BERLIN — Until Sunday, Europe believed Joe Biden was a foreign policy specialist.
Now, European officials are concerned that the American president’sAmerican president’s decision to allow Afghanistan to fall into the hands of the Taliban has unwittingly accelerated what his predecessor, Donald Trump, began: the degeneration of the Western alliance and everything it is supposed to stand for in the world.
Now, European officials are concerned that the American president’s decision to allow Afghanistan to fall into the hands of the Taliban has unwittingly accelerated what his predecessor, Donald Trump, began: the degeneration of the Western alliance and everything it is supposed to stand for in the world.
“I say this with a heavy heart and with horror over what is happening, but the early withdrawal was a serious and far-reaching miscalculation by the current administration,” said Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the German parliament’s foreign relations committee. “This does fundamental damage to the political and moral credibility of the West.”
Röttgen, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, isn’t a flamethrower. He’d known Biden for decades and was confident in his chances.
While Merkel has avoided outright criticism of Biden, she has made it obvious behind the scenes that she thought the quick withdrawal was a mistake.
“For those who believed in democracy and freedom, especially for women, these are bitter events,” she told a meeting with officials from her party late Monday.
The mood was similar in the United Kingdom, which, like Germany, had backed the US involvement in Afghanistan from the start. “Afghanistan is the most disastrous foreign policy failure since Suez. “We need to reconsider how we deal with allies, who matters, and how we defend our interests,” Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the UK parliament, tweeted.
Afghanistan is certain to be used as proof for why “strategic autonomy” is required at a time when several European leaders, particularly French President Emmanuel Macron, have been pressing for the bloc to follow a security policy less dependent on America.
“Naturally this has damaged American credibility, along with that of the intelligence services and of the military,” said Rüdiger Lentz, the former head of the Aspen Institute in Berlin.
“One can only hope that the damage to America’s foreign policy leadership can be quickly contained.”
While dissatisfaction with the direction of events in Afghanistan was felt across Europe, it was especially strong in Germany. The Afghan operation was not simply about coming to an ally’s help or “nation-building” for Germans; it was also about proving to the world and to Germany that it had transformed.
The campaign in Afghanistan was Germany’s first major deployment since World War II. In the fall of 2001, when then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder asked the German parliament to approve the mission in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, he ran into opposition from his own Social Democrats and decided to risk his political survival by tying the decision to a confidence vote. (Schröder would later complain to associates that U.S. President George W. Bush never appreciated the risk he had taken, which might help explain why the chancellor refused to join the U.S. war in Iraq a year later.)
Once the troops were in Afghanistan, then-Defense Minister Peter Struck urged Germans to stand behind the mission for the long-term with what has become one of the most memorable passages in a parliamentary speech in recent decades: “The security of the Federal Republic of Germany is also being defended in the Hindu Kush,” he said.
Over the years, Germany felt the effects of the Afghanistan mission in more ways than one. Though its troops were stationed in the relatively peaceful northern part of the country, nearly 60 German soldiers lost their lives there. The German army’s medal of valor, a rarely bestowed honor, has only ever been given to soldiers active in Afghanistan.
During that time, Germany also spent incalculable billions in Afghanistan and welcomed thousands of migrants.
Despite the fact that successive German governments remained committed to the Afghan mission, it was always divisive.
This tension was reflected in the 2014 film “Inbetween Worlds,” which told the story of a German soldier and his Afghan interpreter.
After surviving an attack, the soldier says to the teenage interpreter, “do we ever make a difference or is it just a fucking waste?”
Germany finally has a solution.