I really wish that I could take it on faith that the U.S. government was sincere when it complained about human rights abuses in other countries. The USA launched a war against Iraq, allegedly over weapons of mass destruction and the horrendous human rights record of the Saddam Hussein regime (even though there were no weapons of mass destruction and the USA had known about, and in some cases supported Hussein’s repression of his population). More recently, the U.S.A. intervened in a civil war in Libya, supposedly because of the human rights by the Qaddafi regime, even though the NATO countries had known about–and accepted–for years repression in Libya. And now, there is growing pressure and rhetoric concerning the alleged need for the U.S.A. to intervene in Syria.
I have a few questions.
What about Bahrain? You remember Bahrain? That small country on the Persian/Arabian Gulf that got swept up in the Arab democratic uprising, only to have its population viciously repressed by the government of Bahrain and its US-back Saudi Arabian allies. There was, in fact, a pro-democracy movement unfolding against a tyranny and the U.S. barely mouthed a word of concern. It certainly took no steps to intervene.
What about Gaza? You remember Gaza? The largest ‘open-air prison’ on this planet that was, in effect, surrounded by the Israelis and blockaded from receiving outside support. Very little concern has been expressed by the administration regarding the blatant human rights abuses suffered by the Palestinian residents of Gaza at the hands of the Israelis.
Yet, now we hear about Syria. Don’t get me wrong. The Assad regime that rules Syria is a repressive tyranny and my hope is that a democratic movement will replace it. But why the selective concern on the part of the U.S.A.?
Civil wars are very dangerous affairs and interventions are extremely risky. When external forces intervene in a civil conflict beneficiaries of the intervention may find themselves victors with little base. In other words, they may “win” militarily but have insufficient popular support sufficient to sustain the victory. This is one of the very big problems that may be playing out in Libya in light of the U.S.-back NATO intervention. It could just as easily take place in Syria.
A second dangerous factor is that Syria is a major player in the Middle East. For that reason there are various external forces, including but not limited to the U.S.A., that have an interest in the outcome. External intervention could very well throw Syria into the sort of ethnic/religious/political factional conflict that we have seen unfold in Iraq in the aftermath of the U.S. aggression of 2003.
As difficult as it is to watch, governments should quit involving themselves in civil wars. Think of our own. In 1862, both France and Britain were contemplating intervening on the side of the Confederacy. Consider how things might have turned out had that happened.
The U.S.A. needs to stay out of Syria and be a bit more consistent about its international approach on human rights. If it wants to sanction repressive regimes, it cannot be so selective, picking countries such as Syria and Libya, but ignoring Bahrain, Israel, or for that matter, Colombia. It ends up reeking of cynicism even when articulated so eloquently by someone who wanted us to have change that we could believe in.
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of “Solidarity Divided.” He can be reached at email@example.com.