a warning against civilisational hubris


One of the most astonishing things about the western involvement in Afghanistan of the past decade, and the British shambles in particular, has been the failure to learn from or, indeed, to read accounts of previous failed interventions – even those by the officers of British regiments whose later incarnations are fighting in the country today. Ignorance of Afghan history has not stopped a procession of contemporary “experts” from throwing about the cliché that we are in the grip of a new “Great Game”. Aside from its lack of imagination, this parallel misses the most important point about the original: that, far from being a vital issue in 19th-century geopolitics, it was in fact something between a sideshow and an illusion. Within a few years of Rudyard Kipling’s coining the term, the British and Russian empires wound up their rivalry in the region when faced with the real common threat of Wilhelmine Germany. This belated recognition of the pointlessness of the entire affair did not, of course, bring back to life the countless people who had died in the course of these imperial adventures over the previous 70 years.

more from Anatol Lieven at the FT here.