Skip to main content

The West

Don’t underestimate the West

US forces in Afghanistan: a 20-year commitment. Joe Raedle/Getty

The invasion of Ukraine, and our reaction to it, reveals a central contradiction about the West, says Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. Our enemies see us as both an “all-powerful oppressor” and a “decadent pushover”, foisting our values on other cultures while at the same time failing to stand up for our own way of life in “a fog of post-Christian self-doubt”. There is truth in both these views, though each is a “hopeless exaggeration”. But of the two it is the first – that the West is domineering – which has been borne out by events.

True, the West doesn’t always champion its values abroad, but the “main follies” since the Second World War – Suez, Vietnam, Iraq – are examples of too much zeal, not too little. The belief that the West is timid and bourgeois ­– a feeling simmering away “on the wilder edges” of US and French conservatism – is what tempts our enemies to underrate us. And too often public discourse in the West itself falls into the same trap. Biden was rightly criticised for his chaotic withdrawal from of Afghanistan last August. But what our “hysterical political class” forgets is that by then the US had given that “ill-starred” country not just a brief go, but 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars.