The glossing over of the responsibility for creating and unleashing the novel coronavirus (SARS2) by the Presidential Commission set up by Joe Biden to investigate the origins of the disease was the first stumble by the 46th President of the United States. The next was the speedy surrender of US forces in Afghanistan that culminated in the takeover of the country by the Taliban on August 15, 2021. Amazingly, aside from a few stray remarks, even the Forever Trumpians have reacted only tepidly to the Government Accountability Report of the US Government (USG). This has revealed details of the $80 billion bonanza in US weaponry and equipment left behind for the Taliban. Had the physical assets such as abandoned military bases been included, the gift to the Taliban would have exceeded $150 billion. President Biden was insistent that every US serviceperson should leave Afghanistan as soon as possible, no matter what the consequences of such a retreat were. What the compulsion was for President Biden to force a helter-skelter pullout of what is still a formidable military is unknown. His approval ratings began to look shaky after the Covid-19 commission came up with no finding it could have been from a lab, it could have come from either Dr Shi in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or from a bat in its natural habitat. The cost to the taxpayer of the exercise could have been avoided by merely reproducing newspaper headlines in the early months of 2020, most of which spoke of either a natural or a laboratory origin, exactly as the Presidential Commission did.
In a transparent effort at covering up the outcome of its chaotic policy decisions on Afghanistan, the Biden administration sought to eliminate references in the GAO report to the weapons stockpile left behind in Afghanistan. The bid failed, as several with access began reposting the details online. It is astonishing that the Biden administration allowed an openly hostile force that has a record of killing US service personnel to get control of an immense range of sophisticated equipment. Had the stockpile been transferred instead to the Afghan National Army, had the logistics support to that friendly military been continued, the Taliban would have found themselves not the victors but the vanquished. The Afghans are dauntless as soldiers, and most are opposed to being ruled by a medieval entity that seeks to push the country back to the 17th century. During the time of the Taliban takeover in 2021, there were important voices within the Biden administration claiming that this was a “new” Taliban, a reformed setup that would act as a partner to the US and to its western partners in modernising the country. During the just-concluded 2+2 dialogue between the Foreign and Defence Ministers of India and the US, the latter were voluble about the need to increase the flow of US weapons platforms to India. What was not mentioned by them was that President Biden expected taxpayers in India to pay top dollar for every such acquisition, unlike what has happened in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan or in Ukraine. Meanwhile, there has been no suggestion by the White House that the THAAD system would be offered to India at a steeply reduced price that reflects the beneficial effect of such a transfer on overall security in the Indo-Pacific. Perhaps President Biden is awaiting PM Modi joining the US, the UK and much of the EU in portraying the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin as the most significant threat to peace and stability since Attila the Hun. That will be a long wait, and in the meantime, the enhancement of the security interests of those countries seeking a free, inclusive and open Indo-Pacific, including through installing THAAD in India, will just have to wait. Unless there is a policy reset initiated by the White House, before long, this process of atrophy of US effectiveness that was begun in the concluding 18 months of the Trump administration and continued by its successor may become difficult to reverse. The world needs the US to be closely linked to India. That memo needs to land on President Biden’s desk soonest.