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Yemen and the ‘Crisis of Western Values’

Anne Applebaum claims [1] that the war in Syria is proof of the West’s loss of confidence in liberal values. No, really:

But this same crisis — this same loss of Western self-confidence, this same collapse of faith in ideals — also has a bloodier, more violent face. That face is the ongoing war in Syria — or rather the slow, grinding, murderous endgame of the war in Syria.

What would a sufficiently “self-confident” Western response to the war in Syria have looked like? Funneling even more weapons to anti-regime forces (so that they could fall into the hands of jihadists)? Direct attacks on the Syrian government and its allies (so that we could end up fighting multiple governments at the same time)? Applebaum doesn’t say explicitly, but clearly she thinks that “the West” has “failed” to do something that would demonstrate “faith in ideals.” I confess that this attitude baffles me. To the extent that Western governments backed and encouraged rebels in Syria, this contributed to prolonging and intensifying the war. Insofar as Western governments have presumed to meddle in Syria, their role has been a destructive one. If the U.S. and its allies had provided more backing than they did, the war would drag on even longer than it already has, and even more Syrians would have been killed and displaced as a result.

Applebaum claims that not interfering more in Syria is part of a “crisis of Western values,” but which values would those be? The values that say our governments have the right to intervene in everyone else’s conflicts whenever we choose? The values that treat the political future of other nations as something to be “shaped” by our preferences? If these are the values we’re talking about, we should be glad that they are in crisis, because they are no good. What other values dictate that our government should take sides in a foreign civil war in which we have little or nothing at stake? Which ideals have we lost faith in when we choose not to overthrow a foreign government by force? Deeper involvement in the war in Syria would not have proved our idealism. It would have demonstrated our hubris.

The fact that Western governments did not interfere more in another country’s conflict should not be a cause for lament. We should be far more concerned about our involvement in other ongoing wars, and we should all be working to bring that involvement to an end. It is U.S. support for and involvement in other atrocious wars abroad, including and especially the war on Yemen, that cry out for denunciation as a betrayal of our values. The war on Yemen is one that the U.S. could help bring to an end simply by withholding our military assistance and diplomatic cover from the Saudi coalition, and it is that war that threatens the lives of millions of innocent people with starvation in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.