Under Biden, the world’s most powerful, most heavily armed, most determinedly righteous nation shows little sign of having any foreign policy at all.
By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News
Bitter and frightening realities face us four months into Joe Biden’s presidency. On the domestic side it is a Potemkin village, behind the façades of which lies a slum of unfulfilled promises that are no longer even part of the Washington discourse. That is the bitter part.
The frightening part is this: Biden and the amateurs he has named as statesmen and stateswomen do not have an inconsistent foreign policy, or a miscalculated foreign policy, or a confused foreign policy. Such shortcomings and weaknesses might be repaired. This flummoxed bunch does not have a foreign policy. And the world’s most powerful, most heavily armed, most determinedly righteous nation shows little sign of figuring one out: Readers may perhaps join me in finding this very frightening.
I do not traffic in hyperbole, favored as this is among our poseur pundits, mostly liberals and “progressives,” who are little Potemkin villages all by themselves. It is simply time to state the obvious but unsayable, to run our palms over the rough skin of the elephant in our living room. The American empire no longer knows what to do in the world. It is lost in the 21stcentury forest, ever more alone.
Something else must be said immediately. Fearful as it is to contemplate a nuclear power wandering the globe without aim, at the horizon the Biden regime’s incoherent non-policies are a positive sign of history’s movement in the right direction. Imperial decline, after all, is to be hoped for.
The music of our new century stopped at just about the time the man from Scranton took office: This administration would have to surrender all further thought of empire — “global leadership” in polite company — if it were to meet the demands of a new, post–American era, or it would have to enter into a state of sclerosis while reënacting the decades of primacy for a dwindling audience as if it is still somewhere around 1955.
It has chosen the latter course, maybe inevitably. It would take a president of far greater vision and conviction than the spineless, chronically deceitful Biden to understand our moment as one of historical import requiring a leader with the imagination and courage to guide our republic into new circumstances and more equitable relationships with others. In fairness to Biden, America has not produced a leader of this sort in I do not care to say how long.
It is occasionally said that the military runs U.S. foreign policy. One gets the point, a grim point, but this is not so, either. The Pentagon has no vision of where this nation is heading or why. Its only policy is to find things to do that justify its bloated bureaucracy and budget. That is not policy; it is something closer to theft.
So are we flying blind in the year 2021.
Biden is one of those senators who come along in each cohort to claim foreign policy expertise as a signifier of intellect and worldly sophistication. Two points to be made here. One, this has always been a pose on Biden’s part, given his very poor record in this regard. Two, most of his foreign policy positions, if not all of the major ones, reflect domestic political considerations rather than an understanding of this or that set of on-the-ground circumstances. Error is therefore more or less inevitable.
If Biden has a personnel problem, as I think is the case, the problem begins with him. But those around him must not be overlooked in this connection. Antony Blinken, his leader of the charge in U.S. relations with others, has spent his career as an adviser, for many years aiding Biden when he was still a senator and subsequently during his vice-presidency. Giving an adviser executive responsibilities was incautious, to use the kindest word for it. In the case of Blinken, it is already well on the way to proving disastrous. This is a man patently in over his head.
Blinken and Nod could hardly have opened up worse during their first weeks in office. Two weeks after his inauguration, Biden announced he was ending U.S. support for the Saudi kingdom’s savage war on Yemen and its people. This was a response to domestic pressure and was advertised (to quote the sycophantic Guardian ) “as part of a broad reshaping of American foreign policy.”
Nothing of the sort has come of this. There has been no discernible change in American support for the Saudis, and we are not looking at a reshaping of policy: We are looking at an absence of policy.
This latter point became even clearer in the administration’s first contacts with Russia and China. Within three days last March, Biden had his Putin-is-a-killer moment on ABC News, while Blinken, during his Anchorage encounter with Chinese counterparts, lectured the Chinese side on human rights, democracy, and individual freedoms as if reading from a catechism of rote American pieties.
I have already reviewed in this space the very serious consequences of these miscalculations. In brief, Moscow and Beijing appear to have concluded after these events that it is not possible to deal with the U.S. on the basis of the parity they have pointedly insisted upon for years. We can now expect an era of alliance-building among non–Western powers, already nascent, to flower.
Biden has just scheduled his first summit, to be held June 16, with Vladimir Putin. In the run-up during these next two weeks, we must ask what the Biden regime’s Russia policy is. Name-calling and expelling Russian diplomats on the basis of no-evidence allegations of Russian cyberattacks is not a policy: These are perfectly legible admissions that the U.S. does not now have a Russia policy.
Maybe Biden will come up with something surprising when the two convene in Geneva, but as things stand one is surprised the Russian president is bothering with the occasion.
Ditto in the China case. Biden and Blinken have gone notably quiet on relations with the People’s Republic since the latter’s mess in Alaska. Blinken’s few remarks, carried on Twitter, have focused on an improbably alleged genocide in Xinjiang Province and Beijing’s assertive handling of Hong Kong’s democracy movement. These do not constitute a policy. The trade question, South China Sea security, the way forward on the Korean Peninsula: These are matters of policy, and we have heard nothing about any of them.
Covering their lack of ideas on the Russia and China questions, Biden and Blinken mark down both as strategic adversaries in accordance with the Pentagon’s 2018 National Defense Strategy. At the same time, they propose to compete fairly with China on the economic side while cooperating with both on some security matters and questions such as climate change. This is cake-and-eat-it stuff. There is too much blur in this strategy for it to work.
Last week Biden announced he will drop opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany and remove the threat of secondary sanctions against European companies working on it. This is an excellent move, but one cannot read it as the front end of a renovated policy toward either Russia or Europe. It is simply a retreat in the face of a fait accompli.
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Europe’s refusal to bow to Washington on the Nord Stream 2 project. At this point, Europeans appear willing to go along with the U.S. on non-substantive questions such as the (fraudulent) Alexei Navalny case but not when it comes to concrete matters such as European energy supplies. With the NS 2 confrontation, Europeans effectively announced their intention to adopt a more independent policy framework for the first time since pre–World War II days.
The cutting-edge question in trans–Atlantic relations as NS 2 makes plain, is Russia. An impulse toward autonomy in trans–Atlantic ties has been articulated with greater conviction since Emmanuel Macron hosted the G–7 session in Biarritz in summer 2019. The French president’s voice has grown ever more persistent and won gradually increasing support from the Germans.
Macron’s topic was always the U.S. but turned on his Gaullist desire to advance beyond Washington’s Cold War binary. “With Russia, the policy of progressive sanctions on frozen situations is no longer an effective policy,” Macron said last week. “We are at a moment of truth in our relationship with Russia, which should lead us to rethink the terms of the tension that we decide to put in place.”
Do Biden or any of his people have the sophistication and gravitas to respond effectively to these profoundly challenging statements? It seems almost silly to ask. Wanted: A Europe policy that takes account of what time it is on history’s clock. One does not hold one’s breath.
As to the Middle East and West Asia, we have five cases of what appear to be Biden’s abiding preoccupation with smoke-and-mirrors appearances as against reality, and one question on which the administration’s position is all too clear.
We are told that indirect talks with the Iranians in a Vienna hotel are gradually progressing, but this sounds like so much diplo-speak. Biden’s people are asking too much of Tehran, know they are asking too much, and have no true intention of rejoining the 2015 accord governing its nuclear programs.
I have already noted the apparent fraud of Biden’s early announcement concerning Yemen. His subsequent decision to schedule the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 would count as his best policy move to date, except that, as noted previously in this space, we do not yet know what he means by “withdrawal.” This will almost certainly turn out to be something other than the end of America’s longest war.
No Syria Retreat
Last week the administration announced that it will not renew the just-expired license granted last year to Delta Crescent Energy, a concern with extensive political and military connections, to pump and refine Syrian oil. It would be nice if this were the start of a similar withdrawal from the Syrian Arab Republic, but this is an administration that bombed Syrian positions within weeks of taking office and has done nothing since to indicate it intends to abandon the third of Syria it illegally occupies. A similar situation obtains in Iraq, where U.S. troops are no longer welcome as a matter of Iraqi law but appear to be going nowhere.
We come to Israel, alas. Here, too, the professedly Zionist Biden has no policy other than to allow Israel to set U.S. policy. That is the policy, and there is, of course, zero likelihood it will change. One can hardly wait to see what comes of Blinken’s declared intention to aid reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after apartheid Israel’s recent aerial attacks.
Do I describe an incoherent American leader and his lieutenants, who speak gibberish because, having no reply to our moment, the last thing they want is to be understood? I do. Do I write of a powerful nation that has—a different thing—lost its strength and is critically weakened? This, too.
It is frightening, yes, but our leaders decided in the aftermath of the 2001 events that this is how they will go — not imaginatively or creatively, but inanely.
Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. Follow him on Twitter @thefloutist. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.