Those self-denominated ‘anti-imperialists’ – George Galloway, Stop the War and the like – have proven that they are completely shaped by orientalism in their thought, by letting their reaction get framed completely by the precepts set out by that of which they’re reacting against.. The only problem therefore is that they do not understand that the status quo IS Western Intervention (and to rectify it you must fight against it), so their understanding of ‘non-intervention’ is a fallacy… the idea that only ‘active’ and not ‘passive’ processes are the ones that qualify as ‘intervention’ is a fallacy. If the West saw an uprising occur and did not intervene any more than ‘established’ forms of involvement (for e.g. selling a regime arms), that is not ‘non-intervention’ that is passive action to maintain an intervention-based structure. ‘Passive intervention’, so to speak..
The genie is well and truly out of the bottle now. In an interview with the New York Times, President Obama has stated that the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy”:
“As such, the principal defenders of areas of Aleppo still under opposition control today are a wide array of moderate FSA factions, some of whom still receive limited military support from the West, and members of the fading Islamic Front, most of whom are from the Aleppo area. These groups have borne the brunt of fighting ISIS while also facing a sustained Syrian military assault. Both of these offensives have combined to leave Aleppo critically vulnerable.”
Way to go for those who betrayed in word and deed, and scabbed in solidarity those who for once actually took action to change the reality of the world they live in (which the former complain about all the time and spend their hours pontificating on how to change according to ideological manuscripts). Those who would like to think of themselves as anti-orientalist (I refer here to the self-denominated ‘anti-imperialists’ – George Galloway, Stop the War and the like) have proven that they are completely shaped by orientalism in their thought, by letting their reaction get framed completely by the precepts of what they’re reacting against, for e.g. those who bragged about being able to ‘stop the war on Syria’ have got their heads so far up their (still) orientalist asses that they think it was all about them and getting their country involved, instead of studying what was actually going on there (even if it required a translator to read first-hand reports and accounts), whether their countries actually wanted to intervene or whether there was much more to it (did you see Obama engage in endless debate and hearings on whether to intervene today in Iraq?). But of course not, since for many of these it comes down to identity politics, ‘we’ with all our history and baggage should not be going in there to fix a problem, ‘we’ are the epitome of evil, ‘we’ cannot do any good.
Yet what if I hypothetically posit that active intervention (more on why its in italics in a bit) in this particular case would do good, would save lives that would not be saved otherwise, would actually be better for the people in the region? ‘I’m sorry, its a terrible situation but I just can’t support a ‘return’ to Western adventures [even if they will save thousands of lives]’, those lives will have to be unfortunately expendable because it would save future suffering (without putting it so bluntly). For some undoubtedly meanwhile, it is ‘I’ am so radical I can never support Western intervention (regardless of whether an active intervention can actually be the better option for the people I’m purporting to support). Incidentally, according to one poll (which barely showed the Syrian opposition in a bask of glory), the majority of Syrian people support foreign intervention to break the horrible cycle they are currently trapped in. But what would they know, they’re only ‘reactively’ thinking like that aren’t they?
(I should note, my entire critique here does not necessarily mean that I am ‘pro-intervention‘, but it seeks to dispute the tenets that are often associated with the opposite position and which are simplistic, and I argue, often perversely orientalist. My positions regarding such questions on intervention I prefer to take from what those revolutionaries are asking for and saying from the ground.)
