The vicious cycle of Western foreign policy


Flickr/Alisdare Hickson

The British government has voted in favour of joining the fight against Daesh in Syria and begin bombing alongside its allies. This has occurred in large part as a result of the attacks in Paris in November – this course of action seems all too familiar to 11th September 2001.

After a horrific terrorist attack on American soil the US government reacted by announcing a War on Terror. One which has cost trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives and fanned the flames of the threat it so keenly set out to defeat – extremism.

In the Middle East suicide bombings have gone through the roof, destruction has exponentially grown and fundamentalist groups such as Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusra have experienced an almost constant swell in members. The reason for this is often seen as a complex and nuanced one, yet the principle explanation is due to the consequences of Western military intervention.

Military intervention has perpetuated, particularly since the announcement of the War on Terror, an unforeseeable and unprecedented level of collateral damage within Middle Eastern societies. Invasions, drone strikes, imprisonment without trial, Guantanamo bay, Abu Ghraib, the propping up of Western backed leaders – have all resulted in breakdown of natural society in the Middle East.

Many have come to see the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the War on Terror itself, as a huge failure from the Western world to curb the rise of terrorism. Instead it has increased extremism by quite some distance. Yet on the 1st December 2015, eleven years after the announcement of the War on Terror, the UK along with the rest of the Western world stand on the precipice of the same fundamental mistakes.

The voices of dissonance towards Daesh are strong from all sides, the condemnation of this “vile cancer” and “poisonous ideology” that Daesh peddles is criticised by the world over.  But, subsequent actions of Western governments are still knee-jerk, profoundly confused and insufficient for tackling this “so-called Islamic State”.

David Cameron and the majority of his Conservative MPs make the case that bombing the problem “over there” will by default keep us safe “over here”. This neglects and glosses over the glaring explanation as to why the Paris terror attacks even occurred – as Daesh has stated themselves they are a direct response to the French bombing campaign in Syria.

Despite this obvious explanation, the British government is also ignoring prior evidence that military intervention in the Middle East does not solve the issue of fundamentalism. The US, Russia, France, Turkey and other major Arab powerhouses are already bombing Daesh in both Iraq and Syria – the UK has also been bombing Iraq since last year. Does the government really believe their extra bombs will be the nail in the coffin to defeating Daesh?

The confusion explained

It is this incoherent, international meddling by the West which leads to an escalation in violence and terrorism. World superpowers seek to cling on to geo-political power in the region, by supporting whichever group has the most power at that specific time. There has even been discussion of Britain backing President Assad, who has been responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent Syrian’s for years. And Cameron continues to peddles misleading figures about pro-western “boots on the ground”, such as 70,000 free fighters who wish to support us in defeating Deash.

Once again this brings back an eerie déjà vu to the 1980s, when Western powers funded and armed Al-Qaeda to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. Can we really be sure that those we are currently arming in Syria to help us defeat Daesh won’t become the next Al-Qeada in 10 years’ time?

Western foreign policy towards the Middle East is first class short termism; we bomb extremists and invade states, arm rebels and claim to have defeated the problem. Then, in a cycle that is repeated again and again a new extremist group, which holds grievances against the West from the previous bombing campaign or invasion, springs up and poses a new threat.

The passing of this vote, has once again demonstrated Western short termism and our hot-headed style of foreign policy. Bombs may well kill the terrorists but they will not destroy the ideology. The West will once again bomb in the Middle East, it will claim victory against Daesh and then realise that it has no exit strategy and no long term viable solution to rebuild the region. It will cause more collateral damage and again grow more extremism.

What can be done?

To resolve the never ending cycle of extremism and violence in the Middle East there needs to be a well thought out, creative and diplomatic solution. In a first instance we must give control back to the Middle Eastern states; we can no longer be the puppeteers to their future whilst simultaneously cutting off the strings. We must ensure that it is them and not us who control their future.

But we can support these countries in this effort, after all when Europe defeated the Nazis it helped to rebuild Germany to be one of the best economies in the world. We must help resolve the Syrian crisis, ensuring peace in both Iraq and Syria, whilst principally understanding that we can no longer be the driving force in achieving this.

The Western world must be involved in an open debate. It must listen to all sides, make compromises and shut down the growth of the current Islamophobic foreign policy narrative put forward by some. We must understand why young men and women feel disaffected within society, with their only and most appealing option being to join Daesh.

