Afghanistan: Biden’s Achilles Heel


1) Jacques Follorou, “Afghanistan: tensions entre Washington et l’OTAN; L’Alliance s’inquiète des conséquences d’un retrait précipité des troupes américaines,” Le Monde, le 27 mars 2021(10:43 h).

2) “China and Russia form common front against the West,” The Trenchant Observer, March 24, 2021.

3) “Biden’s looming foreign policy catastrophe in Afghanistan,” The Trenchant Observer, March 21, 2021.

President Joe Biden has not been sure-footed in his first foreign policy moves. He made the colossal mistake of publicly calling Vladimir Putin “a killer”, gaining his instant personal enmity in exchange for gaining absolutely nothing in return.

He made the very large mistake of using the first bilateral ministerial meeting with China, between Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his Chinese counterpart and their delegations, in Anchorage, Alaska, to publicly confront the Chinese, playing to domestic audiences.

He has antagonized NATO by setting up an international conference and peace process for Afghanistan with Russia, in which Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey are invited participants, but NATO and the Europeans were pointedly not invited.

His vacillation on American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021 is deeply worrying. If carried out by May 1, it would leave over 7,000 NATO coalition troops dangerously exposed.

More fundamentally, his failure to replace Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as head of the peace negotiations reveals he is inclined to continue Donald Trump’s “cut and run” policy, embodied in the February 29, 2020 surrender and withdrawal agreement in Doha, Qatar with the Taliban.

The Agreement does not provide even the slightest fig leaf to conceal the abject nature of the surrender to the Taliban.

By proceeding with the May 1, 2021 withdrawal date established in the Doha Agreement, or even postponing it by months, Biden would fail to recognize that the Taliban have not seriously engaged in “intra-Afghan” negotiations aimed at a peace settlement, and establishing a viable cease-fire, as called for in the Doha Agreement.

Now the Taliban threaten to resume attacks on U.S. and NATO coalition forces if the U.S. does not withdraw by May 1, 2021.  To do so under such threats will make the U.S. appear to be the “pitiful helpless giant” about which Richard Nixon warned.  One doesn’t need to endorse the domino theory or Nixon’s policies in Southeast Asia to appreciate the kernel of truth in this statement.

At bottom, however, the Trump Agreement with the Taliban was and is an abomination. It is a surrender agreement entered into by Donald Trump to aid him in his re-election campaign. Nothing more. It does not serve U.S., Afghan, or allied interests, in any way. To set up a parallel peace process to dictate to the democratically-elected government of Afghanistan what the peace terms should be, without the participation of the Europeans, is obscene. In 2021, it is wellpast the time to carve up countries in the Middle East as was done in 1919.

Biden rightfully said in his press conference on March 25 that the global struggle of this time in history is between autocracies and democracies. In this struggle, a very poor first step would be to surrender to a Taliban autocracy which is totalitarian in nature.

Biden is the prisoner of his 2009 thinking. He doesn’t recognize that conditions in Afghanistan have changed. He doesn’t recognize that the current U.S. force posture and mission is essentially what he was arguing for in Barack Obama’s 2009 Afghanistan policy review.

If Biden continues on Trump’s “cut and run” course, he will be responsible for Afghanistan becoming another Iran, with the people–including those we have nurtured as advocates of democracy and the rule of law for the last 20 years–living under the harsh dictatorial rule of Islamic religious extremists, as in Iran.

Moreover, surrender in Afghanistan is not likely to enhance his negotiating position with Iran.

Biden must replace Zalmay Khalilzad immediately, and conduct a fresh and new review of U.S. military and policy options in the region. He should listen to his democratic allies and, above all, to the people of Afghanistan as represented by their elected leaders.

He needs to develop a policy based on the facts on the ground today, and set aside the idea that the U.S. goal should be just to get out of Afghanistan.

And, after replacing Khalilzad, he should have a fresh team take a look at the best options for reentering the JCOP, the Iran nuclear deal. As a pragmatist who wants results, Biden needs to forget the wish lists, be practical, and get it done soon.

The Trenchant Observer