"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"There is no getting over the fact that the standing of the West has taken a significant hit."
Most of the time, the tectonic plates of geopolitics creep slowly. Then, now and again, the plates jolt, convulsing, thrusting upon us dramatic swings in power that rock everything. That just happened.
At the hands of the Taliban, the disorderly retreat of the West has changed the world order. When a U.S. president talks up a medieval murderous religious cult to secure their cooperation, you know things aren't going well. When the U.K.'s foreign secretary, the hapless and hopeless Dominic Raab, seeks out help from China and Russia, the game has changed.
When images of the Taliban brandishing U.S. M4 rifles, wearing U.S. uniforms, while adorned with other U.S. military supplies, you know something went seriously wrong.
Also, kids standing waist-deep in sewage awaiting clearance to enter Kabul airport is an unforgettable picture of failure. Then, as tired and overwhelmed young soldiers do their best, Biden skulks away from a press conference, refusing to answer questions. Alas, when Biden announced 'America is back', I didn't realise that meant he'd be showing his back.
Many are now questioning his ability to lead. Following the shameful deception of G7 cooperation, that is understandable. Boris Johnson chairmanship of the G7 counted for nothing because Biden made it clear he had no desire to consider the opinions of so-called allies.
Biden's policy on Afghanistan suffers the same fundamental flaw that led to the misadventure in Vietnam. It is rooted in the demands of U.S. domestic politics rather than a realistic assessment of the interests and conditions of the Afghan people. It was in American interests to invade, and that's what driven the departure — the often proclaimed 'human rights' and 'state building' a fig leaf for these ventures.
Granted, the frontline operators believe their mandate is to bring democracy, a fudge their political masters are willing to sustain. Graham Greene in 'The Quiet American' summed it up with his C.I.A. character Alden Pyle, “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused … impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance.” A tad harsh, but the ring of truth.
This latest demonstration of U.S. rationale raises questions in the U.K. and Europe, 'Do we have a common purpose with the U.S., and how can our interests be met?'.
At the same time, vice-president Harris is running around Asia seeking to shore up confidence for the undertakings given to this region. For Harris, that's a tough gig when actions speak louder than words. Are Japan, Taiwan and the rest naive enough to swallow her distracting rhetoric of "China is intimidating everyone"? Indeed, Vietnam wasn't prepared to consent. The others gave Harris a polite hearing but no strong statements of unanimity.
Plus, how long before China and Russia are running the evacuation from Kabul because Biden has cut and run? It's possible. Both will retain embassies in Kabul, as China is working on cutting an investment deal with the Taliban.
With the end of August deadline fast approaching, the recrimination game is gathering pace. It remains baffling that the political leaders in the West believed the Afghan army would stand. Instead, a few guys in pickup trucks with A.K. 47s show up, and the entire Afghan military does a runner.
Tony Blair -- the turd that won't flush — had the cheek to criticise Biden's action. Of all the people least morally qualified to comment, Blair tops any list. I do wish he'd curl up under a slime-covered rock to remain silent.
In May this year, Noam Chomsky, philosopher and social critic, predicted such an outcome. With tongue firmly in cheek, Chomsky claims he benefited from 'not having any intelligence assessments'. Yet, he did have an understanding of history and hubris.
Chomsky's point about intelligence assessments, although made in jest, hints at a serious matter. Remember the failures of intelligence over 9/11, the W.M.D. saga and Soviet nuclear missile lead that didn't exist. And that's far from an exhaustive list.
Putting all ideology aside, there is no getting over the fact that the standing of the West has taken a significant hit. A U.S. president demonstrated scant regard for the views of supposed allies, while the U.K. and Europe proved incapable of acting without American military support. There is a reason the British army goes by the name 'The Borrowers'.
Meanwhile, the U.K. Ministry of Defence P.R. machine is working overtime circulating pictures of soldiers helping kids, giving out water while sheltering them from the heat. So naturally, the B.B.C. and Sky are once again happy to fall in line, giving these heart-tugging pictures the maximum coverage. Much as they uncritically cheered on the invasion twenty years ago.
