President Joe Biden vowed “America is back” when he took office, meaning that Washington would realign with and respect European allies under its global leadership after the years of Trump discord.
The European political establishment swooned and cooed like dutiful debutantes apparently having Uncle Sam’s affections and patronage again.
How quickly indeed has that supposedly rosy relation between the U.S. and the Europeans been ruptured with bitter recriminations following the disastrous collapse in Afghanistan. The EU is scrambling to cope with the potential fallout of mass migration from the Central Asian country after the return to power of the Taliban.
This is the militant group that Washington and its NATO allies spent two decades fighting at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars – only for the militants to seize power amid a total collapse of a U.S.-backed regime in Kabul.
Yeah, America is back alright. Causing mayhem and political headaches for its supposed European partners.
The U.S.-led military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria have already shaken the European Union to the core with political crisis from the destabilizing influx of migrants from war zones. That crisis came to a head in 2015-2016 when an estimated one million refugees made their way into EU member states. Then German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded with an open-door policy of accepting asylum seekers. But that policy rebounded in explosive tensions within and between member states owing to European nations perceiving an overwhelming challenge to their social systems.
That, in turn, led to EU states closing their borders in violation of the whole concept of a seamless bloc. There was also much open bickering between member countries accusing each other of not sharing the burden of accommodating foreign migrants.
The crisis also fed into the rise of anti-EU populism since the Brussels bureaucracy was perceived as overriding national consent about accepting the influx of non-Europeans.
Let’s recapitulate: much of the strain from the migration pressure on the EU stemmed from Washington’s illegal wars in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Wars, admittedly, that the European NATO allies assisted in prosecuting.
Having said that, however, it was the minor American partners who seemed to be loaded disproportionately with the repercussions in terms of dealing with the migration from the war zones – not the United States.
The same baleful phenomenon looks like repeating. This week European Union foreign ministers held an emergency summit to assess the aftermath of the Afghanistan debacle.
“We have to ensure that the new political situation created in Afghanistan by the return of the Taliban does not lead to a large-scale migratory movement towards Europe,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas said the EU is concerned about “the stability of the region”, adding that “neighboring countries will certainly be confronted with further refugee movements.”
As the Washington Post reported: “[European Union] officials offered rare criticism of Washington for risking a flood of refugees to their borders and the return of a platform for terrorism in Central Asia.”
It is estimated that nearly 570,000 Afghan nationals have applied to the European Union for political asylum over the past six years. Even before the dramatic seizing of power last week by the Taliban, there was a sharp increase in Afghans fleeing to the EU.
The European governments are caught in a public relations nightmare. Earlier this month, six EU member states – Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands and Greece – were pushing for the “forced return” of Afghans who had been refused asylum. Now, that initiative is being suspended because of the politically damaging look of EU states callously sending people back to the Taliban regime, which doesn’t exactly share “European values” (whatever that means).
Meanwhile, Germany’s Merkel made a veiled swipe at the Biden administration saying she believed the U.S. decision to press ahead with the withdrawal was taken for “domestic political reasons” and was to blame for the ensuing chaos in Afghanistan. The leader of her party, Armin Laschet, went further, calling the entire Afghanistan operation a failure and the withdrawal “the biggest debacle that NATO has suffered since its founding” 72 years ago.
Austria and other EU members are striving to set up deportation centers in Pakistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to keep the refugees at bay. But it is far from certain that such a scheme would work.
In that case, the European Union is set to incur another massive migration wave from Afghanistan. With a population of 38 million and an estimated five million internally displaced, the numbers of Afghans seeking to make their way across EU borders could surpass the waves of refugees previously seen from Syria, Iraq, and Libya as well as Afghanistan during the past six years.
The Biden administration is being criticized by other NATO members for hastily pulling out of Afghanistan thereby triggering the implosion of an already shaky puppet regime in Kabul.
America’s European allies are in particular facing immense political pressure over the resultant humanitarian crisis and the inevitable flow of refugees clamoring for a safe haven. This will shake the EU to the core again and with that the transatlantic alliance.
Regarding the Biden administration and its unctuous professions of transatlantic unity, the European governments must be wondering… with friends like that who needs enemies?