There are very few things that I could possibly agree with President Trump on, but one is his reported assertion that the US should not have ever got involved in the Middle East.
My statement needs qualifying, however, because we do not agree on the historical inevitability of that involvement, and certainly it is a much deeper philosophical argument than the disruptive president has considered.
Also, his decision to withdraw US troops from Northern Syria and elsewhere is going to have enormous repercussions in that besieged, tormented area of the world, which will lead to other wars. President Trump may not be exaggerating the drain on the US economy of being the world’s policeman since WWII, but he has omitted the vast economic benefit to the military industry of perpetual war. He has not ruled out all wars, only those that can be quickly won.
It is my profound wish that the spirit of empire and the age of superpowers would die a permanent death, yet I know it is a vain hope. Every single mess we are in now globally is due to politicians and countries meddling in other’s affairs. Of course, we are a global community and are interconnected in many ways, but it is a fact that the megalomaniac behaviour of superpowers and demigods, pre-Roman, through the centuries and varieties of empires and right up to this day, has cumulatively wreaked immense havoc rather than contributed to the advancement of mankind.
Staying with the turbulent Middle East, one of the most peaceful countries is Morocco in North Africa, once part of the Arab Empire. Under its monarchs, Morocco has always sought religious peace between the Jews, Muslims and Christians. Morocco was still a French colony when, during WWII, the Nazi-controlled government in Vichy France enacted anti-Semitic laws. Sultan Mohammed famously refused to comply and instead invited Moroccan rabbis to his royal celebrations.
And, from the mid-1950s till 1961, after Independence, Morocco did not allow its Jewish citizens to emigrate to Israel, which desperately wanted to increase the size of its population and exploited the threat of Arab nationalism to entice Middle Eastern Jews. The creation of a Jewish state in Palestine may have been a sensible decision for Jewish people who suffered the terrible scourge of Hitler’s own expansionist and sick ideology, but the Middle East has never been the same since. The messy unravelling of the Ottoman Empire after WWI deepened European powers’ involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. WWII added the US, and the die was cast.
The most peaceful places on earth in 2018 were Iceland, New Zealand and Austria, according to the Global Peace Index. Austria is at the heart of Europe, the most peaceful region of all. The other two countries have much in common: mainly, their geographic location renders them fairly unimportant strategically. That remoteness would be no advantage, however, if their subsoil contained huge quantities of some mineral vital for technology or human convenience. A simple example are the far-flung South Atlantic Islas Malvinas – as they are named by Argentina, or the Falkland Islands, as named by Britain – which saw off Argentina, France and Spain to control the archipelago, back in the days when the shipping route around the southern tip of the South American continent was vital to world trade.
Those islands are perfectly located only a few hundred miles away from the buried natural riches of Antarctica. When we are finished depleting all the irreplaceable minerals from elsewhere, the war will start for control of those.
When Argentina invaded suddenly in 1982, the UK’s first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, took her country to war to defend around 3,000 British farmers and their sheep on those scrappy islands off the coast of Argentina for purely advantageous reasons. The British taxpayer cared nothing about the shepherds they scarcely knew existed. Argentines, too, would not suddenly want to set up a smart city in the capital, Stanley, but they each claim the islands for strategic economic and military reasons.
We in TT do not concern ourselves with these matters because we have our own self-made, almost completely avoidable problems that threaten to overwhelm us, yet we cannot be oblivious to them. The political nightmare and critical economic mess currently endured by our closest neighbours, and our involuntary involvement in the fall-out of the mass movement of people prove that we are not peripheral to regional events, just as we have always been sucked into world events.
We should be thankful for President Trump’s un-hawk-like attitude to military engagement because any sort of fighting on our doorstep would be disastrous for us. The game of Venezuelan chess between Russia and Cuba on one side of the divide, and the US and Europe on the other, is going to be a long one, and the outcome is very uncertain.