interventionism from the perspective of realism vs. idealism. Realism is defined in relationship to states’ national interests whereas idealism is defined in relation to the UN’s Responsibility to Protect doctrine — a doctrine heavily influenced by Western rhetoric over the past decade. By addressing the question of interventionism from this standpoint, by way of a case study of Libya and Syria, a picture of the realistic implications of “humanitarian intervention” becomes clear. Idealistically, humanitarian interventionism is a process that stops atrocities and establishes peace and prosperity. Realistically, interventionism allows Western businesses to reap the spoils of destabilization — as has been seen in Libya with the Libyan oil fields being claimed by Western oil companies — and as is being seen in Syria, with the threat of invasion bound to have detrimental effects on the construction of a new pipeline that bypasses the Turkey-Israel pipeline. Syria also presents itself as the last bastion for Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean, a role that Russia is not likely to see Syria yield up, and which poses significant problems to the West as it readies itself for a possible strike on Syria. This paper asks: What are the Western states’ national interests in humanitarian intervention in Libya and Syria? It examines the need for intervention, discusses the evidence of atrocities, and concludes that even when evidence is apparent there is no consistency in terms of Western response. Only when Western powers see an opportunity to secure their national self-interests does intervention become an imperative. This study concludes that humanitarian intervention is at best an idealistic notion that the UN supports and at worst it is an oxymoron, a glossy facade that allows Western powers to raid countries from which it has something to gain.

Interventionism — Locating the Line between Humanitarian Ideals and States’ Realistic National Interests: a Case Study of Libya and Syria.

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Over the past 300 years humanitarian interventions have not had a consistent enough basis to determine a framework in international law (Evans 2008). What is the essence of the humanitarian intervention? What is its aim, its objective? Because every country-state and every contextual situation is different, it is likely that every aim will be different. But a general understanding of the objective of humanitarian interventionism should be clear in a geopolitical landscape filled in recent times with rumors war and/or intervention.

This study proposes that the popular framework for debating interventionism is flawed by an idealistic approach. It argues that governments like that of the U.S. are, historically speaking, not nearly as idealistic in their reasons for intervention as statesmen like McCain, Kerry and Biden and the popular press make them seem to be. This study asserts that the reality of interventionism is based more on states’ national self-interest than on a desire to administer humanitarian aid (Evans 2008).

This study approaches the issue of interventionism from a case study perspective. By immersing himself in the situational context of interventionism in both Libya and Syria, the researcher is able to observe in a qualitative way the actual reality of interventionism — as it is conceived, developed, administered, and concluded — in the cases of Libya and Syria. The situational context of interventionism is observed by gathering a multitude of perspectives from varying sides of the interventionism/anti-interventionism debate, including that of Western powers (NATO), forces within Libya and Syria, and opposing voices (Russia, China). The researcher focuses on issues of legality, right, will, intent, consequence, and achievement in order to determine the reality of interventionism.

The relevancy of this study should readily be apparent to everyone from investors on Wall Street to humanitarian watchdog groups. On 27 August 2013, both the Nasdaq and the DOW dropped significantly as news of U.S. intervention in Syria spread across the Internet (Berman 2013). The effect of interventionism is not lost on the financiers of the world — and it is surely felt by all members of society, whether in fluctuating prices of oil, gold, or non-essentials, or in the cost of lives, time, material, and/or the mental/social/spiritual stability of members of all societies.

This study is also extremely timely and relevant. The Benghazi assault in 2012 brought the issue of the consequences of interventionism to the forefront in both popular and alternative media (Chivvis 2012; Lobe 2013; Campbell 2013). And the current geopolitical climate surrounding Syria is bringing the issue of interventionism to the forefront once more (nearly one year later). The politics of intervention raises questions regarding the “obligation” of offering humanitarian aid to countries — and it also raises issues regarding international law, the possibility of geopolitical backlash, and the effectiveness of such military interventions. As NATO countries prepare a military strike on Syria, voters and representatives in those countries should be aware of the moral hazard, the geopolitical hazard, and the economic hazard of engaging in foreign intervention. When the question of interventionism is approached realistically rather than idealistically, a new picture emerges — one that is characterized by a policy of national self-interest on the part of the intervening countries. The question is: What do these intervening countries stand to gain from humanitarian intervention? How is their national interest served?

Historically speaking, the policy of Western interventionism has been likened by Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler to racketeering. Upon his retirement after 33 years in the Marine Corps, Butler toured the U.S. giving a speech regarding the state of American foreign policy and the military’s role in that policy. Butler’s assessment of foreign intervention is worth quoting in full, but a brief quote about his role in active duty service will suffice to make the point: “I spent most of my time being a for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism” (Butler 1933). Butler’s words, as colorful as they are, impressed many at the time, but they have since failed to make a significant impression on American foreign policy. That policy, rather, has continued to be formulated by men Butler describes as “finger men’ to point out enemies, & #8230;’muscle men’ to destroy enemies, & #8230;’brain men’ to plan war preparations, and a ‘Big Boss’ Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism” (Butler 1933). Scott (2007) has identified them as the insider members of what he calls “deep politics” — the inner core of government, the layers of which are so complex that it is difficult to factually discern who is doing what, why, and how. The “deep politics” of Western governments only serves to cloud the issue of humanitarian interventionism. Dispelling that cloud is imperative to this study.

Researchers who are aware of Butler’s assertions and the findings of the Nye Committee upon which they were partly-based have taken issue with the modern-day system of politics (Stone, Kuznick 2012), disputing its worth, its transparency, and its “humanitarian” objectives. Others who reject Butler’s characterization of interventionism see NATO countries’ interventions as necessary maneuvers in a world slowly but surely progressing towards a global embracement of democratic ideals (Bellamy 2010).

Thus, implicit in the politics of intervention is the dispute between two worldviews, one which is fundamentally rooted in realism and one which is fundamentally rooted in idealism. The realistic view tends to promote a foreign policy guided by national interests. The idealistic view tends to promote a foreign policy guided by a vision of international democracy and liberal culture/values. The former suggests a Machiavellian outlook. The latter suggests a Progressivist outlook. In the politics of intervention, while there may appear to be a Progressive, idealistic reason for military intervention in countries like Libya and Syria, there are always those who point towards a more realistic, Machiavellian interpretation of such acts of military intervention.

This paper will approach the problem of realism vs. idealism in the question of interventionism by adopting a qualitative case study analysis. It will assess whether military interventions promote humanitarianism or whether they promote states’ national interests. The recent interventions in Libya and Syria will be used as case studies.

What exactly does military interventionism intend to achieve? What have been the results in Libya? How does it find a context in today’s Syrian affair? These questions serve as the framework for the focus of this study.

Statement of Problem

The problem addressed in this study is the role of the great Western Powers’ national interest in foreign interventions. It adopts a realistic point-of-view in challenging the idealistic, status quo perspective which asserts that the West (NATO) has a duty and a right to interfere in nations where governments exercise inhumane dictatorships. If, indeed, NATO is primarily concerned with curbing mass killings, unlawful immigration, genocide, abuses against human and women’s rights, etc. — why has it done so little in regions like Darfur or Iran? — and why does it support the erection of one nation (Israel) while causing the displacement of another (Arab)? Studies have shown that the principal Western Powers have a political, geopolitical, and economical reason for intervening or not intervening in foreign affairs (Perkins 2004; Scott 2007; Stone, Kuznick 2012). These studies serve as the foundation for this present analysis.

Other studies have shown that foreign military intervention can easily be conducted even if they are in violation of the United Nations charter and lack authorization of the Security Council (Cassese 1999). This shows that countries can and do act on their own in engaging in interventionism. The motives for doing so are what this study plans to investigate.

