Thursday, August 19, 2021

Saigon, Afghanistan and the West's decline?

The sudden collapse of the Afghanistan Government in the face of the Taliban offensive took me by surprise. I am old enough to remember the fall of Saigon in the face of the North Vietnamese offensive and the chaotic scenes that followed. President Biden's suggestion that Afghanistan could not be compared to that fall was frankly risible. 

There was another similarity as well. As South Vietnam was falling, the then Whitlam Government resisted calls calls to bring to Australia those who had supported Australian troops. At the time I was involved with a small group in Canberra seeking to bring people to Australia. My involvement was peripheral, writing to Ian Sinclair whom I had known for many years to seek his support, but I remember the atmosphere very clearly if not all the details. This time the Morrison Government was prepared to take some action, but became so tied up in red tape of its own making that action was too little and too late. 

Of all the various events, the evacuation of the Bagram airbase stands out in my mind as a symbol of just went wrong. This base, the main US base in Afghanistan, seems to have been abandoned without any plan or attempt to transfer effective control to the Afghani Government. It added to a picture of a chaotic withdrawal that effectively undercut the authority of a Government already under pressure. That Government's authority had previously been undermined by decisions taken by the Trump administration that effectively treated the Government in Kabul as a cipher.  Maybe a total Taliban victory was inevitable, but the actions followed by the US and its allies including Australia accelerated the process, creating chaos. 

What will come now? I have no clear answer. The Taliban claims to have changed, although the same religious and ideological elements are still there. Afghanistan itself has changed, especially in the cities. The new Taliban Government still in the process of formation faces some difficult challenges. I suppose my feeling is that pragmatism will temper ideology to some degree.

I think that the biggest problem from a Western perspective is the damage done to the reputation of the West. Many will see it as another symbol of the West's decline. Only time will tell if those views are correct. 


kvd pointed me to this piece Farewell to Bourgeois Kings. It's an interesting read although it mixes different things together. I have listed it here because I thought that it may interest readers and also may wish to reference it later.  



Anonymous said...

Worth a read, I think: Farewell to Bourgeois Kings


Jim Belshaw said...

This was interesting, kvd. I will bring the link up in the main post for later analysis. It's well written, but I also think that it mixes different ideas making the central messages somewhat confusing.