The lessons of Afghanistan: the change of strategy of the foreign policy of Washington | International

The withdrawal from Afghanistan was more of a disbandment than a logistical withdrawal. Run over and chaotic, it also left a trail of blood: 13 marines killed in an attack by the Islamic State (ISIS) at the Kabul airport, while thousands of desperate Afghans tried to board a plane to flee from hell. It was also a disturbing bet, due to the black hole that was reopening in Afghanistan, once again under the yoke of the Taliban; the most serious crisis of the Joe Biden Administration, which seven months earlier had begun its journey with vigor. But the succession of events on the international scene, and on the domestic one, has made it possible to relativize the disaster of that withdrawal, which is now a year old. The death of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri on July 31 in Kabul is the symbolic finale that closes this embarrassing chapter and, with it, the bitter aftertaste of a lost war, of 20 years of efforts to return to exit box.

The achievements of the Biden Administration in recent weeks – at the head of all of them, the Inflation Reduction Act – have made us forget an approach that strategically seemed blind: very few saw the Taliban advance, minimized over and over again by the Pentagon. From there came the first lesson, well learned. Months later, US intelligence was able to gauge Russia’s threat to Ukraine in time: unlike what happened in the Central Asian country, the White House sounded all the alarms, shaping the response of the international community. Perhaps that was the first practical lesson, on the fly, of the Afghan disaster.

The public embarrassment of that hasty departure has not prevented the Joe Biden Administration, which at the end of July launched a “consultative mechanism” or collaboration with Afghanistan to ensure the plight of women and girls, from taking the strategic swerve that promised: goodbye to eternal wars, welcome direct confrontation with China, although by other means than those used by former President Donald Trump. A strategic confrontation, supported by the shift in its foreign policy towards the Indo-Pacific axis, as the vast Southeast Asian region is called in the US. Just two weeks after the withdrawal from Kabul, the US announced a strategic alliance with the United Kingdom and Australia, the AUKUS pact, an acronym corresponding to the English names of the three countries. Its objective was, first of all, to provide nuclear submarines to Australia, to the detriment of France. But the bet was more ambitious: to reconfigure the game of regional and global balances around China through this strategic security partnership, to jointly defend their interests and curb Beijing’s expansionist ambition.

Taliban militants pray on a hill in Kabul on August 10.
Taliban militants pray on a hill in Kabul on August 10.LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA (AFP)

Even before the Afghan chapter, everything, or almost everything, in the foreign policy of the Biden Administration revolves around China. So much so that the recent visit to the region by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives and as such third authority of the US, made the White House uncomfortable, for undermining months of arduous diplomacy in the region against China. Even aspects of domestic policy, such as the approval of the ambitious Chips Act, to develop the American manufacturing of microprocessors and, by extension, the R&D&D of the military industry, have the declared objective of containing China, in addition to reducing the strategic dependence on their industry (something that was evident during the early stages of the pandemic). Beijing’s response to Pelosi’s trip, some live-fire maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait, confirmed the Biden Administration in one of its fears: that Beijing could replicate the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine on the island.

It is not that the threat of Islamist terror has ceased to worry Washington, as shown by the successive anti-terrorist operations unleashed in Syria and Afghanistan. The jihadist hydra still threatens US interests as far afield as Somalia, where Washington plans to deploy additional forces to neutralize the local Al Qaeda franchise. Domestic terrorism also wins integers on the Executive’s list of concerns, as shown by the conclusions of the investigation committee of the assault on the Capitol and the wave of threats to the FBI for the search of Donald Trump’s mansion in Florida. So, without losing sight of the Middle East tinderbox, opening the compass to Afghanistan, the Democratic administration admits without ambiguity that the main cause of its efforts is China and, by extension, the new axis of evil China-Russia-Iran, allies of convenience in the war in Ukraine.

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Kissinger: lack of strategic leadership

In a recent closed-door meeting of the heads of the CIA’s anti-terrorist unit, reported by the AP agency, it became clear that the fight against Al Qaeda and other extremist groups would continue to be a priority, but that the money and resources of the The agency will be increasingly used to tackle the political, economic and military threats posed by both China and Russia, with the volatile factor of Iran as an unknown factor in the equation. The various intelligence agencies have embarked on a quiet turnaround, moving hundreds of agents into China cover, including many who previously worked in counterterrorism. The main spy agency plans to open two specific missions or observatories on China. In the words of number two of the CIA, David Cohen, the priority is “trying to understand and counteract” the Asian giant.

The war in Ukraine has also underlined the importance of Russia as a strategic target. The United States used declassified information to advance Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war plans before the invasion and achieve the diplomatic mobilization of the international community in favor of kyiv. Both China and Russia have demonstrated their ability to interfere in foreign elections and orchestrate cyber and corporate espionage campaigns. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a disturbing precedent around which hawks in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, have closed ranks.

But not everyone seems to appreciate the turnaround. In statements to the newspaper The Wall Street Journal, the indefatigable Henry Kissinger, who was Secretary of State and instigator, among others, of the coup in Chile in 1973, says he sees a dangerous lack of strategic purpose in US foreign policy. Kissinger has just published a book on leadership and he clearly warns that his country is on the verge of a war with China and Russia: “Because of problems that we have created ourselves, we have no idea how to solve them or where they will lead.” The Republican hawk denounces a lack of leadership with a strategic vision, although he does not limit his criticism of the current Administration, which at the end of July presented a US-Afghanistan “consultative mechanism” to increase collaboration, especially with regard to women and girls.

Major unknowns remain, such as Iran, the recurring protagonist of shocks and a potential destabilizing factor both in the Gulf region and as a result of its nuclear program and its support for Shiite militias in Iraq. Also Turkey, with a free hand in northwestern Syria and its destabilizing maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean, and which the Senate Foreign Committee has in its sights, when considering the eventual blocking of the sale of 40 F-16 fighters to Ankara .

But, despite the variables that are beyond control, those of Iran in the first place, the success of the operation that killed Al Zawahiri proves the operational capacity of the Pentagon without having to set foot on the ground. It is true that critics stress the possibility that Afghanistan has again become a refuge for jihadists, but the coup de grâce to Al Qaeda shows that the US is still the world’s policeman.

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