This month’s editorial looks at the rising threat of war in Syria and Iran
March was quite a month for the champions of liberal imperialism. Not only does the raging civil war in Syria raise the prospect of Western intervention, but the social media-based ‘Kony 2012’ campaign saw such luminaries as Russell Brand and Rihanna promoting the cause of humanitarian intervention in Uganda. Meanwhile, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu complained that his country would not wait long in attacking Iran’s alleged nuclear facilities.
It was against this backdrop that David Cameron and Barack Obama reaffirmed the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the United States, a ritual of Prime Ministerial visits to Washington dating back more than thirty years. Many media noted their chummy relationship, including visiting a basketball game and playing table tennis.
This should be no surprise, of course, because both men embody the same ideology of international politics: certain powerful states have the responsibility to maintain ‘order’ around the world, providing a stable basis for capitalist development. The most effective way to do this is through the establishment of parliamentary-democratic governments, which are better able to absorb popular pressure and thus preside over a more stable extraction of resources than monolithic dictatorships like those in Assad’s Syria or Gaddafi’s Libya. It is stability for capital accumulation that is key: thus in Afghanistan the talk about defending women’s rights against the Taliban has been replaced by an attempt to absorb the Taliban into the occupation régime and thus neutralise their disruptive effect (see page 7) much as the Islamist militias in Iraq were incorporated into that country’s governing caste.
Even within this ‘interventionist’ framework, there are of course major debates in the bourgeois media and parties as to the advisability of taking military action. Thus it is not yet deemed the ‘right time’ to mount ‘surgical strikes’ against Iran; United Nations missions are trying to implement a ‘roadmap’ for Syria, while sanctions and other pressure is exerted on the régime; each dead soldier in Afghanistan raises questions over whether it is ‘worth’ staying.
The ideology of war
However, this is not a real debate, since it never challenges the ideology itself: that the West has the right (even the duty) to police the world and impose order through armed might. It is only a debate over the tactics and timing of such intervention: an example of what Noam Chomsky calls ‘The smart way to keep people passive and obedient: to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.’ So while Ed Miliband can say the war in Iraq was a ‘mistake’ and the Stop the War Coalition is at liberty to run its upcoming conference on the theme that war is too expensive (!) a Dewsbury teenager now stands trial for a Facebook post celebrating an attack that killed occupation troops in Afghanistan.
In this vein, recent years have seen a noticeable effort to stress the ‘apolitical’ character of the military, from the charity ‘Help for Heroes’ to the Military Wives Choir who secured the Christmas No. 1. The idea is that they are just doing their duty, so we should support them whatever we think of the war. But what are we supporting them in, if not their military operations? Clearly these initiatives serve to normalise military intervention and thus encourage support for wars. We also saw this in March when an American soldier mounted a killing spree slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians: officials were quick to stress he acted alone, as if his actions were entirely at odds with the ethos of the army who armed him, trained him and sent him to Afghanistan!
However, it must be said that this effort at normalising interventionism is working, particularly since the ‘no-fly-zone’ in Libya. This marked a major success for the US, UK and French states in reviving credibility in an idea of liberal imperialism so tarnished in Iraq. While few would mourn the collapse of the despotic Gaddafi régime, the ultimate consequence of the NATO action in that country is the current war threat hanging over Syria and Iran.
We do not think that wars are too expensive, or that they are ‘mistakes’. Nor do we in any wish to play down the crimes of the Iranian or Syrian régimes against their own people. But most importantly, we do not accept that the plight of those peoples should become a tool of Western foreign policy. If we are to avoid yet more ‘humanitarian’ Iraqs and Afghanistans, we must intransigently oppose intervention of any kind, anywhere.