We have had a period of Western imperialism running from Iraq to Syria. It has been assumed that centralised control by indiginous minorites should be replaced by those citizens, they are numerous, who wish decades of authoritarianism to be swept aside and a Western stle democracy to take its place. That democracy is best. France, Britain, and the USA assume that it is their duty to help bring this about. The result, the outcome of the Arab spring, has been disastrous and now to echo a phrase, all is quiet on the Western front and it is turmoil, vast suffering and despair in one Arab country or another.
And now we hear nothing about arming rebels and all our efforts and resources are deeployed in supporting humanitarian aid. Of course we should be helping the displaced and the hungry. But that is all we should be doing.
So what comes after. There will surely be no universal outcome but after long periods of sectarian warfare people will become tired and despairing of armed struggle. In one country after another there will be a weary peace as the will to struggle on grinds to a halt. That will be the point at which diplomatic intervention can build something more constructive for despairing people.
Can’t we admit it? At least to ourselves. The Thirty Years war must not be repeated in Arab lands. Surely we have the sense to face up to our limitations. Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Surely not! Surely we are not quite scoundrels yet.
Category Archives: Yemen
According to the well-repected bog Conservative Home, the Government is in a state of confusion. Cameron is determined to push through a major reform programmed fueled by Conservative ideology; small government, tax cuts (eventually); constitutional reform (reluctantly), educational reform (expensively), benefit reform (work if you can or else); self-help (Queen Victoria’s self help maunual has been lost), and neo-colonial glory (no one has told Assad and Ghadaffi). What is very clear, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has enunciated, no one voted for Coalition policiues. In the jargon there is no electoral mandate. For the moment the government is cemented together by the fear of electoral wrath: it is better to be hung together than singly.
Every shrewd observor knows that these issues taken separately will not sink the Coalition. The only issue that will do that is the state of the economy. We must wait for July for the GDP figures for the second quarter. If these are bad the game may be up. What would be bad? Zero growth would be bad because it would signal that there has been no growth for the nine months in which the effect of the Coalition’s economic policies has been experienced. Slightly higher growth with a projection for the year as a whole of 1 percent to end 31 March, 2012 would be bad because the public sector deficit would be at unacceptable levels. If either of these economic prognostications becomes true there the very real consequential result that the Governmen’t legislative programme would have ground to a halt and the Coalition itself in its present form will collapse.
It may be that it is not only Arab countries and Greece that will have become ungovernable. I sense a gathering storm. Populations in many countries will arrive at the conclusion that politicians are not to be trusted and our political systems may colla[se. If citizens do not trust the system to safeguard ther basic interests they will seek people-power alternatives: they are already doing so in Libya and Syria. There is something intoxicating about nightly tv screens full of demonstrasing crowds with banners and music. Why not us and why not now?
I suspect that our own governemnt is frightened. If the streets fill up with pensioners and trade unionists, if it goes on through the summer, if one policy initiative after another grounds to a halt, what is there to do? What is certain is that the disease of protest and rejection of authority knows no country boundaries. I have made fun of the Big Society but I do recognise that it has some virtues. If you can state, and if it is true, that we are responsible now and not the government, might the dilemma of electoral madate be solved. The Coalition could say, ‘You (we) are the masters now. Don’t blame us blame yourself (or is it me that needs saving)?
Blair tells us, that is the British public, that we need a better plan for North Africa and the Middle East. What does he mean? If he means what I think he means a better plan is the last thing Britain needs. A little clarification will help. Who are ‘WE’. It appears that NATO, the European Union and the USA are ‘WE’. or to be brief the Western World. And what do we need a plan for? What is it to do for us? The purpose of the Plan is to assist Arab states become more like us. Particularly those who possess oil and mineral resources but to be fair all states within that geographic area. In our view all democracies will repect universal rights fair representation, equality and freedom under the law and all of them wish to attract more investment, grow and attract investment and develop commerce to and from the West. What should we do? We should intervene to help these changes take place and use diplomatic and financial means and armed force to help bring these changes about.
President Obama approves these objectives but despairs of a lack of willingness of NATO countries to pay the price for the extra spending on defence such a policy requires – including both France and the United Kingdom. There is, apparently, no political will. Friends Cameron and Hague have the will but not the money and each day that passes limits our armed capabilty. Imagine a conversation at the Foreign Office.
