Joe Biden is strong with words but weak with action on foreign policy
President Biden has used ostensible rhetoric against countries like China and Russia that threaten our national security interests and violate human rights. I have lauded him for his promise to reassert the United States as a leader on the world stage and for pledging to confront authoritarianism and threats to Western societies with action by multilateral democratic institutions like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Yet I am disappointed to find that the foreign policy of the administration has been more about strong words and less about a cohesive strategy for confronting national security threats. Biden has shown us that he speaks loudly but carries a weak stick. In a concerning misstep, Biden declared that we will pull our troops out of Afghanistan by September 11. This date is mostly symbolic. Further, the move leaves the Taliban with the ability to forcefully take control of large parts of the country, thus undermining the progress of the government and citizens of Afghanistan.
According to the latest annual threat assessment from our intelligence community, Al Qaeda still remains among “the greatest Sunni terrorist threats” and it continues to “seek to conduct attacks inside the United States.” Though Americans are very wary of the war in Afghanistan, the decision sets our national security interests at more risk.
On China, Biden labeled the Communist Party oppression of the Uyghurs a genocide and called President Xi a thug. Biden condemned the holding of Uyghurs in internment camps and said “there will be repercussions.” Biden also voiced his concern over the crackdown on Hong Kong. Yet as Beijing increases the military activity in the South China Sea, as well as violates freedoms in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the strategy for how Biden plans to confront these threats remains unclear. Sanctions alone are not strong enough deterrents. The United States must consider taking more steps like a boycott of the Olympics in China next year.
On Russia, Biden labeled the country the biggest danger to our national security, a premise I concur with, while pledging that Moscow would pay for any interference in our elections. When hackers from Russia broke into federal agencies late last year, Biden spoke about the necessity of working with our allies to “hold any other country liable with breaking out of those basic rules.” Biden even called Vladimir Putin a killer and sharply criticized the treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned and imprisoned two months ago. Indeed, the administration has maintained that “there will be consequences” should Navalny die.
But as Russia took aggressive action by moving troops to the Ukrainian border and continued to undermine our democracy with cybersecurity threats and election interference, Biden still did not articulate any clear strategy in response. While Putin backed down on troops at the Ukranian border, he made a veiled threat to the United States this month, warning all countries against “crossing the red line” with Russia.
Both China and Russia have made clear threats. Yet the sanctions imposed on officials in China over human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and for undermining democratic freedoms in Hong Kong are just not enough. The sanctions for Russia are not directed at Putin or the oligarchs who support him. None of the sanctions have seemed to effect change and will not be a major deterrent for countries engaging in human rights violations in the future. With regard to Iran, it is unclear what the relaxation with sanctions means for the nuclear talks at a time when it has become clear that Tehran has now enriched uranium to the highest levels ever.
The United States lacks a coherent and effective foreign policy strategy, while China and Russia have had a strategy for a long time. As I argue in my latest book, the axis of these two countries poses one of the greatest global threats. Our leaders need to take decisive action against both for their aggressions and violations of human rights. The administration must start to substantiate its tough talk with distinct action. If not, our national security and global stability will be sorely undermined.
Douglas Schoen is a political consultant who has served as adviser to Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”
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