Sunday, January 15, 2012

Another humanitarian intervention.

I mentioned the divisions in Syria's opposition a while ago, principally over the question of imperialist intervention and armed insurgency.  These divisions have recently frustrated unity talks between the different opposition factions.  The fact that Syria has an organised left, and a strong anti-imperialist pole in its opposition, makes intervention for the US (and EU) a much more difficult proposition than the light blitz of Libya.  It turns out that this may not be sufficient to prevent an intervention, however.  A recent Salon article describes how a coalition of lib imps and neocons is organising around the possibility of a quick, flighty regime-change in Syria - not just in the US, but in Europe.  

As has become the pattern in the Obama executive, the main vector for this kind of 'humanitarian intervention' in the administration is Clinton's State Department.  It was by persuading Clinton of the virtues of intervention in Libya that the lib imps - people like Samantha Power, Susan Rice and Anne-Marie Slaughter - won the case for war against its Realist opponents.  Beyond the US, France is once again leading the drive for war within the EU.  This may represent (the culmination of) a shift from the old Gaullist policy of independence from Washington, but it has a certain logic.  France is the original home of the doctrine of droit de l'ingerence, a concept it put to use in interventions in Chad, the Ivory Coast, Yugoslavia and elsewhere.  More generally, France's political dominance within an EU that has no centralised military authority would tend to give it a leading role where European interests in the Middle East are concerned.  The more intriguing factor here is Turkey.  Ankara's elites aren't too fond of the idea of releasing their grip on Cyprus to please the EU, and have in recent years slowed down a spate of reforms intended to ease membership of the Union.  Nonetheless, their hostility to the Syrian regime is plain enough in their decision to allow exiles and the 'Free Syria Army' to operate from within Turkey.  Could it be that the Turkish regime will this time allow itself to be used as a launch pad for an imperialist intervention?

That, of course, would still leave the question of how the Syrian terrain can be negotiated by any imperial coalition of the willing.  This is critical both for the warmongers and for the antiwar-mongers.  Those waging the intervention will need to be assured of having some sort of social base for a post-Assad regime once they've created it.  As for the antiwar-mongers.  Well, I don't wish to be rude, but I can already imagine the divisions and recriminations - some defending Assad, others plugging humanitarian intervention, the balkanization of opinion among anti-imperialists, the hair-splitting.  All that, unless there was actually a powerful Syrian revolt against intervention.  The pro-imperialist position within the Syrian opposition is occupied by the Syrian National Council (SNC), comprising liberals and conservative Islamists, mostly led by emigres with little basis in the domestic grassroots.  The SNC is calling for the establishment of "safe zones"  Predictably, but not accurately, pro-war politicians and diplomats deem the SNC a more representative organisation than its rivals.  The National Committee for Democratic Change, as well as the local coordination bodies, have warned against seeking intervention.  Despite vicious repression, they have also resisted moves toward an armed insurgency, perhaps fearing a repeat of the Libyan situation where early gains were quickly reversed by a far better organised state.  

Perhaps the greatest problem for any intervention is the resilence of the opposition, despite the killing which the opposition estimates has claimed 5,000 people.  The regime doesn't look as if it is about to collapse, but at the same time the opposition continues to draw enormous crowds and inflict damaging strikes.  Libya was a veritable cakewalk for NATO because the opposition was being defeated rapidly, its emancipatory impulse was being snuffed out, and a leadership comprising dissident bourgeois factions had filled the vacuum left by the masses when the latter began to retreat under Qadhafi's assault. Syria's opposition has not experienced anything like this yet, and is thus no easy meat for co-optation.