The Afghanistan Crisis: A Series of Misconceptions

Spyridon N. Litsas | 15 Sep 2021

The chaotic American evacuation of Afghanistan and the by proxy defeat by the Taliban have many consequences for the US status. The fall of Kabul also offers Turkey the opportunity to make its presence in the region noticeable. After the end of the Cold War, the American administrations seemed to lose track of a fundamental maxim of international politics, prestige as a daily currency in the volatile international arena. For the reason that only American constructivist academics and Jacksonian devotees in Capitol Hill or Foggy Bottom seem to understand, the connection between primacy in international affairs and prestige seems gone for decades now in conventional American thinking.

The decision to exit Afghanistan generated various episodes where the Taliban could show off their white flag. At the same time, the Stars and Stripes were lowered down in haste from the various military and civic posts in the region around the Afghan capital and eventually in Kabul. If the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the images that followed were traumatic for the American citizens, the evacuation of Kabul was equally shocking for the rest of the planet, who since the end of the Cold War was familiar only with the bright side of the American primacy in international affairs.

Since the first day of the Kabul evacuation, various neo-Marxist analysts suggest that the Afghanistan case signals the end of the American primacy in western affairs. I do not share this view. If someone focuses on the qualitative and quantitative data of the American capacity nowadays, then the conclusion will be undisputable. The US is still the most powerful western state from a military, economic, and technological point of view.

Moreover, the American soft power is still the most influential globally. Thus, my argument supports that the Afghan case signals the end of the American century, which began from the day the US entered WWI by the side of the Entente powers. In contemporary politics, this signals the end of the American willingness to be involved in military crises around the globe without the equally substantial support of the rest of the NATO powers or other regional allies. My approach here re-defines the Primus inter Pares (first among equals) doctrine of the American foreign policy that characterized the so-called American century into the rather prosaic ‘one of the team.’ The Afghan case fully reveals that the primary trend today in the US is the apotheosis of the Jacksonian doctrine that America cannot and must not be active globally.

However, international politics abhors a vacuum. According to John J. Mearsheimer, great powers in systemic multipolarity tend to engage in buck-passing. The US seeks eager actors who will be prepared to receive the buck-passing. It only takes able and willing elements to accept the burden, together with the bonuses that will emerge out of this process. Since the Obama Presidency, the US has been living through a Sinophobic fixation mainly created by subjective analyses that China is a revisionist state and that Beijing aims at global domination.

The scope of this article is not to analyze the Chinese foreign policy, which in my view is not revisionist but is indeed economically and culturally challenging for the American interests at an international level. However, due to this Sino-phobic fixation, the US constantly searches for able and willing states worldwide to accept the primary role in ongoing crises.

One of these is Turkey, and the venue is contemporary Afghanistan under the Taliban. The American plan has Turkey at the center of the Afghan affairs as the only element that has a place in the western camp, i.e., NATO, while it can also find efficient modus operandi with the Taliban. Is this feasible? Turkey cannot find a common language of communication with the Taliban. How can it be, after all, when the Taliban’s approach to Islam is both conceptually and empirically far from the Turkish approach. Nevertheless, the latter has close connections with Pakistan, which can still catalytically influence the inner developments in the Taliban camp, and Qatar, which played a pivotal role in Afghanistan’s neo status.

Ankara has open routes of communication with both these factors, which influence Afghanistan’s future from different directions so that Washington truly believes that Turkey can play the role of a bridge between the Taliban-run Afghanistan and the western world. However, why Washington needs to communicate with the Taliban? During the last few years, a perception has been created in Washington, mainly in the State Department and the Pentagon, that the Taliban is not the reactionary force it used to be more than 20 years ago. They also believe that the United States can defeat ISIS and al-Qaeda in Turkey’s military assistance in the broader region. Such a development will allow Afghanistan to become a pivotal state in the region, keeping away from the Russian influence and a counterbalance against Iran.

Complicated? Yes! Thus, it is unrealistic too. Indeed, Turkey has close ties with Pakistan and Qatar. However, the two last factors have open routes of communication with Moscow. Turkey maintains a close connection with Russia, too, something that Washington always seems eager to forget or forgive. In addition, the Taliban’s attitude toward al-Qaeda or ISIS will be significantly determined by which faction of the latter will finally dominate the inner struggle of power that emerges in Kabul. No one can truly predict this. Last but not least, the idea that Afghanistan can counterbalance Iran is absurd, especially since the US is ready to return to the more tolerant approach of Barack Obama toward Teheran.

Washington has entered the circle of continuous bad decision-making since the early days of Donald Trump, with the only exception of the Abraham Accords. Turkey considers itself a rising great power and is ready to work closely with all these powers to contribute to Ankara’s ultimate goal to upgrade its international status. It seems that Jacksonianism is still the prevailing ideology in American foreign policy today at the expense of Atlanticism. Jacksonians, alas, have never heard of Mary Shelley’s story of Frankenstein too.

Spyridon N. Litsas is a Professor in Homeland Security at Rabdan Academy & Professor of International Relations Theory at the University of Macedonia.

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