Can President Joe Biden’s global standing recover from his spectacular debacle in Afghanistan? This will be one of the most pressing questions ahead even if the United States manages to successfully evacuate its citizens and Afghan partners. To salvage some of his and America’s international position, Biden needs to initiate dramatic changes in both staff and policy.
Biden’s Afghan fiasco goes beyond failed policy and execution. Instead, it raises fundamental questions about the president’s leadership, judgment, command of the facts, competence, veracity, reliability as an ally and strength of will.
The situation recalls Winston Churchill’s critique of British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin’s failed anti-Israel policy that severely undermined Britain’s global position: He was “wrong, wrong in his facts, wrong in his mood, wrong in the method and wrong in the result. . . . No one has been proved by events to be more consistently wrong on every turning-point and at every moment than he.” He pursued a “policy of folly, fatuity and futility the like of which it is not easy to find in modern experience.”
Biden’s failures are arguably greater. He acquiesced to a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and follows their dictates while energizing Islamic terrorist groups endangering our very homeland; risked destabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan; emboldened adversaries such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran; and alienated and undermined our allies from London to Tokyo.
Indeed, Biden’s failure has been so widely condemned or mocked and his credibility — the currency of international relations — so thoroughly damaged that even if he succeeds in evacuating stranded Americans and Afghan partners from Afghanistan (big if), it’s likely he’ll become a hobbled, damaged figure on the world stage, incapable of leading on any issue of consequence, for the remaining three-plus years of his presidency. That would be dreadful for US national security.
Democratic Party leaders should intervene to salvage some modicum of the president’s and America’s international position. They need to convince Biden, who remains in defiant denial, of the dire position he has put his presidency and the United States in and the urgent need to correct it.
First, Biden should shore up his national-security team, bringing in senior officials who instill confidence among our allies and fear among our foes. None who would echo Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s assertion that the United States lacks the “capability” to collect American citizens outside Kabul airport.
Second, Biden must pursue new assertive policies beyond Afghanistan that demonstrate resolve. He could follow then-President Donald Trump’s example of surprisingly assassinating Iranian leader Major Gen. Qassem Soleimani after months of inaction against escalating Iranian aggression, which restored some sense of deterrence. Except Biden’s Afghan fiasco requires greater dramatic steps.
Biden could seek to make a new mark in a pressing foreign-policy issue. With China describing America as “weak and unreliable” and suggesting Taiwan could meet Afghanistan’s fate, he could end historic strategic ambiguity and (as leading Asia expert Ken Weinstein has argued for) declare publicly and unequivocally that the United States will defend Taiwan from a Chinese attempt at reunification and sell Taipei next-generation defense equipment it needs for its national security.
Third, the president should reverse his disastrous failing policy of seeking to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, cite Iran’s nuclear escalation to justify enforcing existing sanctions and pursue snapback sanctions at the United Nations. He should also warn Tehran, as his predecessors had, that he’ll prevent it from becoming nuclear-capable by all means necessary.
Further, Biden should bolster Israel’s ability to prepare for a major war with Iran, which his policies accommodative to Tehran make more likely. In his meeting this week with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the president should offer an immediate offensive and defensive package to improve Israel’s readiness and to accelerate an Israeli attack capacity (should it be needed) on Iran, with all its consequences.
This should involve expediting delivery of weapons already promised to Israel, such as F-35 aircraft, KC-46 aerial refueling tankers and multilayer missile-defense capabilities, as well as a commitment to position in Israel for mutual use tens of thousands of precision-guided missiles.
Biden can’t eliminate all the awful consequences of the Afghan debacle, but by taking these actions he can deliver a strong message that he has learned some lessons and that America is coming back.
Michael Makovsky, a former Pentagon official, is president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America and author of “Churchill’s Promised Land.”
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