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With Troops Out Of Afghanistan, Biden Can Focus On Other Foreign Policies


In ordering U.S. troops to prepare to leave Afghanistan, President Biden said their presence no longer makes sense.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.

INSKEEP: Now, there were reasons officials gave over the years to stay - preventing new terror attacks, aiding U.S. allies, protecting the rights of women. But the administration wants to focus on other priorities now considered more urgent. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The merits of the decision by Biden to pull out of Afghanistan will likely be debated for years to come. Among the arguments - is it worth fighting a war with no end in sight? Or is it morally right to abandon a nation at risk of being overrun by a brutal regime? Whatever the answer, one thing is certain. Biden is closing the chapter on American involvement in a two-decade-old conflict.

BRIAN KATULIS: That's what I think this announcement we heard from President Biden yesterday is signaling. It's signaling that we're trying to set a new order of priority for America's approach to the world.

NORTHAM: Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, points to a report released by the U.S. intelligence community earlier this week.

KATULIS: And if you look at the global threat assessment, which I think is an important document, it's not a political document. Again, it's by the intelligence community. But it does reflect where I think - not only where the administration has set its priorities - China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, cybersecurity and climate. It also reflects where most Americans are.

BIDEN: The main national security concern is China, which challenges U.S. primacy on various levels - economically, militarily and technologically. Susan Shirk is chair of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego.

SUSAN SHIRK: And the foreign policy is about China, but it's more than China because it involves strengthening our alliances and really returning to more of a position of American leadership.

NORTHAM: Shirk says the administration is also using the threat of China's rise as a way to cut through domestic political gridlock.

SHIRK: You hear a lot about the growing China threat as a reason to invest more in our own self-strengthening and improvement domestically, including infrastructure, research and development.

NORTHAM: Aaron David Miller of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says up until the Afghanistan announcement, the Biden administration was going after what he calls low-hanging fruit, rejoining the Paris accord, the World Health Organization and repairing relations with allies. And, Miller says, apart from its attempts to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, Biden is steering clear of the priority of previous administrations - the Middle East.

AARON DAVID MILLER: It's become less important in American foreign policy calculations. Our growing independence from Arab hydrocarbons, our unhappy experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan - all of these things has made the Middle East hardly an area of opportunity for the United States.

NORTHAM: Biden may have made the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan to focus on other areas, but it's a calculated risk. He was there as vice president when President Barack Obama tried to end U.S. participation in the Iraq War, only to get pulled back in later when ISIS rebels overran large parts of the country. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.


Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.