FALL OF AFGHANISTAN MAY PROMPT RENEWED US-CHINA COOPERATION
Virtually the whole of Afghanistan has fallen under the control of the Taliban. As Taliban forces closed in on Kabul on August 15, a succession of US military cargo aircraft departed from Hamid Karzai International Airport, accelerating the evacuation of Americans and Afghan nationals who have cooperated with the US since 2001. With the airport thrown into great confusion, US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted that the Taliban’s takeover “happened more quickly than we anticipated.” America has lost its 20-year war against the Taliban.
Biden’s dispirited words about America’s withdrawal make the meaning of its defeat in Afghanistan all the more dismal.
During an exclusive interview on August 19 with well-known ABC News’ anchor George Stephanopoulos, Biden made a lame explanation about his decision to pull US forces out of Afghanistan by August 31.
Noting Biden’s contention that “a Taliban takeover was highly unlikely,” Stephanopoulos asked: “Was the intelligence wrong, or did you downplay it?”
Biden answered falteringly:‟…the idea that the Taliban would take over was premised on the notion that the…that somehow, the 300,000 troops we had trained and equipped were going to just collapse, they were going to give up. I don’t think anybody anticipated that.”
Stephanopoulos persisted: “(Republican) Senator (Mitch) McConnel (and) others say this was not only predictable, it was predicted, including by him, based on intelligence briefings he was getting.”
Biden clearly was trying to dodge responsibility when he replied:
“When you had the government of Afghanistan, the leader of the government get into a plane and taking off and going to another country, when you saw the significant collapse of the ta…of the…Afghan troops we had trained…up to 300,000 of them just leaving their equipment and taking off, that was…you know, I’m not…this…this…that’s what happened.”
Noting that America had invited its own defeat in Afghanistan and that the humiliation it has suffered will significantly undermine its international credibility, prominent Indian geostrategist Brahma Chellaney wrote:
“When an aging US President, refusing to consider the conditions on the ground, overrules his military generals and intelligence agencies and orders a precipitous and ill-planned action, it is a sure recipe for foreign policy disaster. The blame for the international humiliation wrought on the United States by the terrorist capture of Afghanistan must be laid squarely at the door of President Joe Biden.”
Chellaney hails from India, which likely will face the severest consequences of America’s withdrawal. Without question, Afghanistan under Taliban rule will become a hub for terrorists from across the Mideast, who will naturally deepen their ties with Pakistan, India’s archenemy.
How America’s Allies Should Act
Biden made another important reference during the ABC interview concerning the circumstances under which America will make military commitments to its allies and other friendly nations.
Reinforcing what he had said during his August 16 news conference, Biden stated: “…there is a fundamental difference between…between Taiwan, South Korea, (and) NATO. We are in a situation where…entities we’ve made agreements with based on…not a civil war they’re having on that island or in South Korea, but on an agreement where they have a unity government that, in fact, is trying to keep bad guys from doing bad things to them.”
Biden tends to stumble and struggle as he speaks, often obscurely moving to the next sentence before completing what he initially started out to say, as is evidenced by his remarks above. The important point is he asserts that the security agreements America has signed with its allies and partners, including Taiwan, are “based on…not a civil war.” But China maintains that Taiwan is its “domestic matter.” That is why if a military conflict were to develop with Taiwan, China would insist it was a civil war that all other nations should stay out of.
“We made a sacred commitment to Article Five (of the NATO treaty) that if in fact anyone were to invade or take action against our NATO allies, we would respond. Same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with…Taiwan. It’s not even comparable (with Afghanistan) to talk about that.”
Biden’s remarks were taken up during a White House press briefing by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on August 17.
A reporter noted that the Korea War broke out as a civil war. If the US makes commitments to only conflicts that are not civil wars, the reporter asked, how should its allies act? China claims Taiwan is its domestic matter. What about the Korean Peninsula?
When Sullivan reflected on the Afghan war and started to explain that 2,448 Americans lost their lives in Afghanistan, the reporter raised his voice to interrupt him: “What is your response to the civil war?”
Rapprochement with China?
Sullivan attempted to explain that “When it comes to Taiwan, it is a fundamentally different question in a…in a different context,” but again was interrupted by the reporter who reiterated that “the Korean War was a civil war.” All told, Sullivan failed to precisely explain the basic logic behind America’s policy on military intervention. This failure on the part of the US government will without question become a significant factor causing America’s allies to be concerned about their ties with the US going forward.
A major change that can significantly affect Japan’s national interests may possibly be in the offing in addition to the decline of America’s international prestige over Afghanistan. During the August 16 news conference, Biden described the terrorist threat as follows:
“Today, the terrorist threat has metastasized well beyond Afghanistan: al Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nusra in Syria, ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and stablishing affiliates in multiple countries in Africa and Asia.”
Afghanistan, Pakistan’s neighbor which has sheltered al Qaeda, unquestionably is expected to be a rallying point for terrorist forces in the Middle East. We must keep firmly in mind the possibility of some of Pakistan’s 160 nuclear warheads falling into the hands of terrorists at some point in the future.
China will be especially vigilant about such a possibility and will resolutely block any attempts by terrorist forces to influence Muslim Uyghurs in China—with the Taliban Islamic fundamentalists on top of that list.
Here, we cannot but be painfully reminded of what happened in the US 20 years ago. Following immediately the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush drastically softened America’s posture toward China, which it had long positioned as a strategic rival. Beijing at the time provided the Bush administration intelligence on terrorists, spotlighting Muslim Uyghurs. As a result, America readily entered into strategically cooperative relations with China.
Mideast terrorists are the common enemy and threat for the US and China. Because of that, there is a possibility that the two biggest powers may suddenly shift their relations from confrontation to cooperation, as they did 20 years ago. That could present problems for Japan. All the more reason for Japan to become a stronger nation that can survive any adversity. Let us resolutely brace ourselves for the important tasks lying head.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 964 in the September 2, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)