A number of Western countries support humanitarian interventionism but they have not yet intervened in Syria. The reality behind humanitarian interventionism is that there are clear political, geopolitical, and economical consequences to every foreign intervention. Intervention is not merely a humanitarian crusade but rather a highly explosive affair that can cripple countries’ infrastructures and have global ramifications in terms of economic trade, political discourse, and geopolitical variables. There are states’ national interests to be considered, which dictate against humanitarian intervention.

First, there is political interest to be considered: of great importance to the West is Israel’s position in the region as well as the U.S.’s concern to secure its borders; Kerry cites the importance of halting Syria’s “use” of chemical weapons as an example to the rest of the world; Bachmann, in the 2012 Republican primary debates cited Israel as “our greatest ally” in spite of the fact that the U.S. And Israel have no formal treaty with one another. Yet Israel receives billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid each year and as Israelis reportedly scramble for gas masks (fearing a chemical assault by Assad on their country), the rhetoric of U.S. politicians grows ever more inflammatory.

Second, there is economical interest: gas and oil fields and pipelines as well as influence in countries’ banking affairs are valuable economic variables that play a tremendous part in interventionism (Dawson 2012; Escobar 2011). Protecting stability or initiating destabilizing factors in countries are issues of economic interest (Escobar 2011; Perkins 2004). The Central Intelligence Agency has undertaken a considerable number of operations designed to achieve destabilization (Weiner 2008).

Thirdly, geopolitical interests must be considered: these overlap the economical and political interests but include the operations of international law, topography, geography, history, international alliances, and more.

Fourthly, the recently established Responsibility to Protect doctrine is an area of interest: For instance, is the doctrine meant only to protect civilians or does it go beyond this and apply to economical or political interests? Does the doctrine apply to geopolitical interests of Western states? Does it invite interpretation?

Research Questions

This will be a case study based on a qualitative assessment of literature reviews regarding Western interventionism, its history, its facility, and its present relation to Libya and Syria.

The research questions are two-fold for each case study:


1) Why did the NATO states not intervene in Syria until now — even though there has been a strong case for humanitarian intervention (evidence of mass killing, forced immigration, genocide) in the past?

a. Political reasons

b. Geopolitical reasons

c. Economical reasons

2) How strong is the evidence for atrocities committed by the Assad regime?

a. What is the evidence?

b. What is the counter-argument?


1) Why did the NATO states intervene in Libya?

a. Political reasons

b. Geopolitical reasons

c. Economical reasons

2) How strong was the case for humanitarian (military) intervention?

a. What was the evidence?

b. What were the counter-arguments?

Furthermore, this study hopes to answer such questions as what are the common national interests of the Western States — from a) a historical perspective, b) a political perspective, c) a geopolitical perspective, and d) an economic perspective. An understanding of states’ national interests will help to inform readers of how national interests affect states’ policies regarding foreign intervention. An analysis of the tangible effects of their interests on interventionism, if any, may be gleaned from the literature review, as well as the intangible effects.

Significance of the study

The potential value of the study is found in the idea that proponents of foreign intervention could benefit from a more realistic interpretation of intervention — one that is not colored by the gloss of idealistic “humanitarian” mission statements. It may be beneficial to the field of political, geopolitical, and economical/financial study. Military intervention has ramifications across a broad swath of society — from financial sectors to socio-political sectors, affecting everyone from members of humanitarian watchdog groups to persons of cultural and/or religious organizations. A more realistic understanding of interventionism will help many levels of society to discern whether support for such intervention should be given or withheld in the future.

Definition of Terms

The following terms are defined by the researcher except where citations are given.

Humanitarian Aid — This study views humanitarian aid as a material or managerial assistance supplied by outsider parties in response to man-made disasters (governmental tyranny) in foreign countries. Essential to the idea of humanitarian aid is the ability to implement aid and to develop a structure that may be sustained independently of the assistor. Humanitarian aid is not to be considered equivalent to humanitarian occupation or to regime change, overthrow, or regional destabilization. That such effects tend to accompany humanitarian intervention in Libya, for instance, raises the question of whether humanitarian aid is what was delivered.

Idealism — a view in which abstract principles, such as humanitarianism, peace, prosperity, etc., are judged to have a preponderant weight over practical/sensory conditions. Idealism characterizes the language adopted by the forward-looking UN. It is a language that situates the UN Charter in an attitude of what-could-be rather than what-is. It relies on the adherence of member states to an ideal, but in effect has no way of ensuring this adherence. It must trust to faith, hope, and charity in a world where such ideals and virtues are by no means exceedingly popular, historically speaking,

Interventionism — the policy of one country intervening in another country’s affairs on the grounds of establishing a new order, whether conducive to peace and prosperity or to states’ own national interests.

Legality — International law is not binding without an international court, and an international court is only as effective as those who can enforce its decisions are strong. Thus legality is an unclear idea, at least in terms of the focus of this study. For instance, the UK has stated that an attack on Syria would be legal (even without UN authorization) according to humanitarian doctrine (Katz 2013). The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine is a 2005 UN initiative which outlines the 3 conditions of legal intervention. Those conditions are:

a) A state is responsible for protecting its populace from crimes against humanity.

b) The international community is responsible for helping the state to protect its populace from such crimes.

c) If the state fails to embrace its responsibility, the international community may intervene by using “coercive measures such as economic sanctions” — with military intervention being utilized if all other coercive measures fail (Badescou 2010:110).

However, R2P is not a law but rather a peremptory norm — though it has been argued that it has a basis in international law (Hehir, Cunliffe 2011:84-100).

National Interest — a realistic set of political, economical, military, and social goals of a state, which are not based on moral “ideals” and do not depend on the contribution or adherence of other states to an “ideal.” The national interest is that which promotes the objectives of the State; it is inherently self-serving, founded on the principles of Niccolo Machiavelli.

Realism — the language utilized by proponents of the national interest, it is a perspective that looks at the here-and-now in order to address the question of done. In doing so, it does not consider such ideals as “hope” as essential to its outlook. It does not “hope” what one might do, but asserts a vision of what one is “likely” to do based on historical analysis, an understanding of human nature, an understanding of contextual situations, etc. It is diametrically opposed to the perspective of idealism in that it undercuts the possibility of embracing the selfless principles which idealists promote (such as self-sacrifice, hope, charity, etc.) by embracing self-serving principles, which are perceived to benefit the State first and foremost. In realist politics, the State matters first, people matter second (and only matter in so far as they serve the State).

Success — Success is a troubling term because it is often used in various ways and takes on varying meanings. Unless the terms of success are clearly outlined, it is useless to say that a mission has been “successful” — for one camp is bound to ask, “Successful in what way?” Spring (2003) argued that Operation Iraqi Freedom was a “success” because the “statue of Saddam Hussein” fell, WMDs were “eliminated” (an unsubstantiated claim), “terrorists” were “driven out” (an unsubstantiated claim), and oil fields were secured. Also noted by Spring was the “humanitarian relief” that the operation brought to Iraqis (another unsubstantiated claim). Nonetheless, all of this meant “success” — though the only success that could be substantiated was the securing of oil fields. If the mission of Operation Iraqi Freedom was to secure these fields, then the term “success” would appear to be used appropriately. But the very name of the mission suggested something more idealistic — the installation of peaceful, democratic ideals in Iraq — and this installation has yet to be seen.

Thus, “success” in this study will be used to mean the attainment of real, desired goals, which can be substantiated as a satisfied objective and not as the momentary attainment of an ideal.

