On the domestic front,is flirting with transformational policies around energy, environment, and infrastructure. It’s not a revolution, but it’s considerably less timid than what Barack Obama offered in that pre-Trump, pre-pandemic era.
When it comes to, however, the Biden administration has been nowhere near as transformational. The phrase has used so often is “America is back.” That sentiment certainly captures some aspects of Biden’s relationship with the international community, such as repairing relations with the World Health Organization and rejoining the Paris climate accords. In these ways, the administration has brought America back to the status quo that existed before Trump was unleashed on the world stage.
How Joe Biden Looks at the World
But on some very important issues — telling potential border crossers in the region to stay home. Okay, is not a winning issue at the ballot box, and Biden certainly has a lot on his agenda. But even the notoriously cautious Obama took some courageous steps with Tehran and Havana., , , — President Biden hasn’t managed to restore even the previous status quo. His approach to military spending and the arms race is decidedly hawkish. His message on immigration, as expressed by Vice President Kamala Harris on a visit to Guatemala earlier this month, effectively erases the inscription on the Statue of Liberty by
It’s possible that Biden is focusing on America first before turning to the world as a whole. It’s also possible that he’s simply not interested in alteringin any significant way beyond removing troops from Afghanistan. True, it was exhilarating to have a conventional president again after Trump. But conventional, when it comes to , is just not good enough.
If the Biden administration’s overriding domestic preoccupation is a sustainable economy, then its dominantobsession is . Biden and Xi have spoken only once, by telephone in February. Xi participated in Biden’s virtual climate confab in April. They are likely to meet face to face sometime this year, possibly around the G20 summit in Rome in October. There’s been talk of greater cooperation on addressing the climate crisis. And there haven’t been any overt military confrontations in the South Sea or elsewhere.
But otherwise, Biden and Xi have not really gotten off on the right foot. It was a no-brainer for the new Biden administration to lift the Trump-era tariffs on Chinese products and de-escalate the trade war that unsettled manufacturers and consumers on both sides of the Pacific. The Biden team is ostensibly doing a review of a mixed record of meeting some targets for imports and missing others).– trade policy with a focus on whether Beijing has met its commitments under the “phase one trade deal” signed back in January 2020 (so far, it’s been
The review is more than just bean-counting. In a marked departure from the usual neoliberal trade talk coming out of Washington, has said, “I want to disconnect this idea that the only way we do affirmative trade engagement, trade enhancement is through a free trade agreement.” Tai prefers to operate according to a “worker-centric trade policy” that evaluates on issues of forced labor, workers’ rights and the environment. A more nuanced approach to trade is all to the good, of course, and Tai should be commended for breaking with the Washington consensus.Trade Representative Katherine Tai
But taken in conjunction with other Biden administration policies, the reluctance to lift tariffs on Chinese goods is part of a full-court economic press on the country. The Biden administration has effectively continued the Trump approach of not only lining up allies in the region to contain corralled the G7 to create the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative, a purported alternative to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure program, and twisted some arms to get NATO to prioritize as part of its mission.(the Quad, the Blue Dot Network) but enlisting European countries as well to join the bandwagon. In his recent trip to Europe, Biden
NATO’s new emphasis on say-do gap” by expanding capabilities beyond the Navy to challenge in the air and above.reflects the Pentagon’s shift in focus. Trump might have loudly proclaimed his anti- animus, but the Biden administration is determined to close what it calls the “
China’s moves in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the SouthSea are deeply troubling. Nor is Beijing doing nearly enough to green its Belt and Road Initiative. But the Biden administration needs to think creatively about how to leverage China’s own multilateral aspirations in order to address global problems. Trade tensions and disagreements about internal policies are to be expected. Yet the Biden administration has an urgent and historic opportunity to work with (and everyone else) to remake the international community.
Sparring With Iran
These obstacles notwithstanding, the Biden team could have gotten the job done if it had started earlier and been more flexible. Not wanting to open itself up to criticism from hawks at home, however, the administration argued for a mutual, step-by-step return to the agreement. By contrast, supported.quite sensibly argued that the , since it attempted to blow up the agreement, should be the first to compromise by removing sanctions, a position that some policymakers have also
Is the US Back Under Biden?
