Tuesday 17 August 2021

The Failure Of The West.

Kabul, Afghanistan. 16/8/21:  There is always an enthusiastic audience for tales of imperial ruin. The Western Left will have watched the helicopters circling the American Embassy in Kabul with the same grim satisfaction as it watched the Hueys taking-off from the US Embassy roof in Saigon forty-six years ago. Such is the fate of all empires, the wise old intellectuals will opine. The only lesson of history is that men never learn the lessons of history.

THE WEST HAS FAILED. It is unlikely that we shall ever again see North American, European and/or Australasian ground troops deployed “overseas”. Naval and air forces, yes, but not “boots on the ground”. The Western powers no longer possess the ruthless conviction necessary to impose their will on weaker nations face-to-face. From 15 kilometres offshore, or 30,000 feet above the target, the West may still make its mark. (Although, with cruise missiles and drones, distances hardly matter anymore.) But the brutal confidence that once allowed illiterate British redcoats to make a gift of the world to their lords and masters. For better or for worse, those days are gone.

There is always an enthusiastic audience for tales of imperial ruin. The Western Left will have watched the helicopters circling the American Embassy in Kabul with the same grim satisfaction as it watched the Hueys taking-off from the US Embassy roof in Saigon forty-six years ago. Such is the fate of all empires, the wise old intellectuals will opine. The only lesson of history is that men never learn the lessons of history.

Before the Western Left breaks out the Champagne, however, it should pause for a few moments to consider what it has just witnessed in Afghanistan. For Afghan women, the withdrawal of United States and Nato ground forces represents an historic betrayal and abandonment. For 20 years, the emancipation of the women and girls of Afghanistan was held up to the world as the single greatest achievement of western intervention. Like Saddam Hussein’s “human shields”, they were paraded before the world. “Look!” cried the Americans and the Europeans, the Australians and the New Zealanders. “This is why we are here. This is why we cannot leave.”

Billions of dollars were spent to lift Afghan women from sexual abjection to full personhood and independence. “Girls can do anything!” The hip slogan of western societies which had long ago enfranchised and liberated the female half of their populations, became in Afghanistan a revolutionary rallying cry against the brutal “medieval theocracy” (hat-tip to Helen Clark) that first the Soviets, and then the West, expended so much blood and treasure attempting to supplant.

And it worked. Women and girls were uplifted. They thrived in the classrooms, filled the lecture theatres, took charge in shops, offices and factories. Like proud parents, the Western Occupiers looked on. Here, they told themselves, was the proof of the West’s moral superiority. Here was the vindication of neoliberal modernity.

Almost – but not quite. Because if the West had truly been committed to sexual equality; if it had truly wanted a democratic and modern Afghanistan to emerge from the theocratic brutality of the Taliban; then it would have driven through the one truly revolutionary reform that might have made that possible: it would have inducted women into the Afghan Army.

Why is the Taliban in Kabul? The answer is brutally simple: because the men of the Afghan Army were given nothing to fight for. The president of their country was a corrupt crook and coward. The ministers and provincial governors of the Afghan regime took their lead from the President. The Army commanders stole their troops wages and sold their rations in the marketplace. For what, then, were the men of the Afghan Army being asked to lay down their lives? Democracy? There was none. Freedom? They had none. A better life? After 20 years – where was it? Who was to say their lives would not be better under the Taliban?

Kurdish Female Fighter.

Only Afghanistan’s women had something to fight for – something to die for – and nobody from the armies of the West, let alone their own fathers, brothers and husbands, were willing to give them something to fight with – and teach them how to use it.

Had the West still possessed a skerrick of imperial statecraft, it would have recognised and armed the nation state of Kurdistan, and encouraged it to send its best female troops to teach the Afghan women how to fight. That it did none of these things proves that the billions it spent “liberating” the women of Afghanistan were drawn exclusively from the Public Relations Budget. Having decided it was time to leave Afghanistan, Donald Trump and Joe Biden simply turned their backs on the women and girls of that blood-stained country – and withdrew. The Taliban would look after them.

For more than two thousand years, the people of the West (among others) have built empires. Mysteriously, the more removed in time they became from the imperial powers of the past: Greece, Rome, Spain, France, Britain; the less adroit they became at holding on to their conquests.

The key objective of empire is not to occupy territory, but to prevent your enemies from occupying it. In other words, to make sure that, having conquered a people, you make it worth their while to stand with you, not against you. Peace, security and prosperity is what a clever imperial power offers: overseen and administered as far as possible by the locals themselves. (Or, at least, the local elites.) The British and the French got to be quite good at this. The Americans never got the hang of it.

Having been out-waited and out-fought in Afghanistan, the United States will now have to endure watching the Chinese play the role of the Afghan people’s new best friend. Aid will pour in from Beijing, infrastructure projects will proliferate, peace, security and prosperity will cement the new friendship in place. More to the point, not a single Chinese combat-boot will disturb the Afghan dust.

And the Uighurs languishing in concentration camps across the border in Xinjiang Province? Why, the Taliban will expend about as much energy on their behalf, as the Western Left will expend on helping the women and girls of Afghanistan.

Because it’s not just the statesmen, diplomats and generals of the West who have failed to live up to the achievements of their forebears; the aspirations and ideals of its revolutionaries have similarly dwindled. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels ended The Communist Manifesto with the ringing declaration: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” What would the Western Left cry today? “Persons of every identity (except White, Cis-Males) make full use of intersectional opportunities whenever practicable. Break free from all imposed moralities, but do not attempt to impose your personal notions of right and wrong on the rest of the world.”

Especially not in Afghanistan.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 17 August 2021.


Brendan McNeill said...


There were a lot of things the US Politicians and Generals failed to appreciate about Afghanistan. Foremost amongst them was fiercely tribal structure of Afghan society, where allegiances were to war lords and not to any Western notion of the nation state.

Perhaps the largest blind spot of our secular elites was their failure to recognise the power of religion on the human heart and mind. The Taliban were engaged in a holy war, an Islamic jihad to remove the foreign invader from their soil, as they had removed the Russians, and the British before them. Taliban recruits fought for Allah and a place in Paradise secure in the knowledge that victory was inevitable. The US trained Afghan army had only corrupt leaders supported in office by their Infidel masters.

The outcome was inevitable.

There is good news however, the US Generals may have failed in Afghanistan, but they are clearly winning the culture war back home, if this two minute Army recruitment add is any indication:


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Live up to what? It's Afghanistan. We are always seeking to impose a western solution on non-Western problems, in a nation where loyalties are local rather than to the country as a whole, and where successive central governments have been as corrupt as buggery. The parallels with Vietnam are many.
And what could the left do? Arm the women? I'm sorry that's a bit ridiculous, and still trying to impose a western solution onto a non-Western country. Although I must say, it's a less ridiculous solution than the US and NATO applied. And perhaps we should arm any more local/ethnic resistance movements. They can maybe establish mini states as the Kurds have done.
I would have to question if anyone who has set policy on Afghanistan actually knows anything about the state, which is a bit of a fiction, given the general culture of people in the countryside anyway. And while I might feel sorry for the women in an intellectual sort of way, I don't think we should be sending our kids over there to get killed.
Now it's the problem of China, Iran, and those various stans that surround it. I don't think somehow if they'll do a great deal for the women, but they certainly understand the culture better than most people in the West. And if the trouble start spilling over the borders, I doubt if they will be as restrained as the West Iran in particular, given the Taliban's special hatred for Shia Muslims – although I doubt if they'll be able to impose their will either. It's certainly not going to be as bad in a general way for women as it is going to be for the Hazara people who are Shia– without an international border too. I suspect they are in for a world of hurt. I wonder how stable Wayne Mapp thinks it is now. I knew that would come back to bite you in the arse Wayne.

John Hurley said...

That's quite a good idea as it would have created an alternative set of myth that would have resonated.

Anonymous said...

Key phases of successful Foreign Policy (according to “Yes Minister”)

1) Sir Richard Wharton: “In stage one, we say nothing is going to happen.”
2) Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Stage two, we say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it.”
3) Sir Richard Wharton: “In stage three, we say that maybe we should do something about it, but there’s nothing we can do.”
4) Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Stage four, we say maybe there was something we could have done, but it’s too late now.”


David George said...

Thanks for the clip Brendan, I'm sure the Taliban or ISIS will be shaking in their boots, perhaps not. Killing US troops, the LGBQWERTY army, is now a sacred religious duty. Genius.

