Examination of Proclamations and Impediments of US’ Foreign Policy under President Joe Biden
Brigadier (Retd.) Dr. Ahsan ur Rahman Khan
The Aspect Deserving Examination
On 4th of this month (February 2021) US’ President Joe Biden delivered his address in White House, explaining the features of US’ foreign policy which henceforth is to be implemented by his government. Transcript of his 20 minutes speech was published on the same day by US’ State Department. Salient features of his proclamations in that speech were (underlining added for highlighting) (1):-
- “we must start with diplomacy rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law”;
- “That’s the grounding wire of our global policy — our global power. That’s our inexhaustible source of strength. That’s America’s abiding advantage;
- “we will work with our partners to support restoration of democracy and the rule of law, and impose consequences on those responsible”; we will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again;
- “We’re going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people”;
- American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy;
- “We’ll confront China’s economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action; to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance. But we are ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so”;
- “By leading with diplomacy, we must also mean engaging our adversaries and our competitors diplomatically”.
In that context, President Joe Biden also declared that “America is back” on the global stage (2). Very obviously, at least prima facie, by this proclamation he meant that by implementing this foreign policy US is being brought back to US’ pre–Trump era grandeur of acknowledged moral superiority of its society and its sole super power status. However, on the other hand, the serious difficulty in attaining that objective is also a reality; as highlighted by Shlomo Ben–Ami, the former Foreign Minister of Israel and now the vice president of Toledo International Centere for Peace, who asserted “In the first foreign–policy speech of his presidency, Joe Biden had a simple message for the world: ‘America is back’. But restoring the credibility of US diplomacy and implementing an effective foreign policy will be an uphill battle”. (3)
It is this lofty proclamation, as also the other proclaimed features of the foreign policy, which deserve critical examination to assess their attainability.
The impeding ground realities, which highlight serious difficulties in attaining these proclaimed foreign policy goals and objectives, include the conceptual flaws of US’ ‘values’ mentioned in the policy, seriously deteriorated national unity of US, and the much declined national power potential in world affairs. These are briefly enumerated in the succeeding paragraphs.
The Conceptual Flaws of Proclaimed US’ ‘Values’
Since many decades US has been touting that it has the moral superiority and responsibility to apply in the world its values – i.e. freedom, universal rights, rule of law, democracy – and, to “work with our partners to support restoration of democracy and the rule of law, and impose consequences on those responsible”. However, in that regard, what the world has actually seen so far has been nothing other than US’ ‘militarism’ or/and use of economic sanctions on target countries to expand US’ domineering geopolitical influence in the name of applying its ‘values’ causing colossal human and material devastation in the target countries – the cases of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc are the recent examples. And, while claiming to apply democracy in the world, US’ open military, economic and diplomatic support to friendly dictatorial governments show real face of US’ ‘values’. As for human/universal rights, US’ overwhelming support to the racist and tyrant governments of India and Israel too show how in reality US interprets its ‘values’. Besides that, the true face of US’ society i.e. endemic racism and brutal social and religious intolerance, has also been unveiled now in the ongoing racist violence unleashed by US’ White supremacists.
With those realities of US’ actual ‘values’ now been amply registered by the populace (educated and illiterate alike) around the world, there are no ‘buyers’ of the touted US’ ‘values’.
Any US’ attempt by President Joe Biden’s government to apply US’ geopolitical domineering (in the name of applying the ‘values’) in any target country, will therefore certainly be met with massive resistance, which US shall not be able to overcome.
Seriously Deteriorated US’ National Unity and Cohesion
There are a number of factors/facets of power potential of a nation. However, it is the internal strength of a nation, derived from its national unity and cohesion, from which the other national power potentials emanate and are sustained.
Current status of the seriously deteriorated national unity and cohesion of US is, therefore, the most important factor which has to be taken into account while assessing the capability of President Joe Biden’s government for attaining its stated foreign policy objectives.
In this context it is already well–known that the recent massive racist upsurge of a huge segment of US’ citizenry (close to half of US’ population), now known generally a ‘Trumpists’, has caused serious deterioration of US’ national unity and cohesion. This segment of US’ population includes Evangelicals, Christian Zionists, White Supremacists, Far Right/Right Wing groups, etc. Many of these are more vibrant and prone to become violent; hence these remain the reckonable destructive force against US’ national unity.
