Meanwhile, Trump’s and Biden’s positions on Afghanistan are indistinguishable: Both vow to “end the forever wars” by withdrawing American troops, but neither has a plan for what happens after that. Biden said last year that Trump’s withdrawal from Syria was “a complete failure,” yet he advocates the same policy for other places. When talking about Syria, Biden rightly asks, “Who will stand with us if the United States is reduced to an unreliable partner?” But he neglects to apply that standard to abandoning Afghanistan, where 60 allies have fought alongside the U.S.
Biden’s favored strategy of “counterterrorism plus” underinvests in political relationships with countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq that have shaky governments in volatile circumstances. It relies—just as Trump does—on drone strikes and special forces to reach into countries and kill people whom the U.S. fears. That approach embitters the very people striving to create the political conditions that are ultimately the solution to terrorism. Overall, Biden’s reflexes are to provide little political assistance to countries in transition. That is a recipe for failed states, and failed states produce not only terrorists but also refugees, and they invite foreign intervention by neighboring states and aspiring hegemons.
This half-in-half-out approach to military intervention also strips U.S. foreign policy of its moral element of making the world a better place. It is inadequate to the cause of advancing democracy and human rights. Biden claims that the U.S. has a moral obligation to respond with military force to genocide or chemical-weapons use, but was skeptical of intervention in Syria. The former vice president’s rhetoric doesn’t match his policies on American values.