Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The West’s blame and the West’s shame

Watching Newsnight yesterday evening was one of the worst examples of a political post-mortem I think I’ve ever experienced.  The subject was the imminent fall of Aleppo to the Russian supported government of President Bashar al-Assad that commentators think represents perhaps not the end of the civil war but the beginning of the end of the civil war.  Aleppo itself may not matter much on Moscow's strategic chess-board. But the defeat of the rebel opposition there underscores the extraordinary turn-around in President Assad's fortunes. Before Russia intervened President Assad was on the ropes, his military power crumbling; now it looks as if he’ll win.  The West’s response…a fiery exchange at the UN, with US Ambassador Samantha Power accusing Syria and its allies of contributing to ‘a noose around civilians’ asking  ‘Are you truly incapable of shame?’

She is, of course, right. The civil war has been characterised by a total indifference to the fate of civilians who have been subjected to unspeakable atrocities, a new barbarism.  But the West is also culpable.  Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003—either an unprovoked assault on an independent country that may have breached international law or something authorised by United Nation sanction—the West has completely failed to stabilise the region and arguably has made the situation worse.  By removing despicable dictators in Iraq and then in Libya, initiating regime change and then failing to provide the mechanism to create a stable future, the West has been guilty of gross stupidity.  The scenario seems to have been…remove dictator, establishing a western style democratic government, let the liberated people get on with this and then act surprised when it all falls apart.  What this shows…apart from the hubris of the West…is that you can’t simply transplant democracy to countries with no real tradition of liberal democratic institutions.  The same applies to the so-called ‘Arab Spring’---I remember commenting on my blog at the time that the 1848 European revolutions came to mind…things that shone brightly and briefly and were then snuffed out by the forces of reaction…and so it was.  The West encouraged political aspirations and then expressed surprise when things did not turn out as they believed they ought.  The West’s interference in the region has largely been disastrous.

As the bombs continue to fall on Aleppo and its people, we sit well fed in our warm, comfortable houses and wring our hands at the inhumanity of man.  We moralise.  We call for the war to end, for the evacuation of civilians, for the feeding of the people starved for weeks.  We give words…words…words.  But we do nothing.  In fact, words are all we can give as the West has effectively abdicated any responsibility it may have felt for Syria.  I am reminded of Sir Humphrey’s words on the principles of foreign policy…’perhaps there was something we could have done…but it’s too late now!’

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