While assessing the degree of that deterioration, it must not also be lost sight of that Donald Trump is not the initiator of this phenomenon, rather this phenomenon is deeply ingrained in US’ society – hence the current national disunity of US is far too difficult for remedial action. This and the related facts have also been highlighted in a number of credible publications. Brief excerpts from some of those publications are as follows:-
- The journal of Washington D.C. US–based Smithsonian Institution, published on 4 June 2020, has brought to fore: “In a short essay published earlier this week, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch wrote that the recent killing in Minnesota of George Floyd has forced the country to “confront the reality that, despite gains made in the past 50 years, we are still a nation riven by inequality and racial division”. ——- “Racial, economic and educational disparities are deeply entrenched in U.S. institutions. Though the Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal,” American democracy has historically—and often violently—excluded certain groups”. (4)
- John R Allen, president of Washington D.C. US–based Brookings Institution asserted in his article: “Unaddressed systemic racism is, in my mind, the most important issue in the United States today. And it has been so since before the founding of our nation”. ——– “Slavery was America’s “original sin”.” It was not solved by the framers of the U.S. Constitution, nor was it resolved by the horrendous conflict that was of the American Civil War”. (5)
- As to how bad the situation is now in US internally was already highlighted after US’ presidential election by EL PAIS – a Madrid (Spain)–based Spanish-language daily newspaper. It clarified, “At stake in the tense US scrutiny is not only the affirmation of one political project or another, but the unity and stability of American society”. (6)
- As for the severity of damage already done to US’ society, one of the five most read German–language news websites Der SPIEGEL has published its editorial titled “The US After Trump”. That editorial it highlighted: “Even for someone as reconciliatory as Joe Biden, restoring unity in the United States will be an extraordinarily difficult endeavor. It might even take a miracle”. ——– “Indeed Trumpism is likely to remain a destructive force in the US. Trump received more votes in this election than he did in 2016. About half of American electorate supported him;—— “Trump, after all, wasn’t the cause of the deep divide running through the country, but a symptom of it”. (7)
- Thomas Grumke, professor of sociology and political science, who has a doctorate with his work on right–wing extremism in the US, has also highlighted the destructive potential of the Far Right supporters of the now prevailing racism in US. He has pointed out that, “Right–wing paramilitary groups have a long tradition in the US. But never has the movement been so visible — and so violent”. (8).
It is thus obvious that, with such dilapidated condition of US’ national unity and societal cohesion, emanation and sustenance of US’ national power potentials to attain the proclaimed foreign policy objectives is far too difficult – at least in the near future timeframe.
Much Declined US’ National Power Potential in World Affairs
A careful look at various aspects/factors of US’ national power potential in world affairs clearly highlights that US’ super power lead role in world affairs basically emanated from its deep–rooted economic, military and diplomatic ties with European Union (EU) particularly the major EU powers. That has been the major bastion/source from which US drew and sustained its national power potential in world affairs. A further bastion of US’ economic power potential has been the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Additionally the foot–hold of US’ geostrategic domineering in the Indo–Pacific region has been due to the strategic agreement known as Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). Ground realities now clearly show that in all of these bastions US has already lost, and is further losing, the sources of its power potential.
The Case of European Union (EU)
There is no doubt that US–EU relations got seriously aggravated during the tenure of President Donald Trump’s government; however, it should also be kept in mind that the process of EU’s gradual distancing from US’ tutelage commenced earlier. And, because of the economic advantages accruing from economic treaties with China, 27 EU countries had already entered into 26 bilateral investment treaties between with Chin; when in December last year (2020) EU as a whole struck a massive investment deal – the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI) – with China to provide a uniform legal framework for EU–China investment ties (9). Of course, this deal was struck despite its opposition conveyed by the incoming President Joe Biden’s government.
