by Rob Marchant
As if it were not enough that the EU’s two principal member states – in the form of their leaders, François Hollande and Angela Merkel – spent much of the last few weeks happily handing to Vladimir Putin parts of another European country on a plate in return for “peace”, chickens have now come home to roost in another benighted country only a few hundred miles from the EU.
It was not, as some have tried to maintain against all logic, that the West intervened in Libya and provoked a reaction against it. It was self-evidently that it did not intervene enough. In timidly restricting itself to a no-fly zone, it did not remotely attempt to help set up a functioning democratic state in the aftermath or prevent a power vacuum being filled by jihadists. In fact, NATO left early, against the wishes of the new government.
It is by now painfully obvious that wherever there is unrest in the Muslim world, jihadists will not be slow in moving in. The trick is not to let them get established. Proactive, not reactive; a stitch in time.
There is very little about Iraq on which critics and supporters of intervention agree, but most would concede that the Allies carried out a fairly effective military action and then botched the peace. For all the current crop of world leaders criticised their predecessors over that episode, it didn’t stop them repeating the exact same error in Libya.
By the time it got to Syria, of course, the alliance which had helped free Libya of Gaddafi had lost its appetite even for that kind of limited, genocide-preventing intervention. Hear no evil, see no evil. And what was the result of that? Well, genocide, naturally: 220,000 dead and counting.
Syria was also memorable because it largely spelt the end of David Cameron’s pretensions to world statesmanship. He heard the whispers of his backwoods backbenchers; he saw mixed feelings in the country; he felt the breath of UKIP isolationists on the back of his neck, and he was sore afraid.
Since then, he has often talked a good game. Rather than joining in the Merkel-Hollande farrago, he has at least uttered words of defiance towards Vladimir Putin and sent military advisers to the Ukraine. But his heart is not in it, and he knows that without support from the White House there is little more he can do.
And so, two highly dangerous forces lie at the gates of the European Union: one eyeing it with sly, colonial ambitions and one with merely an unfocused, burning hatred of the people living within its borders. While Britain, Europe and America look on.
It is not that the barbarians are at the gate. They are practically in the living room and helping themselves to your mother’s silver service.
Cameron is not looking like initiating serious action on either of these fronts. But, at some point, one imagines that some long-buried patriotic spirit may get the better of him, as it finally dawns on him and his party that the peace and prosperity Europe has enjoyed these last seventy years might just not last indefinitely, if it continues to feed the bullies and turn a blind eye to the murderous mob.
As for the modern Labour Party, it’s hard to be sure even of that level of commitment. Our foreign policy seems best defined as having started like Cameron’s, only waxing gradually more feeble as time goes on.
Miliband backed Cameron over the original Libya bombing. He did not over Syria. On the Ukraine he has been remarkably quiet. Whilst hardly directly to blame for Putin’s boldness, as some idiot Tories averred, that action certainly contributed to the general isolationist apathy gripping the White House and the chancelleries of Europe. The signals these actors have sent over recent years have hardly said, we are here and we mean business. It has been rather, here’s my dinner money and I’ll be bringing more tomorrow.
We are not in power, of course, but we could conceivably be soon. Once upon a time, a Labour front bench might have argued for internationalism and solidarity with the downtrodden. We could really do with some of that now.
And that is not just because it is the right thing to do: it is also, to be brutal, about enlightened self-interest. Because tied up in the position of isolationism is the arrogance and foolhardiness of thinking it can never be you.
Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left