Much deserved opprobrium has been heaped upon US President Joe Biden for his shameful remarks on Monday justifying his decision to cut and run from Afghanistan. He blamed everyone but himself for the Taliban’s expedited return to power, and accused the Afghan army — who have lost almost 70,000 soldiers fighting the Taliban — of having
collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight… American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves… We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.
Tugendhat served in Afghanistan both as a soldier and as an adviser to the governor of Helmand province. He spoke about the soldiers who had died in Afghanistan, the good men he had watched going into the earth and who had taken with them “a part of all of us”. He said how proud he had been to be decorated by the American 82nd Airborne Division after the capture of Musa Qala in 2006. Making an effort to compose himself, he went on:
To see their Commander-in-Chief call into question the courage of men that I fought with, to claim that they ran; it’s shameful. Those who have never fought for the colours they fly should be careful about criticising those who have.
He went on to raise the issue that must now be preoccupying all who have depended upon the United States as the principal defender of the free world. For as I wrote here, the US has now shown itself to be a faithless ally and the weak link in that defence.
As a result, said Tugendhat, there was now a need to
reinvigorate our European NATO partners, to make sure we are not dependent on a single ally, on the decision of a single leader, but that we can work together with with Japan and Australia, France and Germany, with partners large and small and make sure that we hold the line together.
It was patience, he said, that had won the Cold War, achieved peace in Cyprus and brought prosperity to South Korea where America had stationed more than ten times the number of troops than it ever had in Afghanistan. He went on:
So let’s stop talking about “forever wars”. Let’s recognise that “forever peace” is bought not cheaply but hard, through determination and the will to endure. And the tragedy of Afghanistan is that we’re swapping that patient achievement for a second fire and a second war.
Fine and prescient words. But alas, the prime minister Boris Johnson who opened the debate sounded a very different note. Observing correctly that the purpose of the American and British troop presence in Afghanistan was to prevent any further attacks on the west after 9/11, he declared:
we succeeded in that core mission.
But the sole reason for that success was the presence of the American and British military. The withdrawal of US troops has led to a Taliban takeover and the probability that Afghanistan will once again serve as the launchpad for more attacks on the west. The work of the past two decades has been undone, and the sacrifices in blood made by both NATO and Afghan troops have effectively been in vain.
Yet when taxed with this obvious point, Johnson merely reiterated that the core mission had been achieved. When asked by the former prime minister, Theresa May, whether he had discussed with NATO’s Secretary-General an alliance to replace US troops, Johnson spoke against deploying troops to fight the Taliban and said it was also an “illusion” that any of the UK’s allies wanted a continued “military presence”.
It follows inescapably that, like Biden and other western leaders, Johnson is abandoning the attempt to prevent another 9/11 or worse emanating from Afghanistan; and by fatuously claiming “mission achieved,” he is insulting everyone’s intelligence into the bargain.
Although Johnson’s remarks in today’s debate went down with MPs like a bucket of ordure, Tom Tugendhat’s principled stand is a lonely one. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, advertised the utter uselessness of the UN, along with his own vacuousness, when he told the UN Security Council:
The world is watching. We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan….It is essential that the hard-won rights of Afghan women and girls are protected.
The Wall Street Journal starkly notes, however, that the UN will do nothing to turn these sentiments into reality; nor will France or Germany, despite their similarly pious hand-wringing. As the WSJ writes:
without US leadership, Europe lacks the will and capacity to stop the Taliban or other global rogues.
The Afghan people are once more on their own, with no world leader prepared to protect them. And now that America has abandoned the defence of the free world and pulled up its drawbridge, so are we.
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