In a few days, the Ukrainian conflict escalated with the criminal downing of MH-17, Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza and negotiations to temper the nuclear ambitions of Iran remaining inconclusive for another 4 months. This is typical for the current era of disorder. For the first time since World War II, there is a world order without 'the West' as structuring force. For many former protesters at peace squares in Amsterdam, Paris or London that was the dream. However, this ‘world order’ only produces disorder with blazing fires; not caused by 'the West' but rather by the lack of it.
The backbone of the post-war world order was the U.S. with in its wake the European allies. Especially Western Europe politically and culturally detached itself from the notion of 'the West' during its integration process. Europe has defined itself as ‘not American’. It portrayed the European Union as 'empire of good intentions' that brought peace with 'soft power', unlike the military superpower America.
President Obama therefore saw the Ukrainian crisis as a European affair. But Europe is utterly clueless. The European Union is not a union. It is divided between 'old Europe' with Germany leading, that wants to placate the Kremlin, and 'new Europe' with Poland and the Baltic states advocating a harder line. European division fed the appetite of Russian President Putin to spread chaos in Eastern Ukraine after annexation of the Crimea. After all, he could proceed with impunity. The Ukrainian crisis shows that a neutralist attitude is dominating Europe. Even worse: Germany, Europe’s strongest economy, has turned pacifist and became the plaything of the Kremlin.
European leaders could permit themselves to be soft because behind them there was a strong America. That's over now. Under Obama, America has retired as leader of ‘the West’ after which point the concept collapsed and potentates of various sorts got a free way. In the Libyan crisis in 2011, Obama decided to ‘lead from behind’ and in the Syrian crisis, he behaved as noncommittal outsider.
In his book Duty Robert Gates, once Secretary of Defense under both Bush and Obama, describes how Obama's campaign-strategists made crucial choices in foreign and security matters entirely subject to the American election cycle. Syria became an infected word not to be mentioned, the factsheet of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was intentionally twisted, the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq was focused on the presidential elections of 2012 and from Afghanistan on the election of a new Congress in November this year.
According to Gates, Obama's advisors lack policy-making experience; they are hard working ‘Congressional staffers’ at best. A president lacking proper experience is surrounded by people even less experienced than himself. Gates: "Previously, there were people with an academic or military reputation like Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Condi Rice, Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft.”
However, it is Obama himself who deliberately abdicated as leader of the Western alliance and it is remarkable how quickly his relationship with key allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel soured. In the Middle East, this led to a power vacuum filled by Iran escalating various crises simultaneously. In Syria, Obama drew a ‘red line’ in 2012 to Syrian President Assad warning him not to use chemical weapons. A year later, Assad did precisely that, and Obama did nothing. Syria became a breeding ground for the Jihadist force ISIS, an offspring of Al Qaeda, who proclaims to settle a Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. They conquered parts of both countries, which made especially Iraq even more dependent on Iran. To counter ISIS on the ground, the US, as it seems, remains basically two allies: Assad and Iran! Without any credible strategy the worst of options emerge which are in fact non-options.
Hamas could smuggle rockets in Gaza through Syria, Iran and the now deposed Egyptian President Morsi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who oddly enough enjoyed support from both the US and the EU. A rain of rockets followed on Israel to provoke an Israeli ground offensive, which is precisely what Hamas intended to achieve. Iran is the big winner of permanent Western inaction. Why should it conclude an agreement on its nuclear aspirations? The "West" has abolished itself.
A world order without the West means disorder. Therefore the term 'West' should once again get content with solid allies, a policy of strength, pressure on troublemakers, a variety of sanctions and clearly defined negotiating positions. British Prime Minister Cameron recently gave a good example towards Russia.
Until recently it was ‘bon ton’ in diplomatic circles to speak scornfully about the Syrian civil war and the Ukrainian crisis. "Do nothing" was the motto. But letting conflicts getting out of control, ultimately means that the effects can hit Western countries in their hearts with innocent people as first victims. That is what happened to flight MH-17.
(the author is senior fellow of the London Policy Center in New York).