The title of a recent article in The Guardian Weekly caught my attention – “It is not always wrong to intervene” and I could go no farther in perusing the news magazine, my principal source of news, both national and international. “Intervening” meant to me one thing – military intervention. I was grateful to be wrong. Author Jonathan Freedland began his article with the same kind of wrongful assumption I’d been guilty of. He was reading his E-mail about a demonstration and he assumed from a quick reading that the participants were protesting the Syrian slaughter of its own people. But no, the protest was of people at the American Embassy urging the U.S.military to stay out of Syria and its neighbor, Iran.
I don’t believe that Americans have given up on their idealism in the belief that each of us has a duty to protect someone who is victim of a crime or of the citizens of a country that is being governed by a cruel dictator or a military junta. Years ago at a camp organized by the American Friends Service Committee speakers at a forum concluded that the world be better off if this country had a policy of isolationism rather than of intervention, even and maybe especially so-called humanitarian intervention (usually masking the search for natural resources) that too often turned into military intervention. At the time I disagreed with this position but since then I realize that so-called humanitarian military intervention is a mask covering up economic “needs.”
Since then we engaged in a disastrous war in Vietnam which was not a victory but rather a withdrawal after we had peppered the country with Agent Orange and killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese in addition to U.S. and Vietnamese troops.
Then came the U.S.-Iraq war.. Because the statistics vary so it is difficult to quote any exact numbers of military and civilian deaths which are in the hundreds of thousands. In addition to this there are the 500,000 (UNICE fig.) Iraqi children who died as victims of the U.S. sanctions against Iraq. Granted that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictators but was this intervention and sanctions worth the destruction of a whole society?
Freedland gives the nonviolent steps that might be taken to convince Syria of the need for change: sabotage, electronic interference with the Assad forces’ communications, the offer of incentives to high-level Syrian defectors and the public naming of those units directly involved in the current brutality and their commanding officers. Also he suggests the West could support the nonviolent protest movement of ordinary citizens.
Then we turn to Iran. Freedland says it is natural for Israel to feel threatened given its rejection of Israel’s right to exist. Does the fact that Israel possessed nuclear weapons make it the most formidable force in the Middle East? But why is it permissible for Israel to have nuclear weapons or the U.S. for that matter and then deny that right to any other nation? More than a non-proliferation treaty is needed. A call for the worldwide abolition of all nuclear weapons (large and small) is needed.
Freedland’s close is noteworthy “ . . . if anything the anti-war movement should be the loudest advocate of nonviolent alternatives to military action. That goes for Syria too, on which it says nothing, save that the world should stay out. For it is blinded by Iraq. The left was right to oppose that war: I opposed it too. But not all the world’s troubles; whether in Tehran or Homs are reruns of 2003. We have new problems now. Fail to see that and we make the people of Homs pay the price for the mistake we made in Baghdad.”
Polly Mann is a co-founder of Women Against Military Madness.