The United States just lost a 20 year war in Afghanistan.
Does this mean that US allies in Asia and Europe can no longer trust the US government to keep its promises? What about NATO, our involvement in South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere in the world? Has the United States lost its credibility?
The answer is “No” for several reasons.
1) The United States tends to get involved in conflicts anywhere in the world where it does not have real strategic interests. The Vietnam War was one example. We fought this conflict from 1964 to 1975, in large part to show our allies that we would also defend them when needed. We based our involvement there on “The Theory of Dominoes,” a belief that arose from the causes of World War II.
The thought was, “If we allow South Vietnam to fall into the hands of the Communists, all of South East Asia will fall as well.” We spent our blood and our treasure against a determined enemy who understood the land, its history and its culture far better than we did. In hindsight, Southeast Asia did not collapse like dominoes as we feared. In fact, communism and the domino theory collapsed with the fall of the USSR in 1991. America emerged victorious as the world’s only major superpower.
2) Afghanistan has diverted our attention from growing threats from China and Russia. Now the problem is that these countries have to contend with the instability in their own backyards created by the Taliban takeover.
Instead of China benefiting from our involvement in Afghanistan, it is now more concerned about Muslims in Southeast Asia who think they can expand their religious wars in China. Xi Jinping has launched ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang province where at least one million Muslim Uyghurs have been sent to concentration camps and their wives sterilized. This behavior does not appeal to Muslims.
The United States has a series of alliances all over the world. We have them because we are trustworthy. These alliances are multiplying as China intimidates its neighbors in Indochina. China has no friends, only fearful and suspicious acquaintances. Being liberated from Afghanistan will actually help us fulfill our strategic obligations against Xi Jinping and his dreams of a global empire.
Russia has its own Muslim minorities to contend with. Muslim radicalism can destabilize Muslim countries there. Russia will be forced to spend more time and effort to prevent this from happening. The country is already grappling with sanctions against its occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Its economy is in decline because oil is its only major source of liquidity. Putin’s people are agitated by their growing poverty.
As Putin’s troubles escalate, America’s credibility grows in stark contrast. Remember also that the Soviet Union was also driven out of Afghanistan in humiliation. He does not have to rejoice in the American defeat.
3) Hopefully Vietnam and Afghanistan have taught the United States painful lessons. We are a young nation which, unbeknownst to us, has grown into the greatest Empire the world has ever known. Our buffers of two major oceans and two weak neighbors, abundant resources and a representative form of government make us teenagers. We suddenly went from childhood to adult form, but without the maturity and wisdom to know what to do with our strength. We have been easily sidetracked from this reality by these non-strategic wars. Sometimes nations, like individuals, only learn when they fail.
Rather than bemoan our failure in Afghanistan, be grateful to President Biden for having the courage and foresight to disconnect and pursue our strategic interests in the world. Afghanistan was a drag around our leg. Thanks to the stubbornness of the Taliban, our chain has been broken.
Now is the time to mourn our losses, failures and mistakes and continue to be what we are capable of being: a force for good, for representative democracy and for human rights.
The world can now trust us more to come to their aid, but only when our strategic interests are at stake. The question for all of us is, can we learn from Afghanistan or will we be dragged into trouble again. senseless wars?
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