There is an Afghan Proverb that states, “the world will not find rest by just saying ‘peace’”, while famous French author Victor Hugo is quoted with saying, “Peace is the virtue of civilization.” Both statements are different from afar, but are quite similar, particularly from a foreign policy standpoint. The Afghanistan War, or, as many call it, ‘the forever war’, was, according to Phil Klay, Fairfield University International Relations professor, one of the worst strategic and foreign policy blunders in United States (US) history, surpassing even the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s. However, the US began to withdraw active troops from Afghanistan on November 17th, 2020 by order of the Trump administration, and fully withdrew all active troops from Afghanistan in late August 2021, under the Biden administration.
The withdrawal was sudden and unexpected for many nations around the world, with former British Prime Minister Theresa May attacking the withdrawal with her statement to British Parliament that “this withdrawal is surprising and incomprehensible…one should have worked with other nations to sustain the Afghan government.” (2021). One question arises considering the global scope of the Afghan conflict and its impact on world relations: what were the foreign policy effects of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan?
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has had positive impacts on world policy and foreign policy, specifically in relation to the US change of interest from the Middle East to Far Eastern Asia, but also the opportunity to focus on more pressing issues in world relations of the time, specifically Russian expansion into Eastern Europe. Edward Alden, journalist, and foreign policy expert for the Council of Foreign Relations wrote in a paper to the Brookings Institute “the withdrawal from Afghanistan has provided the United States with more room to breathe, that is, to focus on other things that are affecting the prospect of universal ‘world peace’ and international relations; the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, China’s influence on world economics, the prospect of receiving oil from Venezuela instead of Saudi Arabia, etc.” (2021). In addition, the withdrawal, according to professor of politics at the University of Virginia, Dale Copeland “Taliban control over Afghanistan is less likely to have as much of an effect over world politics and diplomacy in comparison to the North Vietnamese takeover of South Vietnam in 1975.” (2021). With this being stated, the withdrawal from Afghanistan has destabilized Central Asian international political standing, in which terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda, who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and ISIS-K, who are the Afghani section of the ISIS organization to go “unchecked throughout the region” (2021), according to foreign policy correspondent Nilofar Sakhi for the Middle East Institute (MEI). The destabilization of the Near-East region could cause more problems in the future of American foreign policy interests in the Middle East. However, the withdrawal has allowed the US to use more money and energy on exceedingly important foreign policy and military issues around the world, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in which the US has sent weapons and other support to the Ukrainian government, and the Taiwan issue, in which the US has sought to gain an alliance of Southeast Asian and other East Asian countries against the growing influence of China in the region.
The National Treaty Organization (NATO) worked with the US (a founding member of the organization) in the withdrawal from Afghanistan, but the withdrawal was nonetheless an “uncoordinated disaster” (2021) as said by Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, who sought to assist the US in receiving Afghan refugees as they flooded Pakistan in hopes of escaping Afghanistan before the Taliban gained full control of the country. The withdrawal, in effect, was seen as a devastating blow to the legitimacy of US foreign policy interests around the world, angering several NATO countries, including France, in which French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron stated “the United States must take moral responsibility for the uncooperative withdrawal from Afghanistan'' (2021), emphasizing the horrid images of Afghanis trampling over each other to gain entry into US transport planes. In addition, with the US focuses its views on East Asia, it has gotten increasingly isolated from the rest of its allies, including most European countries that are members of the European Union (EU), who rely on constant resources and technology from China (including the rise of 5G appliances), thus not allowing them to fully support any acts of aggression between the two superpowers. The United Nations (UN) has deemed that the US should have gradually “left Afghanistan in a state of stability rather than chaos” (2021), citing the massacres of schoolchildren by Taliban soldiers, and the weakening grip of democracy on Afghanistan and its own future.
The Taliban, or, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, has always seen US intervention in the Middle East and Central Asian region as being unwarranted, even during the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s, in which the US supplied weapons to the resistance group known as the Mujahideen in which Mullah Omar, a former Mujahideen partisan fighter and founder of the Taliban, stated publicly “Americans shall be known as infidels among the lands of Afghanistan.” (1984) However, with the withdrawal, and the balance of power quickly being “thrown into the Taliban’s hands'' (2021) as said by former Secretary of State under both the Nixon and Ford administrations, Henry Kissinger, to the inaugural class of the Harvard University 2021. The Taliban have been blocked from moving forward economically and socially by many countries around the world simply not recognizing them as the government of Afghanistan. To this, chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated in a press interview for a WhatsApp reporting group “As far as recognition by foreign countries is concerned, I think the United States is the biggest obstacle” (2022), referencing to the freezing of Afghan assets by the US, and the subsequent aftermath of the withdrawal which has left Afghanistan in shambles. Thus, without any substantial foreign support in rebuilding Afghanistan, the Taliban have fallen into a “deep hole” (2021), as said by Philip Hammond, former UK Foreign Secretary. The future of Afghanistan is on the balance. Many organizations, including the UN health committee, are trying to assist Afghanistan in its fight against COVID-19 and the reconstruction of the country, and have surprisingly been well received by the Taliban, in contrast to their anti-foreign aid government in the 1990s. However, Afghanistan still has a “long journey ahead of her'' (2021) according to former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan can be seen from the perspective of the Afghan proverb, in which “the world will not find rest by just saying ‘peace’”, in relation to the uncoordinated withdrawal and its aftermath, but also, it can be seen from Hugo’s lens, in which “Peace is the virtue of civilization.”, in relation to the horrors that come with military combat. The withdrawal was a chance for the US to focus on other more pressing things in the world of foreign policy and military pursuits, but to also leave Afghanistan to its own devices, free of foreign involvement that has plagued their nation since the 1839 British invasion of Afghanistan, whether consequential or not.