Joe Biden promised in his prime word as president of “mending our alliances and re-engaging with the world” – a clean break from a predecessor who rebuked traditional American diplomacy and historical friends abroad while wooing longtime rivals like Russia.
Three months after Biden’s tenure began, American allies are already feeling the difference.
“We welcome the new administration’s strong interest in the transatlantic alliance. It’s not just empty talk; it’s not just a statement, ”Armando Varricchio, Italy’s outgoing ambassador to the United States, told HuffPost in an interview last week.
For Varricchio – who entered the post under President Barack Obama and remained there throughout Donald Trump’s presidency – the clearest sign of Biden’s seriousness about American alliances is the way he handled his Biggest foreign policy move to date: Set a September 11 deadline for the United States. troops to leave Afghanistan and end America’s longest-running foreign military intervention.
“The administration from the start has made it clear that it is important to consult and … the president reaffirmed this in his own remarks” on Afghanistan last Wednesday, Varricchio said. “It’s something that shows that the more we work together, the more effective our collective response is to what we perceive as common threats and challenges. So it’s not just a matter of principle – it has an immediate effect on strengthening our relationship. “
Officials in the Biden administration have extensively described their thoughts to close partners in contexts such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s recent trip to Brussels and meetings with Italy’s Minister of Affairs Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio in Washington last week, the ambassador added.
The Trump administration has repeatedly stumbled in explaining its policies in Afghanistan – most notably last year, when the then president tweeted that he would withdraw all U.S. troops by Christmas. without informing Pentagon officials or allies in advance.
Italy is one of the largest contributors to the international coalition of forces currently stationed in Afghanistan to support the US-backed Afghan government, with 895 Italian troops. deployed.
After Washington decided to invade Afghanistan over the role of its former government in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the NATO Alliance invoked principle of mutual defense for the first time in its history – and troops from Italy and other NATO member countries have joined the US-led mission against al-Qaeda partners in the country .
These forces will return home in the coming months as part of Biden’s plan. Outlining the strategy, the president said American partner countries now have more troops in Afghanistan than the United States. While the militants initially targeted by the US-led coalition, the Taliban, remain powerful, “we cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, in the hope of creating the ideal conditions for withdrawal, and pending a different result ”. Biden said.
Varricchio said his government shares Biden’s point of view.
“We understand that now is the time not only to leave Afghanistan, but to do something more and different in Afghanistan… we don’t want to leave Afghanistan behind,” the ambassador said.
Critics of the president’s approach say he could let the Taliban restore the repressive regime they maintained before the 2001 invasion and help terrorist groups strengthen and attack the United States.
Supporters of the withdrawal note that the United States and its allies can still pressure the Taliban and other Afghan factions to negotiate over the country’s future and preserve progress on issues such as women’s rights – and that the foreign military deployment has not prevented organizations like the Islamic State from gaining ground in Afghanistan.
American partners are ready to continue investing in the country, according to the ambassador.
“It is important to continue our activity in promoting human rights, strengthening the social fabric of the country … Italy will stay in Afghanistan in a different way,” Varricchio said, adding that Rome will help to monitor the expected power struggle within the country. countries “to ensure that Afghanistan does not pose an immediate threat to our own nations.”
He called the withdrawal “emotional,” noting that Italy heads one of the four coalition regional commands in Afghanistan, in the province of Herat.
The ambassador cited cooperation in Afghanistan as proof of why Americans should value international relations like that between the United States and Italy – a partnership that turned 160 this year and has described as a “blessing” for both countries.
“There is no better investment to protect your own nation, to make sure your nation thrives, than to invest in alliances,” Varricchio said. “And that’s the unique feature of our time: America’s enemies don’t have allies, only America has such a large network of allies, and that’s even more important than having a solid military structure. “
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