For over a week, the United States has effected what, on paper, was likely billed as an “exit strategy” to complete the 20 year conflict in Afghanistan but in actuality looks like a total rout of the sole remaining Superpower by seventh century Islamist maniacs known as the Taliban. As one Chinese propagandist put it earlier in the week, “America invaded Afghanistan 20 years ago to kick the Taliban from power and replace them with…the Taliban!”
The grave-whistling media and obscene apologists for the Biden Administration keep reminding audiences that “not a single American has lost their life” during the chaotic retreat from Taliban-controlled Kabul. But this is pure sophistry. The Pentagon has no way of knowing–and certainly doesn’t seem to care–about whether Americans will be left behind in Afghanistan by the time the August 31 deadline is reached.
To the rest of the world, the perception is not that the American retreat from Kabul was some kind of logistical feat. Instead, as summed up by the Chinese propagandist, this was a true defeat of American power.
In the wake of the pathetic American withdrawal, China and Russia have moved into “secure” the country with deals with the ruling Taliban. Russia wants to stabilize their relationship with the Islamists to prevent unwanted migration into Russia’s southern periphery of either refugees or Islamist ideas. They also want to rope Afghanistan into Vladimir Putin’s long-desired Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which was designed to be Russia’s Central Asian (and Ukrainian) answer to the European Union.
China, thanks to its newfound alliance with the Taliban, will gain access to Afghanistan’s almost $1 trillion-worth of Rare Earth Minerals. For the uninitiated, Rare Earth Minerals are essential for the construction of any advanced piece of technology designed from the 1970s until today (so, your computers, iPad, Apple Watch, electric vehicles, semiconductors, cruise missiles, any piece of technology we take for granted requires Rare Earths in order to be built).
Since 2010, China has spent large sums of money and much time doing its damndest to capture and monopolize as much of the Rare Earth Mineral market as it could. In fact, as I explain in my book, Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, China’s interest in the moon and the asteroid belt is explained, in part, by its desire to capture as much Rare Earth Minerals as possible.
With their western neighbor of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, they’ve not only enjoyed watching the American superpower self-destruct, but they’ve also hit a bonanza in natural resources. And, like Russia with its EEU, China fancies using Afghanistan as a key conduit in their otherwise-stalled Belt-and-Road Initiative. This was China’s long-term project to link together as much of Eurasia, the Middle East, and Africa with Chinese-built and operated overland trade routes.
The logic was to create an alternative international trading system based within Eurasia, where the world’s largest potable water, population density, arable land, and natural resources resided. This trading network would have maritime routes but its real strength would be the overland routes that would be mostly insulated from US military power projection.
Presently, most international trade is conducted across the world’s maritime routes–specifically, more trade is conducted over transpacific rather than transatlantic routes–and China fears that the US Navy is able to influence and disrupt that trade at a whim. Until the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is capable of countering the US Navy far-and-wide, China needs to rely more on its land-based power projection.
The BRI was a key method of doing that. Although, in recent years, the BRI has hit several snags (but, the project is always looking to continue). With Afghanistan now in China’s orbit and a $1 trillion Rare Earth Mineral market waiting to tapped by China in Afghanistan, the BRI becomes more into view.
Afghanistan is also where Chinese, Russian, Iranian, Pakistani, Indian, Iranian, and even Turkish power is being projected. So, while most Americans understandably view distant, landlocked Afghanistan as a proverbial backwater, in fact, Afghanistan has historically been a cockpit of geopolitical competition.
Now that the Americans have turned tail and ran in the most humiliating way imaginable, Afghanistan is returning as the centerpiece of Eurasian relations. Yet, the newfound cooperative framework among the region’s autocrats could possibly turn Afghanistan into a highway of power projection from the Pacific coast of Eurasia all of the way into Europe (and beyond?)
American power is fading in Afghanistan and Chinese and Russian power are racing, together, to fill that void. They seem to be poised to not only replace the American power in Afghanistan…but to reap serious security and economic rewards for their newfound investment in the “graveyard of empires.”
As the United States struggled to maintain even a semblance of competence in Afghanistan, the largest cyberattack was conducted on the United States Department of State–the largest in that organization’s history. This, as the US embassy in Kabul was telling Americans stranded in Afghanistan that they could not make it to the Karzai International Airport, the only exit point in Afghanistan for Americans seeking to return to the United States. One more humiliation for the collapsing superpower to endure.
Or, at least, that was the perception for the rest of the world.
The Americans have lost Afghanistan and now it seems that it is open season on the dying superpower. As China mocks the US and threatens Taiwan with military action (using the American failure in Afghanistan as an example of how the Yanks will abandon Taipei), as it appears that senile President Joe Biden really has lost his marbles, Chinese agents have targeted Vice-President Kamala Harris’ staff for harassment.
The next commander-in-chief (as I am deeply suspicious Mr. Biden will be allowed to finish out his term at this rate), Vice-President Harris was cashiered from Washington, D.C. in the midst of the Kabul debacle and found herself traveling Southeast Asia. While she sojourned with her staff to Vietnam to shore up ties with Vietnam (to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific), Vice-President Harris’ staff had to delay her trip as members of the US mission to Vietnam began reporting strange illnesses.
No, it wasn’t COVID-19. It was, in fact, symptoms that comported with the dreaded Havana Syndrome.
Named after the city in which the first cases were reported, Havana, the Cuban government was long blamed for these mysterious attacks. Many experts believe the Havana Syndrome is caused by a yet-to-be-determined sonic weapon. Multiple diplomats and CIA agents assigned to the US embassy in Havana came down with neurological disorders as a result of being exposed to the weapon.
Ultimately, the Trump Administration terminated our presence in Havana and sent Cuban diplomats in Washington, D.C. packing. Yet, that did not ameliorate the problem. The problem continued across over 200 countries. Now, it has afflicted the Vice-President of the United States’ staff while she traveled a foreign country in the midst of this imbroglio in Kabul.
Meanwhile, President Biden assures Americans (most of whom know he’s full of malarkey) that, at the very least, America’s long-time allies in Europe and Britain are praising his Kabul fiasco. This, despite a seemingly endless (and growing) playlist of European and British leaders categorically denouncing Mr. Biden’s imbecilic Afghan drawdown. These public denunciations of Biden and his policies is a further humiliation and diminution of US power for all the world to see.
Chinese and Russian power are now growing outward, through Afghanistan, and beyond. The alliance autocrats is potentially strengthening and solidifying its stance in Eurasia as the Western alliance is fraying–mostly because of the horrendous leadership in Washington, D.C. For those reading this demanding to know what I’d have done, if given the options between “forever wars” and “desperate humiliation,” I’d say if you think those were the only options facing the Americans in Afghanistan, then you are part of the problem.
In fact, there was a reasonable solution to our current, entirely Biden-made predicament in Afghanistan. Former President Donald Trump crafted a tentative agreement with the Taliban leadership in Doha, Qatar for a coordinated withdraw with high benchmarks that both sides had to meet.
As it has come out in the press, had Trump won a second term, he never intended to fully withdraw the US military. He just wanted a much small footprint to conduct surgical counterterrorism operations. He also did not want to see the collapse of the US-backed Ghani regime in Kabul. Trump, like Biden (and countless other Americans, myself included), wanted to end America’s large-scale military operations in Afghanistan. But, Trump did not want to simply abandon the government and military we’d spent decades and trillions of dollars building up.
The presence of US military forces in Afghanistan was a bargaining chip that any president with half-a-brain-cell would have used to not only force the Taliban into a more pliable position but it would have forced the Taliban to actually cooperate and enter into a power-sharing agreement with the Ghani regime.
Enter Joe Biden who essentially ignored the fact that the Taliban had already breached the Doha agreement made with former President Trump when the terrorist organization began murdering Afghans who had worked for the United States (a portend of things yet to come in Kabul and beyond).
Did Biden even register this wanton breach? No. In fact, he doubled down and ripped US forces out of Bagram Airbase in the dead-of-night, ensuring that the Afghan National Army (ANA) would collapse and leave the road to Kabul wide open…which the Taliban dutifully took and entered Kabul months before the Biden Administration believed they could.
Hardly anyone who was taken seriously in either political party–or in almost any Western capital–honestly wanted to see the Americans and their allies remain in Afghanistan, waging a “forever war.”
What few recognized that Joe Biden would fail to plan for any sensible drawdown of US forces (and the safe removal of US civilians and their Afghan allies from the beleaguered country to a safer one). The idea that Western democracy is the source of prosperity and military power has been a common motif the elites in Washington have force fed to the whole world since the end of the Cold War.
The successive failures of the US military in nearly all of their post-Cold War conflicts, from Somalia to Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond, coupled with the disastrous leadership exhibited by a succession of US presidents during that time, as well as the economic failure in 2008, and the absurd handling of COVID-19 all damaged the notion of Western competence.
Biden’s failure in Afghanistan ensures that few in the world would seriously agree that the Americans are more competent and that liberal democracy and free market capitalism are the surest, only paths to power and prosperity. Not as Eurasian autocratic, state capitalists–notably China–rise to counter that American power and appear to be far more effective and competent than the West.
Each failure from hereon out, every humiliation visited upon the purported “superpower” of the world is yet another nail-in-the-coffin US power and prestige. It is a symbol that the United States as it was previously perceived on the world stage is gone, replaced by this large, though ordinary nation that is ripe for bullying from the world’s strongmen.
One can be certain that, under President Biden’s leadership, the defeat in Afghanistan is but the start of an overall American withdrawal from the world; the return of a far scarier, darker place in which the threats along America’s periphery will inevitably grow to threaten the American strategic core. Soon, Americans will yet again have to seriously worry about another 9/11–only one involving nuclear weapons, likely–and the rise of a Sino-Russian-Iranian Eurasian entente cordiale.
America is definitely in retreat. Next, as I warned in Real Clear World, one can expect Biden to shift from hawkish rhetoric against China to softer tones, as he strives to make a Climate Deal with Beijing. And, as inflation explodes in the United States, like David P. Goldman has cautioned, one can anticipate the resurgence of some variation of the Chimerica economic union.
Power, like nature, abhors a vacuum.
Sadly, as American power shrinks as the British Empire’s power in her waning days did, the stature and prestige of America’s greatest enemies are elevated–everyone from China to Russia to Iran and even the freaking Taliban are now elevated relative to the sole remaining superpower. It’s going to take at least a generation for the stain of Biden’s presidency to be removed from the annals of American political history. I fear that Biden is just the first of several horrendous American chief executives heading our way.
A great nation doesn’t stay great–doesn’t even survive–if Biden is the best we can do. Expect more Afghanistans in our near future.