Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Go it alone, Trump-style
Biden shatters allies’ trust
The evacuation flights from Kabul are likely to end in a few days, leaving some nationals and helpers of the NATO countries behind. US President Biden determines the controversial plan for the chaotic withdrawal alone, without listening to requests or criticism from his allies. Some feel reminded of the politics of his predecessor.
When he decided to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, US President Joe Biden ignored the concerns of allies such as Germany and Great Britain. Even with their insistence on an extension of the evacuation mission, the Europeans now flashed off at Biden. At the crisis switch of the G7 countries on Tuesday, he was not persuaded to extend the deployment of US soldiers at Kabul airport beyond the one week deadline that he himself set. This would mean that thousands of Afghans would lose hope of getting to safety.
The clock is ticking – because the evacuation flights are likely to end before the deadline. “It is now inevitable that some Americans and some of our allies will be left behind,” former US Colonel Peter Mansoor told CNN. “There’s no way we can get them all out by the end of the month.” The ex-officer reckons with evacuation flights for “three or four days”. The armed forces would spend the remaining days transporting equipment and withdrawing from the airport on their own. CNN also reports that the armed forces expect the withdrawal to begin at the end of this week.
If western states want to bring their nationals or Afghan local workers to safety afterwards, they will have to rely on the accommodating forces of the new rulers in Kabul. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer spoke on Tuesday in favor of an evacuation agreement with the Taliban for the time after the current Bundeswehr mission. And Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasizes that there are “very intensive” discussions about the continued civilian operation of the airport so that evacuations are also possible after the military operation. “Of course, the Taliban’s ideas play a role because they control Kabul.”
Biden leaves the back door open
Even if the Islamists entered into an agreement on evacuations, it is questionable whether they would stick to it. The United Nations reported on Tuesday about mass executions of civilians and relatives of pro-government security forces following the takeover of power by the Taliban – who promised their opponents an amnesty.
Biden will appear in front of the cameras at the White House on Tuesday evening five hours after the announced date. He points out that the US and its coalition partners have flown more than 70,000 people from Kabul since August 14. Biden is sticking to August 31 as the withdrawal date, but leaves a back door open: He has asked the defense and foreign ministries for emergency plans “to adjust the schedule if it should become necessary,” says the president.
Biden also emphasizes that every day the mission lasts longer, the acute threat of terrorism for soldiers and civilians at the airport increases. The warnings of an attack by the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS) are exceptionally concrete. Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday, “The threat is real, it is acute, it is ongoing.” The Bundeswehr also has knowledge that potential IS suicide bombers are “infiltrating the city,” as Inspector General Eberhard Zorn says. “It’s increasing now.”
Biden must now be accused of having given in to the Taliban one more time: They called the withdrawal period of August 31 a “red line” and warned of the consequences. However, it is hard to imagine that the Taliban would have started another armed conflict with the Americans as a result. The militant Islamists won the war – after 20 years it would hardly have arrived at a few more days. And the Taliban had threatened the Americans with consequences if they failed to meet the May 1st withdrawal date set by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump. Nothing happened then.
Comparison with “America First” policy
With the Afghans, who are desperately trying to get out of the country, Biden is likely to have lost all trust by now at the latest. The confidence of the allies in the US and the president has also been shaken by the debacle in Afghanistan. The big celebrated new beginning of the transatlantic relationship has already come to an end. After taking office in January, Biden had promised that the US would again rely on cooperation – instead of going it alone like his predecessor Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, Biden said with a view to Afghanistan: “We are acting in consultation and cooperation with our closest friends and other democracies.” In fact, the coalition partners in Afghanistan could only approve of Biden’s unilateral final plan. The fact that they now have nothing to report on the deadline for the evacuations should only increase the frustration. In Europe, but also in the USA, Biden’s actions in Afghanistan are compared to Trump’s “America First” policy – which the new president actually wanted to end.
In Berlin, the displeasure with the Biden government in matters of Afghanistan can be clearly felt. “This has far-reaching consequences for the transatlantic relationship that cannot yet be foreseen in detail,” says the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, Norbert Röttgen. “It’s a moral and a political failure.” Shortly before the G7 summit, the CDU politician expressed his hope “that the evacuation will now be agreed and coordinated” – in vain.
Long-term consequences for NATO
The Afghanistan crisis is likely to have long-term consequences for the Western alliance. After the end of the evacuation operation at the latest, the US partners will be asked what lessons they can learn from the latest events. It is conceivable that countries like France will use the events as an opportunity to push even more for military independence of the EU – with reference to the dependence on the USA and its consequences. The subject of strategic autonomy will come back on the table and it will have to be discussed what that means, predicted EU foreign affairs representative Josep Borrell last Thursday. This crisis will also be an opportunity to further develop the European Union as an independent political actor.
After the G7 meeting, Merkel only says that they are aware that “a whole series of long-term questions” are now also arising for the transatlantic alliance. There was no time for that on Tuesday. As far as the evacuation operation is concerned, no critical word can be heard from Merkel. She praises “the smooth cooperation (…) under the leadership of the American army”. “We are very grateful for the professionalism with which they work.”