For more than a decade, every debate about U.S. policy in Afghanistan has focused narrowly on the number of troops to send or withdraw. U.S. policymakers freely admit there can be no military solution to Afghanistan’s problems. Yet they continue to debate the same false choice between disengagement and troop commitment for counterterrorism.
The incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden has a chance to move beyond this blinkered approach. U.S. interests in Afghanistan extend beyond counterterrorism. China, India, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia—four nuclear powers, Asia’s two mega-economies, and a wily U.S. adversary—all have a stake in Afghanistan’s future. How the United States deals with these countries in the context of the Afghan peace process has profound implications for its relations with each of them and for its standing in Asia.
The Biden administration should continue to draw down troops in accordance with the agreement the administration of President Donald Trump signed with the Taliban in February 2020—though it could seek to adjust the timeline, since implementation of parts of the agreement has been delayed. But it should draw down as part of a coordinated regional strategy that seeks to capitalize on areas of alignment between the United States and regional powers.
Although its relations with China and Russia are otherwise in a downward spiral, the United States shares an interest with both countries in stabilizing Afghanistan. A political settlement that enjoys the support of Afghanistan’s neighbors wouldn’t just reduce the need for U.S. troops; it could serve as the foundation of a more ambitious and effective Asia policy.
Read the full article in Foreign Affairs.