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Why Biden Should Continue Withdrawing After Afghanistan

One month after the Afghanistan pullout, it is still unclear whether we witnessed the beginning of a series of military withdrawals—as part of Biden’s proclaimed end to the era of regime change wars—or if Afghanistan will remain a mere one-off.

While Washington’s foreign policy elite was up in arms against Biden’s withdrawal, a closer accounting of the political and strategic fallout reveals an opening for Biden to make good on his promise to disentangle the United States from the Forever Wars and begin a broader US withdrawal from the Middle East, starting with Iraq and Syria. The political cost of withdrawing from the Middle East has largely already been paid, and the geopolitical consequences have been strongly positive.

As the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August, the media, defense contractors, and Pentagon-friendly policy wonks produced a flood of criticism condemning the US withdrawal, deeming it a “humiliation” and a “national disgrace.” Pundits clamored for Biden to reverse his decision and redeploy troops.

Yet the American public was not swayed by Washington’s temper tantrums or the media’s attacks. The number of Americans who supported the withdrawal continued to grow, despite the horrible images from Kabul airport. A Pew poll showed that most Americans, although they disapproved of how the withdrawal was handled, believed that Biden made the right decision overall. Sixty-two percent think the biggest lesson from Afghanistan is that the United States should not be in the business of nation-building, and that it should send troops in harm’s way only if vital national interests are threatened.

Much of the foreign policy establishment is shocked that Biden proved that the military-industrial complex and its allies in the policy world—the so-called Blob—can be defeated. It requires steely political will, but Biden has demonstrated that if the American public is behind you, you will not only win but flourish.

With the myth of the invincibility of the military-industrial complex shattered, there is no reason for Biden to stop. The US military’s continued presence in Syria is illegal and serves no vital US interest. After the defeat of ISIS, the Trump administration justified the presence of troops by claiming they were needed to counter Iranian influence. But countering Iranian influence—real or imagined—in Syria is not a vital US interest and Congress never approved such a mission. Today, the 900 troops stationed in Syria lock the country into its civil war and impede reconstruction efforts. Rather than making America safer, the presence of US troops in Syria risks dragging the United States into yet another unnecessary war in the Middle East that will make Americans less safe.

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