September 6, 2021
In an earlier post I said, “Unfortunately for Mr. Biden, the chaos and shock triggered by the evacuations overshadowed the rational of his decision to withdraw…” On August 31, in “Remarks on the End of the War in Afghanistan”, the President said that the Kabul evacuations were a major success. He urged the Americans to focus on the underlying logic of ending America’s longest war and turn the page.[i] According to a Pew Research Center poll published last week 54% of Americans agree that the withdrawal was the right choice; 69% think America had failed to achieve its goals in Afghanistan.[ii] And according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll Americans overwhelmingly support President Biden’s decision to end the war in Afghanistan, but by a 2-to-1 margin they disapprove his handling of the withdrawal. As the dust of the Kabul operation settles, the percentage of those agreeing with the withdrawal would go up.
In his remarks, President Biden mentioned last week’s UN Security Council resolution requiring the Taliban to honor their commitment to let people freely leave Afghanistan. He said that the US was joined by over 100 countries that are determined to make sure the Taliban upholds those commitments. Indeed, over a 100 countries are on that list, but some of them do not have the remotest interest in what happens in Afghanistan.[iii] Obviously they either put their names on the list to please Washington or were not given a choice. After all, the invasion of Afghanistan was undertaken by the US and its Western allies.
The President reiterated that the US would maintain the fight against terrorism, but it does not need to fight a ground war to do it.
Most importantly he said:
“As we turn the page on the foreign policy that has guided our nation the last two decades, we’ve got to learn from our mistakes.
“To me, there are two that are paramount. First, we must set missions with clear, achievable goals — not ones we’ll never reach. And second, we must stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interest of the United States of America.
“This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries…
“Moving on from that mindset and those kind of large-scale troop deployments will make us stronger and more effective and safer at home.”
All in all, President Biden’s remarks were an admission of the mistakes of decades-long US foreign and security policy; perhaps the shelving, at least during his presidency, of the Washington playbook which “prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses” to use Mr. Obama’s words.
President Biden said, “And I’ve been clear that human rights will be the center of our foreign policy.” His commitment should be taken with a pinch of salt because his emphasis on human rights requires a fair and comprehensive approach going beyond selective criticism of Russia and China. Such criticism must extend to others defying democratic rule and human rights.
With the withdrawal behind him, President Biden would now focus on America’s “serious competition with China”, “the challenges on multiple fronts” with Russia; “cyberattacks and nuclear proliferation” in a changing world. Add to these, changing the growing impression that American power is in decline, restoring faith in American democracy, making a new effort to restore mutual confidence with allies, healing America’s polarization, dealing with income inequality, and rebuilding infrastructure. In brief, President Biden has a heavier agenda than many of his predecessors.
Hopefully, he would not overlook the fundamentality of multilateralism in addressing world’s challenges.
In his “Remarks on the End of the War in Afghanistan”, President Biden also said, “We’ll continue to speak out for basic rights of the Afghan people, especially women and girls, as we speak out for women and girls all around the globe.”
President Biden has two options: business as usual or opening a new page. I do hope that he goes for the latter.
In 1934, Turkish women, were among the first in Europe to achieve the right to vote and run for elected office thanks to Ataturk, the founder of the Republic. Today, Turkey’s women’s national volleyball team is a source of pride for the nation, again thanks to him. So, if President Biden really intends to open a new page in the broad Middle East, offer an alternative to the Taliban’s way of life, combat endemic bigotry, then a fresh and in-depth look at Ataturk’s enlightened reforms may help him chart the right course. These reforms were the greatest ever gift to the people of Turkey, setting an example for regional countries to follow. Perhaps, it is time for America to remind the Middle East of that example since there is no one else to do it.