The UK has assisted in a series of wars in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. It has so far stayed out of Syria, though the government was keen to intervene there as well. It has stayed out of Gaza, Egypt, and other troubled or potentially dangerous territories. It has stayed out of Iran, though it has used diplomatic pressures and sanctions over the issue of nuclear weapons.
The overall experience of these conflicts has been very mixed. The most successful intervention came assisting the USA in liberating Kuwait from unwanted invasion at the request of the Kuwaiti government and people. The interventions in support of the USA post 9/11, to try to root out terrorists and to change regimes have been less successful.
The largest and longest deployment came to Afghanistan. There the western forces have helped engineer regime change, and have given extensive support to the democratic regime that now governs. The UK did not commit sufficient troops to Helmand province, leading to additional US commitment there to seek to control the anti government forces.
The west’s aims have varied. Sometimes they have just been to support the civilian power established. Sometimes they have been seeking regime change. Sometimes they have been fighting against various branches of militant Islam. Sometimes the west has been on the Sunni side, and sometimes on the Shia side, in the relentless religious war. The west has changed its stance on Assad in Syria, has allowed a military coup to replace the elected government of Egypt, has tried to establish an elected government in Libya but failed to help enforce its will on a war torn country, has been patient in Afghanistan, and is now modest in its involvement in the bitter struggle over Iraq.
It is difficult to see that all this activity over more than a decade has either vanquished militant Islamic forces or established a series of peace loving democracies that share more of our values. The West has discovered that terrorist groups are many and various, constantly changing, and able to move across borders as Western force seeks to catch up with them. The West has learned the old lesson that you cannot establish a democracy by conquering a country. The impulse for democracy has to come from within the country itself and takes years to learn and bed down.
It looks as if US policy towards the Middle East is shifting. The response to Iraq and Syria this time round is much more modest than after 9/11. There seems to be more recognition that local politics matters and western troops are at a big disadvantage without knowledge of the local languages, religions and customs. I want the UK to lead the conversation in NATO and the UN against further military intervention, other than in a case like Kuwait where a Middle Eastern country asks for western help in resisting invasion and it is help we can give successfully.