The White House will soon be sending invitations to world leaders for its “Summit of Democracy,” currently scheduled for Dec. 9 and 10. It promises to be a grand and noble affair, with participants working to “build a shared foundation for global democratic renewal.”
So it’s worth asking if President Joe Biden plans to invite Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan. He is the leader of an “emerging democracy,” to borrow a phrase from the Biden administration, that is on the verge of falling into totalitarian darkness. The Taliban has been advancing through Afghanistan in the last week, making so many gains that the US has sent a contingent of troops to Kabul to plan for the evacuation of the US embassy there. US officials are now predicting that Kabul could fall to the Taliban within a month.
Undoubtedly the Biden administration would prefer that Afghanistan be forgotten by the time the president addresses his fellow leaders of democracies in December. One of Biden’s 2020 campaign pledges was to renew US democratic leadership after four years of former President Donald Trump’s embrace of dictators.
It’s a nice story, and there is a kernel of truth to it. But this narrative rings hollow in light of recent events in Afghanistan. It’s now all but certain that the Taliban will overthrow an elected government made possible by a 20-year investment of US blood and treasure. Biden’s decision to rapidly withdraw the remaining few thousand US forces from Afghanistan precipitated the extinguishing of democracy in this troubled country.
It has been a bloodbath. Since June, local Afghans and outside groups estimate that the Taliban have executed as many as 900 people in Kandahar province. Among the victims was a popular Afghan comic, Nazar Mohammed, whose torture before he was shot was captured on a viral video. In Kabul, the Taliban have killed journalists and prosecutors.
In the face of this slaughter, the US has engaged in humiliating diplomacy with the thugs responsible for it. Biden’s envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, traveled this week to Doha, Qatar, to plead with the Taliban not to overrun the US embassy in Kabul, even as it’s overrunning provincial capitals throughout the country. On Wednesday, White House Spokeswoman Jen Psaki mused that the Taliban must “make an assessment about what they want their role to be in the international community.”
A president committed to a global democratic renewal would understand that the Taliban have no interest in playing a role in the international community, and that it would poison the international community if they did. And yet as a result of Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan with no conditions and no contingency plans, this is what his administration has been reduced to saying.
It’s a far cry from the first hopeful weeks of Biden’s presidency. In February, the president told the Munich Security Conference: “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.” In light of the debacle in Afghanistan, does the American president expect any of his fellow democratic leaders to believe him when they come to Washington in December?