Secretary of State can we have you direction, please. Here is a list of countries we are determined to assist to democratic status. They all require a UN resolution. What do we do? What do we do, you say. We act, this Goverment acts. Give me the Calendar. Not that one, 2011 you ass. Let’s see. We need to allow a week between resolutions. Let’s do it aphabeticallyby week. 1.Bahrein 2. Gulf states(?) (need to be more precise here) Israel/Palestine (a tall order this) 3. Lebanon (good thinking), 4. Saudi Arabia, (you’re joking(? ) , 5. Syria (a brutal race, we need armed force here, get the Turkish Premier on the phone. What’s that! A deal on Cyprus needed? Have we not done one of those? Get Greece on skype. 6. Yemen ? (Good God 500,000 men could get lost in the desert. I exagerate. But you know what I mean.) What does Obama think? More defence expenditure and quickly. Something about lendlease, if it would be helpful. So we have reached a decision point. I’m strong on decisions you know. Look I can’t think clearly now. Get Liam in the office on Monday. Hold on. Here is one of my inspired thoughts. National Service! Get the unemployed youth off the streets, lower the unemployment rates at a stroke, re-issue some of those Lee Enfield’s -and off we go. Hey, ho the boys. Let Liam know ahead of the meeting, there’s a good chap.
I want to tell you about my mission to dominate North Africa and the Middle East. Well, not exactly mine but ‘This Coalition Government’s’ – (its what I call it now) – although to be accurate I should say we – the old colonial powers, Italy, France and Britain. Or is it NATO – I suppose it is. Well whatever it is, it is mine and I stand and fall by it. Look Charlie, stop laughing, I’m tired of this. Your precious Labour Party supports us, the House of Commons approves, together with 40 percent of the electorate. What more can you ask for? Don’t answer that, rhetorical you know. When I was a young Yorkshire lad two thirds of my Atlas was colured pink. It made you very proud to see it. And now, virtually nothing. Can any kid be proud of that? The answer is , no, Charlie. Of course not. Now we have another chance. These African Johnnies, it seems to us at the Foreign Office, wish to live in a democratic country like our own. Democracies are good for trade and commerce. We wish to trade and invest, of course we do. Ipso facto as they say at Oxford, supporting these revolutionary Johnnies is in the national interest. It was always in our interest whether the map is coloured pink or green. Of course, if you intervene like we are doing in Libya in other places you cannot guarantee an outcome. But we three countries can see off Ghadaffi. It won’t take long – at least we hope not. What kind of chaps would we look like in the Middle East if we had done nothing, stood by on the other side of the road, while citizens were slaughtered. In my view Charlie – and please stop laughing – there is the domino effect to consider. If one country goes pink – that is pink for democracy now of course – other countries follow suit and the black and grey parts diminish. It makes you glad to know it. Glad to be British/Italian/ or French. I am glad. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would be embarking on a mission to free so much of the world’s population from tyranny and poverty. Not single handed , of course. I spring out of bed these days with joy in my heart. If you snigger again, I’ll punch you. What did you say, consider the slogan, ‘In your heart, you know I’m right.’ and look what happened to him. Too abstruse Charlie. You can do better.
In many ways these are dark and difficult days for ‘The Coalition Government.’ We may fail overall to rescue Britain from the financial mess bequeathed by Labour. I admit it to you Charlie as we are off the record. But I – the Foreign Secretary – will look back on my experience at the Foreign Office with pride. We did our best to change the political colour of millions of people. What more can you ask of a British Foreign Secretary (sound of laughter and the crash of over-turned furniture off stage).
President Obama is an eloquent exponent of the American Dream and gave we European’s a version of this on his visit to Europe last week. Dreams are important to us all but they rarely survive long in the harsh glare of light and to seek to fulfill them can lead to disaster. In the current version the extension of universal rights to democracy, representative government , equality, and the rule of law should become a foreign policy objective for the West. Its immediate focus is on extending democracy to Africa and the Middle East. In the pursuit of this objective all means, economic, financial and the use of force as a last resort are in order. It has become unanswerable in this docrine that democracy is best not only for human happiness but for the trade and economic development on which the economic stability of Western countries is so dependant.
The Obama doctrine finds an enthusiastic audience in Britain and the European Union. Scarce resources are being provided for the funding of aid and active assistance in nation building and the UN itself is enthusiastic about nation building wherever its sway can be achieved. No one is more enthusiastic than David Cameron and, judging from his recent public appearances and pronouncements, Ed Milliband.
