Biden’s Foreign Policy Challenges

Alan Zendell, February 27, 2021

After Donald Trump’s America First policy, I was glad that President Biden’s first international call was to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. No two countries’ futures are as inextricably tied to each other as Canada’s and the United States’. Twentieth centruy futurists predicted that we would eventually form a North American Confederation with Canada, if not actually merge into a single nation. National pride and cultural differences aside, that made perfect sense fifty years ago; it makes even more sense today.

Fifty years ago, such a confederation would have been one-sided, since Canada’s climate caused chronically high unemployment in seasonal industries like construction and farming. But our evolving climate is leveling the field, if not reversing it. America’s southern farm lands are moving toward another dust bowl, as Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas overheat and experience worsening droughts, while Canada’s agricultural belts benefit from the overall warming trend. Our mutual interests are strong enough that we should be finding more ways to cooperate instead of fighting over dairy products and energy production. As both countries strive to become greener, issues like the Keystone pipeline would be much easier to resolve if we treated Canada like a partner instead of a competitor.

The commendable peace deal between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain brokered by Jared Kushner should expand trade and enrich all parties, always a good thing, but it doesn’t address the Middle East’s worst problems. Barack Obama attempted to project a more even-handed policy toward Arab-Israeli relations, which to the Arab side had always appeared heavily biased toward Israel. I understood his intentions, but he failed, and in doing so convinced strong supporters of Israel that Democrats couldn’t be trusted to support the Jewish state, one of many things that hurt Hillary Clinton and helped elect Trump in 2016. Trump’s close ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worsened prospects for a lasting peace with Israel’s neighbors. Netanyahu has done more to alienate his neighbors than build a lasting peace.

Biden attacked the issue by going after Israel’s enemies. Under Biden, there will be no free passes to the Saudi monarchy, who enjoyed a love affair with Republican administrations going back to George H. W. Bush. Biden withdrew support for Saudi’s war with Yemen, put a large sale of state-of-the-art warplanes on hold, and held Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman responsible for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashogi. MBS will no longer be treated like a golfing buddy. Biden also struck at Iranian installations in Syria that supported attacks on American forces. These actions demonstrate more support for Israel than propping up a corrupt Prime Minister.

With respect to Europe, Biden kept his campaign promises to renew support for NATO, particularly the commitment that an attack on any member nation is an attack on all. He rejoined the Paris Climate Accord and will pursue a renegotiated Iran Nuclear Deal. Good first steps, but it’s unclear how he will address trade relations or whether he will continue troop drawdowns from NATO countries. More importantly, he is hamstrung by domestic politics. Knowing Donald Trump still has a significant voice among American voters, it’s difficult to see how Europe can have confidence in America as a dependable ally. Policies could easily be reversed in 2024.

Turning to our most dangerous adversaries, we may rest assured that Biden’s foreign policy will not be ego-driven. He will not engage in hyperbolic threats and insults, and he will be as transparent as national security permits. Trump’s attacks on the original Iran nuclear deal were disingenuous. He offered no evidence that it hurt American interests, just noise and bluster. The issue is extremely complex, best left to diplomatic and military experts, not someone who flies by the seat of his pants and undercuts his own State Department. I have a degree in nuclear physics, but I freely admit that I have no idea how to best police Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Biden has been silent on North Korea, deflating the elevated status conveyed on Kim Jong Un by Trump, whose theatrics left us no better off with respect to North Korea than we were when Trump took office. Worse, our relations with our staunch ally, South Korea, were damaged when Trump undercut the South Korean government’s attempts to improve relations with the North. The best way to deal with Kim is to ignore him publicly while squeezing him in private.

I don’t know the best way deal with China, but I’m certain that hurling insults at President Xi and continually referring to COVID-19 as the China virus is the worst. Approaching China diplomatically makes more sense than blowing up trade treaties and starting trade wars. Trump likes to posture as a high stakes gambler willing to throw the dice and see where they land. But Biden understands that taking calculated diplomatic risks in negotiation works better than chaos. The best way to deal with China may be to penalize American companies that offload jobs to improve profits. That’s a far better use of tariffs than hurting our farmers’ export markets.

Finally, Russia and Vladimir Putin. Joe Biden doesn’t worships autocrats or wish to become one. Mr. Putin will neither weave a spell over Biden nor keep him in thrall as he did Trump. The way to deal with Russian interference is clear. Cyber wars are analogous to the nuclear standoffs of the last century. No computer system is safe from hacking, and our people are as talented as theirs. In the absence of voluntary disarmament, mutually assured destruction prevented us from blowing up the planet; now, both sides have the capability to destroy the other’s infrastructure and disrupt social and economic systems without firing a shot. Biden should make it clear to Putin that Russia has as much to lose from cyber warfare as we do, and maybe emphasize his point by taking out a power plant or two.

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1 Response to Biden’s Foreign Policy Challenges

  1. William Kiehl says:

    The Middle East is complex, as you not only have Israel vs. Arabs, but Sunni Muslims (Saudis) vs. Shiite Muslims (Iran). The Sunnis and Shiites have been fighting for centuries, so I don’t know how Biden can stop this. Regarding Israel, yes we do favor them over the Arabs, but that does not mean that we must do whatever Bibi Netyanhu tells us to do.

    What we must do however is to avoid getting into another ground war like Iraq and Afghanistan.

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