Western Policy in the Middle East is Unravelling

Middle East Map
Image by openDemocracy via Flickr

The situation in Iraq appears to be spiralling out of control, with Islamic militants in an organisation called ISIS taking over important cities and the Iraqi government apparently powerless to respond.

The Iraqi government is dominated by the Shia Muslims, who are the majority in Iraq. However, they are regarded as infidels by the Sunni Muslims of ISIS.

Says the BBC:

The US says it is considering giving further assistance to Iraq in fighting Islamist miltants who have taken control of a large swathe of territory in Eastern Syria and western and central Iraq.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Syria, the government of Bashar al Assad is fighting a civil war against Islamist militants, among others. And in Syria, our hapless Western governments have been supporting the opposition.

We have the United States supporting the government in Iraq against Islamists, and at the same time helping rebels fight alongside those same Islamists against the government in neighbouring Syria.

Why are they supporting the opposition in Syria? The American government have suggested that Assad’s government in Syria is part of an “axis of evil” along with Iran, the third big country in this region. Their reason for believing this seems to be that they see the situation in terms of democracy versus dictatorship. It is all black against white. Good against evil. The United States and its allies against everyone else.

Assad is not pro-US. Therefore he must be evil and anyone who fights him must be Good.

Iran is not pro-US. Therefore it too must be evil.

Everyone “Evil” is allied together against the US and its “Good” allies. Therefore Syria and Iran must be Evil Allies.

Meanwhile, in the real world, it is a bit more complicated.

Syria under Assad and previously his father, has long been known as a country in the Middle East where Christians are relatively safe and given better rights to practice their religion than elsewhere. Reason: Assad’s government is not a religious government. It is a secular government.

The same was true of Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq of course. It was a horrible government in many ways, but had little time for religious fundamentalists.

It seems to me that the United States has completely misunderstood the dynamic of this region, and made major mistakes as a result – and is still making those mistakes.

The West, especially the United States, has seen the whole politics of the region in terms of democracy versus dictatorship. Therefore it has assisted rebels to destroy the dictator Saddam Hussein, and has also been assisting the rebels in Syria against the much less awful dictatorship of Assad.

What is very clear to me is that the real struggle in this region is not between dictatorship and democracy. The players seem to be Sunni Muslim religious warriors, Shia Muslim religious warriors, and secular but brutal dictators. Unfortunately there don’t actually seem to be any democrats involved in all these struggles.

Based on this complete lack of understanding, the Americans have blundered in. They have supported those they have identified as “democrats”. But there aren’t any democrats involved in these struggles. Therefore America’s support is for a completely random collection of governments and rebels.

The result of this Western blundering has been thousands of people killed, millions of refugees, dictatorial but secular governments undermined and religious fundamentalists boosted.

In other words, the result has been a reduction in regional stability, an increase in religious fundamentalism, an increased hatred of the West and a large amount of bloodshed.

In short, the result has been that Western interests have been undermined and the US has achieved the exact opposite of what it set out to do.

Where do the British government stand in all this? After all, you can criticise the Foreign Office for a great deal – but it has always been respected for its understanding of Middle Eastern issues. Says William Hague:

We will not be getting involved militarily. We will support the United States in anything that they decide to do, we’re in consultation with them.

British foreign policy remains the same then. “We will support the United States in anything that they decide to do.”

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3 thoughts on “Western Policy in the Middle East is Unravelling

  1. The upside is that the fundamentalists are killing each other and perhaps in doing so sparing us a bit. However as you point out the downside is far more horrendous. Although you mention the refugee problem you did not at the same time say that Europe is now the the destination of choice for many of them. Europe’s abilities to cope with those immigrants already here is greatly under strain and indeed an Islamic 5th column is already large enough. I agree that all the Arab spring and western meddling and intervention is achieving is the removal of secular thugs(the lesser of two evils I would say) to be replaced by religious fanatical ones. Soon their will be many more Iran’s to contend with and with so many 5th Columns in Europe the future does not bode well for our security, cultures and way of life. History has a lesson for us; the crusades were successful because of Muslim disunity and they were expelled when unity returned. Not quite a parallel but when unity does return and it will Islam is then bound to be a much more serious threat than it is now and that is bad enough. The most pernicious evils confronting the world today to my mind is Islam, socialism and expansionism/autocracy; governance as practised by the likes of Russia and China. Of course they are only the major ones there are many more such as those arising from the efforts of ecoloons, prodnose banstarbators and the like. It is a pretty dismal world we now have to live in, probably always has been but technology and population size has now probably made it totally intractable.

    • I agree that Islamic fundamentalism is a threat. This is not new however!

      Back in the 1980s, the Americans were supporting religious fundamentalists in Afghanistan in their war against the occupying Russian forces.

      Going back further, in the 1970s, religious fundamentalists deposed the Shah of Iran and replaced him with an Islamic fundamentalist regime.

      And even further – you mentioned the crusades; I guess they were an example of Christian fundamentalism, but we have been in conflict with the Islamic world for hundreds of years. What is new now is our dependence on them for the supply of oil.

      You are also quite right that all of this poses a risk for Europe.

      I don’t agree however that “the most pernicious evils confronting the world today [are] Islam, socialism and expansionism / autocracy”, nor that Russian governance is a threat.

      First, Islam itself need not be a threat – indeed, there are large numbers of Muslims living quite happily and peacefully here in Britain. It is religious fundamentalism that is a threat – whether it is Islamic, Christian or indeed Hindu or anything else.

      Socialism is no longer a threat. There are no major socialist powers left, and socialism as an ideology has been discredited in the West.

      As for Russia, working with Russia is a key part of a sensible response to Islamic fundamentalism. It is a critical national interest that we have in common with Russia. And Russia has a much deeper understanding of the Middle East than the US does.

      Russia may not be properly democratic but is a great deal more so than most countries in this world. It is not the Soviet Union! The Soviet Communist system ended decades ago. Furthermore, Russia has a culture that is rather similar to ours – much more so than any countries in the Middle East. It is (to misquote Margaret Thatcher) a country with which we can do business – but our leaders seem entirely unwilling to do so. William Hague’s remark that I quoted is a reminder of where the unwillingness to work with Russia originates.

      Furthermore, American expansionism is far more in evidence than Russian. NATO has expanded over the last twenty years right up to the border with Russia itself. The Americans are continuing to push to extend their sphere of influence – witness events in Ukraine, or indeed, their antics in the Middle East. They seem unable to distinguish between morally desirable goals and their own selves.

      They see themselves in terms of “American Exceptionalism” (a shocking phrase when you stop to consider it). They are continuing to see the world in terms of “us and them”, “with us or against us”, and “good and evil” with themselves as the Good Guys. By definition, in their eyes, anything they do is Good.

      In short, America is currently a much bigger threat to peace and stability in the world than is Russia. I suspect that has to do with the weakening of the fundamentals underlying American power. There is a striking parallel between today’s declining US superpower, picking fights with Russia, and Britain in the early 20th Century, then a declining imperial power and gung-ho for a fight with Germany.

      • “Socialism is no longer a threat. There are no major socialist powers left, and socialism as an ideology has been discredited in the West.”

        I fail to see that socialism has been discredited in the least. Do not nearly all nations now subscribe to statism and command economies? Is not free market capitalism, libertarianism and democracy being slowly subsumed by authoritarian governments aided by technocracies and other forms of dictatorial ocracies? Certainly private sectors still survive and thrive but are they not becoming more monopolistic(due to oppressive and costly rules and regulations. The EU politburo a case in point but only one of many) and in the end will eventually come under state control either directly or through crony-ism.

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