Biden Administration foreign policy: the Precipice scorecard
It's a mixed bag, and it seems uncertain that it grasps the profound changes occurring in the world order
There’s nothing to laud about the team at the top. Biden, never a beacon of depth, has Democrats worried with his increasing faltering. Harris is showing herself to be as much of a master of the word salad as the Very Stable Genius, has a management style that’s left her staff in tatters, and has racked up nothingburgers in her visits to various nations.
Antony Blinken has proven to be a better Secretary of State than I’d expected. He’s been fairly resolute with regard to China and Russia, and his aim to foster ties between the US, Israel, Greece and Cyprus seems strategically sound, especially as Turkey acts less and less like a reliable NATO member or Western ally generally.
The State Department he leads is disturbingly ate up with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion push, but, then again, so is the whole administration.
The Precipice assessment of the administration’s foreign-policy performance varies from situation to situation.
Afghanistan - Far and away the most cringeworthy blunder so far. Granted, Biden inherited a gravitation toward appeasement of the Taliban from the previous president, but he just showed himself to be fast asleep at the switch as the summer of 2021 unfolded. The scenes of heartbreak and desperation at the Kabul airport will long be seared into the conscience of our nation.
Ukraine - The administration has done far better on this front. Biden was personally involved in shoring up NATO cohesion as Russia’s invasion got underway. (Whether he can wield effective influence in the wake of recent fraying of that cohesion remains to be seen.) He sounded the right tone in his Warsaw address - well, right up to the point of his “for-God’s-sake-this-man-cannot-remain-in-power” utterance. (Bidenisms of that sort are kind of interesting; they send his aides scrambling to put a what-he-really-meant-was-this spin on them, when they actually state a truth that deserves an airing. We’ll look at another one when we get to China.)
I know that support for Ukraine gets a thumbs-down from figures ranging from Henry Kissinger, the dean of the realist school to peacenik leftists to non-aggression principle libertarians, but it seems to me to be the responsible course. Earlier in the current war, the question of whether to establish a no-fly zone was a tough one. Zelenskyy made a compelling case that the West should do so, but there’s that not-small matter of two nuclear superpowers going toe-to-toe. We are sending lots of weaponry, as are European countries, and that’s a good thing. And Biden’s enthusiasm for Finland and Sweden joining NATO is a sentiment I share.
China - As noted above, the president let loose with another of his signature Bidenisms during a joint press conference in Tokyo with Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida yesterday, saying that the US would respond militarily if China invaded Taiwan.
The argument could be made that, as in the case of a no-fly-zone over Ukraine, that would put the US in direct confrontation with a nuclear superpower. The difference, it seems to me, is that the history of Taiwan vis-a-vis China is more consistent, given that Ukraine was a Soviet republic for seventy years. (I’m not implying that Ukraine’s sovereignty is questionable, just that it has been interrupted on occasion.) Taiwan’s been resolutely independent since 1949, because it damn well didn’t want to be Maoist. The US has never completely spurned Taiwan, even though the worst foreign-policy president of the past one hundred-plus years, Jimmy Carter, severed formal ties in 1979. (Ah, that memorable year 1979, when Iran fell to the Ayatollah, the USSR invaded Afghanistan and the Sandinistas hijacked the Nicaraguan revolution against Somoza.) The table for Carter’s move had really been set by the maneuvers at the outset of the 1970s by the above-mentioned Henry Kissinger. In the ensuing decades, US businesses considered China an irresistible market, which has led to an intricate intertwining of our two countries. That seems to be starting to change now, however, as recognition of China’s horrific human-rights record becomes unavoidable.
Taiwan is one of those Pacific rim nations, like South Korea and Japan, that is quasi-Western. It has a representative-democracy form of government and a market economy. To not defend it would be correctly perceived by the world as an act of supreme abandonment.
Somalia - Biden’s approval of the deployment of 500 or so troops to Somalia is the right thing to do, even if it’s largely symbolic. Al-Shabaab is an al-Qaeda outfit and it’s growing. We need to send a message to the Somali government that we stand with it in rooting out that menace.
So there are pluses and minuses. My concern is whether or not anyone with a foreign-policy-related portfolio in the administration truly grasps the magnitude of the foundational changes happening to the overall world order. The way things have been for the past seventy-seven years is not the way they’re going to be going forward. The world stage is not going to be the nice, safe environment for trade and cultural exchange to which we’ve become accustomed. It’s going to be a lot more raw now.
That’s going to require some folks to think deeply about what it is about America’s identity that’s remained unchanged since its founding, and what that can bring to the table in far less certain times.