Why Afghanistan is collapsing

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody, Ian Bremmer here. Before we head off to the weekend I thought, given all of the news happening very quickly around Afghanistan and the imminent Taliban takeover of the country, the collapse of the existing government and the impact that's going to have on the United States Biden administration, certainly the biggest foreign policy crisis they will have experienced to date under their administration, worth a few moments from me on what the hell is going on.


So we all know the United States announced that it was going to take all troops out of the country by 9/11. And once it was clear that it was happening and imminent, the interest and willingness of the Afghan armed forces to continue to fight was very low. We've been hearing that on the ground from US generals, from NATO generals for some time now. So it should not have come as a huge surprise. But the Biden administration apparently has indeed been surprised by just how quickly this all has transpired. Massive communications failure from my perspective, as a consequence of that. You don't want the international community to think that Biden didn't expect or wasn't planning for what the impact of his decision has been.

Now, to be clear, I actually think they thought very carefully about the decision to pull out of Afghanistan. It was enormously unpopular. That was true under Obama, true under Trump, true under Biden as well, both among Democrats, Republicans and Independents. There was no demographic in the US that was saying we want to continue to stay on the ground. And furthermore, when the internal Afghan policy group was meeting to recommend the final decision to soon-to-be-elected President Biden, the decision that came out was that basically we're going to lose this territory. The present status quo is not sustainable over the course of a Biden administration. You can't keep it going for four years unless you commit more troops, more military intervention, more financial support. No one was willing to do that. So given that, the decision was: let's leave.

Now, I actually accept the logic behind that. I really do. But I think some big mistakes were made. Big mistake number one: If you've made that decision and you've been fighting with your allies across NATO for 20 years, you should be making the decision together with your allies. If there's a good chance something's going to go wrong, why would you want to own that all by yourself? Why wouldn't you go to the Canadians, the Brits, the Europeans and say, "Look, here's what we assessed. This is why we think we should leave. Do you agree?" In all likelihood, they do agree and then everyone makes the announcement to leave together. It's not just the Americans, it's not just President Biden. And if they don't agree, then we can talk about whether there's a compromise, whether there's burden sharing.

Furthermore, you also have the issue of the Chinese. The Chinese government actively does not want the Americans to leave Afghanistan because they're being left holding the bag specifically with a base for militants that are strongly opposed to the way China has been treating the Uyghurs, potential support for secessionist movement, east Turkestan, Xinjiang region of China. This is not something they want to deal with. The Americans should have been asking Beijing, "Look, we don't want to keep our troops there. Our NATO allies don't want to keep their troops there. But if you were to send peacekeepers, maybe we'd continue to provide humanitarian aid, maybe we'd support intelligence, maybe we should do some drone strikes or whatnot." And if you ask, together with the Europeans and the Chinese say no, they're partially culpable, responsible for the fact that they're not willing to do anything. They're just as bad as the Americans in that regard after that cutting and running, as it were. Right? Not responsible. But we're here. The Chinese government had no part of it. It's all the United States. It's all Biden. It's all his loss. They can point and they can say, look, one more way that the Americans have failed on the international system.

Furthermore, the fact that the Biden administration clearly was not aware, was caught flat footed—how can you not have had a scenario where the State Department is prepped to close down the Embassy, if need be, to destroy documents, if need be, as opposed to, you know, when all of the country is falling to the Taliban? This decision was made on Biden's time, not on Afghan time. They shouldn't be being surprised by this. This is an enormous mistake in in my view. This is an administration that's cautious about most things, but the comms has been horrible. The idea of Jen Psaki coming out the other day, the White House spokesperson, and saying, well, the Taliban needs to think hard about the role they want to play in the international community. I mean, maybe that sounded good in her head when she thought it, but it didn't out loud. There is no role for the Taliban in the international community. And everyone knows that. This is defensive because they weren't ready and there was no reason for that.

So I want to be clear that to the extent that Biden has a foreign policy doctrine, that doctrine is a foreign policy for the middle class. It's been articulated reasonably well by people like National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, by people like Brian Deese who runs the National Economic Council. I get it. And I mean, maintaining a presence in Afghanistan and spending billions and billions of dollars there is antithetical to any doctrine of a foreign policy for the middle class in the United States. I get that that is not where Biden wanted to be.

But you can articulate a smart policy and not be able to execute on it. And here, I think the execution failures across the board—militarily, diplomatically, internationally, as well as comms at home—really give these guys negative marks. The worst thing they've handled or mishandled so far since they've taken the presidency. I hope they can do some fast damage control. And that's even before we start talking about just what a disaster on the ground this is about to be for the people of Afghanistan.

Anyway, that's it for me. Hope everyone's good. Have a great weekend. I'll talk to you all real soon.

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Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

Change?

Though he's a man of the center-left, Olaf Scholz, current finance minister and most likely next chancellor, wouldn't represent a radical break from Merkel. He's among the more fiscally frugal of Germany's Social Democrats, and after decades in German politics, he's an experienced technocrat and a skilled manager of political alliances.

