Has the West lost its strategic vision?

Alexander Gardner (1821–1882), Ruins of Gallego Flour Mills, Richmond, 1965.


Endless wars, without responsibility for the crimes committed

"The abandonment of Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, it is not good for them or for us", said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997-2007), in a text published on the organization's website that he created and directs, the Institute for Global Change. Twenty years later, the Taliban are back, the same group that the United States ousted from power in 2001, with the support of England, of which Blair was then prime minister.

As happened when he decided to join the invasion of Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction, which he, US President George W. Bush and the head of the Spanish government, conservative José María Aznar, claimed to exist. “Believe me, there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq!”, said Aznar on the eve of the attack on that country. On September 24, 2002, seven months before the invasion of Iraq, the British government published its own report on these weapons. In the introduction, Blair declared that Saddam Hussein was still producing weapons of mass destruction "far beyond any doubt".

Today British Labor laments the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan "in a form that seems designed to make our humiliation evident". “The West has lost its strategic vision; can learn from this experience; think strategically? Is the long term a concept that we are still capable of understanding?

President Joe Biden, in his now famous speech on Monday, August 16th, restated the reasons for his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. He said that the objectives of the intervention had been twofold: to liquidate Osama bin Laden – the organizer of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York – and to prevent Afghanistan from remaining a base of operations for terrorist groups. “These objectives did not include the idea of ​​rebuilding a state,” he assured. He believed, therefore, that the proposed mission had been accomplished. It was time to bring your soldiers home.

Um slogan asshole politician

But Blair has another view. The pledge was “to transform Afghanistan from a failed terrorist state into a functioning democracy,” he writes. Today we seem to see the effort to impose democracy on a country “as a utopian illusion” and “any intervention, of any kind, as foolishness”.

And then come the harshest words, referring to Biden's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan: “It was not necessary to do so. We decided to do it. We did so in obedience to a slogan imbecile politician to end the 'endless wars'”. “We did it because the policy seemed to demand it, not for strategic reasons,” he says. "Russia, China and Iran see this and will capitalize on it." He cited the case of Libya as an example. An intervention that led to chaos, civil war and an increase in refugees seeking asylum in Europe. He recalled that it was they who ended Muammar al-Gaddafi's rule, but it was the Russians who were taking charge of the country's future. Now, with the crisis in Afghanistan, everyone is asking: “Does this withdrawal from the West represent a change of era? I don't think so, but we'll have to show it,” Blair replies.

His proposal is to encircle the Taliban. They will face difficult decisions that will divide them. Its finances, its public sector, fundamentally depend on aid from the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom and other G7 countries. Together with other nations, they should create a contact group to coordinate initiatives with the Afghan people, monitor the Taliban regime, create a list of incentives and sanctions. “Let them know we are watching them!”

The G7, meeting virtually and urgently on Tuesday, August 24, convened by the British presidency, approved a resolution warning the Taliban that they will be responsible for preventing terrorist actions from their territory and for guaranteeing human rights, in particularly those of women, girls and ethnic minorities. The "legitimacy of any future government" will depend on it, they said in their statement.

At a press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the G7's first demand was to extend, for as long as necessary, the guarantees so that those who want to leave the country can do so. But despite European pressure, there was no agreement with Washington to extend the presence of US troops in Kabul and ensure the evacuation of those who want to leave the country. “Some will tell us no, but I hope others will see it in a positive light, because the G7 has very considerable economic, diplomatic and political influence” in Afghanistan, including control of a considerable amount of Afghan funds, deposited mainly in the United States .

Blair, a dangerous weapon of mass destruction

For Blair, the Taliban are part of a wider political landscape, a strategic concern. What he calls, “for lack of a better definition”, a “radical Islamic ideology” that, in his opinion, fuels a vast process of destabilization in the Sahel, in sub-Saharan North Africa.

While some Islamic countries oppose the violence, "they all share the same ideological characteristics", such as Pakistan, which congratulated the Taliban on their triumph. The enemy, for Blair, is Islamism: the long-term structural challenge of an ideology that he considers "inconsistent with modern societies". “If so, if this is a strategic challenge, we must never make the decision to leave Afghanistan. For 70 years we have recognized revolutionary communism as a threat of a strategic nature and it never occurred to anyone to say that we should abandon this struggle. This is what we must decide about radical Islam: is it a strategic threat?”

Blair suggests maintaining various forms of intervention. “If the West wants a XNUMXst century tailored to it, in accordance with its values ​​and interests, it will have to make commitments”, demanded Blair, leaving aside any need to prove whether or not its enemies have weapons of mass destruction. “We learned the risks of interventions like those in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. Intervention requires commitments that respond to our objectives, not time constraints imposed by the political agenda”.

It is evident, therefore, that if there are weapons of mass destruction in this world, one of the most dangerous is Tony Blair himself! His ideas are not popular with everyone, not even in England. "Blair condemns the withdrawal from Afghanistan, but he had better show a little remorse," said the columnist for the The Guardian Simon Jenkins, in an article published on August 23. “He was an ardent supporter of George W. Bush's invasion of Afghanistan, followed by Iraq. That was stupid, tragic, dangerous and unnecessary. It was Blair who spurred a reluctant NATO to legitimize this presumptuous adventure by the leaders of the United States and Great Britain. He was a lapdog who, trotting at the heels of the United States, kept Great Britain out of what he ironically called 'the first division'” of world politics.

"Don't blame the Afghans"

“Why does the United States, arguably the most successful society in the world, waste so much blood and resources on foreign adventures – from Cambodia and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq – and fail so spectacularly?” asks Singaporean diplomat and academic Kishore Mahbubani. “There must be deep structural reasons for this,” he says, which he believes can be explained by the three “c's”: control, culture and commitment.

Three years ago, Mahbubani published his book Has the West lost it? A title to which he added: “a provocation”. More recently, in March of last year, she published Has China won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy. In addition to books, she often writes about current affairs, confronting the idea of ​​the West with the Asian worldview, a conflict that is well expressed in the titles of these books. “The United States went to Afghanistan to build and nurture democracy. But they couldn't have acted more undemocratically than taking control of the country for 20 years,” he says. Unable to embrace the country's cultural values, Americans considered President Ashraf Ghani's government democratic. “Is that correct?” asks Mahbubani, reminding us that only 1,8 million Afghans voted in an electoral college of 9,7 million voters in a country of 32 million people.

“Not to mention that, as analysts familiar with the country explain, Afghanistan 'does not exist' as a nation-state. On the contrary, the country is made up of local groups”, he says in an interview with the German DW Brazilian journalist Lourival Sant'Anna, who was in Afghanistan three times during the years of the US occupation preparing reports. “Afghans are very willing to make deals,” he says. "They have no interest in provoking problems with other countries." “That's what they're trying to do again now. They just want to fix their country, an Islamic emirate, and have good relations with the rest of the world,” he says.

The interview illustrates well what Mahbubani defines as “cultural realities” that help to understand why the United States ends up defeated when it invades these countries. It fails to impose its own rather than trying to understand local ones. The third “c” cited by the Singaporean scholar refers to “compromise”. Mahbubani illustrates his point by indicating that Afghanistan is an ancient society with an even older neighbor: Iran. "After millennia of living together, there must be a lot of knowledge in Iran's history and culture about how to live with Afghanistan." Regardless of all the differences, a rapprochement between Washington and Tehran on this issue could have been helpful to both. “But the very idea of ​​a compromise with Iran seems unthinkable for the United States,” he says. "There are few signs that the United States is willing to review its behavior."

On the contrary, "many people in Washington blame Afghanistan for this catastrophic failure, pointing in particular to corruption". But corruption, he concludes, "requires both supply and demand." “Had the United States not drowned Afghanistan in an almost uncontrollable tsunami of dollars, corruption might not have occurred.”

The same unreliable sellers

the columnist of The Guardian Nesrine Malik also wonders why the West doesn't learn any lessons from what happened in Afghanistan. “It's the same salespeople who offered us a fake war decades ago who are here again, trying to sell us spare parts to keep the car running,” says Malik.

It reminds us of the Al-Qaeda attack on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998. Then-President Bill Clinton ordered a missile attack in retaliation against the largest drug factory in Sudan, a country subjected to sanctions, where drugs were scarce. He was accused of secretly producing nerve agents for al-Qaeda. The factory was destroyed. One man died and 11 others were injured. But shortly thereafter, US administration officials admitted that the “evidence” in the case was not as solid as it appeared. Just like Saddam Hussein's bombs.

There was never any admission of error, no apology, no compensation for those affected. Nobody took responsibility for the error. For more than two decades, "this has been the logic of the war on terror: American and British leaders make the courageous and difficult moral decisions, and then someone else takes care of the consequences."

The chaos in Kabul, Malik pointed out, "is just the last event in a long drama, whose protagonists never change". Endless wars, with no one responsible for the crimes committed.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.


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