Failure in Afghanistan Won’t Weaken America’s Alliances

U.S. Allies Know Washington Needs Them More Than Ever

When President Joe Biden’s administration decided in April to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, its pronouncement was met with displeasure bordering on fury from European officials, who felt they had not been adequately consulted. Yet occasional highhandedness toward European allies had been a feature of the last two Democratic U.S. administrations, not just recent Republican ones. And European policymakers could at least console themselves that there was now a highly professional cadre of senior officials in the White House, at the State Department, and at the Pentagon, most of whom they had come to know from previous government roles; these U.S. officials would ensure the Afghan intervention that the United States and its European allies had embarked on together two decades ago would be brought to an acceptable close.

Then came the Taliban’s lightning rout of the Afghan military, the collapse of the country’s government, and the scenes of chaos at the international airport in Kabul. These events not only revealed Washington’s profound misreading of the situation in Afghanistan but called into question European confidence in the Biden administration’s competence. Even more troubling, they caused current and former European officials and leading columnists to ask whether European governments and other U.S. allies could trust any U.S. administration, whether the Biden administration or a future Republican one, to stand by its external security commitments in the future.

Fortunately, Washington’s flawed and hasty exit from Afghanistan does not herald a broader rupture in transatlantic relations nor a weakening of Washington’s commitment to key alliances. At a time of growing global threats, the United States and Europe will continue to deepen the renewed transatlantic cooperation ushered in by the Biden administration.

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