Hypocrisy and Humanitarianism Should Be Mutually Exclusive

Barring a United Nations Security Council resolution, what gives world states the right to carry out regime change in other states? Granted, the UN has never passed a resolution directly ordering regime change, although one might be excused for thinking so after the toppling of a people’s participatory democracy in Libya.

The UNSC resolution regarding Libya was based on the alleged need to protect the civilian population from the government forces. UNSC resolution 1973 invoked the responsibility to protect and voted to establish a no-fly zone over Libya with “to take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya…”

Next in the Imperialist Crosshairs

After the collective might of NATO, its Arab League (a league of dictators) allies, and Libyan insurgents attacked and defeated the government of Libya, that the focus next turn to Syria was unsurprising. The intended United States remapping of the Middle East is hardly a secret.1

Yet corporate newspapers around the world naively report. In the Philippine press ran an article titled, “Foreign monitors fuel Syrian protests.”2 The Syrian government was described as using violence to quell the protests.

And how did the various governments in the United States disperse the 99% occupations if not by police force? Ask Scott Olsen, a peacefully protesting veteran of the US attack on Iraq, who suffered a fractured skull and brain swelling after being hit by a projectile allegedly courtesy of the Oakland police. Or try asking ex-marine Kayvan Sabehgi who suffered a ruptured spleen in an apparently unprovoked beating by an Oakland police. It seems violent put-downs of dissent occurs in Syria as well as the US.

On the next page of the Philippine newspaper was another article, “US finalizes deal to sell F-15s to Saudi Arabia,” thereby “boosting the military strength of a key US ally in the Middle East…”3 Is it not hypocritical for the US to back the removal of one dictatorship while militarily supporting another dictatorship?

The Syrian president, Bashar Assad, rules without electoral consent. Assad is undeniably, therefore, a dictator. Assad is now promising a new constitution which will go to a referendum before Syrians. If so, it is a step — slow in coming — toward more legitimate rule.

So is Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, so is Al Khalifa in Bahrain, and these regimes are committing human rights violations that arguably dwarf those allegedly committed by the Assad regime. The mere facts that there are other non-elected regimes in the world and that their human rights abuses might exceed those of Syria, does not mitigate the alleged human rights abuses of the Syrian regime. It does, however, glaringly reveal the flagrant hypocrisy of western regimes that criticize Syria’s regime while remaining mute on their own abuses and the self-same abuses of their allied states. It should seriously call into question western motives toward Syria, and it should also call into question the human rights fidelity of western states.

Does a dictatorship imply that a government is totalitarian or otherwise despotic? Can a dictatorship not be benign or even beneficial? Does being a so-called democracy through having won an election denote a government devoted to the common good? While empowering people with a right to choose their government is preferable, what is important is not any supposed legitimacy that electoral success (it is nugatory to talk about “democratic credentials” without clearly defining what democracy is) confers upon a party forming a government but rather how that government serves the masses.

There is a presumption that because the US, Canada, and other western nations have an election that these states are, consequently, democratic. However, is the mere holding of an election, no matter what the terms and conditions of the election, sufficient to define a state as a democracy? Does it matter that the capitalist parties are laden with money and smothered with media coverage while atypical capitalist or non-capitalist parties and candidates are short-changed on campaign funds and ignored or derided by the corporate media? Can this, therefore, be declared a democracy and have validity?

Requisite Conditions for Humanitarian Intervention

People are dying in Syria. Who is behind the killing is subject to disagreement. Do I trust the Syrian media? No. Do I trust the western states and their media?4 Would you after the spool of lies that led to the destruction of Iraq — a matter since shunted to the margins by the corporate media? Tellingly, almost all informed people know by now that there were no weapons-of-mass-destruction in Iraq when the US attacked on that pretext.

All moral-thinking humans would desire that other humans be protected from human rights abuses, killings, oppression, etc. Consequently, were it possible to intervene — morally — on behalf of other humans, then the inclination would be in favour of doing so. But how does one intervene morally?

1. There must be a clear-cut, demonstrable need for outside intervention to protect a citizenry.To be clear-cut, it must be demonstrated that insurgents are not backed or supported by outside agencies. In other words, an insurgency must be completely domestic. When belligerent outside agents are involved, this would rule out an outside intervention. Were this principle in effect, there would have been no outside attack on Libya, as the insurgents were clearly backed by NATO and probably CIA and other agencies.

2. Who determines this clear-cut, demonstrable need? Obviously, it must not be determined by a partial organization; therefore, the United Nations Security Council is ruled out as arbiter (unless all parties to a dispute agree to the UNSC fulfilling such a role).

Why is the UNSC a disreputable intervener or arbiter? The UN has too many examples of debacles, or in some cases, outright capitulation to imperialist powers. One need look no further than the UN debacles in Haiti, where MINUSTAH prevents a Haitian resistance to the coup sponsored by the US, Canada, and France5 or to the crimes committed by UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.6 There was the UN authorization of military force in the Korean War, the UN involvement in Iraq following the US aggression in 2003 (casting a pallor of legitimacy to the invasion), and also the devastation wrought on Libya — enabled by a UNSC resolution.

3. Enemy states must be precluded from participating directly or indirectly in a humanitarian intervention. Collaborators with an insurgency must be prevented from participating in any humanitarian intervention.

Who may intervene if a government is unable to rule or establish safe rule over a citizenry?7 If a government is unable to establish safety for its citizens, then it must be permitted to call upon outside intervention of its own choosing.

Where history reveals that certain states have wreaked colonialist or imperialist violence against other peoples, this would prima facie eliminate such a state as a disinterested player in events transpiring in a former victim. For example, based on their history of colonialism and imperialism, France, Britain, the US, and Israel have no moral authority, whatsoever, to pontificate about strife or lack of democracy in Syria.

The old aphorism, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” is prudent in cases of purportedly humanitarian intervention.

Some further questions to ascertain the true intentions of states posing to intervene on humanitarian grounds:

a) What is that state’s own behavior toward the state accused of human rights violations or blocking democracy?

b) What is that state’s own domestic history – especially current history — vis-a-vis human rights and democracy?

c) Apply the Israel test. How does the state respond to the Israeli occupation, dispossession, racism, and slow-motion genocide carried out against Palestinians?

How is it that recent events in other states, states that are opposed to Zionism, are immediately placed at the top of the queue for so-called humanitarian intervention when the Palestinians have been languishing for decades under Israeli occupation: routinely suffering discrimination, racism, massacres, and being denied democracy?8

Does Syria even approach within light years to the crimes of Israel?

4. States may not intervene in the affairs of another state without the imprimatur of the state’s own people. Therefore, dictatorships like Qatar, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia would not be permitted involvement in regime-changing actions such as was carried out in Libya. Since the regimes serve without genuine electoral consent, the support of the citizenry cannot be implied.

The paucity of democratic credentials would preclude Israeli involvement anywhere since a democracy is right of all people in a state.9

5. Social justice/humanitarianism demands that longer-standing and more pernicious violations be dealt with first. The decades-old Zionist occupations of Palestine, the Golan Heights in Syria, and Sheba’a Farms in Lebanon have long demanded just settlement.

6. An intervention must not be imposed militarily. As pointed out in the preamble to the UN Charter, war is a scourge bringing untold sorrow from which succeeding generations of humanity must be saved.

7. International law must apply equally to all states. States must adhere equally to stipulations of the UN, stipulations which must be applied equally. The preamble to the UN Charter affirms equality of states: “the equal rights of … nations large and small.”

The UN, in theory and practice, should be a world organization that respects the sovereignty of all member states equally.

Before it embarks upon extemporaneous exploits, it needs to rigorously develop this principle of sovereign equality. However, the mere fact that there are five permanent, veto-wielding members of the UNSC is proof positive that the UN is an institution wherein all members are not equal. In fact, the equality is such that the approximately 200-member UN General Assembly has less power than the the 15-member UNSC. This is clearly minority rule.

