THE AGENDA Geopolitics


Robert Amsterdam

The yawning vacuum of American competence has been a long time coming and will have lasting eff ects

But before President Joe Biden could fi nish saying ‘America is back’, Afghanistan collapsed in unnecessarily spectacular fashion, and we’re facing the fact that the deep distrust, polarisation, isolationism and incompetence we came to know intimately during the Trump administration will continue to cast a very long shadow for years to come. And if we’re truly honest with ourselves, these defi ciencies were always there right under the surface – they were not the mere innovation of the reality TV host president. The abdication of global leadership we are seeing by the United States in 2021 will powerfully affect how much trust allies can have in Washington, while allowing for a massive realignment of infl uence in the international system. As I’ve written many times in this column, how America practises (or malpractises) its foreign policy can have far-reaching impact across the world. It changes which poles nations may gravitate towards, it changes the development of institutions and political economies, and it changes a vast array of normative calculations of what’s acceptable and unacceptable for how countries govern themselves. Biden’s foreign policy agenda would much rather focus on favourite themes such as ‘containing China’ and ‘restoring alliances’. But isn’t it the case that China has been greatly strengthened by the chaotic US departure from Afghanistan? It appears to already have good relations with the Taliban, with an eye towards securing lucrative mineral extraction rights and blocking Uyghur exiles from setting up camp in exchange for major Belt and Road investments. Meanwhile, NATO allies which had been dragged into the war were not consulted on the drawdown.

W But still, nobody seems to be learning. We’ve been inundated

with ‘expert opinions’ on Afghanistan – many of them from the same people who sold us the war in the fi rst place – offering their views on the ‘lessons’ to be drawn. The American discourse on Afghanistan is tortured by simple questions. Was a different outcome possible? What were they really trying to achieve? Most agree it was the right decision to leave Afghanistan, but there is less consensus on how it could have been done in an organised and politically satisfying manner – at the very least

hen President Donald Trump was defeated in the 2020 election and his last, desperate grasps to hold on to power via threats, lies and insurrection failed, we were promised a return to normality.

avoiding horrifi c images of desperate men falling off evacuating aircraft, families clamouring for asylum, and children being passed over chain link fences. We may begin with untangling the intelligence failures of how quickly and easily the Taliban would regain control of the country, but this also overshadows the broader dishonesty


incompetence with how Washington has handled this occupation. Weeks before the fall of Kabul, a Pentagon watchdog report

Aſt er being sold so many lies, is it

eviscerated much of the offi cial rhetoric on the withdrawal. John Sopko, the US special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, spoke openly about the ‘hubris’ and ‘mendacity’ of the Biden administration (as well as past administrations). He said that both military leaders and diplomats ‘over-exaggerated’, noting that offi cials over the years spoke about ‘just turning the corner’ in the fi ght against the Taliban. ‘Well, we turned the corner so much, we did 360 degrees,’ he said. But the intelligence failure goes way

unreasonable for people to disavow the ‘expertise’ of the elites?

back. It’s part of a larger pattern of dereliction of duty in the strategic decision-making process, where evidence was shaped to support preferred conclusions. Even though ending America’s ‘forever wars’ is broadly popular, there is decreasing confi dence in the US commitment to alliances, and this fl ows from the American public’s declining level of trust in elected offi cials. After being sold so many lies on what would happen with two decades of military commitment

in Afghanistan and Iraq, is it unreasonable for people to disavow the ‘expertise’ of the elites? Is it really a mystery why so many Americans refuse to believe scientists on climate change, why so many refuse the coronavirus vaccine? Instead of debating how many years it would take to build a democratic political culture in Central Asia, it would be more worthwhile to focus on restoring the credibility and competence of governance within the US and the Western world at large. And that begins with a clear and honest expression of the values and interests important to the country as well as the means to achieve them, while reckoning with how such catastrophic mistakes and lapses of intelligence were engendered in the recent past. Maybe that’s a project where we should exercise greater

‘strategic patience’ and spend more time. S Robert Amsterdam is the founding partner of Amsterdam & Partners LLP

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84  |  Page 85  |  Page 86  |  Page 87  |  Page 88  |  Page 89  |  Page 90  |  Page 91  |  Page 92  |  Page 93  |  Page 94  |  Page 95  |  Page 96  |  Page 97  |  Page 98  |  Page 99  |  Page 100