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I got a note this morning, September 10, from a professor and friend who told me that he had worked in the New York Twin Towers but left in 2000 so was not there for 9/11. He noted that now we are out of Afghanistan, so after 20 years since 9/11 we have come full circle. I did not ask what he was doing then in New York, but he is a China expert, which may give us a clue.

He is right about coming full circle. We entered the war to stop al-Qaeda and punish the Taliban for sheltering them. ISIS and al-Qaeda or whatever you want to call them have been in Afghanistan all along, but under pressure from the United States. Now there is no pressure and they are free to resume terrorism without fear of interruption.

So from 2001 and through to 2021 we have a terrorist odyssey which, despite our efforts, still looms and threatens.

The Biden administration has placed all its trust in the Taliban and in the curious notion that the Taliban will control ISIS-led terrorists. The latest praise heaped on the Taliban by the White House is as sickening as it is unwarranted, and has to be taken as a kind of moral atrocity when one considers what the Taliban is doing to its people.

Anyone who thinks any assurance from the Taliban is worth anything, should think again. That goes even for the Chinese, who seem to think they have a deal with the Taliban to not interfere with the Uighurs, and Chinese repression, in Xinjiang. Afghanistan has a 47 mile long border with China into Xinjiang province. The Taliban have supported the Uighur separatist movement which is called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). China has asked the Taliban to cut ties with ETIM.

It is unlikely that China will trust the Taliban, but in any case by now the repression of the Uighurs is so far advanced that ETIM may find it hard going to survive, even with support coming from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile President Joe Biden has telephoned his friend Xi Jinping, the President of China (and also General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission). Reportedly he stated US concerns about human rights in China, while the Chinese leader simply put the issue off to future discussions. There were no threats and no priority given to the issue, suggesting that the White House was making a pro-forma statement in order to move on and make deals with the Chinese. It is worth mentioning that the Taiwan issue, nor the Chinese threats to the Japanese Senkaku islands, or China’s illegal occupation of islands and reefs in the South China Sea, which it has militarized, were taken up in the phone call.

China definitely has strategic and economic interests in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is rich in minerals including iron, copper, lithium, rare earth elements, cobalt, bauxite, mercury, uranium and chromium. The US is dependent on China for rare earth materials and despite some furtive efforts to revive a dead domestic US rare earth industry, that dependency is likely to grow. Rare earth materials are important for high tech products and for military systems.

Obama’s Pentagon decided it did not need to spend money stimulating domestic rare earth production, and US operators, facing high costs and environmental issues, shut down. Not much better can be expected from the Biden administration which somehow seems like Obama on steroids, with many of the same people who served Obama, including in the Pentagon, in control.

Once the final fighting ends in Afghanistan –there is still a struggle in the Panjshir Valley– the country will be open for investment, and China will be in for sure. It is likely some Europeans may also jump in, as the EU has decided to improve its China relationship. China is already the EU’s largest trading partner, bypassing the US. “The president of the European Council, Charles Michel said that Brussels will seek to increase the bloc’s “strategic autonomy” in the wake of President Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and signalled that the European Union will make a pivot towards China,” reports Breibart. Meanwhile the EU has signed a “mutual” investment agreement with China, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel has hailed as a “win-win.”

Today Europe is dependent on Russian gas and oil, which will soon be substantially increased with the completion of the Nordstream 2 pipeline, and equally dependent on China for trade and investment. The US disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan has accelerated the strategic decoupling between Europe and the United States, leaving NATO as a strange bedfellow to European foreign policy.

In due course we will need to brace for terrorist attacks once again, but now with the vast stores of weapons in Afghanistan the Taliban and ISIS will be better armed and equipped.

Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, says “Countering terrorism will require a new approach that prioritizes agility and a greater investment in a broad set of tools, including diplomacy, development, and prevention efforts both abroad and at home that can shape the environments in which terrorists thrive and recruit.” It is unclear what Dr. Sherwood-Randall means by this statement, but such efforts (“diplomacy” and “development”) have always failed (as in Iraq and Afghanistan) and are undermined by an administration that takes groups off the terrorist list, such as the murderous Houthis in Yemen. Such a confused approach bodes ill for the future.

My friend who wrote to me is worried about the future, as he should be, and as I am. Our political leaders are blundering in the worst ways and the pain of 2001 is still with us, as the terrorist odyssey continues.

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