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Last Act in the Mideast

Article by Andrew Bacevich.

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Ever since Britain and France set out to dismember the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago, the West has been engaged in an incoherent, haphazard, episodic, but more or less relentless effort to impose its will on the Middle East. Methods have varied. Sometimes the “infidels” have employed overt force. At other times they have relied on covert means, worked through proxies, or recruited local puppets.

The purposes offered to justify Western exertions have likewise varied. With empire falling into disfavor, the pursuit of imperial aims has required conceptual creativity. Since 1945 resistance to communist subversion, a professed antipathy for brutal dictators, support for international law, and an enthusiasm for spreading freedom have all been pressed into service (albeit selectively) to legitimize outside intervention. Today’s “responsibility to protect” extends this tradition, offering the latest high-minded raison d’être for encroaching on the sovereignty of Middle Eastern states whenever the locals behave in ways that raise Western ire.

Underlying this great variety of methods and professed motivation, two things have remained constant across the decades. The first is an assumption: that Arabs, Persians, Afghans, and the like are incapable of managing their own affairs, leaving the West with no choice but to act in loco parentis, setting rules and enforcing discipline. The second is a conviction: that somehow, some way, the deft application of Western power will eventually fix whatever ails the region.

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