Before the Taliban walked through the gates of Kabul, before the desperate scenes of a makeshift airlift, before a baby slipped over the barbed wire on the airport walls, President Biden had a simple way to phrase it. his decision to end the endless war in Afghanistan. : national interest.
“The United States cannot afford to remain committed to policies creating a response to a world as it was 20 years ago,” he said on July 8. “We have to face the threats where they are today.”
It was a classic – and at the time widely popular – a bit of realpolitik. America today has many important interests. To name but a few: fighting nuclear proliferation, defending human rights, fighting terrorism and promoting democracy, what George W. Bush said in his second inaugural address would be the mission of states. -United for decades to come.
But as Graham T. Allison, the Harvard political scientist, often tells students, “While all of this is important, some interests are more important than others. So it’s at times like this that we discover what the hierarchy of priorities of a president consists of.
And Biden was clear on his.
We have an interest in dealing with the terrorist threat, said the president, but this threat is no longer centered in Afghanistan. More important, he said, is to recognize that “strategic competition with China” “will determine our future.” Other threats, especially cyber threats, have also moved from peripheral issues to center stage.
The logic is difficult to dispute. The Chinese challenge is arguably the most important and complex issue of US national security – part military, part technological, part economic.
And the attack on Colonial Pipeline this year, which cut off a quarter of the fuel going up the East Coast, was a reminder that a well-organized cyber attack can do much more damage than a localized terrorist incident, even if it means less television. dramatic.
Had the withdrawal from Afghanistan gone as planned, with a relatively orderly return of the remaining 2,500 US troops and a relatively smooth handover of the country’s defense to the Afghan national security forces, Biden would likely have praised his Kissinger style. realism.
But as they say in the army, the enemy also gets a vote. What the Taliban did, with a brutally effective strategy that forced the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government a year or two faster than intelligence assessments thought possible, forced Biden to defend his priorities. . It’s hard to get Americans to focus on a Chinese strategy when their screens are filled with images of desperate Americans and the thousands of Afghans who have helped them for two decades, trying to leave Afghanistan before they do. to be chased.
So does Biden’s argument still hold? Yes, but with a few major caveats.
To save his strategy of focusing on the vital, Biden knows he must first save these American and Afghan allies, no matter what. One of his closest associates told me last week that his legacy on Afghanistan could be decided not on how he fared over the past two weeks, but on how he fared. will get away with it over the next two. No matter how good his geopolitical strategy, if execution on the ground does not improve, the pullout will likely be remembered as a disaster.
Second, the superpowers must be able to walk and chew on their competition at the same time. The resources needed to deal with the Afghan airlift – that of Biden on Sunday versus the challenge of the Great Berlin Airlift, famous during the Cold War – are radically different from those needed to compete with China or to deal with cyber attacks in from Russia.
Third, the president must sooner or later face the contradictions inherent in the Biden doctrine. He has repeatedly said that the great struggle of this century will be between the forces of democracy and the forces of autocracy. It has been a bad week for the forces of democracy and a fabulous week for the autocrats, who are delighted to see America’s reputation for managing the globe take a hit.
Biden disagreed yesterday. History, he said, would ratify his judgment that Afghanistan was not the right war and that the leaders of China and Russia “would like nothing better so that we continue to hold our own. get bogged down there ”. They sure would. But avoiding getting bogged down is more than getting out – it’s about getting out in a way that enhances American influence and stature. We are far from it.
David E. Sanger is White House and National Security Correspondent for The Times.
Learn more about Afghanistan:
The United States and its allies have evacuated 28,000 people from Kabul since August 14, Biden said.
But the scenes of violence outside the airport continued. Seven Afghan civilians died in the crowd, British officials said.
The Pentagon ordered six commercial airlines to provide passenger jets to facilitate the evacuation.
Biden has said his administration may extend his Aug. 31 deadline for the withdrawal of all US troops.
Hamid Karzai, a former Afghan president, has met with Taliban leaders as insurgents try to form a government.
From Times Magazine: What will become of post-seven Afghanistan? 11 generation?
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PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to cook
Friday’s spelling contest pangram (s) were arthropod and hardtop. Here is today’s puzzle – or you can play it online.
Here are today’s mini crosswords, and a hint: letters after “kays” (three letters).
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