I’m so old that I can remember when Juan Cole was a powerful opponent of warmongering Western elites who pushed “intervention” to bring about “regime change” in Muslim lands. Who can forget his stinging rebuke to that now-departed beater of war drums, Christopher Hitchens, way, way back in the last decade (emphasis Cole’s):
All the warmongers in Washington, including Hitchens, if he falls into that camp, should get this through their heads. Americans are not fighting any more wars in the Middle East against toothless third rate powers. So sit down and shut up.
One, two, three, four! We don’t want your stinking war!
Cole goes on, with admirable anger, to provide chapter and verse — and pictures — of the horrific consequences and monstrous corruption of the “regime change” operations already in progress in those long-ago days. But now it seems that he has changed his tune on fighting more wars in the Middle East against toothless third rate powers. In a recent post, he mocks those who have resisted launching a “regime change” intervention in Syria:
The world community has failed Syria, just as it failed Rwanda and the Congo, though the human toll in Syria is a fraction of those killed in the African events. Russia and China have used their veto to block any effective United Nations Security Council resolution that might lead to regime change….
Those on the left and in the libertarian movement who stridently condemned Arab League and NATO intervention in Libya (which forestalled massacres like the one we just saw in the Baba Amr district of Homs) have been silent about al-Assad’s predations and clueless as to what to do practically. Perhaps they do not care if indigenous dictators massacre indigenous protesters, as long as there is no *gasp* international intervention.
Here Cole reverts to the standard “Kosovo Gambit” habitually employed by those seeking to justify the machinations of militarism. As we all recall, NATO bombed the hell out of Serbia in order, we were told, to forestall a massacre in Kosovo which hadn’t happened yet — but which NATO leaders knew likely would happen if they … bombed Serbia. So they bombed. And there was a massacre; or rather, two massacres: the predicted one by Serb forces after the NATO bombing — and the NATO bombing itself, which killed countless civilians and wreaked vast suffering and destruction on civilian areas and infrastructure. [Oddly enough, the worst damage was visited upon the regions in Serbia that were most opposed to rule of Slobodan Milosevic; the NATO bombing essentially destroyed democratic opposition to his authoritarian rule. For a good overview, see Chomsky’s The New Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo.]
Likewise, the NATO intervention in Libya, launched, we were told, to forestall widespread civilian deaths, resulted in … widespread civilian deaths, and a now multi-sided conflict between armed groups who continue to torture and kill civilians, while imposing ever-harsher militarized rule and sectarian strictures.
It is always easy — dead easy, in fact — to justify armed “intervention” to prevent massacres that might (or might not) occur. For example, why don’t we intervene right now in Iran to forestall those indigenous dictators from massacring indigenous protestors sometime in the near future (as, after all, they have done in the past)? Or to forestall them from massacring Kurdish enclaves if armed conflict erupts in those regions again? Or even to forestall them from massacring Israelis with those atom bombs we hear they could have one day? Why not? Is Cole content to see the deadly repression by Iran’s tyrannical regime continue day after day? Should we conclude from this that he does not care if Iran’s people are stifled and imprisoned and murdered by the regime, as long as there is no *gasp* international intervention?
But here’s a funny thing. Cole has long been — and still remains — one of the most passionate voices against “intervening” in Iran to effect “regime change” against a repressive government that has killed its own people and quelled peaceful protests with brutal violence. In Iran’s case — as with his earlier opposition to the “regime change” intervention against the even more odious government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq — Cole recognizes that letting slip the dogs of war would lead to even more suffering, more death, more chaos and ruin for multitudes of innocent people.
So could it not be that those who *gasp* oppose a death-dealing “regime change” intervention in Syria oppose it for the same reasons that Professor Cole opposes a death-dealing “regime change” intervention in Iran? Is their opposition in this case so dishonorable, while his in the other is so noble? Should their opposition — which mirrors his in every respect — be imputed to base motives, to the slanderous implication that they “do not care” about people being killed? After all, I might care deeply about the children being beaten by their bullying father across the street; but that doesn’t mean I’d want the police to blow up the entire city block and everyone in it, while arming various factions in the neighborhood to pursue their own conflicts after the bully is gone. (Or install a foster father who also beats the children, but gets along better with the cops.) Yet this is precisely the model of “intervention” to effect “regime change” that we have seen over and over and over again.
Perhaps Cole believes that Syria is a special case for some reason. Fine; he can make that case, and one can agree or not. But why the demonizing rhetoric aimed at those who simply follow the logic of recent history and — using Cole’s own excellent arguments against regime change intervention in Iran and Iraq — disagree with him about Syria? Why are they cast as unfeeling monsters happy to see people die? Is not possible that they are decent, caring people with reasonable arguments (his own arguments!) against such operations?
I think we can see here how powerful the poison of militarism is. Take even a small sip — “just this one time, in this one case; well, maybe that one too, but that’s all, really” — and the taint begins to seep in: the coarsening, the blind spots, the dehumanization of those who don’t agree. Cole has been on the receiving end of this — as shown in the post about Hitchens noted above. Now he dishes it out in his turn. Although it’s unlikely he’ll drain the poisoned chalice to the dregs as his old enemy Hitchens did, it’s still a disheartening development. We can only hope it won’t go any further. Perhaps his friends could stage — what else? — an intervention.