British Melodrama Over Afghanistan Withdrawal Masks Their Own Impotence And Irrelevance

Whatever else you think about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan — whether you think it’s history’s greatest “catastrophe,” a long overdue triumph after 20 years of failed policy, or somewhere in between — hopefully all factions can unite in scornful recognition of how pathetically melodramatic much of the reaction emanating out of the so-called “international community” has been. 

Particularly risible is the UK, where an Emergency Session of Parliament was convened last week to provide a forum for British politicians to express their righteous indignation. As usual, the indignation is seldom if ever directed at the war itself — the essential folly of which just happened to be exposed by the withdrawal, like ripping a bandaid off of a long-festering 20-year wound. So of course the war’s demonstrable failure is not at all what troubled Theresa May, the former Conservative Prime Minister who’s chosen to hang around Parliament for a while. Instead, as May lashed out last week with more bombastic vigor than she’s seemed to have mustered since being ousted by her party two years ago, she complained: “I’m afraid this has been a major setback for British foreign policy… We boast about Global Britain. But where is Global Britain on the streets of Kabul?”

“Did we just feel that we had to follow the United States,” May inveighed, “and hope that on a wing and a prayer, it would be alright on the night?”

If there’s any embarrassment to be had this Afghanistan situation from the perspective of UK politicians whose fantasies of “Global Britain” have been dealt a terrible blow, the original source of the embarrassment seems to have been obscured. That is, the UK knowingly entered a subordinate military arrangement with the US in Afghanistan such that the final decision to withdraw wasn’t even contingent on any “consultation” with UK officials — the same ones who apparently crave the projection of unbridled UK state power in Central Asia. Oddly, the basic powerlessness of a scenario where the US President can make an operational decision in Afghanistan, and the UK has no choice but to follow suit, never seems to have bothered May or her like-minded colleagues at any point in the 20 years prior to August 2021. If these UK officials pine for a “Global Britain” with the capacity to strut around unimpeded on “the streets of Kabul,” they perhaps ought not to have offered themselves as docile subservients of the US in the first place.

Borrowing a trite talking point from US commentators who claim to support withdrawal but are extraordinarily incensed about the “execution” of the operation, May conceded that the US-led mission “was always going to end at some point in time.” As usual, it’s trivially easy to accept “ending a war” as an abstraction that may or may not ever actually materialize; May lamented that withdrawal had been ordered in accordance with a specific date, and as such that the necessary “conditions” couldn’t be met. Also per usual, this conveniently ignores that the overriding “condition” in Afghanistan was that the military operation had failed, and no delays or new dates were ever going to change that “conditionality.”

Most striking though is that none of the withdrawal-related details May complained about were governed by official British decision-making. It was all determined — the date, the “conditions” or lack thereof, etc. — unilaterally by consecutive US administrations. Conspicuously missing from these Parliamentary outcries, then, is any awareness that choosing to become an inert, emasculated appendage of the US — which is more or less what UK foreign policy has been over the past several decades — is the thing that really appears to have doomed “Global Britain.” They delegated themselves over to the whims of the US President, then complain with melodramatic fury about not being adequately “consulted” — knowing full well their primary function all along was to be America’s compliant little poodle.

On this theme, a telling passage appears in the Sunday, 22 August edition of “The Times.” Blasted across the newspaper’s front page is an anonymous Minister quoted condemning the withdrawal from Afghanistan as a shameful retreat by the US into “isolationism.” Quite amazing that a country, the US, which has its military personnel deployed in approximately 170 other countries, could ever be accused of “isolationism” — but that’s a paradox which never appears to have occurred to the anonymously outraged Minister. He or she then further declares the UK should move swiftly to undertake a “hard-nosed revisit” of all prior “assumptions and policies” which presuppose the UK’s subservience to the US on matters of geopolitics. 

The article certainly goes out of its way to suggest that the anonymous Ministerial complainer is Dominic Raab, who had to be wrested from a sun-baked holiday in Crete to preside over British evacuation efforts. It’s a more common trick than you would think to cite and paraphrase a government official by name — in this case the Foreign Minister, Raab — and then quasi-anonymously quote him immediately afterwards, because he stipulated that his words mustn’t be for direct attribution. A stipulation to which the journalist Tim Shipman dutifully complied. Nonetheless, the precise identity of the “Minister,” whose purview evidently includes foreign affairs, is left to the imagination. But get a load of these whoppers of quotes:

(I’m currently in London, so I purchased the physical newspaper. To access the online version you must subscribe to the “Times,” which I politely decline to do.)

The notion that the US has just “cut and run” from Afghanistan — after decades of failed policy implemented by presidents in both parties, multiple failed “surges” by different presidents which accomplished nothing, billions of dollars, major casualties, etc. — is darkly hilarious. As though after 20 years, this was some sort of discreditably hasty decision taken by Joe Biden. 

But even more darkly hilarious is the self-important reference to the First and Second World Wars, as if the Minister here believes that they’ve magically arrived at some profound historical insight. If the US demonstrated its lack of reliability 75 or 100 years ago, what does it say about the British political establishment that it took them this long to come to such a realization? Of course we cannot know with certainty that Dominic Raab, the UK Foreign Minister, is the anonymous complainer quoted in the “Times” article. But if so, wouldn’t his statements be just as much an indictment of British officials who’ve tethered their “global” aspirations to the caprice of a now “unreliable” US guarantor?

