While the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins decries the West’s “meddling” in Syria – and suggests that “We must step back” – his humane cri de coeur touches fleetingly on the real problem. “Reality in this part of the world,” writes Jenkins, “is that order and power seem invariably to trump ‘western-style’ democracy.”
He is right, up to a point. The West has never been really interested in exporting “Western-style democracy” because it is too risky; the “wrong” people might win elections, and we would lose control. Think Palestine and Hamas; think Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood; think, even, the British Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn. Seriously.
What Jenkins calls “the arrogance of empire without its true commitment” is a reminder that when George W Bush and Tony Blair decided to invade Iraq in 2003, it wasn’t to instil democracy of any kind; forgive me if I missed something, but regime change was mentioned long after they marched to war. Non-existent weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was the excuse; control over Iraq’s oil was the reason.
Order of a kind that is controllable by the West via compliant proxies put in power by the world’s democracies, and power imposed by those proxies in whatever way is necessary – democratic or otherwise (usually the latter) – to ensure that oil and other resources continue to flow unhindered has been the order of the day from colonial times. Colonialism is supposed to be out of fashion (which is why the pro-Israel lobby gets upset when illegal land grabs are described as “colonial-settlements”), so we tend to read about US and Western “interests” in the Middle East and other hotspots.
This is a euphemism for Jenkins’ “order and power”, as well as control. It is why US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have been discussing ways to end the war in Syria. The fact that they are in Geneva at all tells us that they have the means to end the war; they can do it tomorrow or very soon thereafter if they really want to. They could save lives and end the misery of millions of ordinary Syrians who just want to live their lives in peace, but the political will to do so depends on whether US and Russian interests are covered first and foremost. Oil supplies and gas pipelines figure prominently amongst such interests, but the small issue of a warm water port for Russia’s Mediterranean fleet will also be up there among the priorities. Washington, meanwhile, will be concerned about tension between Turkey (a NATO member) and Russia, and America’s continued use of the Incirlik Air Base. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would have had this in mind during his recent visit to Moscow.
“Interests”, of course, direct US policy – and Western policy in general – on matters like Palestine-Israel. The political and financial influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Western capitals cannot be dismissed out of hand. Why else would US Senators continue to bankroll a small colonial state thousands of miles away if not because too many of them know that their political careers will either be cut short or made immeasurably harder if they rebel against the “Israel right or wrong” approach upon which US foreign policy is based? As Professors John J Mearsheimer and Stephen M Walt demonstrate in their book “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” America’s “material and diplomatic support” for Israel “cannot be fully explained on either strategic or moral grounds.”
In fact, they argue, it is the “powerful interest group” that is the pro-Israel lobby which ensures US support for Israel, despite its “brutal treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.” Furthermore, as Jeff Halper argues in “War against the people”, the US and Israel share “ideologies of permanent war” as part of the “securitisation” of people and politics. Powerful interest groups in Washington are driving this process, and billions of dollars are at stake. I was reminded of this when watching “State of Play” on TV last week. Is Hollywood (copying a BBC TV series) trying to warn us or divert us by fictionalising reality?
The same could probably be said about any number of conflicts around the world, and even the international drugs trade. It is an irony of the US “War on Terror”, that just six months before US missiles hit Afghanistan post-9/11, the Taliban government was given a multi-million dollar award by George W Bush for its efforts to destroy heroin production in the country. Following the US-led invasion, occupation and withdrawal, the lawlessness that pervades Afghanistan has allowed poppy cultivation to proliferate once again.
The same absence of good governance in post-US invasion Iraq has led to the growth of Daesh/ISIS and a multitude of vicious armed militias. This sort of “Empire Lite” US dominance, as Halper puts it, has brought divide and rule into the 21st century in a brutal and catastrophic way. The losers continue to be men, women and children who are the perennial victims of global politics dominated by narrow interests which have more to do with big business than genuine national or state concerns.
Simon Jenkins may be right; perhaps “we must step back”, but we cannot leave a vacuum behind, as we have done on so many previous occasions, of which Afghanistan and Iraq are but two examples. There has to be meaningful change in the corrupted Western foreign policies that allow such dreadful situations to develop in the first place. Here in Britain we were once promised an “ethical foreign policy” by our government; almost 20 years down the line, we’re still waiting.
Given their influence over the warring parties in Syria, the US and Russia could end the war tomorrow, but I for one won’t be holding my breath. The truth is, they don’t really want to.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.