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Observations of an Expat: Nation Building

Observations of an Expat: Nation Building
When NATO forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 they had clear goal: Remove the ruling Taliban from power so that the country ceased to be a base for international terrorism.

If it (West) fails to do so, then other countries will inevitably look elsewhere, and the West can look forward to an inevitable decline.

By Tom Arms

To nation build or not to nation build? That is the question vexing Western capitals in the wake of humiliating defeat and failure in Afghanistan.

Is it nobler to continue to attempt to export/impose Western political and cultural values to the rest of the world or does Afghanistan spell the end of a policy which has dominated foreign affairs since the end of World War Two.

When NATO forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 they had clear goal: Remove the ruling Taliban from power so that the country ceased to be a base for international terrorism.

But then the policy changed to nation building for two reasons. First of all, the Taliban was never completely defeated. It merely retreated to their caves, waged a guerrilla war and waited for NATO to tire and withdraw. Secondly, it was decided that the best way to insure that the Taliban did not return to power was to establish political structures that created a human rights environment that offered a better alternative to life under Islamic fundamentalism.

This was never going to be an easy job in a country whose social and political structures were closely tied to religious beliefs inimical to the West. It was made impossible by the fact that the task of nation building was being constantly undermined by the war.

There are examples of successful nation building. Germany and Japan are the two best. But in each of those cases the country was totally laid to waste, the government unconditionally surrendered, there was a long period of demilitarization, the political system was imposed,  and the countries were occupied— are still occupied—by Western forces. This was considered essential to prevent the return of militarism in Germany and Japan.

Other examples of nation building applied mainly to decolonization and generally speaking did not fare so well. The main exception was India which had its ups and downs with partition, Mrs. Gandhi’s emergency and constant battles between the states and Delhi over language and religion. India is currently suffering another democratic glitch with Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism. But its parliamentary structures are intact, widely valued by Indian voters and well-entrenched.

That is not the case in most of the rest of the former colonies. The leadership pays lip service to the principles of democracy, but Western political tenets have fallen victim to tribalism, corruption, religion, cultural differences, language, endemic warfare, and exploitation by Western companies, neo-colonialism and a host of other problems.

They are looking for an alternative. And it exists in the form of China. The Western—in particular American model—appealed too many around the world because the West was politically stable and economically successful, especially in the 30-40 years following World War Two. The only real alternative was Soviet-style communism, and that was clearly flawed and eventually collapsed.

Face it – most people everywhere in the world are concerned almost exclusively with how much they have in their pockets and the health and security of their loved ones. They looked towards America and saw big houses, big cars, and big plates of food and wanted a slice of the good life. America told them, follow our political lead and you can have it. In almost all cases it has not worked.

China, on the other hand, is urging the developing world to adopt and adapt their style of communism. The Soviet-style failed because it ignored basic human instincts. The Chinese communist model has married the craving for individual reward to a highly centralized one-party state. It allows individuals to amass huge fortunes, as long as they agree to work within the parameters established by the party. The result– so far– is political stability and economic growth.

On top of that, the Chinese have made it clear that as far as other countries are concerned, their primary interest is trade. Unlike the West, they say that they do not want to export their political system as a condition of that trade. This has a strong appeal to the leadership of third countries.

At the same time, the West is appearing less attractive. Riots, unilateralism, climate change, the response to the pandemic and the failure in Afghanistan have undermined their claim to a moral and political supremacy.

As have Brexit, the Northern Ireland Protocol and the failure of the EU to successfully develop political structures or deal with recalcitrant East European members and refugees.

There has always been a clear link between domestic and foreign policy. If the West wants to continue its long-standing policy of nation-building then it must first ensure that their nations are worthy of emulation. If it fails to do so, then other countries will inevitably look elsewhere, and the West can look forward to an inevitable decline.