This fact has been amply highlighted by Saurabh Kumar Shahi in his article published by Indian newspaper National Herald of 7 February 2021. Referring to this December 2020 EU’s deal ‘CAI’ with China despite US’ opposition, he asserted that, “This unusual show of sovereignty and independence of foreign policy by the European Union might have left the United States holding the can but this was a long–time coming. The European political class is fed–up of playing hired guns for the Americans and saw this opportunity to go one up on the Americans. European Union, quite rightly, calculated that the kind of access China is granting them is a one–off opportunity and if they actively side with the US, they will likely harm their already dire economic prospects to a point of no return” (10).
That show of EU’s eagerness to arrive at this agreement disregarding US’ concerns about any such deal with China has clearly shown EU’s resolve to, whenever so warranted, take its own decisions in international arena irrespective of US. That is surely the harbinger of the major evolving change in the hitherto US–led ‘world order’ and clearly reflects erosion of US’ hitherto capacity to draw geopolitical power potential in world affairs from its ties with EU.
The case of Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)
The Trans–Pacific Partnership (TPP) also called the Trans–Pacific Partnership Agreement was trade agreement between US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore. It was signed by US on 4 February 2016. However, President Donald Trump withdrew from TPP in January 2017. The remaining 11 nations renegotiated the deal and formalised it as Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans–Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on 30 December 2018.
(Map courtesy: Council on Foreign Relations, of 1 February 2021. Backgrounder) (11)
It is an acknowledged fact that the trade/investment economic agreements between nations are a major source of increasing and sustaining their geopolitical power potential in world affairs; needless, therefore it is to highlight US’ significant loss of that potential because of its withdrawal from TPP. Suffices it to mention the assertion, in the article published in March 2017 by Rand Corporation, “Withdrawal from TPP has exacerbated regional doubts about US international leadership and its role in Asia”. (12)
The Case of US’ Strategic Foot-hold in Indo-Pacific Region through QUAD
(Map courtesy Google Search) (13).
US, India, Australia, and Japan are members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUD), also known as QSD and Asian NATO. Right from its inception in 2007, it was considered as US’ strategic anti–China Indo–Pacific alliance; though its members tried to downplay that impression. And, not much later, as clarified in RAND Corporation article of 28 July 2020, it almost fell apart “largely because Australia and to some extent India got cold feet over how much to push China without impacting other dimensions of their bilateral relationships with Beijing”. (14) Subsequently in 2017, this strategic partnership was revived at the behest of US’ President Donald Trump’s government. Then, the talk of QUAD becoming openly anti–China started again.
However as mentioned, right from its inception QUAD had basic weaknesses; and those weaknesses have not only persisted, these have become more visible. These are briefly mentioned in succeeding paragraphs.
US is located thousands of nautical miles away from China. Even its Fifth Fleet located in Bahrain too is thousands of nautical miles away from China which is the focus of US’ QUAD strategy. That is certainly a very serious geospatial weakness in operational logistics of US’ Naval and Marine Corps forces.
Indian government, at the behest of US, had annexed the disputed territories of Indian occupied Kashmir and Ladakh (disputed with China), and also announced its intention to capture China’s Aksai Chin area. That resulted in military conflict in which India suffered humiliating defeat and loss of significant part of its captured territory in Ladakh. That seriously tense military confrontation is still continuing with no indication of settlement. Under these circumstances, the possibility of India participating in QUAD’s anti–China operation(s), particularly in the Indo–Pacific Ocean is, far too remote at least in foreseeable future.
Australia’s diplomatic ties with US are very old, and Australia also has economic and security alliances with US. However, since last some years Australia’s thought–leading elite have been asserting that Austria’s participation in any anti–China QUAD operations will be against the national interests of Australia. The published article of Geoff Raby Australia’s ambassador to China from 2007 to 2011, titled “Why joining the Quad is not in Australia’s national interest” (15), is one such publication. Otherwise too, the fact that Australia’s participation in any anti–China QUAD operation is not in Australia’s national interest has also been officially announced by Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne. As recorded in Australian government’s official document, that announcement was made by her in reply to a question in the joint press conference after Australia–US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) meeting in July last year(2020). Referring to the speech of US Secretary of State’s speech, that question was, “And Minister Payne, another aspect of that speech was the admonition to help the Chinese people change the Chinese Government. Do you think that is possible and/or wise? Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne replied, “And we operate, as you would expect, on the basis of our shared values, ——-. But most importantly from our perspective, we make our own decisions, our own judgments in the Australian national interest and about upholding our security, our prosperity, and our values. So, we deal with China in the same way. We have a strong economic engagement, other engagement, and it works in the interests of both countries.—– As my Prime Minister put it recently, the relationship that we have with China is important, and we have no intention of injuring it, but nor do we intend to do things that are contrary to our interests, and that is the premise from which we begin (16).
Japan’s economy is strong; but it military capabilities are too limited. That is so, because Article 9 of Japan’s constitution prohibits Japan from militarization – extracts of the Article: “Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes”; and, “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized”. (17) Additionally majority of Japanese people still oppose revision/change of this Article. Japan Times report of 22 June 2020 mentioned results of a poll, “69 % oppose change to Japanese Constitution’s war–renouncing Article 9”. (18) Besides that, there are other clear indications which negate the chances of Japan becoming a vibrant US’ ally in any anti–China war–mongering militaristic QUAD strategy. Reports show Japanese people’s unpleasant feelings about US’ troops located in Japan. Even at government level, the worth noting act was Japanese government’s June last year’s (2020) refusal to deploy US’ Aegis Ashore Missile Defence System in Japan, quoting local opposition besides technical issues and financial costs. (19)
Latest Indication of Application of Joe Biden’s Foreign Policy
Referring to the recent US’ airstrikes in Syria against the Iran–backed group, US’ weekly news magazine The Week has published a noteworthy article titled ‘Biden in the quagmire’. The author of the article highlights that President Joe Biden had promised a new foreign policy; but now he has done what President Donald Trump did i.e. “bomb Syria on a stupid pretext”. “This move demonstrates the utter folly of keeping such a gigantic footprint in the Middle East (and indeed in the rest of the world). American forces only inflame chaos in the region and pose a constant risk of touching off a serious war”. And in the conclusion the author asserts, “It will take determination on the part of President Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to break the mindless cycle of violence. So far I am not optimistic they are much interested in trying”. (2)
All these facts clearly show that, because of aforementioned serious weaknesses of US’ national power potentials in the internal sphere as also in world affairs, President Joe Biden’s government is least likely to attain most of its proclaimed foreign policy objectives in the near future time frame. In view of the now deeply ingrained US’ societal divisibility and lack of national cohesion, and the much declined national power potential in world affairs, President Biden government’s claim to attain the objective “America is back” (to its lost internal and global grandeur) is thus least likely to be achieved.
(1). US State Department Document of 4 February 2021.
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/02/04/remarks-by-president-biden-on-americas-place-in-the-world/ (Hereinafter cited as US State Department document. 4 February 2021).
(2). Reuters News of 4 February 2021.
(3). Australian Strategic Policy Institute Blog The Strategist. “America is (sort of) back” of 18 February 2021.
(4). Smithsonian Magazine article. “158 Resources To Understand Racism in America” of 4 June 2020.
(5). Brookings article. “Systemic racism and America today” of 11 June 2020.
(6). Spain’s newspaper El Pais editorial. “Democracy in Suspense” of 4 November 2020.
(7). German news website Der Spiegel editorial. “It Might Take a Miracle for Joe Biden to Reconcile America” of 7 November 2020.
(8). International Politics and Society article. “The resurgence of US paramilitary right” of 5 October 2020.
(9). China Briefing
(10). National Herald. “Europe prepares for life without America: the US can nkot be trusted they feel”.
(12). Rand Corporation article. “Strategic Consequences of US Withdrawal from TPP”.
(13). QUAD map.
(14). RAND Corporation’s article of 28 July 2020.
(15). Australia’s Ambassador Geoff Raby’s article “Why joining the Quad is not in Australia’s national interest”.
(16). Australian Government Department of Defence.
(17). US’ Library of Congress document.
(18). Japan Times report of 22 June 2020.
(19). US–based Arms Control Association’s report of July/August 2020.
(20). The Week’s Article of 27 February 2021. “Biden in the quagmire”.