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After Afghanistan, US allies must feel a sense of abandonment

September 2, 2021 at 10:13 am

Taliban members patrol the streets of Afghan capital Kabul on September 01, 2021. [Haroon Sabawoon – Anadolu Agency]

Do any of America’s allies still trust its commitment to them? After the withdrawal from Afghanistan, they must feel a sense of abandonment by the US.

Critics point out that what happened in Afghanistan was decided by Washington without even consulting its allies. The former Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani had first-hand experience of this when the then US President Donald Trump negotiated with the Taliban last year without him.

According to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who joined the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the American pull out was “dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interests and not in ours.” He described it as an “abandonment.” He also questioned the West’s wisdom in leaving Afghanistan altogether, calling what happened a “parade” of the West’s humiliation.

Many of America’s allies around the world must be asking themselves whether they can still trust the US. If not, should they seek alternative security arrangements, given the apparent instability of long-term US foreign policy?

Countries like South Korea and Taiwan, for example, have depended almost entirely on US commitment to their defence. Both face threats and have, for decades, been America’s most faithful allies. Now the political and military fiasco in Afghanistan raises serious questions about US foreign policy and its standing as a reliable partner.

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Trump’s foreign policy was built upon the slogan of “America first” without any regard for the wishes of his allies. He basically abandoned Ghani’s government in Kabul while publically blackmailing Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia. In 2018. Trump told the Saudi King Salman that he would not last without US support, so he must pay for protection. NATO members were stirred up when he criticised some of them for not paying their share to the alliance.

However, the most startling example of America’s abandonment of its allies was manifested in his deal with the Taliban, signed in Qatar in February last year. The deal sent a simple message that the US is willing to abandon its allies whenever it wants to as long as it serves its immediate interests to do so.

The Trump administration not only surrendered to the Taliban, but also failed to protect the interests of its ally, Ghani’s government. Ghani was denied a seat at the negotiation table and forced to accept what the US agreed with the Taliban. Among other things, this included the release of five thousand Taliban fighters from government prisons. In return, the government got nothing except a hallow Taliban promise to engage in direct talks.

Those talks took place in Qatar but went nowhere simply because the Taliban had no incentive to compromise with a government viewed by the movement as an American puppet whose days were numbered. The US had already given the Taliban a date for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, leaving nothing to talk about with Kabul.

When Joe Biden entered the White House in January, he reversed several Trump policies, both domestic and international. When it came to Afghanistan, though, he complained that his predecessor had tied his hands. Yet during the NATO summit in June, Biden tried to reassure US allies and restore America’s credibility on the world stage by announcing that “America is back”.

Two months later, he started evacuating US troops despite objections from several allies, including the UK. Britain’s Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, described the decision to pull out as a “mistake” that handed the Taliban “momentum”, which hastened the fall of Kabul itself.

The Afghan government knew in advance what was coming. Nevertheless, there was a sense of abandonment in Kabul long before Taliban fighters appeared in the streets of the capital.

Biden has defended his decision and accepted full responsible for its aftermath. That has hardly reassured anybody, nor has it improved America’s position on long-term strategic commitments.

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If Trump championed an “America first” policy with all its international shortcomings, Biden’s foreign policy might be summed up as “America alone”. At critical moments, the US is going to dump its allies.

Those same allies, even within NATO, complain that they were not consulted by Biden over the exact withdrawal date for US troops in Afghanistan. The overnight nature of the troops’ departure, and the resultant chaos, served to emphasise that it might be Afghanistan today, but who is America going to leave in the lurch tomorrow? Thousands of Afghan collaborators and “interpreters” were left to fend for themselves after thousands more were airlifted out of the country.

It will take some time for America’s allies to come to terms with what happened in Afghanistan. However; its enemies are already cheering what they see as a major US defeat and strategic failure. They are lining up to take advantage.

China and Russia, for example, abstained from the vote on UN Security Council Resolution 2593, adopted on 30 August, but only to appease the Taliban, not in support of the US. Neither used their veto to block the resolution because it was watered down before the vote. Russia in particular lobbied behind the scenes to have a French-sponsored version of the resolution killed because, among other things, it wanted to create a safe zone in Kabul to allow more people to leave the country, something that the Taliban did not like. China’s representative at the council, meanwhile, went as far as to call for the US war in Afghanistan to be investigated.

In the coming days and months, the disillusionment of US allies will only increase as they see that Washington is already seeking ways to deal with the Taliban, despite fighting against it for two decades.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.