Despite the efforts of some politicians in Western countries, the view of the anti-war left and right, that the West cannot possibly do any good through intervention has become totally dominant and restricted any helpful foreign intervention.
This is fine for the anti-war right, which makes a point of not caring about those beyond its borders, but for the anti-war left it represents a hollow criticism, an abandonment of internationalism with no suggestion of how a country should interact with the dynamic world around it, other than with passivity.
It is not inevitable that countries around us are engulfed by carnage whilst we sit and watch. Britain and other Western countries possess powerful militaries owing to their military and industrial power; these militaries can be used to stop the carnage of internal civil wars by bringing those conflicts to a close, such as in Libya, or can intervene to topple corrupt, genocidal governments that have contravened international law or slaughtered their own citizens, such as in Iraq. The ability to intervene in a conflict is far from complete or perfect, in Libya; the coalition forces didn't stay for long enough to ensure the new government was stable, or to prevent the persecution of minorities. In Iraq, poor planning, and a failure to anticipate the organised religious opposition to the occupation resulted in a turbulent transition to a peaceful democracy.
But these lessons in intervention are ones learned, and the positive results from destroying ghastly dictatorships are highly tangible, as the images of the first women voting in an Afghan election ever just last month can attest. If, as a society, we are to be truly serious about ideals such as freedom, equality, feminism, and justice, we must be willing to enforce them abroad as well as at home.
This is denied by the insular anti-war movement. The modern post-Cold War, anti-war movement saw its debut when it heroically protested against Western involvement in the first Gulf War, where a NATO led coalition defended a tiny country from the tyrannical, genocidal, expansionist dictator Saddam Hussein. There were no protests against the Hussein government's genocide of Kurdish people in 1988 and 1991.
Instead of toppling the Saddam Hussein regime in 1991, the allied governments opted for an easier path of loading cruel economic sanctions upon Iraq, creating a no-fly zone (the breach of which led to further hostilities in 1998), and leaving the Iraqi people with a broken, government with a malevolent leader. There were no protests against this short-sightedness, which left Iraq ruined and isolated from the outside world.
The anti-war left has been determined to never attack government inaction (except of course on Israel) and to tolerate the human rights infringements and excesses of foreign dictatorships. It has helped create a mindset that internationalism is folly, a wasted venture. It has created an atmosphere in which most western countries have been, in real terms, disarming. UK defence spending fell from 11% to 7% of Central government spending from 2000 to 2010. This disarmament is reminiscent of the atmosphere among the European powers in the 1930s, when Germany broke the Treaty of Versailles numerous times, and 'noble' British pacifists such as George Lansbury encouraged further demilitarisation.
Just as the anti-war left had no answers to the massacre of the Kurdish people in 1991, just as it had no answers to the rise of fascism in the 1930s, naïve pacifism has no answer to the rise of expansionist Russia, and to the continued destruction of Syria. The West sat silent whilst Ukraine was cleaved in two by a megalomaniacal tyrant, who has oppressed the rights of minorities, and ignored the international community - because it's politicians are paralyzed, locked into a state of inaction by a mindset that concerning oneself with people abroad is imperialistic.
Originally published in The Student.