By Daniel Margrain
At 15.42 UK time today in a speech to the U.N General Assembly in New York, President Obama said this:
“[W]e must recognize that there cannot be – after so much bloodshed, so much carnage – a return to the pre-war status quo [in Syria]. Let’s remember how this started. Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing, and in turn created the environment for the current strife [This is a misrepresentation of the facts]
And so Assad and his allies can’t simply pacify the broad majority of a population who have been brutalized by chemical weapons and indiscriminate bombing [there is no evidence that Assad used chemical weapons, and indiscriminate bombing has been undertaken by all sides including Britain]. Realism… requires a managed transition away from Assad towards a new leader.”
Here Obama alluded to the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) doctrine as the justification for Assad’s overthrow and, in the name of democracy, the bombing of the Syrian people to death. Earlier today at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, the neocon fanatic, Hilary Benn, was more explicit by actually citing the R2P doctrine by name.
Formulated at the 2005 UN World Summit, the version of R2P currently in vogue and proposed by the [Gareth] Evans Commission, authorises “regional or sub-regional organisations” such as NATO to determine their “area of jurisdiction” and to act in cases where “the Security Council rejects a proposal or fails to deal with it in a reasonable time”.
Often described as an “emerging norm” in international affairs, but in reality has “been considered a norm as far back as we want to go”, R2P has – with the accompaniment of lofty rhetoric about the solemn responsibility to protect suffering populations – been used to illegally overthrow a series of sovereign states, most recently in Libya. On March 18, 2011, the day before NATO launched its assault on that country, Prime Minister David Cameron said:
“On the 23rd February the UN Secretary General cited the reported nature and scale of attacks on civilians as “egregious violations of international and human rights law” and called on the government of Libya to “meet its responsibility to protect its people.”‘
In a Guardian piece, Menzies Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, and Philippe Sands, professor of law at University College London, commented:
“International law does not require the world to stand by and do nothing as civilians are massacred on the orders of Colonel Gaddafi…”
“It would be tragic for the Libyan people if the shadow of Iraq were to limit an emerging “responsibility to protect”, the principle that in some circumstances the use of force may be justified to prevent the massive and systematic violation of fundamental human rights.”
The Guardian was not alone in tirelessly promoting R2P as a basis for a Western war in Libya. Also in March 2011, human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson asked in the Independent:
“Will the world stand idly by once Colonel Gaddafi, a man utterly without mercy, starts to deliver on his threat to “fight to the last man and woman” – and, inferentially, to the last child?”
Robertson also discussed the origins and development of R2P, concluding:
“The duty to stop the mass murder of innocents, as best we can, has crystallised to make the use of force by NATO not merely “legitimate” but lawful.”
Why then, were there no calls for the West to intervene in the aftermath of the July 3, 2013 coup in Egypt that overthrew the democratically-elected government predicated on the R2P doctrine? And why hasn’t the doctrine been used to justify intervening in the brutal dictatorial states’ of the Arab Gulf Peninsula? Could it be the case that R2P is merely a euphemism for regime change in countries that are the Wests official enemies?
Craig Murray said as much today on his blog:
“R2P is the Blairite code for supporting United States military and especially bombing missions abroad. The thesis that Western bombing improves and stabilises countries appears tested well beyond destruction, but the neo-cons stick with it because of the corporate interests it does so much to boost.”
R2P was simply not an issue for the US-UK alliance in Egypt and neither is it an issue for the dictatorships in the Gulf where the said alliance profits from the sale of weapons that are used against protesters who are fighting for the kinds of democracy it claims to be in favour of. Although the majority of leading politicians’ haven’t yet explicitly invoked the R2P rhetoric as a justification to drive the country into another disastrous war in Syria, Prime Minister David Cameron has already gone one step further.
Earlier this month, Cameron cynically exploited the picture of the little drowned boy who fled the city of Kobani which Britain was partly responsible for bombing to pieces. He also responded to the wider humanitarian crisis of mass displacement with a call for a “hard military force” to overthrow Assad and combat ISIS in Syria. The prime minister is working to gain parliamentary support for a potential vote on escalated military action. Earlier today, Cameron argued that there “needs to be a transition from Assad to something else”.
In an open letter released last Saturday actor Mark Rylance, Brian Eno, John Williams, Charlotte Church and other signatories stated:
“Already we have seen the killing of civilians and the exacerbation of a refugee crisis which is largely the product of wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan…Cameron is cynically using the refugee crisis to urge more war….He should not be allowed to.”
Cameron’s propaganda offensives come in the wake of the governments’ failure to get parliamentary approval to launch air strikes against the Assad regime in August 2013 and more recently, the country’s extrajudicial drone assassination of two of its own citizens supposedly in ‘self-defence’, This was despite the fact that Article 51 of the UN charter states that an “armed attack” must take place against a UN member state before any such response.
From the Iraq debacle onward, there has been an attempt by the Western powers to circumvent the consensus view of what constitutes illegality among the world’s leading international lawyers. The individual who has been instrumental in the interpretative reconfiguration of international law for the benefit of Western interests is the international lawyer, Daniel Bethlehem.
Bethlehem had represented Israel before the Mitchell Inquiry into violence against the people of Gaza, arguing that it was all legitimate self-defence. He had also supplied the Government of Israel with a Legal Opinion that the vast Wall they were building in illegally occupied land, surrounding and isolating all the major Palestinian communities and turning them into large prisons, was also legal. Daniel Bethlehem is an extreme Zionist militarist of the most aggressive kind, and close to Mark Regev, Israel’s new Ambassador to the UK.
In contrast to the consensus view of the world’s leading international lawyers, Daniel Bethlehem’s marginal and extremist position is outlined in a memorandum where he ‘develops’ the Caroline Principle. It is this legal conceptual re-evaluation of international law that has come to dominate Western political discourse. A key part of the memorandum states, “It must be right that states are able to act in self-defence in circumstances where there is evidence of further imminent attacks by terrorist groups, even if there is no specific evidence of where such an attack will take place or of the precise nature of the attack.
“It is this minority extremist legal “opinion” that formed the basis for the Iraq invasion. Similarly, it’s almost certainly the case that the same doctrine was used as the justification to murder UK citizens by drone in Syria. The notion that men travelling in a car thousands of miles away were imminently able to wreak havoc in the UK thereby necessitating the need for them to be executed on the spot without trial is obviously ludicrous. Nevertheless, it will almost certainly be Daniel Benjamin, in conjunction with the R2P, that the Western powers will turn to in order to justify the war on the Syrian people.