The middle east has been a tricky place in British Foreign policy for generations. We have come to depend on their oil (including in WWII) and on our links to India and the east via the Suez Canal. We feel our ethical loyalty to support Israel’s right to exist especially after the Holocaust. Yet we have acquiesced with tyranny.
Despite taking on Saddam we have tolerated severe repression in Saudi Arabia and a lesser degree of it in UAE – which is easy for me to say when not in government and not having to face the unpopular consequences of withdrawal of their oil supply. It is easy to criticise the UK government but people here do like their petrol and we have come to depend heavily on it. BUT their human rights is not great and we should talk about it more firmly.
Perhaps the trickiest place in the Middle East is Bahrain where, at the Pearl Roundabout in 2011 Shia protesters protested and were eventually removed by forces invited from Sunni Saudi Arabia by the minority Bahraini Sunni government. It is very tricky because in principle one might think that Shia Iran might come to the aid of such co-religionists as the protestors.
Syria is a mess. Its repressive regime headed by a London Eye Surgeon is cracking down brutally on democracy protesters who have the muted moral support of western powers but no actual supportive intervention from them. As in the Arab Spring in the Maghreb these demonstrators may be uncomfortably Islamist neighbours in the future and may be treating Christian neighbours harshly but are we to allow them to be targeted bloodily by their own government when we came to the aid of similar people in Libya.
I can imagine that Syria is harder to intervene as we did in Libya in in a way that wouldn’t drag us in interminably on the ground. It is an immensely difficult challenge but I sense that we cannot leave things to stew for ever and some sort of aid for the protesters may be required.
We may have some major involvements on the world scene ahead of us. We should conduct ourselves in good conscience but can only achieve success if we define what success is and devise a realistic plan to achieve it. A tough one!
Turkey is a major and long-standing NATO ally that has held the flank against the USSR over many decades. It is a land with a long history of Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire and complex British control nd influence after the defeat of Turkey in WWI. Ataturk brought Turkey on a western path but with some brutality and with the army being a dominant force in national politics. It would be great to see Turkey evolve along a European path with the rest of us in Europe but it is a risk and its path is not yet decided by its own people whether to be Islamic (the ruling party is Islamic) or secular (it has applied for EU membership). It has Iran for a neighbour and the EU would thus have a frontier directly with Iran which would be uncomfortable. I think we should be friends with Turkey but not welcome them into our European home – not yet anyway.