Limitations of the Study

This study is limited in terms of place and scope: first, it is limited in terms of place, meaning that due to practical constraints, an ideal case study (in which the researcher is able to personally immerse himself into different worlds, Western and Middle Eastern, in order to gain a greater perspective of the problems of interventionism) could not be accomplished. The researcher was unable to travel or visit or speak with significant persons directly, which limited his ability to make critical phenomenological observations, such as taking into consideration the characters of significant persons like Kerry, Assad, Putin, etc. Such observation would greatly accentuate the validity of a qualitative study, because character analyses have been shown to reveal universal truths regarding effective policy decisions and tactics (Laura 2011).

The study is limited in terms of scope, meaning that because it is a qualitative study, it lacks a quantitative measurement that might more effectively bolster the findings of the research.


The study assumes that Western foreign policy is steered by a two-fold agenda, best described as “realistic” and “idealistic.” It is the assumption of this paper that the realistic motives of intervention are identical to states’ national interests and that the idealistic motives are identical to “humanitarian” services promoted by the UN. These assumptions are not tested.



Currently, world leaders are preparing the stage for an intervention in Syria, with accusations of chemical weapons being used by the Assad government made one day, talk of a “red line” being crossed the next, and then back-peddling on the aggressive tone the third day (Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel supplies the brake in what appears to be a good cop-bad cop routine with McCain and Kerry playing the part of the latter). The apparent lack of decisiveness on the part of Western leaders regarding intervention in Syria stems from a) unsubstantiated claims about war-time atrocities committed by the Syrian government, b) unfavorable public opinion (intervention in Iraq and, more recently, Libya has failed to win the mass of Americans to support another “humanitarian” cause), and c) the possibility of geopolitical blowback is being trumpeted loudly by the Russian state — Syria’s ally.

Thus, anyone in a position to support or condemn a humanitarian intervention in Syria is left asking the following questions: 1) What would be the objective (the positive effects) of the intervention? 2) What would be the possible negative affects? 3) Would the negative affects “outweigh” the positive? 4) Is there precedent (legal right) for intervention?

The current crisis in Syria is presented to Western readers by Western media in dramatic fashion: the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad is said to be using chemical weapons against his own people, resulting in thousands dead. This accusation has been trumpeted by several statesmen including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who called the use of such weapons against women and children “a moral obscenity,” denounced the Syrian government’s attempts to “cover up” the deed, and highlighted the purity of the American government’s interventionist intentions; again, to achieve a full sense of the situation, it is helpful to quote Kerry: “Our sense of basic humanity is offended not only by this cowardly crime but also by the cynical attempt to cover it up. At every turn, the Syrian regime has failed to cooperate with the UN investigation, using it only to stall and to stymie the important effort to bring to light what happened in Damascus in the dead of night” (Kerry: Syria gas attack 2013).

Kerry’s rhetoric offers a good example of the way in which idealism and interventionism are intertwined at the government level: Kerry references “our basic humanity,” the “cowardly crime” of Syrian leaders, a lack of transparency on Syria’s part — the “cover up” — the failure of Syria to cooperate with UN officials, the overall criminal and evil nature of the Syrian regime, which appears to lurk about gassing the populace in the “dead of the night.” Kerry’s rhetoric is just as colorful as Butler’s was some 80 years ago. Yet the aim is just the opposite. Kerry’s intentions are clear — to incite outrage among the voting public and to garner support for intervention. What are less clear are the facts upon which Kerry bases his accusations.

Assad, for instance, denies using chemical weapons and blames the rebels for any and all gas attacks. He describes the rebels, moreover, as outsiders — terrorists who have infiltrated his nation — not Syrian citizens: “The majority of those we are fighting are Takfiris, who adopt the al-Qaeda doctrine, in addition to a small number of outlaws” (Assad 2013).

It would be reasonable, under UN guidance, to expect that a disinterested third party “intervene” between the Western leaders, apparently gung-ho for a military strike on Syria, and the Syrian leaders, apparently defensive in their denial of the accusations made against them. This is where the UN investigators come into the picture — but one must be naive to imagine that Western powers are beholden to the UN: after all, hours after UN investigators leave Syria to test the samples taken from the cite of the “attack,” Western warships are ready to launch a missile-strike as though the verdict were already decided and the investigation merely a formal and incidental exercise. How has this come about?

At the UN General Assembly in March 2005, in the 59th session and the follow-up to the Millennium Summit, the UN issued an agenda as idealistic and forward-looking in tone as any of the Western leaders’ rhetoric issued during the politicized explanations of why Westerners should support intervention in the Middle East. The difference exists in the objective: the UN looks to establish peace and prosperity whereas the West’s motives (if one judges by history) are less noble — or at least less certain. For instance, the UN boasts that just four years after 9/11, the world’s nations “have it in our power to pass on to our children a brighter inheritance than that bequeathed to any previous generation” (UN 2005a) through a lessening of global poverty and the stopping of the spread of disease and the thwarting of violence and terrorism. What was the basis for such a boast? It is not cited, but it is presumed that the UN’s idealism is the sole basis. Indeed, the UN Charter is invoked and the objective of the Summit taken from this invocation — the objective of the UN being to “serve” the “needs” of “peoples everywhere” (UN 2005b).

The UN calls for a “global intergovernmental institution” that can ensure collective action towards the serving of the needs of peoples everywhere, suggesting that one more institution or organization — in short, more oversight — or, the right individuals given the right amount of authority — is all that separates the nations of the world from their goal of peace and prosperity.

The UN’s framework for action focuses on the need for transparency, “accountable systems of government, grounded in the rule of law” and a “dynamic” private sector which can ensure economic stability and growth (UN 2005b). Without commitment from all member states to this framework, it is a supposed that the ideals of the Summit cannot be attained.

The issue of transparency is the first stumbling block. Recent events have raised the specter of totalitarianism in the West. The Snowden documents which highlight an NSA policy of spying on American citizens have reminded Westerners of the threat of over-reach on the part of Western government. Transparency has been an issue in Western politics since as long as subterfuge has existed. Moreover, establishing a system of transparency in a democratic Republic in which administrations are in a constant state of flux every 4-8 years faces severe limitations. The replacement of one administration with another, possibly as many times as thrice in one decade, is comparable to a major shake-up in any serious corporation. What sort of consumer/investor confidence could so many shake-ups in so short amount of time inspire? Not much — yet the UN Summit report does not address this reality. It is too invested in a narrative of idealism.

The reality of humanitarian intervention paints a much bleaker picture than the one offered by the UN. Western rhetoric is dominated by cynicism and hostility: political leaders view Assad’s regime as guilty in the extreme, and the words they use to justify military intervention use the idealistic terms of the UN’s report in order to appeal to humanitarian principles. The idealistic terms invoked by the West, however, are not the positive terms used by the UN — those of “cooperation” and “respect” — but rather the negative terms, “atrocities,” “terrorism” — things which must be stopped, and which the West aggressively desires to stop. At least, it desires to stop them in Syria — for now — or so it says.

Syria’s independence was established by King Faisal in the first half of the 20th century, but Faisal’s authority was not to last, as the League of Nations intervened and gave Syria to the French. French occupation lasted for a time, but Syrians finally revolted in armed rebellion. In 1936, a treaty was written, but it would be another 7 years before Syrian authority would be re-established, partly thanks to the Free France movement led by Charles de Gaulle. The government in Syria continued to face inner conflict as opposition parties within the country sought power. In 1970, Hafez al-Assad of the Baath Party took control in the wake of a military coup. Thirty years later, the rule of Syria was taken up by his son, the British educated Bashar al-Assad, who stepped into power in the wake of the assassination of his brother. Since becoming the ruler of Syria, Bashar al-Assad has allied the country with forces in Lebanon and Iran, alliances that are keenly felt to be provocative by the state of Israel, which has been at “war” with both countries virtually since its inception. Thus, the question of Syria today is also a question of Israel and its role in Western foreign policy.

