Foreign AffairsHomepage

Behind Foreign Policy Machoism Hides the Heritage of Euro-American Imperialism


Photo: Reuters//Carlos Barria

By Gianmaria Amodeo

Another example of Twitter diplomacy from President Donald J. Trump who, once again, showed the world how to make macho statements on war, by commenting on the air strike carried out with the UK, and France, on April 14 against Syria. This is not the first or the last time that President Donald J. Trump brandished big buttons, smart missiles, and fine militaries of U.S. allies. On the other side of the pond, the extremely hypermasculine camaraderie among the transatlantic partners is reinforced by President Emmanuel Macron’s CEO-style presidency. Majestic and corporate-fashioned videos show him briefing his advisors before giving the OK to launch the air strikes. Prime Minister Theresa May follows her American and French companions’ masculine show off, perhaps more cautiously, but she does not fail to show the same degree of manly resoluteness as she bypasses the UK parliament on Syrian air strikes.


After reports of use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime on its own population, Trump and Macron announced that military action against Syria was among their options. After relatively strained relations among the three allies on Brexit, trade, and environmental politics, the transatlantic partnership makes a grand comeback with “fire and fury”. The three powers carried out several strikes early Saturday morning aimed at Syrian chemical weapons production facilities. Putin has condemned the attack in the “most serious way”, reports BBC news.


Nonetheless, the Western great powers’ alliance is nothing more than a “you show me your thing I’ll show you mine” war against Syria and Russia, and this has historical and political roots in the heritage of Western imperialism in the Middle East. Two narratives are currently available to foreign policy makers to support military intervention in Syria: protection of Syrian civilians against the use of chemical weapons and bringing freedom to the people of Syria through democratization. But both are faulty policies, and both are deeply entrenched with British, French colonial past in the region and American imperial tendencies.


First, the so-called notion of responsibility to protect does not stand the hypocrisy test of great power politics. The Syrian Civil War has been a humanitarian disaster since its inception. The UN Human Rights Watch has indicated that strong evidence of use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime dates back to 2014. This finding is confirmed by the French National Assessment, released on April 14, on the chemical attack on Douma April 7. While French diplomats point to this document as indisputable evidence that Syria actually used chemical weapons against its own population, it reveals a great deal about the nature of Euro-American imperialism. Despite the bossy advice by top French diplomats to avoid questioning the legitimacy of the facts in light of the evidence provided, one may still legitimately ask why given reports preceding 2018, the three powers have only now reacted so strongly. Humanitarianism has not been a constant for the transatlantic partners.


During the genocide in Rwanda, the French military did not prevent the death of approximately 80,000 Tutsis, having the power to stop the slaughter. Similarly, France is no champion of humanitarianism when it comes to the refugee crisis. The single country that accepts the most asylum seekers is Germany, and the two European countries that spend most on aid for refugees are Germany and the United Kingdom. What to say about the United States, with a xenophobic executive planning to decrease the number of Syrian refugees coming into the country?


Second, democratization is an idealistic and presumptuous foreign policy strategy which, behind the veil of freedom, covers the past of Western powers’ superiority complexes. The belief that the West under the lead of the United States should police the world is a contemporary reboot of the colonial civilizing mission, and of a U.S. Cold War obsession with spheres of influence. The logic underlying military intervention with the goal of democratization follows a quite clear pattern. Generally, there is a bad guy, who limits civil rights and oppresses the opposition, develops a pervasive surveillance system and rules by the decree of a single party or by rigging elections. Then the good guys come in. They take the dictator out, and build a democracy. In exchange they only ask to be loyal to them and pay them dues, usually through oil revenues.


Following the same logic, the United States, United Kingdom, and France should get ready to invade Russia and China. They too are bad guys. They oppress the opposition, possess a violent repression apparatus, and, in the case of Russia, rig elections. Nukes notwithstanding, a military intervention is less plausible, because the battle for power is fought on past colonial territory, and the Middle East is one of those grounds. Imperialism draws momentum from the memory of colonial rule, and Western power is still fresh in the minds of foreign policy makers and political stakeholders. With the region geopolitically vital for the West-East divide, and energetically essential for Western carbon democracies, the benefits of winning Syria are high, and the potential costs are lower. Israel, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Kuwait, and Iraq constitute the core of pro-NATO nations. Israeli PM Netanyahu has endorsed the U.S.-led strikes on Syria, also on the basis of “humanitarian intervention”, while the Israeli army carries increasingly violent attacks on the Palestinian population. On the other side, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Iran are skeptical of U.S. leadership. But with national turmoil, and the questionable legitimacy of Assad’s regime, the benefits of winning Syria are high, and it would shift the balance of power in favor of the West. Moreover, this will help secure the borders of Turkey vis-à-vis Russia, by not having a russophile regime in a neighboring state.


Let’s focus on the potential costs of direct intervention. They consist in invading an underdeveloped and distant country, from the point of view of the United States, an ex-colony for Britain and France. The following action would entail deposing a dictator, and with the help of new warfare techniques, this would be a piece of cake for those militaries capable of effectively harnessing the power of the new technological age. Contemporary warfare has plummeted the costs of human life losses in wars for the attacking armies. The possibility of casualties is reduced with new technologies, which in turn decreases the domestic political pressure faced by foreign policy makers when deciding to go to war. Does all this sound familiar? Well, the Western intervention in Iraq in 2003 was a very similar situation. The categories of actors involved in the conflict and the dichotomy between Western democracy and Eastern authoritarianism apply to the chance of an invasion of Syria, except with the dynamics of great power competition with Russia. The heaviest costs fall on the population affected by the war. The Syrians have withstood centuries of violence and repression, first by the French, and after 1949 by the military regimes that followed independence. A new war would only cause more casualties, while failing to resolve the complex political situation in the region. Understanding suffering and showing empathy, rather than jumping to Twitter to tell the world how “big” your missiles are, or how mighty and powerful your army is, would be a better step to begin to understand how international cooperation can help alleviate the grief of billions of people. Western democracies and Eastern authoritarianisms are like two boxers facing each other on the ring of power. With bloody eyes, they flex their biceps to show how strong they are, and then start punching each others’ faces to death. At the two corners two malnourished Syrian kids rush at each break with the spit bucket and the corner caddy to clean their sweat and blood. Sometimes they are lucky, the boxers thank them for their assistance. More often, in a heat of anger, the upset boxers knock them down too.


Euro-American foreign policy again proves itself to be muscular, rather than empathic, with a macho violence that could trigger other violence, and that hides, behind a facade of humanitarianism, western interests in the region, and Euro-American superiority complexes.

Other posts that may interest you: