All that was false in the idea and practice of humanitarian interventions exploded in a condensed form apropos Syria. OK, there is a bad dictator who is (allegedly) using poisonous gas against the population of his own state – but who is opposing his regime? It seems that whatever remained of the democratic-secular resistance is now more or less drowned in the mess of fundamentalist Islamist groups supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, with a strong presence of al-Qaida in the shadows.
As to Bashar al-Assad, his Syria at least pretended to be a secular state, so no wonder Christian and other minorities now tend to take his side against the Sunni rebels. In short, we are dealing with an obscure conflict, vaguely resembling the Libyan revolt against Colonel Gaddafi – there are no clear political stakes, no signs of a broad emancipatory-democratic coalition, just a complex network of religious and ethnic alliances overdetermined by the influence of superpowers (US and western Europe on the one side, Russia and China on the other). In such conditions, any direct military intervention means political madness with incalculable risks – say, what if radical Islamists take over after Assad’s fall? So will the US repeat their Afghanistan mistake of arming the future al-Qaida and Taliban cadres?
In such a messy situation, military intervention can only be justified by a short-term self-destructive opportunism. The moral outrage evoked to provide a rational cover for the compulsion-to-intervene (“We cannot allow the use of poisonous gas on civil population!”) is fake. Faced with a weird ethics that justifies taking the side of one fundamentalist-criminal group against another, one cannot but sympathise with Ron Paul’s reaction to John McCain’s advocacy of strong intervention: “With politicians like these, who needs terrorists?”
[Extract. Appeared in The Guardian on September 6th 2013.]