Biden: Major shift in US foreign policy | Daily News

Biden: Major shift in US foreign policy

Taliban celebrates U.S. exit from Afghanistan.
Taliban celebrates U.S. exit from Afghanistan.

“I’ve been clear that human rights will be the centre of our foreign policy. But the way to do that is not through endless military deployments, but through diplomacy, economic tools and rallying the rest of the world for support”, said US President Joe Biden after the pull out of US troops from Afghanistan earlier this week.

The decision to end the US role in Afghanistan was also about ending an era of military operations aimed at rebuilding other countries, Biden said.

It was a significant shift to human rights away from military power that has been at the core of US foreign policy in the past decades. Laying stress on the national interests of the people, he said: “I refuse to continue a war that was no longer in the service of the vital national interests of our people”.

“That was the choice: between leaving or escalating. I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit,” Biden said.

President Biden, addressing the US people said: “It was time to be honest with the American people again. We no longer had a clear purpose in an open-ended mission in Afghanistan. After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, I refuse to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago.

“The American people should hear this: $300 million a day for two decades. You take the number of one trillion, as many say, that’s still $150 million a day for two decades. And what have we lost as a consequence in terms of opportunities?

“I refuse to continue a war that was no longer in the service of the vital national interests of our people. And most of all, after 800,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan. After 20,744 American servicemen and -women injured, and the loss of 2,461 American personnel, including 13 lives lost just this week, I refuse to open another decade of warfare in Afghanistan.

US President Joe Biden speaks about Afghanistan from the East Room 
of the White House, August 16, 2021, in Washington.

“We’ve been a nation too long at war. If you’re 20 years old today, you’ve never known an America at peace. So when I hear that we could have, should have, continued this so-called low-grade effort in Afghanistan, at low risk to our service members, at low cost, I don’t think enough people understand how much we have asked of the 1 percent of this country who put that uniform on, willing to put their lives on the line in defense of our nation.

We see it in the struggles many have when they come home. We see it in the strain on their families and caregivers. We see it in the strain of their families when they’re not there. We see it in the grief borne by their survivors. The cost of war, they will carry with them their whole lives.

Most tragically, we see it in the shocking and stunning statistic that should give pause to anyone who thinks war can ever be low grade, low risk or low cost: Eighteen veterans, on average, who die by suicide every single day in America. Not in a far-off place, but right here in America.

There’s nothing low grade or low risk or low cost about any war. It’s time to end the war in Afghanistan. As we close 20 years of war and strife and pain and sacrifice, it’s time to look for the future, not the past. To a future that’s safer, to a future that’s more secure.

Taliban celebrations

Taliban fighters fired their guns into the air in celebration in the Afghan capital Kabul, as the US completed the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan, nearly twenty years after it invaded the country following the September 11, 2001 attacks on America.

They stood aboard captured Humvees as they paraded plundered US military hardware in their southern Afghan heartland.

A long line of green vehicles sat in single file on Wednesday on a highway outside Afghanistan’s second-biggest city, Kandahar, many with white-and-black Taliban flags attached to aerials, according to an AFP journalist.

Fighters manned the controls of the multi-purpose trucks – used by US, NATO and Afghan Forces during Afghanistan’s 20 years of war – while others clambered over the vehicles at Ayno Maina, a town on the outskirts of the city.

Pick-up trucks laden with supporters rolled past the convoy of military vehicles, some armed with heavy weapons and machine guns.

New Afghan Govt.

Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers were preparing to unveil their new government as the economy teetered on the edge of collapse, more than two weeks after the Islamist militia captured Kabul and brought a chaotic end to 20 years of war.

The legitimacy of the new government in the eyes of international donors and investors will be crucial for the economy as the country battles drought and the ravages of a conflict that took the lives of an estimated 240,000 Afghans.

The Taliban has promised to allow safe passage out of the country for any foreigners or Afghans left behind by the massive airlift which ended with the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops on Monday, but with Kabul airport still closed many were seeking to flee overland to neighbouring countries.

The Taliban’s Supreme Leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, is expected to have ultimate power over a new governing council, with a president below him, a senior Taliban official told Reuters last month.

