President Joe Biden’s recent announcement that he will withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan later this year is a confirmation of the National Defense Strategy that prioritizes China and Russia as the main threats to U.S. interests (although for different reasons).
Since 2011, the constant refrain of a conditions-based withdrawal morphed into a self-perpetuating argument to permanently remain in Afghanistan. Instead, President Biden’s strategy recognizes the threat of terrorism is diffuse and complex, not confined to one set of political borders on a map.
China is the biggest loser in President Biden’s Afghanistan decision. For the better part of two decades, China’s authoritarian foreign policy has relied heavily on a distracted United States, caught in endless wars and sometimes absent from its strategic leadership as the world’s strongest democracy.
President Biden’s announcement officially ended China’s ability to act free of the United States’ presence in the world. The U.S. can now properly turn its attention to the guidance President Biden provided in his interim National Security Strategy, including seeking cooperation with Chinese officials on climate change and Northeast Asian security while competing with its government on trade, technology and human rights.
Some foreign policy hawks will criticize President Biden’s decision by warning of the likely return of the Taliban. However, the Taliban never left Afghanistan because Afghanistan is their home. The U.S. challenge in Afghanistan has always been an Afghan government that could not govern. Despite that challenge, U.S. and allied presence in Afghanistan has spurred a rise in literacy and an increased role of women in Afghan society and government. Through diplomatic and humanitarian channels, the U.S. will continue to be actively engaged in Afghanistan.
I do not want to downplay the challenges ahead, chief among them the Taliban’s response to the United States’ withdrawal and the Afghan government’s reaction. But the world has changed in the 20 years since 2001. Even without a U.S. military presence, the eyes of the world will be on Afghanistan and the Taliban in particular.
The United States is now on a clear path toward pursuing its national and economic security interests. Last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan made a strong declaration of U.S. interests when meeting with Chinese leaders in Anchorage, Alaska. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recently announced an increased troop presence in Germany and a renewed U.S. commitment to NATO.
Meanwhile, President Biden’s American Jobs Plan will invest in jobs and infrastructure here at home, boosting U.S. strength and competitiveness abroad. By aligning the national focus and resources with long-term strategic interests, the U.S. is once again positioned to lead as the strongest democracy in the world.