Published today on Israelnationalnews.com
“And the land was quiet for forty years.” Three times that phrase appears in the book of Shoftim as a reminder that even temporary peace is valuable. Perhaps that is the most productive spin on America’s failed venture in Afghanistan that has ended in a disgraceful retreat. Was it worth the loss of 2500 American lives and the maiming of thousands of others? The answer is affirmative only from this perspective: the foray into Afghanistan bought the people there twenty (not forty) years of relative peace, freedom from barbarism, opportunities for women and a chance to emigrate.
With the Dark Ages returning, with a vengeance, it is possible to look back with some pride on a military incursion that represented the best of American ideals, even after acknowledging the necessity after the Arab terror of September 11, 2001 of eliminating Al Qaeda and the Taliban that hosted them. Afghans were shown there is a different way. It was a two decade respite from the brutal treatment that women received before 2002 and unfortunately will be receiving again. Nancy Pelosi’s comment, vapid even by her low standards, that the international community must “do everything” to protect women and girls is as pathetic as the humiliating departure. “Everything” obviously does not include a powerful American military presence, which is actually the only “thing” that could protect them. Let’s see how well resolutions and hash tags do.
There was never going to be a happy outcome in Afghanistan if we accept that not every society is suited for democracy. Indeed, Afghans are so tribal that it is a stretch to perceive them as even constituting a nation, perhaps one reason their army collapsed like a house of cards the moment American support was withdrawn. And it is difficult to argue with the logic that the US should not fight for a nation that will not fight for itself. Undoubtedly, a substantial portion of the population supports the Taliban either actively or tacitly. In a land that holds almost 40 million people, there weren’t 40 million people at the airport trying to flee. So bombing a land back to the 15th century is not effective when they are already living in the 12th century. And the poor souls who want to flee, many of whom aided American forces, deserve better.
President Biden is a weak leader, whose most pronounced characteristic is that he is an anti-Trump. Whatever Trump did, Biden does the opposite, without regard to whether the decisions were good ones or bad ones. In fact, Biden seems to govern in the curious way that he reverses all of Trump’s good policies, regardless of their effect on the country (immigration, taxes, the Abraham Accords), while maintaining Trump’s bad policies (a targeted withdrawal date from Afghanistan, restrictive trade, massive deficits). Biden also has the modern man’s aversion to assuming responsibility for anything. It is hard to imagine that Trump would have presided over such a humiliation, aptly captured in the Wall Street Journal editorial: “Biden to Afghanistan: Drop Dead.” Trump’s withdrawal date was tied to certain conditions and never entertained the return to power of the Taliban, certainly not in the near future.
What is done is done, and for Israelis a few lessons are in order.
Most importantly, even Biden must realize his fecklessness. He has been fleeced by the Taliban, by Russia, and by China. He is looking for a foreign policy victory – some ceremony or good news for which he can claim credit and reverse his decline into irrelevance. Unfortunately for us, Israel provides for him the ripest opportunity. Biden won’t even say the words “Abraham Accords” and has done nothing to broker deals with the handful of other Arab countries anxious to make agreements with Israel. Worse, he has reversed Trump’s successful policy and again made the Palestinian “cause” the centerpiece of American diplomacy in the region.
That is disastrous for Israel as no good will come of it. For that matter, it would be foolhardy for PM Bennett even to visit Washington in the coming weeks. He would be expected to prop up Biden with some concession, mouth support for the two state illusion or otherwise bolster Biden’s falling standing. Bennett should stay away from Washington at least through the holidays – blame the holidays, blame Corona, blame the quarantine. Blame something or someone – but only harm will result from a United States visit at this juncture.
More ominously, but predictably, Israel has to recognize that America is not as reliable a friend and ally as it once was. This is not only due to its fractious politics and economic woes but especially now because of the decline of its global prestige and trustworthiness. For sure, Israel and Afghanistan are completely different countries with wholly different relationships with the United States. (It is interesting to note for those who complain about American aid to Israel – these days anyway it is a $3 billion grant that is almost entirely spent on American weapons – the United States poured into Afghanistan in twenty years an estimated 30-40 times what it has provided Israel in aid since its inception, and at least from Israel, the US has received benefit in return.) But America today is not the America of two, twenty or forty years ago.
American and Israeli policies and interests do converge in many areas – but they also diverge sharply in some important ways. Israelis must recognize that and not live in the nostalgia of the past, similar to what Israel tried for many years to do with Turkey in conceding that Erdogan’s Turkey had changed. Former PM Minister Netanyahu was wise to cultivate ties with Russia, India and China and not subordinate Israel’s foreign policy to American wishes alone. That should be continued, and to the extent that Biden (or his aides) would pressure Bennett to reduce Israel’s ties with China or Russia, that alone would be a good reason to forego a summit until spring, year to be determined.
The happy talk that such a summit will frivolously produce does not justify a freeze on settlements, renewed negotiations with the PA designed to further partition the land of Israel, the release of prisoners, or a stayed hand against terror from Gaza.
To an American administration that is reeling, and will continue to be lambasted and mocked as pictures emerge from the Taliban’s Afghanistan of the horrors to come on which the US turned its back, an Israel deal on any level is considered low-hanging fruit. Israel must resist having this fruit plucked – certainly during the shemittah year. As much as any prime minister loves the Oval Office photo op and the legitimacy it confers, the consequences of such a visit now would be detrimental to Israel’s interests.
A weakened America is no cause for rejoicing, as the free world suffers when America retreats and its (and our) enemies are thereby emboldened. We should beware as well some quick return to an Iran deal of any sort – but mostly the desire for a diplomatic victory at Israel’s expense. Similarly, it is appropriate to grieve over the loss of life and freedom that surely awaits the Afghan people.