August 19, 2021

Afghanistan and the World

“President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan has triggered a globe-spanning rethink of America’s role in the world, as European allies discuss their need to play a bigger part in security matters and Russia and China consider how to promote their interests in a Taliban-led Afghanistan.” Washington Post

Many on both sides worry that the situation undermines America’s global standing:

"The point of leaving Kabul is to save resources that may now be devoted to geopolitical struggles with Russia and China, Mr. Biden argued. Supposedly these rivals would have been delighted to see U.S. forces tied down indefinitely in Afghanistan. Maybe so; but then it is hard to imagine that they are not delighted today, as U.S. allies in Europe and Asia are dismayed, at the incompetent handling of the withdrawal."
Editorial Board, Washington Post

"It has all unfolded with scant communication from Biden himself, who waited 48 hours after Kabul fell to speak with any foreign leader. He phoned Britain's prime minister on Tuesday afternoon, and on Wednesday spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The White House said regular calls were going out from lower levels of government focused on logistical or operational matters. But other countries' leaders had still found time to talk to each other -- by Wednesday, Merkel had spoken to the leaders of Britain, France, Italy, Pakistan, Qatar and the United Nations' high commissioner for refugees…

“‘It's a lack of communications, of honesty, with the American people and with allies around the world who are deeply disappointed with a Biden administration that they felt would be much more multilateral, especially on an issue where the allies have been fighting with the Americans for 20 years now,’ said Ian Bremmer, director of the Eurasia Group. ‘The decision on how and when to leave was made unilaterally by the Americans, and that's not the way you treat your allies, frankly.’”
Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins, CNN

U.S. global leadership and the stability of the international system depend, in large part, on Washington’s promises to protect friends and defend against enemies. More than 30 formal treaty allies, which combine to make up more than half of global GDP, rely on American security guarantees. If the United States cannot be trusted to keep its word, however, then allies may find it prudent to find other ways to protect themselves and adversaries may see a green light to aggress without consequence…

“‘Whatever happened to ‘America is back’?’ asked Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Defense Committee in the British Parliament. ‘The Western democracy that seemed to be the inspiration for the world, the beacon for the world, is turning its back,’ said Rory Stewart, Britain’s former minister for international development… Afghanistan’s backslide into autocracy will be another data point in worrying trend lines showing a global decline in the number of democracies globally over each of the past 15 years.”
Matthew Kroenig and Jeffrey Cimmino, The Dispatch

“Astonishingly, the president's Afghanistan speech on Monday neglected to include a reaffirmation of America's commitment to NATO's mutual defense assurances or to the defense of U.S. treaty allies in the Pacific. National security adviser Jake Sullivan did emphasize these commitments Tuesday, but his words cannot substitute for Biden. Other U.S. allies have noticed. China has already weaponized Afghanistan's collapse to exert new pressure on Taiwan. Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen felt obliged to respond, tweeting Wednesday, ‘As we look at events taking place around the world, I want to make clear that Taiwanese are committed to the defense of our nation.’ Translation: ‘We cannot rely on Biden or America.’”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“The ironic truth for China is that the only thing worse than U.S. soldiers near its borders is not having them there at all. Afghanistan is now a big headache for Beijing, which fears chaos there will spill over not just to its restive region of Xinjiang but to Pakistan. The People’s Republic has invested huge infrastructure projects as well as extended huge loans to Islamabad as part of the Belt and Road Initiative…

“But lately, Beijing has begun to worry about its assets there. On July 14, a blast on a Chinese shuttle bus in northern Pakistan killed nine Chinese engineers working on the $4 billion Dasu hydroelectric dam… This attack followed another incident in April, when the Pakistani Taliban carried out a suicide bombing at a hotel where the Chinese ambassador was staying… The U.S.’s hurried exit from Afghanistan was certainly bad publicity, but America’s debacle is not a win for China.”
Shuli Ren, Bloomberg

“The prospect of additional refugees is already a palpable source of anxiety in Islamabad. Pakistan hosts an estimated 3 million Afghan refugees, largely financing this effort through its own funds… a further influx of Pashtun refugees in search of security and opportunity could provoke greater ethnic conflict in cities like Quetta and fuel greater Pashtun separatism, already prevalent in Pakistan’s recently merged tribal districts bordering Afghanistan.”
Fahd Humayun, Washington Post

“From the wreckage of this embarrassing and enormously consequential 20-year-long failure must emerge a new foreign policy doctrine based on American interests and not American mythology. This doctrine, what the grand strategy theorist Barry Posen calls ‘restraint’ is based, as he argues, on the idea that ‘the United States is quite secure, due to its great power, its weak and agreeable neighbors, and its vast distance from most of the world's trouble, distances patrolled by the U.S. Navy.’…

Our strategic posture should be based on some version of ‘offshore balancing,’ the idea that… the U.S. should ‘forgo ambitious efforts to remake other societies’ and concentrate on helping allies manage affairs in the regions, intervening only when strictly necessary and not wasting American power and resources indefinitely garrisoning strategically inconsequential countries or overreacting to each act of terrorism by launching unwinnable wars.”
David Faris, The Week

From the Right

“China wasted little time seizing on the debacle to make geopolitical inroads and assert a growing hegemony in the Asia-Pacific… China hopes to exploit Afghanistan’s rare-earth metals, which some estimate to be worth up to $3 trillion, to augment Beijing’s already-dominant share of the global market. That exploitation has tangible ramifications: The dramatic annual inflation in the used-car market, for instance, is largely attributable to a semiconductor shortage driven by a Chinese bottleneck over rare-earth components…

“Beijing has long-sought ‘reunification’ — Commie-speak for an invasion — with Taiwan, and this week, Xi sent People’s Liberation Army warships and fighter jets to conduct drills right off the island’s south. Chinese state media made sure to taunt Taipei with images of the US humiliation in Afghanistan. The message: Washington won’t save you… America was right to get out of Afghanistan once and for all, but horrifically myopic in how it did so. China, our foremost geopolitical threat, senses a weak rival.”
Josh Hammer, New York Post

Some note that “Based on [the Taliban’s] prior record in power, and on their behavior in the territory where they have regained control since America's retaliatory invasion in 2001, we can expect a thoroughly brutal regime… But the United States has cordial relations with numerous brutal and oppressive regimes… We make alliances with those we think we need, not with those we like…

“The timetable of our willingness to reconcile with the Taliban, then, will not be driven by their progress on human rights, but by their potential usefulness to our aims… Before our 20-year war, America's prior intervention in Afghanistan involved supporting the Pakistan-backed mujahideen resistance against the Soviet Union and its puppet government of the country. It would be completely in keeping with American foreign policy for us to try to run that script again against the People's Republic of China, our new geopolitical rival whose oppression of the Muslim Uyghurs has been reasonably characterized as a genocide…

“Remember, we're the country that laundered money for the Nicaraguan Contras through arms sales to Iran, a country we had no relations with and whose opponent, Iraq, we were providing covert militarily support to at the time — and then we turned around within a few years to invade Iraq in turn. We've engaged in less-likely gambits [than] working with the Taliban to harass the Chinese.”
Noah Millman, The Week

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