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The Year in US Foreign Policy

President Joe Biden took office at a time when the US position in the world had bottomed out. Surveyed in 60 countries and territories by Gallup’s US leadership poll during the final year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the median approval of US leadership was 22%.

Six months after Joe Biden’s presidency, America’s global standing had largely recovered. According to Gallup’s August poll in 46 countries and territories, the median approval of US leadership was 49%.

Biden entered the presidency with a very low bar, said Thomas Schwartz, a historian of US foreign relations at Vanderbilt University. “Outside a few countries, most notably Israel and Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump hated most foreign leaders so much that it was an immediate benefit not to be Trump,” he said.

However, the fact that he was not Trump could only bring Biden so far, Schwartz said. Despite Biden inheriting the deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan from his predecessor, Biden’s disastrous execution of the exit has seriously damaged America’s international credibility and reputation for domestic prowess.

“Terrorism has intensified and the Taliban takeover has led to sanctions that have put Afghanistan in a position where it faces an acute humanitarian crisis that could lead to mass famine,” said Michael Kugelman, a senior South Asia associate at the United Nations. Wilson Center. . “And I think this very rapid, chaotic US withdrawal is seen as a link to those results.”

The tumultuous withdrawal betrayed Western and other allies, including Afghanistan’s increasingly educated women who will suffer most from the Taliban, said Kenneth Weinstein, a senior Walter P. Stern colleague at the Hudson Institute. It will make it harder for US presidents to ask our allies to make sacrifices for common goals in the future, he added.

Weinstein pointed to the government’s handling of the southern border as another failure. As the crisis grew, Weinstein said, the US has returned to “watered down versions of the Trump administration’s policies that labeled the 2020 Biden-Harris campaign as inhumane.”

FILE – President Joe Biden walks with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a meeting in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Nov. 18, 2021.

Is America Back?

After years of “America First” under Trump, Biden delivered a diametrically opposed message that America was back, returning to multilateralism and diplomacy as the main tools of foreign policy, rejoining multilateral organizations, returning to repealed agreements and more involvement in global affairs. issues including pandemic recovery and climate change.

“If the measure of success is global engagement and the baseline is 2020, President Biden’s first year has been nothing short of restorative,” said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of US and the Americas Program at Chatham House.

In response to a question from VOA, White House press secretary Jen Psaki listed several achievements, saying the US has regained leadership on some of the biggest global challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, while restoring alliances and trade disputes with European countries, and strengthening partnerships in the Indo-Pacific through the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) involving the US, Australia, India and Japan, and AUKUS, the trilateral security partnership that the US, Australia and UK includes

AUKUS will provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines and promote advanced collaboration between three countries in cyber, artificial intelligence and quantum technologies. “The deal could change the security dynamics of the Indo-Pacific if we can actually deliver the subs before their 2042 expiration date,” said Weinstein of the Hudson Institute.

However, the launch of AUKUS blinded France, a close ally, and scuttled the $66 billion conventional submarine deal Paris had with Australia. It was widely seen as another foreign policy blunder and an example of a mismatch between reporting and government policy.

The administration has shown very little respect for traditional allies and is not backing up its rhetoric with action that would be noticeably different or better than some of the isolationism seen under Trump, said Dalibor Rohac, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Rohac also pointed to the continuation of the European Union’s travel ban and tariffs months in the administration as other illustrations of the disconnect.

“Whether the president can bridge the gap between rhetoric and action is the key question he faces today,” Rohac said.

FILE - A screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a virtual meeting with US President Joe Biden via video link, at a restaurant in Beijing, China, November 16, 2021.

FILE – A screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a virtual meeting with US President Joe Biden via video link, at a restaurant in Beijing, China, November 16, 2021.

China and Russia

Managing strategic competition with Beijing, a key doctrine of the Trump administration, remains the defining framework of the US-China relationship under the current administration.

Biden met Chinese President Xi Jinping virtually in November to discuss “ongoing efforts to manage responsibly” a relationship that threatens to spiral out of control between two rivals vying for trade, geopolitical influence and, more recently, military might.

