Foreign Policy versus Values: the Middle East and Ukraine

Back in Cold War days, the West believed that its very existence was threatened by so-called Communist countries. Existential threats can justify extraordinary measures, which may have justified the West’s support of various “friendly” tyrannies. Even if so, that support had serious long terms consequences, such as 9/11 and the Afghan war.

Today, there is no threat of nuclear annihilation, there are no armies ready to overwhelm Europe and then the rest of the free world. The once threatening powers learned that they can’t out-produce the West in military might; they can’t even continue except as parasites on the West. Even a North Korean or Pakistani nuke in the wrong hands poses no existential threat to the West. There is no excuse to support any tyranny, “friendly” or not.

How, then, should the West deal with other countries now that the calculus of life or death no longer rules? What is the self-interest of a peaceful, free nation? It is the same as that of a citizen of that nation: a world that respects freedom and the rule of law.

Protecting the West’s oil and gas supplies is not a legitimate foreign policy goal. If the energy companies want to dig in hostile places, they should bear the costs of defending their operations. That, of course, would push those companies to seek saner locations for their operations, which would allow the West to reduce its dependence on its enemies. Those enemies would no longer be propped up by Western wealth exchanged for their gas and oil. To that extent that this would raise the price of gas and oil, this is a good thing; government protection of of corporate assets in hostile places is an externality that should be reflected in gas and oil prices.

The West should support those countries that embody freedom and the rule of law, and those movements that seek to create those values. They should give no support to those entities that do not respect those values and should work to undermine those entities that would export antithetical values to the West.

The West should have intervened in Ukraine. The Maidan wanted freedom and the rule of law. Putin determined that they should not have it. Once Russia used force — during the theft of Crimea — the West should have cut off all commerce with Russia and offered NATO membership to Ukraine. Putin’s retreat would have been comically fast, and the sanctions quickly lifted. Instead, a proto-Western country is in an existential war it is not likely to win, and Putin now sees that he can blackmail the West with little consequence.

The West should stay out of the Middle East, except to support those movements that seek freedom and the rule of law. Today’s conflicts are merely between warring tribes who have been fighting for centuries. Leave them to it. If any tribe actually poses a threat to Western countries, destroy it. (Remember: the West won the Iraq and Afghan wars; where it failed was in trying to impose freedom and the rule of law where it was not wanted.) ISIS, the devil du jour, should be ignored for now, except for collecting intelligence. Most likely, its own evil will cause its destruction at the hands of the West’s enemies. Should ISIS succeed in creating a state and try to use it as a base to harm the West, it can learn the hard way that Western militaries are well equipped to destroy states.

Of course, the West will not follow foreign policies that promote freedom and the rule of law. Its leaders do not share those values; to them, those values are merely tools to keep their citizens pacified while they use government to satisfy their private wants. Whatever the leaders’ rhetoric, their actual policies will be directed toward preserving their wealth, power, and face, and that of their supporters. So, we can expect Ukraine to receive only token assistance while Russia tries to subjugate it, while the West continues to spend blood and treasure in the Middle East to protect various corporate bottom lines.