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Biden's Handling Of Afghanistan Has Angered Some Allies


In together, out together. That was the slogan for the United States and its partners in Afghanistan. But the way the Biden administration left and the current situation in Kabul have angered many U.S. allies. Now everyone is scrambling to evacuate their citizens and the Afghans who supported them. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Constanze Stelzenmuller was a journalist at the start of the war in Afghanistan, covering her home country Germany's involvement. She says Europeans came to America's help at the time.

CONSTANZE STELZENMULLER: The first time I was in Afghanistan was in January 2002. The Germans were already there.

KELEMEN: So the end of the war for them was hugely symbolic, and that's why many were taken aback by the scenes out of Kabul this week.

STELZENMULLER: This administration came into office saying we are going to be the exact opposite of Trump. No more disruption, no more chaos, no more, you know, brutal indifference to the needs of human beings and of allies.

KELEMEN: But the Biden administration hasn't lived up to those promises.

STELZENMULLER: And for an administration that has been sort of so determined, so well-prepared and so process-oriented, to have departed from Afghanistan in such a shambolic way, creating such damage, that throws up huge questions about whether this team is as good as it says it is.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has been on lots of phone calls with partners and allies, as has his deputy, Wendy Sherman.


WENDY SHERMAN: We all share a focus right now on making sure that our countrymen and -women, that Afghans at risk in all categories are able to leave the country.

KELEMEN: She says this is not the time for an after-action report. President Biden has defended his decision, saying the U.S. won't fight a war that Afghans weren't willing to fight. That's a message for domestic audiences, says Reza Afshar, who runs a diplomatic advisory group called the Independent Diplomat.

REZA AFSHAR: And I don't think it's fair at all on the Afghans who have, as I say, have lost a lot of lives fighting the Taliban. And that needs to be recognized.

KELEMEN: Afshar, a former British official, says the credibility of the U.S. and its partners have taken a hit in Afghanistan, though this trend isn't really new. The West has struggled to deal with other crises, from Syria to Yemen and now Myanmar and Belarus.

AFSHAR: The big winners in a situation like this are the likes of Russia and China, but also the current and would-be despots who have no regard for international law.

KELEMEN: Former French ambassador to Washington, Gerard Araud, takes the long view. He recalls former French President Charles de Gaulle telling the Americans during the Vietnam War that a mature power fights only for what's essential.

GERARD ARAUD: Your credibility doesn't mean that you fight for everything, that everything - you know, every position has to be defended. But actually, you have to make a distinction between essential interest and peripheral interest. And frankly, Afghanistan is quite peripheral for the Americans.

KELEMEN: But while many Europeans do agree with the Biden administration's decision to leave, the way it was done leaves a bad taste, says Stelzenmuller, now with the Brookings Institution.

STELZENMULLER: Not the decision itself, but the impact of how this decision was made, how allies were left out of it and had to scramble to provide for themselves is hugely damaging for the - this administration's determination to work with allies to contain larger - you know, greater challenges in the world, beginning with China, but not ending there.

KELEMEN: There's huge work ahead in Afghanistan, too, she says, to coordinate humanitarian aid and help refugees.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.