On foreign policy, Biden is more Trump lite than Obama 2.0

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump
Getty Images

President Biden’s ascent to the Oval Office will go down in history as one of the most dramatic ones with a pandemic, a capitol insurrection and the “big lie” all hitting the American people in a span of six months. With all the chaos and drama one would expect the incoming president to be poles apart from his predecessor. However, what America got was a simpler version of President Trump, at least in foreign policy if not in other aspects. 

Trump’s foreign policy put “America First” and prioritized national interests over the well-being of all of humanity and the lives of the downtrodden of the world, as a liberal internationalist would. Biden has followed suit. While Biden’s foreign policy is less bombastic and not conducted primarily on Twitter, it has streaks of his predecessor’s policies. This is strikingly evident in his foreign policy on Afghanistan, China and Central America. 

On Afghanistan, although Biden did not gripe that he couldn’t use weapons that could wipe Afghanistan off the map like his predecessor did, Biden has thrown in the towel with regards to protecting Afghan women and children who could be in harm’s way if the Taliban gets control of the state. Biden has publicly washed his hands of any responsibility toward the innocent ones that might be the Taliban’s latest target. Biden’s policy toward the region is a continuation of Trump’s policy that limited troop deployment to the region was for terminating terror outfits in the country and not nation building.

Similarly, Biden’s China policy has been an extension of Trump’s antagonistic and provocative approach toward the communist nation. Starting with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s war of words with his Chinese counterparts in Anchorage, Alaska, Biden has refrained from dialing back the relationship to the pre-Trump years. Instead, the president has used every opportunity on an international forum to position the West against China. He convened the first Quad security group leaders meeting, bringing together the U.S., Japan, India and Australia to address challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, and China’s role in the region was center stage. And at the G-7 Summit, he reiterated his commitment to addressing the China challenge. With regards to trade and commerce, Biden has acted on what Trump only spoke about. 

Furthermore, his administration has focused its efforts on legislating its China centered foreign policy. Through the Endless Frontier Act, the Biden administration has formalized its decoupling efforts with China and its objectives of reshoring factories to the United States. The administration has diverted funds to shape an industrial policy that prioritizes sectors such as batteries, rare earth minerals, semiconductor chips and other high technology manufacturing industries that were previously reliant on China.  

Biden’s Build Back Better (B3W) initiative, launched along with G7 countries and aimed as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, is another China focused foreign policy measure. The Trump administration identified the issues involved with China’s infrastructure building initiative and Biden has acted on them. While Trump’s approach was verbose rants and racist speeches on China, such as terming the COVID-19 pandemic as Kung-Flu, or the Chinese virus, Biden has been able to get away with his antagonistic posture toward China by being less explicit and more tactful. By turning down the rhetoric by a notch, Biden has managed to retain the Trump administration’s China policy. 

Of all the foreign policies of the Biden administration, the one that is a mirror image of the Trump administration would be the policy toward Central America. If one were to look back on the criticism levied by Democrats on the Trump administration’s policy toward Central America, it centered around the Trump administration restricting illegal migration, cross border crossings and caging of undocumented migrants. Interestingly, the Biden administration has practiced the same with Vice President Kamala Harris even explicitly saying “do not come” to migrants from Central America. It is worthwhile noting that many of these challenges associated with the border predate Trump and even President Obama was labeled “deporter in chief” for his restrictive policies. Given that, Biden would only be following his predecessor’s footsteps, just without the rhetoric and the incendiary language.  

The only foreign policy that is markedly different from Trump’s is the commitment to multilateralism. Biden has revived the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate accords and has committed to engage the World Health Organization on world public health initiatives. Excluding multilateralism, Biden’s foreign policy is a lite version of the Trump administration’s policies. 

Biden’s foreign policy should come as a surprise to Democratic voters who expected an Obama 2.0 from his administration and as a sigh of relief for the Republicans who were afraid that he would mimic his former boss, or worse, side with the Senator from Vermont. From the events of the past five years, it is clearly evident that of all the predictions of analysts, one prediction is glaringly correct — nationalism is here to stay and liberal internationalism is long gone.   

Akhil Ramesh is a non-resident Vasey fellow at the Pacific Forum. He has worked with risk consulting firms, think tanks and in the blockchain industry in the United States, India and in the Philippines. His analysis has been published in The South China Morning Post, The Diplomat, Asia Times and the Jerusalem Post. Follow him on Twitter: @akhil_oldsoul

Tags Afghanistan Antony Blinken Central America Donald Trump Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign Presidency of Donald Trump Presidency of Joe Biden us-china policy

More White House News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video