Letter From America

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: April 30, 2017 Last modified: April 30, 2017

There is a spectre haunting the world’s left. It is the ghost of the Comintern. Over sixty years since Nikita Khrushchev blew the whistle on the “workers’ state,” and a quarter of century after the Soviet Union disintegrated, Moscow current kleptocratic rulers can still enthrall the hearts and minds of alleged peace activists and anti-imperialists.

Even in the old days, the regime that had invaded Poland, the Baltics and Finland, suppressed popular uprisings in East Berlin, Prague and Budapest and had its closing debacle in Afghanistan, was an unlikely poster child for nonintervention and national sovereignty. Putin, with his troops holding chunks of Ukraine, the Crimea, Georgia and Moldova, does keep up some of the old predatory Soviet habits, but his Orthodox Slavic nationalism no longer even feigns a socialist tradition.

How Moscow still has reflexive support from so many, is surprising, but even more so is how its ectoplasmic aura of leftist virtue extends to cover some of the nastiest regimes on the planet. Syria’s recidivist mass-murderer Bashir Al-Assad, like Saddam Hussein before him, has become an expedient anti-imperialist icon, with Moscow vetoing resolutions that would let chemical weapons inspectors or the International Criminal Court investigate allegations about both sides.

Some of the left who used to talk about proletarian internationalism are now staunch supporters of national sovereignty, defending the right of unelected “sovereigns” to kill, starve and torture their citizenry without let or hindrance. They condemn “intervention” in abstract even as they cheer the reality of Iranian, Russian and Hezbollah fighters for Al-Assad.

But allowing the possibility of intervention begs the question of what form it should take. Being for or against “intervention” is like arguing with a Christian Scientist about the pros and cons of surgery. Supporting “surgery” does not necessarily embrace brain surgery with a hatchet, any more than accepting the possibility of intervention means cheering Trump’s missile strike.

Trump’s raid was a self-serving and useless gesture which repeated the illegality of the Iraq war while emulating its ineffectuality. The $100 million’s worth of Raytheon missiles boosted the stock price of the company while leaving the airbase runway intact for Al Assad’s air-force to continue bombing Syrian towns. It also boosted Trump’s political standing with all who like that sort of thing. Chilcot’s labours were all in vain for the Labour rightists now wildly applauding Trump. It led many to overlook the messy detail that Trump is cutting payments to the UN agencies that have been feeding and sheltering the Syrian refugees that he will not allow in the US.

The bombing was worse than a crime. It was a blunder. It gave the Russians cover for vetoing yet another resolution against the carnage in Syria. Within a day, the majority of the Security Council voted for a resolution that would have passed except for the Russian veto. Even with the veto, it could have lent some moral authority for action, and even opened up the possibility of referring the issue to the General Assembly – except for the illegal bombing.

I trust that most of those who demonstrated against the bombing were equally repelled by the nerve gas bombs that were dropped, almost certainly by Al-Assad, but one cannot help suspect that for a significant number of so-called peace activists, either the nerve-gassing had not happened, or it was self-inflicted by the rebels.

“My country right or wrong” has never been an effective political principle – but somebody’s else country right or wrong is probably even more dubious. Being appropriately skeptical of the BBC and CNN is one thing, but that should not lead to absolute faith in RT and the Syrian News Agency.

Since the Syrian regime has failed to protect its own people, under UN’s Responsibility to Protect resolution, the rest of the world community has a duty to act – which it has been failing to fulfil for too long now. Bombing does nothing for the Syrian people. At this late stage, the problem is trying to decide what would not make things worse. Every last one of the regional players is now too ethically and politically compromised to be trusted with the task.

But the attempt to reduce it to simple binary choices needs rebutting. Neither Al-Assad nor ISIS deserve support and any solution should sideline both. There are partial possibilities. A UN-mandated no fly zone, rigorously enforced safe havens for civilians, but there is understandably little enthusiasm from countries to send their troops into the killing fields of the formerly Fertile Crescent.

However, there are signs of tectonic shifts. The Chinese did not join the Russians in the vote. Is Putin prepared to risk diplomatic isolation for a regime that embarrasses him so often? Of course, there is a missing link here. The Americans, still, are almost as essential as they think they are. However, who can have hopes for a Missing Link who rhapsodizes over chocolate cake as he announces his breach of the UN Charter to the Chinese President?

About Ian Williams

Ian Williams is Tribune’s UN correspondent