The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Libya and Syria: Humanitarian War Is a "Monstrous Illusion"


JAMES PECK, jlpeck1098 at
Peck is author of the new book "Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-Opted Human Rights." He was a Senior Editor at Pantheon Books for almost two decades where his authors included J. William Fulbright, Noam Chomsky, George Kennan, and Edward Said. He also worked in China for more than a decade as Executive Director of the US-China Book Publication Project. Peck is the author of "Washington's China" and editor of "The Chomsky Reader." He said today: "The war in Libya today, and calls for intervening in Syria tomorrow, epitomize a tragic development in the human rights and humanitarian ethos: War and various other kinds of overt and covert intervention are being re-legitimized through Washington's human rights rhetoric. Libya tells us everything we should not be seeking to do in Syria and why humanitarian war is a monstrous illusion.

"The widespread support in the human rights community for all kinds of interference from 'democratization,' to 'nation-building,' to promoting the 'rule of law,' now risks blending into rationales for war itself. This is suggestive of nothing so much as a profound failure of the human rights community to expose how and why the U.S. government has fashioned human rights for over four decades into a potent ideological weapon for purposes having little to do with the rights of others -- and everything to do with furthering Washington's strategic objectives.

"The human rights community faces not just the issue of Washington's selectivity of involvement (Why Libya? Why Syria? But why not Bahrain or Gaza?). Though some human rights advocates have tried, the human rights movement has been notably unwilling to make the issue of millions suffering massive starvation in poor countries central to the 'responsibility to protect' ethos. And most human rights groups have refused to highlight a broken UN Security council (as former President Lula noted) where the veto power by five nations makes a mockery of any consistent way to cope with extreme abuses of rights. Taken together, such issues are suggestive of why the human rights movement has ended up as part of a 'coalition of the Western willing' in Libya and elsewhere in fighting wars and taking sides in numerous domestic upheavals --- an outcome now under attack by leaders ranging from former President Lula of Brazil, President Zuma of South Africa, to leaders of India, and non-Western activists in the South.

"Fundamental issues of radical change and sweeping transformations of the structures of wealth and power are back on the agenda in the Middle East and elsewhere. But the human rights community's support for humanitarian war and other varied manifestations of Western interventionism risks legitimizing standing against such change instead of being attentive to the kinds of transformations out of which viable rights can come."

An excerpt of Peck's book is available, titled "Are Your Humanitarian Heartstrings Being Tugged in the Name of Empire?"

See a recent interview of Peck conducted by Jim Hoge, editor of Foreign Affairs.

A nationwide consortium, the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) represents an unprecedented effort to bring other voices to the mass-media table often dominated by a few major think tanks. IPA works to broaden public discourse in mainstream media, while building communication with alternative media outlets and grassroots activists.