by Jean Bricmont / December 5th, 2012
Ever since the 1990s, and especially since the Kosovo war in 1999, anyone who opposes armed interventions by Western powers and NATO has to confront what may be called an anti-anti-war Left (including its Far Left segment). In Europe, and notably in France, this anti-anti-war Left is made up of the mainstream of social democracy, the Green parties and most of the radical Left. The anti-anti-war Left does not come out openly in favor of Western military interventions and even criticizes them at times (but usually only for their tactics or alleged motivations – the West is supporting a just cause, but clumsily and for oil or for geo-strategic reasons). But most of its energy is spent issuing “warnings” against the supposed dangerous drift of that part of the Left that remains firmly opposed to such interventions. It calls upon us to show solidarity with the “victims” against “dictators who kill their own people”, and not to give in to knee-jerk anti-imperialism, anti-Americanism, or anti-Zionism, and above all not to end up on the same side as the Far Right. After the Kosovo Albanians in 1999, we have been told that “we” must protect Afghan women, Iraqi Kurds and more recently the people of Libya and of Syria.
It cannot be denied that the anti-anti-war Left has been extremely effective. The Iraq war, which was sold to the public as a fight against an imaginary threat, did indeed arouse a fleeting opposition, but there has been very little opposition on the Left to interventions presented as “humanitarian”, such as the bombing of Yugoslavia to detach the province of Kosovo, the bombing of Libya to get rid of Gaddafi, or the current intervention in Syria. Any objections to the revival of imperialism or in favor of peaceful means of dealing with such conflicts have simply been brushed aside by invocations of “R2P”, the right or responsibility to protect, or the duty to come to the aid of a people in danger.
The fundamental ambiguity of the anti-anti-war Left lies in the question as to who are the “we” who are supposed to intervene and protect. One might ask the Western Left, social movements or human rights organizations the same question Stalin addressed to the Vatican, “How many divisions do you have?” As a matter of fact, all the conflicts in which “we” are supposed to intervene are armed conflicts. Intervening means intervening militarily and for that, one needs the appropriate military means. It is perfectly obvious that the Western Left does not possess those means. It could call on European armies to intervene, instead of the United States, but they have never done so without massive support from the United States. So in reality the actual message of the anti-anti-war Left is: “Please, oh Americans, make war not love!” Better still, inasmuch as since their debacle in Afghanistan and in Iraq, the Americans are leery of sending in ground troops, the message amounts to nothing other than asking the U.S. Air Force to go bomb countries where human rights violations are reported to be taking place.