The United Kingdom has been taught a painful lesson about its diminished place in the world by the debacle in Afghanistan, but that should not prompt too much gloating in this country as Ireland's notions of international reach have been cruelly exposed by events in Kabul.
It is clear that rage in the UK at US president Joe Biden, fuelled by the Tory press, has probably more to do with the president's decision to ignore British views about the timetable for withdrawal than it has with the plight of the Afghan people. Salt was rubbed into the wound for British prime minister Boris Johnson by his ill-fated convening of a G7 summit designed to pressure Biden into extending the time frame for US withdrawal from Kabul airport.
Johnson was humiliated by the president's very public rejection of his request. Instead the Americans decided to proceed as planned with the evacuation in the light of threats from the Taliban that any change in the timetable would be regarded as a breach of the withdrawal deal.
This Brexiteer comfort blanket has been cruelly ripped away by the US president
Biden’s casual dismissal of Johnson’s initiative has exposed the hollowness of the so-called “special relationship” between the UK and the US. In particular it has put an end to the delusion that Britain would be able to develop an enhanced role for itself in global affairs after its departure from the European Union. This Brexiteer comfort blanket has been cruelly ripped away by the US president.
The Brexiteers are not the only ones in the UK living in a fantasy land. Former prime minister Tony Blair, who committed the UK to the Afghan and the Iraq wars, was equally indignant at Biden, denouncing the president as "imbecilic" for his decision to end "the forever war".
As former taoiseach John Burton noted this week there was little alternative given that in February 2020, ex-US president Donald Trump came to an agreement with the Taliban that the US would withdraw its forces by May of this year.
This deal was signed by then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and under it the Taliban were not required to give up their military campaign. All they were required to do was to give a commitment not to become a base for terror groups operating outside the country. So far the Taliban have kept to the literal terms of the deal they signed with Pompeo and Trump.
The episode should be the final wake up call for the Government to take the Defence Forces seriously
Since their takeover of Kabul the Taliban have facilitated the Americans and others in evacuating about 90,000 people through the airport. This extraordinary airlift would not have been possible without the deal, although it is clear there will not be enough time to evacuate many of the Afghans who want to leave.
If British delusions about the US have been exposed by the tragic episode then Irish delusions about our place in the world have also taken a hit. The Department of Foreign Affairs put in a huge effort over the past few years to win a place on the United Nations Security Council, but the Afghan crisis has shown that we do not have a single aircraft at our disposal to rescue Irish citizens who wish to leave the country.
Irish diplomats and soldiers from the elite Army Rangers wing had to hitch a ride on a French airforce plane to try and get to Kabul help Irish citizens attempting to get out. Some of those who had already made it had been helped by British diplomats to get on board UK evacuation flights.
Ireland is just one of two EU countries without the capability of airlifting its citizens out of danger in an emergency. It begs the question of what we think we are doing on the security council when we can't even look after our own people but have to rely on the French and British to get our citizens out.
The episode should be the final wake up call for the Government to take the Defence Forces seriously and ensure that they are given adequate resources to protect Irish interests. By all accounts the Rangers are an extremely well trained and effective unit, but the inability to deploy them without the help of friendly nations is deeply embarrassing.
Ending the belligerent approach being followed by David Frost to the operation of the Irish protocol would be a step in the right direction
The Defence Forces have been starved of resources down the years. What is now required is not simply more money but a strategic vision about how extra resources should be spent to ensure that the country has the capability in the future of mounting necessary operations.
Some good may ultimately emerge from the Afghan debacle if the right lessons are learned. The American humiliation of the UK should prompt reflection by our nearest neighbours about where its real interests lie. Trade and security point up the benefits of a close and harmonious relationship with its European neighbours, the exact opposite of what has happened in the wake of Brexit.
Ending the belligerent approach being followed by David Frost to the operation of the Irish protocol would be a step in the right direction. That would encourage the EU to be as flexible as possible in its interpretation of the protocol’s terms.
For Europe as a whole the Afghan episode has come as a timely reminder that it needs to look to itself to protect its long term interests.