this post Cold War era when the United States can no longer argue that countering `the Soviet threat’ is a pretext for political and military intervention. Even during the Cold War, the United States would frequently invoke a humanitarian pretext (intermingled with anti-communism) for its Third World interventions, C.I.A. coups, whatever. The bodies of hundreds of thousands of Chileans, Argentinians, Brazilians, Guatamaltecas, Nicaraguans Salvadoreans, liter the fields and oceans as evidence of the results of that policy.

I think Prince is right about the essential point above, that humanitarianism is merely a pretext, proffered to get the public to accept the use of the military for a set of priorities that are not, in fact, humanitarian. And, moreover, that the actual record of interventions, including so-called humanitarian ones, demonstrates gross negligence with human life and a long series of unmitigated humanitarian catastrophes. This record alone belies any claims by the state to harbor humanitarian priorities. If there is not a single record of such an instance in the past, but a long record of duplicity and deception in this regard, then we should know what to do with the present claims of humanitarian militarism.

Here is Prince’s list of normative priorities in relation to negotiations going forward:

1. That the international community could and should call on all parties to initiate an immediate multi-sided cease-fire. Of course pressure from outside allies would be key. If it is that the Russians and Iranians would hold the Syrian’s to task, it would also be expected that the United States, the Saudis would hold their allies on the ground to the same standard.

2. The recruiting, training, arming of all foreign mercenaries should end.

3. Assuming that the cease-fire could be established, than a massive humanitarian aid program, directed by the United Nations, supported by a Security Council resolution should be implemented as soon as possible

4. The Geneva Peace Process has to be actively supported. Frankly, as we (Kazerooni and Prince) have stated on our radio program, in our op-eds for the past three years, in public forums, etc. there can be no military solution to the Syrian crisis. It can only be resolved politically and diplomatically.

5. The Geneva negotiations should center on talks between the Assad government and the legitimate Syrian opposition. By the latter is meant, those domestic opponents to the regime, whose grievances against the government are long-standing (and genuine) and whose roots in Syrian society are organic and undisputed. Such negotiations need to be pursued without preconditions beyond maintaining the ceasefire.

6. The Obama Administration has to be more engaged in the multi-lateral Geneva peace negotiations. While Washington made an important decision by not going to war last September, it seems to be essentially paralyzed in moving the negotiating process. Once again, it is time for Obama to once again show the political courage he showed the world in September by pressing the United States to negotiate seriously in Geneva and not let his domestic political opponents Syrian policy (neo-conservatives, AIPAC) once again gain the upper hand.

For further comments on the concept of interventionism and just war theory, see here and here. For the record on the 2011 “humanitarian” intervention in Libya, see the relevant category at right on this blog.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in humanitarian intervention and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s