The U.S.’s Disorganized Retreat
Out of Iraq, Afghanistan — and the rest of the world.


Conrad Black

Each week, the world visibly evolves toward a multipolar system, slowly devising new arrangements as traditional multinational structures atrophy. The United Nations is now an almost universal joke. The annual General Assembly meetings are not the draw they were, and the most publicized appearances are by lunatics, such as Ahmadinejad or Gaddafi. Dag Hammarskjöld and U Thant were among the most famous men in the world when they were secretary general of the U.N.; even Boutros Boutros-Ghali was taken somewhat seriously. Ban Ki-moon is a trivia question.


Despite the supposed cleanup after the oil-for-food disaster under Kofi Annan, in which Saddam Hussein perfected the art of draping the world body in ridicule and infamy, it is still a corrupt shambles, and the peacekeeping operations, once the stuff of vast hopes and pious intentions, is mainly a hard-currency-raising wheeze for contributing countries, who rent out their forces to the faction-heads they are supposed to be pacifying and have the effect, as in the Congo — the largest peacekeeping operation, involving nearly 30,000 peacekeepers — of escalating and brutalizing the internecine conflict.


NATO, the most successful alliance in world history, the principal enforcer of the containment strategy against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact until those brutal confections of Lenin and Stalin imploded, is in a state of thorough disarray. After the 9/11 attacks of 2001, the alliance rallied magnificently and, for the first time in its history, invoked the provision in the charter that “an attack upon one is an attack upon all.” It was a tremendous manifestation of support for America following immediately upon those monstrous outrages. Suspecting, perhaps not entirely without reason, that part of the motive behind this unexampled solidarity was a desire to influence, i.e. moderate, America’s response to the attacks, the George W. Bush administration largely ignored NATO and led the Alliance into Afghanistan, chased out the Taliban regime of Mullah Omar, which had happily tolerated the presence of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in the country, and left NATO in Afghanistan with an indefinite mission, milling around, supposedly assisting in the pacification of the country.


In fact, the NATO contingents were left in charge of different areas, thoroughly undermanned and largely uncoordinated. It became a game of skill to opt for a region and engagement strategy that ensured the least casualties. The British, Dutch, and Canadians, along with the Americans, encountered the enemy from time to time, incurring hundreds of dead, but the French and some others hunkered down with a rather unambitious occupation plan. The ostensibly legal government, the beneficiary of a completely discredited election, is a sinkhole of corruption that has alienated some public opinion to the benefit of the honest but fanatical and otherwise detested Taliban.