Tag Archives: assad

Imperialism and Law

“I will make it legal” – Emperor Palpatine
That might not be the best quote, since I’m loath to compare the US Government with a Sith Lord from a children’s story, and there are far too many children’s stories to explain the situation in the Middle East. But the quote illustrates an important point: law stems from power. He who has the power makes the laws, and he who makes the laws has the power.
And that is the best way to understand the issue in Syria and how it’s developing. The basic issue is the Arab Spring, which is a pro-Western revolt in the Middle East, spreading into Syria, which falls under Russian Imperial influence.
This explains why the US has been very skittish about getting too involved in Syria – being too heavy handed could risk open confrontation with Russia. Contrast that with our $1.5 billion yearly aid to the Egyptian military.
But what Obama said, over and over again, is the US’s need to establish some kind of basic “red line” or international law by which it is compelled to act anywhere around the globe. And this is the heart of imperialism, and why it’s such a nuanced concept that it escapes most people. Too often we need something blatant behind it – oil, profit, dollars, greed – but the reality of it is as delicate as a word.
And that’s the thing. For the purposes of this article, we will assume Assad has used chemical weapons, this means Russia would also like to get on board and enforce that standard. That means Syria is becoming indefensible. And whereas Russia would feel violated if the US did an open military strike on one of its allied countries, allowing the US to maintain this international standard, or law, is more nuanced, and lets it maintain regional domain.
In this narrow sense, it’s actually a lot like Iraq. Other countries only opposed the US’s invasion of Iraq in speeches and rhetoric. When it came down to material support, they were all in there, divvying it up according to the anarchic law of imperial powers.
And the US, by upholding and struggling single-handedly for this limited international standard, no matter how basic and abridged, maintains its prestige as the world’s power.
It is with this lens that we can take Obama at his word when he says that to put that red line down, and then not to enforce it when someone crosses it, would be to gravely damage our national interests.