Joe Biden and Mismanagement of the Wars

The Biden administration has seemingly adopted a foreign policy doctrine in which they nurture a war while attempting to manage it, preventing it from becoming a wider war.

The doctrine has been applied in both Ukraine and Gaza. In Ukraine, war has been nurtured by snuffing out the possibility of a diplomatic settlement while feeding the war with weapons, training, intelligence and funding. The war has been managed at a micro level and a macro level. At the micro level, the strategy was to permit Ukrainian strikes in Crimea sufficient to scare Russia into negotiations but insufficient to provoke them into escalatory strikes to defend what they see as Russian territory: a fine and dangerous balancing act. At the macro level, the strategy was to provide Ukraine with weapons sufficient to wage war but not to provide weapons that would draw the U.S. into a war with Russia or that would lead to a nuclear response.

In Gaza, the U.S. has nurtured the war by defying the will of the international community at the United Nations and by the continued provision of weapons. It has managed it by manifestations of force and frantic diplomacy to stop the war from spreading to Iran through Lebanon and Yemen.

This strategy of the management of war is proving costly to U.S. interests in at least three ways.

The Biden administration’s mismanagement of war is costing it the world. Whatever fading delusions of hegemony it held onto are rapidly being pushed aside by the emerging multipolar world. The rejuvenated non-aligned movement is exploding since the start of the war in Ukraine, and there has been a mass exodus to the doors of organizations like BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, two Russian and Chinese led international organizations that exist to balance U.S. hegemony in a unipolar world. BRICS has built up its membership from five countries to eleven and now spans every region of the world, accounting for 46% of the world’s population. The also expanding SCO now represents at least 43% of the world’s population. The non-aligned movement, growing in numbers and in confidence, has resisted U.S. pressure to join it in its support of the war in Ukraine and its sanctioning of Russia.

The Biden administration’s mismanagement of the wars is costing it its credibility. The Global South, or, more accurately, the Global Majority, has long resented the U.S. for its convenient and hypocritical application of international law. But the mismanagement of the two wars it is nurturing has confirmed the suspicion and cemented the resentment.

The U.S. has abandoned the universal application of international law for the selective and self-serving application of its rules-based order in two ways that have alarmed the Global Majority. The first was in its condemnation of Russia’s military violation of a sovereign country’s borders. The Global Majority had no objection to the U.S. application of international law to that illegal invasion. But it also could not forget the failure to apply that same law to the U.S. bombings or invasions of Panama, Grenada, Libya, Kosovo, Iraq and Syria: all of whose borders were violated or whose people were bombed by the U.S. without Security Council authorization.

The Global Majority has bristled, not only at the inconsistent application of international law when it comes to Russian and American activity, but also at the inconsistent application of that law to the two wars the U.S. is nurturing and managing in Gaza and Ukraine. That inconsistency has set the world against the United States who now finds itself repeatedly isolated in both the General Assembly and the Security Council.

But the doctrine is proving costly to the U.S. not just in the ways it is nurturing the two wars, but also in the ways it is attempting to calibrate them in order to prevent two widening wars. Such fine calibrations are not easily done. War is sloppy and unpredictable. Calibrations of what might push a country too far require careful and uncertain profiling of a leader’s motivations, red lines and passions.

In recent days, those calibrations have come very close to going wrong in both wars.

The Middle East came close to its tipping point when, after the Biden administration had warned that, if in the carefully calibrated reciprocal strikes on bases between Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq and the United States, an Iran-backed militia attack killed U.S. troops, then the U.S. could respond with strikes inside Iran, a one-way attack drone struck a housing unit on a U.S. military facility in Jordan, killing three U.S. service members.

Since the United States, without evidence of direct involvement, holds Iran responsible for the fatal strikes, then missile strikes inside Iran, strikes that could surely evoke a response and lead to a wider war, became a real possibility. The U.S. doctrine of nurturing wars while simultaneously managing them to prevent widening wars was at a very precarious point.

After weighing possible responses, American warplanes destroyed more than 80 targets in Syria and Iraq. At least 39 people were killed. But U.S. intelligence now assesses that “Tehran does not have full control over its proxy groups” nor that they are “commanding” or “directing” the attacks. Washington seems to have made the decision not to strike Iran’s Revolutionary Guard or strike inside Iran, though the Pentagon has promised “additional actions.”

Iran has reportedly told Kataib Hezbollah, the group the U.S. has accused, to suspend military operations and have said that they are “not looking for war.” In considering how Iran would respond to U.S. retaliation, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave the order that direct war with the U.S. was to be avoided and that Iran should distance itself from the groups who killed the U.S. troops.

So far, the danger of a widening war has been avoided.

The situation in Ukraine came very close to going badly wrong recently as well. On January 24, a Russian Ilyushin-76 military transport plane was shot down by two missiles over the Belgorod region of Russia, near the Ukrainian border. What was significant about this plane being shot down is that it was carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war who were involved in a prisoner swap negotiated with Ukraine and that it was shot down by U.S. made Patriot surface-to-air missiles: a situation that could lead to escalation.

Russian investigators found 116 fragments of U.S. made Patriot missiles complete with serial numbers. On January 31, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that “it’s been definitively established” that the plane was shot down “by an American Patriot system.” The French military has also concluded that Ukrainian forces shot down the plane with a battery of Patriot surface-to-air missiles. Ukrainian use of American supplied Patriot missiles inside Russia is a provocative challenge to U.S. calibrations to manage the war and prevent it from escalating.

On January 31, a week after the plane was shot down, Russia and Ukraine carried out an exchange of approximately 400 prisoners of war.

So far, the danger of a widening war has been avoided on both battlegrounds. But, as recent events have shown, the balancing act of nurturing a war while attempting to manage it and prevent its escalation, can only be accomplished precariously. In war, events can be unpredictable. So far, the wars are in danger of widening but stand still on the precipice. The U.S. doctrine is a careless and dangerous one.

Ted Snider is a regular columnist on U.S. foreign policy and history at and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets. To support his work or for media or virtual presentation requests, contact him at