In the recent debate over NATO intervention in Syria, hosted by the Hart House Debates Committee, both sides missed some key points in determining this critical question.

The pro-intervention side argued that intervention in Syria could ensure secular democrats gaining power upon defeating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The opposition countered by citing NATO’s unpopularity in Syria, the Syrian opposition’s association with Islamists, the country’s business elite, and the increased likelihood of Assad using chemical weapons if his country were invaded.

Former NATO ambassador David Wright spoke after, emphasizing the effect of NATO’s divisions. Some members support intervention but important players such as Germany are opposed, and powerful ones such as the United States do not want to lead the attack. Wright concluded, only Turkey favors intervention in Syria.

While the speakers captured some of the nuances of the Syrian question, key issues were still ignored. The regional power struggle over Syria, involving reactionary monarchies (Saudi Arabia and Qatar), a former colonial power (Turkey), and an unpopular occupation (Israel) went almost unmentioned. A Syrian rebel victory could benefit these countries and erode Syrian sovereignty.

Another flaw was Wright’s complete denunciation of Assad’s regime. While Syria’s government isn’t democratic and has committed atrocities, Wright’s view ignores even some pro-western sources, such as The Globe and Mail and a Qatari poll cited in The Guardian, suggesting most Syrians see Assad as a “lesser evil” when choosing between his rule and continued fighting. Wright also ignored that Assad’s Ba’ath party governs as part of a coalition of left-leaning parties, known as the National Progressive Front (NPF). Some NPF members have championed reforms, such as amendments to the Syrian constitution enforcing presidential term limits and political pluralism. Youssuf Farha of the Syrian Unified Communist Party argued that the reforms address the demands of Syria’s peaceful protesters better than the atrocities committed by the pro-intervention opposition.

While ideally Syria would have a different governing structure, the West’s ulterior motives make so-called humanitarian intervention unthinkable. It is not fair to rain bombs on Syrians and then force them to adopt neoliberal reforms, friendlier relations with their reactionary neighbors, and a rightist and/or theocratic replacement for the NPF, as the NATO model of intervention suggests. “Humanitarian intervention” destroyed Libya - we can’t make the same mistake again.

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: NATO ambassador denounces war in practice but not in principle
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