Syria: The Case for Western Intervention Considered

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Won’t Get Fooled Again. Pete Townsend.

Pham Binh, a critical thoughtful activist that I’ve respected for a few years for his involvement in Occupy Wall Street and his challenges to ossified Marxist thought, has come out with an uncompromising defense of Western intervention against the Syrian government. The reports of massacres coming from that nation are indeed horrific and would make anyone with a conscience demand immediate action. This is certainly true of a pacifist radical such as myself. While I do not condone Western intervention, I also do not condone any atrocities by any government.

Binh states his view most sharply with rhetorical questions: “If Syrian revolutionaries ask for Western airstrikes because they lack an air force to counter the Assad regime militarily, who are we to oppose those airstrikes? Who are we to tell them that all-out defeat is better than the triumph of a revolution “tainted” by an unavoidable compromise with imperialists powers? Who are we to tell them they must face Russian helicopter gunships without imperialist aid because “the revolution will be won by Syrians themselves or it won’t be won at all”? Do we really want our Syrian brothers and sisters to confront tanks with rocks and slingshots as so many Palestinians have?”

While I will criticize Binh’s views here, I wish to underline first of all that I entirely reject the current Syrian government’s actions. However, I cannot accept support of “Syrian revolutionaries” or Western intervention. Radicals, pacifist or not, are committed to ending dictatorial regimes worldwide, including putatively democratic ones. Binh links to an article on the rising calls among Syrian activists for intervention. I was shocked to read one of the posters in a photo on the page that states in English, for the benefit of the Westerners no doubt.


Once again it seems we don’t learn from the past and so are condemned to repeat it. Iraq and Afghanistan have certainly done much better since U.S. intervention, have they not? To answer my own rhetorical question directly, NO!

Now, Binh tries to make the case that Libya is much better off today after NATO’s intervention. He accuses those who now reject the “Syrian revolutionaries” as betraying the entire “Arab Spring” uprisings. Let’s take that apart a little bit. In Egypt, we just witnessed the election of an outright Islamist president. Granted, Mosri is one of the more moderate voices within the Muslim Brotherhood, and I certainly believe moderate and progressive Muslims do exist. However, the MB is to the right of the Republican Party by any objective criteria, never mind its anti-imperialism.

What about Libya? I wrote a blog post quite critical of NATO intervention there at the time it began, though I knew it was a futile complaint. I hoped more democratic and progressive forces could do better in Libya with Qaddafi gone, but the bald truth is that the world situation is not favorable to a genuinely revolutionary transition. This is even more true in Syria. Opposition to Qaddafi was massive and widespread spanning all classes and regions. In Syria, the wealthy ruling class and its middle class allies are more deeply entrenched than nearly any other regime in the region except perhaps Saudi Arabia. As in Egypt, a regime change will doubtless be co-opted by regressive social forces. Would it be more democratic than al-Assad? There seems to me to be scant reason for optimism on that score.

Those who argue for Western intervention in nations like Syria and Libya seem to think that somehow these nations can be lifted into some semblance of modernization by overthrowing the regimes that oppress them with Western complicity. While I don’t believe that today’s Syrian or yesterday’s Libyan regimes were purely the puppets of Washington DC, winning democratic freedom is simply not possible in the world constructed by American global hegemony. Democracy is under direct attack in the US as the ruling class prepares to buy yet again the best government money can this November. The racist, capitalist, authoritarian ruling class that holds the entire planet hostage are not going to give up a shred of their power without massive popular resistance. A few isolated “revolutionaries” smuggling weapons into their countries and forming guerrilla armies do not have any chance of changing this situation.

Even as I write the above words, my eyes well up with grief. If I had any hope that NATO bombing the Syrian government would free the people in any real way, I’d support it. I can’t shake the terrible feeling that this planet is headed straight into World War Three, but this time it will be the top against the bottom, as the ruling classes unite to crush even the minimal freedoms that we Westerners now enjoy.

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