The triumph of the Taliban in Afghanistan is a devastating blow to US prestige and the cause of pluralistic liberty everywhere. Afghan history reveals a region that is a collection of tribes and utterly unconquerable by outside forces. From Alexander the Great three centuries before Christ, to a variety of empires, this inhospitable and divided land will not subject herself to colonialism, communism, or western democratization.
US/Allied policy for nearly two decades has wavered between simply rooting out terrorist dens and trying to instill some cohesive and democratic regimes. The former would have been a wise policy, with a strong Allied base and less occupying influence. All this is now water under the bridge. What is instructive are the implications of this current moment for the future of freedom and the historical connections that should inform the responses of nations and peoples that love liberty.
The Taliban are presently supported by a variety of jihadist networks, Islamic states, and totalitarian regimes such as China. Even though China is persecuting Islamic groups in its own nation, she has vested economic interests in ousting western nations and being in position to mine the resources of Afghanistan. What we have is a pragmatic alliance of two totalitarian systems that equally hate the USA and her allies.
The 1939 Connection
On August 22-23, 1939, the world was stunned as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a 10-year non-aggression pact and trade agreement. These mortal enemies suddenly were friends. Communist parties around the world were told overnight not to disparage Germany. Of course, for both Hitler and Stalin, this was a marriage of momentary convenience, until each had sufficient forces to oppose the other. The secret protocols of the agreement divided Poland between the two empires, gave the Soviets free reign in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, with Germany also willing to let the USSR wage war against the stubborn Finnish nation. Hitler was given freedom for his eventual invasions of the West.
The significance of the moment for today must be clearly seen, with no illusions: jihadists are happy to unite with other groups that desire the demise of democratic and pluralistic nations. Each totalitarian group thinks they will eventually triumph, while the immediate impact is harm to liberty. Hitler and Stalin hated the democracies and they united for their dictatorial ends. The various forces of jihadism are willing to work with Marxists to undermine the West.
Here are the signs of 1939 in 2022:
- The irrational hatred and delegitimizing of the State of Israel and the enormous rise in antisemitism around the world. Jewish heritage and a democratic Israel stand in the way of the “long march of Marxism” (Os Guinness) and Jihadist goals, just as both Hitler and Stalin saw the Jews as the impediment to their utopias.
- Among many Marxists in the West, there is an unwillingness to criticize the Islamist oppression of minorities and women while projecting Nazi and Taliban identities on conservative political parties in Western democracies. This includes castigating any African-American or Hispanic-Latino conservatives, and refusing to listen to serious empirical and historical arguments that do not fit “the narrative.”
- Utter disregard for the suffering of Cubans and Venezuelans while keeping an open border with Mexico reflects the political strategies of those aiming for a one-party state in the USA.
- The refusal of the current administration to see global situations clearly and work in concert with democratic allies.
- Fueling greater divides among cultural and economic groups.
Our response to this serious moment must not be ideological polarization or personal insults, but affirmation of core principles that cultivate the character and community ethos needed for a more loving and just world. In next week’s essay, I will propose new ways forward that refuse to look to political leaders as messiahs and empowers caring people for participation in community flourishing.
We can learn from history and forge a fresh future without the subversions of totalitarian ideologies and regimes. The choice is ours: fear or faith, capitulation or courage.