The strange myth of America’s ‘humanitarian’ wars

Published: April 11, 2017

Syrian children wait to receive treatment at a makeshift clinic following reported air strikes by government forces in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus. PHOTO: AFP

In March 2009, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a forgetful 71-page report, calling out Israel’s indiscriminate use of white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas in Gaza. No rhetoric of bringing the oppressor to justice was heard within the American halls of power, and no tomahawk missiles were launched the following week.

The perversity of President Bashar al-Assad’s war crimes speaks for itself. It’s fair to assume that if Assad’s regime had been backed by powerful western interests, the latest unwatchable video of Syrian children suffering from the effects of chemical warfare would have invited the same response as Israel’s hawkish policies consistently do – Assad has the right to defend his country against terrorists who use civilians as human shields. Assad is an iron-fisted leader attempting to protect his people from unscrupulous armed militants backed by fanatical stone-throwers, who incidentally also hate women and gay people.

Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine military strikes against Assad’s weapons caches, being motivated by humanitarianism. President Donald Trump’s decision, after all, has been met with bipartisan approval, including from the traditionally anti-war liberals. The American liberal’s metamorphosis to a pro-war, anti-socialist, McCarthyist flag-waver convinced that Trump’s installation in the Oval Office was a Russian plot, has been rather mortifying to behold. Hillary Clinton herself, after all, supported the idea of war against Syria.

Nevertheless, we all saw the videos, and tearfully wondered what we could do to save these people. If someone from the back row yelled “let in the refugees”, he wasn’t heard by the mainstream media and the policymakers. Trump’s immigration policies have made it immensely difficult for Syrian civilians to enter the US with valid visas, let alone refugees. Are those lives worth saving, in the interest of humanitarianism?

It occurred to American liberals and conservatives alike, that a fresh military foray on foreign soil was in order. There hasn’t been a significant one since the US airstrike in Mosul that killed 200 unsuspecting civilians last month. The friends and families of that collateral damage would surely take solace in the nobility of America’s humanitarian intentions.

So on April 7th, Trump launched 59 tomahawk missiles against strategic targets in Syria. The cost of each missile is a little over a million dollars. The US’s $60,000,000 fireworks mark the opening act of a show that’s expected to cost a lot more.

Sixty million is a large number. For 60 million dollars, the US can accommodate 2,000 Syrian refugees – men, women, and children – in the opulent Trump International Hotel, Las Vegas, for 13 months at the American taxpayer’s expense. Or about 1,500, if the refugees are allowed to order daily room service and enjoy an occasional spa package.

If it’s not a matter of money, then it’s a matter of security risk. Yes, there is a one in 3.64 billion chance for an American to be killed by a refugee, based on the existing crime statistics. Comparing it to the incidence of suicide (13 per 100,000), an American citizen would have to attempt suicide hundreds of thousands of times before a refugee appears for assistance.

The US’s obstinate denial of shelter to desperate Syrian refugees, while simultaneously waging war in Syria on their behalf, is clear indication of American priorities. This is American political self-interest dressed up as humanitarian concern for the umpteenth time.

It is easy to dismiss the latest act of war by the US as another one of Trump’s famous gaffes, but it is not. Trump was goaded into it by months of commentary about America’s non-participation in the Syrian war in the mainstream media – the implication being that it’s unbelievable that there’s a conflict going on somewhere in the world, and the US hasn’t dived in. Trump’s hand was forced by Clinton-flavoured liberals as far left as John Oliver and Trevor Noah, who have spent months accusing Trump of being suspiciously friendly with Putin.

Consider the fact that the US exempts from justice all perpetrators nestled within its own circle of friends – from Israel to Saudi Arabia – while exuberantly meting out punishment to all those who sit apart. Consider the US’s almost cartoonish hostility towards Syrian refugees struggling to escape the nerve-gas scented death-trap.

And once you add a historical perspective to all these considerations, it becomes alarmingly obvious that the heart of every decision to launch a military strike is a hegemonic agenda and humanitarianism is a secondary concern, if at all.

Indeed, this strategy is worn out.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (twitter.com/FarazTalat)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • SHAR

    Good One Faraz!
    However we do need to wait till the investigation into the ‘Chemical Strike’ comes out. If I recall correctly, the last time a similar incident happened, it was ISIS who had actually launched it. The proximity of the white helmets to the strike is also an eyebrow raising factor. Not a fan of Assad but I think a few contrary facts may open up in the coming weeks.Recommend

  • Nana

    Double standards of this world is too obvious. Thank you for echoing my thoughts in your article.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Humans are good in playing the roles of victims and perpatraitors alternatively at the same me.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    America has choosen Donnald Trump to represent its dark side The Trumpers have different priorities today. The sooner the people recognise the change the sooner they will be able to cope with it.

    Rex MinorRecommend