Biden’s Foreign Policy is Driven by Impulse, Not Reason

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Almost every day, questions arise about President Joe Biden‘s ability to make presidential-level decisions. The questions stem mainly from Biden’s repeated rhetorical gaffes.

In a recent column in the Boston Herald, Howie Carr assembled a sampling of dozens of Biden’s misstatements since the start of May. Among the highlights, Biden told guests at the White House, “I thank all of you for being here, and I want you to enjoy the rest of the recession.”

In a speech before an audience of policemen, Biden asked, “How many police officers have multiple time and put a lion and had to do things that they’d have to think they’d have to do?”

Whereas Biden’s domestic policy malapropisms are generally subjects of amusement (or derision) with few consequences, the same cannot be said of his parallel misstatements when it comes to foreign policy.

Consider the war in Ukraine. In late January, as Russian troops were situated on the border with Ukraine awaiting Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s marching orders, Biden gave a press conference in which he exposed NATO‘s disagreements by noting that the alliance would be divided over how to respond to a “minor incursion” by Russian forces.

Confusion, and worse, impulsiveness, have been the hallmarks of Biden’s decisions no less than his pronouncements. The helter-skelter withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan last August remains the paramount example of the impulsive nature of Biden’s foreign policy. Biden ordered U.S. forces to withdraw, ending a 20-year war in humiliation and defeat without first coordinating the move with U.S. allies.

Biden gave the order without first making arrangements for U.S. citizens to depart the country, and apparently without regard to an inspector general report that warned the Afghan military would not be able to maintain control of any part of the country without supporting U.S. air control and contractors.

Biden acted in callous disregard for the safety of the U.S.’s Afghan partners, and without first making arrangements to secure the $90 billion in U.S. weapons that the withdrawing U.S. forces left behind.

Obviously, much of the failure can be laid at the feet of the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department. But it was obvious that in the case of the Afghan withdrawal, it was Biden calling the shots from the top.

The Afghan withdrawal devastated the credibility of the U.S. as both an ally and an enemy. Its direct and indirect consequences will haunt the U.S. and its allies for years to come.

Biden’s actions against Russia since it invaded Ukraine are similarly seen by allies and enemies alike as the product of impulsive decisions, made without sufficient consideration of easily foreseeable consequences. Three decisions stand out, in particular.

The first was Biden’s decision to freeze $300 billion in Russian dollar reserves. The decision was unprecedented. And although it harmed Russia economically, it devastated the credibility of the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency. In response to the move, China and Russia abandoned the dollar in their bilateral trade. Other key countries, including Saudi Arabia and India, have also agreed to sell and purchase oil and gas in local currencies, undermining the petrodollar.

In response to the U.S. move and to Washington’s decision to block Russia from the international banking system, Russia began insisting that foreign purchasers of Russian oil and gas open ruble and foreign currency accounts with Gazprombank. Germany, Italy and more than a dozen other EU member states have thus far complied.

The ruble is as strong as it was before the February invasion. Simultaneously, the U.S. dollar is weak and its role as the world’s reserve currency is being questioned around the world. Time will tell if this is the beginning of the end of the dollar-based international economy. But what is already apparent is that the U.S. move on Russia’s dollar reserves was a net loss for the U.S. A more carefully crafted sanctions package might have had less deleterious consequences.

Then there are the leaks from Washington regarding the direct role the U.S. is apparently playing in Ukrainian military operations against Russia. The sources of the leaks are unclear. Biden is reportedly angry about them. All the same, administration officials have informed reporters that the U.S. provided Ukraine with the intelligence that enabled Ukrainian forces to sink the Moskva, Russia’s flagship in its Black Sea fleet, as well as intelligence that has enabled the Ukrainians to kill Russian generals.

In other words, Biden administration officials are telling the media that the U.S. is not merely supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia; rather, the U.S. is an active participant in that war. Whether it is Biden’s wish to go to war against Russia, or whether he is being led by his advisors, is unclear. But what is clear enough is that the escalatory consequences of these leaks are dangerous. Moreover, the U.S. interest in such escalation is unclear—at best.

The same can be said regarding the sudden decision to add Sweden and Finland to NATO. Is the U.S. really willing to send forces, if need be, to defend these nations? If so, where is that reflected in U.S. military budgets, training, hardware and doctrine?

