A year ago, the entire disastrous pullout from Afghanistan was broadcast in real time across America. Many of us huddled around our televisions in horror as we watched the collapse. We bore witness to immense human suffering and saw such desperate sights as people clinging to aircraft, hoping for a chance at freedom, and a mass of humanity passing babies over walls to strangers with the same yearning. Such was the impact, especially to military veterans, that crisis centers and suicide hotlines saw dramatic increase in calls and texts during this time.
Perhaps one of the greater tragedies is a failed recognition that the horrors in Afghanistan did not cease when the journalists left or the final plane carrying 82nd Airborne Division commander, MG Chris Donahue, took flight. The Taliban was expectedly brutal, and today almost 20 million people, half the population of Afghanistan, are facing acute levels of food insecurity. Today, children are dying from starvation and malnutrition.
The United Nations’ special rapporteur, Richard Bennett, expressed on the one-year anniversary of the withdrawal, ‘Nowhere else in the world has there been as wide-spread, systematic and all-encompassing an attack on the rights of women and girls—every aspect of their lives is being restricted under the guise of morality and through the instrumentalization of religion.’
Yet, the withdrawal from Afghanistan was not the final domino to fall, it was the first.
Earlier this year the most senior US general officer in Europe, General Tod. Wolters testified before the House Armed Services Committee the withdrawal from Afghanistan and its aftermath likely contributed to Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. The war there is driving a global food crisis.
Poverty and inequality are often precursors to instability and armed conflict. Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Myanmar are all facing, or have faced, such consequences and atrocities are on the rise in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon. While these nations are far flung from America, too often the curse of one befalls another and national instability can rapidly lead to regional insecurity.
Not shockingly, China is taking advantage of the discord and upheaval. Tension and aggression between China and Taiwan are growing. It is unsurprising the potential for great power conflict is also on the rise with 76% of respondents in a poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs believing the Russian invasion of Ukraine will encourage China to do the same to Taiwan.
In fact, if stability is viewed as a tendency toward equilibrium, the world is decidedly hurtling toward the opposite. Americans are not ignoring that instability either despite what pundits might posit about America’s attention or attitude towards international issues. Yes, 77% of Americans cite the economy as the driving factor of their vote in 2022, but there is a burgeoning recognition this is what happens when poor leadership abroad comes home to roost.
Arguably, inflation, once largely driven by domestic factors and policy choices, has increasingly globalized. The difference is largely an academic debate over proximate or distal causes because the outcome remains the same for American families – “Fears of eviction. Trouble affording groceries. Unmet medical needs.”
There’s long been a forced willfulness by pollsters, political consultants, and their ilk to separate the domestic from the diplomatic. With the current trajectory of conflict across the world this is going to be increasingly difficult. For better or worse, foreign policy decisions are now kitchen table issues.