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From the Nile to Afghanistan Western imperial arrogance betrays everyone

Shadia B. Drury

Published: Updated:

The American narrative over the loss in Afghanistan has all the characteristics of Western imperialism. As US President Joe Biden told the news media, the American failure in the country had everything to do with the corruption and ineptitude of the Afghan government and the Afghan military.

“We spent over a trillion dollars, ….we trained and equipped a military force of 300, 000 strong, … we gave them everything, … we paid their salaries, provided maintenance of their air force, …we provided air support, … we gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide was the will to fight for that future, …we can’t clean up the corruption, … we can’t keep fighting Afghanistan’s civil war, … the Afghan leaders fled the country, … and the Afghan military collapsed without trying to fight, …”

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Biden’s speech was an echo of Winston Churchill in The River War, where the late British Prime Minister described its conquest of Sudan as the “penetration of European civilization” into the “inner darkness” of Africa.

In reality, the British wanted to control the Nile, so they could profit from the trade in ivory and slaves.

From Winston Churchill to Joe Biden, Western arrogance and self-congratulation have not abated. Western imperialism is presented as an exercise in selfless self-sacrifice. Endowed with a superior civilization, the West is duty bound to export its culture to primitive people, who have no ability to appreciate the precious gift bestowed upon them. The whole enterprise is a Sisyphean task, akin to throwing pearls to swine.

American imperialism has always been a matter of creating opportunities for American capitalists to thrive. Corruption and cronyism are an integral element of the enterprise. In that light, it is hard to conclude that the imperial adventure in Afghanistan was a failure, since it was extremely lucrative for American defense contractors. In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, the Philippines, Haiti, and Latin American countries, the US installed cronies in key positions within the respective governments and their military.

American imperialism has always been a matter of creating opportunities for American capitalists to thrive, with corruption and cronyism an integral element of the enterprise, and in that light, it is hard to conclude that the adventure in Afghanistan was a failure. (File photo: AP)
American imperialism has always been a matter of creating opportunities for American capitalists to thrive, with corruption and cronyism an integral element of the enterprise, and in that light, it is hard to conclude that the adventure in Afghanistan was a failure. (File photo: AP)

These powerful individuals are selected not for their competence, experience, or integrity, but for their co-operation with American interests.

There is every indication that the Afghan government was betrayed. Donald Trump made a deal with the Taliban without consulting the government in Kabul. The deal has been described as a “surrender agreement” whereby the US agreed to withdraw their troops and their defense contractors by May 1, of 2021, while forcing the Afghan government to release hundreds of imprisoned Taliban fighters.

The Taliban merely agreed to refrain from attacking American troops, and to negotiate with the Afghan government on the future of the country. They were not required to abstain from inflicting their theocratic brutality on the Afghan people, or taking the government by force. Biden abided by the agreement, because he did not think there were enough troops left to insist on a more favorable bargain.

As Afghan general Sami Sadat has attested, the Afghan army lost its will to fight only when it lost the combat logistical air support that the Americans had provided. After all, they were taught to fight just like their US counterparts; dependent on air support. If there is one thing the Afghans can do well it is fight.

They army fought valiantly until it was no longer possible. Over 60,000 Afghan troops have lost their lives.

If Western civilization has any claims to superiority, it is the claim to have vanquished its own theocratic proclivities in exchange for secular and rational governance. It took Catholics and Protestants slaughtering each other for two hundred years for the West to conclude that religion was not worth the carnage.

Unfortunately, the enlightenment has not been definitive. After the terrorist attack at the Kabul airport by the Afghan wing of the Islamic State, Biden has vowed revenge, claiming that “terrorism has metastasized around the world” as if this development had nothing to do with American foreign policy. The result is bound to be an ominous focus on the war on terror, which betrays a theocratic vision that is as dualistic as it is vengeful.

The Muslim world is entitled to make its own history. Western imperial arrogance should play no part.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.