The Isolationism of the Left Cannot Hold After Syria
In the spitting rain, they gathered and told UK and London to wake up. A large assembly of Kurdish families, activists and non-Kurdish allies arrived in central London; a tide of humanity trudging its way up through to Parliament Square. There, they stood outside the gates of power and called for action.
In the week that Donald Trump announced — via Twitter — that he was pulling back US troops out of northern Syria, panic built up amongst the now abandoned and betrayed Kurdish forces who had been fighting ISIS for years and creating victories against Jihadist groups. In the vacuum left by the Americans, it would be filled by Turkey, raising fears of a genocide visited upon the Kurdish people by a Turkish military offensive. Turkish President Erdogan is notoriously hostile to ambitions of a Kurdish autonomy, and would most likely seek to drive out Kurds from areas such as Rojava through violence or intimidation, or just both.
In their desperation, backs pressed against the wall, the Kurds have had to partner with another genocidal dictator, one responsible for the bloodbath that has drowned Syria’s dreams of democracy and freedom for the past eight years: Bashar Al Assad.
Gut-wrenching, chilling scenes have leaked out of northern Syria detailing already some of the atrocities inflicted upon the Kurdish people. This is a stateless, ethnic community with strong bonds of solidarity towards each other. So they protested. They called for a No-Fly-Zone, which much of the Western Left backed.
If you want to know why this act of cross-border support from the Left is both surprising and hypocritical, consider the recent video showing American troops pulling out just as Syrian Army soldiers came in. Consider the triumphant, gleeful cheers of the Syrian Army soldiers as they raised the flag of their fascist regime where it had not been for many years. The latest victory in a series of brutal, soul-crushing blows to both the Kurdish autonomy and a democratic Syria.
After all these years, it now looks like it is finally over. The dictator has won while the world condemned and did nothing. In Idlib they will continue to fight, and across Syria remants of a gutted resistance steeped in pursuit of democracy will rally, their cost of sacrifice too deep to stop now, but really and truly, it is over and the dictator has won.
What does the world mean when it says “never again”? What lessons did we take from the Holocaust? That racism and fascism had to be fought uncompromisingly? Barely. But what about the dangers of state powers to inflict violence upon its people? Never again became over and over again in Rwanda, then Srenebica and now in Syria. The UN cannot do anthing when Russia sits on its Security Council with a power to veto any sort of action against Assad. Moreover, the UN is institutionally designed to stop conflict between states — birthed post-WWII- than protect human rights. This is also an accusation applicable to the Left that respects the sovereignty of some tyrants over the right to freedom and equality over its citizens. It views the nation as the leader and his state apparatuses over the people. It understands forces like Russia and the Assad regime as reactionary agents to US imperialism, and therefore resists any sort of narrative that gives dictators agency for their own war crimes. This, prevents any sort of action towards dictators.
This is a curious conservatism of the Left that rejects ‘regime change’ — as if such a thing is actually a bad thing — in favour of maintaining the status quo. Movements in the West are allowed to coalesce against bad governments, but movements in Hong Kong, Venezuela, Syria and Iran are dismissed as stooges for the American government, CIA operatives in disguised. This is the racism of low expectations that deems such people as incapable of democracy, content to sleep through the oppression. But do not think the Left is consistent on this.
Though they have backed a NFZ regarding the plight of the Kurds (which is the right stance), the Left opposed a NFZ where it concerned Libya and where it has concerned Syria. They have been content to sit and watch Aleppo and then Idlib burn in Assad’s mounting atrocities, without a whimper of a protest against the deaths of hundreds of thousands. And yet it agrees to a NFZ here, it berates the US for withdrawal — although you would think that logical implication would have them favouring such a move — but vehemently rejects Western military air strikes on Assad’s chemical facilities.
Had these people been less concerned by ideological narratives and more interested in amplifying Syrian voices, they would have understood that years ago intervention against Assad was necessary. It all comes back to the Iraq War and the tendency to conflate every situation with the Iraq War, as if they were the same. Then, the Iraqis were deprived of any time and space for a organic democratic movement against Saddam Hussein to even take place. Furthermore, Iraqis understood it was on the basis of a lie, there was no post-war plan and no appreciation of the sectarian hostilities that existed within.
But Syria is not Iraq. It’s not even Libya and Libya was not Iraq either. The lesson Leftists took from there was that all interventions were bad. But inaction can be as deadly, if not worse. And sometimes interventions work. The plight of the Kurdish people today is because of our inaction, our refusal to intervene. Had we acted in 2013 when the Syrian people were requesting support — and they’ve been calling for it ever since — then perhaps Assad would have been swept out on a tide of grassroots Syrian democracy paving the way for Kurdish freedom and a new Syria in which secularism was not simply a dictator who didn’t discriminate in his oppression of the people.
But we didn’t, and here we are. Several years of dead women and children, destroyed cities, drowned refugees, capsized boats, raped survivors, and weary people have passed. The disconsolate reality is that Bashar Al Assad has won.