Debate: The West Has No Role To Play In The Middle East

Leo Rogers and Asher Weisz debate the merits of Western involvement in the Middle East

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Proposition – Leo Rogers

When considering as large a question as the West’s role in the Middle East, we should be starting with the bare facts. The region is home to multiple failed states (Yemen, Syria, and Iraq) and some of the world’s most brutal autocracies. Many of these depend upon Western support. The lucky few living in the region’s sole democracy, Israel, constitute a mere 5% of the total population. After a century of Western interference, huge swathes of territory are drenched with innocent blood and perpetually teetering on the edge of another catastrophe.

Western governments deserve much of the blame; many flashpoints have their roots in Western interventionism. In 1953, America overthrew Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, as punishment for his attempt at nationalising Iran’s oil. Subsequently, under American tutelage, the Shah’s regime crushed dissent with a Stasi-esque secret police force. The revolution that overthrew the Shah evolved into the brutal autocracy the Iranian people suffer under today. If you are British, ask yourself: if Clement Attlee had been overthrown by American proxies, and your parents and grandparents had been tortured by agents of an American vassal regime, would you consider America qualified to guide your country on the path to democracy?

 The incompetence of Western interventions is as unforgivable as its brutality. Journalist Andrew Rawnsley captured a particularly ridiculous instance of this phenomenon: prior to the 2003 invasion, Tony Blair was briefed by Michael Williams- a senior foreign office expert- on the potential for conflict to break out between Iraq’s Sunni and Shia communities. With characteristic starry-eyed idiocy, Blair responded: “That’s all history, Mike. This is about the future.” One might ask whether Blair has been following recent events in Iraq. The future he helped create demonstrates that what’s past is indeed prologue.

When confronted with this legacy, interventionists- ironically, given they tend to inhabit the right of the political spectrum – echo the classic Communist refrain that, though it may seem to have failed, their ideology has never truly been practiced. With enough commitments, better strategies, wiser alliances, we will be on our way to the sunlit uplands of a peaceful and democratic Middle East.

It’s too late. Alongside the millions of lives lost, homes destroyed, and families separated, the legacy of the last century of Western intervention is a loss of trust. The citizens of the Middle East are not stupid. They have memories as long as ours; too many have already made the rational calculation that, given the bloodshed and instability rippling out from every Western action in the region, we simply don’t have their best interests at heart.

 No amount of blood or treasure will win back this trust, and without it intervention is doomed to failure. While interventionists speak of moral responsibility, we have lost our moral credibility.

Opposition – Asher Weisz

More than any other event, the 2003 Iraq invasion has shaped our generation’s negative view of Western involvement in the Middle East. For reasons which I imagine are fluently explored above, many now see our presence in this region as inherently unnecessary and dangerous. Some, going further, see it as simply the latest stage in a long and sordid story of white imperialism.

Such views are useless caricatures. The legitimate role of the West in the Middle East today is twofold. Firstly, the West must protect its allies if it is to have any global respect, and in order to support its own interests and friends. Secondly, it is the imperative of powerful democratic nations not to watch idly by when populations are threatened by murderous totalitarians. That is not an imperialist imperative; it is an anti-imperialist one.

The Middle East is a troubled and volatile region. It is riven by religious divisions. Moreover, it is threatened by Iran’s maniacal imperialism. Worldwide, it is expected that the West will help those who put faith in it. In such a sensitive area, it is a travesty to betray this expectation. The Trump Administration’s cruel abandonment of the Kurds to Turkey’s mercy is a taster of the total breach of trust which this motion implicitly recommends. The idea the West has no role whatsoever would result in a situation where allies, particularly Israel and the Gulf states could be sure of no assistance against regional threats. Such shameful isolationism would make clear globally that it is dangerous to be the West’s enemy, but far more perilous to be its friend.

A complete Western absence from the region would also embolden those who seek its downfall. Amid the hysterical response to Qassem Soleimani’s assassination, the background of escalating Iranian aggression against the US and its allies has been conveniently forgotten. Our enemies are spurred on by our inaction. Ambivalence to all events in this crucial part of the world empowers every tinpot dictator and theocrat to threaten and hurt the Western nations.

Above all, Western refusal to involve itself in Middle Eastern affairs would be a conscious decision not to stop catastrophes perpetrated by murderers and terrorists. Under this motion, America would have rejected the Iraqi government’s desperate pleas to intervene against ISIS in 2014. Those “doves” who deny any place for the West would have feebly wrung their hands, posted their mournful tweets and held their demonstrations as Yazidis, Iraqis and Syrians were driven further under the yoke of bloodstained fanatics. It is only a presence in the region which stops disaster. There are times when moral duty compels us to act.

Western withdrawal from the Middle East would not mean that we had left those nations alone. We would have left them exposed: to the caprices of extremists and to the imperialism of Iran and Putin’s Russia. We would not leave peace. We would leave a vacuum waiting to be filled.