Syria has long received attention from the West. The Bush administration viewed the nation with suspicion during the U.S. invasion of Iraq and openly suspected the country of operating in conjunction with al-Qaeda. The 2011 Syrian “uprising” was viewed as a continuance of the “Arab Spring” by Western media, in particular the BBC (Arab Uprising 2012) — but alternative media reported quite a different story, one of outside forces (terrorist agents) invading Syria in an attempt to wage war on Assad. Western leaders portrayed Assad as a genocidal tyrant, whose murderous policy was directed against his own populace. The West appointed itself the provider of humanitarian aid and democratic ideals, just as it had done prior to the Libyan intervention. Action against Syria was blocked due to the votes of Russia and China who vetoed the UN from adopting any resolutions (Solomon 2012). President Obama continued to pursue the policies of the Bush administration and called for sanctions against Syria, the first step in the third directive of the UN’s R2P policy. Obama’s call for sanctions against Syria were a direct instance of intervention, formulated to thwart the “use of violence[and allow Syria to] begin transitioning to a democratic system that protects the rights of the Syrian people” (U.S. Department of Treasury 2011). Evidence of a massacre at Houla was presented in Western media as justification for the sanctions — yet that evidence was later withdrawn. Nonetheless, it had already served its apparent purpose. That the photographs of the “massacre” were taken in Iraq — not Houla — was apparently beside the point (Glaser 2012). The West was intent on intervening in Syria, whether or not atrocities were being committed by the Syrian government.

The question stands: why is the West so eager to intervene in Syria, now, when more substantial reports of atrocities were existent when Bashar al-Assad’s father ruled the country? What is the geopolitical interest? What is the national interest? How do politics play a part in the West’s motives? Studies by Dawson (2012) and Escobar (2011) are particularly helpful in answering these questions.

Just as the intervention in Libya represented an opportunity for Western oil companies to gain possession of Libyan oil fields (Anderson 2011), an intervention in Syria represented an opportunity for Westerners to gain geopolitical spoils. Indeed, Syria’s geopolitical situation in the Middle East makes it particularly valuable to Western realists. Dawson (2012) notes that Syria agreed to a $10 billion pipeline contract that could theoretically destroy the Turkey-Israel BTC pipeline monopoly. The other key geopolitical factor that makes Syria valuable is that it possesses “Russia’s last naval base on the Mediterranean” (Dawson 2012).

To view the subject from another angle, Syria is geopolitically situated in such a way that it may thwart Israeli hegemony in the Middle East, at least in terms of energy dominance. Escobar (2011) notes that “virtually all current geopolitical developments are energy-related” — and this applies to the crisis in Syria just as much as it does to the crisis in Libya. Both nations are at the center of an energy-grab being conducted by the West under the auspices of humanitarian aid. This is the realistic side of geopolitics. The idealistic side is that peace and prosperity are being re-established in these countries — so it is theoretically stipulated (the reality does not substantiate the theory). If Escobar is correct, Syria may be viewed merely as another domino in “Eurasian integration” — the maintenance of which is a source of contention between Western powers and Asian powers. Bhadrakumar (2012) states that “keeping Russia, an energy powerhouse, from developing bonhomie with the oil-rich Persian Gulf oligarchies has been a priority in Western strategies through the past several decades.” This would suggest that Syria is what may be called a chess piece in the global strategy of Western-Arab-Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. Perle (1996) of PNAC has written extensively on the subject of military intervention in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere — his perspective is a realist one and concerns the West’s national interests, which are linked inextricably with the national interests of Israel. “A Clean Break” serves as the outline for Western militarism in the Middle East; it was presented to Netanyahu as a focus study for the securing of Israel’s borders, and called for a heavy reliance upon the U.S. For the engaging of “proxy wars” in Syria through Lebanon. The strategy was designed to eliminate Syria and Iraq as potential threats to Israel’s national interests. The U.S. invaded Iraq following 9/11. In 2013, it is prepared to invade Syria. Perle’s directive at the end of the 20th century is apparently being followed to the letter at the beginning of the 21st century.

The position of the Syrian government in all of this is debated. Since 2005 when the Bush administration accused the Syrian government of being a terrorist-harboring state, Syria has been viewed in a negative light by Western powers. Yet, prior to the accusations, Syria had always maintained a friendly attitude towards the West. Indeed, Bashar al-Assad lived in the West until circumstances required his return to Syria following the violent death of his brother. However, Prados (2008:108) provides the perspective of the Project for the New American Century when he condemns Assad as being “anti-Israel” and an obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Assad is viewed by Prados as a violent reactionary who condemns Western influence in the Middle East, and who vehemently condemns the nation-state of Israel and its influence in Middle Eastern geopolitics. Prados’ view, moreover, is typical of Western governments, which tend to demonize countries that do not align themselves geopolitically with Israeli intentions. This raises the issue of Israel in the question of the realistic nature of the politics of interventionism.

It is also helpful to see how Assad himself views the situation that is currently evolving into a major global confrontation, with the West and Israel on one side, and Russia, Iran, and China on the other side.

In an interview with the Russian newspaper Izvestia, Bashar al-Assad denied all allegations of using chemical weapons against his own people, noting that the territories where these alleged gassings were supposed to have taken place were occupied by Assad’s own men and therefore, had chemical weapons been used, his own men would have suffered. Moreover, Assad welcomed a UN investigation, confident that such an investigation would prove false the allegations made by Western statesmen like Kerry and McCain. Assad’s statements are worth quoting in full because they outline what he believes to be the Western protocol of preparation for intervention — unsubstantiated allegations of atrocities in order to win public support for a military intervention, the real aim of which is destabilization and/or regime change (both of which objectives have been flatly denied by the Obama administration). Assad stated:

As for the UN Commission, we were the first to request a UN investigation when terrorists launched rockets that carried toxic gas in the outskirts of Aleppo. Several months before the attack, American and Western statements were already preparing public opinion of the potential use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. This raised our suspicion that they were aware of the terrorists’ intentions to use these weapons in order to blame the Syrian government.

What Assad demonstrates is a willingness to comply with the idealistic aims of the UN Security Council. His invitation to the UN, moreover, signifies confidence in the impartiality of UN investigators — an impartiality which, geopolitically speaking, the Western powers do not clearly demonstrate. Incidentally, if the West was really interested in humanitarian intervention it would demonstrate more willingness to await the findings of a UN investigation into the allegations, rather than pronouncing a verdict first (as it so often does — one need only remember the allegation of Iraq possessing WMDs — an allegation which proved incorrect) and then rushing to collect the evidence. This rush to level accusations and prepare for a strike runs parallel to the rhetoric of Israeli leader Netanyahu, whose “red line” speech at the UN in 2012 showed how aggressively intent Israel is in leveling accusations which fail to be supported by UN investigations. That Western powers follow Israel’s suit suggests that Israel is in some regard leading the West in terms of foreign policy. Were humanitarian ideals truly at the heart of the West’s concern, common sense would dictate that the findings of the UN investigation into allegations of chemical warfare be taken into consideration well before the launching of war ships. This has not proven to be the case. Currently, the U.S. is preparing for a strike on Syria — even as UN investigators continue to investigate the U.S.’s allegations against Syria.

