Biden administration lacking a major foreign policy success
President Joe Biden has now been in office for more than two years, which is an adequate time period to make an assessment regarding the successes, challenges and failures of his administration’s foreign policy up until now.
One of the important foreign policy issues that the Biden administration campaigned on was repairing the damaged ties between the US and its European allies. A month into his presidency, he told the Munich Security Conference: “America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back … I know the past few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relationship, but the United States is determined to reengage with Europe, to consult with you, to earn back our position of trusted leadership.”
Under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, relations between the transatlantic partners appeared to have been undermined beyond just simple disagreements. As Ian Bond, the director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform think tank, pointed out: “There had been serious transatlantic disagreements in the past — notably over Iraq in 2003 — but no previous president since World War II had challenged the very principle of the transatlantic alliance in the way that Trump did when he questioned whether the US should feel obliged to defend a NATO ally that was attacked.”
The Biden administration has pursued a more conventional foreign policy with the EU by reaffirming American support for NATO. And Biden has restored normality in transatlantic ties. Nevertheless, challenges remain when it comes to trade and subsidy concerns.
One example is the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, which provides $369 billion for climate-related investments and which provides tax breaks, but only to companies that have their operations located on US soil. Such protectionist policies tend to create tensions between allies.
And when it comes to US policy toward the Ukraine-Russia conflict, although some believe that the president’s cautious foreign policy has kept the US from being dragged into a full-fledged war with Moscow, many believe the administration has failed. This is because the White House does not appear to have a clear agenda or endgame for resolving the conflict.
In other words, the administration’s policy seems to be anchored in only providing weapons, ammunition and financial assistance to Ukraine. In February, Biden announced nearly half a billion dollars of additional assistance to Kyiv, including “the delivery of artillery ammunition, anti-armor systems, and air surveillance radars to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardments.” However, National Public Radio reported: “After Congress appropriated more than $112 billion in military and economic support in the space of a single year — and with no signs of an end to the conflict — polls show a growing number of Americans feel the United States is giving Ukraine too much.”
Another conventional foreign policy move by Biden has been to reassert US respect for international and intergovernmental organizations. One of his first acts in office was to declare that the US would reengage with the World Health Organization. In addition, he signed an executive order to have the country reenter the Paris Agreement on climate change.
One of the most controversial policies was the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
One of the most controversial policies was the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Some people viewed the withdrawal as being poorly planned because the US had delivered seven new helicopters to Afghanistan just a month before it fully withdrew. “They’ll continue to see a steady drumbeat of that kind of support, going forward,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters a few days after the delivery of the helicopters. Weeks later, the Taliban took control of the military equipment the US left behind.
For many, it was mind-boggling that the Biden administration announced its withdrawal from Afghanistan without any apparent plan to either secure the billions of dollars-worth of US military equipment or make the slightest effort to recover or destroy it. This military equipment cost $7 billion of American taxpayers’ money, according to the Department of Defense.
This has caused outrage among many lawmakers. As noted in a letter written by a group of Republican senators: “It is unconscionable that high-tech military equipment paid for by US taxpayers has fallen into the hands of the Taliban. Securing US assets should have been among the top priorities for the US Department of Defense prior to announcing the withdrawal from Afghanistan.” And Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, told Reuters: “We have already seen Taliban fighters armed with US-made weapons they seized from the Afghan forces. This poses a significant threat to the United States and our allies.”
When it comes to the Middle East, at a time when the US military presence seems to be shrinking and other forces may be looking to fill the vacuum, it is more essential than ever for the Biden administration to improve its foreign policy by working closely with Gulf states and reconfirming America’s commitment to Middle Eastern security.
Finally, concerning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, the Biden administration has failed to score a political victory, as several rounds of negotiations ended without any concrete progress toward a permanent resolution.
So far, the Biden administration’s foreign policy can be characterized as cautious and conventional, while lacking any significant achievements. But Biden still has time to improve his administration’s foreign policy on several important fronts.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.