Incidentally, I have always held that the West did not want to intervene in Syria even after the chemical attacks, because although it appeared to have certain advantages as a whole there was a high risk it was not in its logical interests, and until now I’ve been right. Nor should I be expecting them to or be overly disappointed of them not doing so. Rather what irks me is how those here did not understand the political game at all and did not seek to scratch beneath the surface. What irks me is the attitude of simplification, lack of engagement and arrogance, amounting very much to subtle, un-conscious orientalism in operation, on the side of those ‘supporting us’. ‘Oh you don’t want us getting involved, we know better than you’. The arrogance, do you think we on the other end of Western imperial might know ‘less’ than you of what that might can entail? Do you think Islamists fighting Assad (and now ISIS) and asking for Western arms are ‘enamoured’ about seeking Western support? Do you not understand that we are trying to resist those very structures put in place by colonialists? Do you think its a coincidence that people in Kosovo used to name their children after Clinton and Blair, warmongers as they were? Do you think its a coincidence that you have Yazidis today raising placards saying ‘Thank you USA’? Of course those Western imperialists were war mongers who acted in their interests, but in certain specific contexts their interests for a variety of factors happened to be the lesser evil at that moment in time and coincided to some degree with the people’s ones; when in a certain situation there are worse warmongers, a warmonger whose military rapes as a matter of routine, tortures and destroys entire cities. Instead you think of it as a zero-sum game.
Even the idea that a tyrannical Syrian power-seeker cannot be as bad as a tyrannical Western power-seeker is both a) mistaken and b) also again in a sense orientalist; a) mistaken because contrary to the idea that because he is not ‘white’ he cannot reach anything as bad as ‘us’, not least the fact that his actions can and have, he is also the vestige of a colonial and post-colonial legacy; b) orientalist because it offers the assumption that, in the hypothetical of his removal with the people now facing obstacles the West will put in front of them to prevent proper democracy (which I believe would be the case), at this point we do not have any autonomy to fight such further challenges and will undoubtedly be defeated by the West’s machinations. Yet indeed the fact that this is NOT a foregone conclusion and is very much a risk variable is *precisely* the reason the West has not from the start intervened in Syria or decisively backed the homegrown rebels, because it recognises the risk that supporting the revolution, even if putting obstacles after, might make the revolution succeed! The West is powerful, but it is not all-powerful. This is why today it prefers the survival of the Assad regime and a detente between them, so that they are able to focus together on ISIS.
So Re the commonly cited example, that the West had previously supported the Mujahedin in Afghanistan against the Soviets, since there was a large strategic advantage in doing so, but the Taliban were able to take over later ostensibly against their will (although incidentally I believe that have they the option to do so again, they would without a shadow of a doubt, but that’s a different matter). Rather what I find to be a remarkably more similar parallel to my mind in terms of the nature of the conflict (if with different colours) to Syria today is undoubtedly the 1930s civil war in Spain. During that time the West too appeared to dislike the the fascists, as they formed a tangible threat to the West with the rise of Hitler, etc. Yet the Western imperialists were not too enamoured by the Republican, Leftist and anarchists on the other side either. They left them abandoned and often tacitly supported the fascists, not least by stopping resources going through to them, firstly through an arms embargo and then extending to eventually encompass a volunteers ban. Meanwhile, in Syria of course too, after a period of relative ‘flexibility’ to try and back the rhetoric with some form of ‘action’, there has been a ban on volunteers going to Syria to fight, while there have been also blockades attempting to the flow of weapons to the Syrian opposition.
Of course there are differences, a) that the opposition in this case has a very heavy religious component, rather than a socialist/leftist one (something which has abandoned it much support, ‘selective internationalism’), b) that the threat of communism taking hold in Western Europe was by far a much greater danger than that of Islamists doing so in the Near-East, meaning that British antipathy and tacit complicity against the Republican cause might have exceeded that of the Rebel cause in Syria, yet also c) that the threat of strengthening the Spanish fascists, and by extension their Italian and German backers far outweighed that of strengthening Assad (and his Iranian and Russian backers). Indeed, transversing through decades and generations, Neo-Nazi and fascist support for the Assad regime is an ignored phenomena, with many fascists even having gone to fight for him (not that that gets any coverage – its only the bearded ones). Indeed this is one of those ‘rare’ occasions which has brought the idiotic self-denominated-anti-imperialist ‘left’ (supposedly) and right together, and shows the overlap of their views with regards to the Syrian conflict.
