Syria: The Name of Our Shame

Georgetown University Law Center Scholarship @ Georgetown Law, 2016

34 Pages Posted: 13 May 2016

See all articles by Lama Abu-Odeh

Lama Abu-Odeh

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: May 12, 2016


From withdrawing US troops from Iraq to waging a war on ISIS in Iraq, Obama has deftly recast the meaning of US intervention in the region from unjustifiable imperialist occupation (of Iraq by conservatives) to justifiable global policing of terror (the liberal answer to occupation). The former is a form of irrational, inefficient, unnecessary, and morally indefensible intervention, whereas the latter is a form of rational, efficient, necessary and virtuous one. In this essay, I argue that that the withdrawal/re-intervention of the US supra state in the imperial place staged by Obama, cheered for and rationalized by liberals, is similar to and repeats the logic of withdrawal/re-intervention of the state in the marketplace according to neoliberal blueprint. The (supra) state withdraws from the imperial hegemony (the economy) only to re-intervene in the form of the “war on terror” (sanctioning property and contract). What is released by withdrawal in both cases is “self help”: “national sovereignty” in the case of the international and “individual sovereignty” or “the invisible hand” in the case of the economy, and what is policed in both instances are those who violate the respective “sovereignties”. In both “economies” those who “have” acquire a posture of “objectivity and neutrality” – voyeurism - towards the miseries of the “have nots” who seem to them, albeit “free”, victims of their own culture. A glaring distributive consequence of the neo liberalization of imperial hegemony is that US planes fly over a town in Syria in which Assad is committing a massacre against his people, aided by Iranian troops on the ground and Russian air force in the sky, and bomb the town next door occupied by ISIS. Assad’s massacre is a local cultural affair, the stuff of “self-help”, whereas ISIS is an international criminal requiring global policing response. While the distributive consequences of neoliberal state withdrawal/re-intervention in the case of the economy has been the bread and butter of leftist writing for more than two decades now (the inequality effect), no such critique seems to be forthcoming in the case of the neo liberal shift in the imperial place (the genocide effect). In this essay, I argue that no leftist critique is forthcoming because the left, divided as it is between three intersecting camps: the economistic left, the identitarian left and the anti imperialist left, is not only bereft of the tools required to critique such a shift, but has in fact developed positions that end up placing them in the same position as the neo liberal imperialists.

Keywords: Syria, humanitarian intervention

JEL Classification: N45

Suggested Citation

Abu-Odeh, Lama, Syria: The Name of Our Shame (May 12, 2016). Georgetown University Law Center Scholarship @ Georgetown Law, 2016, Available at SSRN: or

Lama Abu-Odeh (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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