There are bitter lessons aplenty about America’s 20-year and $2 trillion Afghan excursion. There are equally as many about the U.S.’s botched exit from that country this August, which has been dubbed “Biden’s debacle” by formerly favorable international outlets. Yet neither the horrendous scenes from the rapid Taliban takeover, the glee of U.S. adversaries, nor the domestic political debates that the withdrawal has deepened have managed to slow America’s eagerness to head for the exits in the Middle East. Despite the fiasco, the Biden administration’s desire for a regional drawdown continues apace.
When President Joe Biden proclaimed on August 31 that the Afghan withdrawal mission was an “extraordinary success,” he meant it. Not far behind was Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who called the airlift out of Kabul “an extraordinary effort” in his September 14 testimony to Congress.
That’s precisely because getting out of the way, no matter the facts on the ground or the wherewithal of the enemy to continue fighting, is fast shaping up to be a feature, not a bug, of the Biden administration’s approach to conflict zones across the Middle East. Nowhere is this truer than with respect to Afghanistan’s western neighbor, the Islamic Republic of Iran, whom Washington is trying to tempt back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
In fact, there is a direct line between the administration’s quest to resurrect the JCPOA and its Afghanistan exit. Both are borne out of a misguided belief that the region no longer matters and that the best thing Washington can do is de-escalate. The JCPOA is specifically desired by the Biden team to claim that an urgent (read: nuclear) threat inherited from its predecessor has been headed off and less time can be spent managing the Iran threat. Under such a scenario, the U.S. might “pivot” more assets, interests, and attention away from the Middle East to other parts of the world.