The pundits were emphatic: President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in August was disastrous, leaving the United States more vulnerable to terrorists and less trusted around the world. In case anyone needed a reminder of the danger of prematurely pronouncing Biden a failure, take a look at the events of this past week.
The president announced on Thursday a successful raid in Syria to take out the global leader of the Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, also known as Hajji Abdullah. Thanking the skill and bravery of our intelligence and armed forces, Biden stressed, “This operation is testament to America’s reach and capability to take out terrorist threats no matter where they try to hide anywhere in the world.”
One could sense a bit of vindication in Biden’s voice after months of ridicule from critics who claimed our withdrawal from Afghanistan would leave us blind to threats from terrorist groups such as the Islamic State. Clearly, the United States has antiterrorism capabilities that do not require troops on the ground in Afghanistan, and it faces threats far from Afghanistan that demand our focus. For now, Biden can claim the strategic underpinning for the withdrawal — if not its execution — was correct.
Veteran diplomat Dennis Ross, who has expressed concern about our staying power in the Middle East, observed on Twitter that the raid in Syria is a reminder of “the unique US capabilities” and “the importance of keeping a military presence in the Middle East.” He also noted that “for the Biden Administration, it sends a useful message at a time when some question US resolve.”
Likewise, the notion that the United States lost the trust of allies because of the decision to end a fruitless war never held up to scrutiny. The United States forged a deal with Britain and Australia to allow the latter nation to deploy nuclear submarines to counter China; led the world in international efforts to distribute coronavirus vaccines; and, most dramatically, mounted a formidable NATO response to Russian aggression.
“So much for America’s shift from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific,” writes Edward Luce in the Financial Times. “By demanding concessions that have shocked a divided and rudderless Europe, Russian president Vladimir Putin has united the west behind U.S. leadership. It has been years since that sentence could be written with a straight face. Russia has brought about what it fears — a west that is displaying something approaching resolve.” He adds, “By threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty, Putin has done something Biden could not on his own — unite the west. It gives Biden an advantage that should not be squandered.”
It was not preordained that Biden would knit together a resolute position, send troops to reinforce our Eastern European allies (while encouraging allies to do the same), and smoke out Putin’s efforts to create a pretext for war. The Post reports: “U.S. officials say they have evidence that Russia has developed a plan, approved at high levels in Moscow, to create a pretext for invading Ukraine by falsely pinning an attack on Ukrainian forces that could involve alleged casualties not only in eastern Ukraine but also in Russia.”
Image Credits: Kenny Holston for The New York Times