I hear raised voices at this point. What is wrong about that then? Hold on, my revolutionary friends, say I. Rember the Mensheviks. Do you have a monopoly of vision and prophecy? Can you at this moment of history tell us what will be the outcome of the Arab Spring? Do you expect reason to prevail in Israeli- Palestinian relations? Can you predict the political develpment of Iran? What will be the nature of successor regimes in the Arab world? Is there more to this world than is dreamt of in your philosophy? Much derided as it is it is now, there is logic in the foreign policy objective of seeking stability in the world and not adding to political turbulence. Perhaps we should be a friend in need to emerging nations and not a friend in your face.
Can I point out to you dear British reader that you live in a country constantly at war in ‘far-away countries’ for the ideals that we share with President Obama. More so than any European country we have been alongside our American friends in worthy (but impractible?) causes around the world. Let’s have more of that then, I hear you say. We Brits have an appetite for it. Does not the call to arms and economic and financial sanctions on recalcitrant states weary you a little? Are we to have a further two decades of armed struggle with all the division among ourselves this brings?
Well, yes, if need be may be your reply BUT I doubt it. I suggest to you that it is wholly absurd to commit ourselves to the Obama docrine at a time of great austerity, economic stagnation and public expenditure cuts, not least to the armed forces; that to be ‘playing soldiers in Libya’ and perhaps elsewhere is an unsupportable nonsense. For the cost of an intervention in Libya, soon to run beyond a billion pounds and ever upwards we could, for example, ensure the financial viability of care services fior the elderly, boost low cost housing or extend aid to the unemployed. No one would receive a tin medal for it but it could do good. The best way to build respect in the world is to earn it ourselves for our love and attention to our nearest and dearest.
Look son. you are very critical. You do agree, don’t you, that the British Empire was a good thing? Well Dad, it all depends on what you mean by a good thing, doesn’t it? There were a great many good intentions. On leaving we did give these teritories democratic institutions, embyonic education, an independant judicial system, better transport infrastuctue and all that But much of this glossy democratic superstructure is looking pretty tatty now.
Well, yes son, fair comment but WE are not responsible for the decline, for all these tin pot dictators hanging on to power. Well we do have some responsibility, to be fair. But that is a very big subject in its own right. What you do not seem to have grasped, Dad, that the British were forced out by an irresistible force: the belief that self-government is morally superior to good government.
But look you upstart is that really true? What if self-government is demonstrably bad? Bad for who Dad? Well for the peoples concerned and for those who trade with them and who invest vast sums of our money in helping these colonial territories? Careful, don’t you mean former colonial territiories? Well, you know what I mean. I don’t think I do know what you mean. Do you mean that the former African colonial powers, Britain, France and Italy have a right or duty to intervene in these countries if things go badly wrong? Or are you saying that the intenational community acting through the UN has a right and duty under interrnational law to intervene and to call on Britain, France and Italy to act on its behalf.
Isn’t this a quibble? If you see your neighbour in a distressed state, isn’t it right to intervene? Look Dad, use your nous. The world is full of nasty and dangerous regimes. Do you really think we should divide it up between the former colonial powers (or the USA acting as a great power) and Russia as a former occupying power: that the world should be divided up into zones of influence? No of course not. We should be pragmatic and intervene when it makes sense. Makes sense to whom Dad? Well us, of course, to us. So we should intervene wherever we can give some petty dictator a good kicking. Well , yes, I suppose I am saying that. Well, Dad, I have news for you. That kind of interventionism is known as neo-colonialism. A question for you. Why not get rid of the regime in Zimbabwe? There would be popular support for this in Britain. Isn’t that taking the argument too far. There are no strategic issues that should concern us in Zimbabwe. Precisely so, Dad. So it isn’t about common humanitarianism and the rule of law, is it. Its about economic and strategic interests, trade and brass. Let me refine your question Dad. You do agree, don’t you that neo-colonialism is a good thing. Enough said, let’s clear the table for your mother.
Oh, its you Charlie! You do dog my steps. Can’t you find something new to talk about. I’ll help you if you like. A world exclusive, specially for you. Thanks Dave, but no. I think we all need to know what you’re up to in Libya.
