The post-war world was blessed with a period of peace and prosperity that is clearly coming to an end. The strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities tells us many things – none of them encouraging.
The first is the growing impotence of Western powers. Yes, the US, France and the UK this time stuck to their red line on the use of chemical weapons. But the limited nature of both the Western alliance and the strikes themselves indicate weakness rather than strength. The European Union is nowhere to be seen.
Germany supported the strikes with rhetoric but has not lifted a finger in participation. Angela Merkel hides behind the UK and French position as members of the UN Security Council as the reason why it was right for them to participate while Germany sits on its hands.
The Western rhetoric of a few years ago that Assad must go has disappeared from international discourse. As the West progressively abandoned the Syrian people to the Assad regime’s increasingly brutal assaults, Russia, Iran and Turkey have become the masters of that theatre of war.
The West has also abandoned its Kurdish allies. It really is all far too difficult over there and we have our own problems to sort out – like the price of the latest iPhone, to take one example. If we start to get involved, people may expect us to do something about Yemen, the Palestinian problem, and the rest. The stuff of nightmares.
In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn’s pious ‘peace and love’ hippie foreign policy (we all used to call it appeasement) becomes ever more nauseating and disconnected from the real world. Vince Cable seems to have limited his comments to condemning the Prime Minister for not seeking parliamentary approval rather than expressing an opinion about the strikes themselves or, heaven forfend, actually having a coherent Syria policy.
For seven years, while Syria burned, the West has stood by, its politicians happy to grandstand while doing nothing. President Obama setting red lines and then looking the other way when they are crossed.
And Syrian refugees continue, unsurprisingly, to flee their country trying to make their way to Europe. Yet more empty piety from the European Union whose ‘solution’ has been to protect itself by buying and paying for the refugees to remain stranded in Turkish refugee camps.
As for the official policy of ‘tackling the refugee problem at its source’, nobody has lifted a finger while the Syrian conflict continues.
Let us be clear. The post-war period of peace and prosperity was an exclusively American achievement. The US used its hegemonic position to steer the world in a generally positive direction. Yes, we can all find many things to criticise, but there is little doubt that America used its power to maintain a global order that, by and large, worked reasonably well.
Once Suez made it clear that, without US support, European powers were as nothing, Europe chose to sit comfortably in the cocoon of US support. It gave up the idea of trying to stand on its own two feet.
Now the world has changed. We are entering a multi-polar world where US hegemonic dominance is over. China is the new Asian power while Russia, Turkey and Iran are slowly positioning themselves as the new alliance trying to establish its own sphere of influence.
Europe spends its time endlessly on EU bureaucracy. In global terms, that’s the equivalent of interminable discussions on how many angels can dance on the top of a pinhead. The EU seems to believe that the Single Market is Europe’s best weapon of global influence while its military capability continues to degrade.
In such a multi-polar world, and without the steadying hand of a benign hegemon, self-interested competition between different blocks is more likely than co-operation – in trade, investment and the projection of military power.
Add to this an America turning inwards, fed up of carrying the West on its shoulders and increasingly determined to look after its own self interest, and the post-war period of peace, prosperity and multi-lateral co-operation may well be over. Syria may be a microcosm of a wider danger in a newly unstable world.
In the Nixon era, when the US abandoned the gold standard causing much pain in Europe, then treasury secretary John Connally bluntly told the Europeans: “the dollar is our currency, but it’s your problem.” It took such a clear slap in the face from the US to wake Europe up to its weakness and kick-start new economic policies in Europe.
What never happened was a Europe able to look after its own defence or able to make a decent contribution to Western projection of power. Sad and tragic though it is, Syria will not be sufficient to serve as the equivalent of the dollar slap in the face. Neither, it seems, is Trump’s ‘America First’ rhetoric.
The European reaction to Trump seems to be that he will be a one term president and all will be back to normal in due course. It won’t.