Tuesday, 17 August 2021


CIA officer helps evacuees up a ladder onto US helicopter in Saigon, 29 April 1975.
[Pic by Hubert Van Es, Wikipedia]

It's looking like Saigon in 1975 all over again, isn't it.

There was no good time to pull out of Afghanistan. We can probably all agree on that. But it is possible to question how the pull-out was done -- starting with the 'peace talks' with the Taliban (peace! with the Taliban!) that delivered to those butchers the US's timetable of withdrawal, and right up to the advice from the world's most expensive 'intelligence' agencies that the government, the army and the whole damn place would not collapse in a heap once that withdrawal happened.

Won't happen, they said back in July. Won't happen within 90 days, they said last Thursday. Turns out it took less than 90 hours -- "which is close enough for US intelligence work," as Mark Steyn quipped.

Make no mistake, for anyone concerned with peace -- or with the idea that a Pax Americana could be its source -- this is another dark day indeed in the continuing collapse of that myth. As the great Bernard Lewis warned nearly two decades ago, 

the danger here is that America risks being seen as harmless as an enemy, and treacherous as a friend... It's a very dangerous lesson to teach the planet.

That's no longer a risk. That's the lesson the whole world has just watched and learned. Again. To quote a line of Steyn's from about a decade ago, 

Afghanistan is about Afghanistan – if you're Afghan or Pakistani. But, if you're Russian or Chinese or Iranian or European, Afghanistan is about America.

So since we're posting old observations about America and Afghanistan, I thought I'd go back and briefly examine some of mine. Here's what I said on Afghanistan's day of liberation way back in 2001, when the coalition took Kabul:

The beards are coming off, and singing is heard again in Kabul. Although the war against terrorism is far from over, the Taliban retreat makes it possible to believe the war in Afghanistan just might be reaching a conclusion, and that civilisation and peace might come to Afghanistan some time soon. However, I have nagging doubts that will ever happen. First: while the occupying Northern Alliance is less single-mindedly oppressive than the Taleban, they are no less brutal. Second: the Taleban retreat to the hills puts them in their area of competitive advantage - these murderous witchdoctors don't know very much, but they do know all about killing and cave-dwelling.

Third, and most worryingly of all, the West has forgotten how to set up a successful civil government in an occupied area. In the long run this last concern is the most serious, and it might mean that the brutality becomes more visible, and Afghanistan more bloodstained....

If Bush can't set up successful civil government ... then he may have to call off the War Against Terrorism early, just as his father called off the Gulf War early for the self-same reason.

As you may recall, the Gulf War ended in 1991 with the US reluctant to finish the war as they should have - with the toppling of Saddam Hussein. When Bush senior stopped the turkey shoot on the road to Baghdad, it wasn't just a loss of courage - it was also the realisation that they had no end-game, that they wouldn't know what to do when they got there.

Our current statesmen may not know how to go about successfully rebuilding a conquered country, but we only need to travel back half a century to find some statesman who did know how.

Out of the rubble of Japan and Germany, Douglas McArthur, Ludwig Erhard, Wilhelm Röpke and Konrad Adenaur built new countries that abandoned their militaristic, totalitarian and feudal pasts and instead embraced peace, prosperity and freedom.

In the words of Röpke: "Men are gripped by a desire to be told what to do and to be ordered about, to the point almost of masochism. The state has become the subject of almost unparalleled idolatry." He and his colleagues recognised that attitude as the very source of war, and sought to banish it, new German Chancellor Adenaur declaring in March 1946: "The new state must no longer dominate the individual. Everyone must be allowed to take the initiative in every facet of existence." They set up governments large enough to maintain the rule of law and protect initiative, and small enough to get out of the way otherwise. And they worked like all hell!

Their minimal governments, constitutionally constrained to protect contracts and property rights, allowed free trade to flourish and prosperity to blossom. German and Japanese young men soon realised that there was more to life than butchery and invading their neighbours, and they set about getting rich instead.

They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Germany and Japan could hardly have started at a lower point. At the end of 1945, both countries were in ruins, yet only twenty years later they were flying. It was called a miracle, but it was in fact the work of some remarkable men.

We can only hope that the lessons from these remarkable men can be learned by the current crop of statesmen. It won't be easy, but if terrorism is to be eradicated and the gun-toting young men and the veiled women of Afghanistan offered any future at all - then the lessons must be learned, and they must be applied.

And if they are successful, then the world might have cause to give thanks once again to Douglas McArthur, Ludwig Erhard, Wilhelm Röpke and Konrad Adenaur.

In 1945, the knowledge existed to successfully rebuild countries after they'd been liberated from savagery. But by 1991's Gulf War, even the victors had realised that knowledge had gone. Disappeared. Gone with the wind. So they didn't drive to Baghdad, because they knew enough to know they wouldn't know what to do when they got there.

They still don't.

The result can be seen today in Kabul.

Taking questions from the press in July, Biden was asked if he saw “any parallels between this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam.”

“None whatsoever. Zero,” he replied.

He was, in some way, right. The Afghan collapse was far more precipitous ...
UPDATE: "The Taliban have entered the Afghan capital, having rapidly swept to power throughout the country, while the U.S. is frantically airlifting its diplomats to safety. What explains the fall of Afghanistan? In 2001 U.S. forces targeted the Taliban’s Islamic totalitarian regime, which had harbored the 9/11 plotters. What went wrong? Join Onkar Ghate and Elan Journo for a special episode of the New Ideal podcast":

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