Joe Biden: US no longer the world’s policeman
By Nick Allen. US EDITOR
1 September 2021
Joe Biden on Tuesday night said that concluding the war in Afghanistan marked the end of the era of America “remaking” nations.
The President indicated a retreat in the United States’ role as the world’s policeman, suggesting he would only intervene in future if there were clear goals and a fundamental national interest for the US.
In comments that will be of concern to allies Mr Biden said he was overhauling US foreign policy, and appeared to move away from engagement in the world.
He said: “As we turn the page on the foreign policy that has guided our nation for the last two decades we have got to learn from our mistakes.
“To me, there are two that are paramount. First, we set missions with clear, achievable goals, not ones we will never reach.
“And, second, we will stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interest of the United States of America.”
Many of the US interventions since the Second World War would arguably have failed Mr Biden’s tests, including in Vietnam, Libya, Iraq and Somalia.
His position marked a departure from American foreign policy since 1945 and struck a warning for allies reliant on US help.
It also contrasted with his own frequently used slogan “America is back”. What some were calling a new “Biden doctrine” appeared instead to have similarities to Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.
In defending his position Mr Biden suggested that to remain “bogged down” in Afghanistan would have played into the hands of Russia and China.
He added: “We’ve been a nation too long at war. It was time to be honest with the American people again. We no longer had a clear purpose. I take responsibility for the decision.
“For those asking for a third decade of war, I ask ‘What is the vital national interest? It was time to end this war. This is a new world. It was a wise decision and the best decision for America.”
He said the cost of the Afghanistan conflict had been too high in terms of lives and money.
In an address to the nation from the White House, he said: “This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.
“I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit.”
He added: “The American people should hear this. Three hundred million dollars a day for two decades. What have we lost as consequences in terms of opportunities? I refuse to continue a war that was no longer in the vital national interests of our people.”
The President also attacked critics who said America could have stayed in Afghanistan with a small military presence, saying: “There is nothing ‘low grade’ or ‘low risk’ about any war.”
He defended the chaotic evacuation over the last two weeks, saying it had been an “extraordinary success”.
But he admitted that 100 to 200 Americans remained in Afghanistan with some intention to leave, despite his pledge to leave troops until all US citizens were out.
Most were dual citizens and long-time residents who had earlier decided to stay, he said.
Mr Biden said: “For those remaining Americans there is no deadline. We remain committed to getting them out if they want to come out. We are far from done.
“The bottom line, 90 per cent of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave.”
The White House officially corrected this figure later to 98 per cent, not 90 per cent.
He said the US would continue to “hunt down” terrorists seeking to harm the US but using “over the horizon” capabilities rather than boots on the ground. He said the original mission in Afghanistan had been to bring justice to Osama bin Laden, and that had been achieved over a decade ago.
Addressing terror groups Mr Biden said: “The US will never rest. We will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down to the ends of the Earth and you will pay the ultimate price.”
With US drone strikes having hit Islamic State targets in the days following the Kabul airport terror attack, he added: “To Isis-K, we are not done with you yet.”
With the final American troops having left Kabul, Taliban special forces on Tuesday took control of the airport and climbed into the cockpits of abandoned aircraft, as their supporters paraded coffins draped in the British and US flags. Fears are also growing that the militants are hunting down and killing former members of the defeated Afghan army.
Meanwhile, Britain’s commitment to take in 20,000 Afghans risks creating a “pull effect” for migrants, Germany suggested on Tuesday as Berlin ruled out plans for an EU-wide target.
Brussels is instead preparing to offer countries that neighbour Afghanistan about €600 million to host refugees.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who threw open her country’s borders during the 2015 migration crisis, said the EU should support refugees closer to Afghanistan. EU home affairs ministers decided that only willing countries would resettle refugees.
Horst Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister, said: “I don’t think it’s wise if we talk about numbers here, because numbers obviously trigger a pull effect and we don’t want that.”
Following Mr Biden’s speech, Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, accused him of abandoning Americans behind enemy lines. He added: “This was a disgraceful and disastrous departure that will allow the Taliban and al-Qaeda to celebrate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 by having complete control of Afghanistan.”