June 25, 2021

How the Afghanistan Withdrawal Costs the U.S. With China

By Richard Fontaine and Vance Serchuk

Announcing the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan two months ago, President Joe Biden invoked the need to focus on Washington’s No. 1 foreign-policy priority: China. Ending the war would, the president argued, permit America to redirect its energies toward new, more pressing challenges, foremost among them “extreme” competition with an assertive Beijing. As a rising authoritarian superpower threatens to eclipse the United States technologically, militarily, and economically, the thinking goes, we can hardly afford to be tied down in an endless war.

The idea that the U.S. needs to extricate itself from the greater Middle East to get serious about the Indo-Pacific has a natural appeal. It is also not new. The Obama administration similarly justified its withdrawal from Iraq as part of a pivot to Asia.

U.S. departure from Kabul could end up undermining, rather than strengthening, America’s strategic hand against China.

Yet as details of the Biden administration’s post-withdrawal strategy for Afghanistan emerge, its benefits for American competitiveness against Beijing look nebulous. In fact, the U.S. departure from Kabul could end up undermining, rather than strengthening, America’s strategic hand against China.

In practical terms, advocates of withdrawal offer three major ways that leaving Afghanistan could strengthen Washington in its intensifying rivalry with Beijing. It could liberate military resources currently tied down in Afghanistan, allowing them to be redeployed to the Indo-Pacific theater. It could free up the diplomatic and bureaucratic bandwidth of U.S. senior officials, permitting them to devote to China the time and attention otherwise consumed by the Afghan quagmire. And finally, it could save the U.S. government money, unlocking billions of dollars better devoted to fund initiatives that boost America’s standing in its competition with China.

Each of these arguments is intuitively compelling. None, however, holds up.

Read the full article from The Atlantic.

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