What the Western world confronts is not the threatening advance of alien civilisations, but its own dark shadows moving through China and Russia.
The retreat of the West began with the fall of communism in 1989. Our triumphal elites lost their sense of reality, and in a succession of attempts to remake the world in their image went on to vacate some of the planet’s most strategically decisive regions. The end result of their attempt to export their system of government is that Western states are weaker and more endangered than they were at any point in the Cold War.
Yet viewing this debacle as a defeat for Western ideas and values is a fundamental error. Western ideologies continue to rule the world. In China Xi Jinping has embraced a variant of integral nationalism not unlike those that emerged in interwar Europe, while Vladimir Putin has skilfully deployed Leninist methods to resurrect an enfeebled Russia as a global power. Ideas and projects originating in the illiberal West continue to shape global politics. At the same time, in an intriguing synchronicity, Western liberalism has itself become illiberal.
The geopolitical descent of the West was visible in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and is palpable in the withdrawal of American-led forces from Afghanistan. Iran is now the predominant power in Iraq. With the Afghan state and regular army melting away following the US withdrawal, the future will be decided by the Taliban and neighbouring states that are sucked into the ensuing power vacuum. After years of Western intervention and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, in Syria Bashar al-Assad is still in power and Russia is the deciding force. Following the Western-engineered overthrow of Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011, Libya is an ungoverned space and a gateway of people-smuggling into Europe.