Biden shakes up Boris Johnson and UK with his Afghanistan policy

LONDON – In Britain, the chaotic departure from Afghanistan drew comparisons not with helicopters leaving Saigon but with an earlier deb...


LONDON – In Britain, the chaotic departure from Afghanistan drew comparisons not with helicopters leaving Saigon but with an earlier debacle: the Suez Crisis of 1956, in which a humiliated Britain was forced to withdraw from Egypt, having failed to dislodge its nationalists. leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The problem is, Britain had very little say in the timing or tactics of the most recent withdrawal, even though it suffered the second highest death toll in the war in Afghanistan after the United States. This left British officials embarrassed and embittered towards President Biden. Some say he behaved more like his predecessor, Donald J. Trump, than an ally who promised a new era of American partnership.

“He didn’t just humiliate America’s Afghan allies,” said Rory Stewart, a former British minister with long experience in Afghanistan. “He humiliated his Western allies by demonstrating their helplessness.

Now Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has struggled to maintain a good relationship with Mr Biden, has to deal with the fallout from a crisis in which he is largely a bystander. – and which led to the Talibanlightning reconquest of the country.

Mr Johnson on Wednesday faced an angry parliament recalled from the summer recess to discuss his government’s plans to evacuate thousands of British nationals and provide sanctuary for Afghans who aided soldiers and diplomats British during their two decades of service there.

He announced that Britain would accept up to 5,000 refugees from Afghanistan, prioritizing women and girls at risk of persecution by the Taliban. The policy will allow a long-term target of 20,000 immigrants – a number opposition leaders have declared insufficient for the unfolding humanitarian threat there.

Mr Johnson has come under heavy criticism, even from members of his own Conservative Party, including his predecessor, Theresa May, for not having mitigated the upheavals following the American withdrawal. But he said it was an “illusion” to think that Britain could have prevented the collapse of the Afghan government.

“We have to manage this position as it is now,” Mr Johnson said. “Accept what we have achieved and what we have not achieved. “

The unrepentant tone of Mr Biden’s speech on Monday shook a lot in London, who noted that he ignored the contribution of Britain, which was the second-largest supplier of troops to the war and lost 454 soldiers there. (The United States killed five times as many, with ten times as many soldiers.) This raised wider doubts, some said, about the reliability of the United States as an ally.

“I hope ‘America First’ did not become ‘America Alone’,” said Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative MP who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee. He said the experience should prompt Britain to rethink the terms of its relationship with the United States in future security operations.

“The lesson for the UK is that interdependence must not become over-dependent,” said Tugendhat, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We are better partners for others if we have options and can help shape decisions. “

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and some British generals had sharply criticized US policy, dating back to Mr Trump’s awareness of the Taliban and his initial announcement of a US withdrawal in February 2020.

Mr Wallace said Britain had probed other NATO members about the possibility of organizing a stabilization force in Afghanistan after the United States left. This idea went nowhere, and even if it did, security experts said a NATO force without US participation would never have been sufficient to contain the Taliban insurgency, given the massive air power required.

Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan stressed that all NATO members had been consulted and had “subscribed” to the US timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“I am a soldier,” said Mr Wallace, who served as a captain in the British Army, in a moving radio interview Monday, in which he seemed on the verge of tears at the prospect that some British allies could not come out. . of Kabul, the Afghan capital. “It’s sad that the West did what it did.”

But there are few signs that Mr Wallace’s boss Mr Johnson shares his commitment to the Afghan project. In recent remarks, he echoed Mr Biden’s sense of futility, saying, “We have known for a long time that this is how it would be.” Last summer, he called Afghanistan “chronicle of a foretold event”.

Mr Johnson has avoided direct criticism of Mr Biden. A senior Downing Street official said on Tuesday that the United States remained a vital British ally, despite difficult circumstances in Afghanistan.

The two spoke by phone on Tuesday – the first contact Mr Biden has had with a foreign leader since the crisis began – and Mr Johnson “stressed the importance of not losing the gains made in Afghanistan to over the past twenty years, “according to Downing Street.

Mr Johnson has good reason to avoid a split with Mr Biden. The prime minister lobbied the president on issues such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change. He needs the United States to play a major role at the United Nations climate change conference, which he is hosting in Glasgow in November.

As with Mr Biden in the United States, it is not clear that there is a political cost for Mr Johnson to abandon Afghanistan – unless, of course, it becomes a breeding ground for future ones. terrorist attacks in the West.

Britain withdrew its last combat troops in 2014 and has retained only a residual security presence there since. As a problem, Afghanistan had vanished from the headlines in both Britain and the United States.

“Boris Johnson and Joe Biden will calculate that this is a two week wonder and that only a handful of veterans and Afghan hands will care,” said Mr. Stewart, who established a foundation. in Afghanistan which has restored buildings, established a clinic and operates a traditional handicrafts center.

Britain, historians point out, abandoned Afghanistan before, after the ill-fated wars of the 19th century, a period of colonial adventurism known as the “Great Game”. In 1963, outgoing Prime Minister Harold Macmillan declared that the first rule of politics should be “never to invade Afghanistan”.

This episode, however, dramatizes Britain’s waning influence on the world stage.

At a recent Group of 7 summit meeting in Cornwall, Mr Johnson launched a new post-Brexit foreign policy which he promoted as ‘Global Britain’. But Mr Biden’s lack of consultation with Britain on Afghanistan, following Mr Trump’s unilateralism, suggests his main ally is not taking all this seriously.

“The United States has quite different interests and an unreliable political system, at least when it comes to foreign policy,” said Jeremy Shapiro, research director for the European Council on Foreign Relations. “When there is a massive tragedy or a crisis, that’s when these things become public.”

After a honeymoon following his defeat of the unpopular Mr. Trump, the chaotic images in Kabul earned Mr Biden his first tangle of negative headlines in the UK tabloids. “Joke Biden,” said The Sun, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. “Biden: It’s the Afghans’ fault,” the right-wing Daily Mail said.

Kim Darroch, who served as the UK’s ambassador to Washington when Mr Trump was president, said the British shouldn’t read Mr Biden’s policy on Afghanistan too much because it probably wouldn’t be about other issues, like climate change, where it’s likely to be more collaborative.

“Biden basically implemented Trump’s policies,” Mr. Darroch said. “But that’s about the only area he’s done that. In all other areas, he tore politics apart.

Yet other former diplomats have said America’s autonomous approach to Afghanistan is part of a larger and disturbing trend.

“Four years of Trump had already started, even the British were wondering if it was time to start reducing levels of dependence on the United States for foreign and security policy,” said Peter Westmacott, another former ambassador to Washington.

“New indications this week that America really does not view foreign policy as an extension of domestic policy means people are asking these tough questions again,” he said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden shakes up Boris Johnson and UK with his Afghanistan policy
Biden shakes up Boris Johnson and UK with his Afghanistan policy
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