Sen. Bill Hagerty said the collapse of Afghanistan made it even more important for Washington to rebuild alliances damaged by President Biden’s hasty withdrawal
The shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the increased risk of terror threats should be a wake-up call to Washington to rebuild trust with partners infuriated by President Biden’s handling of the exit, said Senator Bill Hagerty on Sunday after returning from a visit to London and NATO headquarters.
He said he heard a deep sense of anger during his meetings with British MPs and ministers, and with representatives of NATO allies, at the way Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline put their citizens’ lives at risk.
‘The frustration was palpable,’ he said after flying back at the weekend.
‘You have a moment of reckoning like this … sometimes it provides the opportunity to engage in a new manner, to bring new energy to a situation.
‘And we’ve got new challenges that are going to emerge from this.
‘A vacuum has been created in Afghanistan, a vacuum that jihadists and terrorists can flood into.
‘This poses incredibly new and different sorts of threats that we’ve got to address and address together.’
Sen Hagerty met with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace (l) and Foreign Office minister James Cleverly during a visit to London to discuss the fall-out from the Afghan withdrawal
Taliban fighters man checkpoints throughout Kabul since taking control of the capital and the rest of the country last month as U.S. troops withdrew and the Afghan army folded
Taliban forces rally to celebrate the withdrawal of US forces in Kandahar, Afghanistan, 01 September 2021, showing off their military hardware
The Taliban now have access to billions of dollars of US weaponry left behind by American troops or abandoned as the Afghan army collapsed.
Al Qaeda retains a presence in Afghanistan. And the suicide attack on Kabul Airport, that killed 13 US service members, illustrates how other groups such as ISIS-K are active in the country.
Then there is the broader, global challenge from rivals such as Iran, China, Russia and North Korea who will draw lessons from watching an American president withdraw troops after years of stalemate in Afghanistan.
‘All of this emboldens our adversaries around the world that question our resolve,’ said Hagerty.
‘It’s never been more important to work with our strategic allies.’
Those relationships need rebuilding he said, after hearing how America’s partners viewed Biden’s handling of the withdrawal.
‘I think that there is an extreme frustration with what they called a”calendar driven” – rather than a “conditions driven” – exit from Afghanistan,’ he said.
‘They felt that was folly. And the result was putting their citizens, their allies at risk.’
He said he promised to use his position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to delve into Biden’s decision and the handling of the withdrawal.
During the trip, he met with NATO ambassadors from Germany, Italy, Turkey, the UK and the US.
In, London the Tennessee senator met with MPs from the governing Conservative Party. They are often the first to talk up the historic importance of the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the US.
Hagerty said rebuilding trust meant being honest about the crisis in Afghanistan. ‘Rather than spinning this, which is what the world is seeing right now, this administration should have stood up and addressed it to head on,’ he said before leaving for London
A helicopter displaying a Taliban flag flew over Kandahar as supporters cheered. Hagerty has demanded the Biden administration take action to destroy, retrieve or immobilize billions of dollars in US military hardware left in Afghanistan after the withdrawal
Taliban fighters atop Humvee vehicles captured from Afghanistan’s government troops
But Hagerty’s meetings included Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who last week offered a very public sense of how Biden’s approach had undermined the relationship.
In an interview with The Spectator magazine, he said the Afghanistan crisis had illustrated Britain’s limited power in the world before he turned his anger on Washington.
‘But a superpower that is also not prepared to stick at something isn’t probably a superpower either. It is certainly not a global force, it’s just a big power,’ he said.
Two former prime ministers have blasted Biden’s decision to leave in decidedly undiplomatic terms. Tony Blair said it was ‘imbecilic’ and John Major told the FT Weekend Festival it was ‘strategically very stupid.’
European leaders have expressed some of the same reservations, using the precipitous Afghan departure to reheat old ideas about forming a European Union rapid reaction force.
‘The failure in this instance has created yet another opportunity for these sorts of questions about the value of our alliance to come to the fore in these sorts of theories,’ said Hagerty.
He came away from his meetings with a clear sense that politicians on the other side of the Atlantic feel they are on the front line of a decision made thousands of miles away.
‘One thing they made very clear to me as well, is that the failed execution on the Afghan withdrawal has created significant domestic political problems for them,’ he said.
‘And by that, they feel that the threat of terror is much greater for them because of their proximity than it is for us.’
The result, he added, was a generation of politicians rethinking how they would deal with Washington.
‘We should be a nation in an alliance that keeps their promises, should be one that operates from a position of strength and we should never let a calendar dictate our policy,’ he said.
‘We should base it on practical conditions on the ground and we should be forward looking, in our policies.’
European leaders, he added, had woken up to Biden’s shortcomings as a president after initially welcoming him to the fold.
‘Joe Biden portrayed himself as level headed as someone with four decades of experience in government, someone who’s well known and trusted by our allies and our foreign leaders and that he’d be a steady hand in foreign relations,’ he said.
‘I think the American public and our allies were sold a bill of goods.’