Afghanistan will be a stain on the Biden presidency. His decision to continue with a US withdrawal from the country – he wants America out by the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – reflects both the war-weariness of Washington and how Afghanistan and the ‘war on terror’ have dropped down the country's list of strategic priorities.
The consequences of the US withdrawal are all too apparent, with the Taliban now in control of two thirds of Aghanistan. American intelligence is worried that Kabul might fall within a month. In an awful historical irony, the Taliban could once more be in control of the Afghan capital by 11 September. The New York Times reports that the US has already started negotiating with the Taliban to try and protect its embassy if the capital were to fall.
Despite all this, Biden is not going to change tack. America is now far more concerned with China than rogue states. Biden is sticking by his sink or swim view that the Afghans have ‘got to fight for themselves.’ He has long held a deeply pessimistic view about what could be done in the country, dating back to a visit there at the beginning of the US involvement there. He is also skeptical about the extent of America's role and responsibilities there.
When Biden was vice-president he told Richard Holbrooke – the veteran diplomat who served as the Afghanistan/Pakistan coordinator for the Obama administration – that ’I am not sending my boy back there to risk his life on behalf of women’s rights.’ When running for president, he was clear that he thought he would bear ‘zero responsibility’ for what the Taliban did if it returned to power post a US withdrawal.
Biden may well feel that he has ‘zero responsibility’ for what the Taliban do if they regain power. But the danger is that the situation there will make others doubt America's reliability as an ally.