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On US foreign policy, Biden acts a lot like Trump


WASHINGTON — Punch and meeting with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Customs duties and export controls on China. Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. US troops leave Afghanistan.

More than a year and a half into President Biden’s term, his administration’s approach to strategic priorities is surprisingly consistent with Trump administration policies, according to former officials and analysts.

Mr. Biden vowed on the campaign trail to break with the paths taken by the previous administration, and in some foreign policy ways he did. He mended alliances, especially in Western Europe, that Donald J. Trump had weakened with his “America First” proclamations and his criticism of other nations. In recent months, Mr. Biden’s efforts have positioned Washington to lead a coalition imposing sanctions on Russia during the war in Ukraine.

And Mr. Biden has denounced autocracies, promoted the importance of democracy and called for global cooperation on issues such as climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.

But in critical areas, the Biden administration has not taken substantial pauses, showing how difficult it is for Washington to chart new paths in foreign policy.

This was underscored this month when Mr. Biden visited Israel and Saudi Arabia, a trip aimed in part at strengthening the closer ties between the states that Trump officials had promoted under the so- saying agreements of Abraham.

In Saudi Arabia, Mr Biden met Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman despite his earlier vow to make the nation a ‘pariah’ for human rights abuses, including the murder of a Washington Post writer in 2018 US intelligence agencies have concluded that the prince ordered the brutal killing. Behind the scenes, the United States is still providing significant support to the Saudi military in the war in Yemen despite Mr. Biden’s earlier pledge to end that aid because of Saudi airstrikes that killed civilians.

“The policies are converging,” said Stephen E. Biegun, deputy secretary of state in the Trump administration and head of the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. “Continuity is the norm, even between presidents as different as Trump and Biden.”

Some former officials and analysts have praised the consistency, arguing that the Trump administration, despite the commander-in-chief’s deep flaws, correctly diagnosed challenges important to U.S. interests and sought to address them.

Others are less optimistic. They say Mr. Biden’s choices have compounded problems in US foreign policy and have at times deviated from the principles set forth by the president. Senior Democratic lawmakers have criticized his meeting with Prince Mohammed and aiding the Saudi military, for example, even as administration officials have promoted a United Nations-brokered ceasefire in Yemen.

“Over time, Biden has failed to deliver on many of his campaign promises and he has stuck to the status quo in the Middle East and Asia,” said Atlantic Council senior researcher Emma Ashford.

The Trump and Biden administrations have had to wrestle with the question of how to maintain America’s global dominance at a time when it appears to be in decline. China has stepped up as a counterbalance and Russia has become bolder.

The Trump administration’s national security strategy has formally shifted foreign policy toward “great power competition” with China and Russia and away from prioritizing terrorist groups and other non-state actors. The Biden administration has continued this momentum, in part because of events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Biden White House has delayed releasing its own national security strategy, which was expected earlier this year. Officials rewrite it because of the war in Ukraine. The final document is still expected to emphasize competition between powerful nations.

Mr Biden has said China is the United States’ biggest competitor – a claim Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken reiterated in a recent speech – while Russia is the biggest threat to the American security and alliances.

Some scholars say the tradition of continuity between administrations is a product of conventional ideas and groupthink stemming from the bipartisan foreign policy establishment in Washington, which Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser , derisively called “the Blob”.

But others argue that external circumstances — including the behavior of foreign governments, the sentiments of American voters and corporate influence — leave American leaders with a narrow margin of choice.

“There’s a lot of gravitational pull that brings the police to one place,” Mr Biegun said. “It’s always the same problems. It’s still the same world. We still have largely the same tools to influence others to achieve the same results, and it’s still the same America.

By pledging to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump were responding to the wishes of most Americans, who had grown tired of two decades of war. For Mr. Biden, this decision was also an opportunity to address unfinished business. As vice-president, he had advocated the repatriation of troops, in accordance with Mr. Obama’s desire to put an end to “eternal wars”, but he encountered opposition from American generals insisting on a presence in Afghanistan.

