At the Jacobin magazine website, Emanuel Stoakes asks Noam Chomsky to respond to a number criticisms that have been repeatedly leveled against him, including the charge that he unconditionally opposes "humanitarian intervention" in Syria. His response to this criticism is excerpted below, and the entire fascinating interview can be found here.
Moving on to Syria, we see an appalling humanitarian situation and no end in sight in terms of the internecine warfare taking place. I know some Syrian activists who are furious at what they perceive to be your tolerance of the immense misery being experienced by people living with barrel bombs and so on; they say this because they think you are opposed to any kind of intervention against Assad, however limited, on ideological grounds.
Is this accurate or fair? Would you support the idea of a no-fly zone, with an enforced humanitarian corridor? Can you clarify your position on Syria?
If intervention against Assad would mitigate or end the appalling situation, it would be justified. But would it? Intervention is not advocated by careful observers on the scene with close knowledge of Syria and the current situation — Patrick Cockburn, Charles Glass, quite a few others who are bitter critics of Assad. They warn, with no little plausibility I think, that it might well exacerbate the crisis.
The record of military intervention in the region has been awful with very rare exceptions, a fact that can hardly be overlooked. No-fly zones, humanitarian corridors, support for the Kurds, and some other measures would be likely to be helpful. But while it is easy to call for military intervention, it is no simple matter to provide reasoned and well-thought-out plans, taking into account likely consequences. I haven’t seen any.
One can imagine a world in which intervention is undertaken by some benign force dedicated to the interests of people who are suffering. But if we care about victims, we cannot make proposals for imaginary worlds. Only for this world, in which intervention, with rare consistency, is undertaken by powers dedicated to their own interests, where the victims and their fate is incidental, despite lofty professions.
The historical record is painfully clear, and there have been no miraculous conversions. That does not mean that intervention can never be justified, but these considerations cannot be ignored — at least, if we care about the victims.
Image of Noam Chomsky via Jacobin.