Global Power in Question: As the consequences of America’s Afghan withdrawal unfold, the global community has taken notice, and debate over America’s standing in the international arena has been reignited. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: Global Power in Question
Today, Boris Johnson is convening an emergency meeting for G7 leaders to discuss the “urgent” situation in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom tweeted Sunday, “It is vital that the international community works together to ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis, and support the Afghan people to secure the gains of the last 20 years.” This past weekend, Johnson’s hometown weekly newspaper, The Economist, titled their cover article, “Biden’s debacle,” detailing (what they think) the hasty withdrawal means for Afghanistan and America. In a one-sentence synopsis, the outlet said, “The fiasco in Afghanistan is a grave blow to America’s standing,” adding, “If the propagandists of the Taliban had scripted the collapse of America’s 20-year mission to reshape Afghanistan, they could not have come up with more harrowing images.” Zooming out, optics matter, especially when so much is taken out of context thanks to 280-character limits on platforms like Twitter. With that said, rather than a right-left breakdown, here is a curated selection of commentators who do and do not think America’s credibility took a hit as a result of the events in Afghanistan.
On The Negative
There appear to be more commentators (on both sides of the political aisle) who think America’s credibility took a massive hit on the world stage. Some believe the US’s botched withdrawal also created a crisis of confidence for not just America, but the West in general.
“Disaster in Afghanistan Will Follow Us Home” Bret Stephens, New York Times Opinion: “What kind of ally is the United States? In the last several years, the United States has maintained a relatively small force in Afghanistan … Any American president could have maintained this position almost indefinitely — with no prospect of defeating the Taliban but none of being routed by them, either. In other words, we had achieved a good-enough solution for a nation we could afford to neither save nor lose. We squandered it anyway. Now, in the aftermath of Saigon redux, every enemy will draw the lesson that the United States is a feckless power, with no lasting appetite for defending the Pax Americana that is still the basis for world order. And every ally — Taiwan, Ukraine, the Baltic States, Israel, Japan — will draw the lesson that it is on its own in the face of its enemies. The Biden Doctrine means the burial of the Truman Doctrine.”
“How Biden Broke NATO” The Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal: “Remember when candidate Joe Biden said America ‘needs a leader the world respects’? Apparently President Biden forgot. Of the many consequences of his misbegotten Afghanistan withdrawal, one of the more serious is the way it has damaged America’s relationships with its allies, especially in Europe. … Everything about Mr. Biden’s Afghan withdrawal has been a slap to those allies. … Other allies are noticing [including] Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen … A President who understood foreign affairs as well as Mr. Biden claims he does grasp the damage his disgraceful Afghanistan exit has inflicted on America’s alliances and reputation. He will never be trusted the same way again.”
“Why We Must Not Abandon the People of Afghanistan – For Their Sakes and Ours” Tony Blair, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change: “The abandonment of Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interests, and not in ours. … The world is now uncertain of where the West stands because it is so obvious that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in this way was driven not by grand strategy but by politics. We didn’t need to do it. We chose to do it. We did it in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the forever wars,’ as if our engagement in 2021 was remotely comparable to our commitment 20 or even ten years ago, and in circumstances in which troop numbers had declined to a minimum and no allied soldier had lost their life in combat for 18 months. … We did it with every jihadist group around the world cheering. Russia, China, and Iran will see and take advantage. … I can’t believe we are in such retreat, but we are going to have to give tangible demonstration that we are not.”
On The Affirmative
A handful of commentators think everyone needs to relax. Yes, the Afghanistan exit stings, but it probably won’t have a dramatic effect on America’s credibility. Take a look at history for proof, they say.
“Afghanistan Hasn’t Damaged US Credibility” Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy: “… Everyone … needs to take a deep breath and relax. In fact, there are ample reasons to believe that the tragic outcome in Afghanistan will not affect US credibility very much and maybe not at all. The first reason is simple logic. Deciding not to continue a futile war for less-than-vital interests tells you absolutely nothing about whether a great power would fight if more serious interests were at stake. … Moreover, by eliminating a long-term drain on US resources (even a minimal US presence in Afghanistan was costing more than $40 billion a year), getting out of Afghanistan will allow the United States to focus time, money, and attention on bigger priorities. … History offers a second source of reassurance. … The US withdrawal and subsequent fall of Saigon did not cause NATO to collapse, did not lead US allies in Asia to realign with the Soviet Union or China, and did not inspire America’s various Middle East client states to run for the exits. … Third, one should take foreign complaints about US credibility with many grains of salt. Elites in countries who have become dependent on US protection have a long history of questioning America’s reliability in an all-too-transparent attempt to get Washington to do more on their behalf.”
“The fall of Kabul doesn’t need to spell the end of US global power” Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times: “Take a deep breath and remember some history. When South Vietnam collapsed after a war that involved four times as many US troops, many drew the same conclusion: The age of US global power was over. Less than 15 years later, the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War began to end, and the United States soon stood as the world’s only superpower. The lesson: A debacle like the defeat in Kabul — or the one in Saigon two generations earlier — doesn’t always prevent a powerful country from marshaling its resources and succeeding. If anything … the questions about American credibility are likely to make Biden react more strongly to the next few challenges overseas.”
“Twenty Years In Afghanistan: What To Make Of American Credibility?” James Holmes, 1945: “In Afghanistan, America has shown, under presidencies and Congresses controlled by both parties, that it is prepared to expend lives, national treasure, and military resources of all types for years upon years, on behalf of an ally in a region where it has no compelling geopolitical interest. That’s a strong statement about power and purpose. So our friends in capitals like Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran ought to reflect: if Americans will mount a twenty years’ war to defend Afghanistan, a place of peripheral US interest, what burden might they bear, what price might they bear on behalf of a long-time friend, kindred democracy, and geopolitically important country like Taiwan? One of these places is not like the other—and might warrant an entirely different strategy from Washington. Something to ponder.”
Flag This: Global Power in Question
According to a new NBC News poll, President Joe Biden’s approval rating is down 15 points over the past four months. Most notably, the biggest drops came from independents, rural residents, and white survey respondents. In a corresponding poll from CBS News and YouGov, 63% approve of removing US troops from Afghanistan, but only 47% approve of Biden’s handling of the withdrawal. The NBC poll shows the potential political impact for Biden and Democrats in Washington DC. Currently, 47% of respondents say they want Democrats to stay in charge, while 46% want a Republican-controlled Congress for next year’s midterms.
Flag Poll: Global Power in Question
Do you think the withdrawal in Afghanistan will impact America’s credibility? Comment below to share your thoughts.