Assad’s viewpoint is consistent with what Evans (2008) describes as the history of interventionism. From the Peace of Westphalia to the Holocaust, the bulk of states’ humanitarian intervention focused on relieving Christians of persecution in hostile countries. Since the Cold War, however, interventionism has been based on more “cynical” and “self-interested” motives — even as it has retained the practice of invoking the name of humanitarianism in its mission statements (Evans 2008:19).


Syria’s geopolitical placement in the Middle East makes it a prime target of Israeli expansionism in the energy wars for water, oil, and gas in the Middle East (Escobar 2011). Because Western interests are so intimately linked with Israeli policy, the alliance is expected. However, Western states must erect a facade for intervention that Western voters will accept as a legitimate basis for war. Intervention on the behalf of big business or Israel fails to connect with most Westerners, who simply do not want to see another “Iraq” happen in Syria.

The “deep” politics of intervention pose a problem in which idealism and realism are opposed to one another. The idealist perspective promoted by the UN is one that depends upon the adherence of the international community to hopeful, humanitarian, and righteous ideals. The realist perspective promoted by Western states, if one is to judge by their historical actions, depends upon the adherence of the State to the principle of national interest.

The motivation of Western states’ “humanitarian intervention” in Libya and Syria is found in the geopolitical interests that each nation offers in terms of energy and/or interest to a strengthened Israel. A realistic perspective is necessary in understanding that these are the reasons the Western states have for intervening (or not intervening) in Syrian and, as we shall see next, Libyan affairs.



In World War 2, Axis and Allied forces battled over North Africa. The Allies secured the field. Libya, so-named during the years of Italian occupation that preceded the war, fell to the Western Allied powers in what was essentially a “land-grab” (Stone, Kuznick, 2012) by the oil-dependent Western states. Stone and Kuznick are quick to point out that World War 2 was not an ideological war (that was the Cold War) but a geopolitical war. Rather than open up a Western front in order to combat the Germans, the Allied forces “intervened” in North Africa and the Middle East, taking over these territories and reaping the spoils of their invasions. The history of modern Libya is a history of exploitation by the West, as shall be seen.

In 1951, Libya declared independence. Oil fields were discovered that same decade. In 1969, military leader Muammar Gaddafi overthrew the Libyan monarch. Libya’s wealth increased exponentially, and Gaddafi’s position was secure.

In 2011, the neoconservative newsmagazine The Weekly Standard, edited by Bill Kristol, an ardent supporter of The Project for a New American Century and Israel, labeled Gaddafi a terrorist, whose star was dimming (Joscelyn, 2011). Since 2002 that had been the case, because it was that year when Gaddafi fell out with Saudi King Abdullah. The Saudi Arabs, the Western states, and Israel were the new “allied” forces, and in the energy wars fast approaching (water, oil, gas), and Gaddafi willing to sell to the BRICS nations, it was only a matter of time before “intervention” become a priority (Escobar 2011).

The Libyan oil and gas fields are an immense resource. The NATO-led military intervention in Libya in 2011 resulted in the overthrow of the Libyan government and the death of Muammar Gaddafi. Since then, reports of Libya becoming the “main base for Al-Qaeda” (Violent chaos 2013) and the rising influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region (Heneghan 2013) serve as counterpoints to Clark’s (2011) assertion that the “Libyan intervention was a success.” Indeed, a success in what terms? The terms of “success” are enough to cause hot debate between interventionists and anti-interventionists. Yet that debate is often framed by the assumption that countries like Libya are in need of humanitarian aid in the first place and that member countries of NATO can answer that need (Chesterman 2011).

Preventing some from asking the appropriate questions is rhetoric of idealism that gives a gloss to the reality of interventionism. Terms like “success” are flaunted too easily (in the case of Libyan intervention in 2011, for example) when the reality, plain to see, is that humanitarian intervention in Libya has resulted in economic, cultural, and political destabilization in a country that, prior to intervention, ranked among the most productive GDP countries in Africa. The implication here is that depictions of humanitarian intervention are colored by an idealistic narrative when what is needed is a more realistic approach to the question of interventionism.

Powell (2012) takes a different approach to the importance of interventionism by examining the case of Libya, which she cites as the first instance in history of the UN acting upon the R2P doctrine allowing the Security Council to grant permission to a NATO-led intervention. This instance was historic in the sense that it marked a definitive shift away from the “Westphalian notion of sovereignty” towards a more international sovereignty, which translates into leadership of Western powers, with whom rests the most significant amount of arms and revenue (Powell 2012:298). Powell asserts that interventionism in the modern sense is important because it illustrates the change in the international dynamic: that change, while it may have been sparked by the “Arab Spring” and a people’s revolution, has not necessarily led towards the more peaceful and prosperous ideal embraced by the UN but rather towards the more realistic aims of the members of think tanks like the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). By acknowledging the major shift in international working law that R2P represents, one can see just how much sway the realists of politics have garnered for themselves by employing the language of the idealists and utilizing it for their own purposes, or rather for their states’ national interests.

Welsh (2011) argues that the problem that the international community faces today is one of focus. It is preoccupied with building “normative consensus” rather than with addressing the problem of how states should “act” in regards to R2P (Welsh 2011:255). Welsh suggests that the Libyan intervention was by no means a unanimous decision by the Security Council, in spite of its authorization, and that member states of the UN viewed the intervention with circumspection. The importance of intervention in the light of the case of Libya and now of Syria should show that humanitarian aid, as expressed by Western powers who have a national interest in intervening in states like Lybia and Syria, is an issue of contention among member states of the UN — particularly with Russian and China.

The UN authorized a NATO-led intervention in 2011 — yet that intervention has so far proven to have achieved no real objective other than the securing of Libya’s oil fields. This supports Escobar’s energy-grab thesis in the geopolitics of the Middle East. The realist perspective is thus thoroughly supported by historical fact, policy directives, and current rhetoric.

Geopolitically speaking, Libya, as situated in North Africa, is an oil rich country which means it is of interest to the West. Before the “Arab Spring” it “played ball” with the Western nations (Escobar 2011), but as paid mercenaries (al-Qaeda agents) flooded the country, fomenting uprisings, the NATO-led nations saw an opportunity to strike Gaddafi, seize his assets, and prevent a blow to Israel’s economy from being delivered (Escobar 2011; Dawson 2012; Anderson 2011). Gaddafi’s suppression of the terrorist uprising in his own country is similar to that which we are currently seeing in Syria: the dictator attempting to defend a nation from paid invaders, in both cases, agents of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, which is known to be funded by the West (Escobar 2011). That the West should “intervene” on humanitarian grounds can only be seen as a pretext.


“Intervention” in Libya was not a response to popular protests in Libya for a more humanitarian dictatorship. The protests themselves were led by al-Qaeda forces (Escobar 2011) and the intervention was merely a pretext for a land grab in the first great energy war of the 21st century (Escobar 2011; Anderson 2011). Western oil companies have seized oil fields, but the bedrock of the state, the order of government, has been shattered. There is no more stability in the country — and certainly no sign of the peace and prosperity promoted by the UN’s idealist notions.

The dictatorship of Gaddafi was blasted by Western media like the neoconservative Weekly Standard for being terroristic. There may be, however, a conflict of interest as the Weekly Standard’s viewpoint is guided by the viewpoint of PNAC. An objective, disinterested look at Gaddafi reveals a dictator who was overthrown by al-Qaeda agents, supported by Western states (Escobar 2011). Intervention in Libya, furthermore, helped put a stop to Gaddafi’s decision to sell oil to the BRICS nations (Escobar 2011). Thus, the economical incentive for intervening is apparent.

