Out of Time

The new president of the US—apparently 70% of the GOP still believe he stole the election—recently announced America would pull out of Afghanistan by September 11th 2021.

The Taliban rubbed their hands together joyfully—after twenty years, the sons of dogs were leaving.

Afghanistan is one of the world’s ungovernable hellholes—a mix of internecine warfare, drug trafficking on a grand scale, and religious fundamentalism—a place where no one wants to go, where factions change like the wind, and loyalty can only be rented, never bought.

The United States made a good decision in 2001 and followed it with a series of bad ones, the consequences of which persist to this day. Back on nine-eleven, as I sat in a Gothenburg bar and watched the twin towers crumble, re-crumble, and tri-crumble on TV, listening to bemused pilots recount their day, it was obvious the US would retaliate.

They did it one month later, using the classic wave of air attacks—the West’s weapon of choice in the Mid-East since Churchill’s day. So far so good, but democracies can’t stick to the brief—in this case kill Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, and destroy the Taliban.

As I write, only the first objective was belatedly achieved—by the time Bin Laden was found and killed he was out of the running, holed up in a family villa in the ironically-named town of Abbottabad.

Mullah Omar died of natural causes and is therefore presumably thumbing his nose at the Americans, surrounded by seventy-two virgins. As an aside, when I fact-checked that magic number, I discovered it’s also the title of a novel by the current British prime minister. The plot summary is:

The President of the United States plans to visit the Palace of Westminster. A Lebanese-born terrorist aims to assassinate him; Roger Barlow, a hapless, bicycle-riding, tousled-haired MP aims to foil the attack in order to distract from a scandal involving his financial entanglement in a lingerie shop named Eulalie.

Sounds like a self-portrait of the man himself—hapless Roger the Boris, or Boris the Roger.

As for the Taliban, they’re doing fine, and a couple of days ago marked their strength by killing thirty people in a guesthouse bombing in Pul-e-Alam.

Biden’s choice of date for the withdrawal limit is unfortunate—for a country that only recognizes strength, pulling out on the anniversary of nine-eleven is a way of confessing defeat.

In the end, history repeats itself a century and a half later—not with a massacre at the Khyber Pass but the end result is the same—in Afghan eyes at least, the West retreats with its tail planted firmly between the legs.

America’s mistake—the same they made in Iraq—was to try and give the country their brand of civilization, complete with democracy, a constitution, and law and order. Christianity had a six century head start over Islam, and history has repeatedly shown that the Western recipe of participative government is not a good fit in places like Afghanistan or Iran—the local attitude to gender equality should make this immediately obvious.

Afghan barbary and lawlessness returns, just as it did when they finally kicked the Brits out a hundred years ago. As always, the country, or rather the combination of lawless tribes it contains, waits it out—the Taliban know that time is on their side, and they state it in a simple way.

The US has the expensive watch, but we have the time.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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