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Afghanistan's former President Ashraf Ghani fled the country last August as the Taliban continued their swift sweep of the country and were poised to attack Kabul. He allowed the Taliban to retake power after two decades and resume their barbaric reign.
What if he had stayed and led a fight back? Like Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky? The former comedian has stayed put at grave personal danger, changed into military fatigues and rallied, or harangued, world leaders and parliaments rebuffing evacuation offers from both the US and UK. With support pouring in from around the world, he has led the country to push back a much larger and better equipped military of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ghani handed US President Joe Biden his worst foreign policy showing yet and Zelensky might give the American leader his most notable foreign policy achievement yet.
Ghani's flight from Afghanistan became Biden's failure. In fact, his mis-steps there can be traced back to his decision to pull out of Afghanistan without leaving behind a residual force, disregarding advice from his top military people. That failure was compounded by the chaos that followed - archived for history in images of Afghans chasing a US military plane as it taxied to take off. Dismay and anger were felt and voiced in capitals around the world, including in New Delhi, which has slammed the pullout as a "political expediency".
The verdict was clear: Biden had screwed up, once again.
Robert Gates, a former Defense Secretary to two American Presidents and fellow member of the Barack Obama administration, wrote in his memoir that Biden has "been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades". The messy Afghan withdrawal was chalked up to the same account. Would the outcomes have been different had Ghani stayed and led the country against the Taliban? Would he have been able to pull together the many disparate factions of the ruling coalition? We will never know.
What we do know, however, is that Zelensky is still there, and has foiled Russia's plan to take over the country, capture Kyiv and overthrow the government and replace it with a puppet regime. In fact, Russia has taken a surprisingly high number of casualties in both men and materiel, including the Black Sea fleet flagship Moskva. The mighty Russian war machine stands exposed as a pitiable version of itself. The economy has been hit by an unprecedented level of sanctions that threaten to contract its economy by double-digit figures.
Globally, Putin stands isolated -- 141 countries voted in favour of a UN resolution in March to condemn the invasion of Ukraine (four countries voted against and 35, including India, abstained), while the world body also suspended Moscow from the Human Rights Council. The Russian president has united the NATO military alliance that had been showing cracks under unrelenting assault from former US President Donald Trump and, in fact, its membership might grow from current 30 to 32 with Finland and Sweden reportedly ready to file their applications in May.
Biden, the man whose mental acuity is routinely questioned by critics in India, is now credited with having pushed Putin, whose bare-chest pictures adorn the office walls of those same critics, into a corner. Biden has rallied allies and partners to launch the most severe economic sanctions against Russia and Putin's oligarchs and sending military hardware to enable Ukrainians to send Russians back to Russia.
It will be fair to give credit to Biden for Ukraine's survival under Zelensky, just as he was blamed for Afghanistan slide-back into chaos after Ghani's flight from the country.