By Chan Kung and He Jun*
It has been more than three months since the Biden administration came to power and its governance characteristics, as well as its capabilities, have gradually become more and more apparent. Since U.S. President Joe Biden won the election, he has repeatedly announced to the international community that “America is back”. Facing a series of shocking events from the Capitol riot to the COVID-19 pandemic, both of the U.S.’ opponents and allies are cautiously taking a wait-and-see stance on the return of the United States and how it affects the current international order.
On the whole, the highly intellectual diplomatic team in the Biden administration appears to seriously underestimate the complexity of the actual geopolitical environment, and are not paying enough attention to Trump’s diplomatic legacy, leading to the Biden administration’s diplomacy to be in an obvious predicament.
The diplomatic plight of the Biden administration can be seen in various aspects:
In Europe, the U.S. diplomatic team appears to be unable to grasp the fragmenting trend of the world’s geopolitical environment, or the actual relationship between Germany and Russia, and have impetuously promoted the Atlantic partnership, with the hopes that this would return the world order to what it was in the past. The U.S. military is in a dilemma where it has failed to achieve much in Europe. While it supports the New Europe, the collaborations given by the Old Europe could just very well be nominal. Germany is clearly unwilling to abandon its relations with Russia, especially when it comes to energy, nor does it possess actual conditions to abandon such a relationship. All this made the Biden administration’s efforts to return to the Atlantic age rather improbable now. After World War II, the solid influence established by the United States through the Marshall Plan in Europe has now been exhausted and the reorganization of a new global geopolitical order has just begun. The Biden administration fails to understand these changes, which have caused many to be disappointed in Biden’s diplomatic team.
There is little improvement in the relationship between the United States and China, and the United States instead simply becomes more passive. In the past, during the Trump administration era, although the rivalry in the U.S.-China diplomacy had escalated, on the surface there was still a certain degree of basic politesse. On March 18 this year, in the Alaska summit when the Chinese diplomats criticized the U.S. diplomatic team, the Antony Blinken team seemed to show not much of reaction, hence this was considered a diplomatic failure on the American side. Up to now, the Biden administration is still indecisive in whether to opt for Henry Kissinger’s concept of world order which was to accommodate China, or to stick to the hardline proposition of the U.S. Congress which was to exclude China. It appears that the Biden administration has yet to achieve an actual breakthrough in U.S.-China relations.
Regarding the Iran issue, the Biden administration wanted to take on the role of a “big brother” and push for the Iran nuclear agreement, but this did not bode well with Israel, which has inextricable relations with the United States. It would come as a surprise if Israel were to pay the price of pushing for the Iran nuclear agreement as this would contradict the United States’ usual stance. While there are undeniably some in the American government who have always held a grudge against Israel’s influence in the U.S., if the Biden administration thinks that it would be an easy task to communicate with Israel, they would be gravely mistaken.
The disagreement within the Biden administration in regard to the Ukraine issu is common knowledge. When the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ukraine, a journalist asked if the U.S. agrees in Ukraine joining NATO and the White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre gave a positive answer at the time. However, a mere four hours later when the White House released the transcript of the press conference, Jean-Pierre’s statement that the United States agreed to Ukraine’s accession to NATO was deleted. The reason given by the White House was that her words did not represent the United States’ official position. The plan of the United States to deploy warships to the Black Sea for free navigation was also cancelled in the face of Russia’s tough stance. To Ukraine’s disappointment, the destroyers were replaced by coast guard patrol vessels. The Ukraine issue is a thorn in Europe. Without the clear support of Germany, it would be impossible for the United States to resolve the issue. Now another dilemma has arisen after Biden’s diplomatic team has aggravated this issue without providing a solution.
It is foreseeable that the U.S. would make use of the Taiwan issue, though the Biden administration is still unable to make any strategic determination. By observing the attitude of the U.S. government however, it appears that the Biden administration understands that having a clear strategy is vital, though they are still wary of the consequences.
After the Biden administration came to power, the relationship between the United States and Turkey has actually deteriorated, particularly over the Armenia issue which is highly sensitive to Turkey as it is related to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s legitimacy. While Biden has made a statement concerning the Armenian genocide, it still leaves one feeling rather incredulous since the United States did nothing during the time of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Some analysts believe that within the U.S. government, no one seems to have a sense of direction.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is widely opposed, both by the enemies and allies of the United States. From a long-term perspective, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is an integral part of the structural adjustment of the U.S. military system, but from the perspective of recent events, it is obviously not the right time to do so. U.S. Secretary of State Blinken surprised everyone and announced the withdrawal plan after flying to Afghanistan and it has caused major turmoil in the world’s geostrategies. Both enemies and allies of the United States will now have to make adjustments and new plans.
It appears that the U.S. has not conceived any strategy towards South America and this is something that is quite perplexing considering their geographical proximity. South America is not only facing an economic predicament but is also suffering from the COVID-19 outbreaks with the death toll in Brazil alone exceeding 420,000. Even so, the United States appears to be indifferent towards its southern neighbor.
On the whole, the diplomatic team of the Biden administration does not appear to possess the capability of navigating through complex world scenarios and as such, one cannot expect too much neither from them, nor from the geopolitical academic circles in the United States. They are mostly silent now which is in sharp contrast with what happened during the Cold War and before 2010. It will take some time for the geopolitical academic circles in the United States to restore themselves. If the Biden administration has a thorough understanding of the current predicaments that the United States are facing, it would shift its focus away from the complicated global environment to its domestic economy. If this is done, it may still be possible for the U.S. to make good progress and achievements.
Looking at the current situation and in light of their history, some have claimed that the “Neo-Monroe Doctrine” has emerged in the United States and this claim is not without reason. However, the Biden administration seems to have lost its rational judgement in their pursuit of political glory. As major events have unfolded causing the world to change, one cannot help but ask if the Biden administration is truly capable of bringing the United States back to its good old days.
Final analysis conclusion:
Since the beginning, due to a serious underestimation of both the complexity of the actual geopolitical environment, as well as a lack of attention to Trump’s diplomatic legacy, the Biden administration has actually fallen into a diplomatic plight. Such a predicament will not only drag down the Biden administration’s achievements, but may also affect the 2024 U.S. election.
*About the authors:
- Founder of Anbound Think Tank in 1993, Chan Kung is one of China’s renowned experts in information analysis. Most of Chan Kung‘s outstanding academic research activities are in economic information analysis, particularly in the area of public policy.
- Mr. He Jun takes the roles as Partner, Director of China Macro-Economic Research Team and Senior Researcher. His research field covers China’s macro-economy, energy industry and public policy.