Melanie Phillips in her newsletter had a few choice comments:

"Afghanistan became the crucible of al Qaeda, providing a base for Osama bin Laden and resulting in the 9/11 attacks. Now Afghanistan is poised to become jihad-central with rocket-boosters. The Taliban have already released thousands of terrorists from Afghan prisons. Afghanistan will become a magnet and an inspiration for jihadis from all over the world.

For the abandoned Afghan people, the consequences are likely to be hideous. But the malignant effects of this disaster are already rippling way beyond this epicentre of terror.

America’s allies can now see that the US is a faithless friend, the weak link in the chain of western defences and with untold consequences for their own security.

With America on its knees, other enemies of the west — Iran, China Russia — must be rubbing their hands in glee over the opportunities for evil now opening up for them as a result.

Indeed, Shia Iran has reportedly already ramped up its tactical alliance with the Sunni Taliban — in other circumstances its mortal theological foe — to such an extent that in some quarters the Taliban’s military strength is being ascribed to Iranian influence."

Nick J said...

GS you got that right. If the West wasn't so full of bullshit and hubris they might have seen this coming. No doubt women will suffer but I dont think that the "Empire" ever really gave a proverbial about them.

David George said...

Despite the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan, the post-Christian West is not at all short on ideas, arguments, insults, ideologies, stratagems, conflicts or world-saving machines. But it is very short on saints; and how we need their love, wisdom, discipline and stillness amidst the chaos of the times. Maybe we had better start looking at how to embody a little of these qualities ourselves.

rivoniaboy said...

Here's an idea, why don't we recruit an all female army to go and liberate their Afghani sisters who are once again going to join the ranks of the downtrodden instead of constantly sending working class men to get blown up.

David George said...

Brendan O'Neil:

The West’s post-9/11 bluster was continually undermined by the West’s broader descent into moral relativism. How can you assert the civilisational authority of Western values when your entire educational and university system is devoted to questioning and demeaning Western civilisation? You cannot partake in a clash of civilisations if you loathe your own civilisation.

Anyone who thinks the Taliban did not pick up on all of this, on the Potemkin nature not only of the Afghan government but also of Western civilisation itself, is kidding themselves. The Taliban will have watched as the mighty American military became bogged down in discussions of critical race theory and the problem of ‘white rage’. They will have clocked the British army’s recruitment drive that was aimed at ‘snowflakes’ and ‘me me me millennials’ – for real – on the basis that such people have the ‘compassion’ necessary for the touchy-feely wars of the 21st century. They will know that the contemporary West is shame-faced about its history and its civilisational values and lacks ideas for how to turn its fragile youths into a fighting force, and they will understand their own life-and-death devotion to Sharia as being the opposite to all of this. They know this was a cultural clash as well as a military fight, and that they were by far the stronger side on this front.

The Afghan humiliation, in contrast, is a product almost entirely of internal disarray – of the exhaustion of American politics, of Western geopolitical nous, and of the West’s belief in its own project and its own values. There is nothing positive whatsoever in how the Afghan War has ended. It is a disaster for the Afghan people, a devastating blow to the confidence of the United States, and another backward step for those of us who believe that the values of democracy and freedom are superior and are worth fighting for. The Afghan calamity will cast a long shadow, for a long time.


Brendan McNeill said...

Hi David

We are not alone in understanding that the demise of the west is first spiritual and then material. However, our elites are predominantly secular in their outlook and consequently lack even the most basic understanding of the human condition. We have a PM who embraces kindness as the supreme virtue, but appears to have limited understanding of the foundational building blocks of western civilization, faith, courage, self sacrifice, hope forgiveness and redemption which are embodied in the person of Christ.

This is simply an observation, not an implicit criticism.

Chris is an exception but historical literacy is generally lacking in the population at large. Even worse is our theological illiteracy.

Consequently, we in the west (think America) start reactionary wars and exchange the harsh brutality of victory for the soft goals of 'nation building' because why exactly? We no longer have the stomach for wars bloody reality, we prefer the pretense. This is an expression of civilizational decadence from which we are unlikely to recover.

But yes the US Military enforces the correct use of personal pronouns at home, and no doubt would prefer the Taliban embraces them as well, particularly when addressing US captives before engaging in the ritual slaughter of the infidel.

Our PM did publicly implore the Taliban to respect human rights. So, not only are we reduced to military impotence, but our most senior politician has nothing but political bromides to further amplify our weakness and humiliation.

