They say a nation’s mettle is not just proven by sending its people to war, but what that nation does with its people and allies once it decides that war is over. By any measure President Biden has failed to prove his mettle. This is not just a legacy of short-term broken promises to American diplomats, military and civilians, but an enduring reputation of a weak, unreliable and undependable ally. The costs and repercussions of this botched and catastrophic “withdrawal” goes far beyond Afghanistan, as if that were not horrific enough.
It goes to the heart of whether any ally, any people who have grown to depend on the United States as a beacon of light in an otherwise blighted landscape, can still have a glimmer of hope that America will have their back. The wise and prudent among them are watching those scenes from Afghanistan and now understand that this administration has no intention of providing anything beyond words, and meaningless words at that.
There is nothing sound and coherent about a foreign policy grounded in weakness, equivocation and remarkably bad judgement. After the disaster of reset buttons and shutting of collective eyes during the Obama administration’s acquiescence to Russian, Iranian and Syrian perfidy and the outright castigation of virtually everything they thought Trump got wrong, one would think that this administration might have learned something.
But the first weeks of Biden’s America is back included giving Putin and Iran gifts for bad behavior. First was the extension of a weak strategic arms agreement with Russia, knowing that Russian cheating was and continues to be widespread. Then the announcement that despite Iran’s outrageous behavior it would be rewarded with lifted sanctions in the hope that it would suddenly play by the rules, this while Iran produces ever growing quantities of weapons useable uranium.
And as if this were not enough, the President caved to Putin, let us not sugar coat this as if it really was a favor to Germany, by overriding Congress on sanctions for Russia’s crown jewel pipeline, Nord Stream 2. While Biden has attempted to deflect criticism, this was a signal to Ukraine and a large swath of Europe that you just do not matter as much as being pals with Putin. If more evidence were needed, the bizarre decision to turn American military ships around before reaching their Black Sea destination, all to appease the Russians (no super power should ever be seen as this weak) should convince even the greatest of skeptics that this administration’s foreign policy is nothing but a series of strategic blunders.
Need more evidence? A year ago the U.S. was truly energy independent. Now under Biden we are tin cupping our way through the capitals of our outright enemies Russia, and fair-weather friends in OPEC+ to beg for relief. Because in the very skewed world of this administration climate change only happens in the United States and apparently not in those places where we are pleading for greater fossil fuel production.
Biden has waved the white flag on so many fronts yet seems confused as to why America’s enemies are still gunning for us. There is this perpetual look of puzzlement as his policies keep going wrong. The only surprise is that anyone is surprised that the Taliban with their benefactors in Tehran and Islamabad swept through Afghanistan with barely a whimper. The warnings espoused by the White House and State Department that the Taliban would be isolated by the international community, as if the Taliban cared one whit about being members of an international community, were pathetic.
This is not just an intelligence failure. This is a stunningly sloppy, incoherent and amateur way to run a policy. It is incrementalism at its worst where dates became more important than the lives of people who have quite literally taken a bullet for the United States. They have been abandoned with a tough luck, you do not count, you are on your own missive. Someone in this administration should have had the guts to tell Biden that announcing a calendar to your enemies is akin to putting a bullseye on the backs of those you leave behind.
The feckless protestations that this was all Trump’s fault need to stop. Biden had no problem reversing virtually every other policy of his predecessor, but this one he chose to keep. No one believes you. You and your administration bear responsibility alone in this gut-wrenching culmination of truly awful decisions. Mr. President, America is not back, it has run away with its tail between its legs leaving yet another part of the world to Iran, Russia and China, an unholy triumvirate if there ever was one.
Debra L. Cagan is the current Distinguished Energy Fellow at the Transatlantic Leadership Network. She is a retired State Department and Defense Department senior official having served as Deputy Assistant secretary of Defense for Coalition, Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Disaster Relief including in Afghanistan and Iraq.