Monday, October 18, 2021

Afghan Withdrawal and Western Self-defeatism

The world was pleased when Joseph Biden edged out Donald Trump in the US presidential election last November. The cohesion of Western alliance was reconfirmed at G7 Carbis Bay, and NATO summit in Brussels. Also, Biden successfully lead NATO to stop Russian invasion of Ukraine in April. However, US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent chaos there have eroded the trust to the Biden administration from the global community. Trump seized this opportunity to blame Biden, but it was he who made the deal with the Taliban for early pullout.

Remember, Trump Republicans endorsed Trump’s withdrawal schedule, which was set much earlier than Biden’s. For example, Former Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daadler criticized Senator Mitch McConnell for blaming Biden’s withdrawal while opposing continual deployment in Afghanistan. Other Trump Republicans such as Representative Kevin McArthy and Representative Jeff Van Drew are more or less as hypocritical as McConnell. After all, Trump himself deleted his comment to endorse the withdrawal from his website. . Therefore, we should be well-balanced to see domestic political clashes in the United States.

There are so many arguments about Western self-defeatism. I would like to refute some of them. Critics of American attack on Afghanistan argue that it was an imperial overstretch, and an anger-driven overreaction to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. But this is just a criticism for criticism. The attacks on the US homeland were assaults on Western democracy, and inaction to their outrageous crime would have just made the world much more insecure. Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations questions anti-war critics as shown in the following.

Other critics also deny the universal value of Western enlightenment and liberalism, as if they were legitimizing the brutal rule of religious fanaticism by the Taliban. In addition to Islamic tradition, they even mention complicated ethno-sectarian and tribal nature of Afghan history to deny Western installed modern nation state. But the Taliban rule is more centralized and monolithic, as Pashtun Islamic extremists monopolize the power. Therefore, it is utterly wrong that rural people prefer the Taliban, unlike urban people. Also, the Taliban brings alien extremists in this country, such as Al Qaeda as their ally before the 9-11 attacks, and IS-K as their enemy after the US troop withdrawal.

Those comments against the War on terror are riddled with anti-Westernism and lopsided favor of Third World autocrats and terrorists. In fact, the rule of the Karzai and the Ghani administrations was not so bad, though the media report about corruptions in this era. Civil liberties index was gradually improving from the least free of 7 to 5 since US invasion, according to Freedom House. Also, female school attendance rose from almost zero in 2001 to 83% at primary school, and 40% at secondary school in 2018. More impressively, GNI per capita rose from $820 in 2001 to $2,229 in 2019. On the other hand, the Afghan government failed to curb the area of opium cultivation and the number of civilian casualties (“The Legacy of the U.S. War in Afghanistan in Nine Graphics”; Council on Foreign relations; August 17, 2021).

In view of such successful aspects of the pro-Western regime, it is necessary to see why the United States decided to withdraw regardless of partisanship, although the subsequent chaos and geopolitical power vacuum were easily foreseeable. Some people argue that America abandoned Afghanistan to prioritize her national interest. But how and who defines that? Despite bipartisan reluctance of the long war in Afghanistan, Kurt Volker of the Center for European Policy Analysis comments, "America’s most senior career military and diplomatic officers have consistently briefed political leaders during the past decade on the certainty that a US withdrawal would lead to the fall of the Afghan government, a humanitarian disaster, and the perception of a defeated U.S. abandoning its allies" (“Afghanistan’s End Portends a Darker U.S. Future”; CEPA; August 13, 2021). He tells us how much both Trump and Biden alienated the foreign policy establishment to win favor from populists of right and left, regarding Afghanistan.

The above view is widely shared among renowned American foreign policy makers. However, Biden withstands their criticism because voters are annoyed with the “long war” in Afghanistan, and his priorities are given to domestic issues and strategic rivalries against China (“Here's Why Biden Is Sticking With The U.S. Exit From Afghanistan”; NPR News; August 14, 2021). Former National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice comments that Biden should have been more compassionate to Afghan people struggling for their nation building, and he should reinforce commitment to Ukraine, Iraq, and Taiwan to restore trust to America from the world. Also, she told American voters that the war in Afghanistan was not intolerably long, as the Korean War was still ongoing, technically (“Condoleezza Rice: The Afghan people didn’t choose the Taliban. They fought and died alongside us.”; Washington Post; August 17, 2021).

In terms of military strategy, Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute comments that Biden could have repealed the fatal deal that Trump had made with the Taliban, but he did not (“Biden could have stopped the Taliban. He chose not to.”; AEI ; August 14, 2021). Likewise, Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations, criticizes Trump’s hypocrisy and Biden’s dull response to the Taliban advancement (“The Biden administration’s response to the Taliban offensive is delusional”; Washington Post; August 12, 2021 and “Trump & Co. engineered the pullout from Afghanistan. Now they criticize it.”; Washington Post; August 19, 2021). Under the 2020 deal between the Taliban and the Trump, both sides agreed not to allow terrorists to use Afghanistan for their heaven to attack the US homeland. However, terrorism by other extremists such as IS-K is reinvigorated under the Taliban rule of this country. Furthermore, rather than complying with the deal to proceed the peace talk with the Ghani administration, they overthrew the previous regime from Kabul (“U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal: What to Know”; Council on Foreign Relations; March 2, 2020). As mentioned by numerous experts, Trump pressured Ghani to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, in return for a three month ceasefire. Biden did not repeal the deal, which resulted in the abdication of an American ally.

