All enemies of the west will be emboldened by the American retreat from Afghanistan

The consequences of America’s betrayal and weakness will be no less grievous than after their defeat in Vietnam

Sean O'Grady
Monday 16 August 2021 15:03
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Taliban enter Kabul as US embassy in Afghanistan is evacuated

It’s over. The great betrayal is complete. Great betrayals, in fact. The most painful to watch – and it has barely begun – is the betrayal of the Afghan people and the torture and persecution about to be visited upon them from their own government. The subjugation of women and girls is already a fact and only the start of the horrors.

Not only that, but the complex rivalries of tribes and near states (Pakistan, Russia and Iran), Islamic State, al-Qaeda and the rest will mean unfathomable civil unrest between shifting alliances for years to come. The Taliban’s main source of revenues will be extortion, narcotics and, very possibly, extraction of funds from those desperate to flee abroad. Afghanistan is a failed state, possibly soon the most failed state in the world.

We know well who is to blame – America. For years successive administrations, even including that of George W Bush, signalled that they had little interest in “nation-building”, and they couldn’t wait to get the hell out. The resolve of the American people weakened with every day that passed from the atrocities of 9/11. Memories of why they were in Afghanistan faded; the UN-backed conflict in Afghanistan was mixed up (or deliberately conflated) with the illegal war in Iraq; the Obama and Trump administrations’ commitment to the country grew progressively weaker, until Joe Biden’s blunder completed the betrayal of Afghanistan.

But it is not Afghans alone who should fear America’s weakness. All of America’s allies should feel betrayed – because, whatever has been said, Afghanistan was an ally of America, and defended and trusted the superpower to honour its commitments. Instead, America ran away.

As with Vietnam and Cambodia half a century or so ago, the “unwinnable” wars in Afghanistan and Iraq sapped American morale. Maybe defeats in all these scenarios were inevitable. What matters now is the signal that America hasn’t the stomach for a fight. See what president Biden said just the other day: “The idea of us being able to use our armed forces to solve every single internal problem that exists in the world is just not within our capacity [...] The question is, is America’s vital self-interest at stake or the self-interest of one of our allies at stake?”

What he did was to cleverly de-legitimise Afghanistan as an ally when America was the most vital ally of all for the Afghans. They were both in a common struggle against the Taliban and state terror, until America just had enough.

The war on the Taliban is lost. The war on terror is lost. America’s allies have also lost. In Nato they endured years of Donald Trump telling them he wasn’t much interested in defending them against the Russians. We, in Europe, also had the humiliation of the Obama administration declaring “red lines” and then doing nothing about Russian sponsored chemical warfare in Syria, and the Russian annexation of Crimea. Biden not long ago went sliding around declaring, “America is back”. Is it? We are entitled to wonder how reliable our American friends are.

After the loss of Vietnam in 1975, the Soviets were emboldened. Cambodia slipped back into the Stone Age and the Viet Cong seized south Vietnam. The Soviets and their Cuban allies started to cause trouble and hijack liberation movements in Africa, and, ironically enough, decided to expand their empire into Afghanistan at Christmas in 1979. America did nothing except protest and slap on ineffective sanctions.

Today the consequences of America’s betrayal and weakness, its retreat from globalism, will be no less grievous, and these days the list of enemies of America and the west is even longer than in the 1970s. The Russians, of course, but also Chinese expansionism, new more vicious and ambitious terror groups including resurgent Isis and al-Qaeda, the prime members of the “axis of evil”, North Korea and Iran, the drug traffickers, people traffickers… all will now be emboldened by the American retreat.

Perhaps America suffered over-reach, as in Vietnam, and fought the right war in the wrong way, or simply suffered from battle fatigue from a more nimble and better organised enemy. Either way, the world is a more dangerous place, post-Afghanistan.

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