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Off to War, Again

Whenever a British government announces that ‘we are going to war’ in the Middle East – this time to bomb Islamic State, or whatever it calls itself this week – I find myself wondering for the umpteenth time who it is we currently think of as our ‘friends’ in the region and who it is that we can indisputably consider our ‘enemies’. 

I have never come up with a satisfactory answer because I’m pretty sure there isn’t one.

Perhaps the American and British governments know.  They claim to, but in determining who should be doing what to whom, frankly they don’t have a stellar record.

In the Middle East, ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ are simply terms of commercial convenience.   The ‘friends’ are those countries that supply us (‘The West’) with oil and use the proceeds to buy expensive weapons, which of course we are only too delighted to sell them to sustain their regimes and our economies.  We are even glad, on that basis, to call them ‘allies’. 

The current ‘alliance’ partners – the quotation marks are tiresome but necessary – are ranged, alongside the United States, Britain and some European countries against IS.  They include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.  (We have to love Qatar for reasons other than oil-for-weapons: the next football World Cup will be held there, courtesy of FIFA’s masterly global deployment of bulging brown envelopes.) 

If these countries are our friends, one is tempted to ask why we need enemies. Each is appallingly and irredeemably medieval – as T.E. Lawrence says in the film a “cruel and barbarous people”.  Each treats women as sex slaves.  Each has a human rights record that even the Spanish Inquisition would find repulsive.  Each has used its oil proceeds to fund the very terrorist bands against which they and The West are now launching air strikes.  The ‘allies’ have joined us in punitive action because apparently they now fear the very monsters they helped to create.     

But before mocking them for this, let’s first recall that the United States spent billions funding the Mujahedin during the Russian occupation and then finished up fighting the same people, by then known as the Taliban, when it became America’s turn (and Britain’s) to occupy the country.

I haven’t mentioned Iran because I’m not sure whether that equally benighted and oppressed country is currently classified as friend or foe.  The western powers still have sanctions in place, but a few weeks back there were reports of back-door diplomatic moves, designed to produce some kind of understanding that Iran be allowed to develop a ‘peaceful’ nuclear programme so long as it stopped threatening Israel.  It seems to be working – but next week, who knows?   Meanwhile, Iran exists in some kind of diplomatic purgatory. 

I’ve no idea whether IS poses the kind of threat that to the West that the United States and other governments tell us it does.  Arguably, air strikes raise rather than diminish that threat.  And since IS isn’t a country, we can’t pick out infrastructure targets such as railways or factories; we’re just trying to bomb dispersed bands of marauding loonies in a vast expanse of wasteland.  In which case, I doubt that air strikes will eliminate IS physically or any other wise, even if we do occasionally whoop with joy because we’ve bumped off a few of their leaders. 

Obviously we need to be vigilant in protecting our citizens, but frankly I feel more threatened by the criminal gangs and drug cartels that operate freely in our own cities than by the likelihood of terrorist attacks.  Drugs and street killings dispose of more of our people in a week than Islamic fanatics could manage in a decade.   

Not that I feel overwhelmed by a moral repugnance over air strikes, or drone attacks, or whatever other means of destruction we might apply to the campaign.  I simply believe that the effort is futile, and with a lingering suspicion that some western governments are driven to it as much by domestic political considerations as any purely military calculations.     

The Middle East is a confused mess – as it has been for several thousand years – but unless or until our oil supplies (and weapons sales) are directly jeopardised, I would encourage our ‘allies’ in the region to take care of their own problems, in their own way.

Meanwhile, since nothing in the Middle East is definitive, I reserve the right to change my mind altogether.  

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