Finally, there is the issue of the sanctions’ impact on the U.S. economy and on the global food supply. For months ahead of Russia’s invasion, as Putin’s troops deployed along the border grew, the Biden administration signaled that the U.S.’s primary tool for defeating Russia would be economic sanctions. Under the circumstances, Biden and his team could have been expected to calculate the sanctions for their effects on Russia and their blowback for the U.S. and its allies, as well as to consider the implications of Russian counter-sanctions on the U.S. and the global economy. But from the looks of things, it appears that the administration considered neither of these things.

Take the embargo on Russian oil and gas. Due to Biden’s decision to drastically cut U.S. energy production well before Russia invaded Ukraine, the U.S. had moved from being a net energy exporter to a net importer. Fuel prices in the U.S. had already risen precipitously. Those price rises aggravated skyrocketing inflation rates caused by a rapidly expanding U.S. money supply unmatched by a corresponding rise in domestic production.

Biden’s embargo on Russian oil and gas, therefore, took a bad situation and made it much worse.

Then there are the banking sanctions on Russian nationals. Russia is the main global exporter of fertilizer. While fertilizer exports weren’t banned, the financial sanctions on Russian nationals have impeded the ability of Russian exporters to do business with foreign purchasers, driving up the cost of fertilizers—and through them, of all foodstuff.

This brings us to the issue of Ukrainian food exports. Ukraine is a major supplier of wheat and corn to global markets. Ukrainian production and exports dropped by roughly 50% following the Russian invasion. And now Russia is blockading Ukraine’s Black Sea ports in order to prevent any exports of what remains of the besieged country’s crop yield. Expectations of a global food shortage are already causing panic worldwide, particularly among poor, unstable nations that are dependent on wheat imports to feed their people.

Russia will bear primary responsibility for global famine. But a better conceived U.S. sanctions strategy might have provoked a less devastating Russian counter-response. Now, with the real prospect of global food shortages, the danger of a naval confrontation between U.S. and NATO forces and Russian forces in the Black Sea rises every day.

Russia’s conventional forces have performed far below expectations. But Russia’s nuclear arsenal is both larger and more advanced than its U.S. counterpart. And unlike the U.S., Russia has built extensive and credible defensive systems to protect its cities and military bases from nuclear attack. Putin and his top advisors are openly threatening to use nuclear weapons if they feel it is necessary. Under the circumstances, any military exchange between the U.S. and Russia has the potential of becoming a nuclear war.

In response to the Ukrainian grain crisis, India announced last week that it is suspending its wheat exports to secure its domestic food supply. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, India has repeatedly flummoxed the Biden administration with its unwillingness to join the U.S. and NATO in their campaign on behalf of Ukraine. India’s early decision to maintain its oil and gas purchases with Russia while moving the trade from dollars to rupees and rubles was the first clear sign that New Delhi was staying loyal to its Cold War ally and moving away from the U.S.

India’s decision to distance itself from the U.S. poses grave consequences to the U.S. in its rising superpower struggle with China. President Biden, like President Donald Trump before him, rightly views India’s participation in a U.S.-led Pacific alliance as a key component of the U.S.’s strategy for containing China.

This brings us to Biden’s latest foreign policy gaffe with strategic implications. In response to a reporter’s question on Monday during his visit to Tokyo about whether the U.S. would use military force to defend Taiwan from China, Biden said, “Yes, that’s the commitment we made.”

But that isn’t the commitment the U.S. has made. For decades, U.S. policy with respect to the defense of Taiwan has been one of “strategic ambiguity.” The context of Biden’s remark, made from Tokyo at a time of heightened Chinese aggression against Taiwan, was significant. And while Biden’s advisors worked feverishly to present his remark as inconsequential, and U.S. policy as unchanged, the president has now “misspoken” numerous times on Taiwan.

Biden’s many gaffes and whispers of possible dementia have led many to wonder whether he is really the one driving U.S. policy. But to the extent he is, Biden’s foreign policy is a bundle of impulsive actions, whose economic and strategic implications have been disastrous for the U.S. and destabilizing to the world as a whole.

Originally published in Newsweek.

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