Biden’s foreign policy will be different except vis-à-vis Afghanistan
With Joe Biden likely to become the next US President, the question what concrete changes he will make in America’s foreign policy has assumed significance.
This is not an unusual question when it comes to the US President, the ‘most powerful man’ in the world. When Trump became President in 2016, some radical changes in US policy were introduced such as: opting out of the Iran nuke deal called JCPOA; killing the ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership; making real a ‘trade war’ with China; inaugurating the Palestinian ‘peace plan’ under which Middle East powers recognized Israel in lieu of the latter’s commitment not to indulge in further annexations.
Given the fact that Biden and Trump were poles apart on almost all major foreign policy issues, a Biden Administration will certainly be making some crucial changes. It will bury Trump’s ‘America First’ and re-engage with Europe. The Biden administration will be more pliable towards Iran than the Trump administration. And it will more closely coordinate with NATO/Europe vis-à-vis Russia as well.
However, a crucial area where the Biden administration will continue to follow the Trump administration is Afghanistan. Indeed, Biden has been a vocal supporter of US withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving a small residual force, consisting mostly of Special Forces and intelligence assets, only to tackle the ISIS and al-Qaeda.
The Taliban and the US forces, as a Washington Post report recently claimed, are jointly fighting the ISIS, particularly in the latter’s stronghold of Konar to keep more of the country from falling into the hands of the group at a time when the US forces are preparing to leave.
This is a significant way to execute in letter and spirit the Doha agreement. This agreement requires the Taliban to prevent terrorist groups from using its territory to plan international attacks. By coordinating with the US to tackle the ISIS, the Taliban are not only strengthening their credentials as a responsible force and as a reliable political actor, but also making it easy for the US to contemplate a full-scale military withdrawal.
Joe Biden, as the ‘Afghanistan Papers’ released last year showed, has always ardently advocated drawing down American troops and focusing instead on a counter-terrorism strategy that would abandon the kind of nation-building that the Bush and the Obama administration had been following for years.
“Biden was very skeptical of their promises and the idea that the Taliban could be defeated militarily”, the Afghanistan papers said.
The Obama administration had put Biden in-charge of the US exit strategy from Iraq as well. As such, with Biden being an ardent supporter of withdrawal and anti-terrorism operations only, the on-going Konar operations offer a strong glimpse of what lies ahead for the US in Afghanistan under the Biden administration.
The recent attacks on Kabul University re-affirm once again that the ISIS remains strong and has the capacity to carry out such coordinated attacks in the capital.
The Taliban, like the US, have every reason to strangulate the ISIS before it becomes too dangerous and starts attracting dissatisfied Taliban fighters and becoming a serious nuisance in the post-withdrawal era.
As such, in the post-Trump era, while joint operations would most likely continue, Biden is unlikely to change withdrawal plans. “The responsibility I have is to protect America`s national interest and not put our women and men in harm`s way ... that`s what I`d do as President,” he said in an interview with CBS.
With Joe Biden in the White House, a responsible withdrawal is most likely to be case, for he, unlike Trump, will be under no political pressure to fulfil a ‘promise.’ On top of it is the fact Biden will just be starting his term.
For the Afghan political elite, which is still struggling to find a common framework of negotiations with the Taliban, and a peace agreement is still far from possible, Biden’s presence in the White House will be an eye-opener, particularly for those in Kabul who have been hoping to convince the US to have a long-term military presence in Afghanistan.
Growing military ties between the Taliban and the US military and intelligence services, on the other hand, will further constrain Kabul’s options, leaving it with few bargaining chips.