Open all the doors and let you out into the world
Turn all of the lights on over every boy and every girl
One last call for alcohol, so finish your whiskey or beer
You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here
Semisonic—‘Closing Time’ (1998)
When discussing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, the “Closing Time” lyrics seem eerily appropriate. The 20-year, $2 trillion experiment is over.
In Kabul, when closing time came, it came fast. The doors have been closed, and the Afghan people—all 39 million of them—have been left to fend for themselves. American troops are coming home, and that’s a good thing. But it didn’t have to end in such acrimony.
The manner in which the withdrawal has been, and continues to be, executed deserves to be criticized. With the United States’ influence in Afghanistan fading, a vacuum has emerged. The Chinese regime, not surprisingly, is looking to fill it. As I discussed in a previous article, Beijing will seek to make full use of Afghanistan’s rare minerals. According to reports, the landlocked country is home to 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements (REEs). In this clean energy arms race, expect things to get dirty. Afghanistan could prove to be a veritable goldmine for the Chinese regime, which already controls numerous REE supply chains.
With financial backing, the Taliban is more than willing to let the Chinese regime exploit its natural resources. In a recent interview, Suhail Shaheen, an Afghan politician who currently serves as the Taliban spokesperson, called China “a friendly country,” adding that the Taliban welcomes it “for reconstruction and developing Afghanistan.” The feelings are very much mutual, it seems.
The Global Times, a daily tabloid newspaper essentially run by Beijing, recently declared that China has no interest in “making an enemy of the Taliban.” No, it’s interested in making friends, and lots of money.
With the United States leaving the region, and with China and the Taliban becoming allies, how can President Biden neutralize the threat? It is an important question to ask, and one with few obvious answers.
The Taliban, essentially goat herders with Kalshnikovs, are back in control, tormenting and terrorizing the masses. Don’t be fooled by the shabby attire and scraggly beards, with China’s backing, both politically and financially, expect the Taliban’s power to grow. The threat of global jihad is very much possible. Afghanistan is, in many ways, a more dangerous place today than it was in 2001. Where does this leave the Biden administration? Many argue, rather understandably, that the withdrawal has tarnished the United States’ global image.
Even as China cozies up to the Taliban, the United States still has considerable clout. As Robin Niblett, an international affairs expert, notes, the withdrawal from Vietnam “did not derail the United States’ continued journey to economic and geopolitical dominance in the twentieth century.” The utterly “chaotic exodus from Afghanistan,” writes Niblett, “need not herald U.S. global decline in the twenty-first.”
He is, of course, correct. Without the United States, where would the world be? In the West, what other country can compete with the United States? What other country has as much to offer the world as the United States? Not one. How about the European Union, a collection of 27 culturally and ethnically diverse countries? Absolutely not. Some believe the EU has become largely irrelevant. The irrelevance, according to the journalist Andreas Kluth, comes in two forms: “both as a practical construct” and as “an inspiring idea.” A country as unrepentant as China is simply unfazed by the EU. Lacking cohesion and a unified narrative, the EU simply lacks the tools to neutralize the threat from China.
The United States, on the other hand, is still the most influential country in the world. It has all the tools to not just compete with China, but outperform it. The chaos in Afghanistan has damaged the American brand, but it hasn’t destroyed it. The United States still offers the most compelling of narratives. The Chinese regime, meanwhile, offers a narrative that lacks credibility.
The aforementioned Niblett encourages readers to remember the following: within the realm of international relations, power “is always relative.” In “relative terms, the United States has far more going for it structurally and societally than China.” We would do well to keep Niblett’s words at the forefront of our minds.
Yes, the withdrawal from Afghanistan has been frenzied and farcical, but the United States is still a political powerhouse. As China and the Taliban become closer, it’s important to recognize that these “friends” have no shortage of enemies. The United States, on the other hand, has no shortage of allies. Its credibility is still intact, but only just.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.