Some time ago, I heard a lecture by an Afghan writer who lived in Europe. He was a monarchist and spoke with nostalgia for his country when it was a kingdom. She remembered a Kabul where women went to university and where she and her writer and artist friends gathered in clubs frequented by women who drank and smoked as well as men. I don’t know if his testimony, steeped in melancholy, distorted reality. And I remember now Rudyard Kipling, who, recounting the problems the British Empire had in dealing with the Afghans, remembered that the Afghans, after appearing defeated, would come out like geckos from the mountains to attack the British soldiers with all their strength. And he concluded: “So it can be said that the Afghans have never lost a war.”
As we saw from the chaos that was the Kabul airport in the frightening recent days, with the dead and wounded among the crowd, mainly female, who, terrified, intended to invade the planes that arrived there and escape, the Americans should have read this text of Kipling before planning a twenty-year war in which, let us speak plainly, they were defeated once again. The defense of the free world —without quotes— has been very bad since the United States was defeated by Vietnam. And, of course, the mighty China of today is quick to occupy, directly or through its economic influence, the places that the United States leaves free.
This represents a serious problem for the West, which no one, or very few people, wants to talk about. Communism, while the free countries suffered defeat after defeat, was disappearing for all practical purposes and, starting with Russia, followed by China and its satellite countries, opted for a capitalist system of “comrades”, in which only one could it asked businessmen to respect the policies of the state —which they lent themselves without major problems—, so that instead of a radical socialist world, we seemed to be moving towards a very broad system of populist and corrupt regimes that would prevail over democracies genuine. A striking example of this would be what has happened in recent years in Latin America, with Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Cristina Kirchner in Argentina and the rebuilt group of leftist countries in Puebla, now under the auspices of the world’s number one populist, the Mexican Manuel Manuel Lopez Obrador.
NATO seems more and more like a joke, or at least a serious mistake, since President Donald Trump reminded member countries that if they wanted the United States to take care of their defense, “they would have to pay for it.” And intended to collect it. None that I know of was willing to fully accept this admonition, which would have put in economic trouble, or sunk into catastrophe, some members of that organization charged with protecting the defense of democratic countries. The result has been that, after living through the terrible experience of Afghanistan, the defense of the West is in ruins, although for the moment—at the moment it doesn’t mean forever—there are no direct threats to the countries that, let us remember, inaugurated freedom, created and they promoted the first unions, schools and health care for the entire population, founded the first free societies and also the most prosperous in the world. Could it be that the West’s great legacy to the world deserves to be better defended than it is now, after seeing how the Americans left Kabul destroying at the airport the weapons they wanted to save from the Taliban, an embarrassing spectacle that President Joe Biden called it “the most extraordinary feat of our time”? The truth is that there was no achievement in this chaotic departure of the US Army from a country it should never have entered, except with the strict conviction of winning this war, just as it shouldn’t have entered Vietnam unless it was. willing to defeat the North Vietnamese with the full weight of his military force, something that would no doubt have endangered peace in the rest of the world.
In a diatribe against his own country’s politics, accompanied by many truths, Professor Jeffrey Sachs said that in the two military interventions the United States never bothered to open a school, a factory or a decent health care system — and that, the fact that they were exclusively military interventions, the US was the target of hostility from these countries, where they only went to war, and of criticism from the rest of the world. While I don’t always agree with Professor Sachs, I think there is a lot of truth to his furious presentation of the problem he describes. It is not true that Third World countries should receive modernity and civilization as a gift from the developed world. Today there are examples — such as Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan — of countries that, without further help, have progressed fantastically and created the conditions that already strengthened Western countries. Nor is it, in today’s world of open or about to open borders, an obligation of the alliance to introduce modernity and development in countries that can do this for themselves, taking advantage of the regime of freedom that exists for international transactions. But it is among the obligations of the West to defend the freedom we have achieved and which is our great legacy for the world of today and tomorrow. Freedom is not a word without support, a simple noise that the throat makes in exceptional occasions. It’s a way out of the barbarism and horror we recently saw at the airport in Kabul, where thousands of women tried to flee so they wouldn’t have to spend the rest of their days cooped up in a burka, unable to study, work, or go out on the streets alone, animalized by a system of camel drivers that has not changed a millimeter since that religion emerged hundreds of years ago in the deserts of Arabia, without it having been able to modernize and face, like the others, the reality of our time. In cases such as Afghanistan and so many African countries, it is a moral and material obligation of the best of the West to act decisively in defense of women or, better said, simply of that civilization that allowed Karl Popper and many people in the world to be told that despite all the disasters around us, “we’ve never been better.”
The Atlantic Alliance is not an artifice, but a reality. The world is still divided, as Domingo Sarmiento wrote in the 19th century, between civilization and barbarism. To allow, for the sake of money, as Trump wanted, that this alliance that preserves the best things that happened with the West to disintegrate is madness. The free world must defend itself, and for that it needs the —real, not fictitious— leadership of the United States, which is not only the most prosperous country, but also the best-armed in the alliance, and which must assume that leadership without the Donald Trump’s petty demands or President Biden’s rhetorical efforts to show as a triumph what was a shameful defeat against a country that has barely emerged from the Middle Ages. Russia and China calmly watched the Americans’ catastrophic departure from Kabul airport. They will not forget it, and the worst thing is that in the future they will have it present.