“GB News,” a brand new TV and internet channel just launched this summer for the ostensible purpose of “giving a voice” to perspectives that otherwise are not heard in elite UK media, has been especially melodramatic in its contrived fury. One of the guiding missions of “GB News,” supposedly, is to provide an unabashed “anti-woke” counterweight to the prevailing forces of Wokism throughout the rest of the UK and international press. Certainly there’s something correct in their identification of an under-served market for reporting and commentary that isn’t bound by faddish, moralizing cultural liberalism. But according to the rebranded conservative media personalities who comprise their on-air staff, rebuking “wokism” also entails regurgitating all the most bog-standard pro-war pablum you can find “literally” anywhere else. That’ll really show the SJWs!

Take this segment from recently-christened “GB News” presenter Patrick Christys, wherein he bloviates with such ostentatious, performative outrage — “virtue signaling,” perhaps? — about the allegedly unconscionable “capitulation” by the US in Afghanistan. “How can Joe Biden claim to care about women or indeed ethnic minorities,” Christys fumes, when he’s now “consigned millions of Afghani women to a life of slavery, rape, no education, and no rights whatsoever?” This is supposed to have “exposed the myth that Joe Biden is a good guy,” because apparently what a “good guy” would’ve done under these circumstances is once again prolong a war that virtually the entire US policy-making apparatus had known for years was fundamentally failed. Surely these pious laments for the fate of “Afghani women” are made with the utmost sincerity, and reflect Christys’ dedicated years-long commitment to this important “humanitarian” cause. His erroneous use of the word “Afghani” (that refers to currency, not people) must’ve just been an honest oversight.

Somehow such wailing on behalf of “Afghani women” is believed to be consistent with the conceit that Christys and “GB News” are boldly standing up to the tyrannical impositions of Woke Culture. Demanding that the US military, defense contractors, foreign diplomats, and NGOs remain free to roam forever across their little international oasis in Kabul to ensure that a small subsection of upper-middle class “Afghani women” can continue doing yoga and studying critical gender theory — that’s really such a devastating “ownage” of the Woke. You’ve totally skewered Political Correctness by parroting Tony Blair. Perhaps this kind of self-indulgent theatrics is a helpful way to forget the rather humiliating reality that the practical importance of “Global Britain” in the relevant policy-decision making in Afghanistan was shown to have been effectively nil — and that was by design.

It’s also unclear whether Christys is familiar with the US Government’s own top auditor reporting that widows of dead Afghan National Army soldiers had to give sexual favors to God-knows-who in order to receive their dead husbands’ pensions. Oddly this never roused the passions of these sudden defenders of Afghan women, back when the US was an active combatant in the war, with the UK as its obedient understudy. Only when the US finally withdraws does this bold humanitarianism come bursting onto center stage.

If you think Christys is an aberration on “GB News,” you are wrong. Mark Dolan condemned Biden for his “surrender to terrorists,” leaving viewers confused that they’d been teleported back to 2003. Andrew Neil, the Spectator chairman and former fearsome interviewer for the BBC — who founded “GB News” on “anti-wokism” grounds — proclaimed last week that the Afghanistan withdrawal is the “biggest setback” for US foreign policy since World War II. This despite the fact that no US casualties have reportedly been incurred — unlike previous misbegotten “surges” in Afghanistan, which produced US military fatalities in the hundreds. Apparently to Neil those never constituted a serious “setback.” Nor apparently were the wars in Iraq or Vietnam “setbacks” of a magnitude comparable to a withdrawal from Afghanistan that some view as symbolically embarrassing. (The logistical complaints are getting less and less tenable as time goes on, and thousands of people are successfully evacuated each day.) In sum, if you’re doubtful about Trans women in sports but solidly in favor of never withdrawing from wars because of bad “optics,” you’ll love “GB News.”

Given my current presence in London, I’ve offered my “voice” to the network as a corrective to the nonsense that continues to clog up my YouTube algorithm, but so far no dice!

When you step back, much of the frenzy in US and UK media alike about the Afghanistan withdrawal stems from an inability to process a US President actually following through on his stated commitment to terminate a failed war — and holding fast to that commitment notwithstanding a massive campaign of wrathful pushback by Republicans, fellow Democrats, wall-to-wall media, military brass, NGOs, “the international community,” and so forth. Whatever else you think of Biden, his resolve on this issue is an extreme rarity in recent American presidential history, and the incoherence of the freakout is understandable given just how unprepared the media was for a commitment of this kind to be executed without apology.

Angela Nagle expresses hope that the Afghanistan withdrawal portends the “high water mark of the NGOs, a major mechanism of spreading post-war Americanism, may be over.” At the very least, this seems a plausible explanation for a considerable portion of the US media’s rage. Lots of “experts” trotted out onto TV and radio for their sagely wisdom — including nonprofit operators with suspiciously convoluted job titles — have 20 years of reputational cache invested in the failed multi-national Afghanistan “reconstruction” enterprise. Now that’s now over, and they’re predictably upset. But it still wouldn’t totally explain the extra-loud indignant pouting from UK media and political organs, which reveals more about their own impotence and gullibility than anything to do with Joe Biden.

I’ll be addressing recent criticisms of my coverage on the resignation of Andrew Cuomo and Afghanistan live today, August 25, at 2pm EST. You can watch here exclusively on Rokfin, which is adding a lot of great subscriber-only content lately. You can also watch the full video at that link after the livestream is complete. I’ll post clips later this week on my YouTube channel. Here’s my discussion last Friday with Tucker Carlson about Afghanistan.