The 2011 NATO intervention in the Libyan Civil War was launched based on extremely shaky humanitarian justifications–if not outright lies. As Hugh Roberts sums up in his lengthy critique of the intervention in an essay published in London Review of Books back in November 2011:
Goodies and baddies (to use Tony Blair’s categories) had been clearly identified, the Western media’s outraged attention totally engaged, the Security Council urgently seized of the matter, the ICC primed to stand by, and a fundamental shift towards intervention had been made – all in a matter of hours. And quite right too, many may say. Except that the al-Jazeera story was untrue, just as the story of the Warfalla’s siding with the rebellion was untrue and Hague’s story that Gaddafi was fleeing to Caracas was untrue. And, of course, Dabbashi’s ‘genocide’ claim was histrionic rubbish which none of the organisations with an interest in the use of the term was moved to challenge.
It was these (false and misleading) narratives that lead to NATO justifying its intervention and stepping in and saving the rebels in Benghazi from imminent defeat, and turning the tide of the civil war against the Gaddafi regime–and securing the conditions for the descent of the country into an even bloodier state of civil war and anarchy and social rupture, as argued in journalistic outlets ranging from Jacobin Magazine to Foreign Affairs to The Intercept.
And now, looks like history is repeating itself in Syria, as far as Western media narratives go. The Assad regime, supported by the Russian air force and Hezbollah, has made huge gains in recent weeks in the Aleppo region, cutting off a critical supply route from Turkey and pushing the remaining rebel forces in the area to the brink of defeat. Media reports have exploded about the desperation and despair of civilians in Aleppo, the brutality of Russia, how the results of the battle will “shape Europe’s future”. And the major regional Western allies (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates) are now airing their willingness to intervene with ground troops.
There is no denying the brutality of the Assad regime, or the fact that civilians are and will suffer immensely; but there is also no denying that the most powerful rebel factions in Syria today are hardcore Salafist groups, like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, who espouse particularly nasty sectarian ideas and have regularly stated–and demonstrated–their intent to engage in ethnic cleansing. And still, media outlets are somehow still casting the civil war as if it were still a matter of pro-democracy rebels fighting a repressive dictatorship, instead of the brutal sectarian bloodbath that it is (and inexplicably still manage to relegate the Kurdish-lead Syrian Democratic Forces to a virtual footnote).
In other words, its looking dangerously like March 2011. Except now, there is even less excuse for general ignorance about the realities on the ground in Syria–we’ve had nearly five years worth of reporting, analysis, and leaks to understand how messy and horrific the situation is, and the extent to which the West has already been exacerbating the conflict.