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How US allies view the country a year after its withdrawal from Afghanistan: NPR

It has been a year since the United States withdrew its troops from Afghanistan. Some of America’s strongest allies have voiced their criticism, but how do they see America today?


One year ago tomorrow, August 30, 2021, the last US troops left Afghanistan. The chaotic end to America’s longest war was marked by broken promises, a Taliban takeover, frantic flights from Kabul and a terror attack that killed more than 100 Afghans and 13 American service members. For President Biden, it was a huge stain on his reputation not only here at home, but also with European partners who were close allies in Afghanistan. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid has been looking into this. Hi Asma.


SHAPIRO: So some of America’s strongest allies a year ago expressed their criticism of the Afghan exit. Take us back to that time.

KHALID: That’s right. And in part, that’s because two months before this pullout, Joe Biden went to the UK for his first in-person G7 meeting as president. And you probably remember that he declared himself very proud that America is back. But then we hear the British wonder out loud, you know, if you look at Afghanistan, is that really true? And a member of parliament in the UK wrote an op-ed that said, quote, “if the US doesn’t lead, it’s our duty to step up.” Even the Germans were critical. The chancellor at the time described all of this as bitter, dramatic and frightening.

SHAPIRO: What exactly is it that bothered you so much?

KHALID: You know, Ari, it wasn’t just the decision but the way the decision was handled. James Cunningham was a former US ambassador to Afghanistan and he explained it to me this way.

JAMES CUNNINGHAM: It’s no secret that most of our allies and coalition partners wanted us to stay. They wanted to stay because they saw very clearly what was going to happen. And many of them live closer to Afghanistan than we do. And you are going to feel the effects of this more directly.

KHALID: Pundits have told me that the reason European allies were so surprised was because Biden had promised multilateralism when he took office. And then he made this whole decision on Afghanistan quite unilaterally.

SHAPIRO: And now, a year later, how is the relationship with those European allies?

KHALID: So, Ari, actually the Russian invasion of the Ukraine has completely changed the paradigm. Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations actually argues that, in hindsight, the US did not lose the credibility that was initially expected. And if anything, he says the United States now has more money, more strategic attention and more political capital to focus on other global priorities.

CHARLES KUPCHAN: Not long after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russia invades Ukraine and the United States has broken free of Afghanistan to focus like a laser on supporting Ukraine and building a very strong coalition.

KHALID: And President Biden has made it a point to coordinate with allies in Europe to respond to Russia. You know, sometimes he even lets the Germans or the French take the initiative publicly. But as he said he (inaudible), you know, there’s no consensus that this has necessarily erased all the anxiety around Afghanistan. Some experts say there is a question of whether Russia acted in part because it assumed the United States was weaker after the Afghan withdrawal and, likewise, whether China felt emboldened by Taiwan as a result.

SHAPIRO: So the experts you’re talking to are saying that Biden’s role in Ukraine basically erased allies’ anxiety about getting out of Afghanistan?

KHALID: You know, the relationship today is certainly stronger than it was a year ago. But one expert told me that European nations still have lingering doubts about whether the United States has the patience for long fights. Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook works at the Bertelsmann Foundation in Berlin.

CATHRYN CLUVER ASHBROOK: The Germans fear that US engagement will decline because of US electoral politics.

KHALID: And really, what she’s saying, Ari, here is that some of these reservations are not about Biden himself. It is about whether Donald Trump or one of his supporters could take power in a couple of years and then decide that a transatlantic friendship is no longer worth the time or the money.

SHAPIRO: Asma Khalid from NPR. Thanks.

KHALID: My pleasure.

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