While you were glamping, Afghanistan has fallen

Twenty years of liberal interventionism lie in ruins

Paul Mason
7 min readAug 15, 2021

As I write, the BBC is reporting the Taliban are “entering Kabul from all sides”. Fourteen provincial capitals are in the hands of Taliban fighters, the 300,000 strong Afghan army in headlong retreat and Western diplomats scrambling to get out of the country.

Maybe the people of Kabul will do what Joe Biden has urged them to do — “fight”: leftists with contacts in Afghanistan have reported groups of women arming themselves in self defence since July. Maybe the West will pull together a last-minute “humanitarian” intervention. Maybe Ashraf Ghani will resign and negotiations begin. But I am not counting on any of it.

I didn’t cover Afghanistan. But I did sit in the newsroom of Newsnight in the Autumn of 2001 and watch as the hubris of liberal interventionism gripped the imagination of highly educated people, indeed people with genuine expertise in covering warfare, Islam and geopolitics.

Here at last was a just war: winnable, swiftly launched and quickly over. The botched interventions into Yugoslavia; the horrific inaction over the Rwanda genocide; the weirdly inconclusive first Iraq War could all now be forgotten, or partially atoned.

Once the Taliban were beaten, the West could bring development aid, institution building, education for women and girls. And, of course, its collective imagination: through TV series like Homeland we’ve spent 20 years projecting our own virtue onto Afghanistan.

Today, it is not just the Afghan interpreters for the British army we are leaving in the lurch. It is the entire network of civil society institutions, NGOs, cultural groups and universities that is being abandoned, and of course the workers movement and the left.

I opposed the invasion of Afghanistan (though not publicly, since I was not allowed to by the BBC). I likewise opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. By the time John Reid launched the duplicitous Helmand deployment in 2006, saying Britain would be “happy to leave in three years time without firing one shot”, it was clear to a lot of my BBC colleagues that the whole thing was a disaster.



Paul Mason

Journalist, writer and film-maker. Author of How To Stop Fascism.