FO° Insights

Making Sense of Joe Biden’s Foreign Policy

Joe Biden promised an end to the chaos of the Trump years and a more engaged America. A Capitol Hill veteran and foreign policy wonk examines how Biden’s foreign policy has played out.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM. 24th March 2022. Joe Biden, President of USA, during press conference, after NATO Extraordinary Summit. Brussels, Belgium

May 23, 2022 17:43 EDT

Fair Observer’s new feature FO° Insights makes sense of issues in the news. We pose a series of rapidfire questions to the best of our more than 2,500 contributors from over 90 countries who share their ideas, insights and perspectives on an important issue.

Even as US President Joe Biden leaves for his inaugural Asia visit, American foreign policy is in turmoil in the aftermath of the disastrous Vietnam-like withdrawal from Afghanistan and the catastrophic Russia-Ukraine War. 

Therefore, we spoke to Contributing Editor Christopher Roper Schell, a Capitol Hill veteran who has also worked on the Pentagon, to make sense of Biden’s foreign policy.

Christopher Roper Schell on Joe Biden’s Foreign Policy

How do you rate Joe Biden’s foreign policy?

Christopher Roper Schell: Biden’s foreign policy is coalition-based but it is weak and naive.

Why? Because it doesn’t contemplate realpolitik. Some people don’t care about your rules-based order or the values that matter so much to you, or ideals that are inconsequential in the face of power. In many ways he is a lot like Obama 2.0. Biden doesn’t necessarily enforce things, he just states what cannot be done.

What must not be done? The red line in Syria comes to mind for Obama. And Biden seems to be making himself another version of Obama. Policy is based on the notion that this is who we are. This statement often employed by Biden and by Obama alike is utterly meaningless.

Perhaps the most ridiculous thing is that Biden is negotiating simultaneously with the Iranians as he seeks to curtail Russia. However, he cowers every time Russia mentions a nuclear weapon. Well, what do you think the Iranians and the others are thinking? Get a nuclear weapon as soon as possible and no one messes with you. 

Did Biden play his cards well against Russia in Ukraine?

Christopher Roper Schell:  Biden was initially strong out of the gate. His decision to reveal classified information relating to a supposed false incursion by the Ukrainians, which the Russians would then use as a provocation to retaliate, was a great idea, as was his decision to provide a list of names of the people Moscow could have used to run Ukraine. 

However, from thereon Biden’s will flagged. Indeed, he was dragged virtually kicking and screaming to impose sanctions. Once he saw that the Congress was going to act, Biden didn’t want to be left behind. Similarly, when the Russians withdrew from Northern Ukraine, we should have been arming Mariupol to the teeth. We did not do this.

So, there seems to be an absence of confidence or will to provide any real defense to the Ukrainians. For example, the MiGs out there should have been sent to Ukraine. If the US could not send the entire planes, why not chop them up into parts and send them to Ukraine? Or leave the keys in the car and say we don’t know who took them…

So we are left in a situation where there could potentially be a frozen conflict for a long time. Ukraine could be left as a rump state. And there doesn’t seem to be the will to ensure that Russia loses, as Biden claims he wants. 

What do you make of Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan?

Christopher Roper Schell: It was a masterstroke. It was brilliant. It was perfectly executed, no, I’m kidding you. It was a dumpster fire. It was a mess. Now I grant you Trump left Biden in a bad position. Right? Right? 

Withdrawal timelines being what they are, Biden didn’t have a lot of good options but I mean, really, this was the best you could make of this? I mean, the region is now a mess.

For the American side, there hadn’t been casualties in a year. We had 2,500 to 3,500 people there keeping the top on this. And we withdrew everyone on such an artificial political timeline like 9/11. 

That’s the day you decide that you’re going to pull out, and when that doesn’t work and you see it’s kind of sort of going south, you think, oh, I know this isn’t working out. Let’s like move the timeline up, ’cause that’s way better, right? No, no.

Biden wanted a triumphant political 9/11 20-year wrap up ceremony. Instead, he got Saigon and I guarantee you his advisers were like no helicopters on rooftops, no helicopters on rooftops. And when he got helicopters on rooftops, those same advisers were probably saying nobody’s falling from the sky. Guess what? He got bodies falling from the sky strangely reminiscent of 9/11, and it was an absolute debacle. And of course this also eroded American credibility. I mean, regionally, once again it’s a complete mess. So, dumpster fire!

How has Biden handled the Middle East?

Christopher Roper Schell: The Middle East is a mess. What else is new? However, the new caveat here is that Biden has absolutely infuriated the Saudis, and he’s done so on numerous and different fronts. I wrote about this in my first The View from the Carriage House.

And Biden has completely alienated the Saudis. They won’t even take his calls, and he’s asking them to pump more oil. Not going to happen. At the same time, Biden is negotiating a contract with the Iranians, the Saudis’ mortal enemy. So what do you think the Saudis are going to do?

You’re talking about delisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). You’re talking about giving the Iranians all sorts of goodies. We’ve already delisted the Houthis and we also wouldn’t even sell the Saudis Patriot Missiles. So they’re quite frustrated and the place is a mess and we don’t seem to be making any headway on the Iranian Deal.

It’s a wash-rinse-repeat cycle of negotiations, pocketed gains, going back to the negotiation table, so the Middle East in general is not going well at all. 

Has Biden done well with allies like France, Australia and India?

Christopher Roper Schell: France is America’s oldest ally, which is why it got a little bit awkward in the room when the Aussies decided to buy US submarines and not French submarines. The French seemed to be caught off guard by this and Biden was too. Biden claimed that honest to God he didn’t know that the French hadn’t been told.

Which kind of makes sense. I do think he probably was the last guy to know. Nonetheless the Aussies are getting serious. They were sanctioned by China in a pretty profound way and they have recognised that China is a threat. The French are OK, you know, some fences have been mended there.

Perhaps most interesting is the relationship with India, which is founded on the QUAD. And I think America has to come to a better understanding to get on top of India. The US has to recognize that India can’t just throw away 70% of its military hardware, which is Russian. It has to remember that the old non-alignment days weren’t truly non-aligned, that there was a bit more of a Russian influence, and the time has come to recognize India’s past but also forge a very strong relationship moving forward.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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