Professor Wayne Lesperance: “Turkey is a key ally for the US in all of its interests in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Asia.”

by Sami Burgaz
Ulviye Filiyeva Erkec

On September 11, 2001, 3.000 people lost their lives in the attacks in the USA. Targeting the World Trade Center and the US Department of Defense with three passenger planes they hijacked, another plane that the pirates tried to seize had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Islamist al-Qaeda, was soon blamed for these attacks. The Taliban, the radical Islamist organization that runs Afghanistan and protects bin Laden, refused to hand him over. A month after the attack, the United States began airstrikes against both al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. As the US-led coalition settled there in December 2001, the region turned into a giant base that could house 10,000 soldiers. But US President Joe Biden has promised to withdraw all US troops from the country by August 31.

For the United States and its allies, Bagram Air Base was the center of the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The US, which handed over the control of the Bagram airbase to the Afghan authorities, is preparing to withdraw its last remaining troops from Afghanistan. The United States had spent $2 trillion to rebuild Afghanistan with the image of Western democracy. However opinion polls show that the vast majority of Americans support President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.

2,448 Americans lost their lives in the Afghanistan war, which has been the longest armed struggle in the USA since 2001. Brown University researchers estimate that from 2001 to today, 241,000 people died in war zones in Pakistan and Afghanistan, of whom 71,000 were civilians.

Dr. Wayne F. Lesperance, Jr.

Wayne Lesperance holds the rank of Professor of Political Science and title of Interim Dean of Undergraduate Programs at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire. His teaching and research interests run the gamut from international security issues to civic education. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Wayne is the Director of the Center for Civic Engagement, the Co-Director for College Convention, and the Director of the Master of Arts in Public Policy.

Dr. Lesperance is a frequent commentator in regional and national newspapers and is a regular guest on local and regional radio programs, where he is frequently quoted on public policy, the political process, and emerging trends in politics.

The reasons for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan were widely discussed in public. But your view on this matter is important for us. In this context, can you specify the reasons for the withdrawal, if there are issues that are not discussed or not known by the public?

In my view, the reasons for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan are pretty well known. However, one of the more important reasons that have received little attention has been domestic political considerations in the United States. President Biden has long held the view that the United States needed to pull back from Afghanistan. He campaigned on the issue arguing that the US has achieved all it can in Afghanistan and that should a new threat emerge, the US military had an ‘over the horizon’ ability to strike at those new threats. While domestic political considerations aren’t the only concern, I think it is quite important and not well covered. At the end of the day, President Biden and the Democratic party has fulfilled a campaign promise.

What kind of a systematic relationship is considered between Turkey and the USA In the context of Afghanistan geopolitics? How will Turkey’s position in Afghanistan affect Turkey-USA and Turkey-NATO relations?

Turkey is a key ally for the US in all of its interests in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Asia. To the extent that American resources are pre-staged in Turkey, we are able to use the country as a platform to support that ‘over the horizon’ capacity throughout the region. Our relationship with Turkey through military, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation is a product of a long-standing relationship enhanced through the NATO relationship. Turkey is an important ally for the US and that will, I hope, continue for some time.

Does the US withdrawal of its troops mean that US completely left the region remaining indifferent to the region, or will the US practice a different strategy in the region?

Not at all. The US continues to have key interests in the region such as support for key allies including Turkey, ensuring the free flow of trade and oil in the region, and the prevention of the resurgence of violent extremism. The withdrawal from Afghanistan should be viewed more like a repositioning of resources than an abandonment of the region. 

According to the Afghan secret service, 21 terrorist organizations are actively operating in Afghanistan. Do you consider successful the US war against Afghanistan under the pretext of “countering terrorism”?

I’d say the war was a partial success. As you will recall about the onset of hostilities in Afghanistan, the US was responding to a state that refused to turn over Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Our goal then was to kill or capture OBL and to prevent al-Qaeda from enjoying a safe haven in Afghanistan. Those goals were achieved. To the extent that Afghanistan can continue to build on the successes created by the Allied military presence of the last 20 years remains to be seen. But, the American calculation is that 20 years has been enough time for the Afghan military and government to stand alone. We shall see if this will work or not.

How do you assess the withdrawal in the context of the US policy of hostility to China?

Well, I would not describe the US as having a policy of hostility to China. I would say that for decades the US foreign policy establishment has been calling for a pivot in American policy towards Asia. Specifically, they want much greater attention paid to the opportunities and challenges associated with China. So, one could argue that moving on from Afghanistan will allow for that pivot to take place. But, I think there remain enough challenges in the broader region that America will not be able to pivot away for too long.

In when US will leave leaving, there will be a power vacuum. As is known, Russia failed once in Afghanistan. Considering these two situations, what kind of policy can Russia follow?

Russia is not in a position to fill the power vacuum in Russia with a significant, open-ended deployment of its troops. They will likely see to use soft power to influence the government in Kabul and in neighboring states. At best, the Russians might seek to make client states of Afghanistan and its neighbors.

How do you evaluate the future of Afghanistan with the withdrawal of foreign forces and the strengthening of the Taliban?

Frankly, I am very concerned that we will see the progress of the last 20 years swept away. I am not convinced the government in Kabul has the ability to control much more than the capital region. If we see the Taliban and others grow, we will see so much of the positive changes we made undone. For Americans, this means the sacrifices made by our sons and daughters who served in Afghanistan will have been for nothing. That troubles me a great deal.

Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Asia Today.


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