If there’s an underlying political message to the Biden administration’s handling of Russia’s threatening posture near Ukraine, it’s simple: It won’t be like Afghanistan.
President Joe Biden and his aides engaged in robust diplomacy with other nations, Congress, and the American public as they simultaneously attempt to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine and prepare the world for worst-case scenarios.
Biden frequently addresses the situation publicly, though it has been fluid. Its diplomats have been continuously engaged not only with NATO countries, but with allies outside the region, such as Japan, who may be able to help reduce Putin’s influence. And senior administration officials provided information and talking points to members of Congress.
The response so far contrasts with the handling of Afghanistan last fall, when critics say the administration should have given Americans better warning of the worst outcomes — including the possibility, however remote it may seem to the public. White House, from a quick Taliban takeover.
“Not having this conversation with the American public probably left us unprepared for what happened in August of last year, the fall of Kabul,” said Rep. Ami Bera, D-California, who sits to the Foreign Affairs Committee. “This go-around, you see the president talking on TV, and his cabinet members and other members of the Security Council, I think preparing the country and being transparent with what might happen and what is our role, as well as our allies in Europe.”
A Biden administration official defended his response in Afghanistan and said it was working with the best intelligence, as well as the Afghan president’s vow at the time to fight, although that didn’t happen. The official also dismissed the idea that the administration’s handling of an exit from Afghanistan last year is helping shape its response in Eastern Europe.
His transparency efforts are aimed at alerting Americans to the high stakes of Russia’s rise on the Ukrainian border as well as exposing Russian misinformation, said the official, who was granted anonymity so he could speak freely about the issue. ‘administration.
In interviews, however, experts say there are clear signs Biden is embracing lessons learned not just from Afghanistan but from 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and Biden was vice president. Then-President Barack Obama was criticized for not working harder to deter Putin at the time. Today, Biden repeatedly warned Putin of international repercussions, including tough sanctions, if he invades.
“There is no doubt that the Biden administration was aware of the criticisms that emerged in the wake of the pullout from Afghanistan,” said David Rothkopf, a former senior Clinton administration official and author of “Running the World: The Inside Story of the National”. Security Council and the Architects of American Power. “I think the administration said, ‘We need to anticipate the public diplomacy side better. “”
With Ukraine, the administration communicated better and more frequently, and pushed the president and other senior officials to speak directly to the public, he said. He argued that messaging diplomatic efforts also proved to be “the best way to outflank Putin.”
P. Michael McKinley, a longtime former diplomat and four-time ambassador, including to Afghanistan, said the administration’s handling of the crisis has strengthened relationships with key partners.
“The administration has used this time to deeply strengthen and intensify dialogue with key NATO allies,” said McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Yet there is evidence that the White House has more work to be done to rebuild trust between U.S. partners and humanitarian aid advocates after the United States was caught off guard when Kabul fell. It brought searing images of desperate Afghans hanging from planes, falling to their deaths. The United States was forced to rush a massive evacuation effort that left behind Afghans who feared retaliation from the Taliban.
The military community felt betrayed that the United States would risk leaving behind the people who helped them during the 20-year conflict. Members of Congress have been exasperated by the chaos that erupted during the unexpected fall of Kabul, which involved dealing with a flood of requests for emergency aid from people seeking to get out of the country.
Months later, as the administration faces a new foreign policy test, new questions about the missteps in Afghanistan have arisen. A pair of reports from The Washington Post shed new light on the indecision within Biden’s team as it neared an exit from Afghanistan and described a haphazard evacuation operation.
Miscalculations in Afghanistan have meant the administration has been met with additional skepticism even as it builds its case against Russian aggression.
Jeremy Butler, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said veterans’ groups are among those pushing the administration to allow journalists to embed troops based in places like Poland.
While acknowledging a difference in the administration’s approach to Ukraine, Butler called for “as much independent analysis, reporting and information in this situation, so that we let’s not be completely dependent on what the administration tells us.”
And last week, Biden found himself at odds with humanitarian advocates after signing an executive order that equitably distributes $7 billion in frozen assets intended for Afghans between the nation and the families of 9/11 victims who are suing the Taliban for the 2001 terrorist attacks. Biden’s decision enraged and bewildered a segment of the foreign policy and humanitarian communities who questioned the validity — and morality — of taking funds that had been set aside for Afghans. It also served as a reminder of the bleak economic conditions in Afghanistan, which has been ravaged by famine and starvation since America’s exit and Taliban takeover.
The White House said in a statement that it was “designed to allow funds to reach the people of Afghanistan, while keeping them out of the hands of the Taliban and malicious actors.” The United States has sanctions in place against the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, including for activities that threaten the safety of Americans, such as taking our citizens hostage. »
But Vali Nasr, who served as a senior adviser to the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the executive order is eroding the administration’s credibility on the international stage.
Nasr said the Afghans see it: “First of all, ‘They dumped us, they left us all behind who were working with them. Now they also take money out of our mouths and give it to someone else,” Nasr said. “That doesn’t make us look good.”
Bera said the administration is doing a better job with its handling of Ukraine than it has with Afghanistan by preparing for and communicating the worst-case scenario, which helps restore confidence.
“Certainly the people who briefed us on Capitol Hill never once said that the Afghan government could fall quickly, even after we asked that question repeatedly,” Bera said. “I think the strong, unambiguous response of a strong democracy in Ukraine is exactly what we needed to get over this.”
Experts say the strength of the US response lies in its ability to project unity with NATO partners and beyond. This sends a message to the international community but also to Putin.
“Communications with allies and partners are critical to American strategy, and the administration has been flawless,” said David Wade, who served as former secretary of state John Kerry’s chief of staff. “To play a diplomatic tune that reaches the Kremlin, you need an orchestra, not a solo act. Putin’s whole strategy is to find a weak point in Western resolve and exploit it. He is looking to see if anyone is singing on another score. The dozens of phone calls the White House and State Department have publicly shared underscore cohesion and underscore unity.
Evelyn Farkas, who served as the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia in the Obama administration, said there have been “lessons learned from every time we’ve dealt with the Russia”.
“I wouldn’t necessarily compare it to the withdrawal from Afghanistan, because it’s much more like the time when we had to deal with Russia in 2014 and the same people were in the administration then.”
Farkas said it was better for Biden if he could deter Putin, but the most dangerous scenario for the president and America’s position in the world would be if Putin invaded and the United States did not give in. following a firm response.
“The risk is there if we don’t punish him as we promised,” she said. “Then we would suffer because no one else would pay attention to us, including the Russians.”