In his speech on the 31st August justifying the American withdrawal from Afghanistan President Biden used these crucial sentences:
“This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.”
Let us hope so.
Let us hope other countries follow suit.
There have been many terrible things which have happened in the World since the end of the Second World War in 1945 to "remake" other countries or force them to revert to a former status quo. The victorious Western Powers have not been responsible for all of them, but we have done our share:
- the British attempt to continue our mandate in Palestine (1945-7)
- ...and the Malayan "emergency" (1950 - 59)
- the US and allies in Korea (1950 - 53 )
- the French attempt to continue colonial rule in Vietnam (1946 -54)
- . . . and in Algeria ( 1954 - 62)
- the US attempt to halt the spread of communism in Vietnam (1955 - 75)
- Iraq (2003 - 11 but continuing in chaos)
- Afghanistan 2001-21 (and seemingly about to continue in chaos)
Not one of the above has ended in anything like complete success. Korea may have been a partial success, in that South Korea is a prosperous and reasonably stable area.
Most, however, have been abject failures and many have involved acts of criminal brutality and indiscriminate killing and maiming of civilians (now sanitised in the reports as "collateral damage") which do little credit to the alleged principles of the "liberal" democracies perpetrating them.
The above is not meant to be a complete list, and I'm well aware of interventions by other than the Western democracies (for example the Russians in Afghanistan and currently Ukraine) which have been equally destructive of human happiness.
The lessons we all must learn if life of the planet is to become sustainable and tolerable for all are:
- the Liberal democracies do not have a monopoly of virtue
- civilised standards cannot be imposed from above: they need to grow from below
- as any successful teacher will tell you, they cannot be achieved by bullying, which is what military intervention amounts to.
And yet we cannot stand aside and let other so called "sovereign countries" treat some of the people living within their boundaries inhumanely. The Urquhars in China are a good example, because even the mighty US (and they are mighty) dare not use force to try to change the behaviour of the almost as mighty Chinese government.
So what are we left with?
- stop selling them arms
- cultural exchanges: literature and drama are powerful game- changers
- trading links
- economic sanctions
- recognition of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by ourselves
- tackling abuses of decency in (remaking?) our own countries
- international policing (armed if necessary) exclusively authorised and carried out by the United nations.
- reform of the United Nations and other international bodies to reflect current international interests.
Yes, very messy, uncertain, sometimes counterproductive (eg economic sanctions) but all we've got.
And even Prime Minister Johnson's hero, the allegedly belligerent Winston Churchill, recognised that "jaw jaw jaw is better than war war war."
Mr Johnson with his childish fantasy of "Global Britain" personified by his big gunboat in the South China Seas and his unusable nuclear submarines have no part to play in this. We need a change of direction.