At least the coverage on Aljazeera is more honest. It shows the Taliban firmly in control, maintaining order and controlling airport access — albeit by harsh methods. Hence Biden's genuflecting to them. After all, if the Taliban wish they could overrun the airport without firing a shot by allowing refugees to stream in.
And not to miss an opportunity, Chinese media is running the 'graveyard of empires' narrative.
Conversely, some in the U.K. appear more concerned about dogs and cats left behind in Kabul. So, in a revealing gesture, they've raised enough cash to hire a Boeing 737 to bring out these strays. So what does that tell us about sentiments towards the fate of the Afghans?
From monitoring FlightRadar 24, it is possible to watch the pace of the evacuations flights in and out of Afghanistan. For much of early August, only the Turks had a regular shuttle service running from Kabul to Islamabad in Pakistan.
Then the planes of the U.S.A., the U.K., New Zealand, Spain and others started crossing into Afghan airspace. An assortment of Globemaster IIIs and Hercules C130s doing the lifting, while American KC 135 Stratotankers back them up with fuel.
The awful news that ISIS are back in action with suicide bombs killing U.S. Marines and Afghan civilians underline the dangers of this retreat. ISIS may now have a regained territory from which to operate, threatening us all. And thanks to the shambolic withdrawal, they have plenty of military supplies.
Biden has hit back against ISIS with a supposed drone strike allegedly killing a so-called mid-level ISIS planner. There is no evidence to suggest the target is connected to the airport bombing. Call me cynical, but the scenario indicates that Grandad Biden looked weak and useless, so he had to hit something as a distraction for his manifest failings.
Giving Biden the benefit of the doubt to assume he hit the right people, lashing out in this manner won't help except as a distraction. Moreover, it's worth remembering that random attacks on the enemy validate their random attacks on you, as the moral high ground is forfeit. That's the ideological price to pay.
Let's be clear; I've no qualms about killing terrorists if that is what it takes to get the job done. However, it's the piecemeal efforts conducted for cosmetic purposes, adding fuel to the fire without a clear overarching objective, that earns my derision.
It's often argued that the Suez crisis of 1956 is the moment that laid bare Britain's imperial impotence. So is it premature to portray the shambolic retreat from Kabul as the American equal?
Only time will tell.
"After a race, the ritual moaning starts as the crews dissect the day's events, ruminating over perceived etiquette infractions."
The young men — and it was primarily men— who built the British Empire were an uninhibited lot. Shy and quiet types wouldn't cut the mustard holding the reigns of power while cajoling the natives into submission. Yet, with all that bluff and pluck came an enthusiasm for the outdoor life, sports and adventure.
Today, the sports clubs of Hong Kong are the most resilient memorial to the fact that the Brits exported their games with them. They sent cricket to India, rugby to Samoa and football to the Aborigines.
In colonial times, 'the club' fulfilled a particular role; something of a refuge, a home from home, allowing the newly arrived Expat to integrate, but only with his own. It isolated him from the local community because a chap could 'go native' without proper guidance.
But membership also greased the wheels of business.
Jan Morris observed in Pax Britannica, '…whenever the wandering Briton wished to find the company of his kind, he'd get an invite to the club and soon be standing at the bar as if he owned it.' Pretending to be grander than they were was pretty much de rigueur.
The sports clubs provided an outlet for all that youthful energy of these thrusting types. Formed as a diversionary consolation for the vexations of colonial life, today's clubs are more integrated, although still offering an intriguing window on a sub-set of Hong Kong society.
My job gave automatic membership to the Police Officer's Club. This safe space allowed cops to vent, letting off steam without 'outsiders' within ear-shot. Then some 20 years ago, I joined a sailing club. As part of the process, I learnt to sail and did my bit as a volunteer.
