Existential angst over ‘Westlessness’ at Munich conference leaves out the West’s responsibility for its own decline

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European leaders at the Munich Security Conference who blame “nationalism” for the decline of the West are confusing cause with effect. It is their hollow facsimiles of “liberalism” that sent Europeans running for the exits.

Existential angst over ‘Westlessness’ at Munich conference leaves out the West’s responsibility for its own decline

This weekend’s conference has chosen to focus on the theme of “Westlessness,” as cover for touting the virtues of “liberal interventionism,” and holding up nationalism as the primary obstacle to a harmonious Empire where wars are fought profitably and perpetually. 

The world is becoming less Western. But more importantly, the West itself may become less Western, too,” warns the Munich Security Report, published on Friday for the opening of the conference, which attracts VIPs from some 70 countries. What, the subtext implies, are “we” going to do about it? 

The report doesn’t hesitate to blame nationalism for “the contemporary ‘spiritual disunity of the West’.” The much-remarked-upon “brain-death” of NATO, the migration crisis, the black hole of debt swallowing up the US and to a lesser extent other countries’ economies – all of these can apparently be attributed to “the rise of an illiberal and nationalist camp within the Western world.” To hear them say it, it’s not the waging of endless war to plunder the resources of poorer nations, or the attempt to demonize those world powers not invited to the cool kids’ lunch table in order to squelch dissent within the liberal democratic paradise – it’s globalism’s discontents who have ruined “the West” for everyone.

These incorrigible reactionaries, the report complains, believe “a community held together by ethnic, cultural, or religious criteria” is superior to one “bound by liberal-democratic values and open to everyone sharing these values.” But the same report laments that the “liberalism of imposition” – “democracy” delivered at gunpoint to the nations of the Middle East and the global South – has given way to a “blunt anti-interventionism” as western powers become weary of diving into wars without end. What, exactly, is liberal or democratic about invading and occupying poor countries to “protect” them?

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The Munich report skewers right-wing populists like Spain’s Vox party for stoking fear of an “Islamic invasion,” forgetting that the very migrant tide those populists fear comes from nations destabilized by over a decade of war – waged, in many cases, with NATO’s seal of approval. Surely, invading a Muslim country and slaughtering millions of its residents is more objectionable to the Islamic community than “calling for walls and borders, the rejection of refugees, or the opposition to political correctness.” The report is horrified by “racist tropes,” but silent or even approving of what looks for all the world like an attempt to re-litigate the Crusades in the Middle East. 

While nationalists may oppose migrants flooding their communities, many of them also oppose open-ended foreign intervention, highlighting the real problem they pose to the less-than-liberal western model that has sought to bring ersatz “democracy” to places that don’t want it. From UKIP’s Nigel Farage to French nationalist Marine Le Pen to pre-2017 Donald Trump, they tend to view – contrary to their portrayal as bitter enemies of Islam – the never-ending conflict the West has waged in the Middle East as pointless and self-defeating. Many want out of NATO, if not the EU altogether, and have expressed interest in fixing their own country’s problems before going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.

It’s not just matters of war and peace that have shown the globalist faction’s version of “liberal-democratic values” to be utterly hollow, of course. There’s nothing liberal or democratic about holding Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange in conditions international observers have likened to torture, so he can be extradited to the US to face what could become capital charges, as the UK has done under PMs Theresa May and Boris Johnson. 

Nor is there anything liberal or democratic in threatening to shut down adversarial media outlets in the runup to elections to stop the spread of so-called “fake news,” as France has done under President Emmanuel Macron. Freedom of information is critical to democracy, yet it has been trampled on by the governments of “the West” in their efforts to crush opposition to Empire. Antiwar journalists are smeared as agents of foreign powers (which are, ironically, held up as the real authoritarian states), and those who don’t buy what government-sympathetic media are selling are declared “useful idiots” brainwashed or radicalized by nefarious foreign entities.

It is thus only in the absence of true liberal-democratic values that nationalism has become such a powerful force. The West has only itself to blame for its own decline, having chosen to destabilize huge swaths of the Middle East despite utter inability to deal with the repercussions, from human migration to financial collapse. The nationalist and populist parties that have risen up in the aftermath of the mess made by the liberal international order are just an attempt by ordinary people to make something out of what’s left.

In the post-Cold War era, Western-led coalitions were free to intervene almost anywhere. Most of the time, there was support in the UN Security Council, and whenever a military intervention was launched, the West enjoyed almost uncontested freedom of military movement,” the report reads, literally waxing nostalgic about the era of NATO’s unquestioned military and ideological superiority.

If the “Westlessness” those who wield “liberalism” and “democracy” as weapons fear is one in which the West is no longer free to pursue its dream of unimpeded endless war, perhaps that’s something Europeans – and the rest of the world as well – should embrace.

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