The new doctrine of Joe Biden

The new doctrine of Joe Biden
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The interim national security strategy announced by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan sketches one exciting new doctrine for President Biden rooted in geopolitics, but also linked to transnational threats like pandemics, terrorism, and climate. It reframes foreign policy in the modern era, making it clear to Americans whose firsthand exposure to the coronavirus, domestic attacks, and the ravages of climate change show why such issues matter.

I still remember years ago conducting local town halls and hearing from constituents that foreign aid needs to be discontinued because it eats up 50 percent of the federal budget. The correct number was 1 percent, but the broadly held misconception shows how disconnected foreign policy was and is from the minds of many everyday Americans.

Biden is the most experienced foreign policy president since the senior George Bush and has an “A Team” advising him. His early action to strike Hezbollah in Syria, order sanctions for Russia and Saudi Arabia, end our participation in the Yemen civil war, and pause several destructive arms sales, while raising human rights concerns to Xi Jinping are notable. But moving from a series of tactical efforts to one overall strategy, which we have lacked since the Cold War ended, is the challenge.


We declared ourselves the winner, and Russia the loser, after the Cold War ended. We downsized the defense and intelligence procurement budgets and pondered how to spend our peace dividends. But the threats did not subside, and China did not want to play by our rules. Despite predictions that the homeland was ripe for a major terrorist event, the United States was simply not ready for 9/11 and even then launched a reflexive military response that has marked our primary game ever since.

It is also a challenge to engage Congress once more as a serious foreign policy partner, which is a role it played for much of the 20th century. The threadbare authorization for use of military force of 2001 for Afghanistan was reportedly trotted out yet again to justify the recent strike in Syria, as it has been for 40 military actions in almost 20 countries over the last two decades. No doubt Biden agrees it should be updated, but that duty falls to Congress, which remains full of toxic political division.

Getting this blueprint right for military action is difficult. The commander in chief power of the president provides him or her latitude to defend our country during emergencies, and an authorization for use of military force should respect that, but Congress is vested with the power to declare and fund wars. Bob Corker teamed up with Tim Kaine in a failed effort to find a new authorization for use of military force in 2018. Kaine is trying again in the Senate, but bipartisan action is now harder than ever.

Biden and his team know this and deserve credit for moving in areas that Republican giants like Richard Lugar and John McCain would have lauded. They are working as the “indispensable partner” to reconnect and rebuild our tattered alliances. They are confronting China and Russia for their bad behavior with intellectual property theft, human rights, and cyber attacks. They are wrestling with the best way to end the forever wars. But there is a new key ingredient, which is buy in from the public who must understand that these issues affect them. So part of the foreign policy doctrine of the administration is to engage Americans, and this new approach has a great chance to engage Congress and mobilize public opinion.

The misconception my constituents had around foreign aid came about years ago because it was viewed as unconnected from and unimportant to their lives. However, few would say that is the case on the coronavirus, climate change, or the rise of homegrown terrorism possibly inspired by foreign interests. Indeed, Biden and his team are taking the “foreign” out of foreign policy. All of us now have a stake in this. Bravo.

Jane Harman served nine terms as a member of Congress and is president emerita for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars based in Washington. She is the author of the new book “Insanity Defense: Why Our Failure To Confront Hard National Security Problems Makes Us Less Safe.”