Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron have all declared multiculturalism a failure. Berlin, Paris and London all realise that in the continent where nationalism was born, the harmonious melding of cultures is not achievable.
In Europe and much of the old world, History has served the purpose of separating cultures. Europe especially, due to its geography, has been a perfect case of identity politics trumping any ideology. It was in Europe afterall that nationalism was born. Unlike what many believe, nationalism was not born in the XIX century. Identity politics had been an integral part of the Scottish rebellions, the German reformation and countless other phenomena prior to the modern era. Modernity codified these trends but it did not inaugurate them.
The ultra-nationalism of the XX century was short lived, yes, but this trend was extreme and in many ways self-consuming. The reaction to ultra-nationalism however has been equally extreme, being characterised by universalism, radical individualism and pacifism at any cost. This recipe is beginning to crumble since the European Union is now more than ever a project in distress. Those who dread disintegration claim more integration is the only alternative but this does not stand to reason: if integration was the answer Europe would not be in distress after having begun political on top of economic integration. What could Euro-bonds and ECB fiscal controls do to prevent dissimilar productivity in the different European states? Monetary and financial engineering cannot prevent radically different work ethics and civic mentality. The Greeks will not become more individualistic anymore than Finns will become more collectivist – barring any totalitarian social engineering practices of course.
Instead of uniformity, the only enduring reality in Europe is that of disunity and dissimilarity, however close the civilisational contacts may be. The Treaties of Westphalia epitomised as much by bringing the concept of sovereignty into current use. European sovereignty though can only exist through ethnic homogeneity and the subalternation of the normative. This was the political translation of the end of the Thirty Years War which saw the crystallisation of multipolarism in Europe. After Rome and the Franks, the Habsburgs had been the third polity to vie for continental domination and fail. At the same time, Europe being the smallest continent had allowed for cross-cultural interaction to an extent whereupon the different peoples shared a common cultural legacy. Westphalia was thus the codification of ethnic separation (proto-nationalism) with normative consensus (Christianity). The respublica christiana was politically disunited but ideologically cohesive – with theological divides often serving only to make salient the ethnic fault lines (Catholicism/Presbyterianism in Scotland, Catholicism, Islam or orthodoxy in the Balkans, etc).
Among the necessary consequences of the Westphalian system in Europe (especially Western Europe) has been xenophobia but also internationalism. It is inevitable that stark frontiers and centralized states will invariably lead to cooperation. European states are small and multipolarism requires geostrategic variable geometry. On the other hand, in a hermetic ethnic monopoly, minorities will invariably find it hard to integrate as Jews and Gypsies would attest. Both these tendencies are perhaps better observed in simplistic regime types of the totalitarian tradition, namely with both communism and fascism.
In Asia multicultural empires have rather been the norm, with eastern Europe and the Balkans corresponding to some standard somewhere in between western European nation-states and Asian multi-ethnic empires. This is why sovereign borders are notoriously difficult to create in the Middle East but multi-ethnic harmony comes naturally (Istanbul, Jerusalem and Baghdad or Persia, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia being good historical examples). The artificial emulation of western state apparatuses in the Middle East leads to necessary ethnic tensions given that within a small state, unlike within an empire, ethnic identity is crucial to the monopoly on legitimate violence. Empires demand at most an ethnic core but due to their extension it would make little sense to fear one or another minority.
The colonisation of the Americas originated a peculiar misfit: the settlers were European but the territory did not lend itself to European style nation-states. Quite to the contrary, America’s near absence of major topographical barriers and the mixed nature of its settlers favoured an Asian type polity formation. However the initial immigration was largely comprised of Europeans which meant that integration was easier given it was intra-civilisational. African slaves, Hispanic-Americans or Asian migrants either did not possess citizenship or were too small in number to be of consequence. The system endured and prospered until the War of Secession when apart from all the economic tensions between North and South, national identity was propelled by abolitionists as a fracturing issue.
Now, unlike what the founding fathers had intended, economic and political liberalism was beginning to spillover to society at large and the fundamental incompatibility of liberalism with raison d’état began. To be clear, America was only a multicultural society so long as it remained a European anglophone republic in its core. The next question then should be whether the US could have afforded to remain a slaver state: the answer is ‘no’ but the rejection of domestic slavery is a very different proposition from the promotion of individual freedom abroad, from the automatic granting of citizenship to millions of the illiterate and economically disenfranchised overnight, and finally from forceful universality of the abolition.
Other societies have evolved very differently and cannot require the same cultural and political solutions as the anglophone ‘new world’. Citizenship is not equivalent to nationhood and ultra-inclusiveness risks cohesion – one wonders what would have happened if Spartans had granted Helots their freedom as well as full citizenship rights in Laconia… Finally if abolition was indeed a social concern of the American people, why not simply allow each state to approve it in their own timing – surely there was no doubt such a path was unidirectional?…
The Confederacy’s decision to press for independence was a dramatic one but not illogical. The South was betting on a North American Westphalia. They had the precedent of Yorktown (1783) – continental secession from the British empire – and they had the sympathy of overseas powers as well as Native Americans. This could have meant a partition of north America and a multiple state balance of power in the long run. As Grant would come to prove however, North America is not Europe: Cisappalachia cannot be ruled by more than one power and the Atlantic ocean is too large to allow European polities to project much force into America. Topographical and geographical obstacles made the Habsburg quest to control central Europe too much of a logistical challenge: the ‘Spanish road’ was vulnerable (i.e. Palatinate), the western approaches and the English channel too risky (Spanish Armada), all this even with the advantage of superior numbers as well as tactics; the North Sea and Baltic polities always free to project uninterrupted influence over continental Europe. Conversely, the battlefields of Maryland and Virginia were almost always chosen by generals rather than imposed by geography, armies were free to roam around the great plains of the Midwest and rivers proved to be avenues for troops rather than natural defences against them. Unlike Europe, America cannot be divided from within and is too far to be divided from without.
Therefore, the significance of Appomattox was the very opposite of Westphalia: like Worms in 1122, Appomattox in 1865 meant that normative power bests temporal power, ideological identity trumps cultural identity. Above all, the extremism of abolitionists lay in them being constitutional fundamentalists – which the same founding fathers who signed a peace treaty that saw the need for all the Dunmore Proclamation black freedmen to be exiled, were not – Some might say ‘so much the better!’ since that allowed for the liberation of the slaves but it did also sow the seeds of systemic dysfunction for forthwith the question of identity would be one resolved by the supremacy of beliefs over ethnicity, values over interests, ideology over identity. As the last US election of 2012 proved though, the interests of minorities (loose immigration laws) trump their ideological background (catholic, methodist, Southern Baptist conservatism) as it trumps in almost every polity. The inconsistency then is that of identity: if minorities vote according to their ethnic identity rather than according to their ideological identity, how can they then be American?
