Isn’t President Biden supposed to be a foreign policy whiz? If so, why has he just stuck the United States with the worst of all possible worlds with his announcement Wednesday that all American military forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 11?
Mr. Biden’s big mistake isn’t promising to pull all the troops out by a date certain. It’s definitely a mistake, for all the (obvious) reasons noted by critics. Specifically, it tells the fanatic Taliban insurgents that if they just wait a few more months, the only obstacle they’d have left to taking over the country (and gaining the capacity to give the world’s jihadists all the kinds of advantages they enjoyed from the support of a sympathetic sovereign state, a la before the first September 11) will be the current, clearly ineffective Afghan government and its military. (America’s allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO – have stated that they’re withdrawing their troops, too.)
But as I’ve written previously (see, e.g., here), the reestablishment of a national terrorist base in Afghanistan need not expose the United States to devastating terrorist attacks once again. The reason? Because “fighting ’em there so we don’t face ’em here” has always been sounder in theory than in reality. After all, “fighting ’em there” means chasing extremist groups around the Middle East for as long as that completely dysfunctional region keeps producing them – i.e., a very long time.
At the same time, I’ve continued, there’s always been a way to prevent “facing ’em here” – by more effectively securing America’s borders, so that they can’t get “here” to begin with.
And here’s where we come to the President’s biggest mistake: Not only is he pulling the troops out of Afghanistan without improving border security. He’s pulling them out while substantially weakening border security with his raft of Open Borders-friendly immigration policies. So jihadists soon will both be free to resume organizing and training in Afghanistan and face a much easier challenge slipping back into the United States.
What he should be doing instead (and Donald Trump didn’t emphasize this crucial combination, either) is what I’ve been recommending for years: Pursuing the goal of keeping the Taliban off balance by keeping small contingents of U.S. and allied special forces units in Afghanistan to conduct harassment and disruption operations while putting into place the tough measures needed to make America’s borders truly secure. Once the latter have been completed, the American soldiers could safely leave. This strategy is much more promising than any tried to date because not only is controlling the Middle East intrinsically difficult – at best – but controlling America’s own borders is clearly far easier.
Interestingly, Mr. Biden himself clearly recognizes that the U.S. military’s Afghanistan mission hasn’t been accomplished completely enough to justify a complete withdrawal. That’s why he promised to “reorganize our counterterrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region to prevent reemergence of terrorists — of the threat to our homeland from over the horizon.” and to “hold the Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorists to threaten the United States or its allies from Afghan soil.”
What’s missing so far, though, is any explanation of how he’ll “refine” America’s strategy “to monitor and disrupt significant terrorist threats” that could emanate from that country. The monitoring part arguably could work, given the remote surveillance capabilities of the U.S. military and intelligence community. But the disruption part? Without U.S. troops on the ground? Good luck with that, along with holding the Taliban accountable in any meaningful way. For the nearby bases that would be needed to host the American force that the President presumably believes would be on call to do the disrupting etc – at least in a timely way – simply aren’t available.
(Actually, there’s one intriguing possibility: Tajikistan, which borders the eastern Afghanistan region where jihadists have been strongest. But as the afore-linked Politico article notes, it’s “heavily dependent on Russia economically,” and Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s cooperation would be needed. Since its own ill-fated Afghanistan war decades ago, it’s been obvious that Moscow is also strongly opposed to any increase in Islamic extremists’ presence near its own southern borders. But the President and the rest of his party seem to equate any cooperation with Russia with – alleged – Trump-style collusion, so that option seems to be out unless his party’s Never Putin-ers relent.)
As the Politico piece observes, Mr. Biden is putting all of America’s Afghanistan chips on what national security types call an “offshore counterterror approach” – and has long advocated this strategy since his vice presidential days. What’s supremely ironic is that the best offshore counterterror approach by far has always entailed focusing tightly on the entirely feasible task of securing America’s own borders – and that the President has been bent on achieving exactly the opposite.