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Thursday, 9 October 2014

The 'humanitarian' war furphy

The 'humanitarian' war furphy


(Image by John Graham)

This new rush to war not an intervention designed to meet humanitarian goals and objectives, writes Dr Adam Hughes Henry, but simply another bloody bombing campaign to protect strategic Western interests.

THERE IS A PUBLIC PRESENTATION that a war against the Islamic State (IS) is justified outright on clear humanitarian grounds. That is, universally accepted standards of human rights have been transgressed and these unique perpetrators need to be brought to account.

There is evidence that IS actions on the battlefield contravene international human rights law. There are numerous allegations of ethnic cleansing, atrocities and threats of possible genocidal intent against their enemies.

Yet the actions of IS, in terms of our contemporary world, are very
far from unique and as grotesque as their crimes are, cannot possibly be
considered the worst of the worst. There are examples of barbaric behaviour which continue to be exhibited by U.S.-UK allies all over the world.

There does not seem to be any clamour to arrest and try any of the IS
leadership in a court of law. There is, however, a clamour to bomb

Bombing from the sky is not a very useful humanitarian response — it
is clearly a one dimensional military tactic contingent on targets. If
there is a clear danger of ethnic cleansing and potential genocide in
Iraq or elsewhere then the United Nations Security council is duty bound to act.

Current actions do not appear to have any such UN sanctioned legitimacy.
Furthermore, there are no foreign troops on the ground to specifically
defend these threatened ethnic populations, set up safe zones or
sanctuaries and there is also absolutely no talk from nations like
Australia of taking in any of the threatened groups as refugees as a
matter of priority.

As in Kosovo in 1999, the way to save civilians from the stated threat of ethnic cleansing is apparently to bomb the place.

In the case of Kosovo in 1999 the NATO bombing
killed scores of civilians, attacked civilian infrastructure once they
quickly ran out of legitimate military targets and NATO effectively
provided aircover for the Kosovar Liberation Army (KLA) to engage in their own campaign of ethnic cleansing on the ground.

The response of the Serbs to the bombing was a rapid escalation of reprisals against the KLA and Kosovar civilians. That is, the bombing did not decrease atrocities, they actually helped to create and indeed initiate a new cycle of Serbian atrocities in reprisal to a relentless U.S. led NATO bombing.

Given the behaviour of IS so far in Syria and Iraq, even before
the U.S. led bombing, it is very difficult to imagine that the current
air campaign will have much of a deterrent effect, perhaps exactly the
opposite. The campaign of anti-Western beheadings and other civilian
atrocities in Syria and Iraq all ready for mass media distribution
through the internet is hardly encouraging.

It might then get worse ‒ much worse ‒ particularly for the civilians
in the cross hairs and one does not have to imagine the potential saga
if a pilot on a bombing run against Islamic State is forced to eject
over IS controlled territory.

In Libya, we had our first recent humanitarian precedent.

After throwing support behind the anti-Gaddafi militias on the basis of ousting an evil
regime, and providing material support to assist their efforts, the
NATO no fly zone (designed to prevent Gaddafi using his air force
against his own citizens) unleashed a furious air campaign to help oust
Gadhafi on humanitarian grounds.  

The end results were that not only did the campaign kill scores of
civilians, guarantee a cache of captured arms to Islamic extremists and
destroy infrastructure — it has left a civilian humanitarian catastrophe
as the militias engage in outrage after outrage in efforts to control
territory. Libya has ceased to be a functioning nation-state, but there
is certainly no clamour for humanitarian intervention in Libya anymore.

In Syria, the so called humanitarian impulse centred on a tug of war between outside powers either keen to keep or destroy the Assad regime
for strategic and political reasons, while the well-being civilian
population of Syria (or lack of thereof) could be used to promote
political support one way or the other. Again, anti-Assad regime forces
were provided assistance and every encouragement by the U.S. and the UK;
among these anti-Assad forces were supporters of groups such as al
Qaeda and those that now pledge fanatical allegiance to IS.

Now back to Iraq, where 25 years of U.S. led war, sanctions and intervention have devastated and destroyed a once modern nation, leaving staggering civilian casualties and suffering in their wake.

The deliberate U.S. policy of divide and rule, instrumental after the 2003 invasion in creating a corrupt and repressive sectarian government, unable after billions of dollars of U.S. arms and a decade of training to defend itself from an IS dominated Sunni insurgency.

The question must be asked: how can the new mission to Iraq,
particularly one spearheaded by the U.S. and backed by regimes like
Saudi Arabia (who routinely funds Jihadist terrorist groups) be based on any notion of universal humanitarian values?

This might be the fig leaf that covers the naked David ‒ and the
feeling of revulsion at Islamic State is genuine ‒ but this is selective
outrage. The human rights abuses and atrocities
of Western allies over the past 50 years have washed the ground with
the blood of their faceless victims over and over again. Islamic State
do not have anything approaching a unique monopoly over human
rights abuses, terror or fanaticism — they are certainly not an
unprecedented human evil.  

We might pause for thought that very real abuses and crimes against
humanity every bit as grave as those committed at this stage by IS,
regularly occur in our world and many of the worst examples nether
compel us toward war, elicit ethical revulsion from our political
leaders, or immediate ideas of humanitarian intervention. The U.S. and
the West surely cannot have it both ways; we either strongly support
international laws, human rights covenants, strongly adhere to the
various Geneva conventions as matter of principle in letter and in
spirit, or we do not.  

This new rush to war is not an intervention designed to fulfil any
specified humanitarian objectives and outcomes. Where are the safe
zones, where is UNHCR, where are the troops and diplomacy designed to defend, protect and negotiate for the safety of civilians?

Such a mission would surely be very different to what we are seeing now.  

The primary U.S. led mission in Iraq appears only to be a major bombing campaign against IS in support of strategic interests, with no clear statement of its expected timeframe or even a secondary option.

If war is really only the process of translating diplomacy into
killing and death and Afghanistan, Libya and Syria are any indicators of
what we are about to see unfold as we folly back to Iraq without as
much as a second thought — the very worst is still to come.

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