English-Americans or German-Americans do not rush to defend Britain or Germany whenever these nations disagree with the US or when their brethren have disputes with the Federal government on national soil but contemporary minorities do the opposite. Worse still, unlike Italians and Irish whose integration was already made difficult due to their non-compliance with the WASP standard, Hispanics and African-Americans do not even originate from the same civilisational setting as European America – Hispanics have European roots but also Amerindian and African ones.
Perhaps this reality helps explain how easily the US find themselves involved in the causes of minorities around the world from Jews or Armenians to Albanians.
The imagery of Monrovia and Liberia is a profoundly ironic one since the same historians who so readily admit the enterprise of resettling American slaves in Africa was a failure, have scarcely a word of doubt about the success of their adaptation to anglophone North America.
Nothing lasts forever. What is being observed nowadays in Europe’s south and the Arab Spring is not just temporary and circumstantial economic woes, it is a change in paradigm for the West. Every major issue westerners tried to avoid for decades is coming back with a vengeance be it unsustainable welfare programs or incompatible immigration trends. Yet the system is bogged down in legislative inertia and political impasse. Bipolarisation plagues the US whereas electoral apathy and lack of leadership plagues Europe.
By pushing the aforementioned issues to the margins in favour of political correctness, western politicians condemned many of those issues to being used only by marginal politicians and it is these that now reap the benefits of political courage and prescience. However, populist parties in Switzerland, Netherlands, Austria or Hungary are not suited to run the fate of a complex state apparatus and if elected are likely to cause strategic havoc. It may as well however, be too late for centrist parties to make a change.
Gaetano Mosca and Robert Michels theorised that every system has elites and that these need to allow for ruling elite rotation in order to for the system to function properly. Any accumulation and exclusivity by a ruling elite, forces non ruling elites to plot against the system as an opposition, which often leads to Caesarism.
The Western model is exhausted because democracy no longer allows for a proper ruling elite circulation but no other system does either. This inherent domestic friction in most western states is likely to bring about a complete change in paradigm but not necessarily to something better.
The Left is bankrupt. The fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the USSR were a hard blow to leftist politics worldwide which tried to adapt through ’3rd Way’ antics. These however were merely a improvisation to a changing political environment; ultimately the combination of neoliberalism with socialism did nothing other than prolonging the inevitable collapse of the welfare system, the Left relied upon for constituency maintenance.
Thus, while it used to be the right to exercise populistic politics in order to sway voters which could not be swayed without a more marxist ideological narrative, today it is the right that holds ideological supremacy. Right-wing ideology is slowly becoming the paradigm in Europe. The left has consequently chosen to divert its speech to more demogagic issues in the hope of persuading non-ideological acolytes on the centre. This however will carry awful consequences for the long term future when neo-Keynesian economics results in yet another market punishment for unsustainable indebtedness.
In the absence of ideology, the left is now subject to the superior influence of utilitarian structures. From Australia to Europe, the left wing party apparatchiks are now empowered by the need for votes which cannot be gained by ideology. Left-wing parties face thus an inner struggle for power with old ideologues facing off against young apparatchiks who can deliver votes, even at the cost of demagoguery, corruption and short-termism, leaching off a dysfunctional system. Rudd vs Gillard or Ed vs David Miliband are the demonstration of this trend and apparatchiks together with the defenders of established corporativist interests and trade unions, are winning.
The right actually sees many of its criticisms of the liberal paradigm confirmed: its criticism of democratic peace theory is confirmed by Arab Spring ‘democracies’ becoming antagonist of western interests, its criticism of multicultural society is confirmed by riots, failure in integration policies as well as intolerant trends among incompatible immigrant demographics with European and American host societies, its criticism of the individualisation of values with the counter-culture movement is proven right by the sharp decrease in living conditions of worse-off segments of society, its criticism of demilitarisation and disarmament proven right by the opposite trend among emerging economies.
Yet, the right is itself afraid of upsetting the established order which has kept stability for so long. It is afraid of empowering too much the Geert Wilders and UKIP alternative-right movements which nibble electorally at its power bases.
Angela Merkel is a dark knight of sorts, delivering solutions to the south which are necessary but deeply unpopular. The southern christian democrats are thus being spared the consequences of their own leniency towards the liberal-left wing paradigm. But even this cannot last forever and like Harvey Dent their failures may yet be exposed by extremist Banes for now lurking in the shadows.
Having often found much ignorance on foreign policy in debates with Libertarians, this post is aimed at them. A number of flawed Libertarian arguments are here counter-argued:
- War is not a legitimate tool of policy
Considering aggressive war as a legitimate tool of foreign policy is not ideological, it is empirical. No state or society having rejected the prerogative of waging war has ever survived. No one can claim to govern and defend the national interest of one’s constituency without reserving the right to go to war to defend that same interest. This defence has never been made exclusively at home and indeed it cannot in a globalised world.
- Iran does not need to be deterred since it is a peaceful state who has never attacked anyone. Iran is not irrational, at least no more than any other state.
Iran does need to be deterred. It has been attacking and undermining American, Jewish and Western interests since 1979: Iran gave up a profitable partnership with the US in favour of isolationism in 79 and this should be a good indicator of its rationality. Iran has been interfering in the internal affairs of Lebanon in an attempt to export its own revolution, it has moved assertively to claim oil resources in the Caspian, projected its terrorism as far as Buenos Aires just to be able to kill Jews. Iran hopes the SCO will become an anti-NATO, it instigated regime change wherever it would have hurt the West and criticised where it benefited it.
It is stunning that Libertarians who readily accuse the US of exceptionalism and adventurism (which is true), are so blind to a completely irrational and destabilising theocracy.
Without a Western presence in the Middle East one of two things would happen: either a protracted conflict between Iran and Turkey and instability in the oil markets for decades to come, or Iranian supremacy and extortion.
- There is no merit to attacking Iran
Iran works against western interests and it is not in the interest of the West, the Arabs or any other regional stakeholder to see Iran acquire nuclear weapons. This would endow Iran with nuclear deterrence against conventional attacks. If right now Iran doesn’t project more financial or military resources to Syria or Lebanon, it is also because it has to concern and burden itself with homeland defence. Endowed with nuclear deterrence, an exceptionalist, universalist and revisionist regional power would be able to devote more resources to exporting its revolution abroad.