Nor would a change in government radically shift Germany's foreign and trade policies. Its new government, whoever it includes, will keep strong security ties with the United States and NATO and protect opportunities to expand economic relations with China. Germany's dependence on Russian energy will demand a continuation of Merkel's pragmatic approach to Vladimir Putin's government.

Scholz's conviction that a strong and cohesive EU is good for Germany will limit any temptation to get tougher with the governments of Poland and Hungary over their violations of EU rules and principles. And aware that COVID can widen gaps between richer and poorer EU countries, and that anti-EU economic populism remains a potent force in Italy and elsewhere, he's likely to support a generous approach to pandemic recovery in southern Europe.

But climate policy, an area where Merkel concedes she should have done more, will be an important and interesting story to watch. Given its leadership within the EU and its standing as the world's fourth largest economy, the influence of Germany's next government on climate policy will be crucial to global climate strategies. A new German government with Scholz as chancellor will likely push the pace of transition from carbon to renewable energy, at least in part because the Green Party coalition partner will push for this as hard as it can. The Greens must show progress on the climate front to maintain political credibility and popularity. If the Free Democrats are indeed part of the coalition, they'll push hard to limit tax increases to pay for tougher climate action, but they won't blow up the coalition that gives them a seat at Germany's governing table.

Merkel's legacy

Even in a country that values stability and continuity, Angela Merkel's 16-year run is remarkable. More than once she's proved the maxim that it's not the smartest or strongest who survives, but the one most adaptable to change. Merkel is smart and strong, to be sure, but she'll be remembered longest – by both devoted admirers and bitter critics – as the leader who insisted Germany could and should do more to help indebted countries survive Europe's sovereign debt crisis (2010-12) and to manage the surge of migrants that followed unrest in the Middle East (2015-16). Her improvisational talents also led her to change tack on nuclear power (after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan) and on common European debt.

But the main reason Merkel leaves power with an 80 percent approval rating is that, whether she receives more credit than she deserves, she has presided over a period of economic expansion and prosperity in Germany that few other world leaders can match. It's all the more remarkable then that her party looks set to find itself in opposition once a new government is formed. It's Merkel that German voters like, not her political family.

Bottom-line: Whatever he accomplishes as Germany's next chancellor, Olaf Scholz will find Angela Merkel a tough act to follow.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen a lot during her 16 years in power. She's navigated a global economic recession, multiple wars in the Middle East which sparked an EU refugee crisis, and now a once-in-a-generation pandemic. Often the only woman in the room, Merkel has had to learn to tactfully deal with dozens of idiosyncratic world leaders. Many have come and gone since 2005, but Merkel has won elections again and again. We take a look at who she's dealt with from the top five democracies (by economic size) throughout her tenure.

In May 2020, economic historian Adam Tooze told GZERO World he feared 1 in 5 American workers could still be out of job now due to COVID. It didn't happen. Why? Tooze says he failed to anticipate how quickly we'd get highly effective vaccines, and the scale of the economic stimulus the government was willing to put up. During the 2008 financial crisis, he explains, "we were still beginning to flex our muscles with regards to economic policy, and the scale of fiscal and monetary stimulus that we've seen is as unprecedented as the shock of the spring of last year."

Watch Tooze's interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television starting Friday 9/23/21. Check local listings.

Will Evergrande be China's Lehman Bros? Chinese authorities are bracing for the increasingly likely default of Evergrande, the country's most indebted property developer. If Evergrande — a gargantuan corporation with properties in 200 cities across China — stiffs its creditors, that'll send shockwaves throughout the country's financial system, and the wider Chinese economy and society. The possible ripple effects on home buyers and countless companies and individuals that do business with or are owed money by Evergrande have invited comparisons with Lehman Brothers, the US investment bank whose 2008 collapse triggered an American financial crisis that quickly spread to the entire world. Although in principle authoritarian China has ways of containing the fallout, the potential for social unrest is real — and opacity could make it worse. More broadly, the demise of such a big player in the country's once-booming real estate market, which accounts for over 7 percent of GDP, would expose the shaky foundations of China's debt-driven economic growth model, eroding confidence in China both at home and abroad.

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Betrayal. Treason. Duplicity. These are some of the words used by the French government to describe the US' recent decision to freeze Paris out of a new security pact with the UK and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, which nixed a contract for Australia to buy French submarines.

Macron's subsequent tough stance against one of its oldest and closest allies is unusual, including his decision to briefly recall the French ambassador from Washington, the first time a French president has done so. But this headstrong strategy is also a deliberate diplomatic choice.

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43: Eight months into the job, US President Biden's approval rating has hit a new low of 43 percent, a six-point drop since August. Of all the US presidents elected since World War II, only Donald Trump had a lower approval rating at this stage of his presidency. It sure looks like Biden's honeymoon period is over.

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