An unelected leadership council is how the Taliban ran their first government which brutally enforced a radical form of Sharia law from 1996 until its ouster by the U.S.-led forces in 2001.

The Taliban have tried to present a more moderate face to the world since they swept aside the U.S.-backed government and returned to power last month, promising to protect human rights and refrain from reprisals against old enemies.

But the United States, the European Union and others have cast doubt on such assurances, saying formal recognition of the new government - and the economic aid that would flow from that - is contingent on action.

Food crisis

More than 10 million Afghans are facing acute food insecurity caused by prolonged drought as the Taliban seizes control of the country.

Experts say drought and severe water shortages have compounded instability and conflict in Afghanistan for decades and are worsening a humanitarian crisis precipitated by the withdrawal of US and allied troops.

Fourteen million people, around 35% of Afghanistan’s population, were already facing acute food insecurity before the Taliban takeover, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). Half of all Afghan children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov told Reuters last week that Afghans are facing a double threat: conflict and drought. “You have a kind of combination effect of displacement caused by war and by military hostilities compounded with displacement caused by drought and by the difficult economic conditions,” Alakbarov said.

Afghans have found themselves caught in a vicious cycle of climate change and conflict for over 40 years. Water and land scarcity have increased community-level conflict, poverty and instability, which in turn have driven environmental degradation and the depletion of resources.

Afghanistan’s climate plan, submitted to the UN in 2015, outlines that all the country’s 34 provinces are highly vulnerable to climate impacts, including drought, heatwaves and glacial lake melts. Water stress is a major concern as 80% of the country’s population relies on rainfed agriculture for their livelihoods.

UN Security Council

The UN Security Council passed a resolution on Monday that calls for the Taliban to facilitate safe passage for people wanting to leave Afghanistan, allow humanitarians to access the country, and uphold human rights, including for women and children.

Thirteen of the 15 ambassadors voted in favour of the resolution, which further demands that Afghanistan not be used as a shelter for terrorism. Permanent members China and Russia abstained.

The resolution was tabled by the United States, alongside fellow permanent Council members France and the United Kingdom.

Countries condemned in the strongest terms the deadly blasts at Kabul airport last Thursday, which killed more than 150 people and injured upwards of 200 more. The terrorist group Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed responsibility.

“The Security Council expects the Taliban to live up to its commitment to facilitate safe passage for Afghans and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan, whether it’s today, tomorrow, or after August 31,” said US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

“Consistent with the right to leave any country, including one’s own, everybody must be allowed to safely leave Afghanistan, for whatever reason, whenever they want, by air or by land. This is of the utmost importance to us.”

“It underscores that all parties need to facilitate humanitarian assistance, and that humanitarian actors be given full safe and unhindered access to continue service delivery to those in need,” she said.

The resolution takes note of a Taliban statement this week which allows Afghans to leave the country at any time. Nathalie Estival-Broadhurst, Deputy Permanent Representative of France, called for that commitment to be upheld.

“This resolution calls on everyone to make all efforts to secure the airport and the surrounding area,” she said, speaking through an interpreter.

“And to create this safe passage and protection is a sine qua non condition to ensure that threatened Afghans who wish to leave can do so safely, but also to ensure that humanitarian assistance can reach all of those who need it through the airport, of course, but also over land borders.”

On the issue of human rights, UK Ambassador Barbara Woodward emphasized the need to protect gains made over the past two decades, stressing that the rights of women, children and minorities must be safeguarded.

She described the resolution as an important step towards a unified international response to the situation in Afghanistan.

“We will continue to build on this to ensure the Council holds the Taliban accountable for its commitments. The Taliban will be judged by the international community on the basis of their actions on the ground, not their words,” she stated.

In explaining his vote, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Russia was forced to abstain because certain “principled concerns” were not reflected in the draft text, which was circulated on Friday.

“Firstly, despite the fact that the resolution was proposed against the backdrop of a terrible terrorist attack, the authors categorically refused to refer to a passage on the fight against terrorism containing internationally recognized terrorist organisations ISIL and the East Turkistan Islamic Movement,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

“We see this as a reluctance to acknowledge the obvious, and a desire to divide terrorists into ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’; and that is to say, to downplay the terrorist threat coming from these groups.”

