Renaud Girard is an American-born French journalist, the author of several books on world affairs, especially the Middle East. In this trenchant commentary on the Afghan debacle, he recognizes the defeat for what it is, bluntly invoking the collapse of the imperial German army at the end of the First World War. […]
We can also anticipate that America’s allies will lose trust. Girard’s chilling comment “If I were Taiwanese, I would be very worried” cuts to the bone. Smaller, dependent states that count on America for security but that are now forced to doubt the reliability of their protector can either invest aggressively in their own security capacity—and thereby gain a degree of autonomy for independent operations—or they can hedge their bets and explore limited accommodation with the powers that threaten them. In other words, the result of the perceived weakening of the American security umbrella, which is the only conclusion one can draw from Afghanistan, may lead vulnerable states to rebalance their strategies between the United States and adversarial powers. This kind of “bet hedging” will hardly enhance American influence—such is the implication of Girard’s sober estimation of the costs of neoconservative overreach.
His concluding remark, however, is the one that poses the most significant challenge to American security strategy. “Europe would do well to prepare itself.” So beyond any speculations as to the meaning of the Afghanistan events for the confrontation with Islamism, Girard points to the repercussions of the American withdrawal for Europe’s own defense policies. It is not however the withdrawal itself but the abrupt and unilateral character of the decision, without attention to contingencies, that could lead Europeans to ask whether this Central Asian episode sheds light on the reliability of American security commitments in Europe: the Afghan outcome therefore poses the NATO question and may well reopen deliberations on a strategic autonomy for Europe. That is a discussion that will play out especially in Paris. Meanwhile, for Washington, any step forward from Afghanistan will have to involve efforts to reestablish the credibility of American protective capacity, coupled with a realistic recognition of the limits of American influence. Läs artikel