Every country has the right to defend its interests. In fact, this right can be underscored by saying that it is the duty of every state to preserve its interests, priorities, and whatever it deems beneficial to its people.
This cannot be opposed by any sane person. However, I think that oppositions abound, and differences mount when the dispute pertains to the very concept of interest, as any failure to understand what constitutes interest may lead to its attenuation, resulting in a given country coming to pose a threat to its own interests while believing that it is protecting them.
US President Joe Biden’s talk about the fact that remaining in Afghanistan and continuing to fight there was not in the interest of the US, given that its goal was not to build a state but to hunt down “al-Qaeda”—adding that the mistakes of the past cannot be repeated—has led us to re-contemplate what is perceived as an interest. This comes in addition to another issue that we deem as very important for the most powerful country in the world, which heads the international community, that being how to formulate a discourse for defending interests.
It appears to us that President Biden’s speech, the justifications he used to explain his sudden exit from Afghanistan, and what the footage conveyed with regard to the abandonment of the Afghans after their country, land and resources were mobilized in a war of retaliation waged by the US against “al-Qaeda”—have led to undercutting the US interests. We are mindful that interests can either be concrete and tangible or symbolic, which are important as well, as the most powerful country in the world has a vested interest in protecting its image. Power, first and foremost, can be summed up as an image that is marketed; the US did this in the sixties, seventies and eighties where not even children were spared from the portrayals of power spread by the US through cartoon films. Countless children have since fallen victim to the American cartoon culture while trying to imitate its heroes.
It is noticeable that many things have changed in American politics and communication since the attacks of September 11, 2001; the idea that the US is the most powerful country in the world has taken a backseat, albeit without renouncing this idea in terms of its behavior.
To explain further: the US’ abandonment of the Afghans in this harsh manner which assured the Afghans that Washington was not concerned by them or their country, leaving their fate in the hands of the “Taliban,” added to the great resentment and shock this move has engendered around the world— this behavior contradicts the image of the most powerful country in the world. Perhaps the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan today amounts to an abandonment that does not befit the image of America, which has always tried to convince the world that human rights and democracy were red lines not to be trespassed.
Also, direct talk about the goal behind its 20-year presence in Afghanistan is a moral affront to the image of the US, as it entails a recognition of the exploitation of a country and its people for two decades in order to pursue an organization that attacked America. This is well known, of course, but over the course of these two decades the US has been promoting other ideas, namely that it was fighting terrorism in a bid to eliminate it; the result being that it left Afghanistan at a critical moment in time.
Furthermore, is the most powerful country in the world entitled to commit mistakes around the world? President Biden’s retorts to those upset about his abandonment of the Afghan people and the handing over of the country to the Taliban included a clear and explicit indication that the US would not repeat the mistakes of the past. Thus, US foreign policy is awash with mistakes, and most of these mistakes were committed in and beyond the Middle East.
We believe that making mistakes—especially repeating mistakes to the extent suggestive of mistakes in the plural—also affects the image of the most powerful country in the world, because the image of power requires success in managing world affairs, without which strength is outshined by the image of error and failure.
US policy theorists, led by Fukuyama, have promoted the idea that the era of totalitarian regimes has come to end, and based on the recommendations of White House thinkers and US policymakers, orders were given calling for political reform, imposing pluralistic political participation, and opening up the digital space and the Internet to people around the world. These ideas heralded a world dominated by democracy and human rights, and there were countries that accepted democracy by way of American power and tutelage. But the numerous experiences, or as the US President called them “mistakes,” have all manifested failure; and the countries targeted by the US were subsequently left in a state of crisis and infighting. Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan are textbook examples of such.
Maybe these US experiences can lead us to posing a series of questions: Was the goal of the US of America to sow chaos that it thought was creative, but was later proven to be destructive for nations and peoples, or was it concerned with spreading democracy and bridging the gap between the developed democratic world and totalitarian countries? To what extent did the US war really target terrorism, and what are the dimensions of the relationship of the strongest country in the world with terrorism?
We pose these questions because we are confronted by a real crisis in the administration of world affairs, and in understanding that whosoever wants to run the world must consider the interests of the world as part of their own.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi newspaper Asharq al-awsat.
US condemns Taliban’s plan to reinstate executions, amputations as punishment
US grants licenses for more aid flow to Afghanistan despite sanctions on Taliban
US will not force Taliban to replicate Western culture with frozen funds: Official