Biden’s Afghanistan disaster may sink his climate agenda

  • Date: 23/08/21
  • Forbes

Republicans are already talking about impeachment, should they win the House in the 2022 midterm elections. Without managing the Afghanistan narrative, he will lose momentum on domestic climate issues, thereby undermining American credibility in the global arena as well.

News from Afghanistan is grim: pictures of desperate Afghans clinging to American planes, a large number of stranded Americans who cannot reach the Karzai airport, Taliban controlling tens of billions of dollars of American weaponry, the imposition of strict Shariah law, and the desperate plea from Afghan women who seek education, respect, and dignity.

This clumsy American unilateralism has made many countries nervous about American foreign policy. What if Russia grabs Ukraine or China makes a move on Taiwan? Will America take military action?

Could American unilateralism on Afghanistan affect Biden’s climate agenda? One may be tempted to say no, because climate change and Afghanistan are unrelated issues. And in any case, Afghanistan might be a short-term hiccup; the country will be back to skirmishing on masks and vaccines in no time.

We argue, however, that the climate issues might suffer some collateral damage.

Let us separate Biden’s global and domestic dimensions. On the face of it, Afghanistan will probably not affect Biden’s global climate agenda. After all, climate issues do not involve military interventions, forever wars, or nationbuilding, all of which Democrats tend to oppose. Moreover, Biden supporters want him to do more on global climate issues, not less.

However, the domestic climate agenda could be a different story. If Afghanistan continues to swamp the U.S. news cycle with the dominant narrative of a policy failure, the withdrawal will, at the minimum, crowd out climate change. But the more significant concern is that the Afghanistan fiasco narrative might reduce Biden’s ability to push for a muscular federal climate action. He will spend his political capital defending the Afghanistan withdrawal.

Diminished domestic climate achievements could mean that Biden will find it challenging to claim climate leadership. Of course, one might ask the “so what” question. America has become a marginal player and climate progress is taking place despite America. But if American leadership still matters, a domestically enfeebled Biden is bad news for climate progress. […]

The footage from Kabul and the horrors stories about the Taliban’s atrocities could erode Biden’s job approval and undermine his credibility. As of now, Biden has done a poor job of managing the withdrawal narrative. If this continues, moderate Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) or Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) will have even fewer incentives to support Biden’s climate agenda.

If the “Afghanistan failure” narrative takes hold, Biden might get blamed for Democratic party’s political problems, such as losses in the 2022 midterm or Newsom’s recall.

In sum, Biden needs a coherent response to the withdrawal fiasco.

Republicans are already talking about impeachment, should they win the House in the 2022 midterm elections. Without managing the Afghanistan narrative, he will lose momentum on domestic climate issues, thereby undermining American credibility in the global arena as well.

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