Fight Your Own Battles: Foreign Powers Shouldn’t Intervene in the Middle East

Wednesday 17 July 2013, 5.31pm | Video Now Online

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As foreign forces prepare to leave Afghanistan the Taliban remains undefeated. The death toll in Iraq has topped 100,000 since the invasion in 2003. On this record is there much of a case to be made for liberal intervention? Isn’t it time to ditch what British MP Rory Stewart has called the ‘extraordinary smug sense of moral obligation, that combined with paranoia and megalomania drives us into places where angels fear to tread’? While many in the West believe we should arm the Syrian rebels, isn’t it obvious that once again we would be meddling in the internecine rivalries of different factions in a country we barely understand, with no prospect of bringing about a happy outcome? Successful interventionism requires knowledge: do we know enough about the country’s culture, language and politics? Most of the time, the answer is a resounding ‘no’ and we should keep well away.

Nonsense, say the supporters of humanitarian intervention. With great power comes great responsibility, and the West has a moral duty to protect peoples unable to defend themselves against brutal oppressors. What’s more, there are sound practical arguments to be made for getting involved. Failing to intervene and hasten a resolution in Syria, for example, could cause greater problems down the road: the conflagration is already dragging the country’s Shi’ite and Sunni neighbours into the fray, and risks igniting the entire region. And by supporting the rebels we guarantee ourselves a stake in a post-war Syria and influence in the Middle East in general.

Speakers for the motion

Susan AbulhawaSusan Abulhawa (via Google+ Hangouts)

Palestinian-American writer, human rights campaigner and political commentator


Dr Andrew GreenSir Andrew Green

Former British Ambassador to Syria (1991–94) and Director for the Middle East in the Foreign Office, before serving for four and a half years as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He is the founding chairman of MigrationWatch UK


Speakers against the motion

Shadi HamidDr. Shadi Hamid (via Google+ Hangouts)

Director of Research for the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. He is currently vice-chair of POMED, a member of the World Bank’s MENA Advisory Panel, and a correspondent for The Atlantic

Nick Tyrone Nick Tyrone

Senior Adviser on Public Affairs for the Electoral Reform Society and a regular contributor for Total Politics, the Huffington Post and the New Statesman




Jonathan FreedlandJonathan Freedland

Guardian columnist, author and broadcaster



All speakers are subject to change.