Hong Kong's sailing clubs are a significant enterprise with large clubhouses, boatyards, thousands of staff and a full racing calendar. Our superb harbour, Sai Kung's islands and the south side provide world-class sailing conditions. Whatever you fancy, from the large motor yacht — assuming you are super-rich — to the single-person dinghy, it's all on offer.
These days, the clubs have dropped their colonial undertones, although the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club kept the title unchanged in a small act of defiance. Also, Expats manage all the clubs, although the membership is predominately Chinese.
Would you please stay with me as I go amateur anthropologist? In recent years, exposure to the local sail-racing scene gave me absorbing insights. I've seen the petty rivalries, cliques, competitions, and the hard work that goes into this sailing malarkey.
I reckon all sailors score high on the sociability index. That's the nature of the beast. Crews working together is essential even for a fraction of success in such a competitive environment.
There is a hierarchy of sorts, although where you sit depends on perception. Big money super motor-yachts with top-heavy structures, adorned with every gadget, draw the disdain of the old salts. One such three-tier monster, owned by a businessman, is so out of kilter it can't turn in a moderate swell for fear of capsizing. So confined to the bays, she drifts around, never to face the open ocean.
The guys who love hoisting sails by hand are another extreme, even forgoing the coffee grinder winch. Also on the fringes are the rowers and paddlers, all muscle power, with no frills. These sub-sets strongly identify, "We are Rowers" came the stern rebuke when I mistakenly called them 'paddlers'. Sorry.
The crews range from the semi-professionals through to the weekend warriors. Either way, the competition is intense.
Racing is a serious business. The Committee boat sits supreme, setting the course, marshalling the starts and overseeing the whole shebang. Volunteers keep wind readings, checking off the boats as these arrive on station, while the Race Officer — a semi-god for the day — sets the route.
The course laying is an art, as much as a science. Position the marks (big floaty things that boats go-round), wind deflections discussed, course times estimated against wind strength and boat speed. "There is a wind shadow behind Sharp Island," "Don't forget the shift east as the afternoon arrives". Amongst the volunteers, matriarchal memsahibs seek to dominate with various degrees of success.
Flags and horns command the entrants to line up for the off. Then, as the skipper's jockey for position while avoiding collisions, calls of protestation fill the air, "Give way", and less polite shouts.
Then, once the fuss of the start is over, the committee boat settles to a routine, recording rounding times, and sounding horns for the finishers.
After a race, the ritual moaning starts as the crews dissect the day's events, ruminating over perceived etiquette infractions. Anxious skippers await the decisions on formal protests as the committee adjudicates. Others offer a 'liquid handshake' to appease an offended party, knowing full well that role reversal awaits in the coming weeks.
Mark you, the clubs are as much about the social life as sailing. For new arrivals in town, especially young women, it's an opportunity to mingle without the insidious dangers of the bar scene. One lady told me, "It's a safe 'flirting' zone because social norms hold people in check".
Plus, you can soon 'belong'. The exotic appeal of dragon boating is an immediate draw to the newbie. That soon wanes. Although, even the most blatantly incompetent (that's me) can don a life-jacket, whistle and gloves to pretend you've served decades before the mast. But don't ask them to tie a reef knot.
Alcohol that cools the fervour — especially after a race — is more or less compulsory. Not too much, but indeed enough to lift the mood and drive the teasing banter along. Then on departure home, it's all wild embraces and hugs, given as if some treasured aunt is off on a long trip.
So while the colonial era retreats, with the illusion of Empire (Jan Morris again), and Britain is an island once more, hints of grandeur linger. The Aberdeen Boat Club displays the fire control panel from the sunken Queen Elizabeth, an apt epitaph perhaps. At the same time, the emblems of long gone warships adorn the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club walls.
How bizarre that such symbols receive scorn in the homeland while they enjoy acceptance as quaint echoes of the past in a former imperial possession. There is a good deal of easy analysis on offer these days about the merits or otherwise of the British Empire. I always wonder why the most ardent critics are found in Britain itself.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.