IRAQ HAS ALWAYS BEEN the bad war – so bad, in fact, that Afghanistan risks appearing good by comparison. Now, after two decades of chaos, American, NATO and British troops have announced that they are all leaving by September. Mission most certainly not accomplished. Mission well and truly aborted. Mission dead in the water.
Indeed, there are two inferences that almost everybody agrees on: firstly, that the Taliban has won and will likely exploit the power vacuum for their own barbaric purposes; secondly, that America’s decision to leave is nonetheless the best for all concerned.
Despite these damning conclusions, reaction has been tepid: our wars have entered the proverbial memory hole, forgotten by the public and even by most activists. Today’s university students were likely born after the events of 9/11. Many will be oblivious to the disastrous impact of US-UK imperial policy.
Older liberals also seem to have forgiven and forgotten: Hillary Clinton, Alastair Campbell and even George W Bush have been reclaimed as heroes of an “open” Anglosphere. The parameters of outrage have shifted. According to today’s fashionable morality, George Galloway is more dangerous than Tony Blair; Russia is more dangerous than America; Alba is more morally compromised than Labour.
With this new moral order in mind, it’s worth taking a step back to review the costs of war. Fortunately, researchers at Brown University have done just that. In Afghanistan, they estimate that direct deaths from war violence alone (not counting indirect deaths from its impact on food, water supply, and so on) run to 157,000. The total figure for all post-9/11 wars (again, direct deaths alone) is 800,000. Just as staggeringly, 37 million people have been displaced by our interventions, a number that “exceeds the total displaced by every war since 1900, except World War II.”
The financial costs are equally mind-boggling: by their estimate, $6.4 trillion has been committed to servicing US grand strategy in the Middle East. It seems callous to even contemplate what that expenditure could do for the world’s poor or for addressing climate change.
Putting aside the waste of human life, the waste of resources testifies to an entirely amoral order which long preceded Trump and Johnson. Two wrongs don’t make a right. But post-2016 Anglosphere conservatives did nothing remotely as harmful as their centrist, liberal predecessors.
War is now a thoroughly unfashionable topic. And doubtless British behaviour overseas isn’t at the top of voters’ minds. Nonetheless, for committed proponents of the left, the UK’s warfare state remains one good reason why Scotland should become independent.
During the Brexit process, it was fashionable for liberals to refer to the UK as a “failed state”. This was a silly turn of phrase. However, Britain’s alliance with America has long made it a “rogue state”, and in that capacity it has accelerated state failure across the Middle East. None of which is new. British foreign policy and arms sales have always sown chaos; and where truly progressive movements emerge, Britain has most often been their enemy.
Sadly, there’s no sign of a progressive outcome for Afghanistan. The Taliban are not the humane third world intellectuals of old, but killers with a truly backward philosophy. Like all of today’s neo-medievalists, they have stepped into the vacuum left by the imperial powers’ assaults on the world’s leftist movements. But it’s a sign of our own colossal waste of life and resources tha