From DAVID ATKINS
As America stands on the precipice of yet another war, it’s worth remembering how we got to this point. The list of imperialist actions and domestic reactions goes back hundreds of years, and many of the internal squabbles in Syria can be traced back for a millennium or more.
But to focus on very recent history in a vast oversimplification, here’s what happened: the United States began supporting a range of strongmen and dictators in the Middle East who were theoretically friendly to the West and would provide access to oil and shipping lanes. The U.S. chose to ignore and in many cases to support the repressions and atrocities committed by those regimes.
Partly in response to Western imperial actions and partly in response to the corruption and lack of social mobility of petro-socialism, a religious conservative counter movement took hold, particularly in more rural and tribal areas. Where that religious conservative backlash could be controlled by the corrupt dictatorial governments, it used as a convenient foil to direct anger away from the corrupt governments and toward Israel and the West generally. Expansionary Israeli and Western policies certainly didn’t help matters. Where that conservative backlash could not be controlled, there was revolution and insurgency: the Mullahs in Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan and many others. Almost without exception, the new religious masters in these places were worse than the old ones had been. Secular liberals were squeezed out.
But what is most important is that there remained only two power centers: corrupt, repressive, more secular governments backed by the West, and an even more repressive theocratic alternative.
Western governments and hawks seemed not to realize that obvious dynamic when they decided to invade Afghanistan (with some credible justification) and Iraq (with no credible justification at all) without a coherent plan for the aftermath beyond privatizing their resources and installing some puppet of corruption.
Then came the Arab Spring. Liberals celebrated as the people of various Middle Eastern countries began to throw off the chains of their corrupt governments. But neither liberals nor conservatives seemed to realize that people power isn’t magic: whatever organized elements of society are left will always control whatever comes out of the chaos. They also didn’t seem to realize that when one dictator is felled by a revolution, the others won’t go so quietly. In fact, they’ll be happy to massacre their own population in order to stay alive and in power.
So quite predictably, most of the places where people power overwhelmed the dictators, the second most powerful organized element of society, the religious conservative Islamists, stepped in to take their place. In Egypt, the military brutally took power back. So much for people power.
In Libya, Syria and Bahrain, the dictators wouldn’t go so quietly. Massacres ensued. Greater massacres were promised. Liberals in the West told themselves that if they closed their eyes, did nothing and murmured phrases like “blowback,” the bloodshed would not be on their hands. Conservatives in the West couldn’t wait to drop a bunch of bombs, show the world how big and tough they were hiding behind their keyboards and drones, and install a new set of puppet regimes. Almost no one was thinking through how to solve this problem long term.
And so we stand on the brink in Syria. The dictator is massacring his own people. It may or may not be that the latest gas attack atrocity was committed by Assad, but that’s almost irrelevant. Western doves want to do nothing and watch the bloodshed continue. Western hawks want to drop lots of bombs, probably making the situation worse and opening the door for Islamists to take power–at which point they’ll push for more drone attacks.
The whole thing is a primitive farce, an symptom of a world facing the end of the fossil fuel and resource extraction economy in which powerful nation states exploit nations for fuels and patriarchal domestic insurgencies respond by murdering women for adultery and call themselves righteous for opposing the Great Satan.
It’s the product of a world in which the United States, China and Russia would rather engage in staring contests in a bid to control more resources even as the world burns around them literally and figuratively.
We are nearing the end of this phase of human history. We are nearing the end of the extraction economy and the end of overfinancialized economies desperately seeking to crack open new markets to keep illusory and inflated stock market growth alive. We are nearing the end of the ability of nation states alone to cope with climate change, international terrorism, and a host of other issues.
The world will soon wake up from this nightmare to face the need to do something different. It may be too late to stop the worst from happening in Syria, but one can hope that forward thinkers will begin building and organizing the systems that will finally stop this cyclical, predictable, and murderous farce from reoccurring in the future.