Since the Second World War, the United States of America has pursued an aggressive, interventionist foreign policy. Born out of a combination of weapons-grade paranoia and humanitarian desire, our closest allies have taken the front foot against alien regimes and ideologies deemed incompatible with their own. During the Cold War, communism was smashed across the globe. And after 9/11, efforts have focussed on the scourge of Islamic extremism emanating from the Arab world.
The Conservative Party has long been a cheerleader of these overseas adventures. From Churchill to Thatcher to May, Tory administrations have stood with our colonial cousins under the NATO banner. Upon their rise to power, New Labour adopted the same Atlanticist outlook, and a cross-party consensus was formed.
Broadly speaking, the interventionist consensus rests on three axioms: that the United Kingdom must appease the United States by mirroring its foreign policy; that third-world dictatorships pose a serious threat to Western civilisation; and that these dictatorships can, and should, be transformed into democracies via military force.
It certainly does make sense for the UK to maintain good ties with the Americans; they are a global superpower and a pivotal trading partner. But our alliance with the United States is between peoples, not politicians. It is an organic, grassroots connection built on social circles and families. If our governments chose to take different paths, the ‘special relationship’ would remain. Similarly, when Canada ended airstrikes on ISIS in 2015, its bond with America endured.
Like Canada, the United Kingdom should also end airstrikes on ISIS. To date, the War on Terror has claimed the lives of 510 British servicemen; domestic terrorism has risen exponentially; and the British taxpayer has been left £30 billion out of pocket. The State’s basic duty – to protect the wellbeing of its citizens – has been breached.
Interventionists often justify themselves by talking up ISIS as if they are the modern-day Nazis. But ISIS, unlike the Nazis, do not have the ability to invade or conquer our lands. It is the ISIS brand, their network of autonomous cells that pose the threat, and it is those cells that our forces should prioritise. If they wish, Britons can put ‘boots on the ground’ by supporting Western-friendly rebels. Indeed, private security personnel and hundreds of independent volunteers are active in the region, including an ex-Tory councillor.
State intervention could perhaps still be justified if it yielded results abroad. But despite our best efforts, the Middle-East is in a death spiral. When allied forces toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, the end goal was to “help Iraq achieve representative self-government and insure its territorial integrity.” There is now a civil war in Iraq.
Likewise, our long-term plan to expel the Russia-backed Assad regime is doomed. Syria has no institutions, no sense of identity and no leader to hold it together. Once again, there will be a power vacuum followed by an endless, bloody, multifaceted conflict. Even the new President can foresee this.
The ‘something must be done’ mentality is understandable. But in truth, we lack the power to instil a positive change. The Middle-East is a pious, factional, volatile part of the world; our agents are not respected, and our ideals are not popular.
Tory hawks need to realise that change must come from within, and that this will only be achieved with time, stability and gentle encouragement. Accordingly, we needn’t wrench ourselves from NATO membership or UN peacekeeping missions, but splurging blood and treasure on far-flung coups is no longer permissible. It’s time to tear up the consensus.
Charlie Richards is a political blogger
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty