Global Policing of US Abu Tahir Mustakim
Fifty years is not a long time in the history of the world. But in this period of recent history, the role of the United States has been hotly debated whenever the question of global policing came up. It is not clear what the United States wanted about the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. It is said that Washington sided with Islamabad during the war of liberation. In fact, the USA was defeated in the United Nations diplomatic arena. History witnesses, in the face of resistance, the US Seventh Fleet had to retreat. The powerful country has digested this insult in silence.
After nearly two decades of military operations in Vietnam, the United States fled in 1975. Washington and its allies claim that they went there to teach and protect democracy. Tonnes of paper and hours of television time wasted to discuss the reason for military operations in Vietnam and on why the superpower had to flee. However, the defeat in Vietnam is the absolute truth. Remains of the bodies of the US troops are still being discovered in Vietnam.
The United States wanted to keep Reza Shah Pahlavi in power with all its might in Iran. Washington was looking at its economic interests without looking at how many people were losing their lives. But they have failed to stop the change-loving men and women who came forward with bouquets of flowers. After the fall of Reza Shah, the United States even refused to grant him asylum. The world’s most powerful army has created a history of failing to rescue its diplomatic hostages in Tehran by air force operation.
Apart from these, there is also the example of the ridiculous defeat of the United States in its duel with small regional leaders. Let’s discuss about Somali leader Mohammed Farah Aidid. This leader of a small group declared him president in a chaotic situation. The US military has been embroiled over its military operations in controversy with Aidid. Nineteen US troops and a thousand Somalis were killed, but the military operation failed. The Hollywood movie based on this 1993 story is called `Black Hawk Down’. In this situation the US announced the withdrawal of all troops from the African country. Farah Idid was later killed in a special army operation.
The US embassies in two other African countries — Kenya and Tanzania — were bombed on August 7, 1998. The bombings at US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam killed 224 people, including women, men and children. More than four and a half thousand people were injured. After the fall of socialist Russia, the United States was then one and only leader of the unipolar world. The US Intel agencies did not get the news that the two embassies are going to be attacked at the same time! Bigger than that, why is a country’s embassy targeted?
And the whole world was shocked at the way the United States was the victim of a terrorist attack on its own soil, on 9/11. Around the same time on that day, three separate attacks, including the Twin Tower and the Pentagon, called into question the United States’ pride in superiority. About three thousand people lost their lives. Rumour has it that the attack took place from inside. There are quite strong conspiracy theories still going around about this.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the then George W. Bush administration declared `war forever’. In Afghanistan, it jumped on the bandwagon with allies, including NATO members. But after spending 1 trillion dollars on the 20-year war, US forces have returned home almost empty-handed; that is what the international media is saying. Even there is the news that the US troops left Kabul in the dark of the night without informing anyone. The members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and its European allies have been critical of Washington’s decision. On 15 August, the Taliban took control of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Afghanistan was declared an Islamic emirate.
The NATO measurably failed. The more Joe Biden tried to shift blame for the Afghan chaos, the bigger the gulf with America’s European allies grew. This US president has done more in a few weeks to undermine the western alliance than Donald Trump.
President Biden’s televised speech was truly shocking to non-Americans. His undeserved contempt for Afghan forces and obliviousness to the sacrifices of NATO allies smacked of arrogance and betrayal. His claim that nation-building was never a US aim was grotesquely untrue. “Afghanistan was the ultimate nation-building mission,” George W. Bush wrote in his 2010 memoir, Decision Points. “We had a moral obligation to leave behind something better.” Is it that?
Armin Laschet, Angela Merkel’s choice to succeed her as Germany’s chancellor, called the withdrawal “the biggest debacle NATO has suffered since its founding”. The British Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, an Afghan war veteran, declared “Britain’s biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez” – another fiasco, incidentally, to which the US contributed.
The obvious lesson for European leaders is that Washington cannot be relied upon, if it ever could. Afghanistan is the latest proof that the US, like every other nation state, ultimately acts in its own interest – as it perceives this at a particular moment in time.
Post-1945, it suited the US to entrench its newfound physical and economic sway over Europe, and thereby contained its Soviet superpower rival. The resulting Truman doctrine, while championing universal freedoms, essentially pivoted on self-interest. Altruism had little to do with it. Now, with US power declining compared to China and new challenges arising, self-interest dictates re-evaluation, re-prioritising, and retrenchment.
This is the broader context in which the Afghan withdrawal should be understood – since Biden’s successors are unlikely to act very differently. EU states, with or without Britain, must finally make good on years of talk about building credible, independent European defense and security capabilities.
The Afghan project failed. The tarnished age of Pax Americana and the “endless military deployments” Biden deployed is thankfully drawing to a close. NATO – discredited, ill-led, and taken for granted – has had its day, too. A more balanced, more respectful US-Europe security relationship is required. Without it, there may be no western alliance left to lead.
In a meeting of EU defense ministers on August 2, the first since western forces fully exited Afghanistan, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, he supported European Union plans to build a common defence policy but warned against any rapid reaction force that might duplicate allied operations. In the meeting, several countries insisted Europe cannot continue to rely on the US.
In the final days of the withdrawal, several European countries wanted to extend the departure deadline in order to evacuate more citizens and allies. But the US insisted on sticking to its own timeline – forcing the Europeans to comply. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has also left European officials fretting about a new migration wave and a resurgence of regional terrorism.
European Council President Charles Michel captured the debate in a message published after the meeting.
“The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan forces us to accelerate honest thinking about European defence,” he wrote.
With the ‘America first’ policy resonating during recent elections at home, global policing of the US is certainly dwindling though not totally diminished. The world is waiting for another power to emerge.