NATO’s intervention in Libya, to those with even a most tedious grasp of reality, was a positive move. It was,however, by no means an inherently moral act. Simply that for a brief moment the law of large numbers stepped aside and an anomalous coinciding of Western foreign policy interest and that of the Libyan people occurred. In the same way someone chasing a note of money in the wind might accidentally stumble into a blind, deaf man preventing him from wandering unawares onto a busy motorway. For the sake of stretching metaphors, the latter also happens to be wealthy, prompting the former to abandon his original quest in favour of potentially a much greater reward on the grounds that it was his intention to save the man all along. Essentially it encompasses the ultimately utilitarian nature of modern foreign policy wherein the means are justified by the ends and the ends are almost always issues of ‘national interest’.
That the means in the case of Libya happened to be the prevention of what seemed an inevitable massacre was an entirely coincidental matter. For a brief, fleeting moment the national interests of a few Western countries were the same as those of the Libyan people, namely the removal of Gadhaffi. As in Egypt, once it became apparent the people would no longer accept dictatorial ruler ship, so called friends and allies switched sides in an instant, leaving the men they for so long propped up to be hanged alone. If this is not the case, why then does NATO steadfastly continue to refuse to even consider intervening in Syria where, like castaways abandoned by the international community, they hold up SOS signs to no avail ? Or similarly why have no Western governments called for Ali Saleh to step down despite an ongoing, unashamedly public massacre of peaceful protestors? In the former, the likes of U.S stood to gain little from maintaining ties with the Assad regime, so they instead chose to attempt to ingratiate themselves with whoever may replace him, by calling for him to step down. Russia however, has a much stronger relationship with the Assad regime and as such has refused to call on Assad to step down, instead favouring the route of ‘reform’. Despite perhaps having continually the largest number of daily protestors of any Arab country, the apparently unstoppable force of Yemen’s anti-Saleh protestors are being met with the immovable object of Saudi Arabia’s interests in the country. Thus for the moment, while the state of Schroedinger’s cat is neither dead nor alive, the current allies of the Saleh are unwilling to cut their ties with his regime until it is virtually certain that abandoning it will not harm their national interests by him managing to stay on.
Such is the oft manifest immorality of this kind of relative foreign policy that it has allowed many, not solely Western governments, to back murderous dictators as long as their positions seem relatively secure and national interests protected.
The dialogue of excessively selfish national interest has no geographic or ethnic basis. Furthermore there is nothing inherently wrong with a nations pursuit of its national interest. The moral vacuum occurs when, because of a danger of harming national interests, a country or body of countries refuse to act altruistically to stop the oppression and killing of innocent civilians.
Unfortunately for Bahrain, both American and Saudi interests coincide against them producing a situation almost entirely bereft of hope until that fateful day when perhaps Saudi Arabia’s leaders realise that morality is much more than the oppression of minorities or the length of one’s beard. Alternatively the U.S must take note that Bahrain is a country consisting of actual people and cannot be treated simply as a foreign policy commodity. Saudi Arabia is every inch as guilty of the kind of cynical, imperialistic politics which the left’s analysis often only stretches to pin on the ‘The West’. The fact that Saudi weaponry is undoubtedly being used in the current repression of Yemeni protestors doesn’t receive the same kind of attention which was dedicated to the use of U.S tear gas in attempts to suppress Egypt’s revolt . Furthermore Saudi Arabia’s straight faced, utterly un-ironic condemnation of Assad’s brutal repression is laughable considering they so publicly sent their own forces to crush the uprising in Bahrain. Does this hypocritical, national interest based intervention in the domestic affairs of another country not constitute a form of imperialism?
Similarly Russia is not subject to the same analysis of ‘imperialism’ as the U.S, despite providing Assad with much of the weaponry now used to slaughter his own people, even publicly refusing to halt its military trade with Syria. Disgracefully, Russia has even attempted to prop up the Syrian government’s falsified narrative of an armed insurgency, while alongside China it has sought to block any U.N resolution on Syria which might have an impact on its national interests.
While it is a welcome surprise to see the U.S calling for Assad to step down and the implementation of democratic change, this is undoubtedly an anomaly in the greater scheme of things. The U.S apparently sees itself turning a corner in Arab relations, however its’ refusal to act on Bahrain, its’ continued, unashamedly relentless support for Israel’s occupation and its silence on Yemen leaves no illusions amongst Arabs as to how little has changed on that front.
It is all very well for Cameron and Sarkozy to support the liberation of Libya, but give the Arab world some courtesy and do not parade triumphantly around Tripoli whilst documents are being uncovered exposing Western governments for their complicity in the dictatorship of a man whose fall they now celebrate. What low esteem they must hold the Arab populations in to think we will buy their attempts to convince us they were on ‘our’ side all along.
If their support for democratisation in the Arab world is genuine, as an end in itself, then let them at the very least bring themselves to condemn those carrying out these crimes, regardless of their national interests. But no, William Hague, who has now spoke twice since the most recent outbreak of violence in Yemen, without even mentioning Saleh. How can one call for stability in the country without mentioning the key factor causing its’ instability? Such is the morally degraded state of the current form of national interest based foreign policy.
However, the Arab world is no longer willing to simply sit by waiting for the powerful to attain a modicum of responsibility or morality transcendent of ‘national interest’. Nor are they prepared to simply hold up their hands until a NATO plane happens to stumble across their path. Rather the Arab populations in revolt are running the marathon for their freedoms regardless of international backing. If they are gunned down before reaching the end, then it is great moral shame upon the heads of governments who would have sat by weighing up the financial and political cost to themselves against the cost of human lives.
The Egyptian people have already begun to show that they will no longer tolerate with silence the unaccountable actions of the Western sponsored Israeli occupation. There are at least fledgling signs of a foreign policy abandoning the previous years of national interest based dialogue which oversaw a frankly shameful relationship with Israel. Similarly Turkey’s President Erdogan has realised that military ties with Israel and the U.S are ok until interests clash and their military is used against your citizens or they try to justify the killing your civilians respectively.
The foreign policy perspective of national interests is of course defied by the U.S’s relations with Israel which have more often than not transgressed U.S national interest in favour of a blindly impassioned defence of Israel in the international sphere. This relationship however requires an entire separate analysis on its own.
There is a glint of hope for the future of foreign policy amongst certain Arab nations who despite their own respective struggles, have never ceased to forget the struggles of their neighbours. It is this growing sense of common identity and values amongst the uprising nations which is most likely to bring about a future notion of foreign policy not entirely incompatible with an altruistic sense of moral duty unto others. A highly cynical and selfish foreign policy was often decried by Arab populations if not their leaders, thus if indeed the people do finally command the politics in the Arab world, perhaps there is at least a glimmer that they will not simply emulate what is now the standard dialogue of foreign policy. Perhaps what is now an outstanding anomaly will one day become the norm.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East