In a turbulent international political scene, Western interventionism in the Middle East, to the end of promoting democracy, has long been a constant And to this end, the West employs the twin tools of diplomacy and military strength. What factors decry the use of one, rather than another? The tipping point defining the change from diplomatic intervention to a militant one is dictated by three factors: presence of oil, extent of trade or weapon proliferation. If these three matters are involved with the area in which the West might intervene, the situation has potential for global consequences, and as such the West has used force in the past based on these three criteria. Failing the direct involvement of the issues highlighted, diplomatic sanctions have been, and should be, the extent to which the West pursues democracy in the Middle East. To reach this synthesis it is fundamental to understand that the two regions are bound, and how this bond’s dynamic influences the tipping point.
Crucial to intervention is the location: the definition of the Middle East and of the West is of key importance. It was the Ancient Assyrians in the 2nd millennium B.C.E. who first concisely divided the East as aish (lands of the rising sun) and the West iribh (lands of the setting sun). With the march of centuries, the ‘Orient’ came to signify the area of land from the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea to the China Sea a definition it is interesting to note was challenged by the Ottoman Empire capturing Constantinople, and knocking on the doors of Vienna, in 1529. The modern terms of a ‘Near’ and ‘Middle East’ – East of Europe and West of India – and the ‘Far East’ – lands beyond India, were forged during the British occupation of India in the 19th century. Throughout history the flux of boundaries – consequently of people – has resulted in an intermingling of societies and beliefs leading to an axial diffusion of culture. This evidences one conclusion: intervention between the East and the West is nothing new though geography and history explain merely the link, and not, the direction of the bond. Why does the West intervene in the East, and not the other way around?
Because of history. History explains the existing asymmetry of Western-Middle Eastern relations. More particularly the Greco-Persian war, fought between the city-states of Greece and the Achaemenid Empire of Persia, began a process of defining the relationship between the two hemispheres, in a way that is still evolving. From 499 B.C.E. to 449 B.C.E. the Greco. Persian war was a clash of cultures. due to social, economic and religious stimuli. It was the politics however, which was then, as now, the catalyst to war. Fundamentally whilst the East worked as an autocratic system, the West proposed a meritocratic democracy. In the ancient world Greece saw its fight as between monarchy and democracy in the words of the 6th century B.C.E. Athenian, Cleisthenes. In the East, subjects were property – Persians and Parathions recognized the ‘individual’ only as far as their making up the nation – according to Herodotus’ Histories who contrast this to the ideals of a ‘polis’ which would later be transferred into citizenship by the Romans. The East and West are divided, in short, by cultural politics. The defeat of the Ottomans during the siege of Vienna, in 1529 closed a chapter in the book of history, and whilst the relationship continues to evolve, it is the West which now dictates terms to the East. This dynamic is vitally important to the extent to which the West should support democracy in the East. Western ascendancy means, that, on the world stage, it is Western policy which predominates – making oil, trade and armament proliferation the key issues of the 21st century. In so much as they are the most important matters of policy they dictate the extent of consequence to a situation – the more of these factors which are involved, the greater the consequence as more Western interests are affected.
The first element of why there exists an entwinement between East and West understood, a second element is necessary to identify the limit the West should pose on its intervention on behalf of democracy in the Middle East by looking at past case studies and what they show. Thus, the Afghanistan war in 2001 and the Iraqi war in 2003 support the hypothesis that the West should only intervene for democracy in the Middle East, as long as it is doing so to further the three principles outlined. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were aimed respectively at rooting out the Taliban and accessing vast reserves of oil. It is here suggested that success was resultant due to the preceding causes of going to war. In Afghansitan, war has been ongoing since 1978. Afghansitan is a strategically important country due to the twin factors of location and resources. Conflict over the country commenced during the Cold War era with the Christmas invasion of 1979 by the Russians – then the USSR – seeking to aid the flagging Saur Revolutionaries, a newly empowered party strongly sympathetic to communism countries, against the disillusioned militant group, the mujahdeen armed by the USA. The USSR withdrew in February of the following year and the regime lasted until the 1992 fall of Kabul. The government which arose was in turn however, under attack from the Taliban which the USA sought to eliminate to restore order. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein, head of the ruling Ba’ath Party held Iraq in an iron fist. Vast numbers of citizens suffered under groups such as “Saddam’s Dirty Dozen” – later prosecuted for multiple breaches of human rights. The despotic regime has been estimated to have cost the lives of some one million people. April 1991 saw the Kurds, an ethnic minority of the country, rebel due to their poor treatment with the resutl that some 150,000 are believed to have been killed. Three years earlier, the An-Anfal campaign saw a cruel clampdown to secure Saddam’s grip over the country, estimated by some sources to have resulted in 200,000 dead civilians. Nevertheless, Saddam Hussein was captured on the 5th November 2006 and hanged after trial on the 30th December 2006. As the Afghanistan war is still ongoing, in Iraq the last US soldiers left the country on the 18th December 2011. Both of these invasions however, had secondary principles. In Iraq, Bush liberated their oil fields which the UN, with sanction 986, limited with the Oil for Food program; imposed after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Incidentally, Iraq is believed to hold 60% of the world’s known oil reserves. In Afghanistan it was the destruction of the twin towers in New York, on September 11th 2001, causing the death of some 3,000 people which led to the declaration of war, over and above what was said to be the bringing of democracy to the region. It is an admirable thing, to seek to bring democracy to a region, however, it is not one of the three factors, and as such, is a case in point as to when to turn to arms.
