Don't believe Britain's bleak outlook on U.S. 'isolationism'

Harlan Ullman, Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist
U.S. President Joe Biden is a firm internationalist and will not abandon ship over NATO and America’s Pacific allies, despite the bleak outlook from Britain. Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI
U.S. President Joe Biden is a firm internationalist and will not abandon ship over NATO and America’s Pacific allies, despite the bleak outlook from Britain. Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI | License Photo

Writing in the London Times on Friday, Iain Martin's fear about the end of Pax Americana and America leaving the rest of the world in the cold after the Afghanistan debacle would have been mitigated had he referred to two of the United States' greatest humorists: Mark Twain and Jack Kennedy.

As we all know, Twain mused that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.


The young president freely admitted that "the only thing worse than being an enemy of America was being a friend and ally." And to paraphrase Winston Churchill, "In the end, America will come to the rescue."

So when Martin writes, "This may sound like a bleak outlook. But America has sent the rest of us a clear message. Unless or until a new U.S. president who is not an isolationist appears, we will have to work on the assumption that we cannot rely on America" -- do not believe him.

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Yes, for the first time perhaps since Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, or Argentina briefly seized the Falklands in 1982, a "global Britain" is understandably united in the way the Biden administration inexplicably and incompetently managed the Afghan withdrawal up until the brilliant final escape from Kabul airport that could have been a Dien Bien Phu or Little Bighorn military catastrophe. There was no excuse for the gross failure not to consult with allies in advance and not to anticipate the operation disintegrating. And here the U.S. military is much to blame as well.


That said, while the Afghan retreat may be seen as a stain on the president and his presidency -- and Republicans will do their worst to make it indelible as the Democrats would have attempted if given the opportunity to reverse the favor with Donald Trump -- as far as American politics are concerned, La Affaire Afghanistan is virtually over. Even catastrophes, as war plans never survive first contact, are affected by news cycles. Not only has Hurricane Ida consumed all the attention, the Republican Texas Legislature may have clumsily and stupidly ceded the 2022 congressional and the 2024 presidential elections to the Democrats.

The Legislature, with the full support of a stealthy Supreme Court, took the first step of ending Roe vs. Wade and a woman's right to choose by banning all abortions -- even for rape and incest -- after six weeks gestation. That case will go to the courts. However, irrespective of party, overwhelmingly, women support Roe vs. Wade as established law. And virtually all women will strongly object to making no exceptions for rape, incest or the mother's health as the law demands.

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For most Americans, Hurricane Ida, Roe vs. Wade and other future events will likely consign the Afghan mess to yesterday's news and the ignominious rubbish dump. To pound this argument even further, the truly shocking events of Jan. 6 and the storming of the U.S. Capitol to finish the job the British started in 1814, is almost forgotten. Memories tend to be short when crises are daily events and COVID-19 is still running rampant.


About Martin's point, however one views Joe Biden on the pullout, he is a firm internationalist and will not abandon ship over NATO and America's Pacific allies, no matter how cynical JFK may have been. One argument for leaving -- and perhaps the Brexiters should have plagiarized it -- was to focus more intently on the main events, namely China and Russia, and not the 21-year-old side show in Afghanistan. To deal with these two main competitors, the United States can only succeed with allies. And no one is even suggesting the United States will withdraw troops from Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Yes, before the cavalry came to the rescue in Fort Apache, Kabul, the critics were right. As America's "special partner" since Franklin D. Roosevelt and Churchill shared cigars in Nova Scotia in August 1941, Britons were warranted in the depth of the negative reactions to the end of endless wars without even a by your leave. But that does not mean the United States is leaving the field of battle and will never return -- to the contrary.

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Should Afghanistan descend into chaos, rapidly or over time, the Biden team will bear that responsibility, which it will. However, on the other side of the coin, where else could America's allies go? And do not forget that Churchill's optimism about the cousins will certainly trump Kennedy's more pessimistic outlook.


Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist, senior adviser at Washington, D.C.'s Atlantic Council, prime author of "shock and awe" and author of the upcoming book, "The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large."

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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