The Weakness of Biden’s Foreign Policy
Once while working in the U.S. Senate, I rode an elevator with then-Senator Joe Biden. He was conversational and pleasant, unpretentious and friendly.
This is why his career as a public servant has been so vexing. Mr. Biden would probably have been an excellent salesman, public relations executive, or even talk-show host. But a statesman, sadly, he is not. From issue to issue, on domestic and foreign policy, he has been inconsistent, erratic, and blown about by every wind of changing partisan preference and political pressure.
Mr. Biden was once chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He prides himself on his expertise on international affairs. Yet Robert Gates, who served both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as Secretary of Defense, wrote of then-Vice President Biden in his memoir “A Secretary at War,” “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Sadly, I believe Mr. Gates, who wrote those words in 2014, was right. Respectfully, I submit that nothing has changed.
During the 1970s, Mr. Biden supported America’s precipitous withdrawal from Vietnam, resulting in the collapse of the South Vietnamese government. This foreshadowed by nearly four decades our disgraceful flight from Afghanistan, which took place at the president’s instigation.
Mr. Biden’s willingness to abandon America’s allies and rupture our commitments when they become difficult comes as no surprise to those who have worked closely with him. According to the late American diplomat Richard Holbrook, when in 2010 he told the then-vice president that we have “a certain obligation to the people who had trusted us” in Afghanistan, Mr. Biden responded, “We don’t have to worry about that. We did it in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger got away with it.”
One thing Mr. Biden cannot get away with is the failure of his energy policies. As Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Ark.) noted recently, “the president’s domestic energy policies — blocking energy infrastructure, pressing the financial sector to blackball American energy, and appointing anti-U.S. energy senior financial officials — have put the United States in a position of weakness in global negotiations.” He comments that the Saudis, seeing this, feel no real pressure to increase their own oil production for America’s benefit.
Mr. Biden and the U.S. Congress deserve praise for supporting the brave men and women of Ukraine in their battle against Russian aggression. Yet one wonders what the president was thinking when he said weeks before the invasion began, “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do.” While he probably meant that if Russia seized a small portion of Ukrainian territory that this would not justify a massive military response by the West, his remarks likely encouraged Vladimir Putin to go forward with his brutal plans for Ukraine.
In response, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that “any incursion by the Russian military into Ukraine should be viewed as a major incursion because it will destabilize Ukraine and freedom-loving countries in Eastern Europe.” And Ukraine’s heroic president Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded with justified indignation, “We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones.”
More broadly, Mr. Biden wants to advance a policy called “integrated deterrence.” This is a pseudo-fancy way of saying that America won’t spend what’s needed for our own security but will, instead, use “soft power, alliances, and glitzy technology combined with just a sprinkling of old-fashioned hard power” to protect our national security and vital interests.
As National Review observes, “our adversaries are not politely agreeing to fall in line with our strategic assumptions … the United States faces great-power competition in the Pacific and Eastern Europe, along with secondary but serious threats emanating from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea, as well as from Islamist terrorist groups.” In other words, Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and other enemies and adversaries will take advantage of this risky approach and probe our gathering weaknesses until true crises of war and peace emerge.
Beyond the grim specifics, there is a larger issue at work: around the world, our allies and opponents see incoherence and indecision. “The problem is not simply a single or series of gaffes. Instead, it is a projection of weakness and denial that such weakness has consequences,” writes American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin. “The simple fact is that dictators are attracted to weakness in the way flies are to honey.”
America retains the world’s most potent military, but for how long? Under the current administration, that’s an increasingly urgent and troubling question — one that good-natured Joe Biden can’t talk his way out of.
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.