Turkey hints at ‘evidence’ that Israel is destabilizing the Brotherhood, the U.S. fleet is planning a fishing trip to the Med, NSA agents are misusing company resources to spy on their ‘love interests’ and the WikiLeaks Party is about to oust its leader, Julian Assange, if he continues to hide in Ecuador’s London embassy instead of attending party meetings in Australia But I don’t want such trivialities to detract from this week’s continuing tragedy — the Syrian civil war.
What started in Tunisia towards the end of December 2010, quickly spread to other parts of North Africa and the Middle East. For the most part, the Arab Spring dealt swiftly with the ruling classes and managed to establish transitional governments with minimal casualties.
By the time it was Libya’s turn to bid farewell to Colonel Gaddafi, the world was already glued to their television screens in anticipation of a Western intervention. Shortly thereafter, the United States, France and Britain pounded the country with air strikes and 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles to force leader Moamar Gaddafi from power.
U.S. president, Barack Obama, said: “Make no mistake. Today we are part of a broad coalition. We are answering the calls of a threatened people.” Even our own Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, got in on the action by saying that the “Australian Government fully supports this military action against the Libyan regime because it’s necessary to do whatever is possible to protect the Libyan people.” But was the West altruistic in its military intervention in order to protect a “threatened people?”
Less than a month after the initial reports of unrest and barely 3,000 casualties into the conflict, neither the U.N. Security Council or NATO had any issues supporting military intervention in Libya.
Two and a half years on, it’s estimated that over 100,000 Syrians have died since the start of the civil war. Even the U.N. went on record by quoting 100,000 as a good starting point for the total number of casualties. But these are just numbers on paper, right? Numbers from somewhere in the Middle-East and far removed from our daily dose of tea, football and morning croissants. Life doesn’t stop, at least not for us.
In comparison, the total number of casualties during the Libyan conflict is estimated to be around 25,000 — a fraction of what has already been confirmed in Syria. Are the Syrian people threatened by any less an evil? Are they not calling for help? We intervened in Libya because we were answering the “calls of the people” and because it was morally the correct thing to do! Right?
In his first public comments since Wednesday’s alleged gas attack in Damascus, Obama called the incident a “big event of grave concern” and one that demanded U.S. attention, but said he was in no rush to get war-weary Americans “mired” in another Middle East conflict.
Hang on a second, did Obama just say he’s in “no rush to get war-weary Americans” involved in another war, or is he merely stating that the U.S. would rather not get sucked into a conflict involving a net oil importer? After all, Syria does have an oil industry, of sorts, which accounts for over 40% of its export earnings. Clearly though, it’s peanuts compared to Libya, which happily sits on the largest proven oil reserves in all of Africa.
So, Libya had Gaddafi and loads of oil. Iraq had Sadam, “WMDs”, al Qaeda and plenty of oil. Afghanistan had the Taliban, al Qaeda and Osama, as well as — wait for it — huge amounts of lithium, copper, gold, coal, iron ore and other rare earth mineral that would make any geologist pee their pants with excitement. Oh, and oil.
Just take a look at a recent United States Geological Survey (USGS) report on Afghanistan to comprehend the full scale of the mineral reserves in Helmand province. Experts say that Afghanistan’s resources could make it the richest mining region on earth. Do you believe the Soviets were in Afghanistan for so many years because they enjoyed playing a cat and mouse game with CIA-trained insurgents?
And so, it’s down to the superpowers to intervene or flex their muscles. While the United States is repositioning its naval forces in the Mediterranean as it considers a possible military response to recent developments in Syria, at least two other nations are joining in preparation for a naval offensive against the Middle Eastern nation.
Moving a few battle ships closer to the Syrian coastline is hardly a deterrent since Obama’s in no rush to get involved. As of May 2013, Russia has sent a dozen or more warships to patrol waters near its naval facility in the Syrian port town of Tartus. Many see this as an aggressive stance meant partly to warn the West and Israel not to intervene in Syria’s bloody civil war.
No, Syria doesn’t have significant mineral deposits and its oil reserves barely meet domestic demand, but they do have a roaring sheep, cheese and tomato sector. As delicious as it all sounds, these aren’t resources that most mineral-hungry and gas-guzzling nations can assimilate into their own revenue streams.
What I would like to know is when the international community will say “enough is enough” and step in on humanitarian grounds alone. Even the Bosnian conflict received a speedier intervention, in part due to its proximity to Europe. And while the West lamented, condemned and deplored the full extent of the Balkan genocide on its doorstep, one million Rwandans had perished before the U.N. issued a clear mandate to supply its peacekeepers with loaded weapons.
Is one million that magic number? Does it take one million deaths before the international community gets involved in a country with limited natural resources? I’ll let you do the math.
Is it the responsibility of the US to police the world? Some would say yes but I disagree here. Perhaps arab states should be more involved in resolving issues in their region. I know it is complex .
I completely agree with you. Policing the world is not the responsibility of only one nation, it’s the responsibility of the international community as a whole.
