By Jonathan Power*
Joseph Biden for president! His main rival for the Democratic Party’s nomination, Bernie Sanders, endorsed him on April 13. If the world could vote, the overwhelming majority would vote for Biden, despite some misgivings. My reservations would be on his foreign policy. Like President Barack Obama he would be good on domestic policy but mistaken on much of his foreign policy.
Obama made Biden responsible for dealing with the Ukraine crisis where he fashioned an anti-Russian policy based on little evidence that this was fair to the facts. He writes now of the need to “counter Russian aggression” and that “we must impose real costs on Russia for its violations of international norms”.
If he can’t get Russian policy right, what hope is there he will get other issues right? We don’t need an unnecessary second Cold War. If the US can’t have a policy for rapid nuclear disarmament with Russia, going well beyond the extension of a new START treaty, an end to the trade embargo and a sensible compromise over Ukraine and Crimea, the world will remain weighed down by this stand-off to the benefit of no one.
Russia has to become a partner of the West again, as it was when the Cold War ended. It takes two to tango, we know, but the US alienated Russia by breaking its word and expanding NATO up to Russia’s frontier.
In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Biden lays out his policies succinctly. Again, we have the old shibboleth – “Once more we (must have) America lead the world”. How often has the world, especially its other heavyweights, told the US there must be a partnership, otherwise there will always be push-back? There can be little effective resolution of disputes discussed by the UN Security Council unless every country is treated as an equal.
Similarly, Biden talks of how US companies must stop “facilitating repression in China” and “The US does need to get tough with China”. Standing up for human rights is a good thing but how can the US do that without being hypocritical when it has undermined human rights in Iraq and Afghanistan, built a fence across the Mexican border and then incarcerated and ripped away small children from their migrant parents, opposed the making of peace in Syria and continued its longest war in its history in Afghanistan where the innocent continue to be killed by US military action?
As for accusations that “China is robbing the US and American companies of their technology and intellectual property”, isn’t this to misunderstand the dynamic of trade relationships? The more China robs the more it becomes dependent on Western expertise to keep growing. Markets will open more quickly than patents are stolen.
Besides, for every new big business departure, Western supply chains are important to Chinese companies – look at Huawei’s G5 phone and internet system. Is it not reasonable that China secures its interest with its border islands in the South and East China Seas? Doesn’t Washington still apply the Monroe Doctrine?
China is not acting like the US abroad, putting its finger into almost every pie. The US has 800 bases around the world. China has one. China rarely starts the grumbling, only when the US shoots first. Once Biden has changed US policies then will be the time to talk about human rights abroad.
On the Israel/Palestine dispute, he seems to be incapable of differentiating from those who criticize Israel and those who are anti-Semitic. All he cares about is sustaining “our iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security”. Not a word about what the Palestinians need and deserve.
There are some good thoughts in Biden’s Foreign Affairs article. He writes: “We have made missteps and mistakes. Too often, we have relied solely on the might of our military instead of drawing on our full array of strengths”. Good, but there is no mention of reducing the Pentagon’s expenditure which is as large as the next seven big powers added together.
He also sensibly says: “We should bring the vast majority of our troops home from the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East and narrowly define our mission as defeating Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS). We should also end our support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen”.
He is also good on Iran, wanting to resuscitate the deal on nuclear weapon research made by Obama and also the Paris Agreement on controlling climate change. Rightly, he wants to reinvest in the diplomatic corps – it has a useful bias towards peace-making. He blames Trump for cutting back on diplomacy and “By pulling out of treaty after treaty, reneging on policy after policy, walking away from US responsibilities, and lying about matters big and small, Trump has bankrupted the US’s word in the world”.
Elsewhere, Biden has spoken about borrowing from the thoughts of his erstwhile rivals Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But I see no sign of their many good ideas (although both of them are unnecessarily tough on China and Russia) being listed by Biden. He needs to listen to them more because that is what probably a majority of younger Americans want.
We have no choice but to wish victory for Biden. But he needs to make some bigger changes in his foreign policy commitments than he has so far articulated before many of us can respect the US again, and before the world will become truly peaceful.
*Note: Copyright Jonathan Power. Website: www.jonathanpowerjournalist.com. The writer was for 17 years a foreign affairs columnist and commentator for the International Herald Tribune.