Sunday, 9 June 2013

Do We Miss The Empire?

Are we still imperialistic meddlers? We (UK, our politicians, our Government) do so often come across as having tunnel vision – and furthermore the tunnel appears to have a bend in it a short distance ahead, cutting off any extended vision! We just don’t seem to be able to see the consequences of our actions.

Forget our interference in the Middle East from early in the last century, brought about by our desire for oil and our belief in our own racial superiority. But we invaded Iraq on the say-so of probably the worst President the US has ever had, and when Bush declared to the world that the mission had been accomplished, he clearly didn’t understand what he had started. And to this day Blair claims that Iraq is a better place now than it was under Saddam Hussein: there are many who disagree!

Afghanistan has been a more complex problem in many ways – certainly some reaction to the 9/11 attack was necessary. However when the US starts something it seldom knows how to finish it, and it seems likely that when we all pull out of Iraq, the nation building will go into reverse.

Syria: now that is a real mess. It seems that Assad was responsible for the start of the uprising, in conjunction with climate change. He failed to support farmers during extreme drought conditions and to survive, the farmers were forced to move to the cities, where work was scarce, accommodation limited and discontent was rife.

Meanwhile we went in to Libya with all guns blazing, to claim our bit of the Arab Spring. I don’t suggest that that particular action was not justified – many lives were saved. But in the aftermath, our rhetoric was not constructive, with the result that the Syrian ‘rebels’ assumed that we (the West) would do for them what we had done for the Libyans. We did very little to discourage that view, whittering on as we did about Assad’s time being up etc. etc. Because we made it very clear which side we were on, the rebels thought they were onto a winner, in the mistaken belief that the West had their back; and of course that drew in a few outside interests like Al Qaeda, and other wannabe jihadists – until gradually the rebels (or ‘opposition’) became an increasingly fragmented collection of groups, mostly with differing agendas.

What next? Oh, yes! We and the French vetoed the continuation of the European arms embargo on Syria! I don’t know who we think we are but a superpower we are not. All other European countries opposed this veto, but we knew bestand that veto certainly fired up the rebels. It also had a few other rather serious consequences. First, Russia indicated that it would consider it permissible to send arms to Assad’s forces. Then Lebanon became involved and Hezbollah sent in the troops to support Assad, which put the rebels in retreat. All this has increased the mass of refugees to neighbouring countries, who are scarcely equipped to cope. Another interesting consequence is that Austria has withdrawn her troops from the UN Peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights, making the border between Syria and Israel more vulnerable and sending out all the wrong signals. Israel of course is, as usual, a little paranoid as well as being well armed!

But why did we insist that the arms embargo be lifted? Oh yes, to send a signal which was supposed to make Assad come to the negotiating table! Yeah, right…As if he needs to! He has no scruples about wiping out anyone in his way – and if we do send in arms, who do we send them to? We just don’t know who is in charge or who will be in a week’s time. But by our grand gesture we have opened the floodgates, provoking an escalation in hostilities, and increasing the potential for neighbouring countries, with their sponsors, to be drawn in. Each side of the conflict is being brutal, and probably each side is using chemical weapons – why wouldn’t they? Assad is rightly confident that Obama’s ‘red line’ on that subject was meaningless.

If we had used different rhetoric after Libya, proclaimed our neutrality regarding Syria from the start, and worked to broker a deal from that neutral position instead of saying ‘Assad must go!’, thousands of lives could have been saved, thousands of refugees might still have a home, and neighbouring countries might have stayed at home.

But Assad’s approach to human rights is unacceptable! Of course it is, as was Saddam Hussein’s and Gaddafi’s, both erstwhile Western allies, loosely speaking, (remember the Blair embrace?) but so is Saudi Arabia’s, so is Bahrain’s. And consider the consequence of a rebel victory in Syria! I know what it would not be – peace!

We cannot remodel the world’s nations in the way some would like. It is presumptuous in the extreme to try, particularly in the light of a strong groundswell of opinion in England against letting anyone enter, or interfere with, the UK!

Our ‘special relationship’ with the USA has dragged us into no end of scrapes – why do we think it is so valuable? It is after all a two way street, isn’t it? Maybe we should just acknowledge the fact that the USA is on the way down and China is on the way up, and that we are a little peripheral country who ought to mind its own business! The only reason we are occasionally invited to the top table is because we are a nuclear power – and there seems to be a diminishing justification for that! It draws in the terrorists like moths round a flame, but if a terrorist went nuclear, who would we fire ours at? We would be like a blind man in a crowded room with a machine gun.

I try to live by this maxim; ‘Happiness lies in being content with what you’ve got.’ It works for me; perhaps it would work for Britain.

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