By M. A. Saki

U.S. cannot work with its foes, says professor

July 16, 2021 - 11:5
“Diplomacy requires compromise and many Americans don't want to compromise”

TEHRAN – An American academic says that the U.S. can’t work with its foes because it could leave her in a weaker position. 

“Some people think we shouldn't legitimize ‘pariah states’ (those who don't follow the Western order); we can't trust our foes; working with our foes could leave us in a weaker position,” Brian Warby, the associate professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa, tells the Tehran Times.

The U.S. military has withdrawn more than 90% of its troops and armaments from Afghanistan. At the same time, Taliban is advancing in various districts in the war-ravaged country. The move has raised questions about the future of Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan announced on July 14 that they had taken control of one of the main border crossings with Pakistan, perhaps the most strategic objective they have captured so far in a rapid advance across the country.

According to Reuters, a Pakistani official said fighters had taken down the Afghan government flag from atop the Friendship Gate at the border crossing between the Pakistani town of Chaman and the Afghan town of Wesh.

Many in Afghanistan and other countries in the region are of the opinion that U.S. unilateral policies ended in such a situation. However, some claim that partnership with Afghanistan’s neighbor and regional powers, including Russia and China, could have saved the country to degenerate into anarchy.

But it is not easy for the Americans to work with their rivals.

“Diplomacy is slow and we need quick action; diplomacy requires compromise and many Americans don't want to compromise with the ‘axis of evil’ (a term used by George W. Bush to describe Iran, N. Korea and Venezuela, but represents some Americans' feelings about Russia and China as well),” Warby notes.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you read U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?

A: This is a really broad question, so I'll give you my take on it. The U.S. has had a presence in Afghanistan for a long time. There has been talking about wanting to "get out" of Afghanistan for a long time. Even though the U.S. was mostly out of Afghanistan already, especially compared to the "surge" under Obama where we had more than a hundred thousand soldiers on the ground. 

The U.S. has also seen very few casualties over the last several years. The U.S. continued to spend quite a bit of money though. I think that Americans' feeling about our presence in Afghanistan and the general desire to leave is based more on an imagined or fabricated war exhaustion than on the actual demand on U.S. resources. Of course, as my psychologist friends like to say, perception is reality. In other words, Americans are tired of our military presence in Afghanistan, especially because it doesn't seem like things have improved much over the last 8-9 years. Also, the idea that we have been "fighting" (we haven't actually done all that much fighting for the last few years) this war for 20 years is disturbing to a lot of Americans.

Q: Do you predict China and Russia to fill the power vacuum in Afghanistan after U.S. withdrawal?

A: China and Russia have the capacity to fill the power vacuum, but I don't think they will. I don't think Russia has very much interest in Afghanistan, and after the 1980s Soviet-Afghan war, I don't think Russians would have much of a taste for another long-term involvement. China has some interest, but administering Afghanistan (i.e., filling the power vacuum) requires a lot of resources, especially since the Taliban is on the rise. I think it is likely, however, that China will make deals with Afghanistan for resource extraction and infrastructure construction. I think China will have few qualms about working with the Taliban. 

Q: What are the implications of the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan for Washington’s allies in the Arab world?

A: I imagine that U.S. allies in the Arab world are a bit uncomfortable with the U.S. withdrawal, but I think they also realize that the Arab world is more strategically valuable to the U.S. than Afghanistan. 

Q: American media outlets are promoting the idea to pull out of West Asia and instead focus on China? Why has China been so important for the U.S.?

A: China is the U.S.'s closest peer in terms of economic power and military power. The relationship has been somewhat tense, with the trade war, South China Sea disputes, intellectual property protections (or lack thereof), etc. Personally, I don't think that China represents a great threat to Americans' safety or even our wellbeing, but China will almost certainly continue to chip away at American hegemony. Many Americans, including many politicians, perceive that as a threat.

Q: The U.S. mostly tries to solve crises through unilateral steps or in the best-case scenario with the support of its Western allies. Why doesn't the U.S. try to work with its foes including Iran, Russia and China in critical regions like Afghanistan?

A: That's a good question but I'm not sure I can give you a good answer. I think there are many different reasons that different people use to justify unilateral or Western-centric interventions. I don't think there is actually much discussion about why we don't work with our foes on most things, it's just generally accepted that we don't. Some people think we shouldn't legitimize "pariah states" (those who don't follow the Western order); we can't trust our foes; working with our foes could leave us in a weaker position; diplomacy is slow and we need quick action; diplomacy requires compromise and many Americans don't want to compromise with the "axis of evil" (a term used by George W. Bush to describe Iran, N. Korea and Venezuela, but represents some Americans' feelings about Russia and China as well). There are likely other half-formed reasons that people hold in their minds, but most of these ideas seem to be half-formed and rarely discussed openly.
 

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