The Biden administration faces pressing national security challenges from Russia and Iran, but efforts to address them are hampered by ongoing domestic unrest, according to U.S. and foreign officials.
As President Biden enters his second year in office, he is still grappling with many of the issues that took up much of the first year: trying to bring the pandemic under control, shore up the economy, and foster unity in a deeply divided country.
Before taking office nearly a year ago, Mr Biden linked his foreign and domestic agendas, believing that defeating the Covid pandemic and stimulating the economy was essential to restoring American influence abroad and compete with China worldwide. But with the pandemic still raging, these foreign policy goals have become increasingly difficult and new crises are looming. Russia is assembling troops near Ukraine in what US officials see as a possible prelude to an invasion. Iran’s nuclear program, according to the administration, is weeks away from producing a nuclear bomb. And China’s muscle flexing towards Taiwan is also raising concerns about a potential conflict there.
“Political polarization continues [in the U.S.] extended to every facet of the Biden presidency, including his foreign policy agenda,” says Rachel Rizzo, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s European Center. “That doesn’t mean his goals are impossible to execute. But it means issues that might once have found bipartisan support, such as mending relations between the United States and European allies, are now being used as political balloons for domestic purposes.
Mr. Biden and others in his administration have largely linked some of the obstacles they face to circumstances inherited from the previous administration. But they recognize that it will be necessary to get the inner house in order before they can seriously advance their diplomatic agenda.
“The president’s commitment to reinvest in education, in research and development, in infrastructure, resonates,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month during his year-end press conference. . “In each of these areas, we used to lead the world. We’ve fallen behind, and the president wants to change that. »
“It’s not just important for our position here at home. It is important for our standing in the world,” Mr. Blinken said.
Many allies have welcomed the Biden presidency, given his decades of foreign policy experience as a senator and vice president. For some, Biden’s diplomatic approach was a departure from the more pointed approach of the Trump administration. President Biden immediately joined some international pacts and bodies his predecessor withdrew from, including the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization.
He reestablished ties with the Palestinian Authority, a relationship severed under the previous administration, and with the help of Egypt, he quickly brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas fighters the year last.
While many of his policies marked the end of post-Cold War American interventionism — particularly the withdrawal from Afghanistan — working with allies is central to Mr. Biden’s foreign policy goals, in particularly the search for collective action against China. , which lacks the network of alliances that the United States has.
The policies Mr. Biden has articulated toward China so far are largely a continuation of the Trump era, including his designation of genocide for China’s crackdown on ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and his decision maintain tariffs on Chinese imports. Biden administration officials have said any further U.S. competitive action on China can only take place once the pandemic is under control and the economy is strengthened.
One of the biggest national upheavals to interfere with the Biden administration’s diplomatic efforts was the Democrats’ failure to pass the president’s Build Back Better social spending legislation in Congress, which attempted to allocate dozens of billions of dollars to resilience to climate change. That failure undermined Mr. Biden’s goal of making the United States a leader in climate policy.
The rise in Covid-19 cases due to the Omicron variant has further complicated the administration’s commitment to help distribute vaccines overseas, according to U.S. and foreign officials.
Some difficult times in recent US international relations cannot be blamed on domestic politics or a divided nation. Mr. Biden’s attempt to join the multilateral agreement on Iran’s nuclear program drags on without result. And this week, North Korea fired its third missile in 2022 alone, after a six-month hiatus. Efforts to revive talks with Pyongyang that began under the previous administration have so far failed.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan, meanwhile, has undermined Mr. Biden’s goal of rebuilding America’s image as a steadfast global partner. The decision to withdraw, although the product of successive administrations, upset European allies who contributed troops to the war and viewed the withdrawal as serving American interests at the expense of global security. These allies rushed to evacuate large military and diplomatic presences in Afghanistan during the chaotic weeks of August when the US-backed Afghan government and military crumbled.
“It’s in our lessons of evacuation and relocation that we learn for the future,” Blinken said in December. “When it comes to regretting, looking back, there will be plenty of time for that in the years to come.”
France, one such US partner in Afghanistan, took another hit when it was caught off guard this fall by a US-UK deal to sell powered submarines. nuclear power to Australia, which then canceled plans to purchase French-made submarines. conventional submarines.
The agreement aims to strengthen the Australian ally against the expansion of the Chinese navy. France, which recalled its ambassador to the United States over the deal, has also been enlisted in the effort to counter Beijing, particularly to bolster American influence among South Pacific countries.
Restoring trust among allies in the post-Trump era “has been a challenge and will be a challenge,” a senior administration official said, noting that allies remain reluctant to reach long-term agreements with states. United given the political volatility at home.
But new agreements, especially with European allies, are hugely important right now. How the United States deals with Iran and Russia will likely further test the administration’s ability to work with European allies. A coordinated campaign of economic pressure may be needed to persuade Iran to reduce its nuclear program. The buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine has been accompanied by demands for new security guarantees from the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Many in the Biden administration see deterring a Russian invasion of Ukraine as crucial to US credibility in Europe and Asia, where Beijing is stepping up military pressure against Taiwan, a US partner, like Ukraine. .
Ms. Salama is a reporter in the Washington bureau of the Wall Street Journal. She can be contacted at [email protected]
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