Second Opinion: Assessing Biden’s Foreign Policy Strategy
Senior foreign policy officials in the Biden administration spent 2021 seeking to bring America back to activism in multilateral institutions and restore its global reputation as a leader and its image as both competent and reliable afterwards. the unfortunate punch of the previous administration. .
Unfortunately, the first year has not been kind to their efforts or their president. I say this as a colleague of many of these public servants when I chaired the National Intelligence Council during the Obama administration – and who admires them.
They have had no luck with Afghanistan, notably in inheriting the Trump deal with the Taliban in 2020 promising a complete withdrawal of US troops; it was little more than a fig leaf covering the surrender.
But the United States also had poor execution. The administration came under pressure from the Afghan government to avoid taking steps that would signal a departure, but the United States still should have done much more than it did to prepare. the withdrawal by the end of August, in particular to bring out the Afghans who had worked with us. The military is generally good at moving people around quickly, but in this case it is not.
If we had been given a helping hand, we might have kept Bagram Air Base open in Afghanistan even if that meant temporarily deploying more troops to defend it.
I was also surprised – after watching the Iraqi military evaporate with the fall of Mosul in 2014 – that my former intelligence colleagues did not at least warn of the strong possibility that the end of the game in Afghanistan can be played out in days or weeks, not months or years. My years in intelligence have left me skeptical of which valuations are too much practice, like the one suggesting that the Afghan regime could hold out for months.
The Biden team are experienced and knowledgeable, and that’s a welcome relief. Yet they are also full members of the foreign policy establishment, what Ben Rhodes, who was President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, calls the “blob” (and which probably includes me too. ). I sometimes get the impression that they think we are still in 1992, when the United States was going through a unipolar moment like the world superpower.
The world has changed. Now is not the time to lecture Chinese diplomats, as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken did in March in Anchorage, no matter how much they deserve it or respond in kind with their own. conferences.
American leadership cannot be assumed either; it must be won, problem by problem and decision by decision. On this point, to come to an agreement with London to sell to Australia British nuclear submarines, rather than the French models which they had ordered, and to do so without prior warning to France, was a blunder for which neither the apologies President Biden nor a visit to Paris in early November by Vice President Kamala Harris could erase.
Traditional allies are required to hedge their bets: having witnessed “America First” Trumpism once, they know our politics well enough to know that it could happen again.
There is more foreign policy continuity between Biden and former President Trump than I expected. Biden canceled two of Trump’s three withdrawals, bringing the country back to the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization.
But what is more striking is that he did not join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It should have been natural, because it is the perfect vehicle to do what the Trump administration sought but failed to do: make progress by limiting the different ways in which China appropriates intellectual property, which includes requiring foreign companies to share their technology in exchange for market access – and many reports of outright theft.
The first rounds of Trump tariffs may have caught China’s attention, but the follow-up has been negative: rather than rallying countries in Europe and elsewhere who share the same grievance against China, the administration Trump has also imposed tariffs on these potential partners, apparently for reasons unrelated to China. Yet the fact that the Biden administration has done nothing to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership underscores the constraints now that trade deals have become swear words across the political spectrum.
The rally of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, which began in November, will put the administration to the test. This speaks to the fact that a waning power may still be locally dominant militarily – and the risk that the Biden administration may simultaneously face crises in Europe and Asia. It doesn’t matter if the foreign policy elites seem to think it’s still 1992, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to think it’s still 900.
Referring to Kievan Russia – a medieval state that some say was the forerunner of the modern states of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus – Putin argues that Russians and Ukrainians are one people. This may be an acceptable historical reference, but it is a misguided strategy, as it only offends the Ukrainians and pushes them more towards the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
China is clearly the center of US foreign policy, and here, too, there seems to be more continuity than strategy. The Biden administration did not decide to cancel the Trump tariffs, but applied its own punitive measures, such as delisting Chinese companies from U.S. stock exchanges and failing to send officials to the Olympics in China.
While the administration obviously understands that if humanity is to survive, we must cooperate with China to deal with the climate crisis, otherwise the ‘new cold war’ mentality that seems to be gripping Washington also seems to include the administration. This is a very unnecessary framework – more 1962 than 2022 – because not only does it reduce the scope of cooperation with China, but it also downplays the economic importance of the two countries to each other.
Political calculations may suggest exaggerating the “Chinese threat” to sell renewal measures at home that we should be doing even if China did not exist, such as spending more on basic research and development on critical technologies, as well as President Eisenhower used the Cold War in the 1950s to justify the National Highway Defense Act, which built the American interstate system so that in the event of a nuclear attack, people could easily evacuate cities.
But slogans aren’t strategy, and on the Biden administration’s first-year report card, his approach to China has earned him an “incomplete” foreign policy.
Gregory F. Treverton, president of the US National Intelligence Council from 2014 to 2017, is professor of international relations at USC and president of the Global TechnoPolitics Forum.