When America decided to save Afghanistan from the tyranny of the Taliban, it acted on two major beliefs. The first was that the US had the might, the tech and the ability to reshape Afghanistan—what could a superpower have to fear from a ragtag bunch of insurgents?—the second was a belief that this Kabul project was not about colonialism. History was moving America’s way and all it needed was a nudge. Both theories have now been tested to destruction.
The humiliation that America has just inflicted upon herself (and her western allies) will reverberate globally and in a way that emboldens all the wrong people. To leave Kabul in such an undignified and callous manner is a victory not only for the Taliban but for both Russia and China. It also cements the retreat of the West from both Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan. It secures the primacy of Chinese interests in Pakistan (which is increasingly taking on the complexion of a Chinese satellite state). The world has been given yet more confirmation that America may be a superpower but she can be dismantled with tenacious insurgent warfare—the very insurgency warfare strategies that China and Russia and Iran have been heavily investing in since Saddam Hussein’s defeat in the first Gulf War.
Joe Biden is right to reject comparisons to the Vietnam war. This defeat is orders of magnitude greater, tectonically more ignominious. The Afghan war lasted longer and cost more in terms of treasure and loss of human life if you consider the death toll amongst Afghans and Pakistanis as well as the Nato allies. Every ally of the United States will now recalibrate their alliances with the United States with this defeat in mind. Americans now are now confirmed as fair-weather friends and unreliable allies. Our military, supposedly the mightiest the world has ever seen, has been roundly defeated by chapli-wearing ragamuffin insurgents armed with RPGs and a rabid Islamist fundamentalism.The Taliban rules by Islamist totalitarianism: it wants to control culture, faith, and society more than it cares about the machinations of the state
Pakistan will now be enormously destabilised by having a Taliban caliphate on her highly porous 1,500-mile-long border.
We will reap what we sow. And what we have sown is impulsive wars. Betrayal of our allies—diehard allies like the Kurds—the decent Afghanis, the long-suffering Iraqis, the defenceless Yazidis, all of whom have held more strongly to our ideals than we have ourselves. That’s why the shock of Kabul will reverberate from Washington to London, from Baghdad to Jerusalem, on to Islamabad and beyond.
After the 9/11 attacks, Tony Blair told the Labour party conference that the wars he was about to fight were about building a new world order. ‘The kaleidoscope has been shaken, the pieces are in flux, soon they will settle again,’ he said. ‘Before they do, let us reorder this world around us.’ As Britain and America retreat, defeated, it will now be up to others to reorder the world. An opportunity that China is unlikely to pass up.
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