- War is not worth the lives of innocent people
There is a difference between valuing the lives of innocent people and believing everyone is innocent… the latter is but totalitarianism.
- Iran needs a nuclear deterrence because it feels threatened and encircled by US bases
This is a straw man argument: the bases in Afghanistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan as well as the ones in Iraq before the withdrawal, were not set up against Iran and because many of these are simply logistical hubs or are directed at different problems such as the war against the Taliban, they would actually be more vulnerable to an Iranian attack than they would be useful for an attack on Iran.
The only bases capable of sustaining an attack on Iran are the ones in the Arabian peninsula. Most of the US outposts in Afghanistan are sustaining a war in which American troops are bogged down. The bases in central Asia are basically transport hubs and the US does not have the right to station aggressive formations. NATO’s bases in Turkey could be used for an attack on Iran but if Turkey didn’t authorise their use against Iraq, odds are they’d never be considered for an attack on Iran.
- To invade Iran is budgetary folly
Yes, it is which is why no one advocates an invasion of Iran but merely a surgical bombardment of nuclear sites; an expanded version of Israel’s raid against Iraq’s Osiraq reactor.
- Israel is the real cause of instability in the Middle East
Israel has never done anything gratuitous to bring instability. Israel has ever only acted in self-defence. It did not endanger the supply of oil to the West. Iran on the other hand has tried to export its own values and socio-economic model to Lebanon and Iraq, and has also propagated terrorism in the region which Israel has never done.
Israel has been persistently threatened not only with war but also with annihilation which is why it requires a nuclear deterrence but Iran does not since no one wants to destroy Iran but merely to contain it. Iran is an exceptionalist, expansionist, millennial, apocalyptic, self-proclaimed anti-western and anti-liberal.
Israel never invaded anyone. Every single war it fought was defensive, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Iran have all waged aggressive war against Israel for no rational reason. Israel has not responded in kind.
- If Iran is economically and militarily crippled it cannot project power beyond its borders
Agreed it is but lets see, it is helping to prop up the regime in Syria, it has helped to carve out a state within a state in Lebanon (one by the way which is capable of defying Israel, one of the world’s foremost military powers). Plenty of projection power for an economically and militarily crippled third rate power.
- Iran is only a threat to the US
It is also to the Arabs – they are Iran’s neighbours who provide us with oil and who own much of the American debt – to Israel and countries such as Turkey, Russia or Pakistan have no interest either in seeing Iran go nuclear.
- How many foreigners has Iran killed since Israel has existed?
Iran has killed thousands. Not just in Lebanon or during the tanker war with Iraq but also by sponsoring Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorism throughout the world as well as interfering in the Balkan wars.
Israel however has not interfered in the affairs of other states nor did it sponsor terrorist groups unless the target state had previously declared war on it. Israel does not declare to want to exterminate or expel other ethnicities or religions. Israel allowed for no entity to use its territory to attack Lebanon, or other countries. Others allowed this against Israel. Israel actually has borders with Lebanon, it needs to care about what goes on in Lebanon lest it not fall victim to military invasions or terrorist raids. Iran is thousands of kms away and has no conceivable interest or need to do so.
Regardless, one cannot measure a country’s negative impact by the sheer number of deaths its direct actions cause. The US and the UN coalition who expelled Iraq from Kuwait killed more Iraqis than Iraqis killed Kuwaitis but that is easily explained by the differences in technology and means available to each side. But that doesn’t mean that Kuwait should not have been liberated.
- Iranians are being targeted; not just scientists but the entire population
The conflict between Iran and the West was unilaterally started by Iran. If Iran has the right to produce nuclear power, the West also has the right to declare embargoes. The fact that most of the world agrees that Iran should be sanctioned proves that the concern is not solely Western. Iran is and has always been intransigent in regards to its nuclear programme so its motivations are dubious. Iran doesn’t even try to establish a dialogue with opponents like Israel and is in fact antisemitic.
Targeting scientists also proves that the target is not Iran as a country and not even its regime but just its nuclear programme. Far more principled approach than indiscriminate terrorism.
- The world is not divided into good guys and bad guys
No moral judgements involved. The West tries only to defend its interests; some states can help and others can get in the way. US and Israel are ‘good’ simply because they defend Western interests in MENA.
- Iran broke its alliance with the US because of US support to the Shah’s repressive regime
Yes the US was supportive of the Shah but that support was not conditional on the Shah’s repression. The US wanted and needed an ally in the region. They didn’t care what kind of regime was in place; The West tried to befriend Iran. It tried to do so under the Shah and under Khomeini. Besides the Islamic Republic is much worse than the Shah and it is not richer or more influential.
Israel did not interfere in Iran and it was discriminated against. Arab states and Russia did interfere and they were not considered ‘satanic’. It is not like Iran itself did not meddle in other states too.
In this outlet we are in favour only of a conditional intervention against Iran: provided the Arab states participate.
Thus, not toeing the neoconservative line of ‘harder, better, faster, stronger’ as far as an attack on Iran is concerned, there should be no suspicion of our being belligerent tout court.
It is important though to analyse the liberal-libertarian-marxian case against an attack on Iran and dispel the myth of blowback.
It is said for example that the reason why Iranians today hate America is due to the Anglo-American subversion of the Mossadegh government and their installing a repressive regime thereafter. According to this logic, not only has Western policy towards Iran been flawed through the years but so would more belligerence today lead to additional negative results.
First of all it should be said that Iranians don’t hate America – in fact they are one of the most westernised peoples in MENA – that British and Americans wanted only more control over the Iranian government and that they were not behind the repressive tactics – albeit having provided the training – that Iran prospered to become a major regional geostrategic power under US sponsorship and most importantly that the decision to separate Iran from the West geopolitically was taken by the revolutionary regime and not by the Iranian people.
In fact, the assertion that the Islamic revolution was detrimental to the West because Iranians as a people were enraged against Western interference is ludicrous: the Arab states financed Iraq’s war against Iran, Russia had attempted to annex parts of northern Iran during the Allied occupation of World War II, and yet there were no chants of ‘Death to Russia’ or ‘Arabs are the middle Satan’ after the ‘people’s revolution’. The truth is that the regime conducted anti-Western indoctrination and even if the average Iranian would not approve of external interference in Iranian domestic politics then and now, it is also true they realise Iran has been playing with fire unnecessarily for a long time – even though they support the nuclear programme, only the regime’s puppets go on marches to shout ‘death to America’.
