WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden this past week found himself in search of a foreign policy sweet spot: somewhere between pulling a screeching U-turn on four years of Trumpism and cautiously approaching the world as it is.
In recent days, Biden has piled new sanctions on Russia, announced he would withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan in less than five months and backed away from a campaign promise to sharply raise refugee admission caps.
“You know, we’ll be much more formidable to our adversaries and competitors over the long term if we fight the battles for the next 20 years, not the last 20,” Biden said in an explanation of his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan that also summed up his topline foreign policy hopes.
Yet, as this past week has shown, Biden is finding that when it comes to the painstaking process of statecraft, the drag of pragmatism can slow the sprint toward big-picture aspirations.
First there was Biden’s announcement that he would end the “forever war” in Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the US that triggered America’s longest conflict.
Biden, long a skeptic of the US strategy in Afghanistan, is setting out to do what his last three predecessors vowed to accomplish but were never able to deliver.
Biden campaigned on the promise to end the war – and former President Donald Trump set a May 1 deadline to do just that. In the end, though, Biden said he’ll get Americans out, but he won’t beat a “hasty” retreat under his predecessor’s timeline. Instead, he called for a monthslong exit ramp even as Republicans – and a few Democrats – criticized the withdrawal as ill-advised.
Lisa Curtis, who served as National Security Council senior director for South and Central Asia in the Trump administration, said lost in Biden’s desire to end the war this year is that the US had effectively right-sized the American presence with roughly 2,500 troops. It’s not cheap, she noted, but it’s a relatively modest cost to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a terrorist safe haven.
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