News and Views
West’s arrogance is to blame for the birth of a new and far more dangerous era of religious extremism and regional instability.
The leaders of the free world were on holiday this week. David Cameron enjoyed a relaxing break in Portugal, while Francois Hollande disappeared to Provence with his family.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama left Washington for two weeks on the golf course. He was looking forward, he told reporters, to not wearing a suit for a while.
But while the leaders of the West were sipping cocktails and basking in the sunshine, the world burned.
Twelve days ago, we remembered the outbreak of the First World War, the conflict that was supposed to end all wars.
Yet despite the pious hopes of the centenary services, this has been a summer of mayhem, slaughter and terrifying instability.
As Iraq continued to slide into blood-drenched anarchy, thousands of people remained trapped in the mountains by the advance of Islamic State militants.
In North Africa, Libya’s parliament begged on Wednesday for foreign intervention to protect civilians from rival warlords, whose feuding has already killed well over 1,000 people.
In Ukraine, as Russian convoys of aid and armoured cars rolled over the border, government forces pounded the rebel-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, where water, food and electricity have long since run out.
And in Syria the bloody civil war, which has already claimed a quarter of a million lives, reached a horrifying new low when an Islamic State fighter posted a picture online of his six-year-old boy holding a severed head.
With every day bringing new atrocities, you might have thought that the leaders of the West would be locked in talks, discussing how to resolve the conflicts that have brought such horrors to the shores of the Mediterranean and the edge of Europe.
Yet not until Thursday did Mr Cameron break off his holiday to return to London. Despite plans to send RAF helicopters to help refugees in Iraq, Parliament has not been recalled.
And, across the Atlantic, Mr Obama evidently believes that practising his putting is far more important than the chaos in the Middle East.
For my part, I am staggered that our leaders have reacted to these months of crisis with such blithe insouciance.
For when future historians look back, they may well see the summer of 2014 as a watershed marking the end of the post-Cold War order, and the birth of a new and far more dangerous era of religious extremism and regional instability.
In the long term, the roots of the current crisis on Europe’s borders, from the cities of eastern Ukraine to the deserts of the Middle East, lie in the hubris and folly that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall, a quarter of a century ago.
When the Wall came down in the autumn of 1989, it marked the end of a long, dangerous but relatively stable stalemate between the democratic West and the communist East.