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Thursday, August 19, 2021

Joe Biden’s Foreign Policy–“Pretty Please?”

Any casual observer could have anticipated the recent Afghan unraveling and the Taliban takeover.  Not since Alexander the Great in 356 BC and the Mongols in 1269 have the the Afghans ever been defeated, colonized, or ruled – not by the Persians, Mauryans, Ottomans, British, or Russians.  

In the late 1970’s the Afghan mujahedeen, a coalition of tribal and religious groups centered in Peshawar, defeated and expelled Soviet occupying forces.  This victory led to Islamic politicization of Afghanistan, the rise of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and the institution of radical Muslim fundamentalism.  

After 9/11 President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban turn over Osama bin-Laden, the mastermind of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York.  The Taliban refused, the United States invaded, and the Taliban were forced to retreat into their mountain lairs.

Image result for images taliban

The next twenty years were a period of supposed democratic reforms where the rigidly-controlled, doctrinaire Islamic society imposed by the Taliban and ruled by sharia law and Koranic teaching, would give way to democracy, civil rights, and individual freedoms.  A series of puppet regimes were put in place by Washington, and while there were outward signs of democratic reform and the liberation of women, the country had changed little.  The ruling, American- backed governments colluded with the Taliban, misused and misappropriated the billions of dollars of US aid, and never gained popular support.

The United States and its government allies kept the Taliban in check, but, thanks to a policy of moderation never intended to eliminate them.  By the early 2000s, the US military had moved far from its WWII policy of victory at any price, and was restricted by a policy of minimizing civilian and US military casualties, and ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the local population.  The Taliban, given America’s history of military restraint, short-term goals, and geopolitical impatience, knew that sooner rather than later their time would come.

Image result for Images Taliban Clerics. Size: 160 x 204. Source: www.nytimes.com

It came far sooner than even they thought when President Biden pulled the plug and recalled all American troops.  The Taliban had seen this coming for years, watching American enthusiasm for military engagement in a far-off, seemingly irrelevant countries (theirs in American eyes was no more than a rocky and barren tract of land in a harsh mountain landscape); and as soon as Biden gave the withdrawal order, they quickly marched into every major city and within days took Kabul.  Scenes this week were reminiscent of those in 1988 when the Taliban assumed power after the defeat of the Soviets.

Image result for images victorious taliban in kabul

No one but the idealist in the White House – the man who told the world, ‘America is back’ – was surprised.  Biden had run on a platform of geopolitical compromise, engagement, human rights, and compassion and told the world that the United States would no longer be an international bully.  In particular, he would revoke and rescind all of Donald Trump’s hostile and provocative policies.

He laughed at Trump’s unequivocal, Machiavellian principle of nationalism.  ‘America First’, Trump unapologetically said, speaking the same language as his Russian, Chinese, and Iranian adversaries.  ‘Negotiations’ with the Taliban under Trump were subject to irreversible ‘or-else’ conditions; and no space for a resurgence of Taliban-led Islamic terrorist rule was allowed.

Now Biden, seeing his anti-historical, romantic, and hopelessly Utopian vision of the world Afghan policies belied, not dismissed, and laughed at in a matter of days, retreated to the inner chambers of the White House to confer with his advisers.  ‘Now what?’, he asked.  The Taliban take-over was a fait accompli, al-Qaeda had announced their delighted return to Kabul, Iran championed the victory of righteous Islam, and every terrorist organization in the world from Hamas to Boko Haram sent words of encouragement, collaboration, and partnership to the newly-established regime.  What should be the American position?

Image result for images al-qaeda

Biden was in a quandary.  Since he had run on a platform of negotiation, respect, and compromise and had just withdrawn all American military presence from the country, he could not start saber-rattling and restart the Trump era posture of intimidation.  At the same time, thanks to the independent counsel of the American intelligence community, he realized that diplomacy would not work with the Taliban.

After twenty years of marginalization, two decades of patient but frustrated anticipation of power, years of scorn for anti-religious, corruptly secular governments, and increased popular support, the Taliban were not about to give away one parcel of land, one Islamic principle, or one rifle.  They were here to stay.

Biden's options were few and all were unappealing.  First, the US could pretend that nothing unpleasant had happened.  The troops were recalled as promised, Afghanistan was finally turned over to the Afghans, and America’s long, principled engagement would regrettably come to an and, as all things must.  

