Remember Syria, that country we neither knew nor cared anything about until it looked like we might have to bomb them and then, once it was clear no bombing was in order, promptly forgot again?
Well, it turns out that in the case of Syria it was not the Devil but the dove that was in the details.
We were sold a negligently simplistic picture that divided the population into aggressors and victims, generally depicting one as evil and undeserving of existence and the other as having no agency but noble aims and therefore in desperate need of a strong protector.
For a while it looked likely that the U.S. would attempt to paint itself in this role, engaging in military activity despite the absence of UN support. When John Kerry seemed to stumble upon a solution and the crisis began to resolve itself there was vocal chagrin from Republicans in Washington. What explanation could there be for this but that America had been denied a chance to demonstrate its moral and military superiority, never mind that it was because war had been averted.
Amidst the scoffing that caricatured the ‘do nothing’ approach, it occurred to me that doing nothing only looks like passivity when you don’t understand the concept of restraint.
‘Benevolent intervention’ is the preferred term to describe the nature of America’s proactive military strategy, and has been used in one form or another in each of its military actions since the ‘Philippine Insurrection’ a.k.a. The Philippine War of Independence. America never involves itself in wars of aggression it seems, but only of humanitarian conscience, with the intention of improving the lives of those they go to liberate.
As a skeptical Briton with full knowledge of my country’s imperialist history, I find it hard to buy the notion of ideological war, that is, a war fought not for material gain but simply on principle. When formulating opinions on foreign policy then, we should not forget to analyse the source and nature of our information. In the case of Syria, a critical look at the stated motivation of benevolent intervention would not necessarily have revealed some nefarious profiteering or ulterior imperialist motive, but rather the simple fact that any military intervention would do far more harm than good (see Max Fisher‘s article in the Washington Post).
Sorting rhetoric from rationale can be a painstaking process and often leaves us with slim pickings in terms of solid facts. But this would seem to be the work of the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers. Putting aside a desire for either moral or military victory and focusing instead on understanding the intricacies of a situation would behoove anyone claiming the Christian God as a source of inspiration. Reports concerning the ongoing deliberations with Iran over its nuclear program and peace talks between Palestine and Israel, for example, are still being grossly oversimplified and misrepresented in our press and could use the careful and objective eyes of people concerned with peace over patriotism.
As our brush with the Syrian civil war recedes into distant memory (the war, of course, continues despite our lack of interest), I’d like to recall to our minds what a success diplomacy and international collaboration have been, a true example of benevolent intervention. The inspectors continue to report cooperation and timely progression towards full disarmament. And yes, there is much work to be done, refugees continue to pour into under-equipped camps as winter descends. But as it’s Thanksgiving, let’s focus on the good news for just a moment because that is also part of combating the media bias towards the negative and disastrous.