Is There A ‘Joe Biden Doctrine’ On International Affairs? – OpEd


By Luke Coffey*

US President Joe Biden, who is almost one year into his administration, has pursued a foreign policy that has projected American weakness on the global stage. Already, in his first year of office, there have been consequential foreign-policy decisions that have shaped, whether intentionally or not, a “Biden Doctrine” on international affairs.

Of these, the fallout from his decision to abandon Afghanistan, his desperation to secure a new deal with Iran no matter what the cost, and a hopelessly naive approach to Russia have been the most consequential.

From these three disastrous examples of statecraft, there are five notable observations regarding President Biden’s approach to international affairs.

Firstly, adversaries of the US are testing the limits of American weakness. The consequences of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan will be felt beyond the Hindu Kush.

As a global power, what America does in one region can easily affect another — and it often does. The chaotic and incompetent manner of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will invite provocation in other places. Russia, Iran, China and North Korea will be even more willing to push the envelope to see what they can get away with.

Secondly, US allies and partners are questioning American resolve. In addition to empowering America’s adversaries, some of the foreign policy actions of the Biden administration have also affected America’s relations with its allies and partners around the world.

Many long-standing partners are now questioning American resolve and commitment. In August, the UK’s House of Commons all but formally censured the US president during a debate on Afghanistan. Publicly, many senior officials across Europe are now talking about the need for “strategic autonomy” from the US as a result of the American administration’s aloofness toward global affairs.

Thirdly, there is a lazy approach to international relations. A great example of this was administration’s so-called “Summit for Democracy,” which needlessly and simplistically divided key US partners, friends and allies at a time of geopolitical flux.

For example, two NATO members, Hungary and Turkey, were not invited at a time when NATO needed unity over the Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. Guatemala, a democratic country in Central America, was not invited at a time when illegal immigration through America’s southern border is a major challenge.

Fourthly, there is a failure to learn from mistakes. For someone with half a century of foreign-policy experience, this is inexcusable. Biden’s insistence on withdrawing from Afghanistan in the way the US did is a good example.

In 2011, while vice president, Biden was part of the decision taken by the Obama administration to withdraw all US forces from Iraq, even though critics of the decision called for a small training force to be left behind to assist the Iraqi security forces. By 2014, Daesh had captured a large chunk of Iraq, including its second-largest city, Mosul.

Finally, there has been a failure to understand America’s role in an era of Great Power Competition. In Great Power Competition, a superpower such as the US has two big advantages: economic influence and a strong national defense. Sadly, the Biden administration has shown little desire to advance either.

There has been no meaningful push to secure new free-trade deals by the Biden White House. Instead, many of the same, protectionist economic policies that were implemented by the Trump administration have been kept by the Biden administration.

It also proposed a real-terms cut to US defense spending until Congress stepped in to increase funding. The Biden administration’s unwillingness to promote free trade and economic freedom around the world, and its unwillingness to properly fund the US military in line with America’s global interests, could ultimately undermine the tough stance against China taken by the White House so far.

Whether it is dividing friends and partners of the US at a time when unity is needed, or keeping allies in the dark over major decisions such as the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Biden administration has made blunder after blunder during only one year in office.

Robert Gates, who served as US defense secretary for both the Bush and Obama administrations, wrote in his 2014 book “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major national security issue over the past four decades.”

Admittedly, President Biden still has three years remaining of his term. Perhaps global events will force him to become a more internationally focused president. Or perhaps as he feels more comfortable dealing with domestic issues, he will find more bandwidth to deal with global matters beyond climate change. However, the current trends suggest this is unlikely.

When it comes to foreign policy, expect an unpredictable and disjointed approach from the White House over the next few years. What is missing is statecraft, leadership and political will.

America is not a weak nation — but right now it is not a serious nation when it comes to foreign affairs.

• Luke Coffey is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation. Twitter: @LukeDCoffey

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