Evil may come from someone without principle or scruples, but the magical rhetoric of idealism also produces monsters. Sometimes, “innocence is like a mute leper who has lost his bell and wanders through the world without wanting to harm”, as expressed in The quiet american its protagonist, Thomas Fowler. Graham Greene’s novel describes the origin of the American disaster in Vietnam, and that innocence is embodied by Alden Pyle, the impassive American who defends a refined project of freedom for the French colony, albeit with cannon shots. Ideals are an excellent alibi for exercising terror with a clear conscience, hence Fowler’s sarcasm: “We were liberals and we didn’t want to have a bad conscience.” Perhaps that is why many conservatives were comforted by listening to Laura Bush on International Women’s Day, linking the war on terror with the liberation of women at the UN. It is curious that his role seems more laudable than the endorsement of Kamala Harris out of Afghanistan.
The fear of neo-con idealism led a scandalized Fukuyama to assert in After the Neocons that “democracy does not arise from the simple disappearance of a tyranny.” He knew that 9/11 was the ultraconservatives’ opportunity to put “their ideals” into practice through that unapologetic unilateralism that so impressed Aznar at the famous Bush ranch. The war in Afghanistan was effectively justified to the UN as a response to that aggression, in part because the Bush Administration and the media focused on the oppression of women. Today the cynic appears to be Biden, and it is striking that his decision looks more like the continuation of Trumpist isolationism than understanding how Trump was the grotesque expression of the coming epochal change.
We talk about the decline of the West, but it all started with the post-9/11 US overreaction and its erratic foreign policy in the Middle East, which diverted it from its existential competitor: China. Afghanistan has been a botch, but that neo-con idealism that did not export rights and weakened those of Americans with instruments such as the Patriot Act cannot lead us to nostalgically claim an alleged universalism led by someone who cannot be at the same time. sheriff, lighthouse and guide of the world. There is more provincialism in the formulation of that universality than in the Bush ranch, and let us remember that this was not the lesson learned in 1945. The postwar message was the need to find institutional spaces to resolve conflicts through multilateralism: a world ruled by rules. And we would do well to find in that notion of responsibility beyond our borders the new framework to reformulate that universalism, far from idealisms and relativisms. Rather than scourge us so Christianly with the decline of the West, perhaps that should be the lesson of Afghanistan.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.