Suppose, for a moment, that you're a supporter of the side in a civil conflict that is disfavored by the American foreign policy apparatus. Suppose, in other words, that you are a Malian that supports the insurgency, or a Syrian who supports Assad. Do you have rights? Do you have a right to providing political support for the side that you feel best represents the interests of your country, despite the preferences of the American government? I'm not talking about people actually involved in fighting, members of resistance movements or governments. I'm talking about people who have a preference that cuts against the dictates of America and NATO. Should you have the right to feel that way?
This is not an idle concern. Despite what you have heard in the American media, many millions of Syrians support the Assad regime. Their number include Alawites, Christians, secularists of many stripes, and a good chunk of Syrians who simply prefer the status quo. Do I understand supporting the Assad regime? I confess that I don't. But then, I'm not a Syrian, and the fundamental principle of democracy is that such supporters have a right to that stance irrespective of my disbelief. Western intervention robs them completely of their right to advocate for their political preference. Worse, it exposes them to the threat of violence for holding the political views they do, as every intervention inevitably results in reprisals against those who backed the wrong side-- it happened in Kosovo, in Iraq, in Libya. As Iraq proves, the self-same Western powers that can remove or defend an establishment government can't prevent mass murder of the losing side.
Last year, Vice interviewed a few Syrian skeptics of the insurgency. They rightly question the absurdly distorted Western media narrative, one which has left the average reader completely unaware that opposition to the rebels exists outside of the Syrian government at all. Says a man named Wafa-- who would not consent to having his picture published, on the sensible logic that he would be killed in retaliation for his views-- "Those 'rebels' killed six members of my family and
we're not allowed to be mad at them. We're not denying the fact that
Syria is a dictatorship or that the regime is far from democratic, but
we don’t think that the rebels will ensure a better future for Syria." Given the influence of the Muslim brotherhood in the Syrian uprising, and the various sectarian struggles that are hidden within, well. Such caution is understandable, wouldn't you say?
What interventionists in America believe is that what this person says is not merely unconvincing. They believe that he must be written out of the process entirely, that his voice must be totally removed from the future of Syria. In its place stands... us. The benevolent Americans must dictate terms once again to the rest of the world. I said before that I can't understand supporting the Assad regime. But I also know that the opinion of an American in Indiana is totally irrelevant to the question, on any theory of democracy whatsoever. And yet perversely, in due time the opinions of an American voter like me may make more of a difference for the future of Syria than the opinion of Syrians. That supporters of intervention don't see the profound failure of such a situation speaks volumes.
I often think of what it must be like to live in a part of the world where your future is dictated by the whims of the American government; the imagination fails. That the US supports the government in Mali and the rebels in Syria is a trick of history. It could easily be reversed, and in that reversal hangs the balance of countless lives. To oppose a repressive government is to risk death; to support them is to risk death when the insurgency comes. Those are the stakes for people like Wafa, literal life and death. If you are, say, Ann Marie Slaughter, you believe not just in your own wisdom and benevolence, but that they are so pure that they allow you to dictate who has a voice and who doesn't, who lives and who dies. If you support intervention, you are obligated to answer the question: what rights do such people have? And what principle permits you to curtail those rights with force?
Oh, and-- when disfavored groups actually win elections, well, we know how that goes.