America’s Suez: a seminal moment in world politics

By Jim Sillars This essay is a more extensive examination of the US- exit from Afghanistan than space permitted in a letter I wrote to The Herald on 18th. August.  The US exit from Afghanistan, with the appalling prospect for millions of women of being plunged back into a 7th. century world, and  the execution of those menContinue reading "America’s Suez: a seminal moment in world politics"

America’s Suez: a seminal moment in world politics

By Jim Sillars

This essay is a more extensive examination of the US- exit from Afghanistan than space permitted in a letter I wrote to The Herald on 18th. August. 

The US exit from Afghanistan, with the appalling prospect for millions of women of being plunged back into a 7th. century world, and  the execution of those men with previous job connections to Nato forces, is a human catastrophe within that country. Any pretence that the United States or any other western state can, post-exit, have influence upon Taliban behaviour is just that – pretence.

The states that matter to the Taliban in their external relations are Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia, in that order.  None will interfere or condemn how the Taliban operates as a government. Pakistan  has had a long continuing relationship with them in their exile, and is not in the least bit phased by their return to control. China’s interest is two-fold: to get access to the country’s rich mineral resources, and extract assurances of no aid to Islamist groups within China; a deal likely to have been struck in the China-Taliban meeting last month. Iran and Russia will have the same interests, with protection of the Shia in Afghanistan a special concern to Tehran. 

Given the number of Jihadi non-Afghan’s in the fighting forces that have taken the country, all of them from Al Qaeda to ISIS,  will expect in return a safe haven there for training camps and planning terrorist attacks on the infidel  west. The Taliban have learnt the art of PR, and in the years ahead we can expect to see and hear their media spokesmen, in faultless English, deny such havens exist. 

Understandably, all eyes have been on the gut-wrenching (to quote Biden) scenes in Kabul. But you can be sure that other matters will be engaging the thinking of all western governments that have, since 1945, hitched themselves to America’s wagon.

In geopolitics the Afghan disaster is the USA’s “Suez” moment, one that comes to all imperial powers on the wane. Like the British who were humbled by a painful lesson of diminished power in 1956, the hegemony America thought it could exercise, and the power it thought it had, have been laid bare in all their inadequacy for all the world to see., and learn from. 

What we have witnessed is a seminal moment in world politics.  The top dog’s bark is now known to be worse than its bite. I don’t say this with any anti-US glee about post-Afghanistan America. It is too serious an event for such a juvenile response.   What matters is understanding the consequences for the policies of western states, and how the west’s adversaries, and those who have yet to decide between  democratic form and authoritarianism, will shape their policies.

No state will escape from the consequences of the decline of American power and influence. For all states in the world community,  managing  this multi-polar world in a way that does not bring increased instability will now become more difficult. 

I use “decline” rather than fall about the USA.  Britain is an example. After it was exposed as a  diminished power when it had to stop and reverse its invasion of Egypt in its attempt to re-own the Suez canal nationalised by President Nasser, it did not immediately lose its hold on what was still then a substantial colonial possession. Controlling Malta and Cyprus maintained its position in the Mediterranean, not one  African colony was independent, it could shape the structures and direct the policies of all the Arab Gulf emirates.  

But slowly, inevitably, the lesson of Suez became clear: it was all over for imperial Britain. Bit by bit  the colonies went and finally the East of Suez policy was abandoned in 1972, and the UK lost its First Tier status and became a second-rank power hoping to recover some of its lost prestige and influence through a dual policy – membership of the EEC, and basing its whole foreign and defence policy on being America’s partner, indulging in the self-satisfying delusion that it has a special relationship. President Kennedy, in private, described the UK as the USA’s lieutenant, but explained that in public he had to call it ‘partner.’

That was a strange delusion for the UK’s leaders to immerse themselves in. They had the experience of empire, built and maintained on the principle of what was in  British state’s interests, and all of its prime ministers and foreign secretaries pursued policy on that basis. They were well aware of the principle that there are no special relations, only state interests.  Did they really expect America to be different?  Surely the final lesson in that mistake were the tears shed by Ben Wallace, UK defence secretary, when confessing his impotency to alter US actions in the Afghan exit. 

As with the British empire after Suez, so it will be with imperial America after Afghanistan. Bit by bit, area by area, region by region, its power in its spheres of influence is set on a path of irreversible decline. That fact was already in the air with Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again,” with the clear implication from those words that it was no longer so. 

For the UK there are now two considerations: to re-assess its commitment to the role of very junior partner to the USA in the medium and long term, and along with other NATO European and Canadian partners to re-assess whether to continue accepting the alliance as a tool of US foreign policy, especially the issue of taking their armed forces out of the European theatre as happened with Afghanistan.   There is now much for think tanks, political parties and governments, to think about.

Scotland is subsumed within the UK in foreign and defence policy and NATO, at present. But independence is meant to change that, and we should not wait until that day to engage in our own thinking about our own foreign and defence policy as the US declines in a world where economic power has shifted to the Indo-Pacific, with all that means for political, diplomatic and military world structures very different from those that have been the norm during western rule. 

There are two fundamental principles affecting states that have not changed over the many centuries since first serious Kingdoms emerged around 1530 BC, and engaged in international relations – spheres of influence and state interests.   

Anyone who doubts that should read the transcript of President Biden’s address to the American people on the evening of 16th. August 2021. ‘American interests’ was said over and over again. It is a long time since 1707 that Scots have thought in terms of Scottish state interests. It is time we did. 

MY COMMENTS

Once again I am grateful to Jim for suppling an article outlining his impressions of the implications of the collapse of Western forces and the rise and takeover by the Taliban in Afghanistan. I have always been aware that Jim pays very close attention to world events and is often very quick to see the threats and opportunities before most. I hope my readers find this article of interest.

I am, as always

Yours for Scotland

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