Former Ambassador Ryan Crocker: ‘We’ve Done Grave Damage’ With Afghanistan Withdrawal
Speaking to thousands in what was described as the George & Barbara Foundation’s largest-ever virtual event this week, former Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker gave his strategic insights on recent developments following the U.S. withdrawal from the country.
Crocker described his assessment of the situation as simple, but tough, saying “we’ve done grave damage to our friends and allies inside of Afghanistan, to our own national security interests, and to some of our most cherished values as Americans.” He is a former dean of Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service.
Crocker led the U.S. Embassy in Kabul from 2011-2012, and also was ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Syria. In Wednesday’s discussion moderated by Bush Foundation CEO Max Angerholzer, he criticized what he called a lack of strategic patience in the decision to withdraw all U.S forces from Afghanistan.
Allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were not informed, which Crocker called a “stunning unfolding of events” under a president who had promised the country would regain the global leadership role that former President Donald Trump “wanted very little to do with.”
In doing so, the U.S. has betrayed its promises to Afghan interpreters, women and children, and others who have helped during times of crisis, Crocker said, and “we are presenting ourselves as a country you don’t really want to do business with.”
Crocker said it’s a “horrific blow” that will be a boost for Islamic militancy around the world. The first location to watch will likely be Pakistan, he said, where the Pakistani Taliban and Kashmiri militant groups could be emboldened. What’s true for Pakistan is broadly true elsewhere around the world, he said: anywhere there are at least the seeds of Islamic militancy is a “huge win” for the Taliban and its al Qaeda partners.
And now, he said, this version of the Taliban is “much worse” than the one that ruled in the 1990s.
“These guys are tougher, harder, meaner, more effective, than the Taliban government of the ’90s,” Crocker said. “Now taking the positions of leadership are, in essence, the worst of the worst.”
The U.S. has written the next chapter in Afghanistan – “a pretty ugly one,” he said. And while Trump bears large responsibility after initiating peace talks with the Taliban, Crocker said, Biden played an even worse hand than he was dealt. Still, Crocker offered some next steps that he would recommend be taken in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials will want to improve relationships with NATO allies after doing major damage to the country’s credibility as a reliable partner. By showing international solidarity, the more likely some of the Taliban’s worst behavior can be blunted, Crocker said.
There also needs to be strategic dialogue with Pakistan to avoid destabilization of a country with almost 220 million people, nuclear weapons, and the seventh-largest standing army.
“Our adversaries have come to count on our impatience, and our allies have come to fear it,” Crocker said. “What we have to do is find a way to communicate a different narrative.”
Thousands of Afghans entering the country will also need financial and social support, he said, but funding for refugee resettlement is sparse. Much of that money will likely need to be raised privately, Crocker said.
When asked what lessons from Afghanistan he would teach to students at the Bush School, Crocker said he would return to his mantra of “careful in, careful out.”
“We went in for the right reasons… we knew we were there to make sure another 9-11 could not be prepared and instituted from Afghan soil,” Crocker said. “Now what we’ve just done, we actually put the band back together again with the Taliban and al Qaeda. Al Qaeda will come back… the steps that we have now created have heightened the threat to the homeland.”