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Here’s how Afghanistan withdrawal could affect US foreign policy

CM 31/08/2021 1

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On Monday night, shortly after midnight Afghanistan local time when the date shifted to August 31, the US’s self-imposed deadline of withdrawal, the Pentagon announced that the last US flight had left Kabul.
Maj.-Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, was the last US soldier to step aboard the final evacuation flight leaving Kabul, bringing to end 20 years of US military presence in Afghanistan.
More than 123,000 people were evacuated from Kabul in a massive and chaotic airlift by the United States and its allies over the past two weeks, but tens of thousands who helped Western nations during the war were left behind.

A contingent of Americans, estimated by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as fewer than 200, and possibly closer to 100, wanted to leave but were unable to get on the last flights.
 UK coalition forces, Turkish coalition forces, and US Marines assist a child during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul (credit: SGT. VICTOR MANCILLA/US MARINE CORPS/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) UK coalition forces, Turkish coalition forces, and US Marines assist a child during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul (credit: SGT. VICTOR MANCILLA/US MARINE CORPS/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
The Biden administration has been criticized in the past weeks for its botched withdrawal, seen as Biden’s most significant foreign policy move since taking office on January 20.
Members of Congress from both left and right slammed the administration’s decision to leave as US citizens were still looking for a way to leave Afghanistan.
“I’m continuing to urge the Biden administration to work with NGOs and our partners around the world to ensure that we use all available resources to support the evacuation of all Americans and vulnerable Afghans who remain
in Afghanistan and are at acute risk, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said in a statement.
“The United States just completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan with many Americans still stuck behind enemy lines desperate to get out, and $85 billion in US weapons and equipment now in Taliban hands. This is a historic disgrace of epic proportions ordered by President Biden,” said Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1), member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and United States Army veteran, in a press release.
As the US is officially out of Afghanistan, the question now is how will the new reality shape the administrations’ foreign policy priorities.
Another question that remains unanswered at this point is whether the chaotic withdrawal will make the administration rethink its policies on other issues, such as Iran.
Danny Ayalon, who served as Israel’s Ambassador in Washington from 2002 to 2006, told The Jerusalem Post that while the decision to withdraw was correct, it was poorly executed.
“It doesn’t suit a super-power,” he said, and noted it should have been planned better. “It damaged the US’s reputation and could also erode the US deterrence, something that can make allies such as Taiwan feel anxious. Therefore, any step that America will take from now on will have consequences,” Ayalon said.
“The US will need to build its leverage by strengthening ties with allies such as South Korea and Japan versus China and Israel and other moderate Arab states versus Iran,” Ayalon added.
“For that reason, the meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Bennett amidst the withdrawal was an important signal.”
He went on to say that “the only time that Iran voluntarily suspended its nuclear program was in 2003, after the US entered Iraq, and Iran was afraid that they would be next. In my view, the US will have to take a tougher position in the negotiations and make it clear to Iran that if they don’t come to the table, the administration has other options. I believe it is no coincidence that Biden decided to voice this message with the Israeli Prime Minister.”
Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, told the Post that it is likely that the administration will now focus on China.
“The goal has always been to pivot to Asia,” he said. “Getting out of the Middle East was always framed as a way to do that. Of course, this ignores that the US had only a small presence in Afghanistan. The pivot was possible, either way.”
According to Schanzer, much depends on the political aftermath of the debacle. “The White House is now framing the withdrawal as a complicated mission accomplished, and the end of America’s longest war,” he said.
“If this becomes the political narrative, the president could try to forge ahead with other risky foreign policies, like the Iran nuclear deal. But there is a lesson here that Biden should heed. Negotiating with avowed enemies of the United States comes with great risk. Iran could very easily pull the rug out from under Washington, much as the Taliban did. And with a nuclear weapon hanging in the balance, the stakes are higher.”
Naysan Rafati, Crisis Group’s senior Iran analyst’s research is focused on the Iran nuclear deal and Iran’s regional policies. He told the Post that he doesn’t think events in Afghanistan necessarily alter the administration’s overall approach to the JCPOA in the short-term.
“The aim of the talks is to reverse the advances Iran is making on its nuclear program, and whereas they continue to expand their enriched uranium stockpiles, raise enrichment rates, shrink the breakout time and limit inspections, I think the Biden team still sees a mutual return to compliance as the preferred option for dealing with it.”
“That said, I think the main impediment right now is on the Iranian side, because they haven’t seriously engaged in negotiations since a sixth round wrapped up in June and have yet to indicate when they’ll resume,” said Rafati.
“The longer the delay drags out, the more the US – and I think the Europeans as well – will be looking at options to signal to Tehran that the dithering is unwelcome. The IAEA Board of Governors meeting that takes place in mid-September, for example, could see their tone sharpen considerably.”
Mike Pregent, senior fellow at Hudson Institute, told the Post that the quick collapse of Afghanistan “emboldened our enemies and geo-political foes across the globe.”
“The loss of life, the loss of leverage, the loss of credibility, and the loss of trust by US allies has weakened the Biden Administration’s position on all foreign policy and national security fronts,” he said.
“The Biden-assisted loss of Afghanistan is so devastating you would think it would give this administration pause when looking at the next steps it will take with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said Pregent.
“US diplomacy failed in Vienna and failed in Kabul, both ceded leverage and capitulated to dedicated enemies. The problem is, the Biden team does not see Afghanistan as a failure – they are congratulating themselves on Afghanistan for the largest airlift in American history, leaving out the fact that they left Americans behind surrounded by terrorists.”
“The Obama-Biden team left Iraq to ISIS and sacrificed Syria to secure the JCPOA and I am concerned that the Biden team – comprised of the same people – will sacrifice Iraq and other allies in the region to rejoin a JCPOA that is already expiring,” he added.


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