And Then There Were Four

On September 24, after the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S. President Joe Biden will host his Japanese, Australian, and Indian counterparts at the White House for the first in-person meeting of the Quad. The Quad, officially known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is a forum for multilateral cooperation among four countries in the Indo-Pacific region on a myriad of issues ranging from security to trade and everything in between. Above all, the Quad is an unofficial partnership between the member countries that share certain values and objectives, and with a mission to address mutual regional security concerns.

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Since taking office in January, the Biden administration’s rhetoric and, at times, actions reflect a central foreign policy canon: repairing relationships with U.S. allies and partners. Moreover, President Biden came in to office with the goal of redirecting U.S. foreign policy by curtailing the United States’ focus on global terrorism and expanding to more prescient concerns, particularly China. At a time when the United States is most focused on repairing its ties with U.S. allies and partners and countering the rise of China, the Quad plays right into the Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda. 

Get By With a Little Help from Your Friends

The Quad fits neatly into the Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda as it epitomizes one of the fundamental principles: recalibrating ties with allies and partners. While the Quad is not a formal alliance like the ones the United States maintains with several Asian countries as well as its European allies through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Quad is made up of some of the United States’ closest friends. The United States has defense pacts with both Australia and Japan, dating back to the years right after World War II. The defense pacts have served as cornerstones in U.S. foreign policy for decades and, as a result, cooperation between the United States and both countries is natural and in U.S. interests. As a result of its participation the Quad, the U.S. is elevating the importance of these two key allies at a time where the U.S. president is pressing for repaired relationships with its key allies and partners.

Then, there is India, the only country in the Quad with which the United States does not a defense alliance. The Quad is not designed to be a formal military alliance. That fact, however, does not render India’s involvement any less critical; it actually makes India’s participation that much more important. India, which has historically resisted joining such alliances, is considered one of the United States’ most strategic partners. Through the multilateral cooperation of the Quad and bilaterally, the Biden administration views strengthening ties with India as crucial to his foreign policy agenda. The United States and India share many interests and global concerns, including China and climate change – two issues that form the basis of their collaboration. Through improved bilateral relations and a multilateral forum such as the Quad, the United States is strengthening its ties with India while also fulfilling one of the Biden administration’s fundamental foreign policy principles.

Let’s Be Honest

While no member of the Quad will directly confirm the purpose of the cooperation between the four countries exists to counter China’s economic and military aims, the world tactility understands its purpose. As the Economist observed in a recent article, the Quad is, at last, finding its purpose and that purpose “has everything to do with China.” The Quad was formed in the aftermath a deadly tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004 when the four countries worked together. At the time, Japan saw potential future cooperation as a way to address shared regional security challenges. At that time, however, the other countries were apprehensive about joining forces primarily due to concerns about China’s reaction. For the time being, the Quad remained only an idea.

Then, more than a decade later, the Quad came back together. By this time, the strategic calculus on China had changed immensely for the Quad members. For one, India, once the most reluctant member, is eager to balance China’s rising power, the most recent example being a border skirmish between Chinese and Indian forces in June 2020. Similarly, Japan is increasingly infuriated about China’s claims to islands in the East China Sea and China’s abysmal human rights record. China sparked a trade war with Australia and recently scolded Australia. Lastly, the United States now sees its relationship with China as “the biggest geopolitical test” that the world faces and has redirected U.S. foreign policy to meet that. At a time when all four countries are fed up with China’s antics in the region, the Quad proves to be an excellent method for accomplishing one of the Biden administration’s foreign policy objectives: countering China.  

Conclusion

As the leaders of the Quad member countries meet at the White House, the Biden administration is looking to expand the group’s agenda. The Biden administration’s foreign policy has two core objectives: its call for repairing relationships with U.S. allies and partners and its objective of countering China. As a result, the Quad plays right into the Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda.   

Qatar: The Gulf’s New Interlocutor

In recent months, the United States has relied on one if its allies in the Persian Gulf to play an outsized diplomatic role. Qatar, the gas-rich country with approximately 300,000 citizens against whom its Gulf allies maintained a 43-month blockade, finds itself in an advantageous position. As an expert on Gulf politics observed, the small nation has “always wanted to be a global power…”. Qatar, this analyst continued, is “presenting itself as a regional lynchpin for global politics and diplomacy.” This is coming at a particularly opportune time for the United States, which cooperates closely with Qatar on a wide range of regional and global issues.

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The United States and Qatar established diplomatic relations in 1972, after Qatar won its independence from the United Kingdom in 1971. The United States and Qatar maintain a close, cooperative relationship. On a recent trip to Qatar, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that the “partnership between Qatar and the United States has never been stronger.” For one, Qatar hosts the largest military base in the Middle East. Qatar also serves as a staging site for air operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Beyond that, the Qataris maintain ties with a range of Islamist groups, including Hamas in Gaza, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact, it is Qatar’s close ties to two American adversaries – the Taliban and Iran – that are proving advantageous to the United States. Qatar is now playing a critical role as the Gulf’s newest interlocutor, in what Qatar calls preventive diplomacy. However, despite Qatar’s ambitious objective of being a global power, its efforts reinforce its position of a regional, not global, power.

The Host

When the government collapsed and the Taliban quickly re-gained control of Afghanistan in mid-August, the United States and its allies were caught off-guard. In a mad rush to evacuate its own citizens, Afghan allies, the United States quickly turned to Qatar for assistance in the face of the Taliban takeover. The United States is also looking to Qatar to serve as a go-between between the Taliban and the rest of the world, as Qatar is seen as the only party with the necessary relations and influence to keep the Taliban engaged.

Qatar has maintained ties to the militant group for years, as the tiny Gulf nation hosted Taliban political leadership in its capital, Doha, as well as serving as the location for negotiations between the United States, Afghan government, and the Taliban. Thus far, Qatar has pressed the Taliban to accept a compromise over who will operate the international airport in Kabul and has urged the Taliban to form an inclusive government, incorporating various Afghan parties. In its efforts to act as an intermediary between the United States and the Taliban, Qatar is certainly proving its regional diplomatic value and dexterity.

The Mediator

Qatar is also attempting to play a mediator role between two of its closest allies who happen to be ardent adversaries: the United States and Iran. Specifically, Qatar advocates that the United States and Iran should both return to compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the breakthrough agreement between Iran and several world powers in July 2015 that dismantles much of Iran’s nuclear program. Qatar is motivated to quell any friction between the United States and Iran as “an outright conflict between Iran and the U.S. will put Qatar on the frontlines.”

Despite its restored relations with its Gulf Arab neighbors, Qatar maintains ties with Iran. The two nations share an oil field, making cooperation on such issues is almost obligatory. Beyond that, Qatar preserves an intelligence relationship with Iran. This level of cooperation caused tension with its Gulf Arab neighbors, who view Iran as a primary threat. During the nearly four year blockade of Qatar, which ended in January of this year, Qatar’s Gulf Arab allies, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, demanded that Qatar reduce its cooperation with Iran. Yet, Qatar’s close relations with Iran, much like its ties with the Taliban in Afghanistan, have allowed the tiny Gulf state to play, as some would argue, an outsized diplomatic role in facilitating talks between the United States and Iran, though on the regional level.

Conclusion

Qatar has received international requests and recognition for its recent diplomatic efforts. The Gulf state has long wished to be a global power and is using its close ties with the Taliban to evacuate American and Western citizens as well as Afghan allies from the country. Qatar is also serving as an interlocutor between the Taliban and the rest of the world due to its influence over the Afghan militant group. Qatar is attempting to play a mediator role between the United States and Iran as well, working to coax both parties back into compliance with the JCPOA. Yet, while both efforts have earned Qatar the international recognition it craves, its mediation skills are positioning Qatar as the go-to mediator in the Middle East. While Qatar’s ambitions may be global, its power, for now, is on a regional scale.  

The Oldest Friend

On September 17, France made a startling announcement. The French are recalling its ambassadors to both the United States for the first time after a recently announced deal in which the United States and United Kingdom would share nuclear submarine technology with Australia. France even cancelled a gala, celebrating France’s assistance in the United States’ battle for independence from the British at the French embassy in Washington, D.C. The French are truly angry, not simply making a dramatic show of political theater.

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While the United States and France haven’t always had the easiest relationship, the United States has long heralded France as its oldest friend. As NATO allies with close economic ties, the relationship is traditionally built on the “shared commitment to the same values – democracy, human rights, the rule of law, security, and prosperity,” as the State Department announced in a recent press release. However, in the face of France’s ire, the United States does not seem to be taking France’s anger seriously. Despite the acknowledgement of only providing France with a few hours’ notice, the United States has largely played down what the French are calling as a crisis in U.S.-French relations. In the coming days, U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron will speak about the ordeal. While this is a good first step, the United States needs to work to reduce tensions with its oldest ally over the next few weeks.

A Different Kind of Ally

For one, France is a strong military ally, and it would do well for the United States to remember this fact. According to the Rand Corporation, France “currently possesses one of Western Europe’s most capable militaries…” France has been fighting Islamic militants in the former French colonies in the Sahel region of Africa. Operation Barkhane, which began in 2014, has included nearly 5,000 French soldiers being deployed across the region. The same day as the announcement about the sharing of nuclear submarine technology, President Macron announced that the French military killed the leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, who was thought to be responsible for an attack that killed four American soldiers in Niger in 2017.

Additionally, France maintains a small contingent of troops fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and sent troops into Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led contingent shortly after the U.S. war there began, ending its military operations in 2014. Moreover, during an administration that claims to revere U.S. allies and partners and at a time when U.S. credibility is in question, the United States can use all the help, whether militarily or diplomatically, that it can find. For this reason, repairing the rift with France is in the United States’ national interest.

Strategic Autonomy?

For some in Europe, in particular in France, the recent row is renewing calls more strategic autonomy – Europe’s military, economic, technologic, and political independence from the United States. “The need for more European defense has never been as much evident as today after the events in Afghanistan,” noted the European Union’s foreign policy chief. To France, the same can be said after what the French perceive as a “major betrayal by one of its closest allies.” This sentiment, of course, is nothing new as President Macron has been pushing this line for nearly three years. This belief is also widely shared across many countries in Europe, with some being more discreet in their phrasing. Europe, after recent events, may take serious steps toward providing for their own security, relying less on its American allies.

The United States, in repairing the rift with France, should support this venture. For one, it would show support for an increasingly popular sentiment across France; it would show a level of respect for France and the relationship that has been missing in recent years from American foreign policy. Besides, a more independent Europe would benefit the United States as well. Not only would the United States be able to patch the rift in the relationship with a key and longstanding ally, but the United States would also accomplish a goal that has transcended the last few American administrations: Europe contributing more to its own security. Having a more capable, independent, and equal partner in Europe would benefit not only the United States and strengthen the U.S. relationship with both France and with Europe as a whole.

Conclusion

France is mad. However, the United States seems to underestimate the gravity of the French exasperation. This rift has the potential to turn into a full-scale diplomatic row. France has one of the strongest and most capable militaries in Europe, and also conducts counterterrorism against Islamist militant groups across the Middle East and North Africa, a goal the French share with the United States. Additionally, recent events are pushing France to further consider pursuing a strategic autonomy policy, one that lessens French and European dependence on the United States for its security. The United States should support France’s pursuit of strategic autonomy, which would benefit the United States as well as the U.S-France relationship. The United States must do all it can to preserve its relationship with France.

Subs Down Under?

On September 15, the United States and the United Kingdom announced a plan to share highly sensitive submarine technology with Australia. U.S. President Joe Biden, along with his British and Australian counterparts, unveiled the new defense alliance, known as AUKUS. As the first step, the United States and United Kingdom are going to bolster Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines, a fleet of submarines that are faster, more capable, harder to detect, and potentially more lethal than conventional-powered ones.

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The alliance announcement is largely seen as part of President Biden’s larger pivot to the Asia-Pacific region and appears to be geared toward countering China’s rise, though the announcement did not specifically name China. President Biden’s recent decision to share nuclear submarine technology with Australia provides U.S. allies with valuable insight into the Biden administration’s approach to the United States’ alliance structure.

Maybe the Special Relationship is…Special?

The United States and the United Kingdom have long enjoyed a special relationship, dating back to World War II summarized by a phrase coined by former Prime Minister Winston Churchill 1946. Since then, the two countries have cooperated closely on security, economic, cultural, intelligence, and diplomatic matters. In particular, U.S. and British militaries maintain high levels of respect for one another and cooperate closely. In fact, the United Kingdom is the only country with which the United States shares such sensitive nuclear information, signifying an extremely high level of trust.

This new alliance between the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia only further deepens the U.S.-U.K. relationship. In recent years, there has been discussion on whether the special relationship has more meaning for the British than the Americans. However, President Biden, through the recent announcement, illustrates the importance the relationship to his administration and his foreign policy efforts.  

Can We Make It Up to You?

While the United States and Australia also maintain long-standing military and diplomatic relations, relations between the two countries proved a bit frosty during the first several months of the Biden administration. The Biden administration, in the eyes of many allies including Australia, really dropped the ball by not communicating better about U.S. plans for withdrawing from Afghanistan, resulting in a cooling in the relationship.

The Biden administration’s inclusion of Australia on the announcement of this new alliance and the sharing of nearly sacred nuclear submarine technology serves several purposes for the Biden administration. For one, the new alliance bolsters the United States’ relationship with Australia. Moreover, the announcement of such an alliance with one of its closest allies in Asia further supports the Biden administration’s pivot to Asia and emphasis on countering China. Above all, however, this decision underscores the importance of the U.S.-Australian relationship in the Biden administration’s foreign policy efforts.

Forget About It, Europe!

Unlike the excitement the announcement caused in the United Kingdom as well as the surprise in Australia, the announcement raised France’s ire to a level not seen since 2003 over the U.S.-French disagreement over the Iraq war. This even led France to recall the country’s ambassadors from the United States and Australia. France’s Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, called “the American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France” as deplorable. “This is not done between allies,” he further lamented. One reason for France’s reaction is because, until recently, France was pursuing a similar agreement with Australia. While the deal included less sophisticated technology for Australian submarines and that deal ultimately collapsed, France still feels slighted.

Another reason why this angered the French is because the United Kingdom is the United States’ partner on this deal, not France. This logic involves an age-old insecurity in which France has long been suspicious of an “Anglophone cabal pursuing its own strategic interests” to France’s detriment. There is some speculation that this decision could damage U.S.-French relations. There are also questions on whether announcement is a larger indication of the Biden administration’s view of the United States’ European allies. Much to France’s chagrin, however, this deal really had nothing to do with France or Europe; the announcement of a new alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia has other purposes: further deepening its relationships with the United Kingdom and Australia and, the Biden administration’s primary focus, countering China.

Conclusion

On September 15, the United States, with its British and Australian allies, announced that the United States and the United Kingdom would share nuclear submarine technology with Australia. This decision provides important insight into how the Biden administration views America’s alliance structure. Beyond that, the deal seeks to deepen the U.S. relationship with both the United Kingdom and Australia and as a part of the Biden administration’s efforts to pivot to Asia and counter the rise of China. It does not, however, indicate any changes in the Biden administration’s policy toward or affinity for America’s European allies, particularly France.

The Upcoming German Elections: Continuity or Chaos?

In ten days, German voters head to the polls for parliamentary elections. This particular election is a watershed moment as Germany’s long-serving chancellor, Angela Merkel, is not running for re-election. After 16 years in power, the center-right chancellor is stepping down. Currently, the election is too close to call. As a result, the United States is intently watching the German election. Now, the questions become, how will Germany’s new government conduct its foreign policy and how will this impact the United States’ relationship with Germany?

