President Joe Biden’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan has sent a shiver of frustration and bewilderment through allies at home and abroad who regarded his inauguration as a break from former President Donald Trump’s oft-haphazard approach to foreign policy.
“I think that what has happened shows that Europe needs to develop this famous ‘strategic autonomy' in order to be ready to face challenges that affect us eventually,” European Union High Rep. Josep Borrell, a former Spanish politician who now leads the bloc’s diplomatic corps, told reporters Tuesday.
That ideal of "strategic autonomy" was the litany of the EU smart-set during the Trump years. Biden’s inauguration was heralded in Brussels as the “magic” moment when an intemperate former reality TV star would give way to a president with decades of experience, flanked by a host of advisers lauded for their professionalism and competence. Now, Biden’s allies at home and abroad are stunned to see him follow Trump’s line in Afghanistan and compound that choice with mismanagement.
“In implementing this flawed plan, I am disappointed that the Biden administration clearly did not accurately assess the implications of a rapid U.S. withdrawal,” said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, on Tuesday. “The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will continue fulfilling its oversight role with a hearing on U.S. policy towards Afghanistan, including the Trump administration’s flawed negotiations with Taliban, and the Biden administration’s flawed execution of the U.S. withdrawal.”
German politician Armin Laschet, the heir-apparent to outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, described the situation even more harshly.
“This is the greatest debacle that NATO has seen since its foundation, and it is an epochal change that we are facing,” he said this week.
That’s the kind of criticism European officials might have expected Trump to earn rather than Biden, given the former president described the alliance as “obsolete” during his campaign to win the White House in 2016. NATO officials and European leaders heaved a sigh of relief when Biden defeated Trump. Still, they learned with respect to Afghanistan that Biden would be “much more friendly” than Trump, as one official put it — but not any more deferential to European views.
“At the moment when the Biden administration took over earlier this year, most of the European allies, they preferred to keep a very limited military presence,” the European official told the Washington Examiner. “The Biden administration decided that they wanted to complete the withdrawal ... They were willing to talk to allies, to listen to them, but the decision was still their decision.”
In June, Biden said he had “strong consensus among the leaders ... on Afghanistan” during his appearance at the NATO summit in Brussels. That statement belied the disagreement over his decision to withdraw so soon after taking office, and the fall of Kabul just months later has caused transatlantic frustration to break into public.
“It looks like NATO has been completely overtaken by American unilateral decisions,” former British national security adviser Peter Ricketts told Financial Times. “First of all, Trump’s decision to start talking to the Taliban about leaving and then the Biden decision to set a timetable.”
Ricketts continued: “The Afghanistan operation was always going to end sometime. It was never going to go on forever. But the manner in which it’s been done has been humiliating and damaging to NATO.”
When confronted with an impassioned appeal from an Afghan journalist who questioned why "the Western countries and the European Union try to make the same mistakes” as the United States, Borrell pinned the blame for the current crisis on Biden’s continuation of Trump’s policies.
“You know, it is not the European Union who decided to leave Afghanistan,” Borrell replied. “It has been a decision of [former] President [of the United States, Donald] Trump, who negotiated this with the Taliban. And this decision has been implemented later by the following American administration ... And this could have been managed in a better way, for sure.”
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Original Author: Joel Gehrke