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

People search for survivors from the rubble following reported air-strikes on the rebel-held town of Saqba. PHOTO: AFP 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 (

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

  • I am a Khan

    an assad supporter? not worth taking seriously then…Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Just out of curiosity, just how many Syrian refugees did Pakistan volunteer to take in????

  • numbersnumbers

    Just out of curiosity, just what has Pakistan’s response been to Assad’s years of war crimes against his own people? Would note that Pakistan was very vocal against Israeli charges!Recommend

  • 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

  • Razzy

    The real red line in Syria is not chemical weapons, the real red line for the US has always been the imminent prospect of a Syrian government victory. And the US troops are there to prevent that, let there be no mistake about that. The U.S. has always had used covert terrorist proxies against countries that it didn’t like the rulers of.

    Every astute reader knows that the US has been “engaged” with the region for more than 50 years. And psst psst!!! it has got nothing to do with “Peace and Democracy”.

    !! From the shah affair in the 50s to Iran contra in the 70s to the Iraq invasion based on lies, the US does everything to take out it’s opponents based on Phony freedom and democracy crap. Syria before the civil war was much much more free than US ally Saudi Arabia can ever be. Well socially free not politically of course. You could be a woman and wear a skirt or drive a car or have a late night kitty party and no one really bothered.

    As long as one is an ally, Uncle sam will look the other way, like it did with Saddam when he was ACTUALLY gassing the Kurds in the 80s!!!
    Just like how today Saudi Arabia as it drops bomb after bomb on Yemen! And most of these bombs are supplied by the USA and some by the UK.

    All the US has been doing in the region is maintaining satraps like Saudi and Qatar and bolstering their regime all the while using fake Freedom and democracy crap to takeout kingdoms it doesn’t like. It just happens to have better PR than the kings of yore!!Recommend

  • Adil Khan

    Like most people, I totally detest Trump. But to blame Americans for their behaviour at large after 9/11 is ignorence. Secondly, even though America is physically situated around 10,000 miles from Middle East and Pakistan, there are still around 10 million Muslims living there, many as refugees and asylum seekers. How many Muslim refugees did our oil rich Arab countries take in in comparison. Didn’t they have more responsibility than a white, western country to take in fellow refugees from Libya, Iraq and Syria. Lets discuss this first, and then we can definitely talk about the Americans and the Europeans.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I didn’t read it as him being an Assad supporter…….but him being someone who has pointed out the double standards adopted by America in its foreign policy. This view is not something new, it goes way back.Recommend

  • Usman

    You do know that Pakistan is home to more than 2 million Afghan refugees, right? Also, curiosity killed the cat!Recommend

  • Yankee

    Pakistan did not prop up Assad back in the day before firing 59 Tomahawk missiles in Syria (US did). Pakistan also did not destroy a country of 26 million under the pretext of weapons of mass destruction (US did).Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Hmmm, and just how did ISIS manage to drop chemical weapon bombs FROM AIRCRAFT on that town in Western Syria??


  • Nana

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

  • Hamzah Mujahid Khan

    Agree with the self interest part, but those CIVILIANS who are continuously dying at the hands of their own government is a bit difficult to ignore. Most of them are killed just because they belong to a different sect.Recommend

  • 2#

    Very beautiful writing, good selection of vocabulary and one of many facts no one talks about, rare pieces Tribune would allow to be published, but my friend, you wrote for the wrong people, who have no activism in their lives, and are not foreseeing what you mentioned. I suggest you better write a book on this topic and send me one copy, i’ll buy it in double price. Thanks, keep writing.Recommend

  • 2#

    Just another curiosity, how many bangalis, bosnians and afghanis did we take? just another curiosity, what is your planet? another curiosity, when will the earth not see useless plastic bottles?Recommend

  • 2#

    cool… so sir, where did you get this useful information from ?Recommend

  • siesmann

    Wars and Humanitarianism are oxymorons.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

  • Solomon2

    ” 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 -”

    A careful reading of the HRW report cites huge numbers of WP shells found but only two civilians confirmed killed by white phosphorus. It is thus very difficult to substantiate claims that Israel employed WP “indiscriminately”- claims based solely on eyewitness accounts – rather than, as Israel claims, as smokescreens against Hamas fighters.

    On the other hand, Israel has collected material evidence that Hamas has recycled unexploded WP ordinance into its own rockets, which Hamas then uses to target Israeli civilians. And HRW, like so many other international organizations, says nothing at all about this blatant violation of international law by Hamas.

    The falsehoods, distortions, and omissions of context applied to demonize Israel and obscure the true crimes of her genocidal enemies – known to world leaders who for political reasons omit explaining this to their publics – is this not the most important reason why dictators like Assad have had a free hand to abuse their own peoples?Recommend