Syria has Russia’s port so USA is not is righting a no fly zone and bombing the crap out of rhem this is nothing then about controlling resources, why is every report unconfirmed and of Skype ?no actual reporting seems to ever go on here
Russia has been quite vocal about allowing UN inspectors enter to investigate the scene of the alleged gas attack, but my understanding is that they don’t want too many people in and around its base. They are supplying Assad’s troops, if not both sides, so it’s not in their interest to stop the conflict. But it’s not just Russia that’s stopping (or slowing) any significant intervention. Iran has also objected to any external intervention by the international community — a move which could potentially destabilize the region even further.
Another good article Shem.
Let me be so bold and add another tragedy to the already appalling legacy we are building these days. A central tenet of morality is to behave consistently and according to well examined principles. When people don’t do this, yet claim morality, we call it hypocrisy.
I think it is safe to say that the claim of moral high ground for both the US and the UN has become hollow, pretty much since the ignoring of Rwanda, the torture in Guantanamo bay, the arbitrary bombing for personal gain of Sudan and the hypocritical support and later invasion of Iraq (to name but a few). Once wonders what additional moral atrocities the US are willing to perform to secure the supply of resources for their ever dumber population.
War is dirty business and throughout history resources have always been the source of violent conflict. But something today is different: our failure to act responsibly is accompanied by the claim that morality is what we seek through war. Unlike the crusades, which applied the same rationality, we have the resources and (one would hope) moral wisdom to end wars today. We COULD police the world if we so wanted to. This misuse of moral claims while failing to act is not only hypocritical, it is also devastating to the hopes of the next generation who may simply come to believe that this is the only way the world can be. By systematically undermining the distinction between good and evil, with our spoiled day to day slogans of “you shall not judge (even when they do evil)” and moral relativism – we in the “west” have fertilized the ground for this type of lying at mass, murderous scales. It has taken us very long to get to this point in civilization and we got here through strong ethics. In our modern, non-judgemental western ways, we have now undermined the very rennaisance principles that allowed us to get here in the first place. Islam is long overdue a renaissance, but how can we have any hope of affecting that if we don’t provide a shining example of what it is worth aspiring to? The continuation of middle age principles, perpetuated by our failure to act, is sure to claim millions of lives (of children and women mostly) and spread unhappiness at an even greater scale that we won’t, even if we waged war on the nation who suffered them, be able to prevent.
Russia has a permanent seat on UN security council, and is essentially blocking UN resolution condemning violence, and authorizing and (only) legitimate action against the regime. Libyan intervention was not UN sanctioned, but rather US-led NATO one, and therefore is very questionable. Although UN resolutions are widely ignored and basically laughed at by the belingerent parties (Rwanda, Srebrenica, to name the two recent ones failures), they do give legitimacy to military intervention. The fact is that Israel and US (as well as Iran, both directly and via their Lebanese proxy Hezbollah) would like to see old-regime still in power, despite the regime being nothing more than a brutal autocracy. Just as they would like their old friend Mubarak still in power in Egypt. Post Libyan intervention power vacuum filled by various factions (note Bengazi embassy attack), post Mubarak ascendance of Muslim Brotherhood, are powerful warnings what happens when ancien regime is deposed, without clear alternative. And in Syria the alternative could be as bad as sharia-imposing Al-Qaeda-affiliated forces, which have been making great advances lately, before Assad was helped by Hezbollah (which is now widely accepted as a turning point in this civil war). But the point is not to fool ourselves. The world has, at least a theory, setup a world policemen that is supposed to be UN. The fact that it has been failing miserably since its post-WWII inception, and fails to do so, is another story. US does not give a damn about democracy in the world, and to be honest, their government does not have the mandate from their people to spread the democracy around the world. They do however have national interests, which have been focused around natural resources rather than geopolitics in last 20 years or so. The NATO intervention (essentially, non-discriminatory bombing – which they call “precision” bombing) against targets in Serbia has essentially finished the wars in ex-Yugoslavia in nineties. It could have happened earlier, has Russia not sidelined with their orthodox brethren. Even so, US did not do it from altruistic motives. They got themselves the largest and most expesive army base built in Europe after WWII in Kosovo.
My comment about altruism was a sarcastic one, maybe it wasn’t clear in the text. As you say, the US has national interests which it puts ahead of moral values or UN resolutions and largely does as it pleases across most geographies. The fact that the UN has been seen as toothless policeman is common knowledge. This very point is being tested at the border town of Goma between DRC and Rwanda as we speak — although this time some are questioning whether the UN is overplaying its show of force. Still, the UN would probably like to avoid another incident in that part of the world. Even if we take only into consideration the handful of conflict examples you mentioned, it’s clear that the majority persisted because there was a secret (sometimes not even that) backer or proxy that helped to fuel the conflict for longer than would otherwise be the case. National interest is a broad term that doesn’t really reveal the true motives other than a willingness to participate — in many cases these motives don’t become public knowledge until many decades later. It took the US 60 years to finally admit that it played an active role in the 1953 coup in Iran. The underlying motive: nothing more than continued access to oil for the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, what’s now BP. And so, a national interest can be anything at all. Whether for profit, access to resources, political clout, military supremacy, regional influence or like a spoiled little child, just because you feel like it.