Bomb Syria So That I Can Sleep at Night
Failed Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff recently made waves with an op-ed in the Financial Times calling for Western intervention in Syria. Revisiting some of the themes of his 1990s writings (Ignatieff made a living championing ‘humanitarian interventionism’ before he led Canada’s Liberal Party to its worst electoral defeat ever), Igantieff said the West should impose a ‘comprehensive quarantine of Syria’ in order to ‘force [Assad] from power’.
Yet the most startling thing about his piece was not its extreme short-term historical amnesia, its ignorance of the disasters unleashed in Iraq and Afghanistan following Western meddling, but rather its exhibition of self-regard and self-concern, even of that most malignant form of self-love: narcissism. Ignatieff mentioned his own feelings about what is happening in Homs six times and the possible feelings of the people of Homs themselves only three times. His short op-ed mainly focused on the ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ felt by people like Igantieff - that is, Western observers possessed of a good, caring, Sarajevo-informed ‘international conscience’ - while the ‘fear’ and ‘desperation’ of the people of Homs were given far briefer treatment.
This ratio of 2:1 between Ignatieff’s feelings of guilt and Syrians’ feelings of desperation not only suggests that modern Western interventionists are two times more obsessed with themselves than they are with the victims of foreign conflicts they claim to care so much about - it also reveals that what is really motoring the demands for Western intervention in Syria are the emotional needs of Western observers rather than the practical needs of Syrians. This kind of narcissism is now widespread among those who desperately want the ‘international community’ to intervene in Syria. These people are so amazingly vain that they see the bombing of Syria as a kind of balm for their guilt-ridden consciences, a physical act that might help to make their own emotional turmoil that bit more bearable. Their rallying cry should be: ‘Bomb Syria so that I can sleep at night.’
The criticism of the intervene-in-Syria lobby has tended to focus on its inability or unwillingness to think seriously about the potential consequences of having external intervention in an already very messy civil conflict. But more alarming than that is these campaigners’ inability to think about anything but themselves. Indeed, such is the myopic self-regard of modern interventionists that they now freely admit that Western intervention might well make the situation in Syria worse, but it is still worth doing because at least it will make a loud, public display of our ‘common human heritage’.