Bernard Ingham: West’s dilemma - Damned if we do, damned if we don’t

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I AM getting fed up with being a dogsbody who is expected to do everybody else’s dirty work. So are a lot of other people, judging by Parliament’s refusal last year to countenance going to war in Syria.

I am sick and tired of the United States and the United Kingdom being damned if they do and damned if they don’t in a world which seems to regard them when it suits as the planet’s police force, restoring order (or not, as the case may be) here, there and anywhere.

Why, I continually ask myself, should America and Britain pour blood and treasure into trying to contain the world’s trouble spots? They get more kicks than ha’pence for it.

There is at least one good reason: they do not hang around once they think the business is done. They have no territorial ambition.

This lack of ambition, incidentally, was the one thing that saved Ronald Reagan from a continual handbagging from Margaret Thatcher over his invasion of Grenada to remove a rather nasty Leftie from his Caribbean backyard.

She ranted about his giving the Soviets every excuse for their territorial ambitions but was able to say when he left as quickly as he had invaded that he had at least shown he was different from the Kremlin.

Grenada also taught her one of the laws of geopolitics: countries take a close interest in what is happening in their own backyards.

None of this is to assume that I am blind to the duplicitous toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It is a blot on the US/UK escutcheon. The George W Bush/ Tony Blair parentage of the current mess is obvious.

There is a certain force behind arguments that we have a moral responsibility to sort it out, especially when barbaric extremists have taken over at least a third of the country, exterminating the populace and fellow Muslims as it takes their fancy.

I have also not the slightest doubt that Isis, or whatever the self-appointed caliphate calls itself today, is a threat to the UK and the USA – and not just because a British jihadist has apparently beheaded a captured American journalist. It constitutes a menace at least to all those countries that have exported terror in the form of young extremists fighting in Isis ranks.

That includes the EU, where President Hollande of France has had the cheek to criticise the US and UK for not going into Syria last year. True, he said he would, but in the end he didn’t.

But there is a wider problem. The thought never seems to enter anyone’s head to remind Russia and China that they also have a problem with the Middle East. For the moment, Vladimir Putin may regard his links with Syria as another opportunity to upset the West.

But he has potential problems with Islam all along his southern border. There have been centuries of conflict with Russia in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan. And it still simmers. Russia has a vested interest in a quiescent Islam.

As for China, it has latterly experienced ethnic tension originating in Inxjiang in its far West, which, incidentally, borders Russia. It already has an occasionally bloody problem with a Muslim minority allegedly linked to al-Qaida.

As you can see, the definition of a backyard is becoming rather far flung.

But let us go back to the Middle East where Syria/Iraq are literally in everybody’s backyard. Of all the nations in the world Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Jordan (which, to be fair, is already coping with masses of refugees) have a direct and abiding interest in a more stable Middle East.

Moreover, their oil money riches are beyond the dreams of avarice. They should not expect the USA and UK to spend their harder-earned dollars and pounds in keeping them in the manner to which they have become accustomed, especially when some of their own nationals are part of the region’s de-stabilisation by terrorism.

For all these reasons, I am completely brassed off by the incessant calls for the US and the UK to sort out the world’s problems. While protecting our own interests as best we can, one of our prime diplomatic tasks should be insistently to remind the world that our problems are theirs, too.

What are they going to do about it? Cough up or shut up? They should be made familiar with a phenomenon of a shrinking world – the elastic definition of a backyard.