On Post-Truth, Hypocrisy and Western Powers in the Middle East
AUTHOR: STINA NOELKEN
*ALL VIEWS ARE THOSE OF THE WRITERS AND CONTRIBUTORS OF THIS BLOG
The word of 2016, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was “post-truth”, a term that describes the triumph of emotion over reason, lies over truth (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016). In focus here were primarily the U.S. with its presidential election and the UK’s Brexit referendum, debates that arose in the culture of post-truth politics and that prioritised the appeal to emotion over facts and expert opinion. And now in 2019, post-truth politics still play a major role in the U.S.’s and UK’s external affairs, their involvement in the Middle East and what is being referred to as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis – the civil war in Yemen.
The media has largely ignored the war in Yemen and thus there is little public knowledge of the war or the West’s involvement. As leading powers in the Middle East, the U.S. and the UK have been funding the war, supporting the Saudi-led military coalition with arms and intelligence. In May 2017, U.S. president Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia in order to sign a weapons deal worth $110 billion (Marcel Serr, ‘Understanding the War in Yemen’, in: Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs 11:3, 2017). In August 2018 an American bomb killed 40 children in a coalition strike, an incident that should have been a clear warning (The Guardian, 2018). And yet former U.S. defence secretary James N. Mattis defended the U.S.’s military support, claiming that with this attack the coalition had failed to meet the conditions set by the U.S., but that the support itself was justified based on intent. He further emphasised that: ‘Our conduct there is to try to keep the human cost of innocents being killed accidentally to the absolute minimum. That is our goal’ (The Telegraph, 2018) – a goal that, clearly, they did not try all that hard to achieve.
In February 2019 the British government announced a new aid package worth £200 million to fight starvation in Yemen; since the beginning of the war the UK has thus provided £770 million in aid (GOV.UK, 2019). Yet compared to the £4.7 billion in arms that the UK has exported to Saudi Arabia this number is small, an indicator for the UK’s blatant hypocrisy (The Guardian, 2018; CAAT, 2019). When in March 2019 UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt was on mission in the Middle East to begin the peace process, Andrew Smith from the organisation Campaign Against Arms Trade commented: ‘Jeremy Hunt talks a lot about the need for peace, but his words are hollow. The biggest change that he and his colleagues could make, and the one that would have the greatest impact on the ground, would be to finally stop arming and supporting the Saudi-led coalition’ (The Guardian, 2019). The UK may talk a lot about respecting human rights, will make large claims about controlling arms exports, but the war in Yemen shows that these are nothing but empty promises.
The underlying inclination here is that good intentions offset disastrous outcomes. Claiming that the military’s role in the war is preventing civilian deaths by supplying improved arms and weapons is meant to excuse the worsening conditions and numerous human rights violations. This war has brought attention to the importance of transparency of government action in crisis areas and of bringing public attention to the reality of war. Politicians like Mattis and Hunt will appeal to people’s emotions by stressing their aims of reducing the threat of terrorism, improving arms and weapons, bringing peace. And yet there is a different value in appealing to emotions by giving an insight into not intentions but consequences. In the end, involvement in Yemen should concern helping the people there and not be about attending to our own guilty conscience.