After the Afghan Debacle, The U.S. Needs Some Foreign Policy Realism | Opinion

The last U.S. military plane left Kabul this week, ending two decades of war and 17 days of a hasty withdrawal that turned deadly in its final days. What's left behind are hundreds of Americans, tens of thousands of Afghan allies, $85 billion worth of military equipment and America's tarnished reputation.

Many have blamed the Biden administration's "incompetence" for the debacle. But incompetence alone doesn't fully explain the catastrophe in Afghanistan. A more probable explanation is that the Biden administration planned a rushed withdrawal—and anticipated a Taliban takeover—from the beginning, relying on wishful thinking about the Taliban and doubts about the United States.

The Taliban is a radical Islamist militant group. Its brutality against Afghan people, especially Afghan women, shocked the world before the U.S. intervened. It provided a safe haven to terrorist groups including al-Qaeda, which orchestrated the 9/11 terror attacks. In recent years, the Taliban claimed that it had changed for the better, but growing evidence demonstrates that it is just as cruel and violent today as it was two decades ago.

According to the Wall Street Journal, today's Taliban militants "still ban music, force men to grow beards, limit girls' education and forbid women from leaving home without a male relative or burqa." The Taliban also still conducts public "beatings and executions of those accused of crimes."

Of course, Afghan girls and women are in the most perilous situation. The Taliban ordered working women to stay home until further notice. Najla Ayoubi, a former Afghan judge now in exile, said she had received many reports of Afghan women being abused and tortured. Many young Afghan women were forced to marry Taliban militants or trafficked to neighboring countries as sex slaves.

In truth, the Taliban hasn't changed at all. It continues to undermine democratic values and violate human rights in the most violent ways possible. Despite the evidence, the Biden administration has been treating the Taliban as if it were a typical opposition political party striving for acceptance in the international community.

Viewing the Taliban through this rose-colored lens, the Biden administration planned the United States' withdrawal on the assumption that it could count on, work with and even influence the Taliban through diplomatic negotiations and lofty rhetoric. Such wishful thinking explains why administration officials saw nothing wrong with closing U.S. military bases before evacuating civilians and military equipment, and why the Taliban's rapid advances caught them off guard.

Biden administration officials reportedly rejected the Taliban's offer to let the U.S. military maintain the security of Kabul until America's evacuation was complete. Instead, the administration handed the Taliban responsibility for providing security in the area surrounding Kabul Airport. Due to the Taliban's roadblocks and checkpoints, some Americans and thousands of our Afghan allies didn't make it into the airport and are now stranded in the country. The Taliban will find them sooner or later.

Taliban fighter in Kandahar
A Taliban fighter stands guard at a gathering of Taliban supporters celebrating the US withdrawal of all its troops out of Afghanistan, in Kandahar on September 1, 2021 following the Talibans military takeover of the country. JAVED TANVEER/AFP/Getty Images

On the day of the U.S.'s final departure from Afghanistan, State Department spokesman Ned Price called on the Taliban to respect "basic rights of the people" and form "an inclusive government"—as if he were speaking to a legitimate ruling political party rather than a radical Islamist militant group.

The Biden administration paired this wishful thinking about the Taliban with a complete lack of faith in America and its founding principles. Many on the Left insist that the United States is a fundamentally and irredeemably racist nation founded on white supremacy. They claim that people of color are still oppressed in the United States because of "systemic racism."

When Chinese diplomats employed this woke rhetoric to attack the United States at the Alaska Summit, Biden administration officials offered weak responses—they themselves have repeated the same rhetoric many times before. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield has declared that white supremacy was woven into our nation's founding documents and principles. Not to be outdone, Secretary of State Antony Blinken invited the United Nations' Human Rights Council—which includes some of the world's worst human rights abusers, such as Russia and China—to investigate "the scourge of racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia" in the United States.

Not surprisingly, the Biden administration's foreign policy approach reflects and reenforces a lack of moral confidence in America. Viewing America's international engagements through the lens of social justice, the Biden administration doesn't see the United States as a force of good on the global stage. According to AEI research fellow and former Iranian hostage Xiyue Wang, the Biden administration believes that international intervention by the U.S. had been "immoral." "To right this wrong," Wang argues, "the Biden administration believes that it must extricate itself from conflicts and undo decades of policy regardless of how perverse the consequences are to U.S. interests and allies."

Such belief explains why Joe Biden insisted on meeting the August 31 withdrawal deadline, even if it meant some American citizens and thousands of Afghan allies would be left behind, and Afghan girls and women would lose all the progress they have made in the last 20 years. Wang concludes that the Biden administration ends up embracing the same bigotry it claims to fight at home. Other than policy failures, what can we expect from leaders who condemn their own country?

The Afghan debacle was a disaster on the Biden administration's part. It has ruined America's credibility, emboldened our adversaries and made us less safe. The only way for the administration to limit further damage is to reverse its course and take a more realistic approach to foreign policy.

A realist foreign policy should have two components. First, it should never lose moral confidence in America as a force for good even while it evaluates honestly the United States' capacity. In a speech at the Steamboat Institute last weekend, former secretary of state Michael Pompeo explained that the highest priority of any U.S. administration should be to "secure America's freedom" and "defend those things that are most important to America."

Second, a foreign policy based on realism should treat U.S. adversaries as they are, not as we wish them to be. The Afghan debacle demonstrated that nothing good will come from decisions based on wishful thinking.

Suppose the Biden administration continues to approach the world with wishful thinking and to reject America as a force for good. In that case, the Afghan debacle will only be the first of many foreign policy blunders to come.

Helen Raleigh, CFA, is an American entrepreneur, writer and speaker. Helen is the author of Backlash: How China's Aggression Has Backfired and Confucius Never Said. Follow her on Twitter: @HRaleighspeaks and visit her website:

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.