“America is building a nasty reputation for multi-generational systemic abandonment of our allies,” retired Lt. Col. David Scott Mann told U.S. congressional lawmakers in March. “Where we leave a smoldering human refuse, from the Montagnards of Vietnam to the Kurds in Syria.”
In a series of hearings on the 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal, Lt. Col. Mann’s testimony echoed some of the frustrations and anxieties expressed by America’s geopolitical allies in recent years.
Afghanistan, in particular, could be a sticking point in the history of U.S. foreign policy. Since the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, in word and deed, America’s geopolitical friends and opponents seem to have begun edging away, expressing doubt about U.S. footing abroad.
The fallout was perhaps unavoidable. Congressional hearings on the Afghanistan exit have exposed flaws in grave detail. With President Joe Biden’s political opponents in charge of the hearings, and now in control of the Speaker’s gavel, the descriptions have been unsparing.
“Sobbing US soldiers recount the ‘horrors’ of catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan before Congress,” wrote Abhinav Singh for WION News on March 9, 2023.
The bombing of the Kabul airport, in particular, was described by eyewitnesses.
“My body was overwhelmed from the trauma of the blast,” U.S. Marine Lieutenant Tyler Vargas-Andrews told lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “My abdomen had been ripped open. Every inch of my exposed body except for my face took ball bearings and shrapnel.”
“The withdrawal was a catastrophe in my opinion,” Vargas-Andrews told Congress. “And there was an inexcusable lack of accountability. No one was held accountable. No one was, and no one is to this day.”
“Americans watched as people so desperate to flee clung to the landing gear of airplanes taking off and fell from the sky when the planes did not stop,” Republican Rep. James Comer said of the evacuation. “Americans watched as parents handed their infants over to U.S. soldiers, and they watched as billions of dollars of U.S. equipment — trucks, aircraft, weaponry — was just abandoned to the Taliban.”
“Today, the Taliban flag flies over Kabul,” Rep. Comer said. “This is Joe Biden’s legacy. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has consequences that will not go away overnight, despite the Biden Administration’s hope that the American people will forget.”
Americans aren’t the only ones unlikely to forget. The U.S. Afghanistan exit was an opportunity the Chinese Communist Party could not ignore.
Some U.S. foreign policy struggles and losses have been China’s gain in recent years, Afghanistan chief among them. Where the U.S. State Department under the Biden Administration has left an opening, the Chinese Communist Party has taken it. For instance, in the weeks before Kabul fell to the Taliban, Taliban leaders were already in talks with Chinese Communist Party officials.
Through their Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese Communist Party has used a form of economic diplomacy to ink trade deals, underwrite infrastructure projects, and otherwise foster relationships with developing nations — including in Afghanistan.
It’s a formula that appears to be bearing fruit — at least in the short term. What these deals inked with China will mean over the long term may be another matter. Some economic experts and humanitarian watchdogs have raised pragmatic and ethical questions about some of the agreements.
But what might happen if and when emerging nations default on their credit obligations to China is a hypothetical far in the future. For now, most of the infrastructure investments are welcome.
“Somebody from a developing country said to me, ‘what we get from China is an airport. What we get from the United States is a lecture,’” said Summers, a Harvard University professor…” But they are such wonderful lectures!” Tweeted WSJ columnist Walter Russell Mead on April 14, 2023.
The Russia/Ukraine conflict — and the failure of U.S. or European nations to broker a cease-fire — has left another opening for the CCP to pick up the pieces, to offer alternatives and even assistance.
Increasingly, even some American allies — like France and Saudi Arabia — are choosing the CCP’s seemingly soft touch over the U.S. formula of sanctions, military intervention, and escalating global tensions.
“Is the United States Creating a ‘Legion of Doom’?” wondered POLITICO nervously, if belatedly, in March. “The emerging China-Russia-Iran axis may force the United States to choose between some unappealing options.”
Some American allies aren’t interested in following the Biden administration down that path to unappealing options. France, for instance, has no intention of being dragged into a conflict between the U.S. and China over Taiwan.
“The paradox would be that, overcome with panic, we believe we are just America’s followers,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on April 9, 2023. “The question Europeans need to answer…is it in our interest to accelerate [a crisis] on Taiwan? No. The worst thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and take our cue from the U.S. agenda and a Chinese overreaction.”
Macron has an alternative in mind to a deepening global conflict, it would seem.
“Macon Wants China’s Help to Bring Russia, Ukraine to Table,” reported Bloomberg on April 18, 2023. “The French president aims to begin negotiations this summer. Macron has tasked Emmanuel Bonne to work with Beijing.”
Some U.S. allies in the Middle East seem to have lost confidence in the United States as well, as evidenced by the diplomatic deal inked in recent weeks between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Again, where U.S. foreign policy left an opportunity, China was ready to assist.
“Archrivals Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to end years of hostilities in deal mediated by China,” announced CNN on March 10, 2023.
“Riyadh and Tehran plan to reopen their embassies within two months in an agreement mediated by China, Saudi Arabia and Iran said in a joint statement after talks in Beijing on Friday,” reported CNN.
“Saudi Arabia, Iran Restore Relations in Deal Brokered by China,” added the Wall Street Journal. “Accord marks diplomatic victory for Beijing in a region where U.S. has long dominated geopolitics.”
“The deal signals a sharp increase in Beijing’s influence in a region where the U.S. has long been the dominant power broker, and could complicate efforts by the U.S. and Israel to strengthen a regional alliance to confront Tehran as it expands its nuclear program,” warned the WSJ.
It isn’t as if Iran has abandoned its nuclear program, as Saudi Arabia has long insisted — even demanded. On the contrary. Iran’s government is closer than ever to The Bomb.
“Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Hits a New High, Testing Diplomacy,” reported Bloomberg on February 19, 2023. “International atomic monitors in Iran have detected uranium enriched to levels just below nuclear weapons-grade, risking escalation over Tehran’s expanding program.”
This sudden about-face by Saudi Arabia on Iran surprised world leaders, foreign policy experts, and political analysts. Only a few short months ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was still openly hoping to bring Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords and a closer diplomatic relationship with Israel in direct opposition to Iran’s extremist government.
“If we make peace with Saudi Arabia — it depends on the Saudi leadership — and bring, effectively, the Arab-Israeli conflict to an end,” PM Netanyahu told news outlets in January. “I think we’ll circle back to the Palestinians and get a workable peace with the Palestinians.”
“It remains unclear, however, what this means for America,” admitted the Associated Press on Friday. “Though long viewed as guaranteeing Mideast energy security, regional leaders have grown increasingly wary of Washington’s intentions after its chaotic 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan. The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment over the announced deal.”
China is now also reportedly turning its attention to ending the Ukraine/Russia conflict.
“Why Ukraine may embrace China’s peace plan,” outlined Asia Times last week. “Recent private conference of top US foreign policy experts saw Ukraine at risk of losing a war of attrition despite the West’s best efforts.”
Can Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping achieve this miracle? If any world leader has influence over Russian President Vladimir Putin, it may be China’s Xi Jinping. While the U.S. and Western nations have pushed Russia away, China has embraced Putin with open arms.
“China’s Xi to meet with Putin in Moscow Monday in show of support,” reported ABC News on March 19. “The trip will be China’s biggest show of support for Putin since the war began.”
“Xi Jinping to test limits of friendship with Putin on Russia state visit,” reported the Financial Times, adding that, “China’s leader also wants to assert peacemaking credentials and stabilise relations with Europe.”
America’s foreign policy losses may have been China’s gains in recent years, but it is unclear what a closer walk with the Chinese Communist Party will mean for nations like Russia and Saudi Arabia — especially for the people who live there.
Saudi Arabia, for instance, through its deepening relationship with China, is also suddenly at risk of becoming the world's second-largest and most advanced surveillance state — after China.
In the decades to come, some nations may come to miss the days of U.S. dominance on the foreign policy stage. Until that day comes, however, the trend of nations moving gradually away from the U.S. and closer to China is likely to continue.
(Written by Brooke Bell)