Syria, Anarchism’s Bad Brand, and Libya: Early experiments in essays for which Armchair Mutineer begs the reader’s forgiveness in advance of reading.
“The world’s policeman.” “Military interventions against war criminals.” “Nation building.” “Dictators violating international laws.” “Just wars.” These (and similar) phrases leap from the mouths of politicians when making the case for war.
In late August, the Syrian civil war finally surfaced as yet another potential military intervention by the United States. Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, aligned with such stalwarts of civilization like Iran’s theocracy and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, reportedly unleashed chemical weapons on civilians supporting the rebels. Armchair Mutineer believes dictators like Assad are an affront to humanity, and the only surprising thing was Assad held off using these weapons since the civil war began in March 2011. With over 1,500 killed, this was the type of action that raised the profile of a civil war that had all been forgotten from popular media coverage. President Obama and the United States have been shamed by allies such as France, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and Israel for not directly supporting and/or intervening on behalf of the rebellion to overthrow Assad. Since the Arab Spring, the US has moved cautiously in these regime changes, only getting itself drawn into the Libyan conflict. In Armchair Mutineer’s opinion, President Obama’s “line in the sand” on chemical weapons was an attempt to placate US allies and keep Assad in check. The US has been wise up until now to stay out of this war. Unfortunately, the line in the sand was crossed by Assad, and the US was put in a position to “uphold its international creditability” in the face of China and Russia opposing any opposition.
The Syrian civil war is no simple conflict of two sides, but many sides, all of them non-appealing and leaving one to consider the least worst option. For more information, The New Republic’s John Judis provides an excellent overview of conflict and the questions facing the US. The war has all the signs of another colonial set of borders imploding into historical tribal and religious factions, much like Iraq after the US invasion or Afghanistan after the Soviet Union’s withdrawal. These types of internecine tribal/religious ware are “no win” situations for the US and its allies. The most perplexing question seems to be whether the US and its allies would want any side in Syria to prevail. With al Qaeda elements within the rebellion aiming for the establishment of another fundamentalist regime to harbor international criminals, the real question is whether the US and its allies should attack both Assad’s army and the al Qaeda-aligned rebels. The drone strikes being carried out in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen are targeted assassinations of al Qaeda leaders and fighters; why not hit them in Syria as well?
These are the kind of questions that trouble people. A rational person can quickly see the problems with bombing Syria, which is why public opinion polls in the US and the UK, the two countries the bore nearly all of the burden of the war on terror over the last decade, show a strong majority opposed to taking military action. In addition, French public opinion polls also show a majority in opposition to attacking Syria. Citizens in the countries whose governments are calling for war are able to do the moral arithmetic: the Syrian civil war is terrible but it has nothing to do with the US, France, or the UK. There are no vital interests at stake in Syria, the outcome of the war is unpredictable and no side will be a friend to the West, so the average person cannot understand why such an action is needed.
It is also likely the average citizen understands the unintended consequences of war. A Tomahawk missile can hit a school or a market full of innocent civilians. When military targets are hit, the unlisted soldiers who die are people who do not make policy or control regimes. Syrian soldiers are most likely drafted, i.e., compressed into service, or are trying to support families on the wages of being a soldier. When civilians and unlisted soldiers are killed by the US military, it is very easy to imagine the families and friends of those victims feeling those people were unjustly murdered by the US. This is how the terrorists of tomorrow come into being.
There is this concept of a “measured response” being bandied about, a euphemism for violence people need to see through. Syrians will die in these attacks no matter how limited or measured. Citizens in the US, France and the U.K. should understand and take accountability for the fact tax dollars paid to those governments fund these attacks. Whether people like it or not, when Syrian civilians and lowly enlisted men are killed, the blood is on the hands of the taxpayers and citizens of that country.
The UN has not weighed in on Syria because many other nations do not believe sides should be taken a civil war. As a result, pro-war arguments have shifted to international law and human rights. In Armchair Mutineer’s view, pointing toward international law or human rights protection are spurious arguments, masking the true motivations for military action. There has been no shortage of monstrous war crimes committed during civil wars in the past ten years. If upholding international law was truly important, then why did so many western countries sit on the sidelines during the civil wars in Uganda, Somalia and Darfur? Armchair Mutineer argues that those that support attacking Syria have world views clouded by ideology, each offering disparate justifications for war. There are religious zealots who are either fanatical Israel supporters or simply anti-Islam, who jump at any opportunity to take down a Muslim army. There are neocons who want to maintain a US military empire at all costs, seeing this as another opportunity to show US muscle, keeping the Russians and Chinese in check. Finally, there are the statists who see the conflict in terms of preserving status quo: keep the Executive branch powerful relative to Congress, support Israel, work with old guard NATO allies, and send indirect messages to the likes of North Korea and Iran. These arguments are at best feeble and remind Armchair Mutineer of the kind of conservative groupthink that brought Europe into the First World War. Even credible newspapers with respectful editorial boards seemed to have bended themselves into complex justifications for military action, for example, see this horrible op-ed from The Economist.
