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Opinion: Afghanistan’s fall may trigger other dominoes

America must return to basics, supporting the rule of law and other principles here and abroad

A military band rehearses to mark the anniversary of the founding of China’s Communist Party.
A military band rehearses on July 1 for a ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Chinese Communist Party at Tiananmen Gate in Beijing. China may be the primary beneficiary from the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Ng Han Guan, Associated Press

Small dominoes can eventually topple big nations. The Taliban started tipping dominoes in local provinces and before long had most of Afghanistan under its control. Kabul was merely the last domino to fall.

The last domino in Afghanistan that is, certainly not the last around the globe.

The aftershocks of the failed U.S. withdrawal will reverberate for some time. If the U.S. should lose its historic mantle of supporting peace through strength, we will have to reckon with the consequences of chaos that results from perceived weakness.

In the midst of the most recent chaos, President Joe Biden defended his decision for troop withdrawal, missing the point entirely. Making decisions is easy. Executing on decisions takes planning and hard work. The president defends his decision because he can’t defend its execution.

The resultant tragedies are evident. First and foremost are the service men and women who gave their lives over 20 years to build something that took two weeks to destroy. Many Utahns gave their last full measure on that soil. More lives will be lost as U.S. allies are left behind. Women and girls will bear the brunt over the long term as one of the most brutal regimes in modern history returns to power.

It is hard to imagine there are winners in this tragedy, but sadly there are. China, Iran and Pakistan just witnessed America abandoning the most vulnerable, and our geo-political adversaries have witnessed an opening they can exploit.

In the world, the U.S. has allies and enemies. Our allies are weakened when they can’t trust us. Our enemies are emboldened when they don’t take us seriously. At its most basic level, we have two weapons to protect freedom and democracy: military might and the fear of reprisal. Biden has significantly weakened the later and, in the process, put U.S. military personnel and allies at risk by having to rely on the former.

The primary winner in this nightmare scenario is China. China has already welcomed the Taliban for “diplomatic talks,” so we can expect our largest and most strategic competitor to legitimize the Taliban and offer them “infrastructure deals” that will lead to even more control over rare earth minerals.

Afghanistan is the Saudi Arabia of minerals worth north of $1 trillion, and contains huge reserves of lithium to power everything from your smartphone to your Tesla. China’s Belt and Road Initiative to chain-link the Asian landmass will gain a key corridor through Afghanistan. This will further lock down resources for China and increase its strategic ties to Iran.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor could see a new infusion of Chinese interest with U.S. influence in Afghanistan now gone.

China’s wins do not end with the fall of Afghanistan. To the east, Taiwan represents the crown jewel for China. Taiwan is rightly worried about its sovereignty. The U.S. should be worried, too, as its seizure would cripple key strategic alliances and supply chains for the U.S.

The recent takeover of Hong Kong provides a template for China to invade or blockade Taiwan in a reunification bid to test American resolve in the region. Our economic health as a nation and state is not guaranteed, and clamping off Taiwan would cripple our advanced silicon chip-based consumer economy from trucks to refrigerators.

The U.S. is still a superpower with many tools at its disposal. In some ways the answer to many of our troubles is simple: return to the basics. As we return to supporting the rule of law at home and abroad, championing the principle of liberty, and standing firm for human rights, we can strengthen our Western alliances.

Further, utilizing strategic diplomacy to increase our business ties and boosting economic cooperation with our allies across southeast and central Asia will help contain China’s ambitions. Getting back to basics can discipline our approach and help unite the country around core values that will restore trust and strengthen our nation.

Derek Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.