The instant triumph of the Taliban in Afghanistan is one of the biggest foreign policy, military and intelligence fiascos in American history. It demands a broad and sweeping review and house-cleaning, beginning with the immediate resignations and replacements of the secretaries of State and Defense, along with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the first six months of the Biden administration, these advisers repeatedly have proven to be incompetent and even dangerous to U.S. national security. If any of them knew the Afghanistan policy was wrong and disastrous, they should have stopped it or resigned.
President BidenJoe BidenTrump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race On The Money: Democrats get to the hard part Health Care — GOP attorneys general warn of legal battle over Biden's vaccine mandate MORE assured Americans — literally days ago — that the Afghan armed forces could repel any major assault by the Taliban. He said that because Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France Trump praises NH Senate candidate as Sununu weighs own bid Jan. 6 panel says it is reviewing Milley actions MORE, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, deeply involved in training those forces, told him that. Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France Oversight Republicans seek testimony from Afghanistan watchdog France cancels DC gala in anger over Biden sub deal: report MORE and Secretary of Defense Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOversight Republicans seek testimony from Afghanistan watchdog Carbon reduction tax credit: An investment we can't afford not to make The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? MORE also supported the troop drawdown policy. One assumes the national intelligence agencies also agreed. The result was an American and global security disaster.
The instant collapse of Afghanistan represents a major change in the global balance of power, threatening America and the major democracies.
China and Russia already sensed growing American strategic weakness based upon Blinken’s sad performance in his confrontation with Chinese diplomats in Anchorage; Biden’s choreographed and nonetheless weak performance with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich Putin Putin says dozens of staffers infected with COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails Overnight Hillicon Valley — Ex-US intel operatives pay to settle hacking charges MORE in Geneva; Austin’s and Milley’s woke purge of the armed forces; the likely large reduction in real U.S. defense spending resulting from massive increases in “progressive” domestic spending; the lack of will in confronting China over COVID-19; and the willingness to open America’s borders to migrants who often include dangerous foreign nationals.
But the Afghan fiasco seals the deal — China and Russia will sense that this is the moment to aggressively challenge American vital interests globally, that this administration is weak, unprepared and incompetent. It may signal the moment to expand cyber warfare, dramatically up the pressure on Taiwan, the South China Sea, Ukraine, the Baltics, and perhaps the Middle East and Latin America, creating major new strategic threats to America and its allies.
The collapse of Afghanistan is a big deal. First, and most obvious, the Taliban will create a fertile base for terrorism against the U.S. and other democratic states.
It will be a massive humanitarian crisis. There will be a slaughter of anyone who supported the current Afghan government, with little mercy. Women will be subjugated immediately and all progress in educating girls will stop. There will be a massive refugee migration into Pakistan, straining its resources and security agencies.
As with ISIS and other Sunni movements, the Taliban will get covert support from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. China, of course, will see new opportunities to try to exploit Afghan natural resources. The Taliban will expand heroin production to finance its programs, and that heroin will be targeted, probably along with Chinese fentanyl, at the U.S. market.
India will have a new and dangerous Muslim adversary to deal with, distracting it from its rivalries with China and Pakistan and strengthening China’s position in the Indian Ocean. Ironically, Pakistan also will face increased internal threats from Taliban-related insurgencies, creating the nightmarish possibility of the Taliban getting its hands on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
As some have feared in the past, Russia’s covert support for the Taliban may help it progress toward a warm water naval port in Sistan and Baluchestan, although America’s complete humiliation alone will make Putin’s day in the short term. Major American allies will sense weakness in America’s strength, will and promises.
If America’s top foreign policy and defense leadership cannot, even remotely, assess the readiness and capability of Afghan forces, which they trained, nor grasp the massive geopolitical implications of a precipitous American withdrawal, which they designed and led, can they be trusted to accurately assess American military strategy, capability and readiness and be prepared to lead it against far more formidable adversaries? That answer evidently is no.
In short, it is impossible to overstate what a huge foreign policy blunder Biden’s precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan was, and it is entirely a Biden blunder — no previous president can be blamed. It demands immediate accountability and action. Biden has a one-time opportunity to become a real leader and it begins with demanding Austin’s, Blinken’s and Milley’s resignations immediately. Biden then must fill those posts with the strongest, most capable, apolitical candidates.
At the same time, what happened demands a complete, external examination of America’s defense, foreign policy and intelligence leadership and agencies.
To guide the president in making the best choices and conducting a thorough strategic, organizational and process review, he must select an outside team of capable, proven and independent leaders. It cannot be political. It must focus on an immediate, broad-based examination and reset of defense and foreign policy, and the agencies implementing them. Some names that immediately come to mind for this task include former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Robert Gates, who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents — his criticism of Biden's national security record (tempered somewhat recently) and former President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE make Gates an ideal respected and independent third party for this role, if Biden could convince him to serve again; former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, who also served under Republican and Democrat administrations and is familiar with the complex politics of the Taliban, Pakistan, China, India and Russia; and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could complete this team.
Now is the moment for capable patriots to set America on the right course.
Grady Means is a writer (GradyMeans.com) and former corporate strategy consultant. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Follow him on Twitter @gradymeans1.