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How Do German Elections Work?

German elections work differently than those in the United States. German parliamentary elections utilize a combination of proportional representation and single-district constituency processes Each German voter submits two votes; the first vote is used to elect a local member of Parliament (MP) using the first-past-the-post system. In this vote, each candidate that wins the most votes (or is the first to move past the post) in the individual districts wins a seat in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament.

The second vote is choosing a party and is key as it “determines the overall proportion of seats that each party holds” in the Bundestag. Then, the seats are allocated in accordance with how the parties fared in the election. Typically, no one party wins the majority of votes; the party with the most votes forms a coalition with another party (or parties) in order to govern. The Economist recently announced a poll to predict the winner of the German election. While there are several combinations of potential governing coalitions that may lead the next German government, the poll indicates that the combinations most likely to form a majority include the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Greens, and the centrist Free Democrats (FDP); the Greens, the FDP, and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD); or, the least likely coalition, the CDU/CSU and the Greens.  

Who are the CDU/CSU Parties?

The CDU/CSU, the current conservative governing bloc, is expected to perform well in the upcoming election on September 26. Led by Armin Laschet, the party’s foreign policy platform calls for continuity, aligned with Chancellor Merkel’s stances. For one, the CDU/CSU governing coalition are staunch supporters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a central part of regional and global security. The transatlantic alliance with the United States also centers prominently in the party’s foreign policy worldview, viewing the United States as a “central partner.” Additionally, the CDU/CSU, while noting that China’s rise must be countered, seeks close cooperation with China while coordinating with the United States and Europe. On Russia, the CDU/CSU promises to take a firm stance, striving to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

Who are the Greens?

Overall, the Green party, led by Annalena Baerbock, wants to adopt a firmer position on both Russia and China and support further European unity. The Greens view NATO as a key “collective defense mechanism.” They are also deeply committed to European cooperation, Germany’s membership in NATO, and a strong transatlantic alliance with the United States. Should the Greens come to power, they would offer a shift toward a more aggressive foreign policy on China and Russia as they view the showdown in global politics to be between authoritarian and democratic ideals. Specifically, the Greens strongly oppose the Nordstream 2 pipeline with Russia and the European Union’s investment deal with China.

Who is the SPD?

The SPD foreign policy platform varies little from the other parties. Led by Olaf Scholz, the SPD supports NATO military deployments for peacekeeping mission, crisis prevention, and conflict management under the “framework of international order and its institutions.” The SPD is also a strong proponent of the transatlantic alliance and views the United States as a key ally. Similarly, the SPD advocates for deeper European integration. In short, the SPD maintains a deep commitment to the European and transatlantic alliances, seeing the European Union, the United States, and NATO as integral to Germany’s foreign policy. Moreover, the SPD looks to strike a balance between engaging and containing Russia and, while not considering China to be an adversary, advocates for the development of a Europe-wide strategy towards China.

The German Election and the United States

The United States and Germany have a long history of close relations. Today, as the State Department notes, “Germany is one of the United States’ closest and strongest allies.” While relations between the two countries declined under the Trump administration, U.S.-German relations remain strong. Yet, the U.S.-German relationship is entering unchartered territory as Ms. Merkel has decided not to pursue another term. However, no matter which party wins or who becomes chancellor, the U.S. and German relationship will remain close. As Secretary of Blinken noted in Berlin on his June trip to Germany, “I think it’s fair to say that the United States has no better partner, no better friend in the world than Germany.”

The foreign policy platforms of each of the major parties projected to form a possible governing coalition align well with those of the Biden administration. For one, all parties in contention support Germany’s positions within the European Union and NATO. All parties concede that Germany and Europe need to recalibrate the relationship with China. While there are minor agreements on the fate of the Nordstream 2 pipeline, all parties seek to take a hard line against Russia. Perhaps most importantly, at least to the Biden administration, none of the countries challenge the importance of the transatlantic alliance. While Germany’s upcoming promises to cause a little bit of chaos, continuity looks to be the order of the day.

U.S.-Afghanistan Relations After the Rise of the Taliban

On August 30, the United States officially ended its involvement in Afghanistan nearly 20 years after its initial invasion in 2001. As the U.S. and its NATO allies rushed to withdraw their troops, the Taliban, swiftly advanced into Kabul, the capital. As a result, the Afghan security and military forces collapsed, as did the Afghan government. Now, after quickly regaining power, the Taliban has quite a job ahead of them: they must now govern. The Taliban, which has signaled that they will soon announce their new government, faces several challenges that include setting up a functioning government, providing essential services, a looming economic crisis, and avoiding yet another civil war. The Taliban has realized in recent weeks that cooperation with the U.S. government may prove critical to their governing efforts.

In light of this realization, the Taliban has publicly stated their intentions to build cooperative ties with the United States. Two decades on, the Taliban has adopted a more moderate tone compared to their rule in the mid-1990s and is now calling for friendly relations with the United States. “The Islamic Emirate wants a good and diplomatic relationship with the Americans,” the Taliban spokesman stated on September 1. The Biden administration recently noted that U.S. relations with the Taliban depend on behavior. “The United States and the Taliban could cooperate on priorities that are in America’s vital American interest,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken elaborated. While the Biden administration’s position is that a relationship with the Taliban is contingent on behavior, cooperation with the Taliban may be a course of action that the U.S. can’t avoid, regardless of their behavior.

A Mutual Threat

One factor that promises to challenge Taliban rule in Afghanistan is the existence of the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K. Just as the Taliban was fighting U.S. coalition forces in its quest to retake power of Afghanistan, the group was also engaged in a parallel war with ISIS-K, its Islamist adversary. ISIS-K was rose to prominence in 2015 after the Islamic State, or ISIS, seized territory in Iraq and Syria in 2013 and 2014. ISIS-K, a group of disgruntled former fighters from the Taliban and militants from South and Central Asia, including Pakistan, invited Islamist fighters to create a chapter in the Khorasan province, a region that historically includes parts of Afghanistan, Iran, and the former Soviet states in Central Asia.  

It is precisely the growth of the Taliban’s Islamist rival that makes it an attractive international partner today. While the U.S. grapples with whether to diplomatically recognize the Taliban as the governing body of Afghanistan, the United States will have to factor in the fact that the U.S. and the Taliban mutually view ISIS-K as a threat. If the United States wishes to contain ISIS-K, the Americans may be forced to coordinate with the Taliban. At the same time, should the Taliban, who is struggling to consolidate control over all of Afghanistan, wish to limit the reach and power of ISIS-K, they too may have to rely on their former American adversary.    

Peer Pressure

While the United States is still unsure of what its future relationship with Afghanistan under the Taliban will look like, regional powers are willing to work with the Taliban. In fact, the regional consensus appears to be keeping Afghanistan in an operational state, even if that includes the dysfunction that comes along with Taliban rule. Turkey and Qatar are among those countries. Both maintain close ties to regional Islamist movements. Moreover, Turkey as a member of NATO, played a central role in meditating. Qatar hosted talks between the United States and the Taliban and has interest in seeing a stable Afghanistan under Taliban rule. In July, China invited Taliban leaders to meet with the Chinese foreign minister in Beijing with hints of legitimacy and in hopes of suppressing any extremist agitation in its western Xinjiang province. Iran, too, has engaged with and provided weapons and money to the Taliban in recent years, despite fundamental differences in ideology. Russia, for its part, began negotiating with the Taliban several years ago, despite classifying the group as a terrorist organization.

Even the United States’ closest Arab allies – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – have noted that they will accept the Taliban’s again, as both were two of the only countries in the world to recognize the Taliban during its reign in the mid-1990s. Lastly, Pakistan, notorious for its support of the Taliban, is already calling for the world to recognize with the Taliban to prevent a return the civil war which enveloped Afghanistan under the Taliban regime in the 1990s. While the United States may not be prepared to recognize the Taliban quite yet, the U.S. may be pressured to coordinate with the Taliban based on regional dynamics to preserve regional stability.

The Afghan Allies

Over the course of the rushed evacuation, the United States moved more than 120,000 people, including 6,000 U.S. citizens and tens of thousands of Afghan allies who worked with or for the U.S. government and military through the 20 year war, out of Afghanistan. In this effort, the United States coordinated with the Taliban to allow for safe passage of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies into the Kabul airport for safe departure and as protection against ISIS-K. However, there are roughly 100 to 200 Americans who wish to return home and thousands more Afghans in danger of Taliban retaliation due to helping the U.S. military still in Afghanistan. If the United States is going to fulfill its promise to evacuate all American citizens and Afghan allies who want to leave the country, then coordination with the Taliban will be inevitable.

Conclusion

As the Taliban resumes control over Afghanistan, the Islamist group has not been shy about its efforts to coordinate with the United States. And this may be a course of action the United States cannot avoid. Both parties view ISIS-K as a critical threat. Most regional powers – including some of the United States’ closest allies and primary adversaries – are already moving forward in working with the Taliban. Lastly, the Untied States, in order to be able to safely remove the remaining American citizens and Afghan allies from Afghanistan, will have to coordinate with the Taliban. After a 20-year war aimed at removing the Taliban from power, the United States has come full circle again, facing the Taliban as the rulers of Afghanistan once again.  

The Israeli Election and U.S.-Israel Ties

**Two important elections that took place over the course of the summer: Israel’s election took place on March 23 and Iran’s election on June 18. Both elections led to changes in leadership. This series will explore how these elections and changes in leadership will affect U.S. relations with its closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, and one of its primary adversaries, Iran.

On June 13, after 12 years as Israel’s conservative prime minister, the Israeli parliament voted Benjamin Netanyahu out of power by a very thin margin, 60-59. A coalition government of left-wing, right-wing, centrist, and Arab parties led by Naftali Bennett, a conservative from the Yamina party, and Yair Lapid, a centrist from Yesh Atid party, replaced Mr. Netanyahu in a power-sharing agreement in which Mr. Bennett serves as the prime minister and Mr. Lapid assumes that office in 2023. Many analysts have wondered if the Israeli government led by Mr. Bennett would fare better with U.S. President Joe. Biden, a Democrat, than with Mr. Netanyahu in charge.

Upon election, Mr. Biden reached out to congratulate both leaders, noting that he looked forward to strengthening the partnership between the two countries. Moreover, Mr. Bennett’s first foreign trip as prime minister took him to Washington, D.C. to meet with Mr. Biden, a visit which Mr. Bennett employed as a chance to reset relations. Both sides are eager to improve the partnership and, as a result, the change in Israeli leadership will allow the United States and Israel to keep tensions in the relationship in check.

The Iranian Nuclear Deal

One issue which could cause tension between the United States and Israel is the Iran nuclear deal, which was brokered by former U.S. President Barack Obama, along with the P5+1, in 2015. Mr. Bennett, in alignment with Mr. Netanyahu, publicly reiterated his opposition to the nuclear deal in his first address to the Israeli parliament: “Renewal of the nuclear agreement with Iran is a mistake, an error that would again grant legitimization to one of the darkest ad violent regimes in the world.” Mr. Biden, who was Vice President during the Obama administration, played a prominent role in spearheading the deal through Congress in 2015 and, since taking office, has made it clear that reviving the nuclear deal was one of his top foreign policy objectives.

While Prime Minister Bennett and President Biden have opposing views on this issue, the Iran nuclear deal will not serve as a catalyst for tension between the United States and Israel as both sides share the same overarching goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. While Israel and the United States may disagree on the how, they do agree on the what. And for this reason, even though both sides see the issue differently, the Iran nuclear deal will not strain the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The Palestine Question

Another potentially tension-causing issue is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the one hand, Prime Minister Bennett’s views differ very little from those held by his predecessor. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Mr. Bennett noted he would not “allow the occupied territory to become a sovereign Palestinian state” while also announcing that he would not attempt to annex the West Bank. On the other hand, President Biden fully supports Palestinian statehood. Mr. Biden has also expressed that “Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy,” a relatively new phenomena when compared to previous administration’s rhetoric.

For an issue that is usually a thorn in the side of all three parties – the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians – this likely won’t strain the relationship between the United States and Israel as Mr. Biden has shown little appetite for pursuing an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Moreover, neither Mr. Bennett nor Mr. Lapid are likely to touch this issue either, choosing instead to focus on domestic reforms and avoid any moves on any controversial international issues.  

Simple Ideology

Simple ideology also stands to be an issue that could cause tension in the U.S.-Israel relationship. During his time in office, Mr. Netanyahu was not shy in favoring Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, over Democrats. This is also evidenced in his strained relationships with former President Obama, a Democrat, and President Biden. One particular event that enraged former President Obama and then-Vice President Biden occurred when Mr. Netanyahu addressed the U.S. Congress in 2015 in an effort to recruit Congressional support to oppose the Iran nuclear deal. In this act, Mr. Netanyahu exploited political divisions within the United States and circumvented the Obama administration.

Both Israelis and Americans criticized Mr. Netanyahu for damaging American bipartisan support of Israel. In fact, many in the Democratic Party, including liberal democrats as well as long-standing, staunch supporters of Israel, suggest that tacit, unconditional support of Israel may no longer be appropriate. Moreover, some fear that the right-wing Mr. Bennett, frequently referred to as an ultranationalist, may pursue a similar course as Mr. Netanyahu and antagonize his American counterparts. As a result, Mr. Bennett has affirmed that his government will pursue a close partnership with both Democrats and Republicans alike. Despite leading a right-wing party, Prime Minister Bennett understands how important U.S. support is for any Israeli leader and will not rock the boat.

Conclusion

Many analysts have wondered if President Biden and Prime Minister Bennett will get on better than Mr. Biden and former Prime Minister Netanyahu However, the change in Israeli leadership will allow the United States and Israel to keep tensions in the relationship at bay, even with the thorniest issues like the Iran nuclear deal, the Palestinian question, and the ideological differences between the two leaders. Despite some general disagreements on the major issues facing both countries, the United States and Israel are largely in agreement on major foreign policy issues and understand that the partnership between the two countries is invaluable.

America’s European Allies Criticize U.S. Afghan Withdrawal

U.S. President Joe Biden announced in April that the United States would end its military operations in Afghanistan by September 11, twenty years after the horrific terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people After the attacks, the United States, with the help of its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, invaded Afghanistan to “deal with the folks [al-Qaeda and the Taliban] who attacked us on 9/11.” Very quickly, the United States was able drive the Taliban, who provided sanctuary for al-Qaeda, the group responsible for the horrific attacks, from power. The Taliban retreated to Pakistan, where they regrouped.

Over the next two decades, the United States’ aim in Afghanistan shifted from one of counterterrorism to nation-building. This change is exactly what President Biden took issue with. “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build,” he emphatically stated in a speech on July 8, confirming that fighting this war indefinitely was no longer in the United States’ interest. About a month after his announcement, as U.S. and allied troops were withdrawing from Afghanistan, the Taliban resurged, pummeling the Afghan military and security forces and causing the Afghan government to collapse. The abrupt withdrawal caused America’s European allies to question if Biden’s promise to restore America’s alliances and U.S. credibility, after four years of the Trump administration’s political and diplomatic mismanagement, were all for nothing.

The Security Side

Throughout the past few weeks, the United States’ European allies offered unprecedented condemnation on the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. For one, European leaders, especially those in Germany, fear a mass exodus of Afghan refugees headed toward Europe. As a result of the Taliban takeover, thousands of refugees fled the country. This new potential wave of Afghan refugees is reminiscent of the migrant crisis in 2015, which saw refugees, primarily from Syria, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa, make the dangerous voyage to claim asylum in Europe. European leaders also worry that a new surge of refugees will serve as a catalyst for the anti-immigrant far right and populist parties that have infected European politics for the last several years to become more prominent. Moreover, another concern for European leaders is the return of terrorism to Central Asia, which Western countries have worked to prevent over the past two decades now that the West will no longer maintain a significant presence in the region.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

European allies seem to be angered most over the lack of proper consultation by the Biden administration before withdrawing completely. In fact, leaders from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy – the United States’ closest friends in Europe – complained that there was more of a “diktat than conversation” as the U.S. made its final withdrawal decision. Many European officials feel a sense of betrayal, that the withdrawal was a political decision already seemingly made by the Biden administration without proper consultation with its NATO allies who fought alongside the United States throughout the entire war. The U.S.-led withdrawal from Afghanistan presents a textbook example of this frustration, similar to lapses in U.S. actions in Libya, Syria, and Iraq. For the United States’ European allies, respect and the lack of equilibrium within the trans-Atlantic relationship are central concerns. This is fueling a long-held debate raging in Europe: should Europe, particularly NATO, provide more for its own security instead of simply relying on the United States for protection?

Is the U.S. For Real?

These concerns culminate, however, in perhaps Europe’s primary concern: Was Biden’s pledge to restore America’s alliances, particularly the trans-Atlantic relationship, and restore U.S. credibility in the world, insincere? European leaders express concern that Biden, as was true under the Trump administration, expects the Europeans to simply fall in line with U.S. policy decisions despite how they may affect Europe. In this confusion, the Europeans wonder if the United States is honest in the constant reaffirmations stemming from the Biden administration to show how central the trans-Atlantic alliance is to U.S. foreign policy. Now, NATO allies wonder if the recent debacle will impact alliance operations, causing the United States to take more of the lead while Europe is expected to fall in line. The United Kingdom, which made the greatest contribution to the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, has been very vocal on this concern as well. In short, many European allies now question whether the United States is fit to the be the world leader and whether the United States really is back.

Conclusion

America’s European allies have been increasingly vocal and critical about their frustration about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Europeans fear for their security as a new wave of refugees and an increase of Islamist extremism on its periphery loom. Moreover, U.S. allies in Europe feel they were not properly consulted on the withdrawal of a war to which they contributed significantly. Above all, and perhaps the most damaging, this is just the latest episode causing U.S. European allies to question the strength and legitimacy of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Vice President Harris’ Trip to Southeast Asia is Well-Timed…and Overdue

On August 22, Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Singapore on the first leg of a trip to Southeast Asia. After meeting with Singaporean leaders, Vice President Harris traveled to Vietnam. Her second international trip since taking office is designed to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to the geopolitically important region. Central to this reaffirmation is the Biden administration’s efforts to deepen U.S. engagement in the face of China’s growing global influence. Deeper engagement with the governments in the region is increasingly important to the United States’ long-term interests in the Indo-Pacific as China looks to gain more influence, particularly in the South China Sea.

The Indo-Pacific region has long been one of strategic importance to the United States. Early in his time in the White House, President Barack Obama introduced a shift in U.S. foreign policy, referred to as the pivot to Asia. This pivot was intended to “directly engage[ing] China, prop[ping] up Chinese rivals Japan and India, and figure[ing] out the North Korea situation” while transitioning  away from the U.S.-led wars in the Middle East. Of particular interest is the South China Sea, a primary source of tension between China, which has built up its naval presence and military capabilities in the sea, and several countries in Southeast Asia, which has competing claims.  Following his former boss’s policy, Biden is working to shift U.S. foreign policy away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into a new era focused primarily on Asia and, specifically, the great power rivalry with China. As a piece of the Biden administration’s broader Asia strategy and in light of recent events in the region and worldwide, Vice President Harris’ trip to Southeast is well-timed and overdue.

Stop Ignoring Us!

The countries in Southeast Asia embraced the news of Vice President Harris’ trip to the region. Several countries have expressed disappointment over the lack of engagement from the Biden administration. In fact, the United States’ allies and partners in Southeast Asia were largely ignored by the Trump administration. For Biden, who has promised to work with American allies, Southeast Asia feels very much left out of that promise, as the countries in Southeast Asia “hardly figure on Biden’s diplomatic agenda.” In the first several months of Biden’s tenure, his foreign policy has focused primarily on countering China and on U.S. treaty allies, including Japan and South Korea. However, as President Biden is quickly realizing, the countries in Southeast Asia are critical to his overall foreign policy objective: countering China. Thus, Vice President Harris’ trip to Vietnam and Singapore was well-timed and, one could argue, overdue.

The Afghan Withdrawal Reaches Throughout the Region

The abrupt U.S. withdrawal and difficulties in safely evacuating U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from Afghanistan has caused much of the world to question the United States’ credibility and reliability as an international partner. Much like the United States’ North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies who fought alongside the United State throughout the entire war, the United States’ allies and partners in Asia are also asking this question.

Washington’s perception is that the countries in Southeast Asia have gradually drifted away from the United States in favor of closer ties with China. This fear is compounded by the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, with accusations that the United States has abandoned its NATO allies but also triggered criticism that the United States also left its Afghan allies, those who worked with and for the U.S. government during the war, high and dry. Vice President Harris’ trip to Southeast Asia is well-timed, as well as overdue, as it presents an opportunity for the United States to quell its allies and partners concerns about U.S. reliability and reassure the region that the United States is deeply committed to its security and prosperity in its efforts to counter China, which is a lynchpin of Biden’s foreign policy.

