Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Greenwald Was Right: "Humanitarian" War in Syria? It's Just More War

Glenn Greenwald has a way of being years ahead of the rest of us in providing the analysis we need as we try to get out from under the pronouncements of the U.S. government and explain to members of the general public what is really happening.

Take the situation in Syria and the latest pronouncements from the Obama administration about the "moral case" for U.S. attack on Syria. This gives rise to choruses of "we can't just stand by!"

Greenwald gave an outstanding talk in Chicago in May, 2012, in which he went through example after example in 20th century history and concluded (as closely as I can remember) with these words:
"The US -- no, everybody -- always says the reason for military intervention is 'humanitarian.' But since they always use the modifier 'humanitarian,' in fact the word 'humanitarian' here conveys no information. 'Humanitarian war' is not a subset of war; it is a synonym for war."
(Watch the talk yourself: The fraud of “humanitarian wars”: All wars, even the most unjustifiably aggressive, are wrapped in the same pretty rhetorical packaging .)

When it comes to buying what the U.S. is selling, buyer beware . . . .

(1) There is a humanitarian crisis in Syria

Zaatari refugee camp, on the Syria-Jordan border
There is a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions being caused by violent conflict in Syria. According to Lutheran World Relief, "More than 1.5 million refugees have fled the violence in Syria, which began in 2011, crossing the borders into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. In addition, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 2.5 million people are internally displaced."

The question we should be asking is, "How can we contribute to alleviating the suffering of the  people in the refugee camps on the borders of Syria?" and "How can we contribute to a reduction in the fighting?"

Is it simplistic to ask: isn't there a need for us to contribute money, food, and staff?  

(2) Less violence needed, not more
Logo of the Chicago-based
Ceasefire violence interruption project.

Given the nature of the crisis, the one thing that is not needed right now is more violence.

Experts on violence are coming to understand that the way to interrupt a pattern of violence lies in convincing people who are in conflict not to do the next violent act. It takes a lot of work, it is difficult and risky. But the most counter-productive thing is to try to use violent force to "compel" someone to stop using violence.

(Read more about the public health approach to ending violence. There is a growing movement toward using this approach in settings large as well as small.)

(3) An attack would help . . . how?

In light of the above points, there is no circumstance in which a resort to violent force by the United States is desirable (and certainly not anything that has been used as a pretext so far).

U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile
Moreover, the ease of American resort to overwhelming violence -- for example, the firing of cruise missiles from U.S. destroyers waiting in nearby Mediterranean waters, as was done under orders from Barack Obama against Libya and is now being threatened against Syria -- leads to a rush to judgement.

(Notably, as it did with the attack on Libya, the Obama administration seems determined to sidestep the U.S. Congress on this act of war, too.  Hence, the Speaker of the House's statement that, "before any action is taken there must be meaningful consultation with members of Congress, as well as clearly defined objectives and a broader strategy to achieve stability." Compared to Barack Obama, even John Boehner sounds like a statesman.)

(4) "Law? We don't need no stinkin' LAW!"

The UN is the proper forum for dealing with the developments in Syria -- not a separate "coalition."

I was shocked today to see the New York Times editorialize that the U.S. could "assemble an ad hoc international coalition to support military action that would provide legitimacy, if not strict legal justification, for intervening . . . ."

Obama and advisers follow reports of the clandestine U.S.
mission to assassinate Osama Bin Laden.
This is an exact echo of Obama administration line on "legality": "due process does not necessarily mean judicial process." (See Eric Through the Looking Glass )  In other words, the U.S. is a "law unto itself."

Ironically, the U.S. is facing, at this very minute, legal action under international law by several arms of the UN for U.S. extrajudicial executions using drones as well as other crimes.

If the U.S. was serious about justice, it would support the processes of the United Nations and other legally authorized bodies.

(5) Um ... is there something else going on here?

Any move by the U.S. (or anyone else) to move precipitously or to resort to force invites the question: what are their real motives? Why are they going about this the wrong way?

Let's face it: U.S. credibility is pretty low. Conflict in Iran? CIA. Conflict in Afghanistan? CIA. Drones strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia . . . . And on and on and on.

U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since WWII
The U.S. certainly has no qualifications to mix in an ethnically complex struggle like the one in Syria. Exhibit A is Iraq, which has an ethnically diverse society similar to that of Syria, and which has been splintered and caused untold suffering due to the years of U.S. war and destruction, particular by the way the U.S. shattered the civil society there. As I did at the beginning of this post, I will again refer to the work of Glenn Greenwald: Remember the Illegal Destruction of Iraq?

No critical observer can deny that the U.S. has an addiction to armed conflict, especially in the Middle East. Is Syria just the flavor of the week for U.S. permawar?

Related posts

To those of us who have worked hard to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, it is flabbergasting to see reports that U.S. officials see a "need" for someplace else to send troops and material: apparently, there's no such thing as demobilization, only re-deployment.

(See AFRICOM: The Heart of Darkness)

The biggest idea coming out of the 2013 Drone Summit? We will only deal successfully with the crimes being committed using drones when we understand them as part of the much larger war against communities of color . . . .

(See Drone Gaze, Drone Injury: The War on Communities of Color )

Perhaps the most troubling residue of the Syria crisis is that so much of our national discussion was centered on what our interests are, and whether we can force others to do what we want, and who our friends and who our enemies are. What's missing in all this is the question: what can we do to alleviate the suffering of the people of Syria?

(See Syria: Where Have We Ended Up?)