The Middle East protests are NOT a vindication for liberal interventionism…

Apparently, Daniel Furr writing over at Left Foot Forward, believes the Middle East protests are actually a victory for liberal interventionism. In recent blogs, I have said the exact opposite. Essentially, our ‘policies’ have been central to causing unrest not only in the Middle East, but in other parts of the world as well – such as Latin America.

A great example of this would be our role in overseeing arms deals, whilst this may not be liberal interventionist in its classic sense, the selling of arms without any moral concern for how and where they are going are interventions by the West that are often used to abuse protesters, fighting for their rights, by repressive regimes. Consider the cold way the Chairman of the Libyan British Business Council, Lord Trefgarne, ‘justifies’ this:

It is not the case that trading with Britain is a reward for good behaviour for countries that we do businesses with. It is nothing of the sort. We are a great trading nation. We trade with a great many nations around the world with many of whom, of course, we have sharp disagreements.

So despite having no guaranteed reassurances, and despite them disagreeing with the likely use of the trade by the repressive regimes, business must go on. There are no morals when it comes to the ever ending search for profit. For me, liberal interventionism is not only about trying to impose our values upon other countries, it is about the way the dominant political economic and social relations undermine other countries’, and our own’s, freedom. We have been central to constructing a lot of the oppression in countries such as Palestine for instance, and continue to do so.

What’s more, these protests are due to people saying enough is enough. They are fed up of the oppression, this is not because of the West telling them to do so, frankly the West haven’t cared until the protesters themselves started to fight for their rights; rather, as Trefgarne says, the West have traded with nations they have “sharp disagreements” with. In fact, Cameron, whilst preaching democracy in Egypt today couldn’t help but bring his trade associates along.

It’s the same with Hague, it’s not yet a week ago since he was talking up the common values that Bahrain and the UK hold.

Arguing the UK and West have intervened in a positive way within the Middle East undermines the emphasis upon the sheer power of political resistance the protesters have demonstrated against dictatorial and repressive rule.

In fact, Daniel’s whole argument is romanticised and ignorant to the real damaging effects the global political, economic and social (predominately neoliberal) relations have upon other countries, as he proclaims:

President Obama, the most vocal, applied crippling pressure to Hosni Mubarak to stand down and release his dictatorial power over Egypt. The British government played its part, threatening to downgrade diplomatic ties – if Mubarak refused to abdicate the Office of President. Ironically, both Mr Cameron and Mr Obama found liberal interventionism to be execrable and incompatible, yet these two Western leaders unconsciously embraced the Bush and Blair doctrine.

As many others said, and as I said at the time, Obama was hypocritical as was the West in general; they only started to call for a change when they realised the true force of the protesters. And has the UK revoked export license for other countries within the regime, such as Saudi Arabia? No. How can you say the West are helping with liberation? It is no surprise that Daniel supported the Iraq war. If the following from Daniel was true, just ask yourself why we still allow arms deals to be done with repressive and hostile regimes?

We are, finally, starting to advocate liberal democracy and encouraging support towards those who oppose overt totalitarian and hostile regimes. What Mr Blair always envisaged.

Liberal interventionism itself is a problematic concept. I find the idea that the West are somehow ‘superior’ and should impose its values upon the rest of the word disturbing. The effects of this are clear to see with the actions of the IMF. My studies into Venezuela have illustrated this well, with IMF ‘bailouts’ causing the currency to devalue alongside huge increases in mass poverty. Thankfully, Chavez has paid all Venezuela’s debts off with the IMF and the World Bank and helped form the Bank of the South. However, Obama is carrying on USA’s controversial role in Venezuela spending money supporting Venezuelan opposition; liberal interventionism at its worse.

It is useful to finish with words from the great Tony Benn:

“I think this is a popular revolution not just against the leaders but against the leaders’ relationships with Western countries, including Britain. I think you have to look at the economic relationship between dictators and their countries and this country in order to understand one of the reasons why the protests are so strong in the Arab world, people there are not getting a fair deal and they have dictators governing them and they don’t like it. We are an integral part of a repressive system affecting the peoples in the Arab world, therefore to some extent their protests are directed against us.”

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2 thoughts on “The Middle East protests are NOT a vindication for liberal interventionism…

  1. I would argue that the problem is that past foreign policy hasn’t been liberal enough. Selling arms to dictators isn’t ‘Liberal Interventionism’. Likewise, I’m not a fan of the relativist nature of your argument. You don’t have to believe ‘western’ values are superior to think that bombing a peaceful protest is a bad thing. Those values aren’t ‘western’ they’re universal liberal values which happen to have taken hold in the west first.

  2. Thanks for the comment Ed.

    As I said in the post, arms may not be seen to be liberal interventionism in it’s classical sense, but for me it is an illustration of the ways our political, economic and social relations (primarily neoliberally shaped) influence other countries. We intervene in how countries are governed by the very selling of these arms.

    I agree, most people around the world would believe that bombing a country is a bad thing but it is about WHY this happens. It’s about the reasons for why you intervene and how you intervene. Stopping genocide like what happened in Second World War for instance, for me isn’t about liberal interventionism it is as you said about the universal respect for life. However, Iraq is an example of where we invaded and tried to import our own democratic model, irrespective of their own social, political and economic context.

    The important point to remember is that you can’t impose our values universally upon other countries due to many factors, including different religious views, historical paths, social and economic conditions. As I mentioned the IMF is a form of liberal interventionism in how it imposes our neoliberal dominant relations upon many countries, which only ends up exasperating the existing problems.

    If we wan’t to help, we have to stop selling all these arms to repressive regimes and start reforming the actual global economic relations. It is a difficult area as to where you draw the line, it seems liberal interventionism itself is a subjective concept where different people attribute different meanings – as I and you are.

    For me, here is where i love the anti-globalization movement. However, I have the sense i am politically to the left/radical to you:p

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