The 'humanitarian' war furphy

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(Image by John Graham)

This new rush to war is not an intervention designed to meet humanitarian goals and objectives, writes Dr Adam Hughes Henry, but simply another bloody bombing campaign to protect strategic Western interests.

THERE IS A PUBLIC PRESENTATION that a war against the Islamic State (IS) is justified outright on clear humanitarian grounds. That is, universally accepted standards of human rights have been transgressed and these unique perpetrators need to be brought to account.

There is evidence that IS actions on the battlefield contravene international human rights law. There are numerous allegations of ethnic cleansing, atrocities and threats of possible genocidal intent against their enemies.

Yet the actions of IS, in terms of our contemporary world, are very far from unique and as grotesque as their crimes are, cannot possibly be considered the worst of the worst. There are examples of barbaric behaviour which continue to be exhibited by U.S.-UK allies all over the world.

There does not seem to be any clamour to arrest and try any of the IS leadership in a court of law. There is, however, a clamour to bomb them.

Bombing from the sky is not a very useful humanitarian response — it is clearly a one dimensional military tactic contingent on targets. If there is a clear danger of ethnic cleansing and potential genocide in Iraq or elsewhere then the United Nations Security council is duty bound to act.

Current actions do not appear to have any such UN sanctioned legitimacy. Furthermore, there are no foreign troops on the ground to specifically defend these threatened ethnic populations, set up safe zones or sanctuaries and there is also absolutely no talk from nations like Australia of taking in any of the threatened groups as refugees as a matter of priority.

As in Kosovo in 1999, the way to save civilians from the stated threat of ethnic cleansing is apparently to bomb the place.

In the case of Kosovo in 1999 the NATO bombing killed scores of civilians, attacked civilian infrastructure once they quickly ran out of legitimate military targets and NATO effectively provided aircover for the Kosovar Liberation Army (KLA) to engage in their own campaign of ethnic cleansing on the ground.

The response of the Serbs to the bombing was a rapid escalation of reprisals against the KLA and Kosovar civilians. That is, the bombing did not decrease atrocities, they actually helped to create and indeed initiate a new cycle of Serbian atrocities in reprisal to a relentless U.S. led NATO bombing.

Given the behaviour of IS so far in Syria and Iraq, even before the U.S. led bombing, it is very difficult to imagine that the current air campaign will have much of a deterrent effect, perhaps exactly the opposite. The campaign of anti-Western beheadings and other civilian atrocities in Syria and Iraq all ready for mass media distribution through the internet is hardly encouraging.

It might then get worse ‒ much worse ‒ particularly for the civilians in the cross hairs and one does not have to imagine the potential saga if a pilot on a bombing run against Islamic State is forced to eject over IS controlled territory.

In Libya, we had our first recent humanitarian precedent.

After throwing support behind the anti-Gaddafi militias on the basis of ousting an evil regime, and providing material support to assist their efforts, the NATO no fly zone (designed to prevent Gaddafi using his air force against his own citizens) unleashed a furious air campaign to help oust Gadhafi on humanitarian grounds.  

The end results were that not only did the campaign kill scores of civilians, guarantee a cache of captured arms to Islamic extremists and destroy infrastructure — it has left a civilian humanitarian catastrophe as the militias engage in outrage after outrage in efforts to control territory. Libya has ceased to be a functioning nation-state, but there is certainly no clamour for humanitarian intervention in Libya anymore.

In Syria, the so called humanitarian impulse centred on a tug of war between outside powers either keen to keep or destroy the Assad regime for strategic and political reasons, while the well-being civilian population of Syria (or lack of thereof) could be used to promote political support one way or the other. Again, anti-Assad regime forces were provided assistance and every encouragement by the U.S. and the UK; among these anti-Assad forces were supporters of groups such as al Qaeda and those that now pledge fanatical allegiance to IS.

Now back to Iraq, where 25 years of U.S. led war, sanctions and intervention have devastated and destroyed a once modern nation, leaving staggering civilian casualties and suffering in their wake.

The deliberate U.S. policy of divide and rule, instrumental after the 2003 invasion in creating a corrupt and repressive sectarian government, unable after billions of dollars of U.S. arms and a decade of training to defend itself from an IS dominated Sunni insurgency.

The question must be asked: how can the new mission to Iraq, particularly one spearheaded by the U.S. and backed by regimes like Saudi Arabia (who routinely funds Jihadist terrorist groups) be based on any notion of universal humanitarian values?

This might be the fig leaf that covers the naked David ‒ and the feeling of revulsion at Islamic State is genuine ‒ but this is selective outrage. The human rights abuses and atrocities of Western allies over the past 50 years have washed the ground with the blood of their faceless victims over and over again. Islamic State do not have anything approaching a unique monopoly over human rights abuses, terror or fanaticism — they are certainly not an unprecedented human evil.  

We might pause for thought that very real abuses and crimes against humanity every bit as grave as those committed at this stage by IS, regularly occur in our world and many of the worst examples nether compel us toward war, elicit ethical revulsion from our political leaders, or immediate ideas of humanitarian intervention. The U.S. and the West surely cannot have it both ways; we either strongly support international laws, human rights covenants, strongly adhere to the various Geneva conventions as matter of principle in letter and in spirit, or we do not.  

This new rush to war is not an intervention designed to fulfil any specified humanitarian objectives and outcomes. Where are the safe zones, where is UNHCR, where are the troops and diplomacy designed to defend, protect and negotiate for the safety of civilians?

Such a mission would surely be very different to what we are seeing now.  

The primary U.S. led mission in Iraq appears only to be a major bombing campaign against IS in support of strategic interests, with no clear statement of its expected timeframe or even a secondary option.

If war is really only the process of translating diplomacy into killing and death and Afghanistan, Libya and Syria are any indicators of what we are about to see unfold as we folly back to Iraq without as much as a second thought — the very worst is still to come.

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