If one country is permitted (without censure or penalty) to flout ethically valid UNSC resolutions, then all member states – in accordance with sovereign equality of all states10 – must be accorded equal measure to react to UN resolutions without censure or penalty.

If the UN cannot abide by its own Charter and regulations in a principled and legal manner, then what moral or authoritative stature does it appeal to?

If there is a sovereign equality of states, how can Iran be sanctioned for development of its uranium enrichment technology11 (within the bounds of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it must be emphasized12 ) without the same sanctions being placed on DPRK, Israel, India, Pakistan – or for that matter US, China, USSR, UK, France since they are in longstanding contravention of the NPT.13 Does the NPT supersede every state’s inalienable right to self-defense? When faced with a nuclear weaponized enemy what defense is there? Either all states have the right to a nuclear deterrent or none do. Arguably and logically, if every state had a nuclear deterrent, then war would be a very losing prospect for all sides. War would truly be a tactic of the mad.

Dealing with Strife in Syria

What if it is the genuine mass demand of the citizenry to remove its government, the government having lost all legitimacy?14

How should progressives react to reports out of Syria? How should progressives react to governments labeled as dictatorships — after all, democracy is a principle embraced by progressives? Progressives should simply call for full democracy and call for it everywhere.

Progressives should call for non-interference by outside agents in the affairs of another state, especially military or other belligerent interference. This does not mitigate criticism of human rights violations by rogue regimes in rogue states.

Progressives should call for the case of Syria to be treated with equal concern, deliberation, and urgency with outstanding cases everywhere — for example, in Bahrain, Yemen, Haiti, US, Canada, Aotearoa, Australia.

It must also be clearly articulated why Syria suddenly became a more pressing case than, for example, the plight of the Palestinians who have suffered under Israeli occupation-oppression, who endure racism and discrimination on a 24-hour basis, and who have endured decades of expulsion as Nakba refugees.

Why can the Sunni ruling minority trample upon Shi’a rights in Bahrain without nary a finger lifted in the UN?

Why is Syria suddenly at the top of the regime-change list?

Over and over again Muammar Gaddafi was demonized as a dictator by the West and western media and stooges within the Arab League. I saw little compelling evidence for the slur of “dictator” being used against Gaddafi. Libya presented itself as a participatory democracy, relatively independent of western capitalist shackles, with the highest standard of living on the African continent. Even if Gaddafi were a dictator (of which I am skeptical15 ), there is nothing to prevent a dictator from being benign. What is preferable: a war-mongering Barack Obama (indirectly responsible for killing families in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and standing by while Israel commits crimes against humanity in Palestine) militarily siding with an insurgency or the Libyan government fighting the insurgency to preserve freedom from imperialist-Zionist control? If indeed Libyan forces were slaughtering civilians, then the civilians should be protected. The question remains how to protect and who should protect the civilians?

There are varying accounts that emerged from Libya and now Syria. Who to believe? Is it really a difficult question? Does the US and its corporate media have a milligram of credibility? Did the US have any moral right to topple the elected government of Mossadegh in Iran and install the dictatorship of the Shah? Did the US have any moral right to split Korea and attack the North? Did the US have any moral right to attack Viet Nam to split the country and install its puppet in the South? Did the US have any moral right to depose the elected government in Haiti and send the president Jean Bertrand Aristide into exile?16 One could carry on ad nauseam back to the formation of the US on the lands of its Original Peoples. So where do the pronouncements of the US derive credibility given the historical train of its propaganda and disinformation and the stenography of its fourth estate?

The raison d’être of the UN is purportedly to protect the world from the scourge of war. How does the US play into that noble UN goal? William Blum describes the US as anything but a peace-monger in his Rogue State.17 How can anyone support peaceful intentions on the part of the US? Even Colin Powell has said the US doesn’t do peace treaties. “We won’t do nonaggression pacts or treaties, things of that nature.”18

What is not called for is for progressives to do nothing (although doing nothing is sometimes the best strategy), but rather act according to principles and end-goals of progressivism. Burying the globe deeper in hyperempire is not laying a foundation for social justice in the world.

