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Joe Biden, foreign policy hawk
The president is more hawkish than pretend Republicans
I’ve theorized in the past that we are undergoing a national political realignment. There are several different data points that support this theory, but a recent one is Joe Biden’s emergence as a foreign policy and national security hawk. Yes, you heard that right.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Biden is not batting a thousand when it comes to foreign policy (or anything else), but the president has turned out to be more of a stalwart figure than most of the leading Republican contenders.
It’s a bit surprising to arrive at this point after August 2021. That month, of course, marked the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. This seems to have been the low point of the Biden Administration. (So far!)
I was an opponent of the Afghan withdrawal, but I was overruled by both parties. As a result of this bipartisan agreement to lose the war, I grade on a curve.
To be honest, I’m not sure the war was winnable by 2021. Some of the things that I’ve read, both before and since the fall of Kabul, make me question the basics of our strategy. For example, Sebastian Junger’s “War,” an account of an army firebase in the Afghan boonies tells a tale that is eerily reminiscent of the failed strategy of Vietnam. The soldiers sat in their firebase and conducted ambush patrols then ultimately abandoned their base to the Taliban. This is not how counterinsurgency wars are won.
More to the point of the final days, Wall Street Journal reporting suggests that Taliban operatives had thoroughly infiltrated the Afghan national government. These undercover militants seized Kabul and other cities from within, which explains why Kabul collapsed so quickly. The Taliban was already there. At the same time, the Afghan army was running out of supplies and unable to fight, whether due to corruption, a cutoff in US aid, or some other reason.
Could Afghanistan have been handled better? Absolutely. But I think that the difference would have been a matter of days, weeks, or months. I don’t think the outcome would have been different without a massive American military commitment and I haven’t seen any evidence that the story would have ended differently with Donald Trump in charge. After all, Mr. Trump advocated a faster withdrawal schedule than Biden and I have no reason to believe that would have changed.
Since 2021, Biden has improved. The Biden Administration’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been surprisingly strong. The Russo-Ukraine war has actually invigorated NATO and strengthened the alliance while dramatically weakening Vladimir Putin and hopefully giving the Chinese pause about considering a move on Taiwan.
Again, MAGA will say that the Russian invasion would not have happened if Trump had been president. Counterfactuals are impossible to prove, but again I have serious doubts. Vladimir Putin was waging war in Ukraine during Trump’s entire presidency without facing serious opposition from The Donald. It may be that Putin assumed that Biden and NATO would be a pushover. If that was the case, he made a serious error.
The fact is that it is MAGA that is the weak link in Ukraine from Tucker Carlson’s endless apologetics for Putin to Donald Trump applauding the invasion as “genius” to Ron DeSantis waffling on support for Ukraine. I’m not even going to talk about Vivek Ramaswamy, but it now seems obvious that Vladimir Putin’s best hope for victory (or at least a stalemate) is if Republicans win big in 2024.
Recent Gallup polling shows qualified support for Ukraine among Americans, but the weak point is among Republicans where a majority is skeptical of Ukraine and favors limits to aid. This skepticism shows among two of the three leading Republican contenders, with only Nikki Haley rivaling Biden’s hawkish position.
The irony is that the Ukrainians are what we needed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Ukrainians are more than willing to carry the fight to the Russians and only request the means to do so. Contrast that to the Afghan army, which collapsed as the US military left.
Going back to Vietnam, the US has sought proxies that would stand and fight on their own. Now that we have one, MAGA wants to abandon them.
I’ve always thought that it was disingenuous for MAGA to claim that Russia would never have invaded Ukraine under a Trump presidency and then simultaneously undercut support for the Ukrainians defending their country. This is an inconsistency that I believe Putin understood and the reality is that Democrats are united against Putin while Republicans are split.
And then there’s Israel. Joe Biden defies the Republican talking point that Democrats are weak on terror. As with Ukraine, Biden has been a stalwart defender of Israel, in this case taking on progressive members of his own party. Where Republicans are split on Ukraine, there is a Democratic schism on Israel, but President Biden is one of the country’s strongest supporters on the left.
I will stipulate that the $6 billion that the Biden Administration agreed to unfreeze in exchange for five American detainees seems to have been a bad deal, at the very least in its timing. The money, which was Iran’s in the first place and not US taxpayer dollars, reportedly never made it and has been refrozen in Qatar so it is not possible that it was used to fund the October 7 attacks.
What Republicans don’t say is that the $6 billion reportedly originated in the Trump Administration. As Newsweek reports, Iran earned the money from oil sold to eight nations despite US sanctions. These sales were approved in a sanctions waiver by Donald Trump in 2018.
As to the argument that Gaza, like Russia, would not have attacked without Biden in office, that’s another counterfactual that’s impossible to prove either way. I’ll note, however, that the arc of global events is often a long curve that does not hinge on who occupies the White House. Other forces, chains of events that have been playing out for decades, likely have more to do with the timing in both cases than presidential election results.
And then there’s China. I wrote recently that Russia, China, and Iran are part of a new version of the Axis of Evil. Biden’s grade here is incomplete, but he did keep Trump’s tariffs on China, ineffective as they were. More importantly, Politico pointed out that the Biden Administration is quietly cracking down on the Chinese tech sector with a combination of bureaucratic rules, Executive Orders, and legislation in Congress.
“You really have seen a sea change in the way that they’re looking at the relationship with China,” said Clete Willems, who worked on China policy in the Trump White House. “[The Biden] administration views Chinese indigenous innovation as a per se national security threat ... and that is a big leap from where we’ve ever been before.”
And that seems to be characteristic of the Biden Administration. Tough actions with far less bluster than the White House’s previous occupant. Both seem to be good things.
I was one of the last people who would have thought that Joe Biden would turn out to be a foreign policy tough guy, but that is where the world has taken us. In many foreign policy endeavors, President Biden has turned out to be far more conservative than Donald Trump, the isolationist who withdrew from the TransPacific Partnership, a league meant to isolate China, as one of his first actions, and even today is rumored to be considering a withdrawal from NATO if he returns to the White House.
One of the reasons that I used to be a Republican was that the party was stronger on national security and foreign policy. In the years since George W. Bush left office, we have entered a bizarro world in which our Democratic president is now a stronger defender of our allies and a more shrewd enactor of foreign policy than the top Republican candidates. I said what I said.
That’s likely because Biden is an old-school Democrat and Donald Trump is a pretend Republican, but it’s also interesting to note that neither man’s party is entirely happy with where their standard bearer is leading.
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