Despite the chaotic withdrawal last August when the Taliban took control of the country, polls showed that most Americans supported an end to US military involvement in that country.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden have advocated a reduced US military presence in conflict regions. But both have reached limits to this reflection. Mr Biden has sent more US troops to Europe since Russia invaded Ukraine and to Somalia, reversing a Trump-era withdrawal. US troops remain in Iraq and Syria.

“There is deep skepticism about the war on terror from senior officials in the Biden administration,” said Brian Finucane, a senior adviser at International Crisis Group who has worked on military issues as a lawyer. at the State Department. “Nevertheless, they are not yet willing to undertake broad structural reform to roll back the war.”

Finucane said the reform would include repealing the 2001 wartime authorization that Congress gave the executive branch after the September 11 attacks.

“Even if the Biden administration does not take positive steps to further expand the scope of the 2001 AUMF, as long as it remains on the books, it can be used by future administrations,” he said. , referring to permission. “And other officials can prolong the war on terror.”

On the Middle East’s most pressing issue — Iran and its nuclear program — Mr. Biden took a different approach than Mr. Trump. The administration negotiated with Tehran a return to an Obama-era nuclear deal that Mr. Trump dismantled, leading Iran to ramp up its uranium enrichment. But the talks are at an impasse. And Mr. Biden said he would stick to one of Mr. Trump’s major actions against the Iranian military, the designation of his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, despite that being a obstacle to a new agreement.

The Chinese policy stands out as the most striking example of continuity between the two administrations. The State Department retained a Trump-era genocide designation against China for its crackdown on Uyghur Muslims. Biden officials have continued to send US Navy ships through the Taiwan Strait and shape arms sales to Taiwan to try to deter a possible invasion by China.

More controversially, Mr Biden has kept the Trump-era tariffs on China, despite some economists and several senior US officials, including Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, questioning their purpose and impact.

Mr. Biden and his political aides are keenly aware of the rising anti-free trade sentiment in the United States that Mr. Trump has capitalized on to round up the votes. This realization has led Mr. Biden to be reluctant to attempt to re-enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal between 12 Pacific nations that Mr. Obama helped organize to bolster economic competition against China, but which Mr. Trump and the progressive Democrats rejected.

Analysts say Washington must offer Asian countries better trade deals and market access with the United States if it is to counter China’s economic influence.

“Neither the Trump nor Biden administrations have had a trade and economic policy that America’s Asian friends have advocated to help reduce its dependence on China,” said policy director Kori Schake. foreign and defense at the American Enterprise Institute. . “The Biden and Trump administrations are to some extent weaponizing the China problem because they can’t understand the economic aspect.”

It was in Europe that Mr. Biden distinguished himself from Mr. Trump. The Trump administration was at times contradictory on Europe and Russia: while Mr. Trump praised Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and held back the military aid to Ukraine for domestic political purposes, some officials under him worked in the opposite direction. direction. By contrast, Mr. Biden and his aides have uniformly reaffirmed the importance of transatlantic alliances, which have helped them coordinate sanctions and arms shipments to oppose Russia in Ukraine.

“There is no doubt in my mind that words and politics matter,” said Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis. “If the allies don’t believe that the United States will abide by Article 5 of NATO and stand up for an ally, it doesn’t matter how much you invest.”

Ultimately, the biggest contrast between the presidents, and perhaps the aspect most watched by America’s allies and adversaries, is in their views on democracy. Mr. Trump complimented autocrats and broke with Democratic traditions long before the uprising in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, which congressional investigators say he staged. Mr Biden has placed the promotion of democracy at the ideological center of his foreign policy, and in December he hosted officials from more than 100 countries at a “democracy summit”.

“American democracy is the magnetic soft power of the United States,” Schake said. “We are different and better than the forces we fight against in the international order.”

nytimes Eur

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