By all means progressives should support protection of peoples everywhere, but they should not get duped by the rhetoric of hyperempire. Progressives should also eschew a false dichotomy being imposed on them. Humanitarian intervention does not necessitate it be carried out by imperialists. Where cases are presented as an urgent call for humanitarian intervention, progressives must not feel pressured to choose between two wrongs. Reject all wrongs and accept what is right and just. In the case of Syria, reject Bashar’s unchallenged grip on political power19 (and apply this principle everywhere equally), but also reject – even more fervently – imperialists seeking to impose their own puppet in Syria.

Tune out the false declamations of the corporate media. The recent lessons of Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan still reverberate loudly in the independent media.

  1. Ex-US intelligence officer Ralph Peters has written of a scheme for redrawing of the borders of the Middle East and farther afield. See Kim Petersen, “A Bloody Border Project: Zionist-Imperialist Dogma from the Armed Forces Journal,” Dissident Voice, 5 June 2007. []
  2. AP, “Foreign monitors fuel Syrian protests,” Philippine Star, 31 December 2010, A17. []
  3. AP, “US finalizes deal to sell F-15s to Saudi Arabia,” Philippine Star, 31 December 2010, A-18. []
  4. In his speech in Damascus on 10 January 2012, Assad charged a widespread media attempt to push Syria into “state of self-collapse…” Assad also charged that western media has doctored an interview with him, but that he had an original copy to refute it. Shades of the disproven (See Juan Cole, “Hitchens the Hacker; And, Hitchens the Orientalist And, “We don’t Want Your Stinking War!Informed Comment, 3 May 2006) but still serially repeated media disinformation campaign against Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. []
  5. Yves Engler, “UN: Putting a Value on Haitian Life,”Dissident Voice, 13 September 2011. Seth Donnelly, “UN ‘Peacekeeping’ Soldiers Launch Brutal Attack on Haitian Street Vendors,” Dissident Voice, 26 April 2008. []
  6. Stephen Lendman, “UN Peacekeepers Complicit in Sex Trade,” Dissident Voice, 23 October 2010. []
  7. As an anarchist, I do not accept that one group of citizens be granted rule over the masses of society. The masses must be included in the decision-making of society. []
  8. See Amira Hass, “Palestinians are heroes, braving Israeli dictatorship,” Haaretz, December 2012. “The head is the head of the demos, the Israeli-Jewish people, who by the democratic process send governments to be the dictator over the Palestinians…

    The Israeli dictatorship is the art of the double standard (Palestinians cannot build on their agricultural land so as not to impair rural zoning, but the state can legalize a Jewish outpost on Palestinian agricultural land). It is the champion of self-righteousness and arrogance (‘the only democracy’), and holds an advanced degree in hypocrisy (‘ready to return to negotiations any time’ ).” []

  9. See Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, “The necessary elimination of Israeli democracy,” Haaretz, 25 November 2011. []
  10. Article 2 states: “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.” []
  11. See United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747. []
  12. The NPT clearly states in Article IV (1): “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.” []
  13. Article VI states: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” []
  14. This begs the question of which governments do have legitimacy and by what grounds such governments claim such legitimacy. I submit that the governments in the US, Canada, and other western countries can lay claim to legitimacy under the present conditions of so-called democracy. []
  15. “How can you call someone a dictator leader who overthrew a corrupt monarchy, modernized the country, won the highest HDI in Africa, and applied a direct democracy system of government?” … “Gaddafi is not president or prime minister of Libya, but the media wants him to resign a post which does not exist.” See Antonio Cesar Oliveira, “Who is Muammar Gaddafi?Dissident Voice, 3 March 2011. []
  16. For a history of pretexts see Kim Petersen, “Grasping at Straws: Searching for a War Pretext,” Dissident Voice, 4 March 2003. []
  17. William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2000). []
  18. Quoted in Steven R. Weisman, “U.S. Weighs Reward if North Korea Scraps Nuclear Arms,” New York Times, 13 August 2003. []
  19. I state this admittedly simplistically because Syria is under continuous threat from Israel and imperialists, and this necessitates maintaining a government free from enemy influence. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.