The bloody attack at Houla by the Syrian regime, or militias supporting it, is the latest in a long line of such atrocities. The deaths at Houla have become the latest opportunity for those who care little for the rights of the Syrian people, British foreign secretary William Hague and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to demand regime change in Damascus.
The Syrian uprising is now more than a year old and blood is still being shed on a daily basis. Over 10,000 have now lost their lives. The government of Bashar al Assad has been unable to crush the movement, but the movement has been unable to overthrow Assad. But however horrific the events in Syria are we should not allow our sympathy for the victims to carry us into support for Western intervention. Here is why.
We have been here before. The millions of lives lost in the Iraq war were justified as ‘humanitarian intervention’. In fact this is the major imperial ideology of the last 20 years used successively in the Balkans, the First Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
Many years after the massacre of the Kurds at Halabja had actually taken place it was being used as a justification for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Before that, the first Gulf War in 1991 was justified in part by a news report that asserted that Saddam Hussein’s forces were tearing babies out of hospital incubators in Kuwait. Understandable outrage at this act was channelled into support for war by the mainstream media and the government. But, as it turned out, the story was entirely invented.
We know that in Iraq the cost to Iraqis of Western intervention was out of all proportion greater even than the brutality of Saddam’s regime.
Again in Libya, the brutality of Gadaffi’s regime was used as a justification for intervention. Some 30,000 deaths later, more than in any other country swept by the Arab revolutions, there is still no elected government in Libya and the country stands of the verge of political breakdown.
We have also been here before in another sense: there have frequently been sections of the oppressed themselves who have turned to the imperial powers for aid. The Kosovo Liberation Army did in the Balkan War. The Iraqi Kurds and some other opponents of Saddam did so in the Iraq War. The Trans National Council ended up doing so in Libya.
And we have been here before in a third sense: in each conflict some on the western left have decided that the prospect before them is so horrifying that it justifies supporting imperialism, or supporting those forces on the ground who are calling for imperialist aid.
Fred Halliday, a noted left-wing critic of imperialism, supported the first Gulf War. A variety of leftists backed NATO in the Balkans to ‘save the Kosovans’. David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen, to name only two former Communist sympathisers, and Christopher Hitchens from the Trotskyist left, supported the Iraq War. There was never a return to the left after these departures.
A similar propaganda campaign is now being waged about Syria. The propaganda is at such a high pitch precisely because the actual situation is in stalemate. The US, Britain and their allies want to see regime change in Damascus. But China and Russia are opposed to intervention.
The Syrian opposition itself is now divided. Some are calling for the West to intervene. But others want to fight on without foreign intervention. This is a revolution in deadlock. How did this happen? [keep reading]