The French and Brits are collaborating with the Saudis and Qataris, part of the satirically labelled ‘Friends of a Democratic Syria’ coalition, to intervene and overthrow Assad. [It would be interesting to determine how many of these friends are actually democratic themselves.]
There should be few out there, at least few who posses a minimal education and knowledge of history, who sincerely believe that the governments of France, Britain and the US are particularly concerned about Syrian lives.
Yet, intervention plods forward: the Gulf States send weapons, Turkey permits the opposition to criss-cross its borders, and American special forces support on the ground.
These efforts are modelled on the Libyan intervention, a great success as far as the West is concerned. But I wonder whether we should investigate this success? For instance, how do we measure success?
• In terms of human lives? Prior to the intervention, the death toll in Libya was 1000-2000; by the end of it, ten times greater.
• In terms of the nation’s future? The infrastructure of the nation including roads, water treatment plants, broadcasting networks, housing developments and even hospitals was obliterated.
• In terms of social cohesion? Ethnic cleansing is rampant as Black Libyans and Black foreign workers are hunted down and slaughtered like animals (oh, by the victors).
• In terms of rights? Torture, arbitrary detention, and summary executions are carried out by what France, Britain, and Canada identify as the legitimate government of Libya.
What is success then? Qaddaffi is dead.
This is a peculiar yardstick.
And Iraq? Iraq was the jewel of the Middle East. Before the first invasion, it was the centre of education, medical care, sanitation, and industrial diversification. The UN sanctions decimated the welfarism that had been achieved. The sanctions also caused the deaths of over one million Iraqis, 500,000 of whom were children under the age of five, a ‘price’ then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described as being ‘worth it’.
The latest invasion completed the devastation, resulting in the fracturing of the country along sectarian lines. Success? Saddam Hussein is dead.
There is that yardstick again.
The longing to participate in the heroism of revolution is precipitating the calls for intervention. Yet, there is no evidence that bombing a nation aids its people (which seems an odd declaration to have to make – does anyone truly believe that dropping bombs on people helps?).
When all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. And Westerners abandoned creativity a long time ago privileging the hammer over all other means of ‘assistance’.
Malcolm X once said that violence was as American as apple pie and Martin Luther King described the US as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. They were on the money as American history confirms that her people’s addiction to violence begins at birth, though they could just as easily have added France, Britain, and Canada to the mix (F-35s seem curious tools in the peace-making business).
Western addiction to violence is doubly troubling for it is frequently directed against non-Westerners. No matter the context or the impact, Westerners consistently find justification for conquest of non-Western territory and resources. As Samuel Huntington reminds us: ‘The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.’
As declared in Kuala Lumpur before the latest invasion of Iraq, Third World governments ‘reject the so-called right of humanitarian intervention which has no basis in international law.’ The Third World knows all-too-well that humanitarian intervention only travels one way: ‘Nobody expects Bangladesh to interfere in the internal affairs of the United States. Nobody is going to bomb the United States to force it to modify its immigration or monetary policies because of the human consequences of such policies on other countries.’
Western addiction to violence is exacerbated by Western narcissism. Westerners take for granted that they are presumptively on the side of democracy and decency – ‘they hate us because of our freedoms’ – despite history frequently proving otherwise.
Overcoming addiction and narcissism will not be easy. Professor Jean Bricmont: ‘At the dawn of the 20th century, most of the world was under European control. This is no longer the case. Eventually, the West will lose control of the Arab world, as it lost in East Asia and is losing in Latin America. How the West will adapt to its decline is the crucial question of our time; answering it is unlikely to be either easy or pleasant.’
Like all addicts, the first step is admitting to the problem; the second is humbling oneself.
Probably healthier if we not hold our breaths.
by Mohsen al Attar