The Kosovo route to Syrian disaster

The Kosovo route to Syrian disaster
Pierre Guerlain
The latest accusations leveled at the Syrian government have prompted the resurrection of the 1999 Western intervention model in the war against Serbia in the then Serbian province of Kosovo. The parallel between Kosovo and Serbia is striking, at least rhetorically for the time being. In Kosovo as in Syria a government is accused of genocide or ethnic cleansing or massacring the population and Western intervention is presented as a humanitarian intervention.
Law and human rights are invoked while international law and the UN are bypassed, the views of large segments of the world population are ignored and those who call themselves “the international community” are basically the West and its allies. Humanitarian intervention is advocated in Syria but not in Egypt though the government there also massacres large numbers of people (with the explicit approval of the Syrian government and the tacit one of the West).
In Kosovo the group known as UCK had been considered a terrorist organization by the US and Britain until two years before the NATO bombings; yet it became the major ally of NATO guiding its bombs thanks to equipment on the ground. In Syria the ugly regime of Al Assad is opposed by groups that are labeled as terrorist in other countries (Mali or Afghanistan, for instance). These groups are active in Iraq where a sunni-shia guerilla war is going on. The West forms alliances of convenience with some groups it is currently fighting and seems oblivious to what comes after military victory. The Libyan example though is there to show that what comes later is neither democracy nor even stability but access to oil in chaotic conditions.
In Kosovo, as so many observers from libertarians to the radical left, to conservatives of the Bacevich type or independent scholars such as Todorov have shown, ethnic cleansing did happen after the war: the reverse one from what was feared, Albanians supported by the West cleansed Serbians. Gérard Chaliand, the famous geopolitical expert predicts another war between the various factions of the Syrian opposition after the current régime falls. The signs are there: an intervention by the West, which cannot take place if the US is not on board —for both Britain and France are weak players— would have disastrous consequences in Syria, in the Middle East and therefore have global consequences.
The rationale for going to war is humanitarian: protecting the victims of the régime in Syria. Although, as the libertarian site Anti War documents, many claims by segments of the so-called Syrian opposition have proved to be hoaxes and the accusation of toxic gas usage is the key argument in the call for war. There is no doubt that the Syrian government is not democratic and murderous but interventions to change a régime have little to do with ethics and a lot to do with naked power relations. The Christian minority in Syria, as in Egypt, often reluctantly supports the régime which does not hesitate to massacre opponents for they feel the alternative would be worse. Why does the West support those it calls “Islamic terrorists” and not Christians?
The reason is geopolitical not humanitarian. Indonesian massacres in East Timor did not figure prominently in the Western press until it became geopolitically relevant. In Kosovo chaos resulted from the intervention and reverse ethnic cleansing but the US could set up Camp Bondsteel and assert its hegemony in a part of the world where Russia had had a lot of clout. In Syria the stakes are weakening Iran and also the influence of Russia which has only one ally in the region.
The question therefore is not whether atrocities are committed or not: they are but the two sides vie with each other to be atrocious. The régime has Russian arms and support, the rebels who are significantly different from the 2011 protesters, are armed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the West. A Kosovo type Western intervention would lead to a bloodbath, weaken Iran but also destabilize the whole region which might not be to the liking of the West and its main ally there, Israel. There might already be too many weapons to even consider putting the pressure on all groups to stop shooting and to start negotiating.
In Kosovo the West ended up supporting the group it considered terrorist which was involved in human organs trafficking and then presided over ethnic cleansing. In Libya the blowback led to the assassination of the American ambassador and the rule of armed gangs is supreme. African countries were opposed to the Libyan intervention but the so-called international community couldn’t care less about African warnings.
It is quite understandable that pictures of atrocities move people who want to stop the massacres. Of course it is important to know who commits these atrocities but geopolitics cannot be reduced to a simplistic ethical model. Powers intervene for reasons of power, not for purely moral and disinterested reasons. In Kosovo the humanitarian reason was a mask for military and hegemonic ones, it led to chaos and reinforced US hegemony. In Syria the chaos is looming but the costs to the US might make even the hegemonic goal chancy.
Diplomacy means you negotiate even with your worst enemies, even with ugly régimes. A solution to the Syrian conflict is certainly not easy but if everyone arms the parties then blood will continue to be shed. Intervention should be an effort to work with Russia and put pressure on Saudi Arabia to force negotiation. In Iraq Hussein was an ugly dictator—at times encouraged by the West even when his crimes were known —; this did not justify war. Lies about weapons of mass destruction led to war and millions of deaths which could have been prevented. Propaganda pushing for war in Syria insists on the ugliness of the Assad régime which is not in doubt yet Kosovo, Iraq and Libya are there to show that what Goya called the “disasters of war” do not solve humanitarian crises. Humanitarianism in geopolitics is just a mask.

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