A JOE Biden presidency will undermine Donald Trump’s foreign successes and regress to Barack Obama’s failures.
The Democratic Party’s manifesto has no section dedicated to foreign policy. Biden’s foreign policy is vague and contradictory. He both criticises Trump for withdrawing forces wherever Obama and he (as vice president) sent them, while promising to withdraw Americans from ‘forever wars.’ The latter promise is an outright theft of Trump’s policy. Biden has no more wars to withdraw from. However, he has plenty of opportunities to start new wars. Progressives have a habit of talking peace and making war, dressed up as humanitarian intervention. (Trump didn’t start any wars.)
Some of Trump’s divestments were ignoble. For instance, in February 2020, the US government unilaterally agreed with the Taliban for Western withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 2021.
To his credit, Trump initially reinforced, in hope of victory, but quickly gave up. Trump blamed Obama and George W Bush for an insoluble legacy. In 2018, he restarted negotiations with the Taliban that had been started by the Obama administration in 2010. One of Trump’s motivations was that the Taliban is fighting the Islamic State. Recently, leaks revealed that US air forces were opportunistically striking Islamic State forces fighting the Taliban. That’s why you’ve heard little from Obama’s co-travellers about policy in Afghanistan: they started the negotiations, and the Islamic State exploded on their watch.
Afghanistan’s central government has naturally welcomed Biden’s win in the hope of stopping US withdrawal. Trump sensibly made US withdrawal conditional on a Taliban ceasefire, which the Taliban never respected, so any President could choose not to withdraw from Afghanistan. Biden has stated that he will bring most US troops home from Afghanistan, while leaving a few focused against the Islamic State and al-Qa’ida. Since Biden doesn’t plan to deal with the Taliban, the Taliban will win without any conditions on its support for al-Qa’ida. Thus, Afghanistan will fall back to the situation before Western intervention in September 2001.
Trump had redirected the intelligence community’s focus from foreign insurgents towards (in order) Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and terrorists. Biden, like Obama, has a history of enabling these countries, following the progressive consensus that free trade and talking nice would liberalise them.
Biden has said little about Russia, except to rely on Hillary Clinton’s myth that Trump colluded with Russia and undermined Nato. In fact, by pressuring European members to step up, Nato is stronger today than when Trump entered office. Biden’s promise to act tougher with Russia will hardly concern Putin, who is ten years younger and remembers the Obama administration’s dithering over Russian military interventions in Ukraine and Syria, cyber warfare, and election interference. Biden will likely repeat Obama’s pivot to Asia, which confirmed the EU’s own distortions, weakened Nato, emboldened Russia’s expansionism in Europe and the Middle East, and emboldened China’s economic imperialism worldwide (Belt and Road) and military imperialism in its near seas.
Biden has promised to lead multilateral pressure on China. This is how he squares his own circle of criticising Trump’s confrontation with China as too confrontational. Likely, Biden will restore no-strings free-trade, while Australia leads the real confrontation. Not surprisingly, China’s social media and official media welcomed Biden’s win.
Similarly, Biden has promised to improve diplomacy with Iran. He promised to re-join the agreement from 2015 that removed sanctions on Iran, on condition that Iran doesn’t weaponise its nuclear research. However, Biden won’t have any leverage except trade. Why? Because in January, Biden criticised Trump’s approval of an air strike in Iraq that killed Iran’s chief terrorist and insurgent Qassem Soleimani. Biden also committed to withdraw US support from Saudi Arabia’s war against Iran’s proxies in Yemen.
Trump secured normalisation of relations with Israel by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Biden supports the normalisations. He pledges a ‘two-state solution’ to the Israel-Palestinian issue, but has not specified how he would succeed where previous presidents have failed. Presumably he will tout the old progressive ethos of being more diplomatic.
In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State was defeated by 2019, after Trump reduced the forces Obama had sent there. How? Trump’s administration focused US forces in support of the most effective local fighters, primarily the Kurds. The US footprint was light, because it relied on special operations forces to train local forces and to raid high-value targets. The other ground personnel operated the artillery, drones and air liaison assets that neither side could provide for itself.
Obama’s forces operated under restrictive rules of engagement that left them next to useless as combatants (unless directly attacked, which the bad actors were rarely stupid enough to try).
Obama escalated drone attacks against alleged terrorists throughout the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. However, these operated under personal approval from the White House. Often approval arrived after professional confidence in the intelligence had expired. Sometimes the attack caused collateral casualties after the targets had moved on. Usually the attacks were condemned by local governments that whipped up popular outrage. Even where these governments were being dishonest (Pakistan, for instance), the actions looked like imperialism to foreigners, and unilateralism to Americans.
Trump decentralised approvals to local combatant commanders, permitted more use of special operations forces (which are more accurate), and concentrated drone operations in the hot spots. For instance, Obama had belatedly authorised more air strikes against al-Shabab in Somalia. Trump immediately authorised more when he took office in 2017, so that by 2018, the rate was three times Obama’s peak year (with the gratitude of the central government in Somalia). In 2018, according to the Defense Department, more than 300 militants were killed there, for no collateral casualties (although Amnesty International found witnesses saying otherwise).
Biden’s counter-terrorist policy is even vaguer than his foreign policy, although his corruption by identity politics is clear. He promises to review current programmes, to ensure that no-fly lists and watch lists do not discriminate by identity, and to make policing less racist. The Democratic Party manifesto includes the promise ‘to respond to the growing threat of white supremacist and other right-wing terrorist groups.’ This statement is conceptually ignorant, because it doesn’t admit left-wing white supremacists (such as Brenton Tarrant, a communist who attacked mosques in New Zealand in 2019). The ‘overwhelming’ right-wing terrorism myth conflates hate crimes with terrorism, and categorises as right-wing anything either anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim (i.e., most terrorism).
Although right-wing violence has risen, jihadi terrorism remains the riskiest terrorism, as recent events in France and Austria remind us. Trump had criticised the Obama administration for avoiding the terms jihadi and Islamist, as if they are racist.
The Democratic Party manifesto promises to ‘confront discriminatory policies that single out Muslim-Americans and cast entire communities under suspicion’. Any government should confront discriminatory policies. But this good intention was twisted by the Obama administration to deny jihadi terrorism except as a mantle adopted by the mentally ill. Some progressive cheerleaders expect Biden to make restitution to Muslim Americans by, for instance, making refugee applications easier. We can expect the Biden administration, and the mainstream media, to continue covering up left-wing and jihadi political violence.
Overall, we can expect Biden to be indecisive and non-adaptive. His victory speech on Saturday night included a promise ‘to make America respected around the world again and to unite us here at home’. Ironically, he immediately reminded us of his senility when he read a scripted list of his family members, having last week introduced a granddaughter by his dead son’s name (Beau), her cousin’s name, and as Beau’s daughter.
This was a vacuous speech: more gushing woke platitudes about inclusivity, unity, ‘who we are and what we want to be’, ‘our better angels’, ‘good people’, doing things together and co-operating. This progressive rhetoric discourages attention to policies. When policies emerge, the rhetoric is used as fireworks to distract from the shallowness of the policies.
Take comfort that a Republican Senate will veto the woke madness at home, but take discomfort that the Senate will have less influence on foreign policy. Biden’s foreign policy will be characterised by enablement of adversaries (Russia, China, Iran), confirmation of misguided progressive partners (the EU, Justin Trudeau’s Canada, Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand), and neglect of old allies who have the West’s best interests at heart (Australia, Taiwan, Britain).