From a strategic standpoint, the 7,268 days of US-led military presence has never been justified beyond its initial kick-off.
The 2001 “casus belli”, the Taliban’s punishment for failing to hand over Osama bin Laden and his colleagues, was quickly respected when the group had to flee Kabul just over a month after the fall of the first Anglo-American bombs on Afghan soil. .
From then on, the administration was a costly failure, as demonstrated by ten years of tracking down to the execution of bin Laden just outside Pakistan’s main military academy.
Initially, the occupation was seen as an opportunity to structure the so-called war on terror by the hawks of George W. Bush. The United States had emerged from a decade of post-Cold War unipolar rule, and exploiting the tragedy of 9/11 to pursue a forced reorganization of strategic spaces was within reach.
So there was the farce of the war in Iraq, which has nothing to do with Al-Qaeda, even if its failure gave rise to even more radical ramifications of jihadism, like the Islamic State. which is now making headlines with its Afghan branch.
There was also the obvious component of the encirclement of Iran by its two main borders, plus the bargains for Bush’s oil buddies, not to mention the infamous mercenaries and other buccaneers on duty.
All this would be complemented by the pretty discourse of promoting democratic values in places where such concepts were vague, a neocolonialism of the good, so to speak.
Of course, that’s not to say that the exposure of Afghans, for example, to 20 years of trade with the West hasn’t made a generation more tolerant and less willing to accept being led by mullahs.
The images at Kabul airport speak for themselves in this regard, and it is disheartening to imagine the future of the country’s people suffering with the return of the Taliban to power.
But the imposition of Western power structures without any concern for the way politics was negotiated in the invaded countries sealed the dismal fate of the project.
It has been a failure, as Biden has frankly admitted since announcing he would honor Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban. The American defeat, which had continued over the years, had lost all meaning in its vision.
This comes at an obvious and high price in this final chapter humiliation, which the Democrat seems willing to pay, in the hope that the alleged disappearance of interest in the Afghan issue will allow him to address other topics in his long laundry list.
This does not mean that the modus operandi of such a war on terrorism has disappeared, of course. He will stand firm: the United States will not hesitate to bomb targets it deems important against a group like IS-K, for example, but has simply removed the “war” label from the process.
Ironically, it is a way of perpetuating the eternal wars criticized by all presidents since Barack Obama. By removing the illusion of “nation building”, another concept dear to the people who took advantage of Bush, Biden is opting for low-cost pragmatism.
It is a way of following the evolution of the world during these 20 years, which saw Russia cease to be a tiger in a military role and China rise to the rank of challenger of the United States for the global hegemony.
In both cases, there are obstacles of different kinds in the path of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, but reality no longer allows Americans to think that they can destroy and build regimes at their geopolitical will.
It is the return of such a policy of force, between nation-states with divergent interests, which has been emerging in recent years in American military doctrine.
Bombs will continue to fall in remote corners of the world, but apparently the idea of war will put aside such asymmetrical conflicts with subnational groups. Greater concentration also allows for a less diffuse allocation of resources.
Of course, it suffices for an explosive to explode in the United States or an American civilian to be beheaded on video for it to be put to the test, but the context suggests that such incidents would be dealt with more punctually. The damage that the so-called war on terror caused to the world has long been assessed.
This is a geopolitical statement, regardless of the effect or not of the botched pullout on Biden’s political plans, that will have a long way to go.
The world will not be a safer place either, on the contrary: not only will terrorists see the Taliban’s victory as a sign of Western decadence to be exploited, if the next time a US president declares war the motive is in the Donbass, in the South Sea, in China or in Pyongyang, the risks to humanity will certainly be exponentially higher.