Recently, Peter Tatchell and others interrupted a speech by Jeremy Corbyn to demand government action over the Aleppo siege. Previously there were demands for humanitarian aid air-drops. He compared Aleppo as a modern-day Guernica. But where was his plea for Mosul?
In the Syria civil war, anyone who opposes armed interventions by the West has had to face criticism from what could be called the anti-antiwar Left. The anti-antiwar Left does not come out openly in favour of military engagements but suggests “humanitarian” safe-havens or no-fly zones. Yet Tatchell is proposing direct confrontation with Syrian and Russian aircraft. He may even criticise their governments sometimes for their tactics or alleged motivations – the West is supporting a just cause, but clumsily and for the wrong reasons such as oil or for geo-strategic reasons.
But most of all he is in dispute with those who are firmly opposed to such interventions. Tatchell is calling upon us to show solidarity with the “victims” against “dictators who kill their own people”, and not to give in to knee-jerk anti-imperialism or anti-Americanism. After the Kosovo Albanians in 1999, we have been told that “we” must protect Afghan women, Kurds or the people of Libya and of Syria. We are told it is the West's (and it is always the West's. Imagine the outcry if the Chinese sent an aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean) responsibility and right and duty to come to the aid of a people in danger. Human rights is entrusted to the good will of the U.S. government and its allies in NATO.
It is important to realise that “solidarity” and “support” to rebel or secessionist movements involved in armed struggle means intervening militarily. It is perfectly obvious that the anti-antiwar Left does not possess those means so this demand amounts to little more than asking the U.S./U.K to go bomb countries and it must be very naïve of Tatchell and co. to expect those nations to act as the instrument of salvation of “victims”, but that is in practice exactly what the anti-antiwar Left is advocating, because, given the relationship of forces in the world, there is no other military force able to impose its will.
Of course, governments is scarcely aware of the existence of the anti-antiwar Left except for being useful idiots. The powers that be determine whether or not to go to war according to their own assessment of their strategic, political and economic interests. The anti-antiwar Left has no influence on the course of the war. Ineffectual they are not though. These anti-antiwar activists serve to neutralise any peace or anti-war movement. Opposition is attacked as “support to dictators”, another “appeasement”, or “moral indifference”. Tatchell concludes his article in the Guardian with the plea “The time for talk and hand-wringing is over. Syrians need action now.”
The problem is that every war is justified by a massive propaganda effort which is based on demonising the enemy, in this case, the Syrian government and their Russian and Iranian allies. When the media announce that a massacre is imminent, we hear at times that action is “urgent” to save the future victims, and time cannot be lost making sure of the facts (recall Libya). Such urgency ignores the manipulation of information and just plain error and confusion that dominate a biased foreign news coverage. The slightest error in any judgment call by the no-war movement is endlessly repeated, whereas all the lies of the pro-war propaganda machine are quickly forgotten.
But if we are to draw lessons from the past, it is that interventions from an outside power in support of an insurrection from within is not necessarily the best mean to achieve social change.