More Western Meddling Afoot

Amid exaggerated estimates of imminent Western decline relative to the Asian countries, comes the urge to meddle in other countries’ affairs by US and EU politicians looking for roles, especially ones involving lots of foreign travel.  Thankfully, the UK Foreign Minister, William Hague, looks likely to keep Britain out of further Middle East entanglements.

How the present upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East will pan out, nobody, not even the people who live there, can possibly tell.  What is certain however is those like ex US State Governor Richardson, calling for dramatic steps to reward “democracy” by some sort of Marshall plan for the region, or Baroness Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, going to Cairo to “nurture” democracy, will at best be ignored, but more likely simply irritate many of the 340 million people who live there.

Although not uniformly distributed of course, the Middle East is awash with cash and through the various “sovereign wealth” funds busy buying up Western assets, the majority in the USA.  Is it not disheartening for main street USA to have to listen to calls from politicians “close to President Obama” for yet more overseas commitments, when the US is mired in an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, the “democratic” outcomes from Iraq are uncertain to say the least, and the US is unable or unwilling to enforce the barest minimum requirements for peace on its client state Israel.  (It has just vetoed a UN declaration that Jewish settlements on the West Bank are illegal.)  It also has trade and fiscal deficits comparable with the UK’s in per capita terms, over 15 million of its people out of work, and an actual foreign tragedy right on its doorstep in Haiti.

This irresistible urge to meddle in other people’s affairs on the part of Western politicians, accompanied by high-minded sermons on the benefits of electoral democracy, is more to do with their own under-employment than with a deep concern underpinned by actual knowledge of the people they claim to want to help.

At the conclusion of the first official mission from India to Afghanistan in 1808, the British agent who led the mission reported to the Governor-General of India that he, Mountstuart Elphinstone, had no doubts that Kabul and Kandahar could be captured, but as for maintaining a particular chieftain as Emir in a “poor, cold, remote country among a turbulent people like the Afghans, I own it seems to be hopeless.  I never knew a close alliance between a civilised and an uncivilized state that did not end in mutual hatred in three years.”  What is so different today?

But while the advice given 30 years later by the Duke of Wellington, victor of Waterloo and actually conqueror of much of India, was for Britain not to involve itself in Afghanistan, this advice was ignored by the politicians and press of the day (1838) and led on over the following 4 years to the biggest unredeemed disaster to British arms and prestige in the whole 400 year history of the Empire with the exception of Yorktown in 1781.

One hundred and seventy years later we see the same disaster being played out by the US-led coalition for identical reasons, all knowable in advance.

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One Response to “More Western Meddling Afoot”

  1. Richard Rawsthorn says:

    Dear Sir,

    In the 19th century there was no need to attack Afghanistan. It was doing Britain no harm and defeating it would have done no good. It was different at the beginning of the 21st century because Afghanistan under Taliban control was being used as a base for attacks on Britain and the USA. If nothing else, invading Afghanistan has stopped large-scale terrorist attacks for the time being.

    As to the future, despite Allied efforts, Afghanistan is unlikely to become a genuine democracy anytime soon. As soon as we leave the Taliban and the terrorists will be back again. What we ought to do is the same as we did in the tribal homelands in NW Pakistan up to Independence: simply stop the tribesmen from becoming a threat. That meant an indefinite military commitment and I think we ought to accept the need for the same in Afghanistan now.

    Yours faithfully,
    Richard Rawsthorn

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