President Biden has confidently asserted that our allies have not reacted negatively to the debacle he created in withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan. He said, “I have seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world…Matter of fact, the exact opposite.”
As a matter of fact, what our allies are saying is the exact opposite of what Mr. Biden said.
For example, Armin Laschet, the leading candidate to replace Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the Afghanistan withdrawal was “…the greatest debacle NATO has suffered since its founding.”
Czech President Milos Zeman labeled Mr. Biden’s withdrawal “cowardice” and said, “…the Americans have lost the prestige of a global leader.” Sweden’s former prime minister, Carl Bildt, told the BBC, “The complete lack of consultations over the withdrawal has left a scar.”
The lack of consultation is a big part of the problem. Donald Trump was frequently accused of ignoring our allies, but Mr. Biden – the supposed foreign policy expert – established a withdrawal deadline before seeking the NATO nation’s agreement.
The Afghanistan War was not only an American war, it was a NATO war. The mutual defense obligation, a central part of the NATO Treaty, was invoked for the first time on October 4, 2001. Most NATO nations contributed military forces to the Afghanistan War soon afterward. They had every right to expect that America wouldn’t call it quits before they were consulted, but that’s not what Mr. Biden and his “expert” diplomats did.
Many NATO nations objected to Mr. Biden’s decision to establish an artificial deadline rather than require the Taliban to meet certain conditions before the withdrawal would happen. Conditions such as those were outlined in the agreement then-president Trump reached with the Taliban in January 2020.
The British, among our most faithful allies, are among Mr. Biden’s most outspoken critics. U.K. Foreign Secretary for Defense Ben Wallace said that the Afghanistan withdrawal left “a very big problem on the ground” and “probably” lead to the return of al-Qaida.“ He added, “I’m absolutely worried that failed states are breeding grounds for those types of people.” He was more diplomatic than many members of the U.K. parliament.
Several members of the U.K. parliament have made far more imaginative political insults than our congressmen and senators are usually capable of. Some, reportedly including members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet, have said that Mr. Biden was “gaga” or “doolally,” both British slang terms for insanity. (“Doolally” comes from a 19th Century insane asylum for soldiers in British colonial India in the town of Deolali.)
It’s entirely unclear where we and NATO go from here except to say that NATO was weakened significantly by Mr. Biden’s Afghanistan debacle.
The European Union’s list of members is nearly identical to that of NATO. Josep Borrell, the European Union’s representative for foreign affairs and security policy, announced that the EU would open a “diplomatic presence” in Afghanistan. The EU hasn’t recognized the Taliban government – yet – but is creating an embassy in Kabul to establish a channel for humanitarian aid, possibly including funding, to the Taliban.
Other U.S. allies, Taiwan, Japan, and Israel in particular, have much to worry about the American weaknesses demonstrated in the Afghanistan debacle. All are dependent, to some degree or entirely, on U.S. commitments to defend them.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reaffirmed the U.S. commitments to Taiwan and Israel, but his words have had little effect.
On the day before Labor Day, China sent nineteen combat aircraft, including at least four nuclear-capable bombers, into Taiwan’s air defense zone to intimidate the island nation. The weakness Mr. Biden demonstrated during his Afghanistan debacle has encouraged the Chinese to be unconcerned by his and his advisers’ words.
Israel has good reason to be skeptical of Mr. Biden’s intentions because he is obsessed with reviving former president Obama’s 2015 nuclear weapons deal with Iran. Israel believes, correctly, that the 2015 deal essentially guarantees that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons. In a White House meeting, new Israeli Prime Minister Bennett unsuccessfully tried to persuade Mr. Biden to abandon the deal as Mr. Trump. So much for Mr. Biden’s “unshakeable commitment” to Israel’s security.
Fumio Kishida, a leading contender to succeed outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, is also concerned by Mr. Biden’s weakness. Seeing the threats from China and North Korea, he is advocating that Japan should strengthen its missile defenses.
Russia is also emboldened by Mr. Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal, and Ukraine is still a likely target for further Russian aggression. In his September 1 meeting with Mr. Biden, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for U.S. support for Ukraine’s application to join NATO, for the US to help reach a settlement with Russia on reaching a settlement in the Donbas region of Ukraine, and for American assistance in freeing hundreds of individuals imprisoned in Donbas. Mr. Biden made only a vague commitment to support Ukraine and not use it as a bargaining chip with Russia.
The disaster Mr. Biden created by withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan while leaving behind hundreds of U.S. citizens and perhaps thousands of our Afghan allies has diminished America in our allies’ – and our enemies’ — eyes.
Mr. Biden’s weakness displayed comprehensively in the Afghanistan withdrawal has made the world a far less safe place for us and our allies.
• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”