Tuesday 17 February 2015

Responsibility To Protect: But Who? And From What?

Cry, Havoc!, And Let Slip The Dogs Of War: If Islamic State has citizens, it is the West that made them.
DOES THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY’S “Responsibility To Protect” apply to Islamic State? (IS) Has the violence unleashed by IS against civilians living in Syria and Iraq reached a level of intensity comparable to the genocidal slaughter unleashed against Rwanda’s Tutsi population in 1994? If the present level of military intervention is not maintained, or stepped-up, are hundreds-of-thousands, perhaps millions, of innocent non-combatants in imminent danger of losing their lives?
The answer to this question is, clearly, “No.” The IS regime, while indisputably brutal in its treatment of non-Islamic religious minorities, prisoners of war, civilian aid workers, journalists, and persons found guilty of committing homosexual acts, has not (to date) engaged in the indiscriminate mass slaughter of entire populations.
The international community’s responsibility to the victims of IS violence is, therefore, to make every attempt to bring those responsible for what are clearly war crimes and crimes against humanity before an appropriately constituted international criminal tribunal (ICT). This would be modelled on of the bodies set up to deal with the massive human-rights breaches in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
The prospect of being arraigned before such a tribunal may or may not be acting as a deterrent to the IS leadership, but it is, demonstrably, influencing the personal political calculus of those IS operatives responsible for carrying out its many atrocities. The very fact that these individuals wear masks indicates that they know they are committing heinous crimes and are anxious to escape legal retribution.
The contrast between these masked perpetrators and the unmasked American military personnel who allowed themselves to be photographed tormenting Iraqi detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison is instructive. Had the latter known that their actions would one day be made public, most of them would never have participated, or, becoming involved, would’ve made absolutely certain they could not be identified.
Like the long-since destroyed videos of CIA waterboarding sessions, the images of Abu Ghraib were never intended to see the light of day. IS propaganda videos, on the other hand, are intended to both terrify the infidels and inspire the faithful. They are, therefore, made with guilty intent, and their creators are well aware of what will happen to them if they are identified and arrested by the agents of international justice.
It is as well to remember, however, that IS is by no means the first belligerent power to release video images demonstrating the strength of their will and the power of their weapons. The First Gulf War (1990-1991) is often referred to as “The Nintendo War” on account of the computer-game-like images of United States precision-guided munitions striking their targets.
Of course the US armed forces’ public relations team did not allow the audience back home to witness what was happening to the human-beings sheltering inside the buildings that were exploding in such dramatic fashion on their television screens. The carnage wrought upon human flesh by high explosives puts the gruesome efforts of IS executioners to shame.
Nor was it the practice of either the American or the international news media to give the military commanders who authorised these precision-guided missile attacks colourful monikers like “Jihadi John”. Soldiers following the lawful orders of their superior officers are generally not regarded as criminals – not even when those orders are publicly acknowledged to have been deliberately formulated to generate “shock and awe” in the civilian population.
Those who find themselves outraged and repulsed by IS propaganda videos showing prisoners being beheaded or burned alive should, perhaps, ask themselves if they experienced similar emotions back in March 2003 when the US media was gleefully beaming-out images of Baghdad aflame. The American message back then was as unequivocal as the IS message  is now: “This is what becomes of evil-doers.”
The crucial difference being that, in the case of the Americans, the message wasn’t personalised. Innocent people’s bodies were certainly ripped apart and/or burned beyond recognition in the manufacture of America’s message to the peoples of the Middle East, but we only got to see such “collateral damage” occasionally – as when a Cruise missile somehow went astray and incinerated scores of women and children taking refuge in a concrete shelter.
Repeat such exercises often enough and it is hardly surprising if the effect upon those in receipt of such explosive communications is brutalisation beyond the reach of pity or remorse.
Closer to home, those advocating for the deployment of 100 Kiwi soldiers to Iraq are arguing that the international community has a responsibility to protect the unfortunate inhabitants of Islamic State. But, didn’t that same international community have a responsibility to protect the people of Iraq when the world’s most powerful military machine was rumbling towards its borders in 2003? And wasn’t it that same terrible machine, raining down white phosphorous on the city of Fallujah, that nurtured, with every bomb dropped and bullet fired, the fell creatures who now hold sway across broad swathes of Iraq and Syria?
If Islamic State has citizens, it is the West that made them.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 16 February 2015.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Unfortunately for Rwanda, the UN/Western reaction was almost non-existent. There were a number of reasons for this, one being the crisis in Bosnia which was of course in Europe. And Somalia which was a more ongoing problem. I suspect that the only country that had the resources to stop it was the USA. And after the Blackhawk down situation there was no way they were going to do this. An earlier intervention however might have done some good with fewer troops. Simply because the massacres took place very quickly. With no industrial scale implements they managed to kill people faster than the Nazis killed people in the camps. Not to mention that France was supporting the Hutu in this matter. Even though there were difficulties there was simply an unconscionable lack of will.
But I'm not at all sure that an intervention in the Middle East – yet another Western intervention – would do more good than harm. International interventions in the Middle East have largely been responsible for the rise of fanaticism in the first place. In the late 1950s and early 1960s a friend of mine travelled from South India to Turkey, through Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Everywhere he went he was greeted with the upmost hospitality and politeness. Including after a horrific bus accident which left many dead. He never felt the least bit threatened. If he was still alive I doubt he'd go back.

Brewerstroupe said...

I will venture further GS. International interventions in the Middle East have been entirely responsible for the rise of fanaticism and that result was anticipated and created.
We may consider Blair and Bush to be dolts but we would be naive to think there were not U.S. and British strategic adisors aware that invasion and conquest without provision for transitional government would cause a security vacuum and the resultant chaos. This obvious consequence of making War has been a given for over a century, I cannot believe it has arisen through mistake. Yet any analysis at some point reaches that conclusion – repeatedly (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria). Is it reasonable to believe that, given the intelligence and intellectual resources involved, these “mistakes” could re-occur with such frequency? I think not. I think we have to look to the possible beneficiaries from the break-up of Arab states.
Here the document "A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties" becomes instructive. Israeli intellectual Israel Shahak believed it “represents ....the accurate and detailed plan of the present Zionist regime (of Sharon and Eitan) for the Middle East which is based on the division of the whole area into small states, and the dissolution of all the existing Arab states“.
An extract:
“Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other, is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel's targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel. An Iraqi-Iranian war will tear Iraq apart and cause its downfall at home even before it is able to organize a struggle on a wide front against us. Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and in Lebanon.”

Skippers said...

Are you saying that as the numbers of victims of Isis barbarity (that we are shown) is relatively small, then we should not take any action? Isn't that appeasement?
We first heard of Isis in Syria, then Iraq, and this week in Libya. Their videoed provocations have grown from one beheading, to a succession of these cruel executions, to burning alive, to mass throat cutting in Libya, and a burning massacre in northern Iraq.
The Jordanians are calling this a Third World War; like it or not, that looks to be where we are heading. Maybe we should face that.