President Joe Biden made a catastrophic error in withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, where they had helped the local government and army to hold the Taliban at bay at relatively little cost in US lives (11 last year, 12 in 2019 and none at all this year until the terrorist bombs at Kabul airport). Everyone now admits that the summary withdrawal was an error – except, of course, Biden himself.
But does that error, stupid and incompetent though it was, justify the kind of articles now being written about the end of American power as a force in global affairs? “End of the American era,” “End of Pax Americana,” “US no longer the world’s policeman,” and so on.
Somehow I doubt it – though it may well mark the end of Biden as a force, not just in global affairs, but inside his own country.
But America is not Joe Biden and conflating the man and the country may be an historic mistake. America is bigger than Joe Biden.
When Jimmy Carter humiliated America on the world stage in 1979 by failing to rescue American hostages from Tehran, similar noises were made about the end of American power in the world. Yet, within a couple of years, Carter had ceded the White House to Ronald Reagan, a stronger President, who went on to end the Cold War.
The United States still has the biggest economy in the world. It has 800 military bases in 70 countries, including 119 in Germany, 119 in Japan, 80 in South Korea (comprising 280,000 US troops) and even 44 in Italy. Biden says he still intends to reopen the treaty with Iran, which hardly suggests that the US is withdrawing from all foreign engagements.
The US swill go on worrying about the global competition with China. It will continue to lead NATO and will not allow Putin a free hand to take whatever he wants. The power and leadership of the US is also required to help solve the super crises of the age: Covid and climate change.
Biden’s public responses to the charges against him have been pathetic and deceitful. Inasfar as he has tried to justify the withdrawal, it has taken the form of saying it fulfils his promise to the American people to end “forever wars” such as Vietnam. But that is a wholly false comparison.
Vietnam caused 58,000 American deaths; in the 20-year war in Afghanistan about 2,400 US troops died, not forgetting of course the 400-plus fatalities among British soldiers (most of them more than ten years ago when the fighting was at its fiercest.)
One critic says the President appears “exhausted, incoherent, inward-looking and no longer in control of events.” Another says “he has little to offer beyond his advisers’ notes and platitudes typed on an autocue.”
If he goes on like this, his chances of a second term in the White House will fall rapidly and his health, both physical and mental, may not even allow him to get that far. America’s dynamic as a nation cannot be sustained by a failing octogenarian. America is bigger than Joe Biden, just as it was bigger than Jimmy Carter when the chips were down.
James Bond and the CIA
Did you know that Ian Fleming, the man who wrote the James Bond stories, also invented the CIA? Neither did I until an old chum, Clarles Glass, sent me an email about it the other day.
Charlie used to work with me as a foreign correspondent on The Observer and went on to be a star Middle East correspondent presented on ABC Television in America for many years.
He says Fleming, then a Lieutenant Commander working in the war as adjutant to the head of British Naval Intelligence, went on a secret mission to Washington in 1941 and, in great secrecy, wrote a document of 70 pages that set out how a global-wide American intelligence operation could work.
He presented it to William “Wild Bill” Donovan, a much-decorated First World War veteran, who had been urging President Roosevelt to introduce a world-wide US intelligence Service. Flaming’s proposals were accepted and formed the basis of the CIA’s initial organisational set-up.
Charlie says he got the story from his friend Alexander Cockburn, who found it in the official records of the CIA. No wonder, then, that Bond and his CIA counterpart, Felix Leiter, are such pals.
Judy beats her target
Congratulations to Judy Boden for not just meeting her target on her nautical mile swim for the charity Pollensa Cares. She sought £1,500 and achieved £2,900, which is a marvellous achievement by a marvellous woman.
The money will help to buy laptops for schools in Puerto Pollensa, which is part of the education strategy of Pollensa Cares, which started with a food programme for 700 families hit by the economic fall-out from the Covid epidemic.
Many thanks, too, to those Bulletin readers who contributed to this good cause.