At the moment Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th US president on January 20, American military forces were deployed in more than 150 countries. In at least 14 of these countries, American troops were engaged in active combat operations. In seven of them, air and drone strikes were underway.
In his campaign, Biden promised to "elevate diplomacy as the premier tool of our global engagement." However, his first 100 days in office have hardly been reassuring of that statement. For instance, Biden has launched missile attacks on Syria and inflamed tensions with China over Taiwan.
This should come as no surprise. With few exceptions, Joe Biden has never met a war he didn’t like. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he sold his colleagues on the lies the second Bush administration used to justify its invasion of Iraq in 2003. And when the lies were proven to be, well, lies, he continued to defend the war.
It’s possible Biden is simply following the path of least resistance in continuing America’s “forever wars” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, among other countries. And his top national security advisors, mostly holdovers from the Obama administration, are egging him on. These individuals supported Obama’s disastrous foreign policy decisions, including the failed “surge” in Afghanistan, the overthrow of Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, and America’s intervention in the Syrian civil war.
A case in point was the recent meeting between a delegation led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and officials from China’s foreign ministry. It didn’t go well. Blinken attacked China for its actions "in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber-attacks on the United States, and economic coercion toward our allies." For good measure, Blinken trotted out one of his favorite catchphrases; that China threatened "the rules-based order that maintains global stability."
Unsurprisingly, Yang Jiechi, the director of China’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission, didn’t hold back in his response. He criticized the United States for spending the last two decades "invading through the use of force," "toppling other regimes," and forcing "its own democracy in the rest of the world."
That the United States and China can’t get past their talking points to engage in serious discussions doesn’t bode well for avoiding future conflicts. Consider Taiwan, for instance, which China considers an integral part of its territory. In 1979, the Carter administration normalized diplomatic relations with China by recognizing the People’s Republic, not Taiwan, as the legitimate government of China. Yet the Biden administration recently signed an agreement to strengthen maritime security ties with Taiwan. It also dispatched an ambassador to the island for the first time since 1979.
Biden grew up during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, so his instincts in dealing with Russia aren’t much better. For instance, he recently called Russian President Putin a "killer." He’s also promised “consequences” against Russia for the huge hack against US government agencies and tech companies that Russian intelligence appeared to orchestrate last year. In response, Russia recalled its US ambassador and accused Washington of deliberately bringing “our bilateral interaction into a deadlock."
Perhaps we should be grateful that Biden isn’t lobbing missiles at Russia. But in February, he authorized missile strike against Shia militia targets in Syria. That decision needlessly provoked not only Syria, but also its Russian and Iranian backers.
Biden and his advisors would do well to reflect on the practical limits to their foreign policy goals. Undoubtedly, countries like China and Russia have detestable human rights records. And their interests often conflict with those of Uncle Sam.
But if Biden is serious in his intention to “elevate diplomacy,” he would do well to actually engage in it. Diplomacy means trying to find common ground in mutually shared goals and taking small steps toward achieving those goals. It also means staying out of other countries’ civil wars and not provoking them, as in Syria.
That sort of restraint seems highly unlikely. Thus, we can expect more of the same in the next four years – more wars, more recriminations, and more anti-American sentiment in many parts of the world.
Is there a way forward? Probably not until American voters elect a genuinely non-interventionist president. And that’s not Joe Biden.
In the meantime, there are real-world consequences to Uncle Sam’s warmongering for American citizens traveling internationally on their US passport. One of my colleagues actually gave up his US citizenship so that he could travel freely throughout the Mideast without fear of retribution for his association with the United States. He already had an EU passport and finds it much easier to cross international borders in this region as an EU citizen than as a US citizen.
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