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  • In one of history’s ultimate ironies, the West may end up working with the political organization it overthrew and fought for 20 years. The reason? To prevent another more extreme Islamic organization from using the central Asian country as a base for terrorism. ISIS-K has made it clear that it wants to use terror to undermine the West and export Islamic fundamentalism. It has also said that the Taliban leadership is as much a target for their suicide bombers as Americans. At a Pentagon press conference this week, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the Staff, described the Taliban, as “ruthless” but added that in war “you do what you must.” When asked if the US would cooperate with the Taliban, he said: “that is a possibility.” Meanwhile British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab flew to Qatar which has been acting as intermediary between the West and the Taliban. He ruled out recognition of the Taliban but added: “We do see the need for direct action.” In London, the Foreign Office, revealed that Simon Gass, Britain’s Special Envoy for the Afghanistan transition, is holding talks with Taliban officials. Gradually, the West appears to be reluctantly accepting that it has no choice but to cooperate, possibly even support, the Taliban if its original goal is to be achieved.
  • One of the winners from the Afghan debacle is the Gulf state of Qatar. The ruling Al-Thani family and its diplomats have managed to establish their country as the region’s number one power broker by making itself the essential intermediary between the key players. Ten thousand US troops and Britain’s Number 83 Air Group are based at Qatar’s Al Udeid Airbase. British and American envoys are currently in Qatar talking with Qatari and Taliban officials about organizing the safe passage from Afghanistan of Westerners and Afghans who worked with NATO forces. Qatar is one of the key staging posts for Afghan refugees. On the other side of the fence– the Qataris help to fund Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and maintain close relations with Iran. It has been reported that they also turn a blind eye to “charities” raising money for Al Qaeda and Isis. Then there is Al Jazeera which is the only region’s only critical and relatively free news organization. The only Arab monarchy safe from its searching reports is the Al-Thani’s.
  • Near the top of Washington’s wish list is that Europe takes more responsibility for military roles in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. A meeting in Slovenia this week of EU foreign ministers appears to have taken a step towards fulfilling that wish. The meeting was preceded with an agenda-setting article in the New York Times by EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Morrell in which he wrote that Afghanistan demonstrated that it was time for Europe to “step up.” The result was that the foreign ministers in Slovenia agreed in principle to the establishment of an EU-wide rapid deployment force of “willing countries.” Details are vague with talk of anywhere between 5,000 and 20,000 troops. Small but a start. Of course, if Europe takes more responsibility it will demand more say and more independent action. The Europeans think that it was a mistake to withdraw from Afghanistan and are appalled and ashamed that they are linked in the public’s mind with the humiliating chaos of the American-led retreat. Washington should be careful of the axiom that one should be careful of what wish they for.
  • Germany would be key to whether or not the planned rapid deployment force goes ahead, its size and its responsibilities. But at the moment, Germans are heavily focused on federal elections. With just over three weeks until polling on September 26, it looks as if this vote could be one of those watershed events. For a start, Chancellor Angela Merkel (“Mutti” or mother as she is known to the German voters) is stepping down after dominating the German and European political scene for 16 years. On top of that, it looks as if her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and its Bavarian partner the Christian Social Union (CSU) may lose. An end of August poll of polls showed the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) three points ahead at 24 percent—the first time in 15 years it has been in the lead. Other parties are also doing well. The Greens are up at 12 percent and the centrist Federal Democratic Party (FDP) are polling 17 percent. The only party other than the CDU/CSU to have dropped is the right-wing anti-immigration Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) which has fallen five percentage points from the last election in 2017. Germany’s proportional representation system allocates Bundestag seats based on the percentage that each party polls. This almost always means a coalition and the party with the biggest percentage claims the Chancellor’s job and is given first crack at forming a government. Of course, three weeks is a long time in an election campaign and the CDU/CSU has pushed its biggest gun onto the campaign trail—Mutti.
  • Texas has thrown a massive spanner into America’s abortion debate. Republican Governor Greg Abbott this week signed a law which says that anyone who aids and abets an abortion later than six weeks after conception can be sued for a minimum of $10,000. But what makes this new law so interesting is that no state official will be involved in the legal process. Instead the law suits can be brought by individuals or organizations from anywhere in the world. This will effectively create a worldwide team of anti-abortion vigilantes. The Texas legal chicanery also prevented the Supreme Court from ruling on the issue. For it to hear a case there must be a plaintiff and a defendant. At the moment, there isn’t. And when there is it will take years to work its way through the legal system to the Supreme Court. By then, other Republican-led anti-abortion states will have followed the Texas example and further muddied the legal waters. The Supreme Court, however, is expected to rule on the underlying legal principles of abortion by next June when a Mississippi anti-abortion law is appealed. With the current conservative complexion of the court and the success of Texas it appears that a June ruling could overturn the 49-year-old legal precedent of Roe v. Wade. The Democrats could attempt to pass legislation to strengthen Roe v. Wade or Biden could appoint two liberal justices to re-balance the pro-abortion court. Both those options are fraught with political dangers. It is clear that the abortion issue has moved to the top of the agenda for the November 2022 mid-term elections. The latest polls show that 57 percent of Americans support legal abortion which should be a plus for the Democrats and the pro-abortion lobby. But then, they have to vote.

[author title=”Tom Arms ” image=”https://sindhcourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Tom-Arms-Journalist-Sindh-Courier.jpg”]Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice. and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War”.His book “America: Made in Britain” is published on 15 October.[/author]