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Column: Kabul’s fall was a debacle, but long-term impact was not as catastrophic as feared


Twelve months ago, as President Biden was withdrawing the final American troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban swept into Kabul and abruptly brought a 20-year, $2.3-trillion U.S. war to an ignominious end.

It had been Bidens worst foreign policy failure, and prompted warnings that more catastrophes would follow: not merely the tragedy of Taliban rule over 38 million Afghans, but a resurgence of international terrorism and a collapse of U.S. influence all over the world.

It really is hard to overstate the harm to U.S. credibility wreaked by this fiasco, wrote Kori Schake of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. The disastrous withdrawal can make it harder for Washington to construct [international] coalitions later on.

Biden broke NATO, the Wall Street Journal editorial page pronounced.

The terrorism risk to america will probably get dramatically worse, predicted Nathan Sales, hawaii Departments counter-terrorism chief under President Trump.

The majority of those worst-case forecasts havent become a reality.

Yes, Taliban rule in Afghanistan has been violent, repressive and chaotic an economic and human catastrophe for Afghans, especially women. That isnt a surprise.

Beyond the countrys borders, though, the results of Americas failure have already been more limited.

Terrorism? Unlike pessimists fears, the Afghan-based core of Al Qaeda hasnt succeeded in rebuilding.

A U.S. drone strike killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri on his Kabul balcony last month. That served as proof that the Taliban or a minumum of one faction, the Haqqani clan was harboring the group. But it addittionally showed that america can conduct counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan despite having far fewer intelligence assets on the floor.

Al Qaeda has loomed large to Americans since its Sept. 11, 2001, attack on NY and the Pentagon. However the group hasnt pulled off a significant transnational plot since July 2005, when it detonated four suicide bombs in Londons transit system. In 2020, a Saudi Air Force cadet influenced by Al Qaeda killed three American sailors in Florida, nonetheless it isnt clear if the organization directed the attack.

Al Qaeda still has grand aspirations, but its core is in fact very weak, Daniel L. Byman, a terrorism scholar at Georgetown University, explained the other day.

The business cant be counted out forever, he warned, and may have the ability to launch major attacks again someday. But theyre not at that stage yet.

For broader harm to U.S. credibility, reports of our demise may actually have already been exaggerated.

Amid the chaos in Kabul this past year, Biden defended his withdrawal from Afghanistan in an effort to extricate america from the war it had always been losing and focus on bigger problems: China and Russia.

My father used with an expression: If everything is equally vital that you you, there is nothing vital that you you, the president said then. We have to be concentrating on where in fact the threat is the foremost.

To Bidens credit, he followed through, building international coalitions to counter Chinas growing power (the oddly named AUKUS military alliance with Britain and Australia and the ostensibly nonmilitary Quad with Japan, India and Australia), therefore expansively assuring Taiwan that america would arrived at its aid that STATE DEPT. officials tried to tone down his remarks.

He also worked to make sure NATO allies that the withdrawal from Afghanistan, where a lot more than 50 other countries also sent troops, wouldn’t normally weaken the U.S. commitment to Europe.

Those relationships were tested within months, when Russias Vladimir Putin threatened to invade Ukraine. Biden and his aides took a respected role in organizing an allied response, including warnings that Western countries would impose joint economic sanctions on Russia if Putin launched an invasion.

To Putins apparent surprise, the NATO allies were serious.

A lot more surprisingly, the outbreak of war in Eastern Europe prompted Sweden and Finland to abandon their long-held status as neutral countries and apply hurriedly for membership in the U.S.-led alliance.

If Bidens decision to withdraw from Afghanistan broke NATO, the business didnt stay broken for long.

None of these well-executed foreign policy decisions erases the failure of the long U.S. effort in Afghanistan or the short-term debacle of its final days. None spares Afghans from the results of the countrys economic collapse or protect the countrys women from repression.

Nor do they diminish the violence and instability developed by regional terrorism, including in Pakistan, Afghanistans nuclear-armed neighbor, where in fact the Taliban victory seems to have emboldened homegrown extremists.

But those effects, lamentable though they be, are local, not global.

For the reason that sense, nov Kabul in 2021 looks broadly like the fall of Saigon in 1975: a stinging defeat for america, but one whose consequences beyond the immediate region have already been surprisingly modest.

And per year later, Bidens decision to withdraw, however disastrous appeared at that time, looks more defensible.

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