It's difficult not to feel disgust and revulsion at her comments. Better to remain silent and be considered wise than to speak and to be seen a fool.

Guillaume said...

Whilst working for British intelligence in the Persian Gulf in the 1960s I was seconded to a project managed by the US Navy. At one point I attended a conference in the US embassy in Beirut. I found that those present had little or no knowledge of the Middle East its inhabitants, cultures or religion. Everything was viewed from a European perspective. When I pointed out that what they were proposing, would be difficult, if not impossible to achieve there was a stunned silence. Fortunately, because of some incidental political considerations, British support and involvement was withdrawn.

Tom Hunter said...

I guess in all of this I have increasingly been reminded of this from Kenneth Clark's great 1969 TV documentary series, Civilisation:

Civilisation does require a modicum of material prosperity — enough to provide a little leisure. But it requires confidence far more. Confidence in the society in which one lives, belief in its philosophy, belief in its laws, and confidence in one’s own mental powers. Vigour, energy, vitality: all the great civilisations have had a weight of energy behind them. People sometimes think that civilisation consists in fine sensibilities and good conversation and all that. These may be among the agreeable results of civilisation, but they are not what make a civilisation, and a society can have these amenities and yet be dead and rigid.

I hate to say this, but I think the USA is now at that point, and perhaps the entire West.

The Barron said...

Many tend to forget that our largest city is named after George Eden, Lord Auckland, the Governor-General of India, who in 1839 set about regime change in Afghanistan. 20,000 troops were poured into the country. After two years the Afghan people rose in jihad. The British retreated through mountain snow drifts and were utterly routed by Afghan tribesmen - it was the greatest military humiliation in the nineteenth century.

Did the west learn the lesson. 2nd Anglo-Afghan War, Soviet invasion and finally Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden.

Still, surely at least Lord Auckland's family would learn their lesson -

Auckland lived in semi-disgrace in Kensington, and died aged only sixty-five in 1849 ... Empire-building did not prove to be a family talent: the next Eden to try his hand, Anthony Eden, presided over the debacle of Suez 114 years later.
William Dalrymple, Return of the King [2013]

Tom Hunter said...

Oh, and you and your readers might be interested in this from the New Statesmen:

The decomposition of the West is not only a geopolitical fact; it is also cultural and intellectual. Leading Western countries contain powerful bodies of opinion that regard their own civilisation as a uniquely pernicious force. In this hyper-liberal view, which is heavily represented in higher education, Western values of freedom and toleration mean little more than racial domination. If it still exists as a civilisational bloc, the West must be dismantled.

This hyper-liberalism is not presented as one among a number of standpoints that can be examined and questioned in open debate. It is a catechism policed by peer pressure and professional sanctions. Those who enforce it like to dismiss practices such as “cancellation” as nightmares of the fevered right-wing mind with no basis in fact. At the same time, they believe disagreement is an exercise in repression.

sumsuch said...

I don't give a crap for far Bactria. Apart for my fellows over there of course. In geo-reality it doesn't matter.

People are resistant to the only reality that matters of the tsunami of climate change beginning to bead over us. Even our only genuine family friend whose house was within a km of bush fire in Oz can't concentrate on that. Discomfort can produce new worlds, comfort can kill our only world.

thesorrow&thepity said...

An article about the Taliban which omits Pakistan & the ISI, is akin to an article about the invasion of Poland that has no mention of Germany or the Nazis.

Kit Slater said...

As the Dominion Post said a few days ago, "The reason the Taliban won in Afghanistan [and Iranian insurgents in Iraq] was, according to a Taliban scholar in 2019, that “The Taliban fight for belief, for janat (heaven) and ghazi (killing infidels) . . . The army and police fight for money.”" Also, of course, that all successes are due to the favourable will of Allah. Allahu akbar.

David Stone said...

I think the quote was "It is better for a man to stay silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt."

David Stone said...

Sorry Brendon
That was what my Pa used to say but your quote was more original being from the bible. Lots of later examples that don't alow wisdom as an option only dumb or dumber.
He also used to quote... " It's great to be able to think of something smart to say in time to stop yourself from saying it." Looks like I should have listened to both.

sumsuch said...

Being an egalitarian, social democrat, full adult means not looking up to anyone. I've reached that point, not re skills nor me being good. The plutocracy hides that beneath a super gleam paint system. Onward!