And then there was China…

Lastly, Vice President Harris’ trip to Southeast Asia is a play in the Biden administration’s playbook for reorienting U.S. foreign policy toward the great power rivalry with China. In fact, the primary reason behind the abrupt and bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan was so the Biden administration may do just that: focus on what President Biden has referred to as the United States’ primary national security threat. Countering growing China’s expansion into the region, including the South China Sea, remains one of the Biden administration’s top priorities and is a central piece into the United States’ broader Asia strategy. By traveling to the region, Vice President Harris is laying the groundwork for broadening that strategy, and the first step is to reassure the United States’ allies and partners in the region as they will prove to be critical to the United States’ efforts to counter China.

Conclusion

Vice President Harris’ trip to Southeast Asia was a necessary and strategically timed trip. U.S. allies and partners in the region have expressed frustration over the lack of one-on-one engagement since Biden took office. Additionally, the abrupt and chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan prompted many across the world, including allies and partners in Southeast Asia, to question U.S. reliability and credibility. Moreover, the Biden administration has placed China at the center of his foreign policy, which greatly impacts the Southeast Asian region. As a result, it was imperative that the United States reassure its Southeast Asian allies and partners of the Biden administration’s commitment to the region and the strategic importance these countries play in U.S. foreign policy.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

On July 26, Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi met with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House. During this meeting, the two leaders announced that the United States would formally end its combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year. Yet, not all 2,500 U.S. troops located in Iraq would return home as an undetermined number would remain to continue assisting Iraqi security forces in battling the Islamic State, but in more of a training and advisory capacity.

Credit:  DVIDSHUB

While Mr. Kadhimi’s government silently supports U.S. troops remaining in Iraq, he is under intense domestic pressure from members of a government that have fallen under the influence of Iranian-backed militias and those with close ties with Iran to rid the country of any U.S. military presence. Those with close ties to Iran believe the true intention behind an American military presence in Iraq is to counter Iran. The recent announcement does not really change the current situation and instead more accurately depicts the reality on the ground: U.S. troops have primarily been serving in training and advisory roles for the last several years as Iraqi security forces fight the Islamic State. It does underscore, however, Mr. Kadhimi’s most prominent challenge: balancing its two most important allies, which have left Iraq in the middle of the of its tug of war. 

A Generation Later

On the one side, there is the United States. President Biden’s decision to end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq comes on the heels of the United States’ full withdrawal from Afghanistan by September 11, marking the end of the post 9-11 era. The U.S., under the George W. Bush administration, invaded Iraq in 2003 under the false presumption that Iraq under Saddam Hussein developed weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. toppled Saddam, removing him from power, and then settled in for years of nation building to restore the decimated Iraqi institutions and set up a power-sharing agreement along the sectarian and ethnic lines that define Iraq.

Then, in 2011, after a largely failed attempt at putting Iraq back together, President Barack Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq, eight years after the initial U.S. invasion. While some troops remained under the authority of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the advent of the Islamic State in 2014 and its spread across both Iraq and Syria led to the Iraqi government’s request that the U.S. send more troops back to aid in its fight against the growing and increasingly violent terrorist organization. The cold fact is that Iraq relies heavily on U.S. support and the presence of its troops to keep the country from decaying into civil war, putting Iraq right in the middle of the United States’ power struggle with Iran.

Blood is Thicker Than Water

And on the other side, there is Iran. The Islamic Republic, through its proxy militias and close ties to members of the Iraqi government, wields considerable power in Iraq. Iran also shares close ethnic and sectarian ties with some of Iraq’s population, which contributes to its degree of power. Most of these militia groups are Shiite Muslims, which represent a majority in Iraq, and the most powerful groups are stood up by Iran, which is a Shiite-majority country.

Moreover, Iran, through its tentacles that permeate the Iraqi government, is applying pressure on Iraqi officials to force the United States out entirely. In this vein, Iran is carrying out attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq all the while denying any responsibility. These militias, under the command of Iran, are working to push U.S. troops out of Iraq entirely and permanently by pressuring Mr. Kadhimi and the Iraqi government to solidify its own power in the region. This is how Iran is putting Mr. Kadhimi and Iraq square in the middle of its wargames with the United States.

A Delicate Balancing Act

Lately, Iraq’s efforts to balance its two allies, who are engaged in retaliatory airstrikes but are also working toward a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons in return for sanctions relief, has come to a head as Iranian-backed militias have targeted U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for the assassination of Major General Qassim Soleimani, along with an Iraqi security official, at the hands of an American airstrike in 2020. The United States has responded with airstrikes aimed at the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria. Both efforts are a major political headache for Mr. Kadhimi, who has done his best to check the power of the Iranian-backed militias and halt American retaliatory airstrikes while also keeping close partnerships with both Iran and the United States.

Conclusion

Iraq is caught right in the middle of the tug of war of war between the United States and Iran. Despite the havoc that the United States’ military presence and its often detrimental ties with Iran are wreaking in Iraq, for now, very little is likely to change any time soon. Unable to stop Iran’s attacks on its U.S. partners or prevent U.S. retaliation on the militias backed by Iran, Iraq is now facing the “biggest threat to its stability since the Islamic State.”