The dialogue around Syria is incredibly bizarre. The Pentagon has cautioned against military action, and the political class debate how to make such a strike on Assad without tipping the balance in the civil war to the rebels. If Assad’s leadership is targeted, it seems clear that a successful strike will tip the balance in the civil war. If Assad’s regime is overthrown and a Taliban-like regime emerges in Syria, both al Qaeda friendly and vehemently anti-Israel, this so-called measured response will go down in history as another huge miscalculation by the US, similar to the 1953 Iranian coup d’état and the 1963 South Vietnamese coup: actions thought to further US and allied interests, only to cause more war and chaos in the future. Stranger still, the Tea Party Republicans, so demonized by the left, have had a louder voice than far left peaceniks in calling for Congressional approval of any military action.
Has sanity prevailed? It did in the UK as Prime Minister David Cameron’s effort to involve Britain in Syrian attacks was voted down in Parliament. In the US, after a week of the Obama administration attempting to make the case for war (in an eerily familiar feel to the build-up to the Iraq invasion), President Obama made the wise choice to seek Congressional approval while others in the administration claimed this was merely a formality, with a Congressional vote being purely advisory. While so-called foreign policy experts may argue that the US baking off such an attack would hurt US credibility abroad, Armchair Mutineer argues that if Congress votes down any measure to attack Syria and President Obama follows his legal obligation to only make acts of war under legislative mandate, the world will see how a free democracy functions. The world will see the American people as fair-minded and reasonable, more so than the political class that is over them. Given the blood of innocent Syrians may be on American hands, paid for by American taxpayers, it is only fitting elected representatives of the people vote on this action. For US citizens, Armchair Mutineer urges you to write your Congressmen in opposition to military action.
Since the end of the Cold War the US has been of two minds about military conflict. In Kosovo and Somalia, the US attempted to intervene to prevent human rights abuses, while sitting on the sidelines for several other slaughters. After 9-11, blood and treasure was spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the end result only worsening those countries, which is likely to lead to more turmoil in the future, including blowback to the US and its allies. Since President Obama was elected and the drone program was escalated, ‘war on terror’ military action has been lower profile but more widespread. It is Armchair Mutineer’s contention that terrorism is more akin to organized crime than a guerrilla movement, so the use of drones and special ops makes far more sense than wholesale invasions and occupancies. However, al Qaeda, pronounced brain dead by the President during the election campaign in 2012, was recently evoked during the NSA domestic spying scandal, with a 2002-style elevated threat announced in early August. President Obama needs to clarify this position. If al Qaeda and its ilk are active threats, and Assad’s regime is at war with elements of al Qaeda, it seems any attack on Assad is self-defeating. Being the world’s policeman is no longer a luxury the US can afford given both its financial situation and far flung military obligations, so the focus needs to be in providing actual defense for the US, and not more entanglement in foreign adventures.
Armchair Mutineer takes the view that if the US and its allies wish to cleanse the world of thugs, dictators, and war criminals, the world is going to be an ultra-violent place for decades. Like cockroaches and rats, killing a few never really solves the problem, and the source for these cancers on humanity comes from repressive governmental, cultural, and religious traditions that have to evolve over time. War has the side-effect of bringing a civilized nation into a more barbarous state. The chaos and pain inflicted by the US on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan could be attributed to the crimes of 9-11, and the chaos and pain of 9-11 can be attributed to dozens of US interventions on the Middle East since the Second World War, including propping up thugs and dictators who abused their countrymen. Using violence to counter violence simply creates a viscous circle, and for western countries to escape this cycle, militaries need to be purely defensive while engagement with other nations needs to be diplomatic, commercial and cultural.
Anarchism’s Bad Brand
Is there such a thing as an evolutionary anarchist? One could think that may be a Libertarian but, unfortunately, the Libertarian ideals are constantly hijacked by Republicans and, now, the wacko Tea Party (that does not stand for much besides being angry). I once knew a classmate who referred to Libertarians as ‘anarchists with credit cards.’ I thought that was funny, but in truth Libertarians seem to be wrapped up in the political philosophy of the Founding Fathers and see government as a permanent condition. An anarchist sees a world where there is no hinderance by government — even a minimal government. But there’s two kinds of anarchists: one sees a world with no government or private property (social anarchism), and one sees a world with no government but with people still having private property (individualist anarchism).
