July 14, 2021

Biden’s Foreign Policy Déjà Vu


  • President Biden declared “America is back” when he outlined his approach to foreign policy, but it’s clear he meant back to the failed foreign policy of the Obama administration.
  • In just six months on the job, President Biden has racked up missteps that will leave the U.S. in a weaker position.

President Biden confidently declared that “America is back” as he outlined how his return to liberal diplomacy would restore America’s standing in the world. Six months into the Biden administration, it is restoring flawed Obama-era policies and echoing the failed approach that abandoned our defense, led to concessions to our adversaries, and played politics with our national security.

Defense Cutback

The foundation for diplomacy as a foreign policy is a credible military. President Biden’s proposed defense budget undermines that foundation and sends a dangerous signal to our allies and our adversaries, such as China. The 1.6% increase in the president’s budget could actually be a reduction after accounting for inflation, which will lead to cutting weapon systems and platforms like ships. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin seemed to brush off any concerns about fleet size, remarking in a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing: “Size matters, but capabilities also matter.” The remark sounded eerily similar to President Obama during the 2012 campaign saying that “it is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships, it’s what are our capabilities.” In the Biden budget proposal, the U.S. Navy would spend $2 billion less on new construction for eight ships, and it would retire 15 ships. We would maintain 296 ships, compared to China’s 360, and would not be on track to maintain a congressionally mandated 355-ship Navy.

President Obama also sought to cut defense and abandon our ability to fight a two-front war. The reductions to the defense budget and capabilities during his administration precipitated the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Chinese militarizing islands in the South China Sea despite pledging not to.

Abandoning afghanistan

With the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan nearly complete, the Taliban is making rapid advances on the ground, seizing control of key infrastructure and border crossings. This threatens to undermine the significant gains made over the past 20 years. It echoes President Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, only to see them reengage starting in 2014 when ISIS rose and overran multiple Iraqi cities.

Nearest Major U.S. Bases to Afghanistan

Nearest Major U.S. Bases to Afghanistan

The lack of access rights, basing, and overflight agreements with countries adjacent to Afghanistan puts U.S. counterterrorist operations at risk. Afghan security forces may also lose contractor support for their equipment, further weakening the legitimate government there. The Biden administration admits it will maintain an “over the horizon” strategy of responding to militarily threats from far outside of the country. This will be difficult and expensive, as Afghanistan has no coastline where U.S. ships could be based. Pakistan is not welcoming U.S. troops or equipment to the country, leaving countries like Uzbekistan or Tajikistan as potential options for contiguous basing. Russia’s help will be vital to any agreement with those countries, potentially influencing the administration to make concessions to Russian President Putin to secure cooperation. Counterterrorism will continue to be a concern in the region. Secretary Austin conceded last month that Al-Qaeda and ISIS could reconstitute in “possibly two years” in Afghanistan.

Russia Redux

On the heels of an attack against the Colonial Pipeline by a Russian criminal group, President Biden held a summit with Putin. The visit was reminiscent of the Obama strategy. Just as President Obama once attempted to get China to stop committing cyber theft, Biden simply told Putin not to hack 16 critical infrastructure sectors. This warning seemed to fall on deaf ears as U.S. companies have faced continuing hacking campaigns since the summit.

The Biden administration made sure to take pressure off of Russia before the summit. In the weeks ahead of the meeting, President Biden refused to sanction the key entities building Nord Stream II, a natural gas pipeline that will make Europe more dependent on Russia. In 2010, President Obama made similar concessions to bring Russia to the table in Iran negotiations, reportedly allowing the Russians to sell anti-aircraft weapons to the Iranians and lifting sanctions against Russian weapons companies. 

New START Restart

New START, a U.S.-Russia arms control treaty negotiated by the Obama administration in 2011, failed to address a number of Russian nuclear systems, and it was to expire in February 2021. The Trump administration set out to negotiate a new, more comprehensive deal, one that included China, instead of opting for an extension. Many Republicans see Russia’s and China’s nuclear modernization, and a lack of U.S. modernization, as a threat that could undermine U.S. deterrence and cause our allies to lose faith in U.S. security assurances. The Biden administration chose to ignore President Trump’s comprehensive approach and immediately entered a five-year New START extension, satisfying progressives and the Russians but giving up significant leverage for later negotiations.

Iran cave-in

The Obama administration entered the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. It traded significant sanctions leverage for temporary constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. President Trump exited the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, placing significant pressure on the Iranian government. He stressed that any new deal would require Iran to permanently halt nuclear activities and address a host of destabilizing activities like its ballistic missile development and sponsorship of terrorists.

The Biden administration claims it wants to pursue a deal on Iran’s non-nuclear activities, but only after the U.S. returns to the Obama-era nuclear deal. The newly elected president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, already under U.S. sanctions for human rights abuses that include ordering executions of political prisoners, has already ruled out any deal that would limit Iran’s missile proliferation and other destabilizing activities. He has refused to speak with President Biden.  

The negotiations continue while Iran-backed militia attack Americans in Iraq with advanced weapons like drones. Biden administration officials admit a lot has changed in the last few years regarding Iran. A move to simply reenter the Obama nuclear deal would give up significant sanctions leverage in return for temporary nuclear constraints that are already outdated and will not address any destabilizing actions by Iran in the region.

iraq AuMF repeal

President Biden’s support for repealing the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq could leave the U.S. without an important legal authority for operations in the region. The 2002 AUMF allows the U.S. to operate against threats emanating from Iraq, including those from Iranian backed Shiite militias. These militias operate to destabilize Iraq and U.S. interests there. The 2002 AUMF served as part of the legal basis for the strike against Qassem Suleimani in 2020.

GiTMO Closure

The Biden administration is trying to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay without a coherent plan to relocate the terrorists being held there. The Obama administration created an uproar when it proposed moving the most dangerous prisoners, including the architect of 9/11, to the United States. Congress responded by passing bipartisan funding and authorization bills that prohibited closing the prison or transferring prisoners. The House Democrats’ defense appropriations bill includes language that would prohibit funding for the detention facility after September 30, 2022.

Our adversaries are poised to take advantage of President Biden’s restoration of Obama’s national security policy. In June, Putin, referring to Russian military threats against a British naval vessel passing through Ukrainian waters, said: “Even if we had sunk that ship, it would be hard to imagine that it would put the world on the brink of World War III, because those who do it know that they can’t emerge as winners in that war, and it’s very important.” Xi Jinping, the Chinese President also made clear in June that any foreign “bullying” will result in “heads bashed bloody against the Great Wall of steel.”

Issue Tag: National Security