Syria and the impulse to intervene….
Events in Syria seem to be rapidly spiralling out of control and the conditions for civilians seem to be dramatically worsening. The massacre in Houla was an act of barbarism; there are no two-ways about this and this is something we need to recognise. Furthermore, we need to recognise that witnessing this on a TV screen will lead many decent people to clamour for intervention. This is not because they are ‘stooges’ or ‘dupes’ of ‘imperialism’ as many on the left would have you believe but because they are decent human beings who see such atrocities and feel the strong, progressive, impulse to want to do something about what is happening.
In the age of 24 hour news media furthermore we have to recognise that people’s exposure to these events is much increased thus the feeling of empathy and compassion for the victims will be much enhanced. This is a good, progressive thing, have we not always preached solidarity, for human beings to stand shoulder to shoulder against repressive regimes and poverty, injustice, etc? However, there is no doubt that this impulse becomes twisted and is exploited by vested interests.
This is the tight-rope we walk, caught between the twin vices of between doing nothing, merely making propaganda on the one side and between having our own politics twisted and disfigured to the point where it becomes barely recognisable anymore on the other. Global politics and world geo-politics is one of those areas where the terms of reference even that the left thinks in are terribly outdated. It is simplistic and anachronistic to see the world as simply being split into two ‘camps’ of ‘imperialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’. If it ever was totally relevant it was only so at the time it was first posited in this way and that was a long time ago.
Instead of simple ‘goody v baddy’ camps, the world is actually composed of a serious of complicated situational and always-shifting power relations. This is especially true in the post-crash world where Western ‘imperalist’ powers have actually lost alot of the economic dominance that their political hegemony was based upon. The slow, grinding decline of this hegemony and the consequent emergence of new power centres (like in China, India and Brazil, for example) is actually a defining feature of this epoch in international relations.
I would suggest that this new world requires new thinking and new approaches. Rather than defaulting to support smaller tyrannies (like the one that exists in Syria) or supporting the hypocrisy of the leading powers in the world, the left needs to develop a critique of both and start forumlating demands for a new world order, one that harnesses the progressive impulses that I have already mentioned. The decision on whether to support intervention or not should be based on a cold, hard-headed, risk v reward assesment, not an outmoded ideological view of the world. In the case of Syria I think, sadly, that assesment would find against supporting intervention (mostly due to the possible wider consequence of drawing Iran and Israel into direct military confrontation) however, something must be done. We need to strengthen international mechanisms of accountability and the teeth of international law to make the likes of Bashar al-Assad think again before they terrorise and butcher their own people and we, in Labour, need to be leading and forming this debates, standing as we do steepted in a fine tradition of internationalism.