When it comes to Ukraine’s conflict, where is the (precarious) quasi-elite of advocates of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P)? Why, yet again, have they chosen this moment to be silent? Quick to churn out incessant, not to mention intellectually vapid, op-eds calling for Western military aggression against Syria, and outraged by how Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi spoke of and responded to “protesters” in Benghazi (we now know that, rather than thousands of dead in Benghazi during the initial street protests, there were but 110, and half of those were government supporters), they are more than just absent when the unelected government of Ukraine militarily assaults “its own people”–standing by as dozens burned alive in a building torched by those who helped to overthrow a democratically elected government.
My argument has always been a consistent and straightforward one, and it did not begin with dismissing R2P and its advocates out of hand. Rather, I asked to see some consistency on their part, to determine how genuine they were about sincerely supporting their own ideals. I merely asked: if we take the R2P stance on its own terms, does it stand true to its own aims and principles? Having seen R2P advocacy repeatedly take solace in the fold of the US State Department, and repeatedly reneging on their own ideals when it was politically expedient (regime change by NATO, the US, or EU), that is when I began to realize that “saving lives” and “protecting civilians” are far from the top of the agenda for these self-described “human rights defenders.” It is now apparent that when it comes to “human” rights, there are only certain types of humans that count as such and merit having their rights defended by R2P promoters. Effectively, others are not counted as human if they supported Muammar Gaddafi, or if they happened to be black Libyans or African migants in Libya; their humanness is not taken into account if they support Bashar al-Assad, and cheer the Syrian government for taking the necessary steps to protect them from bloodthirsty jihadists; and, recently, they also ceased to be human when they voted or protested in favour of independence from Ukraine and announced their pro-Russia feelings.
Faced with their own limitations and contradictions, do they respond with honest admissions of making mistakes? Not at all. Instead, they take to writing even more op-eds–because the private monopoly on news in North America is open wide to them–in which they restate their bland, untrue, unproven generalities about R2P being a “success” in Libya, and that it “saved lives.” So the simple question to be asked is what accounts for such apparent mendacity? Are they simply ignorant, dishonest, or unconscious? How much longer do they think that they can sustain their flip-flopping project before they realize that the public views them as tiresome, morally selective, chicken hawks? The answer, I am afraid, is that they will continue for as long as governments, universities, and private donors keep dumping dollars in their pockets. It’s a job. They are not otherwise highly in demand in the current labour market. It’s not “saving lives” and “protecting civilians” that matters to them, as much as saving their think-tanks and protecting their budgets. No doubt, there will be more op-eds about Syria and more calls for even more “holocaust memorials” to be built in places far away from 1940s Germany. “Uncomfortable” cases will be ignored as “unsuitable” for R2P: such as the Afghan government pursuing war against its own people (counterinsurgency, supported by the US and NATO), or the Israeli devastation of Gaza.
Did R2P advocates at least push for measures that would prevent mass atrocities such as the one that occurred in Ukraine today? No. But isn’t “prevention” one of their sacred principles? Instead, they engaged in writing op-eds (duly published by their supporters in the mass media), that essentially mocked Russia for speaking of protection. They were suddenly astounded that a powerful state could employ R2P as a convenient ploy to possibly effect regime change. They thumbed their noses at Russian arguments–which were supposedly their own–and then this happened:
Who cares. Right? Not to worry, perhaps some civil conflict more amenable to Western preferences will pop up, something that allows them to once again play at being the world’s saviours. With the limited memories and even more limited knowledge of the mainstream media audience, they may even get away with it again.