American and British resolve to remove Mossadegh came about quite simply because Mossadegh offended his patrons in the Cold War by nationalising the Iranian oil industry. Undoubtedly his intentions were pure and patriotic but they were also misguided for Iran was not strong enough to stand on its own in a bipolar system dominated by the superpowers. It was Mossadegh’s foolhardiness that brought about the end of his government, not gratuitous interventionism on the part of the West – the only blowback was that of his policies against the West.
It is also not as if Iran was alien to interfering in the affairs of its neighbours. Its designs over the Persian Gulf and the Mashreq have been well known for centuries and surely the Iranians, knowing their own history are not blind to the routine of intervention in an anarchic international system.
The coup that removed Mossadegh bought the West an additional quarter century of control during the dangerous period of the Cold War. True statesmen always plan on the long-term but the plans are made to defend national interests, not those of any other state. It is too bad if interference in Iran causes Iranians to blindly rally to the flag in favour of an irrational regime but if one were to always wait for the right timing, nothing would ever get done.
Additionally, it is also false that blowback is an inevitable consequence of intervention. Given enough time and resources, an intervention can manage to legitimise itself. We have but to think of Iranian subversion of Lebanon, of Pakistani operations in Afghanistan, Israel bombing of Iraq, Russian intervention in Georgia, etc.
Finally one must weigh the pros and cons of bombing Iran’s nuclear programme. What is more costly? To allow a fanatical regime to acquire all the invulnerability it needs to destabilise a pro-Western MENA? Or to spend a few millions in bombs and temporary high oil prices, and incur the also temporary wrath of the people of one single country who don’t even appreciate the regime that rules them?
Ultimately the logic of Liberals is that democracy is more important than the West, that regime is more important than state. The logic of Libertarians is that market forces will take care of a state’s interests and that non-interference will miraculously take care of those forces that are prejudiced or interested in thwarting Western interests. The logic of Marxians is that developing-countries inherently carry more moral authority than developed ones and whatever they do or risks they take, the outcome must always ‘justly’ benefit them in detriment of developed countries so as to equalise the world.
Liberals do America and the West a disservice because as democratic as any country may be, democratic peace theory is a fallacy and does not necessarily bring with it automatic sympathy towards or peace with the West. Libertarians are also counter-productive because without force and hard-power, many parts of the world would succumb to forces more influential than money. Marxians keep advocating a utopia with no practical incarnation and would find it difficult to justify an inevitable ‘levelling’ down of developed societies’ living conditions in favour of developing ones’.
This blog stood against the intervention in Iraq, it condemns any conventional attack on Syria and it also criticised the Libyan adventure. Iran is different and this is not an endorsement of an immediate attack on Iran but rather the apology of a consequential and rational debate, based on facts rather than myths: is it in the West’s interest to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons? Absolutely! Should the West attack Iran to accomplish this? Debatable. Should it be one of the possible options? Always.
Western foreign policy suffers from a major flaw: rhetorical entrapment.
What are Western interests in Syria? The question is not often asked because it is not politically correct to mention interests when innocent people are being slaughtered. In these situations only values are of importance. Our values dictate that we strive to save as many lives as possible.
But what do our interests dictate?
Syria is a nuisance for the West. It fights the West’s strategic and economic interests in Lebanon, the Levant and the Mashreq in general. Unlike Iran it does not do so out of prejudice but rather out of pure self-interest. Syria being dependent on the Lebanese economy and strategic position does not have an interest in seeing any other power dominate Lebanon other than Syria. Damascus had no interest in allowing the US to dominate Iraq and thus becoming a major hegemon in the Middle East, and it was a balance of power reasoning that compelled the Assad regime to help jihadists and Iranians in subverting Coalition rule of occupied Iraq. Syria has kept an alliance with Iran for the same reason: because without sharing borders and conflicting spheres of interest, Tehran and Damascus could mutually cooperate to counter-balance Turkey, Iraq and to discuss the Kurd problem. In addition relying on each other also meant becoming more independent from international superpowers like the US or Russia.
Syria is thus a nuisance because it interferes frequently with Western interests. Syria is not however a major threat since unlike Iran, it does not have the capability to project power (soft or hard) in the region and limits itself to acting in its adjacent periphery. It also does not have energetic resources that might influence the behavior of world markets – like Iran.
The West has therefore only one interest in Syria: to alter its foreign policy paradigm. The best way to do this is to break its alliance with Iran so as to make it more dependent on international superpowers and co-opt it into becoming more acquiescent regionally to Western concerns. An extra benefit would be to see Iran’s isolation grow and sufficient barriers to its adventure in Lebanon, be created.
Taking this into account, should the West intervene in Syria? The answer is ‘no’. Syria is not important enough for a financially vulnerable West to spend resources on, especially when Iran is much higher in the list of priorities. That said, why not make a small contribution to the subversion of the regime?
Here is where American and European foreign policy incurs in an error: Washington and Europe should only try and replace the old regime if there were sufficient guarantees the new regime would be loyal. At this point in time there are none since much of the rebellion is carried out by jihadists and much of Syria’s Sunni majority is by default anti-Western.
The subversion of Syria should serve the one and only purpose of forcing Bashar al-Assad to negotiate. It is not his regime which matters replacing but merely his foreign policy.
Yet the West will not negotiate and the reason is simple rhetorical entrapment. Assad and his regime have by now been so vilified that any political compromise with it would be politically damaging to all the Western leaders who helpless and unwilling to intervene, chose to attack with words instead.
The pattern is not new: during the Second World War, Hitler outsmarted the Franco-British strategy of setting Germany and Russia against each other by securing a non-aggression pact with the USSR and by attacking the West first. Instead of learning from Hitler’s example, the West refused to make a separate peace with the Reich and paid a heavy price for it: eastern Europe under Soviet orbit for the next 40 years. With Japan too, in spite of the fact that the militarist regime was not as ideological as Nazi Germany, no dialogue was opened and unconditional surrender was the only exit offered to Tokyo. The result was the resort to atomic weapons, the cost was a quarter of a million lives.
