U.S. Foreign Policy December 2020 –

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Trump administration: U.S. Foreign Policy
July 2019 – November 2020

Under Biden, Pakistan and the US face a dilemma about the breadth of their relationship
Madiha Afzal
(Brookings) President Biden has not yet spoken to Prime Minister Imran Khan. Nor did Biden invite Pakistan to a planned leaders summit on climate change later this month, though the leaders of India and Bangladesh will be there, and Pakistan was the only country among the world’s 10 most populous to not receive an invitation. Its absence is all the more pointed given Pakistan’s efforts to mitigate climate change, including its commitment to plant a billion trees. Khan claims he’s not bothered. Biden’s Special Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry, meanwhile, is currently in the region — visiting India and Bangladesh, but not Pakistan. Separately, Pakistan continues to play a key role in the Afghan peace process.
In recent months, Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership have together been promoting a new focus on “geo-economics” — an approach that emphasizes regional trade and connectivity, and stresses that Pakistan is open for business. The new focus recognizes that a geostrategic approach only goes so far, and if Pakistan is to rise on the world stage (as its neighbor India has done), that position will have to be predicated on economic growth.

12 March
America’s Indo-Pacific Folly
Adding New Commitments in Asia Will Only Invite Disaster

(Foreign Affairs) The concept of an Indo-Pacific expands what is meant by Asia to include the Indian Ocean region, an area of debatable interest to the United States that many now see as vital for countering China. Widening the regional aperture in this manner encourages military overstretch by positioning the United States for commitments that will be difficult to defend and distracts policymaker attention from other parts of Asia, where decades of hard-won peace hinge much more directly on American words and deeds. East Asia and the Pacific are not just subsets of a greater Indo-Pacific—they are the core geography of U.S. power and influence in Asia. Forsaking them for the latest geopolitical buzzword is an epic blunder in the making.

10 March
The Saudi Test Case
How to Put Values Into Biden’s Foreign Policy
By Martin Indyk
(Foreign Affairs) Biden has committed to shifting U.S. focus and resources away from the Middle East and toward Asia, where countering China’s rising influence will be the strategic priority. But in order to make this turn, Washington will need a responsible Saudi Arabia that works with other U.S. allies and partners to staunch the region’s sources of instability and conflict. Such is the strategic imperative in U.S.-Saudi relations.
But the Biden administration can also put U.S. values into the relationship in a way that has never really been attempted before. To do so, Biden should insist that MBS continue the reforms he has introduced to modernize Saudi society and grant women equal rights—but without the accompanying repression and aggressive behavior abroad that have become his hallmark.
Whether MBS can play this role of a reliable and enlightened partner to the United States is doubtful, based on past behavior. But as long as he remains crown prince, an approach that allows for his rehabilitation should he end the Yemen war and internal repression is bound to better advance U.S. values and interests—and redeem Jamal Khashoggi’s legacy—than one designed to keep him in the doghouse, regardless of whether he behaves differently.

25 February
Joe Biden speaks to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman before release of Khashoggi murder report
White House says president ‘affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law’
New US envoy to UN gets red carpet welcome from Russia
(AP) — Linda Thomas-Greenfield takes up her post as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Thursday and a senior Russian diplomat said the red carpet will be rolled out and Moscow is ready to work with the Biden administration — but “it takes two to tango.”
After being sworn in on Wednesday by Vice President Kamala Harris, Thomas-Greenfield headed to New York where she is scheduled to present her credentials to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Thursday afternoon.
She will be jumping right into her new job, tackling global peace and security issues with Russia, China and a dozen other countries because the United States takes over the rotating presidency of the powerful U.N. Security Council on Monday. And she might even decide to attend a council meeting on Friday.
Heather Cox Richardson February 23, 2021
The Senate voted [Tuesday] to confirm Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the United States ambassador to the United Nations by a vote of 78 to 21. The no votes were all Republicans. … Thomas-Greenfield served in the Foreign Service from 1982 and was the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 2013 to 2017, when she was fired by the Trump administration as part of a general purge.

19 February
Biden Tells Allies ‘America Is Back,’ but Macron and Merkel Push Back
All three leaders seemed to recognize, though, that their first virtual encounter was a moment to celebrate the end of the “America First” era.
(NYT) President Biden used his first public encounter with America’s European allies to describe a new struggle between the West and the forces of autocracy, declaring that “America is back” while acknowledging that the past four years had taken a toll on its power and influence.
His message stressing the importance of reinvigorating alliances and recommitting to defending Europe was predictably well received at a session of the Munich Security Conference that Mr. Biden addressed from the White House.
Biden declares ‘America is back’ in welcome words to allies
(AP) Speaking to the annual Munich Security Conference virtually, Biden ticked through a daunting to-do list — salvaging the Iran nuclear deal, meeting economic and security challenges posed by China and Russia and repairing the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic — that he said would require close cooperation between the U.S. and its Western allies.
The president also participated Friday in a virtual meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, where leaders managed to work Biden’s campaign theme into their closing joint statement, vowing to “work together to beat COVID-19 and build back better.”
Biden to join virtual G7 event Friday with global leaders on Covid-19 efforts
(CNN) It’s his first meeting with leaders from the Group of Seven nations as president.

