Should our MidEast policy be masterly inactivity?

Britain should keep out of lose-lose interventions in the MidEast and North Africa. Is doing nothing at all a foreign policy platform that David Cameron can successfully carry through?

The best of friends, until they weren't
Robin Mitchinson
On 15 July 2014 11:16

Exactly what are the West’s policies towards the Middle East and North Africa (MENA countries)? Are there any? Stated ‘policies’ suggests a considered and consistent approach, not something made on the hoof.

But foreign policy as such for the region has always been a mess of contradictions.

Gaddafi was the villain if the peace until we saw him shaking hands with Tony Blair. But we backed the rebels when he finally got into trouble.

Saddam was supported by the US in his war against Iran that cost maybe 1.5 million lives. When Israel bombed his nuclear facility in 1981, it was roundly criticised by the US  and condemned by the UN unanimously.

When he killed maybe 100,000 Kurds with chemical weapons etc the world reaction was –shall we say – muted. And the French profited mightily from arms sales of sophisticated weapons, jet fighter planes, helicopters, state-of-the-art artillery, not to mention the nuclear reactors taken out by Israel and chemicals that could be developed into WMD.

Saddam may have been a bastard but in those days he was our bastard.

Successive Egyptian dictators were supported by the West; now we don’t know which way to turn.

Years previously,  the C IA and the UK  overthrew the only democratically elected government in  Iran and installed the Shah as dictator

The ‘Arab Spring’ was seen by many as the birth of democracy in countries where it had never previously existed. Fat chance! Democracy took 1,000 years to develop in the West. It was only fully established in sophisticated Europe in the second half of the20th Century.

Instead we have shambles in Libya which is being fought over by a variety of militia, reversion to military dictatorship in Egypt, permanent instability in Lebanon, civil war in Syria and Iraq, Al Qaeda in Yemen. It is never-ending

We tend to think of Islamic jihad as a relatively recent threat. It is not. Assad Snr was fighting it over 30 years ago, and destroyed it at a cost of 40,000 dead. With Assad Jnr it is a case of history repeating itself. It is reckoned that there are approximately 1,500 separate terrorist groups in Syria right now, fighting over their own slice of territory.

Now we have a bunch of lunatics dubbed ISIS – more lately, the Caliphate. So what should the West do about it? Nothing. ISIS is an existential threat to all the neighbouring states. It has made too many enemies. It will be obliterated by them without any intervention by the West, for the simple reason that it is a sheer matter of survival

If Assad goes, what then? It is a reasonable certainty that, unlike Assad, his successor is likely to be a major threat to the West.

And the situation in Palestine is normal, but there are no terrorists there. Only Freedom Fighters, according to the BBC and the Guardian.

It can be only a matter of time before Saudi Arabia implodes, the difference being that the people will be seeking the direct opposite of Islamic fundamentalism; they have had their fill of that.

As ever, the West will be caught on the wrong side with its trousers around its ankles. Hopefully this will put an end to Saudi paying danegeld to terrorist groups around  the world.

So who’s side should we be on? The simple answer is ‘nobody’s’.

In the past 30 years Muslims have been killing each other in ever-increasing numbers. There is no possibility of imposing a solution from outside, and a likely scenario is that the various factions will simply continue to fight each other to a standstill, ceasing only from total exhaustion.

The West must remember that it does not have a dog in this fight. The essential foreign policy question should be, 'What vital Western interests are at risk?’, remembering always the wise Gladstonian principle of  ‘No unnecessary foreign entanglements'.

Current policy should be ‘masterly inactivity’. Surely Dave can manage that?

Robin Mitchinson is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. A former barrister, living in the Isle of Man, he is an international public management specialist with almost two decades of experience in institutional development, decentralisation and democratisation processes. He has advised governments and major international institutions across the world

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