Spare Us the Western Morality on Syria
By: Antoun Issa
Published Thursday, June 7, 2012
As news of yet another massacre in Syria surfaces – this time in the farm village of Al-Kubeir near Hama – we can only imagine the moral outrage expressed by Western governments that will soon inundate media outlets.
Much of Western identity centers on a pillar of high civility, and by extension, high morality. It is a lingering legacy from colonialism where the West re-invokes its perception of the current world, where it is the civilized, and those beyond, hapless barbarians.
It re-invoked that perception after the Houla massacre, where it once again reminded the world of its high moral authority and self-righteousness in lecturing others on their inhumane ways.
But what the West has failed to grapple is that the remainder of the world – growing in power – sees through its hollow moral posturing, exposing its empty values that have for so long sought to shroud its interests.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton doesn’t care about dead Syrian children. Nor do any of the Western governments that expelled Syrian diplomats in the wake of the gruesome Houla massacre, in which 108 civilians – including at least 49 children – were mostly shot dead at point-blank range.
International relations does not base its machinations on slaughtered children, for if it did, there would be far fewer cases of massacres to report. Western nations expressing outrage over the Syrian massacre simply reeks of hypocrisy. The day preceding the Al-Kubeir massacre, a NATO airstrike in Logar Province, southeast of Kabul, killed 18 civilians.
On the morning of May 26, as the residents of Houla were coming to grips with the killings, another NATO airstrike blew up a family home in eastern Afghanistan, killing eight members of a single family, including six children.
The killing of civilians and children has been a routine drill in the 11-year Afghan conflict. It was only in March that a US soldier wandered off from his base at night to slaughter 17 Afghan civilians as they slept, including nine children, and then proceeded to burn some of their bodies.
This does not undermine the significance of the human tragedies of Al-Kubeir and Houla, but rather exposes the geopolitical shrewdness of the West in consistently drumming up empty values in order to further its interests. Child killers exist in all forms, and the West should certainly not be one to wave the high moral wand as a disguise for its true intentions in the Syrian crisis.
Little separates the West from its perceived inferiors. All powers pursue their interests with the same cunning vigor, and the same disregard for humanitarian needs.
Western powers want Syrian President Bashar Assad toppled, and ideally seek to weaken the Syrian state in the process. This desire is not ingrained in any deep affection for spreading democracy or championing human rights, as we're so often told. The Syrian crisis is not a struggle for Western values, but one for Western interests in a crucial region slipping from its grasp.
But with another massacre making its way into the headlines, what else beyond hollow moral posturing can the West actually do? The expulsion of Syrian diplomats from states that have been advocating Assad's ouster for the past year will not deprive the Syrian dictator an hour's sleep, as noted by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Diplomatic isolation from the West is the least of Assad's concerns as he – backed by the powerful military and intelligence apparatus – remains determined to crush any hope of the armed rebellion gaining traction on the ground.
Western governments made their move against Syria's diplomats knowing the minimal impact it would have on the situation, further demonstrating the lack of short-term options available to the West to seriously intervene. The expulsion was a public relations tactic with the hope that Russia and China would surrender their stance in the face of inflated outrage at the massacre. The West sought to own the outrage by propelling once again its now hollow status as the moral watchdog on world affairs.
But Russia and China did not capitulate, and equally expressed outrage at the killings. The two powers instead reinforced their support for UN special envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan, while pouring cold water on Western murmurings for UN-sanctioned military action. The West is acutely aware that Moscow and Beijing will not authorise military action at the UN.
France immediately raised the prospect of military action against Syria in the aftermath of the Houla massacre, only to concede that it had little hope of getting support at the Security Council with Russia and China unmoved on their positions.
Clinton went further, outlining the obvious reasons why a US-led intervention is unfeasible. Syria’s military is much more capable than Libya’s, she told reporters in Denmark last week. Clinton also mentioned the scattered state of Syria's opposition, which has the US fearing the consequences of arming rebel groups it knows too little about.
There is no count of how many Syrian armed groups exist, many of which have simply picked up arms for opportunistic reasons and hold no particular allegiance to the goal of revolution. The fact that major attacks against Syrian military targets continued despite the most prominent Free Syrian Army factions agreeing to the ceasefire highlights the anarchy and chaos that exists amongst opposition groups.
Another US worry is that many of the splinter groups are Islamist in nature, and with Al-Qaeda said to have made its move into Syria, arming them blindly could produce a result worse than Assad. With no viable short-term option available for removing Assad, Washington is taking the backseat and allowing a low-level civil war to unfold, chipping away at the power of one of the most influential Arab states, while containing the crisis from spreading in the region.
The US and its Western allies will play the high moral card and maintain their public relations offensive to ensure global pressure against Assad, Russia and China remains in full force. But short of resorting to hollow values, the West has few tangible options for removing Assad.
Denied the opportunity to deliver the decisive blow on the Assad regime in the interim, Washington will bide its time and allow the Syrian crisis to drag out in the hope the country disintegrates and Assad eventually falls with it. Expelling Syrian diplomats under the pretense of misguided Western moral authority gives the impression of serious action, but really masks the West’s nonchalance to Syrians destroying their country on their own.
Memo from the West: let the killings continue.
Antoun Issa is the News and Opinion Editor at Al-Akhbar English.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.