Leading article Australia

Chaos foreseen

21 August 2021

9:00 AM

21 August 2021

9:00 AM

As Robert Gates, former defense secretary in the Obama administration, once put it, Biden has ‘been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades’. He certainly left an impression by being the only senior person in the Obama administration to argue against the pursuit and execution of Osama bin Laden.

As we’ve seen graphically this last week, the American withdrawal from Afghanistan has rapidly become a stuff-up of catastrophic proportions. True, the failed US mission in Afghanistan spans four administrations (Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden) but the planning and manner of the disengagement belongs to Biden. It takes some special level of incompetence to implement a military withdrawal more inept than the US departure from Saigon in 1973.

It was Biden who said on 8 July, ‘The likelihood there is going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely’. Tell that to the millions now facing brutal fundamentalist Islamic rule under the Taliban who have declared an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

In a cover story titled ‘Peace Nixed’ for this magazine published 14 November, 2020, regular Speccie columnist Dr David Adler, President of the Australian Jewish Association, assessed the impact of the incoming Biden-Harris team’s Middle East policies warning that the ‘Middle East will plunge back into darkness’. The controversial cover image by Sarah Dudley and Ben Davis, showed the president-elect holding a dove of peace in a cage, as dead as any canary in a poisonous coal mine.


Dr Adler foreshadowed the increased risk of violent conflict that the change of administration would bring. By May 2021, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched over 4,000 rockets into Israel which responded with a 15-day campaign known as Operation Protective Edge, to destroy much of the terrorists’ weapons and infrastructure.

Donald Trump’s administration had been not just resolutely supportive of its ally Israel as the only friendly liberal democracy in the Middle East but had actually delivered the most tangible peace progress in a generation. There were four normalisation agreements signed under the auspices of the Trump administration between Israel, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, collectively known as the Abraham Accords.

So often Westerners looking from the perspective of their own values, misjudge the culture of the Middle East. What we regard as compromise, being accommodating and reasonable is perceived as weakness in the Middle East. It is strength and principle which earns respect. Trump was respected, albeit grudgingly by some, whilst Biden is not. Our enemies are now emboldened.

North of Israel, the government of Lebanon is failing, and Hezbollah is becoming more belligerent in its pronouncements. Some commentators predict a Hezbollah takeover (with the backing of Iran), and further conflict with Israel. With a weakened US, both Russia and China are exerting more influence also in Lebanon and also Syria.

The effect of a change in the Middle East power balance may well be felt outside Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Afghanistan. Iran, the world’s most prolific sponsor of international terrorism, has just inaugurated a new President, Ebrahim Raisi, even more radical than the previous. Raisi was known as the Butcher of Tehran for his role in the mass murder of prisoners, described by Australian human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson as a crime against humanity. Representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah were given front-row seats at his inauguration.

The Taliban have immediately foreshadowed the implementation of sharia law in Afghanistan. There are great fears for those left behind who may have assisted the US and its allies and there are specific concerns for the welfare of women and children.

The US defeat and the manner of its withdrawal from Afghanistan is being reported in Arabic media as both a humiliation and a confirmation of weakness. There are fears that this will be used to motivate radical Islamist groups in north Africa, across Europe, in the US and even Australia and inspire terror attacks.

Alas, what we called Mr Biden’s ‘plunge into darkness’ turns out to have been a tragic understatement.

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