At the beginning of a debate against George Galloway, Christopher Hitchens lists the events that could have happened if the non-interventionist movement had been successful in political debate. He tells us that Saddam would have been in control of Kuwait, Milosevic would have incorporated and socially cleansed Bosnia and Kosovo, the Taliban would still be running Afghanistan. On top of this, ineffective or delayed intervention contributed to the Srebenica massacre and the Rwandan genocide.
Tired of military adventurism in Afghanistan and in Iraq and the mess they created, put off by the civil war that the no-fly zone helped create in Libya, the western public, despite the above list, seemed to be finally swayed by the non-intervention movement. More importantly, it seemed the politicians were finally coming round to the public’s view. In 2013, the British Parliament voted against intervention in Syria against Assad. In a uniquely prophetic statement, George Osborne hoped that this didn’t “become a moment when we turn our back on all of the world’s problems.” The U.S. still armed the rebels but concentrated on the fight against ISIL.
Faced with the worsening situation in Syria, they focused on ISIL, on terrorism, rather than on regime change, rather than supporting rebels against a dictator. The UK, despite voting not to interfere against Assad, still authorised action against ISIL within Syria. There has been a shift in focus from military imperialism to ensuring western security against middle eastern terrorist groups, an easier story to sell to the public. This pause in sovereign intervention, this desire for an international solution – not a U.S. led solution – to the situation in Syria, was laudable. It showed maturity, an understanding that the international community must work together, and a belief that war was solemn act, which requires deep reflection.
All the while, reports of chemical attacks kept coming in. All the while war crimes were being committed. All the while, Syrians were eating grass. The international community was paralysed as the war went on, security council resolutions on diplomatic solutions being vetoed by Russia and China. And then, amidst all of the inertia, Russia intervened in September 2015. Out manoeuvring, everyone else, Russia began air-strikes in support of Assad, knowing that others would now not intervene through fear of starting a proxy war. From then, the tide of war went Assad’s way.
Now, the city of Aleppo has been destroyed, it’s people slaughtered by pro-Assad forces and Iranian militias, helped by Russian bombs. Now, because of Russian involvement, the ability to save Aleppo is greatly reduced, dependent now on Russia exerting influence over Assad. Dependent on the international community exerting influence on Russia. Aleppo is not the only area under threat.
In the face of this bloodshed, this loss of humanity, of civilians being shot in their own homes by pro-Assad forces, can it really be right that non-intervention is always the correct answer? Would intervening in 2013 have stopped the horrors of today? Or would they have just created a different set of horrors, a set of horrors attributable to us?
Restricted by our conscience, by the guilt of past regime changes, by memories of past interventions, by the civilians who lost their lives through our rash eagerness for war, by an international framework that gives too much power to interested parties, by our desire to not start a proxy war, we have done nothing.
I don’t know what the answer is, and I didn’t support military adventurism before. But people are dying and we have done nothing.