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Biden cannot allow his domestic fumbles to transfer to the world stage

Julia Nikhinson

President Biden is presiding over an era of unprecedented domestic instability — brought on mostly by circumstance, and exacerbated in large part by the president’s repeatedly inconsistent leadership. At the same time, America’s crises don’t only exist within our borders, as there are also significant challenges facing the United States in terms of global affairs and foreign policy. 

Ultimately, if Biden continues to exhibit the same uneven and indecisive leadership in meeting America’s foreign policy challenges as he has in meeting many of our domestic challenges, it could undercut America’s ability to confront our adversaries, protect global democracy and continue to lead the world.

On the domestic front, the coronavirus pandemic took a turn for the worst last week when the first cases of a new “variant of concern,” omicron, were detected in the U.S. Though key details about the variant’s transmissibility remain unknown, it’s already clear that omicron may well undermine America’s pandemic recovery efforts. 

This new uncertainty over the trajectory of the pandemic also makes it increasingly difficult to confront the problems in our economy: namely, inflation and prices of consumer goods and gasoline are at record-highs and supply-chain bottlenecks and ongoing labor shortages continue to kneecap the American economy.

To that end, the U.S. added a disappointing 210,000 jobs in November, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 900-points on Black Friday, marking a troubling start to what many hoped would be a record-breaking holiday spending season. 

At the same time, both President Biden’s and Vice President Kamala Harris’ approval ratings are underwater. Taken together with the uncertainty surrounding the new variant and the lagging economy, this all puts Biden’s entire domestic agenda at risk, and his Build Back Better plan will likely remain stalled in Congress.

Thus far, the president’s messaging and approach to these national issues — the pandemic, the economy and his own agenda — have been neither clear nor decisive, which has made the crises we were already facing as a nation that much harder to confront.

That being said, if Biden continues to exhibit this same inconsistency on the world stage, the consequences could be arguably even more dire. Specifically, the Biden administration is faced with an increasingly hostile U.S.-China relationship, as well as Russia’s aggressive efforts to destabilize the West.

One of the greatest points of contention between the U.S. and China concerns the Chinese Communist Party’s posture toward Taiwan. Looking to broaden U.S. alliances in the Pacific, the Biden administration has aligned itself closely with Taiwan, a democratic island, which the CCP considers Chinese territory. This has inflamed tensions, and Beijing issued a stern warning to take “resolute measures” if the U.S. intervenes on behalf of Taiwan.

Notably, the overhang from the United States’ chaotic withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which Biden and his foreign policy team oversaw, has clearly emboldened the CCP vis-à-vis Taiwan. In August, Chinese state-run media published an editorial insinuating that the U.S. would abandon Taiwan just as quickly as we pulled out of Afghanistan; a few weeks later, Beijing conducted a military exercise near the island.

Up to this point, the Biden administration has seemingly lacked a plan of action to counter China. The president’s ostensibly tough rhetoric has not been met with comparable action. The administration has sanctioned Chinese officials; however, these punitive sanctions — and other similar counteractions — have been limited in their scope. Sanctions alone are not a strong enough deterrent, and the U.S. needs to seriously consider further steps, like an Olympics boycott.

China isn’t the only U.S. adversary assuming an increasingly aggressive military posture. Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a large-scale deployment of Russian troops at the Donbass region of the Ukrainian border. This latest provocation is preceded by Russia’s actions in April when 150,000 troops were moved there.

To note, like China, Russia was clearly emboldened by our withdrawal from Afghanistan and officials have used it to paint the U.S. as a weak and unreliable international partner to Ukraine and other nations.

Ukraine, the U.S., and other Western allies have grown increasingly worried that Russian troops buildup at the Ukrainian border portends an invasion similar to 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea in violation of international law, and shortly thereafter, invaded eastern Ukraine. 

Further, per A.P.’s reporting, the Kremlin said Friday that Putin will seek a binding guarantee precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine, which had been considered by NATO members as a way to guarantee more security in the region. 

The Obama administration was unprepared when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014 and backed an insurgency in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass and the Biden administration cannot afford to do the same. While the U.S. provided $60 million in military assistance to Ukraine in September, which was a good first step, the administration needs to go further, perhaps by sending more assistance, or by laying out concretely and clearly the severe economic consequences that will follow if Russia invades Ukraine.

In order to confront America’s domestic and global challenges, President Biden and his administration need to exhibit consistent, focused, strong leadership — nothing less will do if the United States is to protect our interests here at home and abroad.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to former President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. He is the author of “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”

Tags biden administration China–United States relations Joe Biden Joe Biden Michael Bloomberg Presidency of Joe Biden Vladimir Putin Vladimir Putin

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