Western progressives and many of those in the anti-war crowd have consistently ignored the reality of them being hypocrites with regard to what they claim to be preventing.
The dichotomy between being progressive at home and regressive abroad is clear, especially when viewed from a lens away from the West.
Progressives think they are working to end imperialism, yet when it comes to interpreting events abroad, it always seems to be Western-centric.
The knee-jerk reaction is finding ways to blame the West’s actions or influence in creating conflict or crisis. It is warranted and clear in some conflicts but a tiresome, repetitive, and reductive approach when applied to others. They have fallen for the crime of completely ignoring local dynamics.
Their views tend to be imbalanced and a distorted way of looking at how geopolitical conflict arises and concludes. Yet, it is as a direct result of the US’ foreign policy over the last few decades and how the world has been shaped by past wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan, that our generations’ interpretation of global politics has been cemented.
Millennial and Gen Z generations grew up when the US was at its zenith, after the fall of the Soviet Union, unchallenged on the global playground. America has become the automatic focus when conflicts occur, seen as the brutal global police that goes unopposed and needs to be muzzled.
Yet, progressives have a privilege that they infuriatingly refuse to recognize; they grew up feeling unthreatened by other nations, focusing on their own nation’s supremacy, sometimes extremely overplaying the impact and influence they have. They have never really felt the ambitions of a next-door neighbor, nor the iron grip of a dictator willing to spill their blood to keep them in place.
While I generally support the introspective and self-critical attitude progressives have, it is never the full picture.
While I generally support the introspective and self-critical attitude progressives have, it is never the full picture. It is but one essential piece needed to understand the complexity of foreign politics.
Progressives end up ignoring, downplaying, and even making excuses for the aggressive foreign policies of other countries. When Russia annexed Crimea and later invaded Ukraine, they are told it is the direct result of the US meddling in Eastern Europe, removing the agency and the voice of Ukrainians, and ignoring any Russian actions throughout the same period.
When anti-US countries invade their neighbors and intervene in other conflicts, the message is to remember Iraq and Afghanistan. Both wars, a stain on the West’s reputation, are co-opted and used as propaganda by anti-US states, who do not really care about Iraqi and Afghan suffering, only its usefulness in jabbing at the West.
In the Middle East, they have had little to say about Syrian President Bashar Assad’s war crimes, bombing civilians, and mass torture in Syria, and have completely glossed over Russia and Iran’s intervention there. Yet they are up in arms when an Assad weapons depot is destroyed.
In Yemen, progressives have critiqued the coalition with little to say about the Iranian-backed Houthis, as if the war began in 2015, a year later than it actually did, with little mention of the coup and systematic killing of the opposition by a supremacist Islamist organization that they would vehemently fight against if, for example, a foreign-backed white supremacist group were able to stage the same at home.
Progressives cannot continue to pretend to be against imperialism while practically paving the road for it for others. They need to recognize that the world does not revolve around how the West feels about itself. This is weaponized by states who do not really care about the suffering caused by the West but instead, want to cause their own web of suffering and imperialism.
Iran wants people to ignore what the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has done in the Middle East. Russia wants to see self-flagellation because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq while ignoring or justifying its own invasion in Ukraine. If a person feels that the US does not have the right to dictate a country’s future, why then should Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Russian President Vladimir Putin have this right?
Why is it that when nations decide they are better off leaning to the West for economic or security reasons, it is considered imperialism? Yet, when they lean to Russia or Iran, it is common interest, and the local agency magically appears.
The Iraq war has generated a distrust and questioning of US foreign policy, but has it also led people to ignore, enabling other states to conduct similar or worse foreign policy decisions?
The progressive label only really has merit domestically, in foreign policy issues it is regressive and self-defeating. How can one claim to be anti-imperial but practically endorse the Russian version of the (former US President James) Monroe Doctrine for Eastern Europe? For those who honestly care about human rights, will the adversary they want to capitulate to honor them in a better way?
It is time to stop pretending that the wars of allies or enemies can be stopped simply by the click of a finger, disregarding all concerns. Trying to force allies to capitulate in conflict is a form of imperialism in itself. Conceding all ground to adversaries and creating an environment of high-cost alliances will only create a weaker West — one with less soft power to influence global change, where the West’s opinion is largely irrelevant, as former allies look elsewhere for more reliable partners in securing their future.
• Ibrahim Alkhamis is an expert in media and Gulf politics who focuses on issues and controversies in modern media, with a special emphasis on fake news.