Since, the tendency has endured with Western demands for humanitarian and democratic principles to be upheld to impossibly high standards and resulting in military interventions by the West in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, which were ultimately counter-productive for its interests. The unwillingness to compromise is recurrently a consequence of populism and demagoguery in justifying military expenditure and intervention, to Western citizens. Instead of justifying them with pragmatic interests, politicians with a 4/8 year policy-making horizon, prefer to justify them manicheistically, making use of a Western fundamental rights and liberties narrative which confronted with violations of those rights automatically confers merit to action (“we have to do something”) and finally warrants intervention. This is nothing but short-termism and is now standard operating procedure in spite of some honourable exceptions such as President George H. W. Bush.
This tendency is a disservice to Western interests which often reaches the absurd of empowering adversaries of the West against Western allies.
It is a tendency also brought about by Western civilisational individualism, which sees the individual as the base of society (rather than family, clan or ethnicity), therefore requiring equal universal [individual] human rights which are reflected in foreign policy by an unreasonable demand for compliance with values endogenous only to the West.
A responsible and skillful politician would have negotiated a political solution to the conflict in Syria months ago. Populists in election year will stick to demands for unconditional surrender.
The West plays a dangerous game for not only does it force extreme outcomes – instead of middle of the road ones – but it also will be compelled to systematically trust the challengers of the regime: every regime has flaws in its ‘good society’ record – be these in democratic practices or humanitarian standards – whereas the challengers are by definition starting anew and are therefore as innocent as a newborn infant – a politically convenient tabula rasa…
George W. Bush and his acolytes are these days fond of claiming that history will eventually judge the administration of the former American president kindly. This is supposedly especially true of their foreign policy legacy: the “freedom agenda.” They went as far as to claim the “Arab spring” as vindication.
Bush and the neoconservatives are unlikely to ever find their swan song adequately praised in history manuals but by no means is foreign policy out of fashion as far as swan songs go.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency for one was controversial enough but unlike Bush’s, his track record may yet be vindicated.
In France itself, Sarkozy is currently reviled for his collaboration with Germany and toeing the line of “austerity” as far as dealing with Europe’s financial crisis goes. This, too, while more of a domestic legacy may also be vindicated as François Hollande’s reforms seem to amount to a “spare no expense” doctrine in a country on the verge of financial collapse. Then again, that was what he was elected to do.
In terms of foreign policy though, the Sarkozy doctrine should stand as a standard for future foreign policy decision-making. Not only did it promote French business interests; it promoted Paris’ strategic imperatives in the European Union.
Sarkozy had his ups and downs and his tactical populism did not always serve France well. Polemics over the Chinese Olympics for instance were unnecessary and France’s ties with China may have suffered from it. Equally less worthy of praise was the overall reaction to the Arab spring where Sarkozy and his government, while weary of the outcomes of the revolts, still chose the populist path of appealing to the success of the rebellions.
However, in policy arenas from Europe to the United Nations, France was extraordinarily assertive, pragmatic and ultimately efficient.
Facing an ever more independent Germany, Sarkozy chose to safeguard the Berlin-Paris axis as far as European questions were concerned but sought to hedge France’s bets by re-approaching Britain and the United States and reconstituting the Atlantic allies. France rejoined NATO’s political structure—mind you, at a time in which NATO’s political coherence is far from what it once was—thus pleasing its transatlantic ally—and paired with the United Kingdom in a number of industrial, military and geopolitical projects.
Germany, in spite of the French president’s efforts, turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Berlin united with the Central and Eastern European member states to downgrade Sarkozy’s Union for the Mediterranean into a meaningless discussion forum and inefficient member bloated exercise. The original plan, however, had been good. The point was to endow the EU’s southern neighborhood with a Finlandized area of its own. Open to preferential trade with the EU, willing to apprehend European values but devoid of actual membership—tout sauf institutions.
Sadly, Germany’s insistence for the inclusion of all EU member states in the Mediterranean Union would finally prevent it from ever emerging as a meaningful institution. It managed nevertheless to alter the EU’s paradigm of political approach to its southern neighborhood from a post 9/11 belief in promoting normative reform in illiberal regimes, to a more pragmatic and non-interfering engagement.
It was also Germany that prevented an easier French triumph in the Libyan war. France followed its diplomatic victory in Côte d’Ivoire, where it succeeded in replacing the regime with a more reliable one while using relevant international organizations as the Economic Community of West African States and the United Nations, with another impressive diplomatic mobilization of international organizations into adoption of the French narrative in Libya; Paris now being very likely to inherit the preferential commercial and military ties Tripoli used to respectively maintain with Italy and Russia and freed from Muammar Gaddafi’s nefarious influence over Françafrique.
Sarkozy wasn’t shy in advocating a heavy hand against Iran, a state which seeks to undermine Western interests in the Middle East. Along the way, apart from making France a front seat player in the world’s major developments and organizations (two successive French presidents of the International Monetary Fund) Sarkozy was good at securing a ceasefire between Georgia and Russia which for the most part secured the previous status quo (appeased Moscow, cooperative Tbilisi).
The truth is that Nicolas Sarkozy served the French people well in foreign affairs. One hopes that they are sensible enough to apprehend as much.
(Originally published in the Atlantic Sentinel)
It would seem a natural consequence of our belief system that the more egalitarian political system should go hand in hand with the most humane legislation but it may very well be the opposite, the Geneva Conventions may be fundamentally incompatible with a democratic system.
Interestingly, of the 12 original signatories of the first Geneva articles on conduct in armed conflicts, Baden France, Hesse and Prussia were not democracies. Belgium was a democracy on paper but an oligarchy in practice and so was Italy Spain and Portugal. Most importantly the political regime is not mentioned in the Conventions and seemed of little or no importance to the original signatories which should take us to the obvious conclusion that coming out of a Westphalian order, the agreement was between states and not regimes.
This is an essential fact given that according to Clausewitz war is a continuation of politics by other means, while the sacrosanctness of the physical integrity of civilians in armed conflict can only be preserved if they are dispossessed of political power and are therefore ‘innocent’ to the political process in question.
The term ‘innocent’ is important as it is supposed to signify the opposite of ‘sinful’ and is usually applied to individuals who are yet to either experiment sexual relations or the assassination of another human being. In political terms of course it is related to political power, meaning thus those who do not exercise it. However in liberal democracy the political system is representative which means all citizens possess political power to a greater or lesser degree.
If one were to contend representative democracy would preclude equating citizens to politicians, one has but to look at new experiments at direct democracy with referenda or online legislating and initiatives under the scope of universal jurisdiction to bring rulers who waged war to justice for not having respected UN Charter procedure. Saddam Hussein was allegedly targeted because he was the supreme commander of the Iraqi Armed Forces and not because he was part of the military. Well most heads of state/government in democracies are simultaneously commanders-in-chief.
