Syrians Deserve Self-Determination

The aptly-named Hotel Imperial in Vienna, site of international Syria talks that included no actual Syrians.

“Assad must go. Assad must go.”

This monotonous mantra has echoed endlessly in halls of power throughout the US-led imperium. In Washington, London, Riyadh, Doha, Ankara, and Tel Aviv, its chant has droned on for years, heedless of developments.

Al Qaeda and ISIS leading the anti-Assad insurgency? Assad must go. And we will risk future terror attacks on the American homeland to make it so.

ISIS declares a Caliphate incorporating its conquests in eastern Syria and western Iraq? Assad must go. And we will risk the further destabilization of the entire Middle East to make it so.

Russian fighter jets enter Syria to fight Al Qaeda and ISIS and save Assad? Assad must go. And we will risk military incidents that could escalate to a nuclear world war to make it so.

In fact, Washington has answered Russia’s entry by announcing the deployment of special forces to Syria to “advise and assist” anti-Assad forces, in spite of President Obama’s past promises that there would be no American “boots on the ground” in the conflict.

These forces have aptly been described as “human shields” sent to protect US rebel assets from Russian bombs. Imagine the fallout if some of these American commandos found their way into a Russian blast radius. Indeed “fallout” may not be a merely figurative description of the ultimate consequences.

Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad is no threat to the American people. So why such a hidebound, pig-headed insistence on regime change in Syria, to the point of courting such catastrophe? The actual reasons have to do with global hegemony, Israel’s geo-political ambitions (see here and here), and crony access to natural resources.

But since the actual reasons have already been amply covered, let us address the official reasons, just in case anyone still takes them seriously.

At a recent briefing, State Department Spokesman John Kirby was challenged by a reporter (incredible, I know) over the propriety of foreign powers deciding that “Assad must go.” The reporter pointed out that:

“…the Assad regime definitely represents a certain constituency in Syria. The minorities, Christians, even a portion of the Sunnis look at the Syrian regime as their representative, in particular at Bashar al-Assad. Why should Bashar al-Assad be completely nixed out of the process, considering that he controls the larger portion on the ground, proudly asserting themselves as the major power in that conflict on the ground? Why should Assad be nixed out of the process?”

Kirby insisted that Assad can have no “long-term leadership role in Syria,” but magnanimously granted that he or his regime could have a “role” in the coming “transition.” In other words, the imperial court deigns to bestow on Assad the privilege of participating in his own overthrow.

Kirby then referred to the official justification for the regime change policy. As is typical with Democratic administrations, it is not so much about national security as it is about humanitarian intervention:

“This is about coming together to try to reach a consensus view on what an effective political transition can look like in Syria. … The Syrian people deserve a country that they can call home and they can be safe and secure and stable and have a prosperous future. It needs to be unified; it needs to be whole; it needs to be pluralistic.”

It is a curious kind of “consensus” on what “the Syrian people deserve” that has not included any actual Syrians. High level diplomatic talks in Vienna over resolving the Syrian war and political crisis ended on Saturday. They were attended by delegates of almost 20 nations, which, according to the EU’s foreign policy chief, comprise “all relevant actors .” Yet even in these talks, significantly broadened to include Assad supporters Russia and Iran, Syrians themselves were not deemed “relevant” to their own fate, since there was no seat for them at the U-shaped table in the opulent conference room of the aptly named Hotel Imperial.


Who the hell is John Kirby of St. Petersburg, Florida to decide “what the Syrian people deserve”? Or his bosses John Kerry and Barack Obama? Or any of the foreign ministers who gathered in Vienna and their bosses, for that matter?

Granted, Assad is a brutal dictator. Every regime represented at the Hotel Imperial is brutal in its own special way. The US incarcerates a huge portion of its population over non-violent offenses and has recently decimated whole countries throughout a wide swath of the eastern hemisphere. Russia and Iran are both horribly repressive. The Saudis are head-chopping extremist theocrats who are massacring and starving thousands of Yemenis as you read. None of these regimes have any moral standing to decide whether Assad’s is beyond the pale.

The only parties fit to judge Assad are his actual victims, the Syrian people.

“But that is what the Syrian rebellion is all about,” you might object. “The Americans, Saudis, Turks, etc, are just trying to help the Syrian people overthrow their oppressor!”

False. For one thing, it is not even accurate to call the Syrian insurgency a “rebellion.” It is more like an invasion, since it is led by groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS which are largely comprised of international mujahideen.

Furthermore, the insurgency is fighting, not to secure just restitution for the regime’s actual victims, or to simply throw off Assad’s yoke. It is fighting to burden the Syrian people with a new yoke. And for many of Syria’s religious minorities — Alawites, Druze, Christians, etc — that yoke would be so biting as to lop off their heads, since much of the insurgency’s conquests are being made by the leading sectarian extremists who are so wont to execute apostates.

And even in the unlikely scenario that “moderates” take over, it would be largely a foreign yoke, because the insurgency is so heavily sponsored by the US, the Saudis, the Turks, etc. The Assad regime is also supported by Russia and Iran, but it is not a foreign-installed junta, like the governments in Baghdad and Kiev are, and like a “pro-Western” regime in Damascus would be. And even if Assad is a Russian and Iranian puppet, overthrowing him this way would simply be replacing one client regime with another.

And what if some of the indigenous rebels prefer a “pro-Western” foreign yoke? Well, they have no right to impose that preference on their countrymen, just as their countrymen have no right to impose an Assad yoke on them.

There should be no yokes at all. But so long as most Syrians are not individualist anarchists, power compromises should be made on as local a level as possible.

This is the underlying principle of such concepts as self-determination and home rule: even states’ rights and national sovereignty. These doctrines can be difficult to swallow for anarchists, who reject the notions that there should be any “determination” or “rule,” or that states have “rights” and nations have “sovereignty” at all.

But these phrases are merely shorthand for a perfectly sound libertarian principle. If an individual acquiesces to a master, that is bad enough. But it only compounds the injustice for some greater master (even with the connivance of some of his fellow subjects) to “liberate” him against his will, perhaps killing many of his family and neighbors in the process, only to impose on him a different master. And if such “liberation”/domination occurs, it only compounds injustice still further for a still greater master to similarly intervene in response to that.

Autocrats deserve to lose power. But to truly benefit the people, movements to topple dictators must be local and organic, and not dependent on artificial growth hormones injected by foreign powers. The US and its allies have been injecting foreign money and weapons (and now troops too) into the Syrian “resistance” from the beginning. And that has mutated the insurgency into a brutal, extremist jihad, and deadlocked the country in a horrifically bloody war.

Only movements led and driven locally have recourse to the on-the-ground knowledge, connections, and motivations necessary to liberate themselves and their near-neighbors sustainably, responsibly, and relatively peacefully, such that chaotic civil wars are ended or avoided, reconciliation among factions is achieved, and an even worse tyranny does not arise to replace the fallen one.

When talks resume weeks from now in Vienna, some Syrians from both the government and certain opposition groups will finally be included. That is a start, but it is not nearly good enough. Russia and Iran should clear out of Syria, even if ISIS and Al Qaeda don’t. And the US should clear out of Syria, even if Russia and Iran don’t.

What Syria deserves is self-determination. And, ever since Woodrow Wilson self-righteously proclaimed his Fourteen Points, what “democracy”-spreading “humanitarian interventionists” have refused to recognize is that self-determination enforced by foreign powers is a contradiction in terms.

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