“Take up the White Man’s Burden”, implored the great imperialist Rudyard Kipling more than 100 years ago. His words were directed at the United States, pressing the then rising world power to assume its responsibilities for the good governance of the Philippines, which it had acquired after victory in the Spanish-American war of the late 19th Century.
And so it is today. For all the cartoon Left’s denunciation of the US as a brutal imperialist power, the truth is the complete opposite. America, the sole global superpower, is not imperialist enough. And the world is a more cruel and barbaric place because of it.
Today, the richest and most powerful country on the planet is again hesitantly picking up Kipling’s burden. It is mounting air strikes on the medieval barbarians of the Islamic State, who have swept across Syria and Iraq in recent months, slaughtering all those unfortunate enough to lie in its path. The Mongol hordes showed more mercy than this vicious Sunni insurgency.
American airplanes, backed by our own much diminished forces, are bringing succour to thousands of poor Yazidis, marooned on sweltering Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq. At least some lives will be saved. But the US Cavalry is not riding to the rescue of the millions of people in Iraq and Syria facing death, slavery or servitude at the hands of the Jihadist mob rampaging across the Middle East.
America’s fatal flaw is not that it intervenes too much. It is that it will not stay to see the job through.
After the savagery of 9/11, it overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But roughly a decade later, it is gone from Iraq and is about to depart Afghanistan. Since the US withdrawal in 2011, Iraq, appallingly governed by the Shia-dominated regime of Nouri al-Maliki has descended into chaos, so much so that the Golfer in Chief, aka President Obama, has woken up to the idea that something must be done – hence the air strikes on the IS and the food drops in the mountains.
Western liberals routinely denounce the 2003 Iraq invasion led by the US and Britain, glossing over the fact that Saddam was a spectacularly brutal dictator and a menace to his own people and many more besides across the Middle East. They make much of the discovery that Saddam did not, after all, have weapons of mass destruction.
But they miss the much bigger picture and they bear a great deal of the responsibility for the carnage now being visited on the region. Left-liberal critics of the invasion got their way. They persuaded the American people that the Iraq war was without justification and, more importantly, that the troops should be brought home as soon as humanly possible.
Well, the troops were brought home. And look at the result. The same thing happened here, but because Britain is now such a puny power, it matters far less what its leaders decide.
Faced with horrific images beamed into American households by the relentless focus of rolling news, Obama, that most inert of leaders, has decided to re-intervene, though this time with a little more than a series of gestures.
American troops are out of Iraq and they are not going back, even though the surge of 2007, when the country was last on the brink of chaos, brought stability.
The lessons of this disastrous mess are hard but simple. As the Blairite commentator Dan Hodges argued in The Daily Telegraph last week, there is only one thing worse than the US acting as the world’s policeman, and that is the US not acting as the world’s policeman.
The Iraq war was the US acting as the world’s policeman. It finished off a brutal dictator and it sent a chill down the spine of every jumped up despot on the planet, including the monsters who brutalise North Korea to this day and those who once made Burma a place of unspeakable cruelty.
The horror of Mount Sinjar, with women and children left to die of exposure and thirst in the baking heat, and the savagery visited on millions in Syria are the bitter fruits of the US not acting as the world’s policeman.
The Left cannot have it both ways. They cannot condemn American intervention as fascist imperialism in one breath and then squeal about American indifference to suffering as it reverts to one of its periodic fits of isolationism.
But the fault lies deeper than the infantile posturing of the Left. It lies in America’s schizophrenia about its global role. Like the Pax Britannica of the 19th Century, a Pax Americana lies within America’s power. With the backing of other Western powers such as Britain and France, it could bring stability and order to the Middle East. But to do so, it would have to stay a fearfully long time. If the Iraq invasion had been supported by commitment of 100,000 American soldiers for 50 years, we would not now be witnessing the mayhem perpetrated by the IS and Assad in Syria.
Should I stay or should I go? seems to be the tune running through the minds of America’s leaders. And too often the answer is go. Bring the boys home, is the popular cry from the East Coast to the West.
So the world’s policeman hangs up his baton and hands in his badge. It happened in Vietnam and Cambodia and we saw what happened there. It happened in Iraq and the chaos has engulfed a region. It might yet happen in Europe.
Seventy years after the end of the Second War, America still maintains 40,000 troops in Germany. But for how much longer? The Cold War is long over and the boys are going home. But there is one small matter to consider before the last GI leaves – Vladimir Putin and his insane schemes to destabilise Ukraine and other (Nato) states on his border. How long before the US is dropping food parcels on Berlin?