Patrick Cockburn: Goodbye to recent delusions - the age of nationalism is back with a vengeance

World View: Intervention was meant to produce democracy in the Middle East and stability in Europe. Now we know it was a con

Share
Related Topics

The crises in Europe and the Middle East are very different but they are beginning to cross-infect each other, creating a general mood of uncertainty and fear. In the Middle East, the Arab Spring was at first seen as wholly positive, as dictatorships and police states tumbled or came under democratic assault from Tunis to Bahrain. A bright dawn was breaking across the region.

A year later, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya are still beset by power struggles, largely electoral in Egypt but increasingly militarised in Syria. Their outcome is unclear. What is evident is that these countries are in for an extended period when governments and states will be weak, disunited and vulnerable to outside interference.

Such foreign intervention, going by what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, is much the same as old-style imperialist takeovers. The interventionists consult their own interests first and last, largely ignoring the wishes of Iraqis or Afghans. Why, for instance, is the increasingly dictatorial Nouri al-Maliki prime minister of Iraq? Mainly, as one Iraqi politician put it to me, because "the Great Satan [the US] and the Axis of Evil [Iran] decided that he was the Iraqi leader they could both live with".

"Humanitarian" military intervention as advocated by Tony Blair – or, post 9/11, by George W Bush – turned out to be no such thing. The neo-imperialists invariably gave priority to what they deemed to be their own national interests. In practice, the Iraq and Afghan wars became exercises in damage limitation, in which governments in Washington, London and elsewhere sought to retreat without admitting to disastrous errors that would damage their political prospects at home. Thus, President Bush's policy in Iraq in 2004 was largely determined by his need to pretend to American voters in the presidential election that the war was going well when it was going disastrously badly. Likewise, there is something breathtaking about British ministers and generals speaking of the brotherly co-operation between Afghan and British forces after the latest killing of British soldiers by their Afghan colleagues.

In the past decade, the Muslim world had its grim reminders of the national egotism of great powers, notably that of the US. In Europe, people in states belonging to the European Union have had a different, less blood-soaked but no less compelling, demonstration of how little we have moved on from the Europe of contending nationalities. In the years before the financial crash of 2008, this was the dangerous but outmoded world that the EU was meant to be bringing to an end. Small nations such as Ireland, Portugal and Greece had once rushed into the warm embrace of the EU on the grounds that European solidarity would protect them in a crisis. Nationalism in England and France was seen as the province of the mindless right. For Ireland and Portugal, membership was particularly attractive as it reduced their dependence on their stronger neighbours (and past imperial overlords) Britain and Spain.

What Greeks, Iraqis and Afghans have all learned is that the price of foreign powers determining their future is very high. It always amazed me in Baghdad and Kabul that the Americans and British imagined that the Iraqis and Afghans did not notice or care that the US and its allies, and not local puppets, were mismanaging their affairs. Likewise, in Athens over the past six months, I found it astonishing that Germany and its allies could not see that imposing austerity on the Greeks without popular consent would be a political death warrant for the Greek political parties supporting the measures.

Of course, it was an illusion for the Greeks to imagine that, after entering the euro, they merited the same AAA credit rating as Germany. But then, in the heady days before 2008, with access to limitless amounts of cheap credit, every individual, institution and nation from Los Angeles home owners to Irish bankers to the Greek government behaved with a similar lack of realism.

There were highly informed people in Athens only a few months ago who believed that the only chance of genuine reform in Greece was through pressure from the Troika (EU, IMF and ECB). I remember one investigative journalist brandishing a list of names of taxpayers, with one column showing their declared incomes and a second column their real, and much higher, incomes. "The banks only gave up the information because of pressure from the Troika," he said.

This is not now going to happen. When the then Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, suggested that there should be a referendum on the deal with the EU he was treated as a pariah by other EU leaders. German ministers seemed to think it smart politics to abuse Greece because that was what German taxpayers wanted to hear. All this inevitably sabotaged the efforts of any Greek politician advocating acceptance of the EU's terms.

The European and Middle East crises are in their different ways exposing as claptrap optimistic talk of European solidarity, globalisation being beneficial to all, and "humanitarian" intervention. As mutinies against the powers-that-be spread across Europe, the natural conduit for political activism is strongly nationalist parties on the right and the left. Many voters may feel that angry nationalists may be able to cut a better deal with Brussels than their over-complaisant predecessors. The age of competing nationalities, which never really ended, is back with a vengeance.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Artwork Design Apprenticeship

£7200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Artwork Design Apprenticeship is avail...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web design and digital age...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor