Editor's Note: Below is a complimentary research note written by National Security analyst LTG Dan Christman. To access our Macro Policy research please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Twain allegedly quipped about music by Wagner that it “was better than it sounds.”
With two weeks now separating the anguish the final days of the U.S. Afghanistan withdrawal, it’s possible to step back and assess at least preliminarily what the pullout actually means for U.S. foreign policy.
In brief, despite written breast-beating from dozens of foreign policy specialists and veterans, and setting aside the humanitarian and moral-ethical implications, which have been horrific, the actual foreign policy fallout, at least so far, has been surprisingly modest; it's arguably “better than it looks!”
Key bilateral meetings continued over the last weeks despite the trauma of Afghanistan - most prominently with the new Israeli PM Naftali Bennett and with Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky.
For Biden the outcomes were positive, with atmospherics and substance largely independent of the Afghan anguish.
What were the key narratives from each meeting? First, for Zelensky:
And for the Israeli PM, the narrative with Biden was even more divorced from the tragedy of the Afghanistan withdrawal:
The point: these were two productive bilateral meetings of strategic importance where outcomes were largely independent of the Afghan withdrawal debacle.
But two other critical relationships HAVE been impacted: U.S.-German relations, and of course, U.S.-China. Both bear close watching in the weeks and months ahead as the Afghanistan reality sinks in.
Turning first to Berlin:
And on China, Biden has probably indirectly helped XI Jingping in his “re-election ” bid next fall with the Chinese Politburo. President Xi’s re-anointment as president is all but assured; but the perception of U.S. abandonment of Afghanistan plays perfectly into Xi’s narrative of a U.S. in long-term decline.
And that same perception, which Chinese media organs are amplifying, offsets at least some of Xi’s mistakes globally with his hyper-aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy.
The key for Biden now, and for years into the future, will be Taiwan and the credibility of U.S. deterrence in keeping the PRC at bay in the East China Sea.
Arguments about Afghanistan signaling a retreat by Biden from Europe and NATO ring hollow; but they ring with greater resonance in Taiwan. Bolstering the credibility of U.S. deterrence there has emerged as one of Biden’s most urgent post-Afghanistan tasks.
BOTTOM LINE: the execution of Biden’s Afghanistan pull-out was an embarrassment, raising serious issues of the basic competence of national security leaders and the efficacy of the national security council system itself.
But as I have written previously, the real worry long-term is the increased vulnerability of the U.S. and our western European allies to reconstituted terror networks in Afghanistan as a result of the president’s decision to withdraw entirely.
There certainly have been foreign policy downsides, and the Germany and China examples are the best illustrations. But the column-inches devoted to analyzing the larger foreign policy implications are overdrawn and overly pessimistic.
The key moments for Biden lie ahead — with China over Taiwan, Russia over Ukraine, Iran over nuclear weapons, and now with new leaders arriving shortly in Berlin and Tokyo.
How Biden and his team handle these challenges will be far more consequential strategically than any near-term fallout from the Afghanistan withdrawal.
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ABOUT LIEUTENANT GENERAL DAN CHRISTMAN
LTG Dan Christman, USA, Ret. serves as Hedgeye Potomac Research’s Senior National Security Analyst, providing deep insight into international affairs and national security. Most recently, Dan provided strategic leadership on international issues affecting the business community for organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce. Dan’s long history of leadership includes his service as a United States Army lieutenant general and former Superintendent of the United States Military Academy. He served in highly visible and strategically important positions and four times was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the nation's highest peacetime service award.
He also served for two years as assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during which time he traveled with and advised Secretary of State Warren Christopher. He was centrally involved during this period with negotiations between Israel and Syria as a member of the Secretary's Middle East Peace Team. Further, Christman represented the United States as a member of NATO's Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium.
Graduating first in his class from West Point, Christman also received MPA and MSE degrees in public affairs and civil engineering from Princeton University and graduated with honors from The George Washington University Law School. He is a decorated combat veteran of Southeast Asia, where he commanded a company in the 101st Airborne Division in 1969.