22 August 2021

Weekly Briefing: Staring into the void



Rarely have tragedy and absurdity mingled with such ease as this last week. What had cost tens of thousands of lives, trillions of dollars and 20 years of toil evaporated in a moment as Western governments stared slack-jawed at a project in ruins.

The Taliban’s triumph is, of course, primarily a disaster for the Afghan people, who have tasted freedom and now face being ruled by a bunch of violent drug-dealing bandits. The crowds risking their lives to flee Kabul give the lie to the dumbfounding suggestion from a senior member of the British military that a group of Islamo-fascists want to run an ‘inclusive’ Afghan government. Those witnessing their behaviour in recent days tell a rather different story. To compound an already desperate situation, drought, weak harvests and price rises mean millions of ordinary Afghans risk acute food shortages.

It’s hard to overstate the inadequacy of Western strategy, and especially of American leadership. Here is a president who said there would be no Saigon-style airlift from the US embassy, who just a few weeks ago claimed a Taliban victory was not inevitable because of ‘the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped and more competent in terms of conducting war’. For a politician who prides himself on being a foreign policy expert, he has cut a baffled, belligerent and clueless figure in recent days. Still, what did we expect from a man whose primary qualification for office was not being the other guy?

Of course, we can’t pin all the blame on Biden (and it’s worth reading our pieces from Peter Youngand Dom Morris for a firsthand perspective on the failings of the Afghan government). But even if you agree with the overall decision to withdraw troops, which Tony Blair has called ‘imbecilic’, there’s no denying that the White House failed spectacularly to execute its plan.

It’s far too early to make confident predictions, but we can reflect on who will be celebrating this week. Not just every West-hating jihadi, but the governments of China, Russia and Pakistan, whose steadfast support for the Taliban is all but ignored by most Western politicians and media.

Meanwhile, much of the British media’s attention has been on why Dominic Raab delegated a phone call to a junior minister and didn’t come home from his holiday more quickly. Even the Foreign Secretary’s staunchest defenders would admit that he made an obvious misjudgment not returning to the UK earlier, one not alleviated by a series of near-identical messages of support from Tory colleagues. At the same time, it seems bizarre that a phone call to a minister who was apparently not even available, and whose government was melting away by the hour, has become such a focal point.

If anything, focusing so intently on Raab lets the Government as a whole off the hook for being completely blindsided by the events of the last week. The bitter truth though, is that it’s easier to play Whitehall musical chairs than stare into the void of British impotence and American isolationism.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

John Ashmore is Editor of CapX.