Advocates of the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine have recently been agitating for a US-led, UN sanctioned military intervention in Syria. Neolibs like Anne-Marie Slaughter, Shadi Hamid and Nick Cohen, all of whom were gung-ho for intervention in Libya too, have pointed out that over 5,000 people have died in Syrian violence so far – and call the death toll sufficient to mobilize militaries and spend millions, perhaps billions, of dollars in order to try to halt the “massacre”.
But all are silent about Somalian famine, where since July 2011 at least 2 in 100,000 have died each day. That’s a death toll of around 21,000 in a nation also riven by violence – for years, not months. If one accepts the moral argument that horrific death tolls are something the West should intervene to try to halt, then why not Somalia instead of Syria? Somalia even already has peacekeepers on the ground, from the African Union, Ethiopia and Kenya. Surely that would mean that a greater proportion of the West’s available resouces – in a time of economic austerity – could be devoted to actually alleviating suffering instead of on military action.
But you will not hear neolib advocates of R2P intervention talk of Somalia, or of the drought in West Africa that threatens the lives of 500,000 people across eight nations. I predict you will hear them talk, after Syria’s crisis has passed, of intervention in other nations where the regime is not friendly to the U.S. The truth is that R2P is simply a thin gloss to slap on to neoliberal regime-change missions. At least their neocon brethren were more bluntly honest in that regard.