Afghanistan chaos tests Democrats’ opposition to military intervention
Since World War II, some of the most ardent advocates of the use of American power abroad have been Democratic presidents.
From Harry Truman to Bill Clinton, so-called liberal internationalists have sent American forces to Korea, Vietnam and the Balkans with orders to protect democracy and human rights against the threat of communism and nationalism. .
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan changed that. Barack Obama and Joe Biden were both elected with the promise to end the “eternal wars” that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks. It was a wish that prompted Biden to make the fateful decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan.
But the chaos that followed calls into question the anti-interventionist stance of progressives who are increasingly influential in the Democratic Party, according to insiders and analysts.
“A lot [of Democrats] see the usefulness of the use of force, depending on the situation, ”said a former senior official in the Obama administration.
Tom Malinowski, a Democratic congressman who describes himself as a liberal internationalist who has “a greater level of comfort with the exercise of power” than some party members, said the debate among Democrats over interventionist missions does was not resolved.
He said the consequences of the withdrawal from Afghanistan should “lead us to question what has become an almost reflexive argument on the left, namely that every US military engagement in the world does no good.”
“Sometimes America has done more harm than good, but we are still the only force in the world that those in great danger turn to in their times of need. And this is something that progressive Americans need to understand.
Richard Fontaine, chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, a bipartisan think tank that supports a strong national security posture, said what happens next in Afghanistan will have a big impact on the debate over military interventions.
“Now that the participation of the United States in [Afghanistan] ends on such a negative note, there may well be a questioning of the balance between US action and non-intervention, ”he said. “If Afghanistan becomes a sanctuary for global terrorists. . . so I think the most likely outcome is that we go back there, like we did with Iraq.
In 2014, three years after the US withdrawal from Iraq, Obama dismissed the Islamist group Isis as a “junior college team” that posed a minimal threat, only to face what Fontaine described as the greatest sanctuary. terrorist of history. Obama sacked troops within months.
Until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed September 11, there was strong bipartisan support for military interventions in the Gulf, Panama and the Balkans. It was based on the belief that the US military was an effective instrument of national policy. At the time, regret among liberals was based on the lack of intervention, as during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
Today, the Democratic hawks who favor the employment of the military to support US strategic interests are clashing with a new generation of left progressives led by Bernie Sanders. These Democrats support human rights but oppose “forces of militarism”.
Both sides of the party criticized Biden’s botched handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. There was now “a huge debate” among Democrats over the militarization of US foreign policy, said Ro Khanna, a prominent progressive congressman who supported the withdrawal but described the withdrawal as marred by “hubris.”
The United States still has more than 150,000 troops deployed overseas, including 2,500 in Iraq, 900 in Syria and tens of thousands at Allied bases elsewhere in the Middle East, Japan, South Korea, Germany and beyond. Washington’s defense budget is larger than that of the next 10 countries combined. Still, Biden filed for a defense budget of $ 715 billion, an increase of $ 11 billion from last year.
“That’s more than what Ronald Reagan offered in inflation-adjusted dollars at the height of the Cold War,” Khanna said. Despite Democrats’ continued support in some quarters for a strong military engagement abroad, Khanna believes that “endless wars have likely seen the end of their days in the Democratic Party for the foreseeable future.”
Biden ended US support for the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen war as his first foreign policy move. Its Secretary of State Antony Blinken – once a proponent of the use of force in Syria – publicly disavowed the policies of regime change and “costly military interventions” in the pursuit of democracy promotion weeks after taking office .
Progressives have more and more public opinion on their side. Most Americans supported Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, while fewer Democrats support the idea of American exceptionalism. Yet since the fall of Kabul, approval ratings for the president have dropped to their lowest level.
Heather Hurlburt, former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and currently a member of the New America think tank, said Americans tend not to vote on national security issues, but vote based on “perceptions of strength and leadership ”.
Biden is seen as a moderate traditional realist who straddles extremes in his party, whom observers compare to a large tent so bloated it stretches to the seams in domestic and foreign policy.
Tom Wright, foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution, said the US experience in Afghanistan could “strengthen the resolve” of the Biden administration to demonstrate its commitment to US allies and stay focused on the threat Chinese.
Bill Kristol, a self-proclaimed neoconservative who sees an overlap between his stance and liberal internationalists in the Democratic Party, argued that Biden should now “compensate” his party’s hawks for the Afghan withdrawal, adding that he expected this to happen. that the policy vis-à-vis Russia and China harden.
“It will be very interesting to watch in Congress everything from the defense budget to other international commitments,” he said.
“You can imagine a scenario where. . . he [Biden] wants to make sure the Chinese don’t think this is a green light for [invading] Taiwan and the Russians don’t think this is some kind of green light for Ukraine or Donbass.
The administration is already pushing back against claims by Chinese state media that the U.S. mistreatment of Afghanistan indicated that Washington would also abandon Taiwan if ever it came under attack.
Biden told ABC on Wednesday, “We have made a sacred commitment. . . that if someone were to invade or take action against our NATO allies, we would respond. Ditto with Japan, ditto with South Korea, ditto with Taiwan.
The prospects for military interventions in support of democratic ideals Biden has said he wants at the heart of his foreign policy remain dim, however.
The administration has approached the human rights crises in Belarus, Ethiopia and Myanmar with censorship and sanctions, deflecting activists’ calls to forcefully remove oppressive leaders.
Trita Parsi, co-founder of a new think tank that opposes militarism in U.S. foreign policy, said Biden’s stance on Afghanistan would make it difficult for any Democrat to come up with new interventions.
“You cannot protect human rights with the barrel of a gun,” he said. “Do we need another decade in Afghanistan to see things clearly? “
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Additional reporting by Lauren Fedor in Washington