Even prior to the stunning display of American failure in Afghanistan, President Biden appeared slow-witted and spineless on crucial U.S. national security matters.
For example, Biden handed Russia’s Vladimir Putin gift after gift: extending the START Treaty, lifting Nord Stream 2 pipeline sanctions despite bipartisan legislation and essentially surrendering Ukraine to Russia. During the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva, Biden was tougher with an American journalist than with Putin. After Biden’s advisers and the first lady told the press how extensively he prepared for the meeting, he cut it short.
Biden also responded to the several major cyberattacks traced to Russia—including the meat processor JBS and the Colonial pipeline—by handing Putin a list of critical infrastructure that was “off limits.” Biden claimed Putin would change his behavior if his standing was diminished in the world, showing a fundamental lack of understanding Putin’s motivations.
Rejoining the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran has been Biden’s top priority since taking office, and he was willing to offer Tehran almost anything for it. Tehran refused to negotiate with the United States directly, and operates with impunity in the Middle East.
In July, Iranian intelligence attempted to kidnap Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist, from American soil. In August, an Iranian drone attacked an Israeli merchant ship, killing two crew members. Iranian proxies targeted Americas in Syria and Iraq, and Hezbollah increased rocket attacks on Israel. It also appears Tehran attempted to close the Strait of Hormuz using sea mines.
In June, Biden proclaimed “America is back” with “renewed commitment to our allies and partners.” But North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies with troops on the ground in Afghanistan disagree as they scramble to get out their people out due to America’s hasty withdrawal. British paratroopers, prepared for face-to-face combat, have descended on Kabul to rescue British citizens.
Weakness invites aggression, so we should prepare for a tumultuous fall on the world stage. Here’s what to watch for.
1. An American Hostage Situation in Afghanistan
The Biden administration is not even aware of how many Americans are left in Afghanistan. It could be as many as 15,000. The administration canceled a Trump-era bureau overseeing protection and evacuation for American citizens in Afghanistan. Now Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin says the U.S. military does not have the capability to “go in and collect large numbers of people.”
President Obama ensured the Taliban understood the value of American hostages. In 2014, Obama released five Taliban commanders—one of whom is currently among Taliban leadership in Kabul—for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who later pled guilty to desertion and was dishonorably discharged. The abandoned Americans may be used for leverage, either by the Taliban or other extremist groups. What is unfolding in Afghanistan may make the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis may look tame by comparison.
2. A Fresh Terror Attack on 9/11
Jihadists are relishing the idea that the United States weak and can be defeated. The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has always posed heightened risk of terrorism. On September 11, 2012, jihadists attacked a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. On August 13, DHS warned of a heightened risk from al-Qaeda, which released a new issue of its propaganda magazine Inspire for the first time in four years. The massive intelligence failure in Afghanistan does not inspire confidence in this administration’s ability to keep tabs on foreign terrorists.
The administration also appears utterly incapable of stopping foreign threats. The U.S. southern border is wide open. The president claims climate change is the greatest national security threat. Attorney General Merrick Garland says white supremacy is the greatest domestic threat.
The Justice Department has called the Capitol riot investigation one of the largest in American history, even as a Reuters report claims the FBI does not believe the riot was a conspiracy to overthrow the government. Still, those who did not engage in violence or destruction have been held in isolation for six months.
It is clear the Biden administration is distracted and incapable, making deterrence and prevention that much less likely.
3. A Possible Russian Offensive in Ukraine
As Center Senior Analyst Andrei Illarionov wrote in April, Putin was not ready for a large-scale invasion of Ukraine in the spring, but he would be ready by September. Putin may be able to extract concessions from Ukrainian President Zelensky that would negate need for an invasion.
If Putin decides to invade, however, it will likely be after the Zapad-2021 military exercises in mid-September. Military exercises can mask offensive operations, and Putin has used the tactic before.
4. Increased Chinese Pressure on Taiwan
Chinese state media taunted Taiwan after the fall of Kabul, claiming the United States would not come to Taiwan’s aid. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen responded by saying: “Taiwan’s only option is to grow stronger and become more united, strengthening our determination to protect ourselves.” On August 17, China held live-fire air and sea exercises near Taiwan, and sent 11 war planes into Taiwanese airspace.
In March, America’s top military officer in the Indo-Pacific told Congress China could invade Taiwan in the next six years. The Washington establishment is confident the idea of an imminent risk to Taiwan is overblown, but as Center for Security Policy analyst Grant Newsham pointed out in June, the Chinese military regularly increases capabilities faster and better than western analysts assume.
In the wake of Afghanistan, Newsham wrote, Beijing is likely to challenge the United States in multiple ways. This could include confronting U.S. forces in the South China Sea, establishing bases in Africa and South America, intensify the assault on the U.S. dollar, and intensifying nuclear weapons buildup, to name a few.
In the non-Western world, might makes right. Biden’s rhetoric and proclaimed compassion is meaningless, as bad actors pay attention to action. Biden’s incompetence has made the world a more dangerous place.