Last Sunday, the day the Taliban occupied Kabul without meeting any resistance to install a regime that will surely be fiercely obscurantist, the world entered a new era that threatens to be much more brutal than the previous one. Until then, the international order had revolved, albeit more and more erratically, around Washington, but now its power of attraction was abruptly reduced.
The United States may still be a "superpower" because, despite its many internal problems, it is still rich, has armed forces that are theoretically unbeatable, is technologically advanced, and is highly influential culturally, but those who dominate it are so reluctant to take risks who refuse to make use of what they have to defend the principles that they say they believe cannot be renounced. Like Donald Trump , President Joe Biden is against interventionism not because he has convinced himself that it is necessary to respect the sovereignty of others, but because he assumes cumbersome responsibilities that could cause him difficulties.
But it is not only about the humiliation of the country which, due to its size and geographical location, emerged almost unscathed from the two world wars that put an end to European aspirations and allowed it to establish itself as the leader of the democratic world, but also about the collapse of the faith of virtually all Western elites in the value of their own civilization. Today, the confidence that characterized its nineteenth-century forerunners is cause for incredulous jeers. self criticism, which in moderate doses can be very positive in enabling improvements, has become so vigorous lately that it has led the custodians of Western heritage to feel ashamed of anything done by previous generations, beginning with those of Greco-Roman antiquity who, suppose, they simply did not understand that they were participating in a vile racist project that deserved to be repudiated by all good people.
The resulting defeatism, which manifests itself through the proliferation of "revisionist" academic courses in the great North American and European universities, in addition to the willingness of prime ministers and presidents of various Western countries to beg forgiveness from the human race for what their ancestors, it is not merely an internal matter.
The repercussions of the crisis of confidence that so many are experiencing have already had alarming geopolitical consequences.
Autocrats of various sorts, including the religious maniacs wreaking havoc in the Muslim world as well as in Europe and much of Africa , know that despite their material wealth and technological prowess, Western countries are spiritually so flabby that it is wonderfully easy to intimidate them. To quote the late jihadist Osama bin Laden once again : "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they will prefer the strong horse." The fact that in the opinion of so many Afghans the Taliban are stronger than those who had bet on the West tells us everything we need to know about the prestige of the United States and its European allies in the underdeveloped world.
In Afghanistan , an operation that, for a bygone imperial power, would have been nothing more than a minor police action aimed at keeping the peace in rural areas, exceeded the capacity of the United States . Although a commitment to continue maintaining the token military strength, which could be rapidly reinforced in an emergency, of recent years would have been more than enough to deter the Taliban, for the Americans it was a real war, as if it were equal to with those of the 20th century, which cost them too much.
Impatient by nature, it did not occur to them that in order to bring about the profound social and cultural changes they hoped to bring about, they would have to remain in Afghanistan for many more decades , while making the most of the resources they had in abundance. By letting it be known that they wanted to leave as soon as possible because they were not imperialists, the Americans effectively told the Taliban that they would just have to wait until they left, taking with them the logistical support that government forces depended on.
Barely thirty years ago, when to the astonishment of would-be experts in the CIA and other intelligence agencies, the Soviet Union vanished , it seemed ludicrous to suppose that not only the United States but also the Western world as a whole could be there to accompany it to the graveyard in that lie the remnants of well-dead socio-political orders, but it so happens that existential pessimism based on the notion that modern civilization has turned out to be a gigantic mistake that is programmed to destroy itself that many speak as if they believe it inevitable.
By the way, few days go by without their share of doomsday forecasts. According to some, the means of industrial and agricultural production must be radically modified to stop global warming before it is too late. That doing so would have painful consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the current economic system does not faze the most enthusiastic activists or politicians, like Biden, who have taken the same view. Others fear that the mass migrations that are underway will end up sinking relatively wealthy societies, which is why French President Emmanuel Macronhe has just assured his compatriots that he will try to keep at bay the crowd of Afghan refugees that he already sees approaching. Likewise, prestigious scientists warn us that the coronavirus pandemic that we are still suffering could be followed by others that are much more deadly.
And as if all this were not enough, there is great concern about the spectacular collapse of the birth rate in most countries, some of which Japan, South Korea, Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia could indeed disappear from existence. the face of the Earth before the end of the current century unless they manage to reproduce at an adequate rate, something that, according to demographers, will be almost impossible for them.
For more than a hundred years, the United States has been the great laboratory of modernity for all but a few collectivist ideologues. Will it continue to be? It is unlikely. Although thanks to companies such as Apple, Alphabet (Google) and Amazon it has retained its scientific, technological and economic leadership, the superpower is in such social, political and intellectual turmoil that Americans themselves feel disoriented.
Well , how will they react to the humiliation that the undignified flight of their forces from Afghanistan has caused them? Although the Republicans were in favor of the withdrawal that Trump had already announced, they blame Biden for having handled it in an extraordinarily clumsy way, reminding him that in recent months there had not been many casualties among the troops and insinuating that, in order to avoid defeat, painful, if he had won the elections last year, Trump would have responded with a withering counterattack. In any case, there is no doubt that Biden has already had his Saigon moment and that the reputation of the United States has suffered a setback that may be irreparable.
Francis Fukuyama was not entirely wrong in his most famous essay, The End of History , when he took the disintegration of the Soviet Union as evidence that liberal democracy was the best of all conceivable political systems, but the one vehemently repudiated by so many the proposition soon forced him to moderate his optimism. As bad as it weighed on those convinced of the superiority of the unexciting Western democratic "model,"utopian dreams, be they futuristic or resolutely reactionary like the Islamists, turned out to be even more tempting than they had imagined, especially in their own country, the United States, where in time the new forms of racism that would be adopted by presumed progressives would give rise to violent conflict. As things stand, it would seem that the "new American century" that Fukuyama and others predicted has already come to an end; In view of the alternatives, this is far from good news.
Unfortunately, no country or group of countries is in a position to pick up the slack until the United States has recovered from its wounds, if at all. Europeans are so used to Americans taking care of their defense that they will simply exhort others to behave well; the attempt by certain British politicians to convince the French and Germans that it would be in everyone's interest for them to stay in Afghanistan only caused surprise, even though Macron and Angela Merkel stated that they were willing to collaborate in a humanitarian effort. As for the Chinese, they too have become accustomed to acting in the order supported by the United States,something that they have done with great success, but they are not yet ready to try to replace it with one of their own making. It would seem, then, that until further notice the world will have to get used to the fact that there is no hegemonic power, that is, "gendarme", capable of maintaining a minimum of order.