The Problem with "Humanitarian Intervention"
How the West uses the language of human rights to push for war.
Recently Joe Biden called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine genocide. While no doubt Russia’s invasion is illegal and has caused horrific death and destruction, calling it genocide is an outrageous abuse of the word. If illegally invading a country constitutes genocide the United States is guilty of genocide in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan among other places. This move by Biden is clearly a continuation of the United States’ abuses of the language of human rights to advance U.S. foreign policy goals. There is a clear campaign from Washinton neo-conservatives to use human rights concerns to push for more western military action against Russia in Ukriane. Recently a rally in DC pushing for a new fly zone in Ukraine highlighted a video with pictures of children and a lullaby song with the lyrics :
"If you don't close the sky I will die
IYDCTS mom will cry IYDCTS he'll lose home
IYDCTS there'll be doom IYDCTS the sky will still fight
IYDCTS we'll feel the night
IYDCTS he [Putin] might win
Now look in these eyes and think again"
The highly manipulative video was followed by a speech given by Bill Kristol the extreme neo-conservative who was instrumental in the Iraq war and to this day continues to defend it. This is just a continuation of the longstanding tradition of neo-conservatives and the United States using human rights to manipulate support for war.
One of the best know examples of this propaganda is the infamous nayirah testimony where a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl spoke to congress and claimed that Iraqi troops had removed 312 Kuwaiti babies from their incubators and left them on the floor. This claim was then spread by mainstream media and parroted by human rights groups like Amnesty International. But this turned out to be a false story, a doctor who claimed to have witnessed this incident lowered the number of babies from 312 to 72 and eventually to 19 which itself was not a true claim as those babies had died before Iraq invaded Kuwait. “Niyirah” turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States and the stunt was done to manipulate congress to support the United States’ invasion of Iraq. Some have even speculated that this testimony led the democrat-led congress to vote in favor of military action in Iraq.
Another early example of this manipulation was the campaign to drum up support for the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. A famous picture on the cover of Time Magazine showed starving Bosnians behind barbed wire, an image that is reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps. This image was printed to convince readers that this was another Auschwitz and NATO intervention was necessary. However as anti-imperialist scholar, Noam Chomsky has pointed out Philip Knightly, a well-respected photojournalist found it was actually the reporters behind the barbed wire, the camp was actually a refugee camp and while the conditions were harsh people could leave if they wanted. As Chomsky said:
he (Knightly) determined that it was probably the reporters who were behind the barb-wire, and the place was ugly, but it was a refugee camp, I mean, people could leave if they wanted and, near the thin man was a fat man and so on
This of course is not to say that there were no atrocities committed against Bosnians no doubt many were massacred but this is just to show how the mainstream media uses manipulated pictures and stories to manufacture consent for war.
Even the Iraq war had a phony humanitarian justification. One of the most common talking points repeated to justify the invasion was that Saddam Hussien had massive human shredders. In 2003 the British newspaper the times ran an article headlined “See men shredded then say you don’t back war”. Of course, this story was completely false and again was used to manipulate support for war.
The most deceptive example of this type of propaganda is the NATO regime-change operation in Libya. At the time the American public was told Gadaffi was about to massacre his own people and intervention was necessary to prevent a genocide. At the time U.S. ambassador Suan Rise claimed Gadaffi was giving his troops Viagra to encourage mass rape. This claim was quickly proven false when U.S. intel admitted there was no evidence of this claim and researchers from Amnesty international on the ground found no evidence of this claim. However, years later it was revealed the Libya deception ran far deeper than this single story. A U.K. Parliament report found the claim that Gadaffi was going to massacre civilians was greatly exaggerated by rebel groups and western governments and that the supposed peaceful uprising was actually violent and was led by Islamic extremists. The report concluded that the NATO bombing transformed the once-prosperous African country into a failed state. As anti-imperialist Micheal Parenti explained at the time this regime-change operation caused Libya to lose its free electricity, education, housing, and medical treatment among other things.
The most deceptive campaign for humanitarian intervention is the one in Syria that was pushed by the same people who lied about Libya. In reality, the C.I.A and its allies in the region funneled billions of dollars of weapons that went to rebels mostly led by Jihadist groups such as Al Nusra in an attempt to overthrow the Assad government. The mainstream narrative however downplayed the jihadists leading the Syrian opposition and portrayed the war as one being fought between Assad and “moderate rebels”. This caused a massive propaganda campaign to push for “humanitarian intervention” in Syria. PR firms such as “the Syria campaign” lobbied for a no-fly zone in Syria using humanitarian language. Mainstream media reports on Syria relied on groups like the White Helmets, a rescue group embedded with Jihadist rebels who have taken part in executions in rebels-held Syria. In an extremely manipulative segment, CNN interviewed a seven-year-old girl named Bana Alabed who advocated for U.S. intervention in Syria. In the segment, Bana was clearly reading off queue cards written for her. Bana ran a Twitter account with tweets that were clearly written by adults such as '“dear world, it’s better to start a third world war instead of letting Russia and Assad commit holocaust Aleppo”. There has also been a campaign to push for sanctions on Syria using images of people tortured to death by Assad supposedly released by a whistleblower named “Ceaser”. However, as human rights watch revealed half of the images shown were actually people killed by rebels. This campaign led to the implementation of “Ceaser sanctions” which have not harmed Assad but have only harmed regular people in Syria. UN special rapporteur on sanctions, Alena Douhan has reported that the sanctions worsened the humanitarian crisis and deprived Syrians of the right to rebuild their basic infrastructure.
In all three of these examples, the mainstream narrative was that intervention, war and sanctions were necessary to “prevent atrocities” while in reality U.S. wars in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Libya, and Syria have brought nothing but more death and destruction to the people of these countries. Whenever mainstream journalists and American politicians argue intervention is necessary for humanitarian reasons, it is an attempt to trick gullible people to support war.