Unreliable partner

September 5, 2021 - 21:19

TEHRAN – The U.S.'s chaotic and messy withdrawal from Afghanistan and its mishandling of Iran’s nuclear dossier have sent shockwaves through the world. U.S. reliability and credibility have been questioned by friends and foes alike. 

When the United States led a military campaign comprised of mainly Western nations against the Taliban in 2001, the war was conceived mainly as a collective action under the “leadership” of the U.S. The Europeans sleepwalked into a destructive war that was bound to end disastrously based on miscalculations that war per se can change the course of Afghanistan’s history. 

Ironically, these kinds of miscalculations were largely a product of the U.S. intelligence community that failed to understand the dynamics of a society known for its long history of being the graveyard of empires.

Throughout the Afghan war, the Europeans refused to grasp what was in the making all along: The U.S. does away with its allies as easily as flinging a crumpled newspaper into the fire.  

Having felt a sense of “we’re all in this together,” the Europeans continued to toe the American line in Afghanistan only to discover in broad daylight that the U.S. has left them facing the geopolitical implications of its disorderly withdrawal from the Afghan quagmire. 

The European Union foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, should be credited with this discovery. In an interview with the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera, Borrell called on the European Union to learn a lesson from the crisis in Afghanistan and boost its own military capacity and strategic autonomy.

Underlining that the recent developments in Afghanistan are a “catastrophe,” the EU foreign policy chief said, “It's a failure of the Western world and it's a game-changer for international relations.”

He admitted that there was “a certain disengagement of the U.S. in the world arena” that shed light on the necessity to strengthen the EU's own capacity to act in times of crisis.

But this assessment was a long time coming, at least since 2018 when the U.S., in an early snub to the idea of “we’re all in this together,” withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), despite repeated calls by the Europeans not to do so.
 
During the Trump years in office, the Europeans thought they could get the U.S. back into compliance with the JCPOA if they waited out Trump in favor of a Democrat president. Actually, they waited out Trump and hoped that Biden would open a new chapter in transatlantic relations.
 
Biden, however, fooled the Europeans at every turn, with the recently disclosed secret team on the JCPOA being the latest example of how Biden keeps sidestepping the Europeans in making decisions that are supposed to be collective.

The Tehran Times reported on Saturday that the U.S. special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, has been in touch with a vague, secret team of former Trump officials and Iran experts at conservative think tanks. The hush-hush team, known among its members as “Group on Iran Policy,” includes Trump Iran envoy Eliot Abrams, former diplomat and Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Deniss Ross, and managing director at the Washington Institute Michael Singh, the Tehran Times said.

According to documents seen by the Tehran Times, the group’s existence and meetings as well as discussions were meant to be secret and off the record, even though many other Iran hawks such as Ray Takeyh, Hasib J. Sabbagh, senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, were already in the know about the formation of the group.

This group showed that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was not advertently improvisational. The U.S.’s ignorance of the interests of its European allies has become a pattern in American foreign policy. A sense of abandonment has emerged among U.S. allies across the globe. From Taiwan to the Persian Gulf region’s Arab states, American allies began to cast doubt on the reliability of the United States. 

“Lesson learned: Who can trust the United States anymore?” read a headline in Al-Arab newspaper. The London-based newspaper, which is believed to be close to the United Arab Emirates, said, “With the last American planes leaving the capital, Kabul, policymakers' thoughts must turn to the future and how to deal with and rely on a new reality in the relationship with the United States.”

The Financial Times quoted an Arab foreign minister, who described him as a veteran, remarking that the main problem is the dependence of Arabs on foreigners, and then, when foreigners change their policies, we are lost.

“Can we attribute all this escalation of rapprochement, at least in the Arab and regional environment, to what the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden did in Afghanistan?” Al-Arab asked, adding that the U.S. “broke promises of twenty years, squandered billions, lost thousands of its soldiers, and then fled in terror!”

Tariq al-Hamid, former editor-in-chief of the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, echoed similar concerns. “If the unilateral U.S. position to withdraw from Afghanistan has worried America's most important ally, Europe, and NATO, then it is a fortiori that the latest U.S. behavior should be a cause for concern for all moderate Arab countries, as well as the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council countries,” he wrote in an article for the Saudi newspaper. 

U.S. allies in the region have sensed the danger of being abandoned by Washington. Some believe that the U.S. “humiliating escape” from Afghanistan would serve as a wake-up call for those who still pin hope on Washington to protect them.

“The humiliating escape from Afghanistan has even made Americans & Israelis admit the U.S. demise, but some vassal states feel too helpless to grasp the new order & its requirements. Yet, sooner or later they'll be forced to learn,” Seyed Mostafa Khoshcheshm, an Iranian journalist and analyst, said on Twitter amid uproar over U.S. disorderly evacuations from Kabul’s airport.

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