If we cannot understand the reasons for radicalisation, we will never be able to find the solutions.

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and again and expecting different results. The UK government’s decision to bomb Syria is the next round to a vicious cycle which began after 9/11, are they really expecting a new outcome this time? I for one believe it is time for change; Western powers need to wake up to the reality that their interventionist foreign policy no longer works. As Jimmy Carter once said: “We’ve fought fire with fire, never thinking that fire is sometimes best quenched with water.”


2 thoughts on “The vicious cycle of Western foreign policy

  1. Islamic extremism is not caused by fighting against it. The notion that people join extremist groups because they’re angry about civilian casualties is laughable. Who do you think did most of the killing in Iraq and Afghanistan? If they’re angry with America, why do they kill Yazidis? What did the Kurds do? Why do they murder Shia muslims wherever they can find them?

    Suppose anyway that we could make these attacks stop by abandoning our provocation of Islamic extremists. What would that actually involve? It would mean handing East Timor back to Indonesian oppression. It would mean ending support for any kind of Jewish population in Palestine. It would mean telling our newspapers and magazines that they are no longer allowed to publish whatever cartoons they damn well please. It would mean abandoning the burgeoning social democracy in Kurdistan. It would mean doing and saying nothing as Hazaras, Yazidis and Shia muslims are the victims of genocide.

    I’d say that any one of the above list is worth making a stand over. If that makes islamists our enemies, well, good

  2. For a start the Mujahadeen weren’t Al-Qaeda and it’s a gross oversimplification, the same goes with your blanket argument that it’s simply western intervention which is to blame for the expansion of extremist groups in the region. The territory of ISIS has been greatly reduced which were able to expand because of a policy of isolationism. You seem to ignore the imperialistic ambitions of groups such as ISIS who believe in re-creating a lost empire. However the tide has only been turning since the Iraqi government asked for help and we provided air support to strong kurdish ground forces to defend key cities and eventually take them. They’ve lost 20% of the territory they gained and financially they’re also struggling, the lack of technological expertise means many of the oil fields they possess are useless.

    You want a well thought out creative diplomatic solution which listens to all sides yet you write with horror at the thought of Assad staying a minute longer. Of course Assad shouldn’t be allowed to stay in power, he should face trial at the relevant court, however you seem to ignore a diplomatic solution which includes Russia and Iran will see Assad stay in power. Russia especially will not allow Assad to be deposed. It’s alright to argue that a diplomatic solution can work, but diplomacy only works with groups who aren’t keen on annihilating everyone who is a little bit different. ISIS is one group for which no negotiation can take place and we shouldn’t listen to their point of view.

    Whether the figure of 70,000 is misleading i’m not sure, I’ve heard people like Patrick Cockburn say it’s rubbish but I’ve also heard US officials say it’s within the estimates they have and Charles Lister say it’s broadly accurate. However what is clear is that western troops on the ground may not be a necessity in air strikes being used in this circumstance, certainly it wasn’t needed in Iraq and as Hilary Benn outlined in his speech with Kurdish forces. However what is the case as Emile Hokayem points out the lack of intervention led to a moderate and disorganized opposition turn into something very different in general.

    The fact that ISIS has tried to attack Britain well before airstrikes shows the linking to france because of military action to be rather fanciful in my book. These groups often aren’t trying to attack military personnel but civilian targets because they’re cowards, criminals and amongst the most vile human beings which currently walk this earth. To say extremism only exists because of western intervention ignores the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria for instance and other extremist forces in Africa and across the world where the war on terror didn’t reach. If you consider the tiny population of muslims going to ISIS from this country (around 5-600) and the sheer number of refugees from war torn syria it’s pretty clear the ISIS message is in general falling on deaf ears.

    Isolationism in Syria has been as disastrous as intervention was in Iraq, it has destabilized the region in general, allowed a tyrannical dictator to murder hundreds of thousands of his own civilians, and has created the conditions for the growth of extremist organisations to gain strong footholds in territory which have created once in a lifetime propaganda victories. It has created the conditions which has seen other countries come under increasing pressure and could destablise them altogether if more help isn’t provided. It’s true no-one wants a failed state which isolationism has created in Syria and the reason why West Germany was given so much support was because of the global war on communism, so it seems reasonable to assume we will give money to syria, indeed we’re already giving large amounts of aid to lebanese and turkish camps for those refugees which are there.

    I could add more but i cannot be bothered

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