I am not one of those “leftist” who in the name of anti-imperialism embraces whatever dictator the US or its cronies currently has in its sights and turns a blind eye to his crimes against his own people. I am also not one of those who has illusions about American foreign policy having any humanitarian impulses (Long time readers of this blog will recall my first post was a detailed assault on the very notion of “humanitarian intervention”). Unlike some of my comrades I see nothing contradictory between supporting workers, students, and other popular forces against a repressive regime while at the same time opposing any attempts by imperialist forces to intervene. In fact, to me it seems like the only logical position for a socialist to take.
This is why I am particularly disturbed by remarks both presidential candidates made about Syria. The humanitarian situation in Syria is really very dire. There are certainly popular forces that oppose Assad that have been met with sickening levels of state repression and violence. At the same time, I recognize that the Assad regime has traditionally presented a predicament for American and Israeli foreign policy. I also realize that it is these geopolitical concerns, not the plight of the Syrian people, that motivate US desires for regime change. After all, it is hard for the US to complain of human rights problems in the Middle East after it’s own violent invasion and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s continued use of drones strikes, it’s support for Israeli settler-colonialism and apartheid, as well as, its backing of various repressive Arab states. If America wanted to promote human rights in the Middle East it would certainly be a lot easier to start with its own foreign policy before getting itself involved in Syria.
While both candidates tended to agree on just about everything, Syria no exception, Romney’s crass description of the murder of 30,000 Syrians as an “opportunity” for the US to install a “friendly” and “responsible” government was the most illustrative of the US’s actual designs in Syria.
What particularly troubled me about this comment was how much it plays into the hands of Assad and his apologist. Max Weber when he defined a state as the monopoly on the legitimate force of violence essentially captured what Louis Althusser would partially argue--that state apparatuses could be reduced to two main functions--repression and ideology. As Barara Fields wrote, that while political hegemony ultimately rests on force, “ There is never ultimately enough force to go around, particularly since submission is hardly ever an end in itself...Slaveholders, colonial rulers, prison guards and the Shah’s police have all had occasion to discover that when nothing remains except force, nothing remains—period.”
Assad has attempted to portray the revolt against his autocratic rule as a western plot, a thinly veiled attempt to punish him for being an “independent” leader and install a puppet regime in his place. Given the legacy of colonialism and intervention in the region, one should not dismiss the power of anti-imperialism as a legitimating ideology (one should also never forgot that true opposition to imperialism is a tenant of any socialist word-view and should not be conflated with the cynical attempts of a despot to remain in power).
By Romney reducing the situation in Syria to a question of “opportunities” for the US he is essentially playing into and legitimating Assad’s ideological narrative. I would question whether Romney understand’s the potential ramifications of his statements, but for that to concern him he would have to actually care about either human rights or the Syrian people--yet another quality Romney shares with Obama.