Progressives Embrace Humanitarian Imperialism – Again

"Foreign Intervention in Syria? A Debate with Joshua Landis and Karam Nachar." promised the headline on DemocracyNow! of 2/22.  Eagerly I tuned in, hoping to hear a thorough exposé of the machinations of the US Empire in Syria on its march to Iran.

But this was neither exposé nor debate.  Both sides, Landis and Nachar, were pro-intervention for "humanitarian" reasons.  Nor did the host Amy Goodman or her co-host take these worthies to task for their retrograde views on imperial military action against a sovereign nation that had made no attack on the US.  It was yet one more sign that the "progressive" movement in the West has largely abandoned its antiwar, anti-intervention stance.

The segment began with a clip of John McCain advocating yet another war, for the good of the Syrians of course, bombing them to save them.  The first guest was Joshua Landis, a prof in Oklahoma whose bio tells us that he "regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies."   The other agencies are not specified, but he speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations and similar venues. Professor Landis represents the anti-intervention voice in the universe of Amy Goodman, but his opening words manifested the limits of that universe: "Well, I’m not opposed to helping the (Syrian) opposition." He continued, "The problem right now, the dangers right now with arming the opposition, is that we’re not sure who to arm." 

Confused, I thought surely the next guest would be the anti-interventionist.  He was Karam Nachar "cyber-activist" and Princeton Ph.D. candidate, working with Syrian "protesters" via "social media platforms." That means he is safely ensconced in New Jersey far from where U.S. bombs would fall.  Perhaps this fellow would say loud and clear the Syrians did not need the interference of the West, did not need sanctions to starve them nor bombs to pulverize their cities.  Perhaps he would laud the Chinese/Russian proposal for both sides to stop firing and to negotiate a solution. 

But he did not.  He also was for intervention by the West.  And he did not think the disorganization of the opposition, cited by Landis, justified hesitation or delay in arming that opposition.  That and not any principled anti-interventionism  distinguished the two sides in this "debate."   Said the cyber-activist: "Well, to start with, I disagree with Professor Landis’s portrayal of the situation with the Syrian opposition. It is true that, for instance, in the Syrian National Council, there are a lot of disagreements. But (the opposition is) still frustrated with the leadership of the Syrian National Council because of its inability to solicit more international support…. And I believe that the State Department, Secretary Clinton and the American administration is heading towards that. … It’s going to require a lot of money and a lot of courage and a lot of involvement on the part of the international community. (Emphasis, JW)

And then the boy cyber-activist got nasty:  "I am just a little wary that this overemphasis on how leaderless the Syrian opposition is actually a tactic being used of people who actually do not want the regime to be overthrown and who have always actually defended the legitimacy of the Syrian regime, and especially of Bashar al-Assad."  There it is.  Even if one is for intervention in principle, no delay is to be countenanced.  Such people are surely on the side of Bashar Al-Assad.

This is the kind of "debate" we get on "progressive" media outlets.  It is not even a debate about whether there should be imperial intervention, once completely verboten on the Left, but when and under what circumstances military intervention should occur.  This phony debate should simply be ignored whether it appears on DemocracyNow! or on NPR, increasingly indistinguishable in content and outlook or anywhere else.  For a principled explanation of anti-interventionism one can look to Jean Bricmont on the Left or Ron Paul and Justin Raimondo on the libertarian side. 

In fairness to Amy Goodman, just a few weeks back on February 7, she hosted the British writer and long time student of Syria, Patrick Seale.  Said Seale: "I believe dialogue is the only way out of this. And indeed, the Russians have suggested to both sides to come to Moscow and start a dialogue. But the opposition says, ‘No, we can’t dialogue with Bashar al-Assad. He must be toppled first.’ Well, that’s a dangerous — a dangerous position to adopt." That interview is well worth reading.  And Goodman would do well to stick with that instead of shifting over to empty debates between interventionism now versus interventionism later.  After repeatedly hosting the CIA consultant Juan Cole to cheer the cruel war on Libya, Goodman now seems to be going down the same path with Syria.  It is a sad spectacle and one more indication of how little the "progressives" in the West understand the nature of Humanitarian Imperialism which uses human rights to sell war.  It looks like it’s time to abandon Goodman and switch to Alyona

Author: John V. Walsh

John V. Walsh writes about issues of war, peace, empire, and health care for, Consortium News,, The Unz Review, and other outlets. Now living in the East Bay, he was until recently Professor of Physiology and Cellular Neuroscience at a Massachusetts Medical School. John V. Walsh can be reached at