The biggest thorn in this strained relationship between the US and China is the issue of Taiwan, a democratic self-governing island that Beijing sees as a breakaway province.

“The United States is asking China not to increase pressure on Taiwan. China asks the United States not to tamper with and test the limits of the One China policy,” said Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, describing a key point in the Biden-Xi Meeting. “Both countries are guilty as accused, and neither is in a position to rethink its policies.”

Meanwhile, Russia is not standing on the sidelines. In recent weeks, President Vladimir Putin has mobilized tens of thousands of troops along the Ukrainian border. He says he wants to prevent NATO’s eastward expansion — the main focus of the Biden-Putin virtual summit in December.

“What we’re seeing here is behavior by the Russian Federation to remind the United States that it’s still there, that it still has interests it wants to pursue, and those interests cannot be ignored,” Andrew Lohsen said. fellow in the Europe, Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Moscow has recently made demands for a sweeping new security arrangement with the West, including a guarantee that NATO will not only cease expanding further east, but also all military activities in Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus will roll back. It also included a ban on sending US and Russian warships and aircraft into areas within striking distance of each other’s territory.

Russia wants Washington and Moscow to “sit around the table and draw the world as if it were 1921 instead of 2021,” said Max Bergmann, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. The tough demands certainly seem to be rejected by the US and its allies, who insist that Moscow does not dictate NATO expansion.

The government says it will continue to hold high-level talks with both Moscow and Beijing, not only to avoid conflict, but also to work together on areas of common concern, such as the pandemic, climate change and regional issues such as Iran.

So far, Biden’s two-track strategy of deterrence and diplomatic engagement has not led to serious setbacks or negative consequences, said Chatham House’s Leslie Vinjamuri. “But defending the rules-based order in the context of power shifts and technological change — and in a world where the leading powers embrace radically different value systems — is challenging and the future is uncertain,” she said.

In addition, Putin’s threats to Ukraine and Xi’s crushing of democracy in Hong Kong, intimidation of Taiwan and alleged genocidal policies against the Uyghurs have fueled the narrative of a government too weak to vigorously stand up for American interests and values ​​against aggressive opponents, said Vanderbilt University’s Thomas Schwartz. “Iran’s continued resistance and steps towards acquiring a nuclear weapon reinforce this portrait,” he said.

FILE - Commuters watch a TV with file images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Joe Biden during a news program at the Suseo train station in Seoul, South Korea, March 26, 2021.

FILE – Commuters watch a TV with file images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Joe Biden during a news program at the Suseo train station in Seoul, South Korea, March 26, 2021.

Other unresolved issues include North Korea, where the government appears in no rush to push for a deal unless Kim Jong Un commits to winding down its nuclear weapons program, and rising tensions between Israel and Hamas. More than a year after the Abraham Accords that normalized diplomatic relations between Israel and two of its Arab neighbors, the administration has re-established ties with the Palestinians severed under Trump, but has made little progress in advancing the broader peace process in the Middle East.

Democracies vs Autocracies

The government puts relations with rivals in the context of a global struggle, drawing a rift between democracies and autocracies.

“We will stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose efforts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones, whether it be changes to territory through force, economic coercion, technical exploitation or disinformation,” Biden said in remarks at the General Assembly. of the UN in September: “But we’re not looking – say it again, we’re not looking for – a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs.”

A “Cold War mentality” is exactly what China and Russia are accusing Washington of. Their leaders were barred from the Summit for Democracy, where Biden hosted more than 100 countries on Dec. 9-10. Xi and Putin held their own virtual meeting a week after the democracy summit.

While activists applaud the summit’s goals of “strengthening democracy and defending against authoritarianism”, fighting corruption and promoting human rights, some analysts warn against going too far.

If Biden pushes his democracy-vs-autocracy framing too far, there’s a danger of him losing his field of cooperation on global issues such as climate change with China and arms control with Russia, said Stacie Goddard, Mildred Lane Kemper professor of political science at Wellesley College. “Those are the kind of global issues where you really need that kind of ideological collaboration,” she said.