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is continuing a tit-for-tat confrontation with militias aligned with rocket fire.. This week, the administration launched airstrikes against facilities on the Iraq-Syria border from which these militias have allegedly attacked US.bases in Iraq. forces in Syria subsequently came under
Why are there still timetable. Removing 2,500 soldiers from Iraq would please the government in Baghdad, remove an irritant in -Iranian relations and take personnel out of harm’s way. What’s not to like, Joe?soldiers in Iraq and Syria? Didn’t the Biden administration commit to ending America’s endless wars? Although forces are scheduled to depart Afghanistan in September and Washington has pledged to remove troops from Iraq as well, negotiations around the latter have yet to produce a
Getting Nowhere With Cuba and North Korea
Late in his second term, Barack Obama orchestrated a bold rapprochement with visited the island in March 2016 to meet with Cuban leader Raul Castro. It wasn’t a full opening. Washington maintained a trade embargo and refused to close its anomalous base in Guantanamo. But it was a start. Donald Trump brought a quick end to that fresh start by reimposing the restrictions that Obama had lifted.. After lifting financial and travel restrictions, Obama
said as a candidate, “have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.” And yet, as president, he has done nothing to reverse Trump’s reversals.promised to resurrect the Obama policy. Trump’s reversals, he
As Karen de Young writes in The Washington Post, “Under Trump restrictions, non-Cuban Americans are still prohibited from sending money to the island. Cruise ships are banned from sailing from the to , and the dozens of scheduled . commercial flights to Cuban cities have largely stopped. Tight limits remain in place on commercial transactions.”
The reason for the new administration’s lack of action, beyond its concerns about human rights in swung decisively in the other direction, thanks to a steady diet of Trumpian demagoguery.and its fear of Republican opposition in Congress, boils down to domestic politics. Robert Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey who never liked the Obama-era détente with in the first place, represents a key obstacle in Congress. Public opinion in Florida among Cuban-Americans, which had swung in favor of rapprochement during the Obama period, has now also
Here, the Biden administration could try something new by closing Guantanamo. The administration is already launching a quiet effort to close the detention facility at the base by resolving the status of the several dozen inmates. He should go even further by rebooting Guantanamo as a center for -Cuban environmental research, as scientists Joe Roman and James Kraska have proposed.
, meanwhile, is the one place in the world where Trump sought to overturn decades of hostility. His attempts at one-on-one diplomacy with leader Kim Jong-un didn’t achieve much of anything, but it still might have served as a foundation for future negotiations. Biden has instead followed the script of all the administrations prior to Trump: review policy, promise something new, fall back on conventional thinking.
The administration finished its review of the policy in April. Biden rejected his predecessor’s approaches as misguided and has relied on the usual big-stick-and-small-carrot policy that stretches back to the 1990s. On the one hand, Biden extended sanctions against the country and has maintained a military encirclement. On the other, his emissaries have reached out to Pyongyang, with Special Representative for Sung Kim saying this month that the would meet with Pyongyang “anywhere, anytime, without preconditions.” “Without preconditions” is fine. But what about “with incentives”?
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, admission that the government’s economic program fell short of its goals. More recently, he has said that his country is “prepared for both dialogue and confrontation, especially … confrontation.”is more shut off from the world than usual. It is preoccupied with the economic challenges associated with its increased isolation. In his annual address in January, Kim Jong-un made the unusual
Biden should focus on the first half of Kim’s sentence. South Korea’s progressive president, Moon Jae-in, nearing the end of his own tenure, very much wants to advance reconciliation on the peninsula. Instead of beefing up its military containment of the isolated country, Washington could work with Seoul to break the current diplomatic impasse with a grand humanitarian gesture. Whether it’s vaccines, food or infrastructure development,needs help right now.
It’s still early in the Biden administration. Remember: Obama didn’t achieve his majormilestones in and until later in his second term. Biden no doubt wants to accumulate some political capital first by repairing relations with allies and participating in multilateral fora on the global stage and achieving some economic success on the home front.
The administration’s position on military spending, however, suggests that Biden is wedded to the most conventional of thinking. Theis poised to end its intervention in Afghanistan and reduce its commitments in the Middle East. It is not involved in any major military conflicts. Everyone is wondering how the administration is going to pay for its ambitious infrastructure plans.
So, why has Biden asked for a larger military budget? The administration’s 2022 request for the Pentagon is $715 billion, an increase of $10 billion, plus an additional $38 billion for military-related spending at the Energy Department and other agencies. True, the administration is hoping to boost non-military spending by a larger percentage. It is planning to remove the “overseas contingency operations” line item that funded the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But if there ever was a time to reducemilitary spending, it’s now. The pandemic proved the utter worthlessness of tanks and destroyers in defending the homeland from the most urgent threats. Greater cooperation with , a renewed nuclear pact with and a détente with both and would all provide powerful reasons for the to reduce military spending. To use ’s signature phrase, “C’mon, man!”
*[This article was originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus.]
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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