That’s a good expression Charlie. What am I up to.That’s a good way of putting it. Well, I’m not sitting around waiting to fail because fail we shall if it goes on like this, locked into a military stalemate and no worthwhile diplomatic way out. I’m not a loser Charlie, remember that. The playing fields of Eton are a good training ground for life. They breed winners, Charlie. I’m a winner.
Well from this point, Dave, how do you win? It’s easy Charlie. Step by step you change the rules of engagement. No single move in breach of the UN Resolutions but accumulatively amounting to such pressure on Ghadaffi that he cannot resist us. Remember this Charlie, I loath the man. Years ago I vowed that if ever I was in a position of authority I would get rid of him. Give him a good kicking. Get him off the playing field, so to speak. Yes Dave, I do understand. Assad you could share a room with but not Ghadaffi. Completely, understandable. I wouldn’t fancy an emergency meeting in a tent with him, myself. Precisely that, Charlie. Blair could kiss him in the hope of reform but not me. Oh, dear no.
Let’s cut the crap Dave. What are you going to do to get us out of this mess? Well you would call it mission creep Charlie. We are going to flood Misrata and other places with humanitarian assistance workers. No fighting while they are there. You infiltrate these places with SAS in plain clothes. They tell you where the Ghadaffi lot are positioned. Zapp, zap, zap Charlie from the air. a bit of bang, bang, bang on the ground. You beef up the rebels by advisers and special forces. Down the road with close air support. Bang, bang bang again and you’re on the road to Tripoli. Come to think of it there’s a good song in this. There usually is.
You’re mad Dave. You can’t get away with that. Emergency meeting at UN , heated debates in the Commons where you would lose the vote, to say nothing of the Lib Dems. I’m not a loser Charlie. Remember that. Things were going badly for Margaret Thatcher until the Falklands. Then she became a heroine. Very patriotic the British working classes. Come on board HMS Victory my lads. We all love a winner. If you can pull that off Dave you will deserve to win. I may even vote for you myself. Now I know you are joking Charlie. But I’m not joking. Just you wait and see.
Do you remember the European Defence Force (EDF) proposed by the France as an alternative to NATO and rejected by the British? You do, good. I have news for you it is alive and kicking (with a little help from Italy). There is new foreign policy strategy. Britain and France have declared that the Mediterranean area including North Africa be deemed their sphere of influence. There is no immediate need for Britain to have an aircraft carrier for French one will do and the Italians will provide an air base in Southern Italy. If we act now and together there will be no more influx of unwanted immigrants into Frence and Italy. Like all speres of inluence it would be better for the client country to have a similar political system of our own Trade and investment prospers best in democracies amd a reliable commercial law. To be fair to ourselves her in Britain this has always been the case. All these jolly colonies were reformed into democratic societies and when all was hunky dory we went home and they had their independence. Of course there many wars to achieve this but achieve it we did. Gradually the atlas studied by English schoochildren turned from the pink of Empire to a cacophany of other hues and anthems.
It dawned on me as I watched French helicopters fir on the Presidential Palace in the Ivory Coast that nothing much had changed. We do not call it Empire any more, these African states are not colonies but the white man’s mission continues. The emotion felt by the former colonisers remains the same.
But I saw other things in this state of confusion as well as well. On the Palace wer trained the guns of UN helicopters. In Afghanistan it was a UN agency that was being stormed. The Un commitment to nation building was in full flood. While I had looked away for a moment or two the UN had developed a role of its own and it wielded armed forces of its own. It came as quite a shock to me.
Why am I getting so excited about this? Well think a bit. There is work to be done to persuade all those African and Arab countries to come into line and to make the region fit for invest and the export of oil. I cannot come about over night. After Libya there will be many other states waiting for our attention. The USSR did not find it easy to have all those client states in Eastern Europe. And let me tell you what happnened to them. They collapsed. All those years of economic sacrifice and political attention and then, almost over night, nothing.!
I am conscious that this new regional foreign and defence policy has mnot been debated by the House of Commons. It is stealing up on us. Is this neo-colonialism in the interest of Britain. What will be the efects on our alliance with the USA, the cohesion of NATO and the unity of Europe. No room for the Huns in all this! Germany can sort out the Eurozone and serve them right.
I bow to no-one in my detestation of the Ghadaffi regime- or the Yemeni, Syrian, Iran or Tibetan regimes – to say nothing at all about the world’s petty tyrannies in such places as the Ivory Coast and Zimbabwi. I am all for assisting peoples caught up in natural disasters and who are the victims of tyrannical regimes wherever they are are – but not by invading their territories in the name of Western democracy. But I do not wish the armed forces of the UK to involve themselves in the civil disturbances of other countries unless it can be proved without reasonable doubt that the happenings in these countries directly involve our national interest and their regimes are a threat to other countries including our own.
