Flat White

Kabul: some good must come of this

18 August 2021

4:00 AM

18 August 2021

4:00 AM

I’ve had a few thoughts on Afghanistan, which is a disaster I was against in the first instance, but once you’re in, you can’t go back to your initial conditions. So if I were either of the last two United States presidents, who are to blame for this “Saigon on Steroids”, then I would have regarded it as a more-or-less perpetual police action. What we are seeing in Afghanistan is an international version of defunding the police. This is Portland Oregon or Kenosha, just with a broader canvass and even more elemental actors.

There’s obviously a lot of bad that comes out of it. It’s a tragedy for those who put their faith in the Americans, and a message to those in the future who might be tempted (and that includes Australia). Many of them will lose their lives or freedoms, and their families will also suffer for their complicity with the Kaffir invader. And it replenishes the army of those who would harm the West via acts of terrorism out of the jails of Afghanistan.

The US is humiliated, and China and Russia must be emboldened. As if they weren’t already emboldened enough. Yang Jiechi, China’s director of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, didn’t completely strip US Secretary of State Anthony Blinkin of face in the Anchorage summit when he spent 20 minutes lecturing him about America’s sins, because China respects the current US administration.

Biden’s response has been appalling. Instead of being at the political frontline in Washington he’s been off on holidays. And when he eventually creeps out of his basement to respond, it is all someone else’s fault. “Donald made me do it,” doesn’t wash as an excuse when every other action he has taken since becoming President has been to overturn what Donald did. It’s worse than that. Reports suggest that he rejected the advice of his own advisors on how to handle Afghanistan as well as a bipartisan congressional committee, the Afghanistan Study Group. He had plenty of opportunities to modify, or renege, on Trump’s peace deal, as the Taliban breached a number of conditions.

Even if Trump had won in 2020, it is hard to believe that the Taliban would have been this bold. Who’d know what the bear with a sore head in the Whitehouse might do? And Trump being the opportunistic deal maker that he is might well have decided the deal wasn’t working and needed to be junked anyway.

Many are comparing this to Saigon, and former US Secretary of Defense to Obama, Leon Panetta, says it is like the Bay of Pigs. I’m likening it to the Iran hostage crisis, which was a pivotal moment in destroying the presidency of Jimmy Carter. While the hostage crisis was much smaller in scale, it was a television spectacle humiliation of the US, which is what the current fiasco is as well.

Yet, the most recent of these parallels is 41 years ago, and while they may have claimed US presidents, the USA still persists, and more often than not, prevails. So these setbacks always seem worse at the time, but more importantly, democracies can learn from them.


So when we’ve done grieving for the Afghani allies left behind, and their families, particularly women and children, and our own dead, left on the battlefield for what seems no return, we need to work out how to go forward.

Some good will come out of this, for that is what bad things do for resourceful people, and we must be resourceful people.

Hopefully, it will clarify the media’s political coverage of the US, where a claque that has been criminally compromised by Chinese, Ukrainian, and Russian interests (and who knows how many others) has gained control of the levers of power because the alternative was boorish and farted at dinner too often. US media, and our own, have compromised our interests by deliberately overlooking the extraordinary failings of the senescent poseur, and his family, who currently occupies the Whitehouse.

It might also put another brick under the wheels of the woke movement. It is one thing to indulge anti-racists in one of the least racist countries in the world, or men who want to be women in a country that cares less than most about how you dress, as long as you leave them alone too when you are luxuriating in your place in the sun. But when the clouds come out and the umbrellas get taken away, it is time to get serious again, and demote or retire some of the woke generals, too worried about climate change as the biggest strategic risk, or detecting and turfing Republican voters in the ranks as potential terrorists, to understand how occupation works. The real terrorists have arrived, and they’re fascist, but not white supremacists.

And some of those lessons might apply here where we shelter in place against a disease that is 99.4% unlikely to kill you while others, courtesy of our own indolence and lack of care and attention, face bullets, beheadings, and mutilation. It puts real bravery and risk on display and should encourage us to be genuinely brave and run the modest comparative risks of COVID as an open, rather than sheltering-in-place, society.

We should also reassess our military strategy. The reason that the Afghani army was rolled up so quickly was partly psychological – if the Yanks had deserted them, and defeat was certain, then where was the advantage in doing anything other than suing for personal peace and heading off home.

It was also that they had been designed to be only one component in a much more sophisticated fighting force. This is the same model that our own armed forces operate on. It’s essentially the Roman model, where the Empire would provide the legionaries and allies would provide light cavalry, archers, slingers. If you take the legionaries out of the mix, you have nothing left.

In Afghanistan, the Afghan army was doing the legionaries work but supported by intelligence and most crucially air-support, which is where much of the heavy military grunt work occurs in modern warfare.

If the US affection for Australia wouldn’t extend to supporting us, then our armed forces would be rolled up just as quickly as the Afghan ones. We need to lift our defence spending, and to justify this we need to be much more questioning of the inevitability of US support.

And, in general, we also need to take off our rose-coloured polaroids and see the world for what it is – an often hostile place where no one owes you a living, and where they are happy to take it away if it suits them.

We don’t face a threat from anything like the Taliban. Our threat is larger, more potent, and more insidious. The Chinese are offering us client state status. It’s not shootings or beheadings necessarily, but at the very least it is tribute and up from there with varying levels of control.

If this is the beginning of the end of US world power, then we need to calibrate for that. And if, as is more likely, it is a very nasty accident in the long march, then we need to consider how we draw the US into a closer alliance, so that unlike Afghanistan, we aren’t seen as disposable.

These are not mutually exclusive aims. Afghanistan reminds us that since 1945 we’ve experienced a period of incredible peace and that the best way to ensure peace is not just to prepare for war, but to have robust plans with multiple redundancies.

Graham Young is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress and founder and editor of On Line Opinion.

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