Chapter 3

Why Intervention in Libya and now in Syria

This chapter provides an extensive review of relevant research and is divided into sections (a) history of research on interventionism, (b) importance of the issue of interventionism, (c) interventionism and this study’s research questions, (d) current selection practices, and (e) recommended selection practices.

(a) History of Research

The reason intervention in Libya did not happen until 2011, in spite of decades of allegations against “atrocities,” has everything to do with the “Arab Spring” in Egypt, which resulted in the opening of the Suez Canal, allowing Libya the opportunity to sell oil to the East, bypassing the Israeli monopoly on trade routes (Dawson 2012). This is evident to most independent journalists/alternative media types. What is not so evident is the history of research, which can help to illuminate the question of why intervention in Libya and Syria has not come until recently.

The balance between a realistic position and an idealistic position in foreign policy was evident in the immediate post-War years of the 1940s, as Stone and Kuznick (2012) show: Henry Wallace represented the “idealistic” position regarding foreign policy, while President Truman represented the “realistic” one. The Truman administration was responsible for dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, an act which was at the time and has since been viewed privately as a war crime (Stone, Kuznick 2012). Yet, that same administration successfully sold the attack on Japan to the American public and to generations of history book writers as an action which ultimately saved American lives (an unsubstantiated claim — and one flatly contradicted by American war time generals) (Stone, Kuznick 2012). The objective of using the bomb was not to save lives but to demonstrate to the Soviets that America was “in charge” (Stone, Kuznick 2012). What it really showed was a tendency on the part of the American government to use aggressive force in order to achieve objectives given a gloss of respectability by being painted as “humanitarian.” Stone and Kuznick suggest that there was nothing “humane” about the American use of two atomic bombs on Japan. On the contrary, they state that American foreign policy in the 20th century is based wholly on Imperialistic aims — as the post-war memo of George Kennan plainly illustrated. Stone and Kuznick report that

In a top secret 1948 memo, George Kennan outlined the dilemma facing U.S. policy makers, making clear why Wallace’s [humanitarian] alternatives were dismissed with such contempt: ‘We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its populationwe cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity.To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreamings.We should cease to talk about vague andunreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratizationwe are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better. (Kennan in Stone, Kuznick 2012:222).

Thus, Stone and Kuznick argue that the “humanitarian intervention” has never truly existed but as an empty ideal touted by Western powers only to give a gloss to their real motives — national self-interest.

Evans (2008) traces the history of interventionism from the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 to the Holocaust of the 1940s — roughly 300 years in which nations have effectively intervened in other countries’ affairs. “None of the small normative advances made during this whole period,” Evans asserts, “translated into much in the way of activism by states when confronted with the reality of mass atrocities occurring outside their own national or colonial borders” (Evans 2008:19). The reality of intervention, in other words, is consistently one of national interest — not humanitarianism. The only missions that have since been recognized as “humanitarian” were the “military incursion mounted by England, France and Russia into Greece in 1827 to stop massacres by Turkey,” and interventions on behalf of Maronite Christians in Syria in 1860, Christians in Crete in the same decade, in the Balkans the following decade, and in Macedonia at the turn of the 20th century (Evans 2008:19): each intervention by Western powers was a response to Ottoman atrocities against Christian peoples and thus earned the title of humanitarian intervention. Evans points out, however, that these interventions by no means established “a doctrine of humanitarian interventionas a matter of customary international law” — for the practice of “humanitarian intervention” has never been consistent (Evans 2008:19-20).

Such a lack of consistency is important when assessing the legality of humanitarian intervention. It has been argued (Chandler 2002) that R2P came into effect as a result of, among other instances, Western intervention in Kosovo (in spite of a no-vote from the UN). R2P, therefore, is a rather recent doctrine — and, ostensibly, an extension of Western initiatives in foreign countries. While the UN gives R2P an idealistic front, the Western militarism that inspired it is less idealistically-inspired and more realistically grounded in national interests (Stone, Kuznick 2012). National interest is the only real consistency in foreign intervention. This does not set a very moral precedent for the UN standard adopted in 2005 — much less for the legality of intervention.

The legality of humanitarian intervention is discussed by Hurd (2011) in his study of the rule of law in the modern world according to the UN Charter of 1948. According to the UN Charter, humanitarian intervention is apparently illegal — but precedent set since the establishment of the Charter has made humanitarian intervention into a norm, which makes it less problematic in international law. Hurd concludes that there is no clear way to assess humanitarian intervention, that it “exists in a space between legality and illegality” (Hurd 2011:294).

In spite of Hurd’s arguments, Hilpold (2012) asserts that responsibility to protect doctrine has attained a degree of legitimacy, become a norm, and thus become an established principle of conduct in international law because the UN in the 21st century, in the wake of 9/11, has adopted a vision of global humanism — one that is eager to embrace the idealistic principles inherent in the theme of humanitarian aid. Hilpold does not argue the validity of humanitarian intervention in a world where states’ national interests may actually be served or furthered under the cover of humanitarian intervention; he merely examines the “legality” that humanitarian intervention has attained within the last decade. Indeed, there has been a decisive shift in global politics from anti-interventionism to interventionism, a shift that reflects both the idealistic doctrine of the UN in 2005 and the realistic geopolitical struggle in the Middle East.

The UN mandate regarding R2P appears to contradict the UN Charter regarding states’ intervention — granting a degree of permissibility to states to intervene in order to establish peace and thwart atrocities. The R2P doctrine is based on the principle of idealism — but as researchers Stone, Kuznick, Evans, and others have shown, states do not consistently act according to idealistic principles but do consistently act on behalf of national interests. Thus, R2P gives legitimacy to humanitarian intervention, in legal terms, but does not acknowledge that states are likely to act, realistically, in their own national interests. The interests that Syria poses to Western states, including Israel, is apparent from historical analysis. This topic shall be examined in more depth in section (c).

(b) Importance of the Issue of Interventionism

A number of researchers have identified the importance of the issue of interventionism. Evans (2008) has highlighted the need for the implementation of a Responsibility to Protect doctrine that can be used to guide all cases of foreign intervention. Evans shows how current UN policies are ineffective in obliging Western powers to intervene on “humanitarian” grounds, meaning making the “ideal” the “reality” — whereas, currently, the reality and the ideal do not necessarily meet in every case.

Evans accepts the idealistic vision of R2P while at the same time acknowledging the reality of states’ operations on behalf of national interest. Evans calls for a better policy of enforcement of R2P, one that will ensure that states act on the principles of idealism rather than on the principles of realism. The problem with Evans’ point is that it is in itself idealistically formulated. The realistic and the idealistic cannot be reconciled in any way, shape, or form anymore than selflessness can be reconciled with selfishness — yet, such reconciliation is exactly what is called for by Evans.

The issue of interventionism is further discussed by Pattison (2010) who argues that even with the change in attitude from anti-interventionism to interventionism within the UN, the vocabulary utilized by the UN in its declarations fails to clarify certain problematic realities — such as, who is the international community? Pattison points out that the term “international community” is without definition and does not provide an idea of which states are to lead, how so, which and how many states serve to effectively designate a community, and whether the interests of that community are best served by intervention. Moreover, Pattison notes that the UN Security Council mentions no such agent of authority but “only a procedure that agents should follow” (Pattison 2010:17). Thus, the importance of interventionism to the international community may be discernible in the concept of the value of a leadership role in that community. Clearly the Western states occupy that role as they have effectively articulated the doctrine of R2P in such a manner as to turn it into an acceptable principle to the UN — contrary to principles of the original UN Charter. Clearly the Western states are a force to be reckoned with in the international community — and a showdown appears to be imminent over Syria, as Russian and Western military forces descend on the Mediterranean coast, where open conflict between the two world powers becomes a very real possibility.

