The humanitarian calamity seemingly sure to erupt in Afghanistan now that the Taliban have taken over means that this is no time for I-told-you-so-type gloating – even by long-time critics of U.S. military involvement and nation-building since these jihadist extremists were driven from power in late 2001.
So as one of those long-time critics, I offer the following two observations simply as an attempt to help avoid repeats of this disaster going forward. And interestingly, they’re both inspired by a single Washington Post article.
The first concerns a statement from early this month by a spokesman for the Chinese defense ministry. According to one Colonel Wu Qian, Washington “bears an unavoidable responsibility for the current situation in Afghanistan. It cannot leave and shed the burden on regional countries.”
There’s no doubt that the U.S. military withdrawal could have been handled much better – especially for the local U.S. allies who will be left to the mercy of violent, reactionary, misogynistic Islamists. In particular, as retired U.S. Army General Jack Keane asked on Friday, why did President Biden decide to complete the pullout in the middle of Afghanistan’s fighting season – when the weather is warm enough to permit aggressive, large-scale Taliban military campaigns? Why didn’t he wait till the winter – when, as has consistently been the case, the cold has prevented such operations?
But this notion that America “cannot leave and shed the burden on regional countries”? What on earth is Colonel Wu talking about? Not only can the United States do exactly that. It should have done exactly that long years ago, once the main mission was accomplished of ousting the Taliban regime that permitted Al Qaeda to turn the country into a base for launching terrorist strikes like the September 11 attacks.
And the reason is pretty simple: As I recently posted, Afghanistan is in China’s neighborhood. Not to mention Russia’s and Iran’s. And it’s as far away as it can be from America’s neighborhood. As a result, it’s always been the case that once the United States left, it would have been the regional countries’ burden, and therefore, these countries (which aren’t exactly weak mini-states) would have had no choice but to figure out how to deal with a Sunni Muslim jihadist-led country capable of causing big problems for all of them.
How could this be done? Frankly, that’s not America’s problem. Because the only valid reason Americans ever had to have any significant self interest in who runs Afghanistan had to do with its terrorist base potential. And once the Taliban was gone, along with the unique threat it posed of giving sovereign-state shelter to a terrorist organization, that challenge has always best been handled with a genuine America First strategy: genuinely securing the U.S. border (something Washington can reasonably hope to control) rather than (1) chasing jihadists around a Middle East so dysfunctional that it’s bound to keep breeding new extremist groups faster than existing groups can be neutralized by the American military; much less (2) trying to build nations where none have existed before.
At the same time, more than cynicism and opportunism may be responsible for that Chinese statement. For it comes against the backdrop of decades of Washington acting like Afghanistan’s political makeup and regional behavior indeed mattered more to the United States than it mattered to Afghanistan’s neighbors.
Just as important, the statement also comes against the backdrop of decades of pre-Trump, globalist U.S. politicians, like Mr. Biden, prattling on about how America is and must be the world’s leader and “indispensable nation.” It seems perfectly reasonable, therefore, to suppose that even countries like China, which clearly has some global leadership ambitions of its own, have taken the idea seriously, at least on some subliminal level. That is, the indispensable stuff looks like it’s backfired big-time in the case of Afghanistan. So maybe Washington, and especially the globalists, could bring such bloviation, and the cluelessness and hubris behind it, to an end?
The second statement that I hope can guide wiser post-Afghanistan U.S. foreign policy decisions (sort of) came today none other than Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. According to the Washington Post‘s account:
“…Blinken rejected criticisms that the withdrawal damages U.S. credibility. He said staying mired in a conflict that is not in the ‘national interest’ would do far more damage.
“‘Most of our strategic competitors around the world would like nothing better than for us to remain in Afghanistan for another year, five years, 10 years, and have those resources dedicated to being in the midst of a civil war,’ Blinken told CNN. ‘It’s simply not in our interest.'”
I said “sort of” because if you look at the transcript of the interview from which this statement came, Blinken didn’t make the global credibility connection explicit. But since Mainstream Media news organizations like the Washington Post play such a big role in creating dominant narratives on issues like this, he might as well have.
And this connection matters, because it essentially echoes my main point from yesterday’s post: America’s global credibility depends most not on trying to stamp out every foreign challenge that arises, and even less on sticking with obviously lost causes. In fact, pretensions of omnipotence that are just as obviously groundless, and an unwillingness to cut losses, are likeliest to be seen, and have been seen, as signs of lousy judgment.
The real source of U.S. global credibility is demonstrating the wisdom to avoid plunging into conflicts or problems in low priority areas in the first place, and correcting such mistaken moves ASAP.
Former President Barack Obama put it cogently: “Don’t do stupid sh– (stuff).” It seems like a low bar for American foreign policy to meet. But especially as long as the country is led by globalists – like Mr. Biden – who for decades characteristically have viewed security and prosperity as internationally seamless wholes that will unravel disastrously if a single thread becomes loose, any sign that his administration may be learning the Obama lesson is unmistakably encouraging.