Trump takes advantage of the situation to criticize the current president.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
The US defeat in Afghanistan is already having an effect on the American domestic scenario. Taking advantage of the collective dissatisfaction generated by the tragic way in which Washington ended its presence in Kabul, former President Donald Trump has severely criticized the Biden administration, saying that this week’s events will ”go down as one of the greatest defeats in American history”. Indeed, it is possible that a wave of rejection of Biden will grow from now on in American society, in parallel with an increase in the political strength of the Republicans.
During his four years in power, Donald Trump was characterized by an isolationist stance, prioritizing strategic nationalism over an attempt at world domination. His posture was harshly criticized by Biden, who came to power with the promise of regaining American hegemonic status. But the situation was completely reversed and the Democrat, facing the practically irreparable reality of the American decline, accelerated the process of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, ending the longest war in American history. Now, it is Trump who criticizes the decision and calls it a shameful defeat, with a speech very similar to the one used against him by the Democrats some months ago.
In a post on his social media account, Trump said that “it’s time for Joe Biden to resign in disgrace for allowing what happened in Afghanistan”. Not only the former president, but also former secretary of state Mike Pompeo spoke on the case: “If I were still the Secretary of State with a Commander in Chief like President Trump, the Taliban would have understood that there Qasem Soleimani learned that lesson, and the Taliban would have learned it as well”.
It must be remembered that it was not Biden but Trump himself who initiated the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Republican was the one who took the initiative to sign a peace agreement with the Taliban and start the process of ending the war, after long negotiations in Doha – in which the Afghan government was ignored. However, this is not the central point of Trump and Pompeo’s criticisms. Apparently, for the Trump team, Biden would have been “right” to organize the withdrawal of troops – their mistake would have been to do it as it happened, culminating in an American defeat.
In fact, the words of Trump and Pompeo do not match reality: the very negotiation with the Taliban was the American defeat. Like many other countries, the US considers the Taliban to be a terrorist organization, which means that it is a group that cannot be negotiated with, there should only be coercion and the constant search for total extinction. That posture has not officially changed, but Washington has made an effort to negotiate with the group and sign a peace agreement. The objective of the 20 years of American occupation of Afghanistan was precisely to eliminate the Taliban, which not only was impossible, but Washington also had to negotiate with the terrorists its own withdrawal. This act itself had already been the American defeat – the takeover of Kabul was only a consequence of this.
In this sense, the words of Trump and Pompeo seem vain, but we must consider the effects that such a situation can have on American society. The American people is not a people accustomed to international humiliations like the ones being witnessed this week. Certainly, the departure of troops is the right thing to do (considering that Washington spent billions of dollars in 20 years of war, without having achieved its objective).
However it is unlikely that the people understand the episode in Kabul from a strategic point of view. It is possible that the defeat in Afghanistan will start a crisis of acceptability against Biden, who will come to be seen as responsible for a historic defeat. Although this defeat started with Trump, it was with Biden that it definitely came to light – and in the worst possible way. So, Trump is acting strategically as a political opponent and using this episode as a tool to incite popular discontent against Biden.
The unrest is unlikely to end anytime soon, and protests are likely to break out in the US in the coming months. The American people wanted the troops to leave, as this war did not bring any benefit to the country, but they did not want to see their compatriots fleeing Kabul amid the Taliban’s takeover of the city. Republicans will insist on a provocation strategy from now on, claiming they could avoid it, but that’s not true.
With Trump or Biden, Washington has failed in its goal of liquidating the Taliban and making Afghanistan a democracy. And once again, the impossibility of a unipolar world project became clear to the entire international society. Trump is likely to change his usual speech and start promising to regain global hegemonic status (as Biden had promised in the elections), but, in fact, he and all American politicians know that this has become virtually impossible.
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