Traditional democratic theory’s view of citizens relation to war is more like that of the Grande Armée which is why some of the most envied systems of democracy in the world still preserve mandatory military service and stockpile weapons to be distributed to reservists in emergency mobilisations. That is the case with Israel, Finland, Switzerland and others.
Why then should a terrorist not target civilians if these have the power to recall their rulers or prevent them from waging war? It is easy to argue that sanctions that target the wider population of a given country are pointless when the regime in question is a dictatorship but if said country is run by a democracy, how then to justify abstaining from collective punishment?
The source of the dilemma is old and two fold: states are not regimes and Europe is not the world. As Edward Luttwak explains, terrorism is a new phenomenon because in the days of old the army held the ‘monopoly of legitimate
violence terror’. No one would challenge an army without expecting retribution and such retribution outside the battlefield was not discriminatory; it targeted insurgents and civilians alike until any challenge was bettered. In fact most invading armies would routinely eradicate an entire city when entering a foreign polity so as to discourage resistance to occupation from the others. The army was the main source of ‘order’ as well as ‘security’. The army was the main source of political legitimacy and therefore also of legitimate political violence, which granted it solely the authority to carry out ’exemplary deterrence’.
This system became peculiar in Europe after the end of the Roman Empire. On one hand the Catholic Church held normative precedence in the whole continent and on the other the feudal system depended not on equal citizenship but rather on unequal social stratification without citizenship rights but only class duties. Harmony was achieved through a chivalrous code which instituted the obligation of feudal vassals to obey and the obligation of feudal lords to protect. In this order with no social mobility, the aristocracy was thus naturally armed both to protect and to oppress and all those of no noble birth had to be defended from other competing ‘war lords’.
This state of affairs was later extrapolated by renaissance writers into what became known in modernity as ‘sovereignty’. Max Weber ending up defining the situation of ‘monopoly of legitimate violence’ by the state. The ‘state’ emanated from Machiavellian concepts which clearly separated domestic from exogenous relationships. The prince was to have absolute power within the state but take care to relate equally to other princes. The interest of the state or raison d’état therefore translates the concerns of its political leadership and bureaucratic apparatus and only at large that of its population. The principality’s militia is to comprise all citizens but receives its orders from the prince, not the citizens.
The chivalrous definition of combatants and non-combatants thus passed into the modern age since it still made no sense to punish the individuals who had little to do with the ultimate political outcome of any military contest. Republicanism and democracy changed this forever as today citizens are an integral part of the political process and in many
demagogic cases, the constant source of decision-making by popularity dependent politicians.
In the rest of the world the masses remained unemancipated and enjoyed only nominal rights until the advent of Pax Occidentalis. In no other society did individualism go so far as to equate all the nationals’ political rights.
The next logical step in the West was then to separate uniformed individuals from non-uniformed but then we reach our contemporary problem of insurgents and terrorists who do not comply with the Geneva Conventions. Are they civilians or military? If we have to ask, the answer is given: they are not ‘innocent’; nor are for that matter the populations that sustain their political activities – Hezbollah in Lebanon being a paradigmatic example. The crux of the problem being of course non-uniformed civilian political constituencies.
The best example of this is the Rwanda genocide: the genocidaires were violating the law but they carried the control of the ‘order’ in the country, not the UN. The peacekeeping forces did have a mandate but even if that mandate had included the provision to ensure the preservation of security in the country and there had been enough peacekeepers they would have had to target ‘
guilty innocent civilians’ and perhaps even have had to exercise ‘exemplary deterrence’ in order to keep the mobs away from the Tutsis as well as from themselves.
Another curiosity would be the case of the Wars of Yugoslav Secession in which this rationale may even play out more interestingly since the secessionists claimed to be acting democratically whereas the Yugoslavs/Serbs were still living under an authoritarian regime. In this case the moral authority as far as war atrocities go, would have to rest primarily with the Serbs who did not declare war nor claimed to be a liberal democracy.
Simply put, one cannot have it both ways: power encompasses responsibility and to have one without the other is a childish delusion. Humanitarian law is not compatible with democracy or any totalitarian system that equates the masses to the political decision-makers (national-socialism). The decision to apply or not the Conventions should then be taken bilaterally on a case by case basis. This would be the only way to assure a modicum of justice and proportionality in any conflict. This of course would mean that any democracy intervening abroad would have to refrain from targeting any civilians, and insurgents devoid of conventional military assets would have to voluntarily accept the new political order of the intervention forces…
This may appear absurd but it would at least be logical, fair and in the interests of both parties – maybe. The alternative is to see terrorists and insurgents get away with murder; at least according to the opinion of those who were opposed to the targeting of Osama bin Laden.
If as rapper Eminem’s song goes ‘words are weapons’, then it is high time for some gun control. A rational stance against Iran’s nuclear program is today the outcome of nothing other than demagoguery.
Many imagined the Obama administration’s approach to the Iranian nuclear program to differ starkly from that of the Bush years and yet it has not: it basically balances holding the Israelis back from a direct attack with cumulative sanctions pressuring the regime into a compromise. The need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is a constant.
Let us closely scrutinize the argument: why would it be negative for Iran to acquire nuclear capability? Because it would deploy nuclear weapons, launch them and engulf the world in a nuclear cataclysm? No, more likely because a nuclear armed Iran would become invulnerable to conventional military attacks. Through a WMD deterrent it would then have the ability to project power throughout the region at will – think Hezbollah times three, a USSR of the Middle East. But the ones most affected by this scenario are not the US, or Europe or even Israel, it is the Arab world. More instability in the Middle East would certainly hurt westerners and their supply of oil but there are alternative suppliers. Israel would feel threatened and might sustain more problems with terrorist organizations or unstable neighbors but for them, this is almost a way of life, and a nuclear Iran would think twice before directly threatening a close US ally. The Arab world and in particular the Persian Gulf monarchies however stand to lose much more as instability in the region might contaminate their own societies: oil being their main source of income any interruption in exports would severely cripple their economies and the possible removal of the western military shield through Iranian pressure, would leave Iran along with Turkey as the remaining regional powers – setting the Arab world back a century to the time of Ottoman Turkey and Arab submission. One should note that unlike Israel, there is little love for Arabs in the West and it would not be unreasonable to expect western electorates to pressure their politicians into disengagement from the region, if the stakes became too high, a sort of post ‘Black Hawk down’ Somalia reflex or even Munich syndrome.
