The recent deaths of hundreds of migrants from North Africa looking for better lives in Europe should serve as the death knell of post war Western foreign policy and a wake up call for Europe’s leaders.
Since the end of the World War 2, Europe has taken a back seat in international affairs and Western foreign policy has been dominated by the United States. This is not surprising given the actions of many European countries during the war. Germany shoulders most of the blame of course but not many European countries come out well from a close examination of their roles in the events leading up to The Holocaust. Italy Changed sides, France collaborated and Spain sat the war out under a fascist regime. The UK and France ignored the plight of Czechoslovakia and was only dragged in through treaty obligation with Poland.
Yes, the United States turned up late and only after it had been attacked, but, as the major Western victor, the U.S. went on to provision and garrison a decimated continent and confront an expansionist Soviet Union. When the USSR imploded the U.S. considered itself the world’s only hyper-power and continued to dominate the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Perhaps stung by guilt or just accustomed to a free ride, Europe was content to allow the United States to govern international affairs in its own back yard. Any kindling of democracy in Arab countries was snuffed out and dictatorships were propped up as bulwarks against the Soviets Union to maintain the flow of oil. But this pax-Americana this may be drawing to an end.
Recent events have shown Western policy in North Africa and the Middle East to have been a monumental cock up. Dictators propped up by the United States have being overthrown but stable governments seem a long way off. As always Western politicians project Western values onto the struggles in Muslim countries. The upheaval in Syria, we’re told, is evidence of a freedom loving people struggling for democracy against an oppressive dictator. As is often the case, our politicians are TALKING BOLLOCKS! The real situation is that ethnic factionalism now prevails. Christians, Kurds, Alawites, Shia and Sunnis fight, not for democracy, but to resist domination by the other groups. The decades old taboo against redrawing borders in Africa was broken in 2011 when South Sudan became independent and one has to wonder if the states created as European empires crumbled can last much longer.
If all this had occurred when America was strong and committed to the region it would have been bad enough but high oil prices make widespread shale oil and gas economic and the U.S. is heading for energy independence. The West, including the United States, is in massive debt and there is a real isolationist streak to the U.S. Republican Tea Party movement who seem content to risk the stability of the international economy to prevent a fairly basic health care package.
Even if it were not for the mad hatters of the Tea Party, the United States has bigger fish to fry and has announced a “pivot” toward the Pacific in an undeclared, but obvious, attempt to confront a rising China.
Relations with Iran may be easing but Syria is in flames and a refugee crisis in Lebanon goes barely reported. In Russia, a leader of dubious legitimacy swaggers with new found energy wealth. The business of revolution goes unfinished in Egypt, Algeria and Libya and the Gulf State oligarchies only maintain comparative stability by guns and oil funded handouts. The West is widely disliked by Islamic populations and a militant Israel sits right in the middle continually goading the Palestinians by expanding settlements.
Europe considers that none of this is its problem and should all be laid at the door of the United States. The trouble with this argument is that the door of the United States is four thousand miles away but the blaze is just across the Mediterranean.
The British bemoan the privatization of the Royal Mail and French worry about the provenance of their cheese but the world was not fixed in amber by the industrial revolution and it is not the fetishized institutions of the 20th century which need protecting but the strength of the European economy and the security of its international relations.
The post war era is over and the World has changed. Europe is now a region in massive debt, with a comparatively feeble military, a humanitarian catastrophe on their doorstep and a non existent foreign policy.
Last week we heard about a boat full of refugees from Syria and Palestine sinking while attempting to escape a land in flames. We should expect many more.