The difference between ‘Non-Intervention’ and ‘Passive intervention’
How often do you hear this quote: ‘No good can come out of Western intervention, unfortunately they have to fight the battles no matter how costly themselves’. The foolishness! We are already fighting Western intervention in terms of the existent structures left to us by the West! Indeed even if we were to treat the merits of this statement hypothetically, you speak as if not intervening now would somehow establish a pattern of not intervening in the future (in the West’s interests) and the people’s battle for self-determination can eventually be fought unimpeded – yet what silly guarantee can you even offer that your governments will not intervene again in the future?? That we will be left to our own ‘self-determination’? That you have such control over your government’s policies! Illusions, much as we would like them not to be! And yet you formulate yourselves and your positions regarding actual current, real life struggles for emancipation happening now according to these illusions and hopes for a reality that doesn’t exist! And this is what you do not understand, that we live in a world of reality and not what *should* be the case, and we cannot act according to a reality which we might all want but does not exist! In our ideal ‘should-be’ world we would not have had colonialism occur in the first place! Yet to pretend it hadn’t, or that we aren’t fighting its remains today, is that being ‘progressive’? The battle to liberate ourselves was NOW and you failed to support us!
Instead of truly caring about the ends and not the means, the ends of helping people to liberate themselves and fight oppression, you would have been pushing your governments which at least have some form of representation to *help* those trying to liberate themselves (even if that involves making it attractive for them to intervene, if you were truly selfless yes!) as you inevitably push your governments to do other things (*not* intervene in military conflicts, pressing for various types of social reforms, etc.). Instead you leave them to their fates. After all, anti-establishment tactics do not consist of a 24/7 demand for the ‘collapse of the state’, a unilateral boycott/refusal to engage with it, and indeed inevitably always encompass engagement of some sort with the state, whether that’s consciously admitted or not. A campaign which tries to change government policy regarding say the introduction of a higher minimum wage, or to stop the privatisation of a certain facility does not do so raising slogans demanding the collapse of the state, but by putting pressure on it through different means. Even if those individuals engaged in such campaigns would like to see the ‘collapse of the state’, this does not mean that that is their policy and mechanism for every campaign when conditions for that goal are not ripe, for if that were the case very little progress could arguably be made while we wait for the ‘revolution’ (and while one could argue that such processes are in themselves part of the revolutionary process, one could equally argue that they are part of a reformist one which inevitably keep and legitimise the current system of government).
The only problem therefore is that you do not understand that the status quo IS Western Intervention (and to rectify it you must fight against it), so your understanding of ‘non-intervention’ is a fallacy. The idea that only ‘active’ and not ‘passive’ processes are the ones that count as ‘intervention’ is a fallacy you do not seem to comprehend. If the West saw an uprising occur and did not intervene any more than established involvement (for e..g selling a regime arms) that is not ‘non-intervention’ that is passive action to maintain an intervention-based structure. ‘Passive intervention’, so to speak.
This is why the West generally intervenes where it can make it worse, not better. Even after a vote in the House of Commons do you think the UK could not covertly help the opposition if they wanted to, regardless of what their ‘people’ think? Do you think that history does not exist?
But when the people rise up and it happened to be that that government they rose up against cannot be defended even by your governments than if you want to help you must push them to act! Organisations like Stop the War’s accomplishment was not to stop the war and massacre in Iraq but to stop any support for the Syrian revolution, and today we see what the result is with two forms of fascists taking back control (ISIS and Assad). Its amazing how the ‘resistance’ (to imperialism, neo-liberalism, the whole global order in general) in the Middle East knew what the problems were and took actions to fight it (even if against massive odds), despite their supposed ‘backwardness’ and ‘lack of advanced knowledge’ they knew the way to resistance and acted on it with little support, while the more developed, knowledgeable and ‘experienced’ elites of the advanced countries here knew nothing. What hope is there when even the fucking people on ‘our side’ have got it so wrong? We don’t want your solidarity. You’re just as blind (and think it ‘ideologically astute’) as your governments.
For in its depths it comes down to identity politics (with varying degrees on ‘how deep’), identity politics that ‘you cannot ever support the West intervening’ even if it were to be in the hypothetical in the interest of the people living there, naturally rationalised by different means.