Biden’s baffling decisions leave allies wondering where they stand
After a series of missteps on the international stage, President Biden might have hoped that, in addressing the United Nations General Assembly, he might reignite the “America is Back” enthusiasm that energized the international community upon his election. Long on rhetoric and short on actions, his speech failed to deliver. The so-called return to American leadership that Biden touted is looking more like American retreat — and the world knows it.
In his U.N. General Assembly speech, President Biden characterized the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as closing a period of “relentless war” and the transition to “relentless diplomacy.” This of course assumes that allies and partners still view the United States as a reliable ally and partner.
The president’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August that left thousands of American citizens and partners stranded under Taliban rule caused many allies to question the value of U.S. friendship. Allies who shared the political risks, resources, and sacrificed their citizens have been left wondering what it was all for.
Then, days before Biden’s speech in New York, the United States announced an ill-timed nuclear submarine deal between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, which undercut a French deal with Australia for a $90 billion fleet of attack submarines. This led the French to recall their ambassador to the United States for the first time in history, calling the deal a “stab in the back.”
Additionally, Biden’s blind pursuit of multilateralism is testing his loyalty to friends under attack by U.N. institutions, namely Israel. For example, the administration announced that, next year, the United States will run to retake a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, which has been widely criticized for anti-Semitism and which the State Department recognizes as “a flawed body, in need of a reform to its agenda, membership, and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel.” Yet, no plans to transform the body into a credible organization have been unveiled.
Biden also reiterated U.S. commitment to Israel’s security in yesterday’s speech. However, this rhetoric was overshadowed by his acknowledgement that his administration is “working with the P5+1 to engage Iran diplomatically and seek to return to the JCPOA.” Given the existential threat that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel, as well as Tehran’s blatant non-compliance with international legal obligations, including continuing to block inspectors’ ability to monitor its nuclear program in real-time, it’s not surprising that Israeli leadership doesn’t have a lot of confidence in a nuclear deal.
To add further Israeli concern about U.S. loyalty, earlier this week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), forced Democrats in the House of Representatives to strip funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system from a must-pass temporary spending bill. The Iron Dome provides crucial defense for Israel citizens and is increasingly essential for Israel as conflict with Iranian proxies escalates.
Moving forward, the Biden administration must carefully consider what “relentless diplomacy” looks like in practice. A good place to start is bringing home all Americans from Afghanistan and evacuating those partners who served the United States. Further, the president should refuse to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s official government or provide it with financial assistance. Biden should also work quickly to repair the damaged relationship with France before further resentment spills over into other aspects of the relationship, including NATO.
If Biden is going to rejoin and fund international bodies, he should use U.S. membership and funding as leverage to ensure that reforms are made. This includes organizations like the World Health Organization, the U.N. Refugee Works Agency as well as the Human Rights Council. Rejoining these organizations without any plans for reform guarantees the status quo.
With respect to defending Israel, the administration should abandon its attempts to negotiate with Iran and shift to a deterrence-based approach that shores up Israel’s and other regional partners’ security. The administration’s lack of transparency and refusal to act in good faith with respect to informing Congress of its attempts to broker a deal raises questions about whether Biden will abide by existing law (i.e., Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015) and submit a deal to Congress should one be brokered. Congress also has a responsibility to conduct rigorous oversight of the administration’s actions and use their authority to call for briefings and hearings that will shed light on Iranian nuclear compliance as well as the president’s negotiation plans.
Furthermore, Biden should send a strong message to the progressive caucus that any attempts to withhold funding for Iron Dome will not be tolerated. Moving Iron Dome funding to a standalone bill sets a dangerous precedent and could procedurally be replicated in years to come. During his meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last month, Biden underscored his administration’s full support for replenishing Iron Dome. The president should live up to his pledge.
It doesn’t take decades of practicing international statecraft to understand that actions prove a leader’s mettle. For all the talk of President Biden’s “relentless diplomacy,” he has a funny way of showing America’s allies and partners that he has their backs.
Morgan Lorraine Viña is vice president for Government Affairs at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) and is the former chief of staff to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki R. Haley.