Few thoughts on Syria, US interventionism and all that stuff

This basically started as a comment to a Facebook status of one friend who lives in US. I felt a need to make it a blog post, despite my wish to keep politics out of this blog.

Kelly asked a really good question, concerning US intervention in Syria but also a generally very good question about our democratic systems of rule:

[…] I have some questions for all of you to consider and would love to know your thoughts…

In reality, Congress is in the crosshairs on this, not the president (see above). If the polls are to be believed, roughly 80% of Americans are against military action in Syria, for a host of reasons. This week, John McCain, and many others in both houses, faced town halls filled with angry constituents, including their supporters, wanting to know why he wasn’t listening to them when they told him to vote no.

This is an extremely important question in any democracy.

If elected representatives vote against the wishes of their constituents – particularly when it appears to be a majority of those constituents who have very vocally made their wishes known – do we still have a democracy?

(I’ve edited the question, discarded 2 additional questions which have no connection to this blog post).

My comment to that post turned into 3 separate comments ranging from direct answer to Kelly’s question and all the way to why I consider intervention (or lack of it) in Syria crucial for the future of Arab world.

Elected representatives as the correction factor of the masses

High politics often has to act in educational if not enlightenment manner. When Lincoln pushed for rights of (I’m european so I can say it without overly-pc bullshit) black people majority of his constituency (people with the right to vote, meaning white and male) was surely against him. Same goes for rights of women, same goes when the early fights for rights of sexual minorities began…

You all know about Switzerland, right? It’s that overly-rich country (that’s why most of the Croats think of Swiss people as assholes probably but they have no problem with going to work in Switzerland for same amounts of money as Swiss people do :)) which, you might know or not know this, has implemented the direct democracy principles to major issues which most of the other countries leave to higher politics, not voters. It obviously works for them in general, they are one of the richest countries with one of the highest standard of living in the world, and they don’t base that on export of oil (which makes the success even more impressive). But that approach also has its problems. For one example, Switzerland was the last of “decent countries” to allow women to vote on federal level (it happened after 2nd referendum that year on the subject, in 1971.). Also, recently (meaning few years ago), people of Switzerland decided through referendum that they ban building of minarets on the mosques, which is (for me at least) obvious depriving of islamic religious groups to their expressions of religion. Those are just 2 examples of when, again in my opinion, high politics would make better judgement (and in  case of women suffrage much earlier) than constituency did.

Following to that, all who say that by sometimes (in hugely crucial issues public is not yet prepared to move forward) not listening to one’s constituency elected representative is necessarily in conflict of interest or even more – that he betrayed his voters and so putting democracy in danger is pure bullshit in my opinion. Please note that we have a big problem there: how would we define, in modern democracies, when politics has to go against the wish of the voters? That’s the question for whole another discussion, I would like to keep on subject here because even without expanding the subject it is a lengthy post.

Can the principle of “enlightenment” be applied also in foreign politics?

Now, maybe it’s opposite of human rights on domestic ground, but the good question is does foreign policy has the right to act in educational or even enlightenment manner? There you are not only going against your constituents, but against interests of other world powers, often against interests of your own allies and obviously – against interest of the government you want to “put in order” and you risk of intervening against foreign government when it has legal right to defend itself from extremist threats.

That’s where we get to “world policeman” mentality most of the Americans are mostly against, with good arguments against it. That mentality caused a lot of good (Kosovo, end of war in Bosnia and Croatia [although the peace framework {Dayton agreement} is not that good in the long run as the fact it stopped the war but that’s again a subject for whole new discussion], it caused stability and peace in Western and middle Europe). But that mentality caused a lot of bad things (the main problem it seems to me that US often spends much time and resources to overthrow bad governments but does nothing to establish proper rule of the quality law where the military force acted). Examples are Iraq (overthrowing Saddam Hussein could have not been a bad thing, but the country is in disarray now), Libya, half of the of South America where US intervened and so on…, Afghanistan is half-way successful story – in my opinion USA didn’t leave anything worse than what it has found.

Speaking of it, help in the form of US/NATO intervention came almost too late for most, and way too late for many.  Operation Deliberate force (1995) started off 4 years after the war broke in Croatia, and 3 years as it lasted in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is 3 years after Yugoslavian army allied with Serbian nationalists overran city of Vukovar, it is the 3 years people in Sarajevo spent under the siege, I don’t want to sound unthankful, so I’ll say it finally came in the end.

But to be critical still, Operation Deny flight (1993-1995) turned out into the full blown disaster due it’s overly limited nature. It was during the Operation Deny Flight that biggest massacres in Bosnia and Herzegovina happened, all because the intervention didn’t provide at least a healthy balance of power between warring nations if not real protection for civilians in the areas under the siege.

Can you notice what I’m telling you here? For the non-followers of the Captain Obvious among readers – if you’re against the war in Syria, where have you been the last 2 years dear chaps and madams?

Yugoslavia vs. Syria

Retired US general and former commander in chief of NATO forces, Wesley Clark, recently compared in interviews US intervention in Kosovo with how it should be done in Syria. So let me give you another aspect of a man from the country where “world policeman” attitude did good in general, my own.

