Syria and the drums of war….
It is pretty inevitable that there will be some kind of military intervention in Syria in the coming weeks. The media narrative is clearly in the ‘shock and awe’ stage of preparing us for action. Meanwhile, Iran is misbehaving to the point where I believe many policy makers in the Western world want to put on a clear ‘show of strength’. Helping the dissident Syrian forces remove Bashar al-Assad’s friendly regime would definitely qualify as one of them. Hillary Clinton has, in fact, told us already that action is being prepared – her injunction that al-Assad’s ‘days are numbered’ is clearly a coded announcement of imminent action.
Intervention in Syria however is unlikely to have the desired effect and put Iran back in its place. If anything, my feeling is that it will accelerate the Iranian regimes drive to go nuclear (if it hasn’t already). It is a dangerous game of poker we are playing using the Syrian people as pawns. However, you cannot blame those people in Syria for wanting help and intervention from the West. It is easy for us to sermonise from the safety of British shores while, somewhat conspicuously, not being under heavy artillery bombardment.
No doubt, once action is launched, the left will get caught in its traditional bind and series of heated flame wars that always occur when these interventions take place will spark to life. The left is in a tricky position, one that no matter which option it chooses, is essentially limited to making propaganda for its case either way. No International Brigades exist to actually send (something that incidentally shows the left is not against interventionism of its own) so what else can it really do accept demonstrate, chant, hand-out leaflets and look generally as socially impotent on this issue as it actually is?
Sadly, the left is also burdened with a view of the world that basically splits the globe into two camps, the ‘imperialist’ baddies and ‘anti-imperialist’ goodies. Life is more complicated than your average Batman movie and its infinitely possible to have two sets of baddies battling it out with no goodies in sight; imperialism has also become a catch-all insult on the left which is totally devoid of any rational content and also of a clear understanding of the complicated situational power relationships that shape the world in 2012.
Armies no longer march to colonise directly lesser powers and the forces opposing them are no longer principled people resisting national oppression. Bashar al-Assad and his forces will be fighting for the right to maintain his monopoly on barbarically oppressing the Syrian people, not to defend any kind of meaningful ‘freedom’. Similarly, the forces of the West will be attacking to open up a liberal democracy in the belief that this form of government is the best one to allow normative capitalist relations to take root and to maintain the charade that there is an international order that really is based on truth, justice, sugar and spice and all things that sound very nice.
One of the many problems of liberal interventionism is that is that it is framed within the context of Western real politik which levels the dictatorships we don’t like to the ground but fêtes the rest as treasured friends. However, there is alot of popular support for liberal interventionism among the general public that arises from a progressive impulse one that is almost an expression of solidarity as the left celebrates it; a belief that the strong should defend the weak and protect them from harm and we would do well to remember that.
While recognising the flaws of liberal interventionism it’s absolutely fair to say the left has no fully theorised and potentially hegemonic alternative. People who want to do something about Syria are expressing a genuinely progressive sentiment yet the left offers a counsel of despair; you can do nothing it says, and unsurprisingly, that is rejected out of hand by most people. The left has no over-arching understanding or theory which adequately explains and explores the structural power-relationships of the world we live in, so, its unsurprising that its solution is to merely mindlessly chant ‘Stop the War’ as if it was a purely pacifist force (certain strands of leftist thought are basically pacifist, but there is little evidence, for example, strands like Marxist socialism actually are). Until it can grapple with its own problems however, there is little chance the left will stop this or any other war. We need to go back to the drawing board and make a careful analysis of where we stand before we can ultimately determine what route we take to where we want to be.