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Influencers with Andy Serwer: Ian Bremmer

In this article:
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In this episode of Influencers, Andy speaks with Eurasia Group President, Ian Bremmer, about the U.S. decision to pull out of Afghanistan, implications for President Biden, and what it means for America’s standing as a global superpower.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ANDY SERWER: For political scientist Ian Bremmer, solving the mysteries of international affairs is his life's work. Over the past 23 years, he's become the go-to foreign policy expert for CEOs, news organizations, and Wall Street alike, providing valuable insight and intelligence as we make sense of the world around us. In this episode of Influencers Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer joins me as we discuss the US decision to pull out of Afghanistan, implications for President Biden, and what it means for America's standing as a global superpower.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to Influencers. I'm Andy Serwer. And welcome to our guest Ian Bremmer, president and founder of research firm Eurasia Group and the author of 10 books, as well as the forthcoming work, The Crises We Need, How to Confront the Three Greatest Dangers of Our Time. Ian, welcome.

IAN BREMMER: Good to see you, Andy.

ANDY SERWER: So how would you characterize what's going on in Afghanistan right now and what's likely to follow in the coming days and weeks?

IAN BREMMER: I mean, this is an extraordinary foreign policy crisis, by far the most important of the Biden administration and largely self-imposed. By the way, it's very clear that the strategic decision to end the US military presence in Afghanistan is one that was thoughtfully considered and on balance I agree with it. We can get into that, we can talk about that if you like. But that's very different from the execution of that policy, the implementation on the ground, which has been a disaster on pretty much every front.

And that is going to affect Biden's credibility domestically, and depending on what happens over the coming days, it might be critical for his presidency. And it's going to affect American credibility internationally. It makes it much harder to say that the United States is back, it makes it much harder for the Americans to maintain strong commitments that our allies really believe in around the world. So much of this was unilateral, and so much of this was badly handled on the part of the past few days.

And it's very painful for me to say that, especially as someone who knows most of the cabinet in the Biden administration. These are capable people, they're thoughtful people, they're experienced people, and we want to see them do well. I mean, you know, a lot of people would have expected that you would have this kind of mismanagement under the Trump presidency, given the kind of individual he was but you expected a lot better under Biden and they have really, really failed here.

ANDY SERWER: But I mean, where did they go wrong? It's so obvious, I mean, the Russians, the British, hundreds of years of failure here in terms of Western countries or in the case of Russia, Russia trying to impose their will and failing and who were we to think we'd be any different?

IAN BREMMER: Well, you can't blame Biden for that. You can't blame Biden for 20 years and $2 trillion of failure. That's just not on, right? I mean Bush, the Bush administration deserves truly the greatest level of responsibility for the decision and the way they pursued that war but as well as Obama for the failed surge, as well as Trump for the failed negotiations with the Taliban and drawing down US forces that were not condition-based at that point. And now Biden for the execution of the actual withdrawal. So everyone gets a piece of this.

But let's focus and because Biden is the president now and the buck stops with him for things that he can decide, what the hell did he do wrong? And I would focus, I think there are four different pieces of that. The first is the military and intelligence failure. The United States has indeed spent almost $90 billion in training an Afghan force that refused to fight. Again, that is on every administration since Bush but after 20 years of personally training Afghan forces on the ground, the Biden administration somehow didn't understand the morale and the capabilities of those forces. That is just unconscionable for them to get it that wrong.

I mean, literally, when Biden made the decision to push off, to forestall the May exit that Trump had said we would do and said instead it's going to be August, everyone out by September 11th, at that point, US intelligence agencies said that Kabul could hold off the Taliban for two to three years without the United States. Last weekend, it was two to three days. In my life, I have never seen, I have never seen an intelligence failure like that.

Then you have the coordination failure, Biden is the guy that's supposed to be engaged with the allies, we've been fighting with these allies on the ground for 20 years, 20 years. When we were attacked on 9/11 we asked NATO, come to our defense and they did and they fought bravely side-by-side with the Americans for all this time. And when we decided that we were going to leave, that was a policy decision that we made by ourselves, that Afghan policy review was done internally by the United States, nobody else was involved. I find that unconscionable.

And furthermore, I mean, it wasn't just about the decision to leave, it was also the ongoing decision of how are you coordinating with refugees, what are you doing with humanitarian aid? Even a simple thing, this weekend the American acting ambassador flees the country, the British ambassador is still there helping to try to get the Brits out. How could we not be coordinating this simple thing with our allies on the ground? We are the superpower here. So that's a big mistake.

Then you've got the planning failure, which is even if the intelligence is wrong, you know, you plan for bad scenarios. What if things don't go the way you hope they're going to. And especially because this is being done on our timeline and we clearly did not have the plans in place for the evacuation. We did not have the plans in place for what about not just our citizens but all of the people that have been supporting the US government on the ground in Afghanistan, many of which are now at risk and will die, they'll be killed by the Taliban. And we've got to suddenly scramble to send 6,000 troops in from the United States to defend the airport. I mean, again, an enormous failure on the ground.

And finally, and I mean, this isn't the most important but it does matter, the communications failure. The fact that President Biden came out weeks ago and actually said that it was highly unlikely for the Taliban to be overrunning everything and owning the whole country. He insisted and I quote here, "that there is going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted o