The West is in retreat. That is the message that the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan has given to the world. I am hardly the first to make these points but I certainly will not be the last. This is a modern era equivalent to the evacuation of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war. The parallels between the two wars are uncanny – whether it is in the failure to root out a determined enemy or the nature of the withdrawal. Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it is a popular phrase among many historians and it may well hold true for the US under President Biden.
Of course, the withdrawal is not just Americans leaving. The UK and other nations are also in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan but it would be a mistake to say that they had meaningful input into this debacle. The Americans were the largest foreign contingent and given the speed and scale of the withdrawal there was precisely zero opportunity for another nation or a group of nations to step forward to continue supporting the Afghan government. Of course, this is even assuming that there was the will for an increased commitment from other nations – of which there was none.
The UK’s Defence Secretary has been remarkably clear on this as the evacuations have gone ahead, saying that once the US has left – that is it – he has even admitted that the UK will not be able to evacuate everyone that they wanted to.
This awful decision by President Biden will have real long-term consequences for the world and the international arena. Of course, it goes without saying that his terrible choice to leave Afghanistan to the predations of the Taliban will mean horrible things for the country. To name just a few: the complete removal of women’s rights, the end of any meaningful progress towards a stable democracy, and the return of sharia law.
Immediately after the withdrawal started, China was already making increased moves in the South China Sea – specifically around Taiwan. Of course, the Taiwanese may be phlegmatic about any buildup as they are used to American protection, but they should still be concerned about the way that President Biden is conducting his foreign policy.
Biden’s unnecessary retreat from Afghanistan has allowed China and Russia to step forward. This is of particular benefit to China as it will allow them to further increase their stranglehold on vital minerals. It is estimated that Afghanistan has deposits of minerals that could be worth as much as $1 trillion dollars, including potentially the largest lithium reserves. China will be eyeing these resources as they develop a relationship with the Taliban.
When you combine this with a lack of true Western pushback or involvement in the Middle East, where Russia continues to expand its influence and Africa, as China continues to pursue its neo-colonial Belt and Road initiative, you can see why many are concerned for the future. This is without even mentioning the recent inroads into Europe that both nations have taken: China’s rapid involvement in Hungary and Russia’s Crimean expansion and the astonishing EU support for Nord Stream II.
It seems that increased isolationism is the policy of the day for Biden – at a time when the need for real leadership against Russia and China has never been greater. The US is the only Western nation currently capable of exerting the necessary influence across the world. The UK will be able to step up also, but it will take time to regain a more global outlook following decades of withdrawal into the anonymity of the EU. Even then, we will still need to work with the US and if Biden continues to incorrectly follow policies of withdrawal we may not be able to rely on the US as a capable partner.