Indeed the Arab world is said to be urging Israel to attack behind closed doors and Wikileaks made public Saudi statements enticing the US to do the same. Why then is the US and Israel on the brink of war with Iran but not a single Arab state? The last time the Gulf monarchies were threatened by an outside power was when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and back then many Arab countries joined the coalition to confront him. What is more, Iran is a much more difficult target for Israel than it is for the monarchies and the US has little appetite and capability for war while its finances are under stress. Arab countries conversely have the geographical ease and the advanced military technology to do so. They also have the economic instruments to manipulate the price of oil should Iran attempt to disrupt the international supply and this is to not even mention that Gulf Arab financial resources pooled together are in much more abundance to sustain a war than Israel’s or America’s.
It should be Saudi Arabia and the GCC making ready for war and threatening Iran rather than Israel or the US. But lets go even further with this rationale: it should be the Arab world pressuring Israel and the Palestinians into a two state solution for the conflict in Palestine, rather than Washington for it is they who are desperate for a counter-weight to Iranian influence and who need a sufficiently intimidating coalition to persuade Iran to negotiate; Israel should be a part of that coalition – and an obvious part at that.
But rhetorical entrapment makes our world a bizarre place to live indeed. Objectively speaking, the Gulf Arabs have little beef with Israel, and Palestine is supremely immaterial to the interests of most Arab states. Yet the plight of the Palestinians has remained on the top of their foreign policy agendas for decades leading to direct wars with Israel and to expensive sponsoring of proxy ones. Nothing was gained from it for the Palestinians or for the Arabs in general and one wonders what would have been gained even if the Arabs had had the upper hand. The Arab world declared a punitive embargo on the West in 1973 to protest the West’s protection of Israel and that led to a push for energy diversification in the west that to this day finds consensus between the left and the right and serves to demonize Arab countries.
All this might have been affordable until now but today it is not some small fledgling nation the Arabs are antagonizing, Iran is a country which represents to them an existential threat. Through their money and lobbying they managed to equip Iraq to fight revolutionary Iran from the onset of the Islamic revolution and along with the West have done their best to politically isolate the ayatollahs. But Iraq is no more and the US is still licking its wounds from its ‘freedom’ campaigns. What time and urgency would better justify recognizing Israel and have it join the anti-Iranian coalition?
It is not like in the case of Greece and Turkey where in spite of both being US allies, adjacent friction will always exist; Israel is far from the Gulf. What is more, it is as well armed as the peninsular monarchies and shares with them a dread of a nuclear Iran.
No, it is the power of words and especially a narrative which has been at play for decades that prevents further cooperation. Anti-western rhetoric dating back to the time of European colonization and Cold War alliances still has an impact on the ‘Arab street’. So too does antisemitic propaganda unleashed after Israel’s successful war for independence, being propagated today in virtually every Arab country through a politically correct anti-Jewish prejudice that Islamic clerics instill rather than combating.
It is not as if Arab leaders don’t know where the national interest of the states they run lies but rather that their hands are tied by the vitriol they themselves financed in the past.
The absurd of the pretense goes to the extent that Americans, Israelis, Europeans and even Iranians have to pretend for the sake of domestic Arab opinion that not only are relations between Arab countries and Iran good but that any Israeli attack using Arab air space would be carried out without authorization.
This absurdity deserves ridicule when one realizes that Arab leaders need secret help from their allies to help protect their own citizens from a conspiracy theory they themselves finance.
A reality check is long overdue on the ‘Arab street’: Israel and Jews are not the enemy nor is the West. Conspiracy theories and the narrative of victimization will not get Palestine independence nor build a credible coalition against Iran.
Sadly this seems to be a corner Arab leaders have backed themselves into and from which Israel and the West are being used to exfiltrate them.
While changes began in the foreign policy domain right from the onset of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government, it was only in his second term and after the nomination of Ahmet Davutoğlu that Turkey’s foreign policy acquired a more “independent” flavor. Until now, Davutoğlu has been lauded for his “zero problem neighborhood” vision but as things stand today, there seems to be little merit for that praise.
Foreign affairs is one of those portfolios with peculiar pros and cons: there can be plenty of popularity gains for a foreign minister, who gets to socialize with international leaders and opinion makers, but there is also the inherent uncertainty of securing results as diplomacy depends on at least two interlocutors and the government he belongs to is but one of them.
That said, it is one thing for a particular diplomatic initiative to founder into political oblivion, it is another altogether to turn a would be close ally into a soon to be mortal enemy as was the case recently in Turkish-Syrian relations.
No one expected diplomats or politicians to predict the Arab spring but when dealing with an authoritarian regime, a crackdown on a potential uprising is a policy option implied in any dictator’s job description. Yet Turkey backtracked in its relations with Damascus.
Before Syria though there was Libya, where Turkey had also attempted to improve relations.
Here Ankara secured several profitable contracts for Turkish companies and Turkish diplomats hoped Libya would become—through the brother leader’s petrodollar sponsored political and charity ties below the Sahara—Turkey’s gateway to Africa.
Erdoğan, the humanitarian who now lectures Bashar al-Assad and Benjamin Netanyahu on human rights, had little compunction in accepting in 2010 the “Muammar Gaddafi Human Rights Award”—which he refused to return even after the Libyan revolt.
Confronted with Libya’s uprising, Turkey’s diplomacy failed to react, resigning itself to merely observing Western powers—from whom it had sought equidistance—breed a rebellion that would destroy the regime Turkey had so patiently cultivated
What could Ankara say? That Turkey had economic interests it wished to safeguard? Surely not as Turkey was then an adamant proponent of human rights after chastising Israel for its treatment of Palestinians in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident. It couldn’t possibly now adopt a pragmatic speech favoring a dictator who referred to his own people as “rats.”
There was also the attempt at multilateral diplomacy in the United Nations Security Council earlier last year, where Turkey teamed up with Brazil to promote an alternate compromise between Iran and the West concerning the former’s nuclear program.
This too failed and Turkey, whose diplomats were rumored to be seeking to include Ankara in a potential Security Council permanent members expansion, was humiliated on the international stage. Both Iran and the West hardened their respective positions and ignored Turkey.
The very Iran that Davutoğlu and Erdoğan had wooed, by remaining largely silent during the Green movement’s protests against the ayatollahs, by promoting bilateral trade while the West embargoed and by engaging Islamist movements such as Hamas, rewarded Turkey’s “friendship” by supporting Syria’s crackdown, in defiance of the Turkish Government’s appeals for reform, and by promoting in Iraq a government headed by the Shī’ah Nouri Al-Maliki against Ankara’s preferred Sunni candidate Ayad Allawi.
