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How U.S. allies view the country a year after its withdrawal from Afghanistan

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

One year ago tomorrow, on August 30, 2021, the final U.S. troops left Afghanistan. The chaotic end to America's longest war was marked by unfulfilled promises, a Taliban takeover, frantic airlifts out of Kabul and a terrorist attack that killed more than 100 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members. For President Biden, it was a major stain on his reputation not just here at home but with European partners who were close allies in Afghanistan. NPR's White House correspondent Asma Khalid has been looking into this. Hey, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So some of the U.S' strongest allies a year ago were vocal in their criticism of the Afghan exit. Take us back to that time.

KHALID: That's right. And in part, that's because two months before this withdrawal, Joe Biden went to the United Kingdom for his first in-person G7 meeting as president. And you probably recall he declared very proudly that America is back. But then we heard Brits wondering out loud, you know, if you look at Afghanistan, is that really true? And one member of parliament there in the United Kingdom wrote an op-ed saying, quote, "if the U.S. won't lead, it is our duty to step up." Even the Germans were critical. The chancellor at the time described this all as bitter, dramatic and terrifying.

SHAPIRO: What exactly made them so upset?

KHALID: You know, Ari, it was not just the decision but the way that the decision was handled. James Cunningham was a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and he explained it to me this way.

JAMES CUNNINGHAM: It's no secret that most of our coalition partners and allies wanted us to stay. They wanted to stay because they saw quite clearly what was going to happen. And many of them live closer to Afghanistan than we do. And they're going to feel the effects of this more directly.

KHALID: Experts have told me that the reason European allies felt so blindsided was because Biden had promised multilateralism when he came into office. And then he kind of made this entire Afghanistan decision rather unilaterally.

SHAPIRO: And so now, one year later, how is the relationship with those European allies?

KHALID: So, Ari, really, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has shifted the paradigm entirely. Charles Kupchan with the Council on Foreign Relations actually argues that with the benefit of hindsight, the U.S. did not lose the credibility that was initially expected. And if anything, he says the U.S. now has more money, more strategic attention and more political capital to focus on other global priorities.

CHARLES KUPCHAN: Lo and behold, not long after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russia invades Ukraine, and the United States has been freed up from Afghanistan to focus like a laser on supporting Ukraine and putting together a very solid coalition.

KHALID: And President Biden has made it a point to coordinate with allies in Europe in responding to Russia. You know, at times he's even let the Germans or the French take the lead rather publicly. But as (inaudible) said, you know, there's not consensus that this has necessarily erased all of the anxiety around Afghanistan. Some experts say that there is this question of whether Russia acted in part because it had presumed the U.S. was weaker after the Afghan withdrawal and, you know, likewise, if China has felt emboldened with Taiwan as a result.

SHAPIRO: So are the experts you're talking to saying that Biden's role in Ukraine basically erased the allies' anxiety coming out of Afghanistan?

KHALID: You know, the relationship today is certainly stronger than where it was a year ago. But one expert told me that European nations still have nagging doubts about whether the U.S. has the patience for long fights. Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook is with the Bertelsmann Foundation in Berlin.

CATHRYN CLUVER ASHBROOK: The Germans are afraid of waning American commitment because of American electoral politics and policy.

KHALID: And really, what she's saying, Ari, here is that some of these reservations aren't about Biden himself. They're about whether Donald Trump or one of his followers could take power in a couple of years and decide then that a transatlantic friendship is no longer worth the time and the money.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Asma Khalid. Thank you.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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