The pullout plan was objected within Biden’s own administration, too. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told the president not to withdraw the troop prematurely, but he did not listen, according to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their recent book “Peril” (“Biden ignored Austin, Blinken warnings on Afghanistan withdrawal: Woodward book”; Hill; September 15, 2021). Also, at the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and Chief of the US Central Command Kenneth McKenzie testified that both Trump and Biden made the same “strategic failure”, as they did not keep at least 2,500 troops on the ground to stop the Taliban’s such rapid takeover of Kabul from the Afghan government (“Military leaders, refusing to fault Biden, say troop withdrawal ensured Afghanistan’s collapse”; Washington Post; September 28, 2021).

Clearly, Biden and Trump sidelined the cabal of national security architects. Let me quote critical opinion from Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on behalf of the global community. He made out a case against the withdrawal from Afghanistan, because the decision was based on domestic politics, not strategic consideration. In addition, he argues that wrong priority would leave Western democracies vulnerable to the threat of Islamic extremists, which also invigorates China and Russia (“Why We Must Not Abandon the People of Afghanistan – For Their Sakes and Ours”; Tony Blair Institute for Global Change; 21 August, 2021). In view of such isolationist drag down of the foreign policy establishment in the American home turf from both right and left, Blair told that Europe and NATO should develop the capability to act on their own to defend the Western democracy (Speech at the RUSI; 6 September, 2021). Quite importantly, his independent defense is based on universal values, and unlike that of Japanese Yasukuni nationalists, there is nothing revisionist in his idea.

Historically, Americans easily get excited with an international crisis that infringes on their country, but soon calm down when it passes away, as shown in the Lusitania incident in World War I, according to Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution. Having defeated Germany, they lost enthusiasm to engage with the world. Just as in those days, Americans were outraged by the 9-11 terrorist attacks, but they did not want to rebuild the world order from the damage. They were driven by fear of another jihadist attack when they devotedly supported the War on Terror. However, as voters perceive another attack unlikely during the long war, they have become skeptical of the war, and even suspicious of conspiracy by national security élites. That is the reality of war fatigue (“It wasn’t hubris that drove America into Afghanistan. It was fear.”; Washington Post; August 26, 2021). From his view, we understand why Muslim hate rose then, just as Asian hate after COVID-19. Also, voters kept Jeffersonian or Hamiltonian instincts, while foreign policy establishment pursued Wilsonian visions. Trump, who was supposed to be Jacksonian or even Devisonian, seized this opportunity in 2016. Biden does not have the will and capability to overturn this trend, even though he has overthrown Trump.

At one webinar, just before the presidential election, some renowned Japanese experts discussed the real meaning of Biden’s “foreign policy for the middle class”, but I regret to have belittled his words. That was primarily because the foreign policy establishment endorsed Biden almost unanimously, for fear of Trump’s reelection. Also, Trump even defamed American democracy in his term, as if coordinating with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his Russian affairs advisor Fiona Hill told that he was a bigger threat to national security than Russia (“Trump is a bigger threat to the US than Russia: Former foreign policy expert”; Raw Story, October 10, 2021). In view of the above aspects, I was deeply impressed that Wilsonian experts of both right and left were devoted to support Biden. Furthermore, his campaign team showed a photograph of his bipartisan efforts at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with John McCain, so frequently. But I should have realized that Biden is Biden, not McCain.

While the abrupt withdrawal startled European allies, Japanese people somewhat embrace American defeatism, because they desperately want America’s strategic refocus on China, but that is possible only if the Middle East is stabilized. Today, China is not just a giant in East Asia, as shown in the Belt and Road Initiative. Actually, China is filling the vacuum of power in the Af-Pak region through the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor), and India is critically concerned with that. This is a vital point, regarding the reliability of the Quad, the counter-Chinese security partnership in the Indo-Pacific. Indian geostrategist Brahma Challeney tweets as the following, when he contributed an article to Nikkei Asia (“Biden's Afghanistan fiasco is a disaster for Asia”; Nikkei Asia; August 30, 2021).

Remember that Former National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster has been firmly against the withdrawal, while he made the national defense strategy to shift the focus of the War on terror to great power rivalries against China and Russia in 2017.

In addition to geopolitics and battleground situations, we have to think again, whether we can talk with the Taliban. A few years ago, Robert Kagan criticized Trump’s close ties with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, despite worldwide condemnation for his murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The point is that dictators are inherently repressive, even if they appear reformative (“The myth of the modernizing dictator”; Washington Post; October 24, 2018). As to the Taliban, we may have to make some humanitarian deals with them, but we should not recognize their legitimacy simply because they appear to become moderate. McMaster says, it does not make sense to talk with the Taliban when the West concedes, as shown in their boast after the successful retake of Kabul (“H.R. McMaster Warns Against 'Self-Delusion' That Afghanistan Withdrawal Means War's End”; News Week; August 21, 2021).

We have to bear in mind that so many strategists in America and the global community from Europe to Asia are against the Trump-Biden withdrawal. Don’t be an irresponsible observer of history to accept the concession of Western democracy to Middle Age barbarianism. Watch responsibly what the Biden administration and global stakeholders will do to Afghanistan to calm down subsequent chaos..