In recent years the general foreign policy positioning of the states of the Western world has become increasingly isolationist. Such an orientation has been centred on the premise, now popular in public opinion, that political interference inside violence-ridden and poverty stricken countries (more often than not in African or the Middle East) rarely solves the original problems and instead creates new ones. Related to this is the perception that Western interference actually creates new enemies, often out of ones that have been imagined in order to fulfil neo-colonialist objectives.
Looking back to the 1990s reveals why it may be expected to feel such anxiety, and also why the emergence of such an isolationist foreign policy must be argued against both tooth and nail. In 1993 the US military failure in Mogadishu caused the US government to turn inwards in its foreign policy concerns. By 1994, this defeat in Somalia proved central in the decision for the US to not provide force or funding in defence of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis, who as result were slaughtered by Hutu ethnic minority in the Rwandan genocide. The defeat in 1993 had damaged US confidence in their global role and as a result the cost of an intervention in Rwanda for the US, both human and economic, became more significant than the desire to prevent the predictable large-scale slaughter of the Tutsis.
The failures in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 also led Western powers to turn away from the actions of President Omar al-Bashir, who imposed war, starvation and disease on the black Africans of Sudan. The Western powers sat by with their confidence to intervene in another African country rattled by accusations of neo-colonialism and unilateralism. Thus, instead, Kofi Annan and UN diplomacy was relied upon – diplomacy that was so tardy as to allow for the miserably premature deaths of some 300,000 black Africans between 2003 and 2010.
It is well established that both human tragedies could have been avoided if such an isolationist foreign policy had not been pursued by the Western powers. Yet in 2012, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become recognised as failures, this policy is not only increasingly applied to current conflicts but also the civil wars of Sudan and Syria, as well as the potential blood bath centred on the Iranian theocracy.
The planned 2014 troop withdrawal in Afghanistan is a key example of how this isolationist foreign policy is now being realized. A full troop withdrawal will be a disaster and a defeat for the Western powers at the hands of the Taliban. Being able to declare victory against the West will rejuvenate the Taliban, as it was victory over the ‘weak-willed’ and ‘corrupt’ US that they long propagandized and used as a source of recruitment for their cause. With such a re-inspired Taliban Afghanistan will collapse into a second civil war and without the support of the US troops one can hardly see Karzai making it out. Moreover a withdrawal will mean, much like in the case of Rwanda that US troop and economic losses are no longer a price worth paying. But if this is to be the case than it also means that the West has completely lost sight of why they went into Afghanistan in the first place: to remove Al-Qaida and to remove the violent rule of the Taliban. If they still had sight of this goal the continuance of the battle of US troops against the Taliban, the great abettor of Al-Qaida, would be a price worth paying. Particularly when one considers that during the War in Afghanistan ISAF losses have been relatively few; 1972 American military personal have lost their lives in 11 years of conflict, whereas Al-Qaida killed, in the space of a few hours, 2,997 civilians in New York in 2001.
In Sudan the West’s desire to turn inwards is also allowing the Islamic North Sudan to continue its cleansing mission of its black-African population. In Syria the lack of will to intervene is clearly allowing Assad to continue with the indiscriminate shelling of Syrian towns and cities resulting in what has been estimated to be 26,000 dead. In both these cases removal of both Assad and Bashir (the latter is wanted for crimes against humanity by the ICC) is a step in the right direction.
In Iran too, the West must be careful not to look self-loathingly inwards and the increasingly popular demand that Iran should have the right to its own nuclear weapons must be dismissed. This is because, suspiciously, Iran does not claim that it wants to even build a nuclear weapon, while simultaneously refusing cooperation with the IAEA. But at the basic level, should a country which rules through despotism and tyranny, has both a supreme leader who declares that Israel should ‘vanish from the arena of time’ and a president who shouts that Israel is a ‘cancerous tumour that must be uprooted’, be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon? I ask you, should such a country have a nuclear weapon as its disposal?
In all these cases – Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and Sudan – the idea that the West is to follow through with a isolationist or non-involved foreign policy causes me a great deal of anxiety, because it seems likely that this may be the path that is followed in the coming years. This policy leaves us to rely upon the inert diplomacy of the UN to settle these conflicts. But the worst of our enemies do not rely upon such diplomacy and are instead in direct confrontation with Western civilization and its free expression, its rights for women and its secularism, and all of the fruits that follow. If we look inwards and claim that it is our own governments who are the actual bad guys, we may risk losing all of this. The consequences of Western isolationism will inevitably result in many more innocents dying in Syria and Sudan and the forces of terrorism being handed the victory for the Taliban in Afghanistan.