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Has the West lost its way?

The aftermath of the bomb blasts in Kabul. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

“So that’s it, then,” says Allister Heath in The Daily Telegraph. As British and US troops retreat from Kabul, leaving the Taliban free to terrorise Afghans “back to the stone age”, the next stage of the 21st century’s great geopolitical and civilisational realignment is beginning. The West’s 320-year hegemony, which started when English GDP per capita surpassed China’s circa 1700, is over. Soon other civilisations will become richer and more powerful than we are, and they will want their own spheres of influence, and their own values to prevail.

The “deluded” belief that capitalism would lead to universal democracy, human rights and secularism turns out be “nonsense”. Capitalism is just as effective in the hands of tyrants as liberals, perhaps more so, as the Chinese model is proving. The reckless eco-crusade for net zero is undermining western economic growth and may yet unleash geopolitical chaos. How will President Putin respond to declining demand for his gas? The Gulf is bound to implode, creating more Afghanistan-style messes. And all the while “woke ideology” gains ground, “fragmenting and dividing society”, pitting group against group, “better to undermine the West”.

The whiff of western decline is indeed in the air, says Paul Kingsnorth in UnHerd, “mingling with the smoke of burning forests” across Europe and America, and the scorched tarmac of Kabul airport. But it isn’t the Taliban, the Russians or even the Chinese killing off the West. It’s the West that’s giving up on itself. President Biden’s entire foreign policy can be summed up in two words, says Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph: “less America”. The horror unfolding in Kabul is a vivid example of what less America looks like, and this is just the start.

While the debate in the West is all “dismay and disbelief”, there’s been a more upbeat conversation in Moscow and Beijing. Take the Global Times newspaper, whose voice “never differs much from the Chinese Communist Party’s official line”. An “Afghan effect”, according to the paper, would see America’s allies peel away, creating opportunities for China and Russia to unite and “humiliate the US”. At a Sino-Russian summit this year, foreign ministers agreed to build an alternative to the “western-led international order”. With American influence waning “so fast, and so visibly”, these new allies have a perfect chance.

Afghanistan is a tragedy, says Max Hastings in The Times, but US leadership is still “indispensable”. We have abandoned, “thank goodness”, the hubristic Bush-Blair belief that the Muslim world can be reinvented on a western template. But Islamic terrorism has not gone away. Pinpoint action against terrorist bases abroad is still essential, as is the “measured use of cash incentives and military threats” to dissuade the Taliban, and the Iranians, from attacking the West – including Israel. We cannot always save the peoples of foreign countries from their own monsters. “But nor can we shake the dust of the deserts and mountains from our feet.”