Sunday marked one year since Americans elected Joe Biden president. And on his first year report card, Americans give him a failing grade. Only 42% of Americans approve of Biden’s performance.
Biden may have received a failing grade, in part, because on several key foreign policy issues, he has done nothing. And on the few he has, he has made things worse.
On the key Middle Eastern question, an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan still has not made it onto Biden’s to do list. It is simply not a priority of the Biden administration. Or, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained it, "I don’t think we’re at the – in a place where the getting to some kind of negotiation for what ultimately I think has to be the result, which is a two-state solution, is the first order of business."
In Yemen, despite his promises, Biden has done nothing. Despite his promise that "we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales," his State Department just notified Congress of a $650 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which sounds a lot like "American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales." The sale will include 280 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles and 596 missile rail launchers.
But Biden never was keeping his promise to stop supporting Saudi offensive operations in Yemen, since the US never stopped servicing Saudi Arabia’s military planes. In September, Biden’s State Department approved a possible $500 million contract with Saudi Arabia for equipment and maintenance support for their helicopters.
On the key foreign policy issue of returning to the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran, though this could have been an easy early success for Biden, as he suggested it could be, Biden did nothing, while Rouhani and Iran waited for months for the US to restart the negotiations. He refused to end the policy of maximum pressure, and he refused to put an end to the cruel and illegal sanctions. Most seriously, and most cynically, according to reporting by Trita Parsi, Biden was unwilling to provide Iran with a guarantee that he would honor his agreements and commitments as binding even for the duration of his own term.
As in the Middle East, in Latin America, Biden has done nothing.
The Venezuela file remains unopened. Since Biden’s election, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says, "There hasn’t been a single positive sign. None." The Biden administration continues to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president, and it continues to pursue “an effective policy that can restore Venezuela to democracy.”
In Cuba, Biden has done worse than nothing. As in Yemen and Iran, that represents a broken promise. While campaigning to be president, Biden said that he would "promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights." But once he was president, the White House explained instead that "A shift in Cuba policy is not among President Joe Biden’s top foreign policy priorities."
In fact, Biden has increased sanctions on several senior Cuban officials in the military and police and, most significantly, vowed to intensify US support for Cuban dissidents. Biden has voted against the near unanimous UN resolution to finally end the blockade on Cuba, and he has refused to lift the restrictions on remittances to Cuba that make it impossible for Cuban Americans to send money home to their families. He has listed Cuba as a country “not cooperating fully with United States anti-terrorism efforts," a move toward keeping Cuba on the state sponsors of terrorism list.
Cuba expert William LeoGrande reports that the US embassy in Havana "has taken a leading role supporting dissident activists, pushing the boundaries of what’s normally allowed under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations." Cuban journalist Rosa Miriam Elizalde reports that "in September, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) gave $6,669,000 in grants for projects aimed at ‘regime change’ in Cuba." LeoGrande says that "The United States and Cuba are on a collision course over U.S. diplomats’ support for "democracy promotion" programs."
Russia and China
In the most important foreign policy issue of his administration, Biden has done worse than nothing on Russia and China.
Donald Trump hoped to improve relations with Russia, seeing them as still a potential ally in the emerging struggle with China. Hillary Clinton, the Democrat Party and Russiagate squashed that hope, and, according to Richard Sakwa in his soon to be published book Deception: Russiagate and the New Cold War, relations with Russia "deteriorated to a level below anything seen during the original cold war."
That deterioration has intensified under Biden. His summit with Putin accomplished little if anything. And continued sanctions, exclusion, hostility and threatened NATO encroachment in Ukraine and Georgia has gone so far as to push Russia toward China in a Second Cold War.
The pivot to China precedes Biden’s administration. It began when he was vice president and intensified during the Trump administration. By 2016, the trade war on China compelled the realization in Beijing that cooperation with the US was a chimera. But it wasn’t until the unyielding pressure of the Biden administration attempted to force the world into blocs that were on one side or the other that China finally, reluctantly accepted Biden’s framework of a Second Cold War.
Since then, provocative action in Taiwan and threatening action by US warships and aircraft near China have only further deteriorated relations with China and further pushed the world toward a Second Cold War. Biden has done more than any president since the close of the cold war to squander the peace and push the world back into a cold war.
On several key foreign policy issues, Biden has done nothing. He has done nothing
in the Middle East and Latin America, while in Russia and China, the most important
foreign policy issue of the day, he has made things worse.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.