Second, the United States could coax the Taliban back to the bargaining table around which they had assembled in Oman at the invitation of Donald Trump and try to make them listen to reason.  The very obvious and impressive principle of Christianity-inspired American liberal democracy – its very rightness – could not possibly be ignored. 

Third, Biden could listen to the generals and the CIA intelligence community and finally grasp the new geopolitical calculus of the Taliban victory.  The country would quickly become a welcome haven for al-Qaeda, ISIS, and all Islamic-based terrorist groups, said the CIA and, more importantly, would be the command and control headquarters for regional terrorism.  

By changing the country’s name to ‘The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ and in so doing embracing and announcing the idea of a regional Islamic caliphate, the Taliban made clear its ambitions, purpose, and resolve. 

The only way to counter what could only be a significant threat to an already unstable region and to neutralize the more important threat to United States interests, would be to once and for all eliminate the Taliban – forget the hopelessly fanciful notions of peace and harmony, and systematically, thoroughly and absolutely destroy their every trace.

Image result for images curtis lemay bomb em back to the stone age

This last option was obviously not very appealing to President Biden.  ‘Victory at any price’ is not a song in his hymnal.  No military objective is worth the lives of innocent civilians.  ‘We are better than that’, Biden said to the military brass who pressed him on armed force.

The first option – doing nothing, resting on his laurels, fulfilling his promise to bring the troops home, and thus acting ‘on principle’ – was the most practical and politically sensible. Most Americans are sick and tired of hearing about a boring, meaningless, seemingly endless war in an obscure, irrelevant, unattractive place, and would be quite happy to get it off the headlines.

The second option, however – sitting down with the Taliban – was the most appealing.  Despite his political secularism, progressive idealism, and dalliance with socialism, Biden is at heart a true American exceptionalist.  The American way, despite the bumps and potholes in the road, is the best and only way.  America proudly stands for diversity, inclusivity, and the individual rights of all.  

Despite his dismissal of originalism, Jeffersonian Enlightenment, and the profoundly religious basis for the new republic, Biden still believes that whatever comes out of America is anointed, God-given, and absolute. This is the nature of 21st Century American exceptionalism.  Regardless of what political shade may color the day, America is always right; and when Americans speak, others are bound to listen.

If this sounds familiar, it is.  Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the light”, and there are few Americans who, even in these chaotic and divisive times, doubt its relevance to America.  “If we explain to them….If we reveal the mysteries of the American ethos….If we show them the way to the social, personal, and spiritual revelations of American democracy, they will see…”

Image result for images jesus christ

Biden, a good Christian, comes by all this quite honestly.  The core principle of Christian missionary teaching is innate wisdom – once the natives hear the word of God enunciated in His book, they will be saved.  The same will be true of the Taliban, the Iranian mullahs, and Kim Jong-Un.

“Let’s give it a try”, said Biden in chambers.  The generals frowned, the CIA squirmed, and even a few of his inner circle winced; but the President, like many before him, had had an epiphany, and the true glory of America became clear.  

As much as Biden himself had chuckled at Ronald Reagan’s City on a Hill speech – the one that unashamedly spoke of America’s anointed responsibility to the world and of its innate goodness and spiritual destiny – he now wholeheartedly embraced the idea.  Of course he still had issues with Reagan’s colonial arrogance, capitalist delusions, and faux spiritualism; but the idea was still sound.  Whatever America does is ipso facto right.

Conservative pundits quickly branded Biden’s idea as ‘Pretty Please Diplomacy’, and America’s adversaries, sitting across the bargaining table, could not help be charmed and won over by the seductive combination of philosophical rectitude and respectful generosity. 

What is actually happening is that not only the Taliban but Putin, Xi, Kim, and the ayatollahs are salivating over this precipitous, hopelessly idealistic withdrawal from Afghanistan and Biden’s holy defense of it.  They, Machiavellian nationalist plotters and schemers, are delighted that America is not only a paper tiger but a fraidy cat, a regime so in love with outlandish, impossibly romantic ideas that it can only see pretty flowers and blue skies.

The Biden Administration has not of this writing (8/21) enunciated a response to the Taliban takeover let alone formulated a clear strategy to deal with it.  The President and his team are still huddled in the Situation Room, befuddled and surprised, without a clue how to proceed.  The three options are on the table, but remain unopened.  All in the room are afraid of them.  It is hard to predict the denouement of this tragedy, and the world will have to wait and see.  One thing is clear – the happy, delighted, inclusive presidency of Joe Biden is being quickly shown to be a fairy tale.

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