Foreign policy in its essence is a tool to further the nation’s national interest in the international system. American foreign policy depends on dynamics of choice; the first set of these choices is to determine the national interests which are the foreign policy goals to achieve and how to achieve these goals. Another set of choices is about the foreign policy politics which states which actors and institutions play what role and up to what extent they have influence over foreign policymaking.
When it comes to objectives of foreign policy the US foreign policy has four core objectives which include the protection of the United States and its citizens and allies, the assurance of continuing access to international resources and markets, the preservation of a balance of power in the world, and the protection of human rights and democracy.
These goals are a priority for the US when it is articulating its foreign policy. Power is the key requirement for most basic foreign policy goals that is the preservation of independence and territory.
The foreign policy of the United States towards Afghanistan has seen many ups and downs from being the epicenter of US support during the Soviet-Afghan war to the focus of conflict and direct military action during the global war on terror after the 9/11 incident. US foreign policy as of now towards Afghanistan has a fundamental goal and that is preventing any further attacks on the United States by terrorists based in Afghanistan.
According to the US department of defense, the policy towards Afghanistan priorities centers on consolidating and sustaining the effects of U.S. counterterrorism efforts to date; ending the conflict between the Taliban and wider Afghan society that perpetuates instability and sustains an ecosystem for terrorists; and shifting responsibility to the Afghan government and people to secure their borders and their institutions, and meet the basic needs of Afghan citizens.
Now the US is trying to have a deal with the Taliban they are fighting with for almost two decades and is planning to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. As the US exits from Afghanistan let us try to understand that was the US successful in achieving its goals in Afghanistan and what will be the future policy of the US towards Afghanistan after leaving behind a war-torn country in hands of the Taliban they were fighting for the past two decades.
U.S. Achievements in Afghanistan
The US failed to achieve its core goals in Afghanistan while it was able to secure some of its goals in the longer run. There are definitive lessons to be learned from the past two decades of military involvement. The fundamental purpose of pursuing the War on Terror was to ensure that Afghanistan could no longer remain a hotbed for terrorism to flourish, with 9/11 as the catalyst that justified and necessitated military intervention.
But was the US successful in countering the threat rather than being destroyed, the Taliban regime has scattered across the state and any talk of the War on Terror being a success was false. When it comes to the principles of the US foreign policy they involve the values, ideas, and beliefs that the US has claimed to stand for in the world.
Democratic Idealism emphasizes the principles rooted in American history and holds two central tenets about American foreign policy: “right” is to be chosen over “might” and in the long run, “right” makes for “might. The same US government supported the minority group to rule over Pashtun-dominated Afghan regions which are ultimately against the democratic principles, the government which loses its legitimacy outside Kabul.
The US in search of spreading democracy has failed to much extent as it is trying to make a deal with the Taliban who don’t recognize the US-backed government in Kabul. When analyzing the foreign policy success we see the indicators as US choices show that the US is trying a way to get out of Afghanistan without its core goals being achieved and leaving behind the citizen of the Taliban in threat of a civil war which will be disastrous for the region. The original plan for a post-Taliban Afghanistan called for rapid, transformational nation-building.
But such a vision no longer appears feasible, if it ever was. Many Americans are now skeptical that even a stable and acceptable outcome in Afghanistan is possible. They believe that Afghanistan has never been administered effectively and is simply ungovernable.
Much of today’s public opposition to the war centers on the widespread fear that whatever the military outcome, there is no Afghan political end state that is both acceptable and achievable at a reasonable cost. While optimistic policies proposing the spreading of democracy are not entirely reliable.
The USA and its allies can no longer assume that the military might will or can somehow impose a democratic model onto states with successful results; this identifies the US failure in achieving its objectives to a larger extent. The War on Terror, as a military operation, has itself become a hazardous problem that has prolonged Western intervention in Afghanistan.
One may presume that the US now has an improved understanding of Afghanistan’s socio-cultural background. If there is better mutual understanding among the allied forces and locals about what a ‘just society looks like, this may improve matters of governance, though concepts such as stability, security, and democracy may be understood differently by many in Afghanistan than policymakers in the US.
In accordance with the Doha deal with Taliban and the May deadline to withdraw forces from the Taliban it is time to prioritize among the interests the United States is pursuing within Afghanistan, and to readjust the priority accorded Afghanistan within the scope of US interests abroad and at home.
The US has to keep in view the feasibility of the stability it will provide in Afghanistan with keeping in view the sentiments of the local Afghan people who will be living there in the end.
Tayyab Ishtiaq is a student of International relations at National Defence University, Islamabad.