After the Second World War, the USA was the undisputed defender of western liberal values. Germany and Japan lay in ruins, China was convulsed in a civil war and Africa was still colonised. Only the Soviet Union challenged America’s hegemony and in the Cuban Missile Crisis, blinked first.
The first crack in American supremacy came in Vietnam and the USA’s defeat has some parallels with what has just happened in Afghanistan. The US tried to prop up a corrupt, weak regime in Saigon that didn’t have the support of the people.
The first Gulf War was a misleading last flicker of the ability of the West to impose its will in Asia. The allied victory in freeing Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s crude land grab was quick and lasting. That was because the aim was clear, and the war had the support of the people and most of the Arab world.
The marking of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 next month will be overwhelmed by the reflection that that was when things went really wrong for the West.
Our response to the terrible tragedy was understandable but misguided. The Americans were inspired by revenge, never a good master. The rest of us had a vague notion that the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were thirsting for liberal democracy. It is true that Afghan women were liberated to live more normal lives but that is not the same as saying that our military intervention led to sufficient civil consensus to rid those countries of corrupt, incompetent elites.
Since its formal creation in 1880 by Britain and Russia, Afghanistan has been very unstable. Foreign meddling, war lords and religious divisions have truly made it an unruly place. The Soviet Union were driven out and now we and the Americans have suffered the same fate.
My heart goes out to the Afghans, but they have had 20 years to change the course of their country’s history. The billions of Western cash could have been used to build up an effective army and, more importantly, establish a government that gained the loyalty of its people. Instead, the weak governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani were so poor that the Taliban rebels were able to gain support. They are brutal and ideological fanatics, but they kept law and order in a lawless land.
President Biden has taken a lot of stick, particularly in the media, where some journalists have wanted to prove they can hand it out to a Democrat as well as Donald Trump. In the past they have asked how long America was going to stay. Well Joe Biden has answered that and put an end to what Donald Trump started. The former President has been unusually quiet these last few days. The truth is that Biden has the support of the American people in withdrawing, although the shambles of the final days is tragic and will damage the President.
But the truth is the American people want the infrastructure repaired in Kansas not Kabul. The American empire is in retreat. As a result, we will face a mighty China and emboldened fundamentalists, not a happy prospect.