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Why a US Attack on Syria Would Have Little to Do With Chemical Weapons or Saving Lives

20/09/2013 10:07 BST | Updated 19/11/2013 10:12 GMT

"I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes to spread a lively terror." History does not care to tell us whether or not Winston Churchill got his wish and gassed the Kurds, advocating the use of chemical weapons against civilians almost a hundred years before Bashar Assad's attack at Ghouta on the 21st of August, but this quotation serves as a useful starting point for reflecting on the merits of humanitarian imperialism.

The suppression of these words within the popular conscience is necessary in maintaining the pristine figure of Churchill as a 'progressive' interventionist fighting radical evil, which is now held as intrinsically British.

We are told we are liberators, and we do not care to remember when or if we have used the very chemical weapons that we claim to feel such outrage against.

You might be forgiven for missing Churchill's affinity for chemical weapons, but how can the liberal interventionists, who want to see Syria become the latest bombing pit for US pilots, forget the massacre at Fallujah in 2004, when the United States used the chemical weapon white phosphorous? How can they pretend they know nothing of the same white phosphorous dumped by Israel onto the Gaza strip in 2009, searing and burning the flesh of innocent Palestinians (a people Churchill once compared to dogs), meeting only silence from the newly-inaugurated President Obama?

The US and Israeli use of white phosphorous makes evident the reason for intervention is not chemical weapons. So what is it? With a 'regime change' in Syria, the US can remove a key ally of Iran and Russia and set up al-Nusrah or another rebel group as a regime allied to the US. Of course, the removal of Assad would be a reason for celebration, just as the removal of Saddam Hussein was, but in neither case is 'regime change' undertaken to liberate the population.

Shortly following the invasion of Iraq, George. W Bush proclaimed the US would be, "Encouraging the flow of foreign investments to Iraq, especially American investments." Are the liberal interventionists really naive enough to assume that economic, financial and even electoral calculations are not playing on the minds of the Obamas and Bushes of this world?

Herein lies the difference between your standard John McCain bomb-and-run humanitarian interventionist and his somewhat unexpected liberal-left bedfollows, the likes of Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, the late Christopher Hitchens and Michael Ignatieff. As liberals, they claim that they have already taken into account the US's ulterior motives, and back the intervention on a purely utilitarian 'we must do something' reflex, then scathe the left for sacrificing the people on the ground for the sake of anti-war sentiment.

I used to be sympathetic and even supportive of this kind of thinking. Was my grandfather not right to lose his eye at El Alamein fighting fascism in World War II? Shouldn't the Left salute Orwell for taking a bullet in the neck from a fascist sniper in the Spanish Civil War? Of course. There are times when fighting a war is justifiable, but this constant yearning among progressives to find a new Hitler and a new Munich in every conflict is tiresome precisely because it fails to learn from history and see that the straight 'imperialism or fascism' dichotomy has always been invalid.

In a desire to suppress 'fascism' or 'radical evil' in Syria, many liberals are willing to succumb to Obama's whims, even in the knowledge that the chemical weapons rhetoric is bogus. The truth is, while the US still supports brutal dictatorships and regimes in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Turkey, not to mention its past support for Gaddafi, Mubarak and Hussein, you don't need to choose between imperialism and fascism; you can have both.

Until liberals learn the sorry history of US foreign policy, of the destruction of societies from Guatemala to East Timor, the extermination of democrats from Chile to South Africa, the support for every kind of rogue state or corrupt dictator on earth, then they will be doomed to fall for the hypocrisy of bombing for peace and find the road to hell is paved with their interventions.