Across the world, from Eurasia to the American continent, from Africa to West Asia, a titanic shift in geopolitics is occurring. In August of 2021, the US was routed by the sudden advance of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Eerily echoing the Fall of Saigon in 1975, helicopters lifted collaborators off of rooftops in Kabul. After almost 20 years of grueling combat, the US has left Afghanistan limping with its tail between its legs. This was done without consulting NATO and US allies, and vast amounts of military hardware were left abandoned. America has gained nothing from this war, and it has cost not only 2.3 trillion dollars, but it has taken the lives of 2,420 service members and left 20,000 more wounded. Furthermore, the outcome of this conflict has serious implications for US foreign policy and its future.
Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union (along with its allied states), the United States has held an international position as an undisputed global hegemony. Throughout the 90s and early 2000s, the US functioned unilaterally. One example of this was the support of pressuring the governments of the former Eastern Bloc to open their economies. Scholar Naomi Klein termed this, and its devastating results, “shock therapy” economics. Institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, and other international corporations (all with American backing) sunk their claws into formerly sovereign economic powers. The result was an explosion in poverty, prostitution, drug use, excess mortality, and far-right nationalism. The US took advantage of its geopolitical position by unilaterally invading Iraq, bombing Libya, and brutally sanctioning “rogue nations” such as Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela. These sanctions have resulted in millions of lives lost, billions of dollars spent, and excessive civilian suffering. Politically, the US intervened in many elections, such as the 1996 Russian presidential elections. President Clinton used bailouts, the CIA, and even blatant fraud to ensure the defeat of the resurgent Communist Party of the Russian Federation.
Despite being unilateral and unprecedented, actions such as these went unpunished due to the United States’ status as a global superpower. American unipolarity seemed to be the order of the day. So much so that Scholar Francis Fukuyama called this period the “End of History.” However, in the context of current events, Fukuyama’s principal thesis; that liberal capitalism would face no more significant challenges, was premature at best. Global trends are showing the rapid decline of American power and influence. Europe, once a firm partner in the American order, has become divided. Germany, often referred to as the undisputed head of the EU, (whose unification was only made possible by George H.W. Bush dragging France, Britain and Russia alone for the rise) now faces opposition. The Germans have found themselves in a precarious situation, with Eastern Europe slipping into populist nationalism and authoritarianism (as seen by Victor Orban’s constitutional changes and Poland’s formation of “LGBT Free Zones.”) Even the more liberal-leaning countries of Western Europe are contending with the rumblings of shaky politics, populism, and rising Euroscepticism.
Germany, a nation that once acted in tandem with US foreign policy, is now beginning to take actions contrary to American geopolitical interests. Germany’s increasing reliance on Russian natural gas through the Nordstream 2 Pipeline has ruffled many feathers in Eastern Europe and the US. Many see the economic relationship between Germany, Russia, and China as compromising US ambitions against those latter countries. A clear example of this division can be seen in Ukraine, which is currently engaged in a civil war, with Ukrainian nationalists on one side, and a coalition of Russian-aligned separatists on the other. Ukraine, too, relies upon Russian oil exports and fees through pipelines. Nordstream 2, which runs through the Baltic Sea (as opposed to overland), is seen by many as a means of cutting Ukraine off (and thus crippling the Kyiv regime’s war effort against the separatists in the Donbas region). This division has led to a diplomatic row over whether or not to complete the pipeline.
Meanwhile, in Asia, Kamala Harris’s recent visit to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam caused a shift in perception of US foreign policy. This trip was largely seen as an attempt by the US Government to convince Vietnam to align against China and join the US in its efforts to contain China within Asia. The Vietnamese not only rejected Vice-President Harris’s demands of “containing China”, but over the past couple of years have strengthened their connections to Beijing, both economically and politically. Similarly, in Latin America, anti-imperialist left-wing political parties have risen to power. In Peru, Pedro Castillo of the Peru Libre party has become president. Despite massive sanctions, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua have all endured and resisted counterrevolution. In Bolivia, after a US and OAS-backed coup d’etat against Evo Morales, the people of Bolivia resisted en masse and restored the socialist MAS party to power. Chile, after massive protests which erupted in 2019, has begun amending the Pinochet era constitution (Pinochet was the US-backed dictator who overthrew a democratically elected government and implemented free-market policies in Chile).
Meanwhile, the US faces political, social, and economic challenges from within that make the changing world order overseas seem inconsequential. The Presidency of Donald Trump and the events of January 6th spelled disaster internationally for the reputation of the US Government. The Biden administration has frantically attempted to smooth this over, to little avail. US taxpayers now face crumbling infrastructure, opioid addiction, massive debt, a jobs crisis, growing homelessness, and countless other systemic problems. During the Cold War, America had a prosperous middle-class that supported the US Government, allowing vast sums of money to be allocated to the military, international efforts, and government agencies. Today, this ‘Okie from Muskogee’ section of America no longer exists. Large amounts of jobs have either been automated or sent overseas. America has become a largely consumer-based economy. Large sections of the US populace reject the increasingly polarized narratives of the political establishment. Recent social uprisings such as the George Floyd Protests, Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party, and Pro-Trump movement have sparked unease in both the Republican and Democratic elite. The question remains: how much longer will the American people accept their own country’s policy of brinkmanship intervention?
Knickmeyer, Ellen. “Costs of the Afghanistan War, in Lives and Dollars.” AP NEWS, 17 Aug. 2021, https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-business-afghanistan-43d8f53b35e80ec18c130cd683e1a38f
Shimer, David. “Election Meddling in Russia: When Boris Yeltsin Asked Bill Clinton for Help.” Washington Post, 26 June 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/06/26/russian-election-interference-meddling.
Smith, Patrick. “The European Union Is Struggling to Contain Its ‘illiberal’ Democracies.” NBC News, 21 Oct. 2021, www.nbcnews.com/news/world/european-union-battling-poland-hungary-illiberal-policies-rcna2888.
Liik, Kadri, and Jonathan Hackenbroich. “The Nord Stream 2 Dispute and the Transatlantic Alliance.” European Council on Foreign Relations, 20 Aug. 2021, https://ecfr.eu/article/the-nord-stream-2-dispute-and-the-transatlantic-alliance/