Clem Sunter

The futility of intervention

2013-08-16 12:00

Clem Sunter

It does seem a long time ago that we were praising the Arab Spring. The mainstream TV news networks had all those gurus pronouncing that the Arab world was on the edge of a new dawn and about to embrace Western-style democracy. Obama was upbeat, so was Cameron and so was the diplomatic community generally. The UN gave its blessing and we all looked forward to new constitutions, free and fair elections and a new generation of democratically elected leaders.

Now the dream has disappeared in the wake of recent events in Egypt with its elected leader under house arrest and the military using force to disperse his supporters in Cairo. It is interesting that the TV networks still refer to the interim unelected government in Egypt as a government whereas the Syrian government has been downgraded to a regime. It is about as good as an indicator as you can get of whether or not Western support has been removed completely. Once you are a regime, the only international backing of substance you can hope for is Russia and China.

Where have all those hopeful gurus gone? Back into their shells everyone. They had the arrogance to think that Western ideologies would prevail because the latter are so self-evidently correct. None of them looked back into history to test their beliefs. For a start, the concept of a nation state with crisply defined borders is a relatively modern one. Back in the Middle Ages, groups like the Monguls, the Goths, the Celts and the Ottomans had shifting territories that they called their own. Even the Greek and Roman empires expanded and contracted around the central cities of Athens and Rome. People moved around. Then along came those Victorian-era enthusiasts who decided to compartmentalise the world according to their own power-bases, whims and notions. They carved up Africa, the Middle East and other regions along totally arbitrary lines. You got your own spot and that was it.

We now live with their legacy of stupidity. Yet Americans and their allies are wanting to repeat these divine-like interventions with campaigns of their own. Iraq is a disaster and so is Afghanistan. Yes, there has not been another 9/11 but at what price to the inhabitants of those two countries. The Syrian civil war continues unabated despite partisan support for the rebels. Do Western diplomats really believe that Syria is going to develop into an unblemished Westminster-style democracy after the war is over? Are they convinced that Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are going to follow the same route?

Come on. One of the great blessings of mankind is that different groups have different propensities when it comes to the most effective form of leadership to take them to the next level. Remember the saying: different strokes for different folks. An inconvenient truth for democrats is that the nation that has advanced the most economically in the last 35 years is China which is a one-party, authoritarian system. The leadership there has taken 400 million people out of desperate poverty which is more than the entire American population.

Please don't think that I am arguing for dictatorship, however benevolent, over democracy. I was brought up in the UK to question everything and I would hate to toe the line behind any political master. It is why I like South Africa because, despite many deficiencies, it is a no-holds-barred debating society.

No, what I really resent is the type of Western superiority which leads to futile interventions into the internal affairs of other countries and resulting in a much reduced quality of life for the citizens of those countries - sometimes total misery. Even more insulting to our intelligence is the way the supposedly independent international news networks report slavishly on these interventions and follow his master's voice in deciding when a government should no longer be called a government but a regime. Thank heavens there are other news channels and social media networks against which one can balance this propaganda.

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