Those not blessed with anti-imperialist amnesia might recall Gaddafi deporting all the Palestinians in Libya at one point, or the role played by the Syrian Ba’athists in colluding with Phalangist pogroms of Palestinians in Lebanon. And both Libyan and Syrian regimes, so eager to condemn their dissidents as “terrorists,” were
long-time safe havens for indisputably terrorist groups, whose modus operandi no self-respecting socialist or Marxist could or should defend.
At the United Nations over the years there has always been an expedient alliance of such tyrannies to defend each other from criticism. Their common element is an ostentatious disregard for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, usually camouflaged with
“anti-imperialist” rhetoric. Syria, Libya, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Iran and in times past, Iraq, even when the latter two were in conflict, connived to see each other seated on UN human rights bodies.
But then, in this new era of what one might call nationalist socialism, it is difficult not to gasp when hearing how often “sovereignty” now trumps all for so many would-be leftists for whom questioning the right of a “sovereign” tyranny to assault its own people is backing imperialism. “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to defend but your barbed wire land-mined frontiers,” does not really cut the Marxist mustard. It writes the International Brigades out of history, along with the memory that in Spain “non-intervention” was the call of those who wanted Franco to win. Lenin and his chums accepted the aid of the Kaiser to get through to Russia, and Roger Casement took the German guns, in support of their revolutions. Generations of previous freedom fighters, from Byron in Greece, to Garibaldi in Latin America, “interfered” in sovereign states – with British imperialist support.
So what can be done about Syria? One thing is sure: “If ‘twere done when ‘tis done, then t’were well it were done quickly.” While Moscow points to the disorder in Libya as the consequence of intervention, in fact the situation deteriorated in part because of Moscow’s protracted refusal to let the Security Council send a stronger message to the strongman and his supporters.
Once action started, Moscow abdicated from its opportunity to help chart its path. The first free elections in 60 years in Libya owed nothing to Russia, nor to the useful idiots of the “anti-war” coalitions who equated supplying small arms to the oppressed with supplying gunships to the oppressors.
Similarly, the chaos in Syria, which started with the repression of peaceful demonstrations, has become worse, in part because the regime and its supporters, coerced or voluntary, have assumed Russian support. If Moscow pulls back, it improves the chances of the regime compromising in a negotiated transition that avoids the social meltdown of Libya. Active Russian support for a no-fly zone would send an even stronger signal. In any case, while dismissing the expedient dogmas used to oppose the principles of “responsibility to protect,” which was adopted, nem con by the UN summit, if negotiations fail, there are indeed practical considerations, the main point being caution about whether action would make things worse.
Syria’s geopolitical position and history severely limits the potential for foreign intervention, which in any case needs a UN mandate. The United States, Britain and France are all out of the question – as, of course, is Israel. It leaves Turkey in the frame. Ironically Ankara improved its credentials by refusing to take advantage of the clear casus belli that Damascus provocatively or incompetently offered by shooting down the Turkish plane.