This same observation has been made by Simma (1999:1), who, in the wake of the NATO-led intervention in Kosovo (which lacked UN approval), stated that this exercise by the West paved the way for future interventions that “would undermine the universal system of collective security.” This undermining is the result of the insistence on the West to intervene in countries where it itself judges intervention to be necessary. The West, by its own actions, has set precedent for overriding the authority of the UN and its idealistic aims. The West sets itself up as sole policeman of the world — or at least of those parts of the world it determines it can have some sway over. In short, the realistic aims of interventions, i.e., the states’ national interests, is what the West actually sees to be at stake (Simma 1999).

Let us now look at the national interests which the Western powers have in intervention.

(c) Interventionism and This Study’s Research Questions

Pattison (2010) poses the question of interventionism thus: Who has the right to intervene? And who has the duty to intervene? His answer is that the state with any legitimacy has a right to intervene — and that the state with the most legitimacy has the duty to intervene. Hence, the difficulty surrounding interventionism centers on the problem of moral legitimacy. Can one suppose that the West possesses the moral legitimacy to intervene in the affairs of nations like Syria and Libya?

(d) Current Selection Processes

Selection processes for this literature review were developed according to a substantive procedure that allows for a synthesis of literature and analysis. The process was organized by a guiding concept, which utilized relevant key words in various search engines, based upon reoccurring phrases used in seminal works already familiar to the researcher. This process ensures a suitably large-enough scope in regards to the gathering of a relevant literature pool, of both quantitative and qualitative research. Some literature is more seminal than others — for instance, Butler’s (1933) speech, or Perle’s (1996) policy paper — both of which provide insight into the realistic perspective of intervention. Other works have built on the findings of researchers whose studies of humanitarian intervention have cast light on ideas that this study found it pertinent to pursue still further.

(e) Recommended Selection Process

A recommended selection process for study that might elaborate upon the findings of the paper would be to utilize the appropriate key words in a variety of search engines. “Humanitarian intervention” brings a wide selection of literature to the forefront, when searched in Google’s Scholar database — a search engine that has access to the main academic databases. Therefore, a more refined search should receive focus. The Russian news outlet Russia Today (RT) offers a unique perspective on the U.S.-Syria affair, as well as intervention in Libya. RT provides an outlet to voices often unheard in Western media — such as the voice of Assad himself, and alternative media correspondents such as Escobar and Dawson.

It is important for a qualitative study to gather as many different perspectives on a question as is possible, so that a deep analysis of the context of the situation may be formulated. Accompanying this aim should be a reasonable skepticism regarding anything that appears to be a Western apologetic — that is, a work which attempts to portray the West’s interventions in idealistic terminology. Western realists are much more matter-of-fact in their approach to intervention, and one need only acquaint oneself with the Perle paper, “A Clean Break,” in order to see exactly how well thought-out intervention policy actually is — and how far back this policy actually goes. A healthy skepticism on the smoke that professional propagandists employ to obscure the deep politics of interventionism is essential in any research on the realistic aims of states. This is the recommended procedure for any further study.


The history of research pertaining to the question of realism vs. idealism in interventionism reveals a consistent pattern of Western intervention in the 20th century primarily based upon states’ national interests. The use of idealistic rhetoric is commonly used by the West in order to provide a gloss or a “justification” for intervention. In reality, these interventions propose significant gains for states in terms of geopolitics and economics.

Literature relevant to this study supports the idea that there is a need for awareness of the realist perspective in humanitarian intervention. As Western states initiate yet another step in Middle Eastern intervention, critics of such an intervention are pointing to the reality that allegations for atrocities are simply unfounded. No evidence has yet been produced or found by the UN for the attacks of which the U.S. And other Western states claim the Syrian regime is guilty. The case against Libya was equally fabricated, or interpreted, in such a way as to paint Gaddafi as a criminal responsible for crimes against humanity in the wake of “popular” uprisings in the Middle East. These uprisings, however, are essentially part of the “deep” politics of Western states, which include the radicalizing and arming of sects in the Middle East, the formation of revolts and protests, and the overthrow of governments — a practice at least as old as the 20th century (Butler 1933), and a practice very much a part of Western foreign policy, official (Perle 1996) or unofficial (Scott 2007).

The significance of this study may be found in the near-constant debate over the principles of humanitarian intervention as the U.S. “gears up” for a strike against Syria, as the popular media put it. Such a strike can have effects all across the board — from social to political to economical. Once made aware of the real reasons for such intervention, it is perhaps possible that Western voters can apply pressure to Western statesmen in order to cancel all hostile aggression against states which have neither been found to be guilty of R2P violations nor represent a clear and present danger to civilization.



A case study approach to interventionism in the Middle East is not only helpful but essential in determining the precise nature of the question under scrutiny. Realism vs. idealism in interventionism can only be thoroughly understood when examples of real interventions are qualitatively reviewed. This study takes a qualitative approach to the cases of Libya and Syria and bases its analysis on an extensive literature review of relevant material.

This study includes analysis of over 40 pieces of literature spanning a variety of perspectives and fields in order to formulate a qualitative view of humanitarian interventionism. From Perle’s vastly important 1996 policy paper “A Clean Break” to Assad’s interviews with Russia media, this study incorporates opposing perspectives and synthesizes a unique perspective based on realism rather than idealism. It acknowledges the ideals of the UN and how the rhetoric of the UN’s idealistic conventions is utilized by realists within Western government. By exploring certain realist motives (identified by Perle), the researcher was able to identify precisely where idealism and realism merged and separated. A need to assess the reality of the situation in Libya and Syria was satisfied by literature affiliated with independent or objective-based publications. Researchers with a reputation for objective reporting were given priority over less-established researchers. To this end, time was devoted to investigating the works of Escobar, Dawson, Stone, Kuznick, Scott, Perkins, and others. Particularly attention was paid to research with a realistic/historical basis, one that did not stop short at the idealist aims of intervention in the 20th century, but took measures to look more closely into the “deep” politics of the situation.

The case study was conducted by comparing the idealistic aims reported by the West in Libyan intervention with the achieved (and substantiated) objectives in that same country. Achieved aims were then categorized according to grouping, either idealistic or realistic. In every instance, in Libya, aims achieved fell within the category of realistic rather than idealistic. In the case of Syria, a similar approach was taken — but because direct military intervention has yet to proceed (aside from the arming of Syrian “rebels”), a different criterion had to be developed to aid in the analysis. For Syria, the researcher looked at the rhetoric of the West and matched it both with the ideals of the UN stated in its R2P doctrine of 2005 and the policy papers of Perle and PNAC from as early as 1996. In every case, an indifference to or blatant obfuscation of idealist principles was manifest and preference given to the realist aims of Western government, including the objectives of the state of Israel.

Special attention was also given to the doctrine of R2P and its development in recent years as an norm in international law, due in part to the practice of Western intervention in Kosovo and other countries where political and militaristic conflict merged. This analysis gave way to a deeper analysis of the assumption of the role of superpower “hero” or defender of humanism on the global stage that the West decidedly took on for itself, all the more since 9/11. The glaring contradictions inherent in the assumption of this role by a power indifferent to human suffering in places of no geopolitical significance led the researcher to inspect more closely the divergence of ideal from reality in the practice of Western intervention.