So why do nations only seem to succeed when their aims are at their most selfish? In actual fact the argument could be said that the three criteria suggested – oil, trade and weapon propagation – are the only way to ascertain whether a situation is important enough to warrant intervention. They are a tick list. If oil, trade or weapons are in the balance then military force in the West’s intervention is justified to use force, if not the persecution of democracy should remain diplomatic or sanction based. They define a tipping point because these three elements have an outfall that has the potential of being global in consequence. On the other hand, regional disputes do not necessitate military force to aid democracy. Instead, in these situations militant intervention is entirely negative. The Palestinian-Israel dispute over the Gaza Strip is partly due to the Palestinian attempt to achieve governance of their own land, and partly due to Israeli fear of Islamic fundamentalism. And despite intervention by the United States, a traditional ally of Israel – who has given $1.8 billion in military aid against the Palestinians – the situation is has yet to be resolved. The 2007 to present blockade of Gaza evidences this failure.
Finally the current situation must be understood if one is to reach a conclusion as to how far the West should interfere in the East. The advent of the ‘Arab Spring’ as initiated on the 17th December 2010 by Mohamed Bouazizi burning himself in protest at the treatment he received at the hands of local police enforcers, dying in the subsequent days is the boiling over of tension in vast swathes of the Middle East. Regime changes have occurred in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The fall of Mubarak, Gaddaffi and Ben Ali are all brought about by the people, without the intervention of Western powers such as the UK, France or Germany. To some extent the failure to outright support the movements has led to criticism of several leading presidents, such as the Obama administration by Noam Chomsky, a hardliner social liberal. This thesis holds no ground however; no large scale slaughter has taken place and the regimes that have been set up after the fallen dictators have received positive support from the world wide relations infrastructure. Slow reforms have, especially in Egypt caused further unrest, as the civilian President, Essam Sharaf is not thought to have instigated reforms to the extent which they are necessary. This however, is a fallacy: it is not the reforms which have not come fast enough; it is simply the people ensuring that the symbol of the revolution and the voice of democracy in the Middle East continue to be heard. Given that the Egyptians have had six decades of successive authoritarian rule; the people have no other way of expressing themselves.
Yet the above is not strictly true. The West did in fact, interfere militarily in Libya with NATO first issuing Resolution 1973 creating a no-fly zone, with the United States and the United Kingdom launching Operations Odyssey Dawn and Ellamy respectively launching some 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles on 20 integrated air defence systems. These events highlight an exception, or a condition as you will, to the three rules of when diplomatic intervention should switch to martial. And this is if the people ask it – the vox populi. The voice of the people, or Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ‘General Will’, is the ultimate declaration, overriding any factors notwithstanding a rational integrity behind armed intervention. In this way, the Arab Spring proves the three principles of diplomatic intervention change to martial by showing how successfully democracy may be promoted, in the absence of fighting. It is perhaps ironic that recent events prove that, when dealing with democracy, the first rule whether military intervention should proceed, is listing to the people.
It is thus logical to conclude that the West should intervene in support of democracy in the Middle East in all situations diplomatically though said intervention should turn marital only if global issues are in the balance, which, due to current Western ascendancy are oil, trade and weapon diffusion. Should these issues be involved, the possible outcomes have the potential to reach throughout the world and as such, Western intervention should go as far as diplomacy, and sanctions, only reaching war should the criteria be met. It is a narrower view, one which ascribes the military intervention of the West in the East merely in situations which promise to balance out the cost. The cost is not the underlying factor, rather it is the nature of ‘escalation’ which proves the factor that decides Western interventionism.
guns, germs and steel: a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years, Jared Diamond, Vintage 2005
World’s at War, The 2500 Year Struggle Between East and West, Anthony Pagden, Audible, Narrated by John Lead, Harmony Books Random Books 2008
After Tamerlane: the Rise & Fall of Global Empires, 1400 – 2000, John Darwin, Penguin Books 2007
The Clash of Ideas, Foreign Affairs January / February 2012 –
Volume 91, Number 1
The Week, The Best of the British and Foreign Media, benhamgoodheadprint –
Issues 805 – 807