Biden’s foreign policy missteps boost anti-Americanism
It is hard to imagine what motivates and guides the Biden administration’s foreign policy, apart from “Obama-imitation” and a few overarching pleasant outcomes. The breakdown of a bipartisan U.S. foreign policy came in the 1970s when the Vietnam consensus snapped. Since then, America’s principal foreign policy objectives have oscillated between the Republicans’ retention of and capitalization on advantages vis-à-vis America’s rivals and potential threats to its national interest and the Democrats’ promotion of broader ideals.
President Nixon triangulated great-power relations with China and withdrew from Vietnam, leaving a non-communist government in Saigon, which fought the North Vietnamese and Vietcong to a standstill in 1973 before falling in 1975. Nixon re-established U.S. nuclear superiority with the SALT I agreement but, with Watergate and the cut-off of assistance to South Vietnam, that policy was replaced after a couple of years by President Carter’s promotion of human rights and a warming of relations with the Soviet Union. Carter declared that the U.S. was suffering from “an irrational fear of communism,” but his de-escalation of tensions with the USSR was soon rebuffed by the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
President Reagan detected that the Soviet Union was at the outer limits of an affordable military commitment and dropped the straw on the Soviet camel’s back with his proposed deployment of a non-nuclear, leak-proof anti-missile defense; it was ridiculed by his critics as a sci-fi “Star Wars,” but the thought of it and of the elimination of the Soviet first-strike and deterrent capability — along with the “gentler” Kremlin of Mikhail Gorbachev — literally shook the USSR apart and the Cold War ended.
Presidents George H.W. Bush and Clinton essentially coasted on the overwhelming preeminence of the United States as the world’s only superpower through 12 years, during which the People’s Republic of China advanced with remarkable speed to fill the vacuum created by the disappearance of an alternate power to the United States; meanwhile, the most fervent enemies of the West, having no states they controlled, were reduced to launching terrorist activity from failed states where they were able to train their cadres. President George W. Bush’s response to this threat, though it was substantially successful against terrorist networks, enmeshed the United States and its allies in endless wars in the Middle East, from which Iran mainly gained, especially in Iraq.
President Obama first tried to withdraw from Iraq but had to return to help suppress ISIS, for whose existence his own impetuosity was largely responsible. But Obama did not believe there was a serious foreign threat to the United States; he dismissed ISIS as an amateur operation, criticized some of the greatest leaders of America’s recent past (including Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower) and gave thoughtful addresses in Cairo, Ghana and elsewhere, implying that those countries which had been antagonistic to America should reconsider. He implied that the foreign policy of nations is determined by ethnic or cultural affinity, not by national interest. His two particular ambitions were to cease antagonizing the Muslim world with an excessive American intimacy with Israel, and to inspire the world with his own fixation on the universal dangers of climate change. The nuclear arrangement with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) and the Paris climate accord — neither of which was supported by a majority of Americans, much less the supermajority of senators required to ratify a treaty — were the principal results of this policy.
President Trump made great progress using Arab concerns about the steady intrusion of their ancient enemies, the Turks and the Iranians, to promote better relations between the Arab powers and Israel. And, for several years, all the talk about China surpassing the United States as the world’s greatest power ended.
Today, President Biden is a blinkered emulator of the Obama era’s chimerical objectives. Last month, the Chinese foreign minister began his discussions with Secretary of State Antony Blinken with dismissive condescensions of the United States; China is ignoring U.S. sanctions on Iran and buying its oil, and it does not accept climate change as a serious issue. Last week, Biden appeared ridiculous as the only one of 40 world leaders wearing a mask in his virtual “green” charade, and he is peddling preemptive concessions to get Iran back into an agreement that is a greased slipway to a nuclear military capability.
While lecturing a tuned-out world about ecology and human rights, as Obama did, Biden called Russian President Putin “a killer” (Putin responded by withdrawing his U.S. ambassador), and he has formally described Turkey’s historic treatment of Armenia as “genocide.” All of these comments are factually defensible — but they have helped to bring China, Russia, Turkey and Iran together, united against America. Even though the Biden administration has partially walked back its support of Iran and Iran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen, it effectively is pushing Saudi Arabia into the arms of the Chinese as well.
If America’s enemies were running the State Department, they couldn’t easily do a better job of building a powerful anti-American coalition. This isn’t foreign policy; it is the mutilation of America’s legitimate national self-interest.
Conrad Black is an essayist, former newspaper publisher, and author of ten books, including three on Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. Follow him on Twitter @ConradMBlack.