By expanding his frame of reference outside the politicized discourse of Western media reports, the researcher was able to secure a foothold in the realistic aims of Western states and to identify their national interests. Corroborating these aims with the research of historians who have paid particular attention to this line of conduct helped to solidify the claims of this paper.

This methodology utilized an intuitive approach and the researcher’s ability to discern the perspective of a piece of literature at the outset. This ability allowed the researcher to make quick calculations that would ensure a balanced gathering of material — from both idealistic and realistic perspectives.

By analyzing every major perspective available to him in his research, the researcher aimed to achieve an objective but qualitative analysis of relevant literature.

The first question of this case study — Why did the NATO states not intervene in Syria and Libya until now (2011-present) — even though there has been a strong case for humanitarian intervention (evidence of mass killing, forced immigration, genocide) in the past? — may be answered according to an analysis of the relevant literature.

There is a strong indication that an invasion of Syria is simply the next step in Perle’s PNAC plan for the securing of Israel’s borders. The intervention of Libya can be seen as an aggressive assault on a nation, whose leader had conducted less than human policies but whose oil fields are apparently more important to the West than the restoration of order.

The political reasons for interventions in both nations are equally clear. The U.S. has long supported Israel in the Middle East, and the Project for the New American Century is made up of members with dual Israeli-American citizenship. The link between Israeli and American policy is strong — but not complete, politically speaking. Opposition to such a link has been expressed by Secretary of Defense Hagel, whose confirmation as Secretary was criticized by members of both parties on the grounds that Hagel had been in the past critical of Israel. The connection between the two states runs deeply (Scott 2007).

The geopolitical reasons for interventions in Libya and Syria are equally apparent. Libya’s oil fields rank among the richest in the world — and the petrodollar has long been a source of geopolitical influence for the U.S. The securing of oil fields either through invasion, intervention, alliance, or treaty is historical fact. That the only substantiated achievement in the Libyan intervention has been the securing of the oil fields shows to what extent the intervention was based on the UN ideals of humanitarian aid and the R2P doctrine. This doctrine, evidently, is little more than a gloss for geopolitical actions that benefit Western states’ national interests. Were such not the case, one would likely be able to point to some humanitarian headway in Libya — but anything resembling such headway simply cannot be seen.

The economic reasons for intervention are likewise apparent when one considers the value of the securing of Libya’s oil fields and the intangible effect of destroying Syria’s infrastructure. The Israel-Turkey pipeline guarantees a source of economic revenue to the West and its “allies” in Israel and Turkey. It also guarantees a greater market share of energy profits for the two Middle Eastern states. A pipeline through Syria may be seen as an economic threat to the current monopoly held by Israel-Turkey. The economic impact of a Syrian pipeline would surely cut into Israeli profits, but were Syria to fall to the rebels with the help of a U.S. intervention, the prospects of a Syrian pipeline coming to fruition would likely be diminished.

There is also a social aspect of intervention in Syria to be considered: since the establishment of the Israeli state at the end of the first half of the 20th century, conflict between Arab states and Israel have been well documented. That conflict is most pronounced in rhetoric stemming from Iran and Israel leaders. Because the land occupied by Israel is held to be holy land by members of both Arab and Israeli communities, this tension is natural, and the fact that the Israeli state was supported by the U.S. from the beginning has naturally placed Iran in opposition with U.S. interests. The proxy war called for by Perle in Syria is a proxy war between Iran and the U.S., with Iran supporting Assad and the U.S. supporting the rebels. It may thus be said that intervention is already underway in Syria, that it has taken the form of sanctions and arming of the rebels. Whether this can be accounted as humanitarian intervention depends upon the real objectives of the West — not simply on the allegations that Assad is a tyrant guilty of murdering his populace.

But what can be said of the allegations, first of all? How strong is the evidence for atrocities committed by the Assad regime in Syria and by Gaddafi in Libya? The evidence is hardly devastating. Assad has denied allegations of using chemical warfare — and no UN investigation has as of yet found him guilty of authorizing such a chemical attack. On the contrary, the U.S. appears eager to strike before the results of the latest UN investigation can be completed. This points a good deal more to the realistic purposes of Western intervention than to the idealistic purposes of UN-supported intervention. Moreover, the UN-supported intervention in Libya was in response to Gaddafi’s suppression of protests, inspired by the “Arab Spring” revolts in Egypt (EP 2011). It has been argued by more than one critic of UN idealism that these revolts were engineered by Western agents in order to serve as a pretext for intervention. German-American researcher W.F. Engdahl has been particularly vehement in his assertions that such is precisely the case. Scott (2007) is likewise emphatic in his arguments pertaining to “deep” politics that pretexts for invasion are a common and almost routine affair for Western states looking to serve their own national interests. An idealistic outlook blinds one to this reality. An objective consideration of the facts, however, obliges one to consider the realist perspective and is role in humanitarian interventionism.

Indeed, Assad’s remarks should be noted, for they illuminate the very nature of the question of intervention:

During the last few weeks, we have worked with the Commission and set the guidelines for cooperation. First of these, is that our national sovereignty is a red line and as such the Commission will directly liaise with us during the process. Second, the issue is not only how the investigation will be conducted but also how the results will be interpreted. We are all aware that instead of being interpreted in an objective manner, these results could easily be interpreted according to the requirements and agendas of certain major countries. Certainly, we expect Russia to block any interpretation that aims to serve American and western policies. What is most important is that we differentiate between western accusations that are based on allegations and hearsay and our request for an investigation based on concrete evidence and facts (Assad 2013).

Assad’s words are rational and subtle — the direct opposite of the bombastic rhetoric of the interventionists in Washington. Were respect and humanity really on the line, one would expect the West to respond to Assad’s remarks with equal candor and less rancor. The fact that they do not, but respond with cynicism and aggression reveals the reality behind the pretext: this is war — not humanitarian intervention.


The question of Western interventionism in the 21st century can be answered by studying the cases of Libya and Syria — both of which reveal the realistic aims of Western states which pursue their own national interests under the guise of humanitarian intervention. The evidence for this claim is based both on the objectives successfully achieved and substantiated in Libya and in the insistence upon aggressive action in Syria before any real evidence of atrocities has been verified by UN investigators. One recognizes the heavy hand of realist politics in both cases — a hand which has furthermore been set down in plain policy by Perle of PNAC — a think tank guided by Israeli-Americans dedicated to strengthening the borders and power structure of Israel in the Middle East.

The idealistic aims of the UN’s R2P doctrine are, consequently, adopted by Western states only in so far as they are useful in garnering support among Western voters and statesmen for intervention. There is no consistent adherence or insistence upon the R2P doctrine, however; its usage plays merely a practical facility in the determining of events, as far as Western states are concerned. The U.S. In particular is adept at playing one “card” then playing another when the first fails to satisfy the public. Even still, Western leaders have proven to be anything but beholden to the Western public in terms of foreign policy: their initiatives are guided by the Machiavellian principles of realism rather than the humanitarian principles of UN idealism.

As intervention with Syria (on behalf of Israel rather than on behalf of the Syrian populace) nears, one should be aware of the real policy which is guiding Western states. That policy has been plainly detailed in the PNAC papers. The Western states’ national interest outweighs the idealistic aims it trumpets before the world and the UN: those aims are political (allegiance with Israel), geopolitical (the securing of oil fields and pipelines), economical (the guaranteeing of cash flows through protected nations), and social (the destabilization of regions, whose populace is culturally opposed to that of Israel and Western liberalism). These aims are made readily apparent by researchers who lift the lid on idealistic rhetoric and expose the realistic aims of the West in the Middle East.

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