"No We Can’t": The US foreign policy and the end of humanitarian intervention, Arda Akçiçek

The world has witnessed two major changes during the ongoing Middle East crisis started with the Arab Spring. One is the end of anti-war movement and the other is the end of notion of humanitarian intervention. Especially in the Syrian case, one part of the public opinion in the US insisted to go to war with Asad regime and there no voice was raised against the war as it was an evil by itself. The only argument why the US should not go to war was that the country had no interest in Syria and starting a war would be irrational and could cost lives of Americans. This sounded like the "anti-war discourse" was already erased from the memory and put the question that "what happened to this movement" forward.

The US became a hero in the Islamic world after it had made military intervention in Kosovo while civilians were massacred right at the elbow of Western Europe. This was like the peak of the humanitarian intervention edge since the World War II. This yielded the hope that when civilians were attacked aggressively by regimes or military groups, there would be a world society, or at least a society of states which could collectively protect them against violence. However, in the recent case of Syria and also Egypt, the belief in humanitarian intervention was reversed. Russia’s political strategies and US’ game calculations revealed that there was no ideal, specific and respectful principle for humanitarian intervention. Red lines for preventing people to get killed by their own political regimes could be changed according to the situation in which the so-called super powers could get the advantage of the game. That would be the use of chemical weapons or waiting until the death of millions of people. So, it is somehow proved that the notion of humanitarian intervention is nothing more than a wishful thinking. It is still the system of states in which realism is the main rule and states are the only actors who have their own sovereignty rights and interests but not human values.

Although Turkish foreign policy is called to be "ineffective, even unsuccessful" during the Syrian and Egyptian crises by opponents of governing AKP, the actual loser of the process is the US. Obama administration has a very realistic approach to the foreign policy, which in fact, has demolished the humanitarian part of the US foreign policy set up by former democrat presidents like Clinton. Contrary to Bush administration, what has been expected from the present administration is to see the international relations more human-centric. In the first term of President Obama, the US had more moderate and human-centric approach in foreign policy; however in the second term, more rough, risk avoiding and realistic vision dominated the policy making process. This was understandable to some extent because of the damages from Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, there was no strong public support to the President to handle the Syrian crisis. However, all the world including the US public opinion knew that if it was not the US, no other international power could stop the violence in Syria. But the US has lost the game against Russia and was persuaded to seize Syria’s chemical weapons even it was already proven also by the US that Asad regime used those weapons against civilians. That was the red line of Obama administration to have a military intervention in Syria but the red line shifted to somewhere else which is unknown at the moment. Minds are not really clear about why the use of chemical weapons was the red line but not the killings of civilians. All we hope that the next red line will not be the death of millions. Moreover, President Obama owes an explanation about what is the difference between using chemical weapons and conventional weapons as long as civilians are still being killed.

Humanitarian intervention might be an illusion for a realistic foreign policy but more recently, NATO military intervention in Libya was definitely legitimized as humanitarian intervention. This associates with the questions that what has changed from that time on and what is the difference between Syrian and Libyan cases. President Obama might cause a change in foreign policy as he claimed to do so in domestic politics. That does not necessarily mean that the US has to go to war with Asad regime but that it should wage a will and power to stop violence in Syria. This is not only the US’ job but everyone knows that if it is not the US, then no one.

The US is going to destroy the chemical weapons of Syrian regime under the water and then? Nobody knows what is going to happen next. But one thing is obvious that this is not going to be a humanitarian intervention even the contrary is claimed. 

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