Column: The autumn of Kabul would not must spell the tip of U.S. world energy

Column: The fall of Kabul doesn't need to spell the end of U.S. global power

2021-08-22 16:30:58

Amid the chaos in Kabul, politicians and pundits have declared the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan a defeat from which U.S. affect might by no means get better.

“Biden’s credibility is now shot,” wrote Gideon Rachman, chief oracle of Britain’s Monetary Occasions.

“A grave blow to America’s standing,” warned the Economist.

However take a deep breath and bear in mind some historical past.

When South Vietnam collapsed after a battle that concerned 4 instances as many U.S. troops, many drew the identical conclusion: The age of U.S. world energy was over.

Lower than 15 years later, the Berlin Wall got here down, the Chilly Battle started to finish, and the USA quickly stood because the world’s solely superpower.

The lesson: A debacle just like the defeat in Kabul — or the one in Saigon two generations earlier — doesn’t all the time forestall a strong nation from marshaling its sources and succeeding.

I’m not dismissing the tragedy that has befallen the Afghans or the harm that U.S. credibility has suffered. When President Biden instructed a information convention that he had “seen no questioning of our credibility from allies,” he sounded as if he was in denial — or, maybe worse, out of contact.

No questioning? How concerning the query from Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the British Parliament’s protection committee: “No matter occurred to ‘America is again’?”

Or the grievance from Armin Laschet, the German conservative who might be his nation’s chief after elections subsequent month: “The best debacle NATO has skilled since its founding.”

Whether or not he likes it or not, Biden has restore work to do.

Step one, already underway, is ensuring the endgame in Kabul doesn’t get any worse.

Which means protecting U.S. troops on the bottom till each American is out, as Biden has promised. It additionally requires an brisk effort to evacuate Afghans who labored with the U.S. authorities and different establishments, even when that requires risking the lives of some American troops. These Afghans trusted us; if we abandon them, will probably be a very long time earlier than we will credibly ask the identical of anybody else.

And, after all, the administration wants to stop Al Qaeda and different terrorist teams from replanting themselves in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. If the USA fails at that — the unique motive we invaded the nation nearly 20 years in the past — Biden’s choice to withdraw will justly be judged a fiasco.

There’s restore work to do past Afghanistan, too.

“We’ve obtained to point out that it might be flawed to see American overseas coverage via the lens of Afghanistan,” Richard N. Haass, president of the nonpartisan Council on Overseas Relations and a former high State Division official, instructed me.

The US has extra vital pursuits that want consideration and allies that want reassurance, he mentioned.

“Crucial factor is to discourage our main foes,” he mentioned, referring to China, Russia and Iran.

“It is a second to strengthen forces in Europe, mount extra freedom of navigation operations [by the U.S. Navy] within the South China Sea,” he mentioned. “It is a good time to say we’re critical about our dedication to Taiwan,” which China periodically threatens.

Biden took a step in that course in his current interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, itemizing Taiwan together with South Korea and Japan as locations the place the U.S. “would reply” to an assault.

If something, Haass and different overseas coverage veterans say, the questions on American credibility are prone to make Biden react extra strongly to the subsequent few challenges abroad.

“Probably the most intriguing query is what impact this episode has on Biden’s pondering,” prompt Aaron David Miller of the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace. “Will he suppose: ‘I’ve obtained to be more durable with the Iranians now? Do I’ve to sign to a rustic like Taiwan that I’m ready to guard American pursuits there?’”

However the notion that American affect has been fatally broken is overblown, he argued.

“There have been many different situations by which U.S. credibility has been diminished, however our cellphone continues to ring,” Miller mentioned.

Biden and his aides already know most of this. The premises of his overseas coverage — reviving U.S. home power, revitalizing U.S. alliances, and specializing in very important pursuits like China and Russia — present a basis for restoration.

“My dad used to have an expression: If all the things is equally vital to you, nothing is vital to you,” the president mentioned final week. “We needs to be specializing in the place the menace is the best.”

The check Biden faces now could be whether or not he can execute that technique — and present that he’s credible the place it issues most — extra efficiently than in his botched withdrawal from an unwinnable battle.

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