The rainbow flag flutters no more over the US embassy in Kabul

This is a week full of strange ironies. The story dominating everything was the wreck of American dreams in Afghanistan. On Sunday the Taliban entered Kabul and occupied the Presidential Palace.

Twenty years of US investment in the country’s military, infrastructure, education, and social services were wiped out in a single week as the Taliban occupied the cities and the government’s soldiers melted away.

Everything America stands for – democracy, human rights, open markets, religious freedom, respect for women – tumbled into the dust. It was like the toppling of the colossal statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 2003, but in reverse.  

It was also the week that the US Secretary for Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay cabinet member, announced that he and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, were expecting a baby.

It’s not known whether the baby will arrive through adoption or IVF and surrogacy, but it was a clear symbol of the Biden Administration’s commitment to LGBTQI+ rights.

The United States failed to give Afghanistan peace, security or democracy, but there was no doubting its missionary zeal to spread the LGBTQI+ gospel. In June, “Pride Month”, the “progress flag” flew over its embassy in Kabul.

Sorry to be rude, but who was the deluded moron who ordered a rainbow flag to be displayed in the capital of the nation which is probably the most implacably hostile place on earth for LGBTQI+ causes? Probably the same one who ordered it to be hung from the balcony of the American embassy to the Holy See.

Ultimately it was Joe Biden. One of the President’s earliest initiatives after taking office was to send the State Department a strongly worded memo “to ensure that United States diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.” He even described this as one of “our most dearly held values”.

When the President proclaimed June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pride Month, he declared proudly that “Nearly 14 percent of my 1,500 agency appointees identify as LGBTQ+” and he gave a special shout-out to Secretary Pete and to Rachel Levine, “the first openly transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate.”

No wonder the acting US Ambassador in Kabul believed that in-your-face defiance of Islamic values was the best way to promote respect for America in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

But how many Afghan soldiers saw the rainbow flag waving over the US$800 million embassy compound and said, “Allahu Akbar, I am proud to be fighting shoulder to shoulder with Joe Biden”? Probably none. Probably many Afghanis considered it to be one step short of treading on a copy of the Qu’ran.

This is not to say that the US did not have a responsibility to promote human rights in Afghanistan -- the dominant culture there is violently hostile to women’s rights and religious freedom. Afghanistan is a signatory to human rights declarations and should abide by them. But aggressively promoting un-Islamic values in a deeply religious country can only be described as the epitome of insolent cultural imperialism. It's worse than the condescension of the moustache-twirling sahibs who invaded Afghanistan in the 19th Century to make the world safe for the East India Company.

In the breast-beating and examination of conscience which must follow this massive humiliation, the United States should remember that its position in the world depends not only on military might and economic clout but also on its “soft power”.

This, according to the Harvard professor who popularised the term, Joseph Nye, is the ability to attract and entice. “Politics has become a contest of competitive credibility,” he noted – and countries which create soft power with a credible and attractive narrative bolster their hard military and economic power. But “Policies that appear as narrowly self-serving or arrogantly presented are likely to prohibit rather than produce soft power.”

It’s hard to imagine anything more self-serving or arrogant than the LGBTQI+ narrative. It's not welcomed in most of the countries where the US has vital interests. It undermines the traditional family and the principles of major religions – including Islam and Christianity. Should it continue to be one of the main features of American foreign policy?


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