Friday, 20 December 2013

From Iraq to Syria and Woolwich

When the first tanks rolled into Iraq during the last military adventure of the Bush family, there was talk about a new coalition between those who favoured military intervention for political reasons, and those who did so for humanitarian reasons. A new creed seemed to be born, based on a supposed obligation of Western governments to protect and safeguard civilian populations from evil dictators or irresponsible governments.

This new doctrine was always shot through with loopholes and exemptions however for those states that happened to be allies of the West. Saudi Arabia could merrily continue to disenfranchise half its population without fearing Western bombers. North Korea had bought itself an insurance policy through nuclear armament. So in the end, Western governments intervened where political expediency and moral indignation converged.

There was little principled thinking in this doctrine and eventually, as the Syrian civil war broke out, hypocrisy reached extraordinary heights when Obama and Cameron prepared for military strikes against the Syrian government.

How ever you look at it, the doctrine lacked consistency and its shoddy application in practice roused the suspicion that it was just another tool to justify Western intervention wherever it pleased. Seumas Milne wrote in The Guardian today that the inability to draw an association between Western military intervention in the Middle East and the repercussions in the Muslim communities in Britain is at best naive.

What is needed now is a serious re-appraisal of this doctrine and the re-application of principled policy making in foreign policy. Western governments do have obligations. Yet taking sides in a civil war is not one of them. This is where Robin Cook, long time ago, started the reform of British foreign policy and we have to pick up where he left it.


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