Governments who love too much
- February 01, 2012
It’s a great comfort in these troubled times to see that some governments still care when other people are suffering, and that unlike Neville Chamberlain, their compassion, empathy and humanitarian concern will even extend to ‘ a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.’
Yesterday representatives of some of the world’s most caring governments were lining up in the United Nations to demonstrate how much they care about Syria, with a passion and sincerity that was enough to rouse the hardest of hearts. There was Hilary Clinton, exuding moral authority as she told the Security Council:
‘At the end of the day, every member of that Security Council has a choice to make. If you do not choose to try to stand on the side of the Syrian people, then you are standing on the side of the continuing killing and abuses that are carried out every single day.’
There was the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé warning that the silence of the council was ‘no longer acceptable. ‘ And William Hague, the smug gnome with a heart of tweed expressing similar sentiments and insisting that the resolution was an ‘Arab decision’ – and rightly so since only supporters of dictators and other people who do not care would suggest that our governments would ever take any action in the Middle East without Arab support or approval.
Well ok, there have been some occasions in the past when such approval was absent, such as the Balfour Declaration or the Sykes-Picot agreement, and even in Syria, where France bombed the capital Damascus on two occasions in 1925 and 1945 to suppress popular resistance to French occupation. But all that is water under the bridge now. These are different times and as Hague pointed out:
‘This is not the West telling Syria what to do. It is not the permanent members of the Security Council seeking to impose their view. This is the Arab Nations calling on the U.N. Security Council to help address the crisis in Syria and the threat that it poses to the stability of their region.’
No, God forbid that the permanent members would seek to ‘impose their view’. That’s why representatives of the ‘Arab Nations’ were on hand to demonstrate that they also care about freedom, democracy, justice and human rights and all the other things that our own leaders care about.
There was Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Prime Minister of the emirate of Qatar, declaring that ‘the hope of the Syrian people is in your hands’ and calling for free elections – something that has yet to take place in Qatar itself. And Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby also exhorted the council ‘Do not let the Syrian people down in its plight’ and condemned the ‘government killing machine.’
Beyond the Security Council there was alarming news from some of the other countries that Western governments have cared about in recent years. In Libya Medicins Sans Frontieres closed down their operations in Misrata, on the grounds that pro-Gaddafi prisoners in detention centres are being tortured and denied medical care. According to MSF General Director Christopher Sykes:
‘Some officials have sought to exploit and obstruct MSF”s medical work. Patients were brought to us for medical care between interrogation sessions, so that they would be fit for further interrogation. This is unacceptable. Our role is to provide medical care to war casualties and sick detainees, not to repeatedly treat the same patients between torture sessions.’
And in Iraq, twelve people were killed in what was a relatively low body count in recent weeks, and vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi – who the Maliki government is currently trying to arrest on terrorism charges – gave an interview from Kurdistan in which he accused Maliki of pushing the country into renewed sectarian violence.
Al-Hashimi told his CNN interviewer ‘the future of Iraq is grim’ and criticized Obama’s depiction of the country as free, stable and democratic. The Iraqi vice-president is not the only one to express such pessimism. Last month Human Rights Watch described Iraq as a ‘budding police state’ where ‘every time someone attends a peaceful protest, they put themselves at risk of attack and abuse by security forces or their proxies.’
Little attention has been paid to these developments. Because our governments have other countries that we care about now. And that is why the West and the Arab League – a singularly useless organization that Western governments only ever pay attention to when it suits them – have drafted a security council resolution which calls on Assad to step down within fifteen days or face ‘further measures, in consultation with the League of Arab States.’
Unfortunately not all governments appreciate these efforts. Russia has been mean-spirited enough to interpret these ‘further measures’ as a potential trigger for ‘regime change’ and a full-scale military assault, comparable to the resolution which enabled NATO to whack Libya.
But this is a ‘false analogy’ as Hilary Clinton says. And anyway Russia, as the Western media helpfully informs us, is a country whose foreign policy decisions are generally dependent on arms deals, commercial contracts and its geopolitical influence – something that our governments could never be accused of.
So it is really gross cynicism to suggest that the US, Britain and France, or Qatar, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia are motivated by anything but the purest and most selfless motives, or that their position on Syria might be aimed at isolating and undermining Iran, or that their support of ‘free and fair elections’ in Syria might be intended to get a government in power that will be beholden to them.
No, the real reason is that these governments want to save the ‘Syrian people’, like the ‘Afghan people’, the ‘Iraqi people’ and the ‘Libyan people’ before them. And if their salvation can only be achieved by civil war, ‘shock and awe’ bombardments, special forces ops, and even invasion, well sometimes eggs must be broken to make the omelette, and for some governments, its just the only way that they can show how much they care.