‘It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries’, Biden says as the president attempts to outline his foreign policy approach
Midway through President Joe Biden’s speech announcing the end of the US military mission in Afghanistan, he appeared to outline a unitary “Biden doctrine” for US foreign policy as America ends its longest war.
“First, we must set missions with clear, achievable goals, not ones we’ll never reach,” he said. “We must stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interests of the United States of America.”
Throughout Mr Biden’s speech, wherein he outlined the failures of the Afghan government before it fell to the Taliban and the shortcomings of his predecessor Donald Trump, the president continuously emphasised why longterm military commitments like the one in Afghanistan were not in America’s best interests.
“This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan,” Mr Biden said. “It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries. We saw a mission of counter-terrorism in Afghanistan, getting the terrorists and stopping attacks morph into a counter-insurgency, nation-building, trying to create, cohesive and united Afghanistan, something that has never been done over many centuries of Afghans’ history.”
The move was clearly a swipe toward many of the people who had decried Mr Biden’s decision, such as former Gen David Petraeus, one of the biggest proponents of counterinsurgency who has become one of Mr Biden’s most vocal critics on the Afghanistan exit.
“This is the end of an era of trying to remake other nations. Moving on from that mindset will make us stronger and more effective and safer at home,” Mr Biden said. But the president added that he would not shy away from confronting terrorist threats to the United States, echoing his words from last week after 13 service members were killed in a Kabul suicide bombing.
“To those who wish America harm, to those who engage in terrorism against us or our allies, know this,” he said. “The United States will never rest. We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down to the ends of the earth and you will pay the ultimate price.”
Similarly, Mr Biden did not say the United States was retreating from the threat of terrorism, noting that the country is engaged in “serious competition” with China and multiple challenges with Russia.
At the same time, it is not clear that most Americans have an issue with those particular aspects of Mr Biden’s approach to Afghanistan. A new survey from the Pew Research Center released on Tuesday found that 54 percent of US adults think that the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan was the right one and 69 percent said the United States had mostly failed to achieve its goals in Afghanistan, showing fatigue among the American public for the nation-building projects like the one he described in Afghanistan.
But the issue seems to be more in the way the United States exited. Only 29 per cent of US adults said Mr Biden had done either an excellent or good job but 42 per cent said he had done a poor job. Only 43 per cent of Democrats thought Mr Biden had done an excellent or good job leaving Afghanistan and only seven percent of Independents and Republicans said the same.
Mr Biden also said his administration would continue to speak out on human rights for women and girls “as we speak out for women and girls all around the globe”, he said.
“I’ve been clear that human rights will be the center of our foreign policy,” he said. “But the way to do that is not through endless military deployments but through diplomacy, economic tools and rallying the rest of the world for support.”
The president, as is often the case, invoked his late son Beau, who served in Iraq before dying of brain cancer, when discussing the costs beyond just battlefield casualties. He noted the costs of traumatic brain injury and other types of injuries, adding that an average of 18 veterans die from suicide per day.
“There’s nothing low-grade or low-cost or low-risk about any war,” he said.