Who Said Geopolitics Is Over?
Or that peace is always peaceful?
Joe Biden oversaw a deeply flawed exit from Afghanistan and Democrats will probably pay a price for it this November. As electoral consequences go, however, it is unlikely to hurt his reelection chances very much. By 2024, voters will move on. History will probably decide that Biden did the right thing by leaving that benighted country. As horrible as things are under the Taliban, the United States cannot indefinitely maintain a 51st state in the middle of Central Asia.
More to the point, trying to do that for two decades has distracted American foreign policy from the liminal threat of a revanchist Russia in Ukraine. Whereas Biden receives criticism (much of it justified, IMO) for weakness and lack of foresight in Afghanistan, he is now being criticized for over-the-top aggression and leaning forward in Ukraine. The reader can see how these two points connect from the geopolitical vantage point of American interest.
A friendly state in Afghanistan was in the American interest, perhaps, but it cost too much in blood and treasure to maintain. A friendly state in Ukraine is far more important to the United States, for it is a buffer between Europe and Russian autocratic imperialism. Europe is a greater American interest than Afghanistan. It always was. The Soviets withdrew and now the Americans have left. Each time, the US has abandoned Afghanistan to its fate because more important interests were elsewhere. Whereas the United States reduced its presence in Europe after 1992, the Obama years saw a creeping movement of American and NATO forces eastward. No real brakes were applied under Trump. Incrementalism continues under the new administration. This foreign policy continuity serves the Atlantic system of international security underlying all American geopolitical strategy.
Putin hopes to keep Russia in foreign scratch by selling fossil fuels to the world. This is the same basic way that the Soviet Union obtained the currency needed to import things they did not make themselves — computer chips, for example. The long-term crisis of Russian extraction economy has not ended. Biden took criticism for giving Putin’s Nord Stream project a green light; now he takes flak for holding the built infrastructure hostage. To me, that political news is all noise.
Here is the signal: Biden created leverage and used it to draw a line in Ukraine. Whatever we think of that, it was a rational choice ruled by the same basic American geostrategy that has developed since 1947. You don’t need to be Henry Kissinger to understand his choices, good or bad in your opinion, as Good For Pax Americana.
Americans like peace. (Source: I am an American.) We don’t like wars — at least, we don’t like the wars that are hard, expensive, and very far away from anything important to us. Franklin D. Roosevelt penciled out his reference to the Japanese attack on the Philippines in that famous Day of Infamy speech because polls showed Americans didn’t care very much about having the Philippines, whereas a narrow majority cared enough about Hawaii to be moved to defend the islands. Given the close divisions of American opinion these days, there might be a similar split between Afghanistan and Ukraine. Who knows? It’s all in what questions you ask people.
Peace exists in the 21st Century American world-system. To paraphrase the novelist William Gibson, peace is always present, it is just not evenly distributed.