Maliki is another problem as Iraq has been publicly supportive of Assad and was even touted to mediate between Syria and the West. Iraq, a country until recently half occupied by American troops and Iranian agents; a country just barely rebuilding its economic infrastructure, is now apparently more influential in the Middle East than Turkey.
Still, the Middle East is a tough neighborhood and surely Ankara’s goodwill would have paid off in less tumultuous surroundings. If it did though, it was not in Europe in spite of the fact that Davutoğlu has travelled extensively and worked tirelessly to bring to fruition his new foreign policy vision.
Apart from the all but suspended—courtesy of France and Germany—accession bid to the European Union, Ahmet Davutoğlu enacted a “football diplomacy” with Armenia to mend ties and ease tensions, visited Greece offering to delay Turkey’s pursuit of Greek debt as a good faith gesture and developed links with the Russian defense and energy industries.
Of course what was gained with Russia was disparaged when Turkey decided to hold military exercises with China outside of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s purview, sidelining Moscow, and more recently by seeking to isolate Syria against Russia’s wishes.
Relations with Armenia have gone nowhere largely because of the same old obstacles which had prevented it before—the unwillingness to recognize the Armenian genocide and Turkey’s preference for its fellow Turkic Azeris in any conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Finally, Greece has shown its appreciation for Turkish openings by continuing to support Greek Cyprus in its political and energetic disputes with Turkey and by moving quickly to sign mutual defense guarantees with Israel following the Israeli-Turkish rift.
Bad blood between Tel Aviv and Ankara is also not entirely one sided in blame. The Israeli commandos did lose their cool on board the Mavi Marmara (right) but Erdoğan milked the media outrage over the flotilla deaths as much as he could and moved quickly to identify Israel as a “regional threat”—hardly the actions of an ally and far from the proper reaction to what was always described as a “diplomatic incident.”
One should, on the other hand, not assign the onus for strained American-Turkish relations to the AKP Government. The United States Congress’ recognition of the Armenian genocide and the Bush Administration’s failure to curb the activities of Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan were what caused the strain. But if anyone deserves credit for repairing them, that someone is President Barack Obama, who made Turkey a personal priority, not Prime Minister Erdoğan.
When confronted by such principles as national interest and balance of power being applied by its interlocutors, Turkey’s “zero problem neighborhood” doctrine has been found wanting. Time now for some reflection on the part of Ankara’s leadership and those who made its case.
(Originally published in the Atlantic Sentinel)
There is a narrative at work. Man has evolved from a savage uncivilised species to a level of sophistication which is today best exemplified by the Western world. This view of history is linear, it allows only for Hegelian progress and it is also ethnocentric since it makes Europe and America the leaders of human progress. Huntington’s “Western civilization” concept reflects this view.
When large political upheavals take place, most of the commentariat resorts in a pavlovian fashion to this narrative to explain them. Thus is the case with all the series of revolutions since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Velvet Revolutions, the Colour Revolutions and now the Arab Spring are all framed as being just one more step in the world’s adaptation to the Western concept of society and civilization. But are they?
If that were the case would they all happen to happen in Europe’s periphery? We have not seen dominos fall in sub-Saharan Africa, in South Asia or in the Far East.
The truth as British historian Timothy Garton Ash puts it is that:
“One might suggest that the best chances are to be found in semiauthoritarian states that depend to a significant degree, politically, economically and, so to speak, psychologically, on more democratic ones—and most especially when the foreign states with the most passive influence or active leverage on them are Western democracies”.
NATO states gave their best efforts to influence the elites of the Central and Eastern European states during the Cold War. Propaganda and subversion activities aside, even if very few of these intellectuals actually visited the West, Western books and culture were predominant in the world and therefore also to a degree, behind the Iron Curtain. It is no surprise that Western influence continued to be felt in spite of Soviet censure since that had always been the case prior to the Cold War. Russian, Polish or Serb elites had always drifted westwards in search of inspiration and that did not change with the old continent’s division in ideological blocs.
The same holds true for the colour revolutions in Russia’s “Near Abroad.”
What to make of the Arab Spring? Unfortunately the same. It is not just a matter of European neighbours being demographically bigger and economically stronger, it is also the fact that the international narrative is dominated by European encultured states and societies: Europeans have colonised most of the world and the cultural standard is today a socially liberal, free market economy oriented, democratically ruled nation state.
Phenomena such as brain drain and soft power only further emphasize this tendency. Where do the wealthiest and brightest Arabs study and obtain their entertainment if not in Europe and America? Sayyid Qutb sensed this very phenomenon and called it Jahiliyyah—referring to the prevalent “ignorance” prior to Islamic rule to categorise a contemporary corruption from within which hinders Islamic values.
What is important to understand is not that Western values are wrong but that they aren’t absolute. They may make sense to Westerners but not necessarily to other cultures and it is wrong to frame every political struggle as a conflict aiming at emulating the West. This has been done before by the Orientalists who analysed eastern cultures only by holding them to a Western standard.
The consequence of this narrative is a growing décalage between the perception of reality and reality itself. Al Jazeera is a perfect example of a corporate culture which is embedded with graduates of European and American universities and which covered the Arab Spring—and the terminology here is telling—as a struggle for democracy and liberalism, as if the values of the nonsecular protestors who prayed in Tahrir Square were reason for shame.
The mishaps of this décalage are evident in all of these cycles of revolution with socially conservative and illiberal parties and politicians “surprisingly” emerging in Central and Eastern Europe and the Arab world. Who knew that the same people who toppled dictators were prejudiced against homosexuals and Jews? Antisemitism, euroscepticism, homophobia or misogeny are just some of the most depressing gifts that media such as Al Azhar magazine or the Polish Radio Maria, bring us from these revolutions.
The most direct effect is counterrevolution and reactionary movements which view Western intervention and influence as intrusion in domestic affairs and turn to Moscow or Beijing for investment, trade and strategic relations.
Liberal elites are frequently the vanguard of revolutions in the West’s periphery but the people these intellectuals claim to speak for and liberate don’t often identify themselves with their Washington Consensus agendas. The Arab revolts cannot be Twitter or Facebook revolutions when most Arabs don’t use the Internet, much less in English, and they should never have been portrayed as liberal democratic revolutions when those values are indigenous only to Europe and European colonised territories.
(originally published in the Atlantic Sentinel)