In determining our national interest I reject the argument of spheres of influence. When the Soviet Union claimed the right to determine the political complexion of Eastern Europe as being essential to their national interest and within their zone of influence I argued against it. I was still against it when the Russian Federation invaded Georgia. I am against it now when Britain, France and Italy, the former colonial powers, claim a right to determine the political complextion of Northern Africa as being part of ‘their zone.’
It is time to stop all this because the time and geographic horizon is unlimited. William Hague has stated unwisely that other Middle Eastern tyrants need not think that the killing of their rebellious subjects has gone unnoticed. He unfolds for us all a road to nowhere and a decade of ceaseless interventions by Western powers.
The naievity of all this is shocking. Iraq is a highly complex society and a bewidering confusion of ethnic and religious differences. To believe that you could replace a dangerous tyrany with a democracy in a few weeks of military destruction was always absurd. Similarly you cannot realistically imagine a stable future in Afghanistan without a deal of some kind with the Taleban. Left to themselves most divided countries will sort lut their own affairs. Take the so called humanitarian disaster that awaited Benghazi were Ghadaffi to occupy it again. What would he actually have done. The most active of the insurgents would have slipped across borders to Tunisia and Egypt and as for the rest they would do all that was required to survive. The citizens of Libya are used to doing this. Ghadaffi is an old man and cannot survive for ever. Left to themselves the civil war in Libya would now be over. The casualties would have been lower than they will be now and the sorting out would be done by Libyans in their own time and in their own way.
It is time to bring the whole gory adventure to a halt. It is time to stop. Iraq, Afghanistan and Iraq has taught us that intervention to change political regimes does not work and what limited success we can achieve has been bought at huge human cost
For all the talk of International Alliances to save lives in Libya it does become clear that the intervention is transatlantic: the USA and Canada and the old African colonisers Britain, France and Italy. As in all foregn adventures domestic electorates are told it is in the national interest and their citizens have a moral duty to save lives. Britain has been almost continuously involved in foreign interventions in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan with forays into Kossovo, Serbia and Sierra Leone for the past 20 years. It is apparently always in our interest to do so and there is always a moral imperative. A war-weary British electorate has become sceptical: not another one, could not someone else do this and why this constant cranking up of fears might be their questions?.
Why is it in the national interest of Italy, France and Germany to intervene in Libya? Ghaddafi is no longer a threat to his neighbours. A brave Labour administration did a deal with him which seems to have tamed him. He does not threaten his neighbours in the Middle East and Africa. They do not like or trust him but that falls short of a reason for removing him. David Cameron tells us the Libya is a Pariah State, a social outsider, on the southern fringe of Europe and therefore undesirable. Well , lets not invite Ghaddafi for tea. There is the argument that demcoratic states do not threaten anybody and are beter for trade and business. Maybe, but do we not have to live in the world as it is? So there is nothing to the argument of national interest.
What about our moral responsibility for saving lives? Yes, we should help if we can but Britain does not have a unique moral responsibility. Cannot someone else pick up the baton for a change? If they do not wish to do so does this make them immoral? What about Arab states, Libya’s immediate neighbours? Does not moral reponsibilty start here? The bewildered British elector might think, these Libyan people should sort out their own affairs. If they wish to be nasty and brutish to each other they can’t be worth much in the final analysis. We have problems of our own. Here the propaganda hots up. We are it seems our brother’s keeper.
The fear factor hits in. Ghaddafi is about to commit genocide. I doubt it. There would be a terrible retaliation in Benghazi no doubt but the Libyan’s are very mobile. Those at greatest risk might beat it into Egypt where they would lead a better life.
Unfortunately the world is full of dictators and autocracies. Steadfastly the West refuses to step in. Anyone can prepare a list but how about Ruanda, Zimbabwe, Bahrein. Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia to name a few. I detect a streak of vindictiveness in Cameron. He has it in for Gadaafi and is determined to see him punished.
Putin descibed the intervention by the West as a medaeval crusade. He has a point. Isn’t it time we learnt a few lessons from recent history? Of course if it were Michael Gove’s version of British history. it wouldn’t deter Cameron in the least.