By intervening against Milošević and allying with Croatia and Bosnia in public and less public manners, US gave us a chance to resist what was supposed to be 4th military power in Europe during Cold war. We’ve resisted, we’ve prevailed, with the help of US. We’ve established democratic system of government with all of its child illnesses for the last 20 years, with not much of your help on that aspect honestly (or just it seems so). I could write more on that but it’s not the point of this post really.

Let me make a slight personal digression here for a moment. When the war in Croatia started, we were convinced “Americans will help us defend” just like they did with Kuwait not long before. When help didn’t arrive immediately (and then when it didn’t arrive in the following years) we were seriously wondering what the hell is wrong with this world – can’t they all see what we are going through? People all around the world, but specially in Western Europe and US, seemed from that perspective like assholes who waste time on discussing what to do instead of simply doing the right thing. And knowing some children in Syria wonder what the hell is wrong with some guy out there writing this blog post instead of travelling to Bruxelles to protest for the EU powers to intervene, I feel weird. I feel kind of helpless. I feel dumb. But I also feel frightened not knowing enough about who is fighting for exactly what in Syria and whether we are opening a can of uncontrollable shitstorm there which will bite us in the ass when it grows up. I understand how anyone trying to resolve what the hell was happening in some God’s forgotten Yugoslavia back then felt and, honestly, 20 years after all we’ve been through I forgive everyone who had doubts about intervening in Yugoslavian republics caught in a war. I forgive you that betrayal because in the end it all turned moderately well (for us who survived at least), but I don’t forget it. As well as Syrians might one day forgive us for not acting but they will never forget what we (didn’t) do.

The point is that Syria does remind me of how Yugoslavia fell apart. The only problem there which makes huge difference between “our” and “their” cause is that Syria (as far as I know) isn’t a federation of multiple nations with clearly defined borders between member states. That war is a mess, meaning frontlines are probably well-mixed, on both sides (but specially on rebels’ side) there are multiple weakly connected groups fighting the war with hugely different causes for it. It seems to me that rebels lack central power which could be held accountable if something goes very wrong (war crimes from their side and so on…). I really don’t know what I would do if I was in Obama’s shoes, but since Assad hugely reminds me of Milošević, I am mostly in the mood “nuke that motherfucker’s army out and create balance of power so people can fight him evenly”. Currently it looks like slaughterhouse for everyone who is, pretty much because of anything possible, against Assad’s regime. And that is enough for me to sympathize with the rebels.

Syrian war vs. Spanish civil war

For the last year, year and a half, I have a theory that Syrian war is a “Spanish civil war in Arab world”. The context of US intervention or non-intervention also reminds of it. Let me explain you why…

Spanish civil war was fought in the, in my opinion, most delicate period of modern European history. It was a war which set the balance of power for the WWII. It was a europe-wide period of political radicalization where moderate republican and nationalist movements throughout Europe formed into more radical communist and fascist movements.

Spanish civil war was a defining moment for radicalization of European left and right politics, war where they fought directly, without gloves. As Orwell wrote in his book “Homage to Catalonia“, Spanish civil war was a first massive no-go movement for spread of fascism through Europe. Slowly during the war, Spanish republicans became supported mostly by legal and illegal communist organisations, which kept newly rising superpower (US) and still a superpower Great Britain out of involving into that war on behalf of Republicans. On the other hand, fascist powers (Italy and Germany) gave all the support to Spanish nationalists. Spanish Republicans were, due to circumstances, also very fragmented (just like Syrian opposition is) while Franco’s nationalists were pretty much centralized under Franco’s power.

Lack of official support by democratic international powers and in the end lack of intervention in Spanish civil war by democratic international powers due to fear of communists taking over the country was defining moment in the outcome of the Spanish civil war. Its outcome (Franco won) further strengthened position of fascist powers in Europe, leading to catastrophic balance of power at the beginning of the WW2. And in the end lead to US intervention which ended the war with much higher cost in American lives on the ground. After the war US put more than significant means into rebuilding war-torn western Europe in attempt to stop spreading of Communism after the war (during the cold war) which worked but was, again in my opinion, unnecessary complication for all of us. Early defeat of Fascists in Spanish civil war could have lead to proper balance of power in Europe in the following years, meaning less powerful Hitler and Mussolini, less Soviet influence prior to and during WW2, no Soviet occupation of half of the Europe after the war and no rule of communism in half of the Europe for the following 50 years.

So what am I saying?

So Barack, friends, random readers, what am I telling you here? Should you go against Assad? Should you not?

Listen, I’m not a decision maker. Maybe for a reason, or maybe that’s the God’s way of telling the humans what they are missing. :-) I know, for one, I wouldn’t like to be in shoes of anyone who has to decide for or against the military intervention in Syria. As it often comes, this satirical article on The Onion did the best recap of the situation.

I am just laying it down in front of you. My personal point of view, as a resident of a country which would not exist if there was no international military intervention. Someone else in the other part of the world might tell you completely opposite story. I don’t have insight high politics have, I can’t tell if they are pressured by the lobbies to do this or that. I just know I felt like there will be blood on my hands if I honestly don’t put down what I think of this. I hope it might in some weird way help for things to turn out right as much as they can now…

Author: Vedran Krivokuca

A developer living and working in Germany. Wannabe opensource contributor. Feeling strong of some social issues.

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