Ambassador Geng Shuang of China stated that given the fragile situation on the ground, and the uncertainties, any Council action should help ease tensions, and not intensify them.

“The recent chaos in Afghanistan is directly related to the hasty and disorderly withdrawal of foreign troops,” he said. “We hope that relevant countries will realize the fact that withdrawal is not the end of responsibility, but the beginning of reflection and correction.”

EU position

European Council President Charles Michel says the chaotic scenes in Afghanistan illustrate the need for the EU to embrace “greater decision-making autonomy and greater capacity for action in the world”.

The scramble to evacuate EU citizens from Kabul was dependent on - and frequently frustrated by - the US military, especially when it came to helping Afghan people who had worked with international organisations.

Speaking at the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia, Michel said the EU should not have to rely on other powers in the future.

“Can Europe be content with a situation where we are unable to ensure, unassisted, the evacuations of our citizens and those under threat because they have helped us?”

Michel stopped short of calling for the creation of a unified EU military.

But from the same stage, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, came close. “We need to establish a common defence policy. If we don’t do that now, when?” he asked.

India - pollution

Air pollution can reduce the life expectancy of Indians by nine years, says a report by a US research group.

The study says 480 million people in northern India face the “most extreme levels of air pollution in the world” and, over time, these high levels have expanded to cover other parts too.

Strong clean air policies can add up to five years to people’s lives, it adds.

Indian cities routinely dominate global pollution rankings and bad air kills more than a million people every year.

The report by The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) says that north India breathes “pollution levels that are 10 times worse than those found anywhere else in the world”.

This air pollution has spread over decades beyond the region to western and central Indian states such as Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, where the average person is now losing between two and a half-to-three years of life expectancy as compared to early 2000, it adds.

New data from the Air Quality Life Index report by EPIC says that residents in the capital, Delhi, could see up to 10 years added to their lives if air pollution was reduced to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline of 10 µg/m³.

In 2019, India’s average particulate matter concentration was 70.3 µg/m³ - the highest in the world.

The report says that Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, which together account for nearly a quarter of the global population, consistently figure in the top five most polluted countries on earth.

EPIC acknowledges certain policy changes made by the Indian government to fight air pollution, such as the 2019 National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), which aims to reduce dangerous particulate pollution in the country. “Achieving these goals would have a major impact on the life expectancy levels of Indians - it would increase the national life expectancy level by nearly two years, and three-and-a-half years for residents of Delhi,” it says.

China, the report says, is one example of how effective policy can produce “sharp reductions in pollution in short order”. Since 2013, the country has reduced its particulate production by 29%.

Texas: Abortion ban

A law banning abortion from as early as six weeks into pregnancy has come into effect in the US state of Texas.

It bans abortions after the detection of what anti-abortion campaigners call a foetal heartbeat, something medical authorities say is misleading.

The law, one of the most restrictive in the country, took effect after the Supreme Court did not respond to an emergency appeal by abortion providers.

Doctors and women’s rights groups have heavily criticised the law, which gives any individual the right to sue doctors who perform an abortion past the six-week point.

Rights groups, including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), requested that the Supreme Court block the legislation. But in the early hours of Wednesday, the ACLU confirmed that the court had “not responded to our request”, adding: “Access to almost all abortion has just been cut off for millions of people.”

The group, which says that up to 90% of abortions in Texas take place after six weeks of pregnancy, described the development as “blatantly unconstitutional”.

In a statement, President Joe Biden denounced the bill as “extreme”, warning it would “significantly impair” access to abortion care, particularly for low-income Texans and racial minorities.

Since the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade, US women have had the right to an abortion until a foetus is viable - that is, able to survive outside the womb. This is usually between 22 and 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has said the term “heartbeat” is misleading, and that what is being detected at this stage is “a portion of the foetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops”.

The Texas law enforces its ban also empowers any private citizen to sue anyone who “aids and abets” an illegal abortion. It does not make an exception in the case of pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

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