Far from wanting to exacerbate the masochistic tendencies of many in this country to blame the evil of others on ourselves, it is nevertheless still worth exploring how the West may have contributed to the displacement of the hundreds of thousands that we are now so reluctant to take in.
David Cameron has received a fair amount of criticism recently both from those within the country and those from outside for his cold-heartedness at not accepting more refugees into the country. This week however, he announced that he Britain will be accepting thousands more in. Despite widespread acceptance that this is probably a good thing, Theresa May was also correct when she said accepting more refugees isn’t going to help the problem. The amount of refugees that we let into Britain is a side issue, almost a distraction from the more pressing issues that we can help with. It’s almost as if those who have been criticising the Government for their reluctance to take in the refugees have forgotten that only the U.S gives more aid to Syria than us. Since the Arab Spring in 2011, the UK has given £918 million of aid to Syrian refugees, with Cameron this week pledging spending will go over the £1 billion mark. In Europe, only Germany comes anywhere close to us, having given just over £633 million worth aid. After that, the next most generous country is the Netherlands, having given a meagre £136 million worth of aid. After seeing these figures, it is difficult to claim that Britain is not trying to help in the right way.
Regardless of our intentions and the help we are now giving though, it is nevertheless very clear that we, the West, must hold up our hands and take responsibility for the part we have played in the mess. Whether that was the intention is not the issue here, we may well have had good intentions (up for debate), but we have encouraged the crisis. We can trace this back to the US-UK led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and our subsequent occupation. There is general agreement among Middle East observers and experts that our intervention encouraged the sectarianism and in-fighting we have seen develop over there, and led to the eventual rise of ISIS. For instance, Abu Bakr al-Baghadadi (the leader of ISIS) spent five years as an American prisoner. It is suspected that he became more radicalised in prison, along with the many others who went through similar ordeals and consequently fight for ISIS.
More recently, the West’s reaction to the Arab Spring has massively contributed to the refugee crisis, particularly in regards to Syria. Our support of the Syrian rebels has done nothing but prolong the violence and instability, thus developing an environment in which ISIS can flourish. Initially, the US, UK and others supported the “Free Syria Army” (FSA), which also involved supporting splinter groups looking to topple the Assad regime. The UK has given £8 million worth of “non-lethal” aid, while there is evidence to suggest that the US has set up FSA training camps in Jordan. All of this aid was given under the assumption that the FSA were ‘moderate’, secular rebels. Despite this assumption, it’s estimated that at least 3,000 of their fighting men have defected to ISIS in the last few years. Tony Cartalucci says the defectors “will bring weapons, cash, equipment, and training provided to them by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United States, the UK, and perhaps most ironic of all in the wake of the recent terror attack in Paris, France.” This, along with factions and in-fighting has seen the FSA to the brink of extinction. Rami Jarrah, a Syrian activist and co-founder of ANA Press, said “There is no such thing as the Free Syrian Army . . . People still use the term in Syria to make it seem like the rebels have some sort of structure. But there really isn’t.” The hole left in Syria by the FSA has paved the way for Jihadist rebel groups such as Al-Nusra, Harakat Hazm and ISIS to tear the country apart.
Perhaps if the West hadn’t sponsored the civil war these Jihadist groups wouldn’t hold such an influence now. As Patrick Cockburn explains, the “U.S. government as a whole – and foreign powers steer away from one very crucial aspect of the rise of ISIS, which is that in Syria, the West backed the uprising against President Assad, and still does, and this enabled ISIS to develop, gain military experience and then use it back in Iraq.” After all, whatever one might say about dictators such as Gaddafi and Assad, it seems they did keep Jihadist groups on a short leash. But here we have the moral dilemma, do we sit back and watch as dictators oppress their own people, or intervene and risk releasing a greater evil?
Did we simply pick the wrong side of this dilemma? Or did we intervene for more cynical reasons? There is a claim to be made that the US in particular did not intervene in any moral sense. If the US-led West really wanted to stop ISIS, there are ways in which we could. For instance, it is claimed the source of ISIS’ wealth is from stolen oil in Syria and Iraq. Thus, the US has been conducting air strikes on the oil pipelines that were supposedly under ISIS control. However, there is little evidence to suggest that ISIS actually have any capability to use these pipelines. Instead, ISIS transport the stolen oil in lorries and trucks to (NATO territory) Turkey, in order to sell them on the black market there. So, if the US actually desired to halt the flow of ISIS controlled oil, why do they not direct airstrikes at the convoys making their way to Turkey (which are easily identifiable via satellite)?
This begs another question. Why destroy Syrian oil pipelines for no good reason? Some suggest that the US is using ISIS to continue their global dominance. The destruction of Syria’s oil infrastructure would open the door for Western oil companies to win contracts to rebuild it. Foreign companies running Syria’s oil production could prevent Syria becoming an independent prosperous country. This in turn could mollify the threat they pose to Western allies of the region such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. More importantly, if the US could control the flow of oil through Syria and control who receives it, this would prove an invaluable tool in their quest for global hegemony.
One must also question the link between ISIS and Western client states Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Clearly, these states have some influence on the Wahaabism and the Jihadist movements we see infiltrating parts of the Middle East. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence, revealed an interesting conversation he once had with the head of the MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar claimed “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.” Dearlove believes that funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar has been purposefully ignored by the authorities and has played a central role in the ISIS surge into Sunni areas of Iraq. Apparently, “Such things simply do not happen spontaneously”. Bearing in mind tribal leadership in Sunni majority provinces are obligated to behave well towards those who fund them in Saudi Arabia, it would be unlikely they would cooperate with ISIS without their boss’s consent. So, if the West was so concerned about ISIS and the instability they cause, surely we would be more outspoken, or at least be seen to be doing more to investigate Saudi Arabia and Qatar? Alas no, they are too important an ally. By not holding them to account, we are in essence spinelessly condoning their antics.
Analysing the evidence, it seems clear that we are at least partially to blame for the instability in the Middle East and the resulting refugee crisis. Does this mean we have an obligation to help those being forced out? Perhaps it does, perhaps not. But do not underestimate the role we played in their turmoil, and do not underestimate our capability to stop it, should we actually want to.