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US Shifting Its Focus From Afghanistan to China & Russia, But Likely to Fail Again, Observers Say

© REUTERS / TOM BRENNERU.S. President Joe Biden salutes members of the U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard before boarding Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, U.S., August 29, 2021
U.S. President Joe Biden salutes members of the U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard before boarding Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, U.S., August 29, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.09.2021
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On 31 August, Joe Biden addressed the nation on the Afghanistan pull-out, calling the mission to evacuate Americans and their allies an "extraordinary success". Washington is in denial of its failure and might behave even more erratically in the future, international observers say, adding that China and Russia will now come in Biden's crosshairs.
On Tuesday, President Biden highlighted that Washington's expectations that the 300,000-strong Afghan national security forces would resist the Taliban advance or that the Ashraf Ghani Cabinet would be able to hold on for a while after the pull-out "turned out not to be accurate". According to Biden, the only choice in Afghanistan was "between leaving and escalating": "I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit", he emphasised.
Biden's attempts to defend the chaotic withdrawal prompted a lively debate in the media which was amplified by the alleged leak of a July 2021 Biden-Ghani phone talk obtained by Reuters. According to the media outlet, the US president told the Afghan president that despite the fight against the Taliban not going well, "there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture". The White House declined to comment on the call, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, 52% of likely US voters said that Biden should resign because of the way the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was handled, according to Rasmussen Reports.

Afghanistan Lesson Wasn't Learnt

"US politics are so dysfunctional at this point that the Biden administration is incapable of coming clean about why the US mission in Afghanistan was such a miserable failure", says Daniel Lazare, an independent journalist, author, and writer.
According to the author, the president is in denial of how the US Afghanistan invasion morphed into "a counter-insurgency, nation building, and trying to create a democratic, cohesive and united Afghanistan". Still, it was he, Senator Joe Biden, who advocated for the war while being a chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2001 and then vehemently promoted the importance of nation-building in Afghanistan, according to Lazare. "But now Biden conveniently forgets his own role in the debacle", the journalist remarks.
​Meanwhile, Biden's words that Washington is "ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries" suggest that US foreign policy has entered a new age, notes Rubrick Biegon, a lecturer in international relations at the University of Kent. But has it really? The scholar doubts that "the withdrawal from Afghanistan will mark a definitive end to US interventions overseas".
"Although perceptions of US national security interests may be shifting, many in Washington still view the US as having global interests requiring a robust, ‘internationalist’ approach to foreign policy", Biegon says. "Biden hinted at this in his speech when he mentioned the ‘metastasising’ threat of terrorism around the world".
​While the US may avoid large-scale and protracted military operations in the future, it might still support "counterinsurgency or so-called ‘nation-building’ interventions, which entail active US participation in violent conflicts", according to him. The crux of the matter is that the US military-industrial complex benefits from conflicts, the lecturer notes: "the basic premise that US foreign policy is influenced by political-economic factors is an important one".

Washington's New Focus: China and Russia

Biden also mentioned the growing competition from China, which was provided as part of the rationale for the Afghanistan withdrawal, according to Biegon.
The observers believe that the US pull-out from the Central Asian state is caused by the Pentagon's shift to great power competition and attempt to redeploy US forces against China and Russia, called in the DoD's recent documents as "destabilising" and "increasingly assertive" "strategic challenges".
"With the attention of the US shifting away from the Middle East, there is more scope for China to expand its influence, and indeed for Russia", notes Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh, convener of the Middle East Studies Forum at Deakin University, Australia.
However, the US' new strategic vision has its obvious flaws, according to the academic: while Washington is seeking to reorient its focus to China and the Indo-Pacific, it is at the same time "opening up the field" in the Middle East and Central Asia for Beijing to move in and fill the vacuum. For its part, the People's Republic is eager to jump at the opportunity to expand its Belt and Road Initiative in the respective regions, he notes.
​Lazare appears to share Akbarzadeh's scepticism: just as withdrawing from Afghanistan proved to be more difficult than Biden expected, the strategic redeployment in order to target China and Russia will prove even more difficult, the journalist presumes.
When it comes to Indo-Pacific and the South China Sea "the PRC would enjoy a huge advantage since any military conflict would be in its own backyard whereas US forces would have to travel from some 5,000 miles away", Lazare believes.
Ukraine could become yet another focus of the Biden administration's great power game, according to the journalist. However, the Ukrainian leadership is as "profoundly corrupt" as that of Afghanistan, while "Zelensky is as unreliable as Ghani", he notes.
While the Biden administration is still busy with tackling the consequences of the botched drawdown, Lazare expects that it will "behave more erratically from here on out rather than less": "More disasters are on the way", the author forecasts.
*The Taliban is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other states.
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