The anarchist movement of the 19th century was against both government and private property, with ideals rooted in socialism. A number of these anarchists were bombers and assassins, famous for killing President McKinley and the Haymarket riots. Since then anarchists are dismissed as crackpots and extremists. This is wrong; I believe a true anarchist respects the natural rights of others and would not impinge on those rights — and, especially, use force — for political ends.
Humanity can evolve toward a world with less government, as we start seeing the current world’s organization will be bad for the future of our species. War and material shortages are the fuels for governments, and from the standpoint of an individual neither of these conditions bode well for his or her future. National governments should give way to more state and local governments (because we need them due to the uncivilized condition some of us are in), with units getting progressively smaller and more voluntary. At the same time, hoarding and greed would be generally discouraged and seen as barbaric. The criticism of free market thinking is that its a shill for the hyper-rich and plutocrats; a criticism often justified — too much Libertarian rhetoric is around low taxes and free trade. Today, no one would ever believe a rich person would limit how much wealth they could gain; yet, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have devoted their fortunes to charitable causes. Yet, the market has a way of shaping lifestyle. All 6.9 billion people in the world can’t live like upper middle class Americans; what would happen is over time resources are allocated according to supply and demand, and while some may be poor it would be increasingly harder in a truly free market for certain groups to maintain an abnormal level of wealth. Those with rare skills, entrepreneurial talent, and existing wealth would clearly continue to reap greater rewards than others, yet an enlightened society would also realize that creating generational wealth has to be self-regulated. If not, I think society can self-regulate: the hoarder who keeps taking could be boycotted and its rivals supported.
The pursuit of wealth leads to innovation and the advancement of mankind. Free markets allow for the pursuit of science and exploration. We should be proud of the Western world and have no reverence at all for primitive cultures or, especially, cultures that encourage transcending a material world in pursuit of religious or humanitarian needs.
Property ownership is a natural desire and we should be free to contract for as much of it as we want. People should be free to self-actualize as much as possible through “contracting” with others. This would be an entirely free market with no regulation, taxes, or tariffs.
There are limits in an anarchy as certain things may be much worse. Criminal enforcement is the biggest challenge to an anarchy, but there will never be a perfect system. Harming someone else or their property requires redress. A legal code would exist but court systems would be private and enforcement of the law would be carried out by contracted security professionals, carrying out the judgment of a court. This may sound absurd to people who believe we need a legislature to make laws. However, the common law presented a great tradition of resolving disputes among people and could easily be continued by private forums of resolving conflicts. An anarchy would not take place apart from history, so the laws of the past could still be drawn upon for guidance.
An anarchy is unthinkable today because we have too many people who are, for the most part, savages. They are in every country. These are people who cannot self-govern let alone act in a civilized manner toward others. But most people in the world are not savage. Most people do not need fear of a government to stop them from harming other people or stealing their property. The majority of us have to suffer because we are not truly free. We are forced to follow laws that govern our morality, pay taxes to support programs that will never help us, face death through war, and work in a capitalist structure whose deck is stacked against most of us.
Maybe we need some government today. But humankind’s goal should be to abolish government. This is just another way of saying that our idealism should be geared toward civilization and not barbarism. The West should take leadership by increasing freedoms and decreasing the role of government in people’s daily lives.
Let’s not engage in this Orwellian doublespeak about “intervention” and “coalition action” to enforce “international resolutions.” This is embroilment in a civil war, and as big an asshole as Gaddafi is, there no assurance he’s going to be overthrown or, if he and his thugs are taken down, that the usurpers will not be thugs as well. This all feels like politicians trying to gain points in France, the U.K. and the U.S. by intervening in a war that the media has painted in black and white terms: Gaddafi is bad, the rebels are good, so the western powers are going to start bombing.
Apparently, there is no longer any debate that a President can attack a foreign country without Congress declaring war. What an outdated, silly notion it must be to have checks and balances.
No government has the power to predict the future. There are no secret lairs of geniuses running probabilities and constructing virtual scenarios that foresee every outcome. The decision to launch missiles in Libya was based on the same idiotic groupthink that got the US into Iraq and Afghanistan. Check the polls. Get confirmatory evidence this makes sense. Bombs away!
Armchair Mutineer would hate to see Gaddafi slaughter innocent people in Benghazi, but it is not the place of the US to decide that outcome. Playing this game of picking winners brought the US into an empire and all the costs that go with it. And why not intervene in Bahrain? Instead, the US let its Saudi client state send its army in to quell the rebellion.
But the economy is rough and these Middle Eastern movements are a feel good story. It just seems that we’re are forever bound to war in the Middle East, which brings me back to my favorite lines from Orwell’s 1984: