Saturday, 7 September 2013

Syria: US power, Catch-22 and Niall Ferguson's bombing liberalism

Regarding Niall Ferguson's piece in The Guardian

Well, I for one think  Ferguson should be given credit for not once mentioning “Hitler” or “appeasement”. Now that’s intellectual integrity right there.
On a more serious note, I don’t think US military power is always “bad”, no. It is ultimately under the protection of the US that western Europe (including its thriving left-wing strands) has since 1945 been able to enjoy an unparallelled era of prosperity and peace. Not only military protection, but also those Marshall aid dollars that were integral to the creation of the western European welfare states, including Clement Atlee’s.
Further, when Europe showed its squabbling impotence in dealing with ex-Yugoslavia, yes, the US under Clinton stepped in and managed to pacify the region (not only through military force, but also through diplomatic negotiations). Also, let’s not forget that Clinton’s and Blair’s 1999 bomb campaign was to save a Muslim population from being terrorized by a Christian population (it’s not a coincidence that parents in Kosovo name their children “Tonibler”).
But just because US military force has been right at times, doesn’t make it right at all times (see e g Vietnam, Iraq). Ferguson is of course of another opinion, seeing some kind of absolute correlation between universal ethics and all(?) US military actions/interests. I don’t see that correlation, and I very much support the non-intervention line on Syria, at least based on what we know so far (though I don’t think it prudent of the UK to in principle declare that even if the security council would sanction military action, the UK would not participate). Courtesy of Sykes-Picot, the Middle East is basically a muddled, complicated set of quarrels with borders. Hence, Syria should be approached in a wary, timid way. Just like Obama has done up till now. He wasn’t elected to go to war, but to end wars.
Of course, no matter what the US does it can never be right. Say, if the US would’ve intervened in Rwanda I’m sure both left- and right-wingers would’ve criticized it, just like left- and right-wingers did criticize it for not intervening. It’s that Catch-22 that fetters the US. Damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t.