03/09/2021

A new eclipse of the myth of the West

3 min
American soldiers standing guard at Kabul's international airport

1. Fall. "Our mission was to protect the United States, not Afghanistan, and we have succeeded". "The United States cannot pursue a war that the Afghans are not willing to fight". The two arguments on which Biden has tried to legitimise his escape on the run have come up against the hard test of reality and have served to confirm the failure of the American model of military intervention. It is hard to understand why the lessons of the past, which have too often led to leaving the Asian world with our tails between our legs, have not been learned. Twenty years on the ground, often unloading missiles and bullets, and now they discover that the country was not following them?

Joe Biden has been given the worst role, that of withdrawal, from an intervention for which he is not primarily responsible. In fact, the end had already been signed by his predecessor, Trump. And it was President Bush Jr. who, with a resentment-laden reaction, responded with a double war to Al Qaeda's challenge to attack on inviolate American soil, without the presidents who succeeded him changing course. Biden's mistake had to do with the change of climate that his electoral victory had brought to American society. He believed that the withdrawal could be experienced as a pacifying and liberating gesture for the Americans. And he fell into haste. The death of thirteen American soldiers in an attack by the Islamic State at Kabul airport has left Biden's arguments frozen. And he has to bear the burden of failure: "The first Islamist victory against the United States, the world's leading power", in the words of Sami Naïr.

Under the shadow of China and the Arab oil powers, relations between the West and the East are becoming increasingly complex, in a world that is experiencing a certain national-patriotic withdrawal, in a planet that is increasingly locked in the networks of digital and economic power. If the 20th century was the century of America, the 21st century is emerging in search of new hegemonies, in the midst of the development of authoritarian versions of capitalism (of the state - Chinese communism as the highest stage of capitalism - and of families, the Islamic monarchies of the Gulf).

2. Transitions. The American failure questions Europe. Emmanuel Macron is once again seeking to act as a bridge, even though it is not clear that he has sufficient engineering (neither he nor the European Union). On the one hand, he seeks to maintain contact both with the new Afghan power and with other forces in the region - as he made explicit during his trip to Iraq - on three conditions: that those who want to leave be allowed to do so, a red line with terrorism and respect for human rights, especially women's rights. But, on the other hand, in electoral vigils, he gives cover to the conservative electorate by announcing measures "against irregular migratory flows that would endanger those who undertake them and would feed traffickers of all kinds". Who makes the selection? What cannot be allowed is for the tragedy of Afghan women to remain hidden. It is they who have made us understand the gravity of the situation, because, to paraphrase Cees Nooteboom, it is "through women that we understand what the world is".

The media and political dimension of this crisis contrasts with the absence of consequences in the economic sphere. The stock markets have not budged. Significant of the scarce relevance of the untapped Afghan territory. An expert tells me: "This will change the day the fight for lithium, a mineral of prime importance for advanced technologies, begins".

In any case, the Afghan crisis confirms that the world is far from being constituted as humanity. And that we have to take seriously what has been demanded by post-colonial thought: we must put an end, as Achille Mbembe would say, to the idea of transition towards a Western model in order to take the path of a humanism of universal scope that does not confuse the West with the world, although many of its values permeate it. The Charlie Hebdo cover featuring Messi dressed in a burqa arriving in Paris was not entirely wrong. Who was to say that one day the great mutation of football, the jewel of Western entertainment born in imperial Britain, could come from the economic powers of the East? Let us not fall asleep.