14 February
Ambassador sweepstakes underway as figures jockey for plum posts
(WaPo) With its mix of famous figures and exotic locales, the competition always attracts interest. But it is under more scrutiny than usual this year as Biden stresses his desire to repair international relationships that frayed under Trump, with ambassadors likely to play a key role in that effort.
The only ambassador Biden has named so far is Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to the United Nations, which is a unique post.
Biden is expected to select roughly a third of his ambassadors from the political world, with the rest coming from career diplomatic ranks. That aligns with most Republican and Democratic presidents going back more than 20 years, though Trump boosted the number of political appointees closer to half.
Biden is expected to place a premium on prior diplomatic or government service in choosing many ambassadors, further reducing the number of posts that could go to donors, according to two people who helped organize campaign events for Biden.

Heather Cox Richardson February 5, 2021
President Biden’s speech at the State Department
In his speech to the State Department yesterday [Feb. 4] Biden immediately indicated that he was restoring traditional American diplomacy. The first thing he did was to acknowledge his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, a career diplomat with a degree from Columbia Law School and a long and impressive resume including work on U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan.
…Biden [assured] the world that diplomats around the world spoke for the country again: “when you speak, you speak for me.” Later on, he reiterated that idea: “I value your expertise and I respect you, and I will have your back. This administration is going to empower you to do your jobs, not target or politicize you.”
Biden emphasized that he had spoken to “the leaders of many of our closest friends — Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany, France, NATO, Japan, South Korea, Australia — to [begin] reforming the habits of cooperation and rebuilding the muscle of democratic alliances that have atrophied over the past few years of neglect and, I would argue, abuse.” The message he wants the world to hear is: “America is back. America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.”
… Biden called on Putin to release Navalny “immediately and without condition.” Biden outlined his approach to Yemen, China, and Russia… and then he said something that jumped out.Biden argued that foreign policy is an integral part of domestic policy. It requires that the government address the needs of ordinary Americans. … This idea—that the U.S. must reform its own society in order to extend the principles of democracy overseas– was precisely the argument Theodore Roosevelt and other reformers made in the late 1890s when they launched the Progressive Era.

27 January
Biden, Emphasizing Job Creation, Signs Sweeping Climate Actions
(NYT) Mr. Biden’s actions on Wednesday also established broad new foreign policy goals — including that climate change, for the first time, will be a core part of all foreign policy and national security decisions. Over all, they set in motion his pledge to broadly refocus the federal government on climate policy, but the concrete implementation of new policy could take years, experts said. On foreign policy, Wednesday’s executive order formalized the role for John Kerry, the former Secretary of State, as Mr. Biden’s international climate envoy, with a seat on the National Security Council.

26 January
Antony J. Blinken is confirmed as secretary of state.
Blinken Takes Over at State Dept. With a Review of Trump’s Policies
The Senate confirmed Antony J. Blinken as secretary of state. He is looking to reverse the Trump administration’s confrontational approach to diplomacy.

22 January
Biden, democracy, and Africa
Editor’s Note:Below is a Viewpoint from Chapter 6 of the Foresight Africa 2021 report, which explores top priorities for the region in the coming year. This year’s issue focuses on strategies for Africa to confront the twin health and economic crises created by the COVID-19 pandemic and emerge stronger than ever. Read the full chapter on good governance.
(Brookings) The challenge for the Biden administration is to genuinely see Africa as a continent of opportunity. The new administration also needs to renew the U.S.-African relationship in a way that shares the full American experience in support of African aspirations for both democratic governance and greater prosperity.

21 January
Fauci makes the Biden administration’s debut at the WHO
The US shows up (via video) after Biden reverses Trump’s decision.

19 January
Listen: Moving from contention to cooperation in the trans-Atlantic relationship
(Brookings) Biden has made it clear that repairing relationships with allies will be a priority for his administration. In the latest episode of Dollar & Sense, Constanze Stelzenmüller talks to David Dollar about recent tensions between America and Europe, the new investment deal between China and the European Union, and how the U.S. and EU can coordinate a common approach toward China.

16 January
Trump’s presidency not just a blip in US foreign policy
By DEB RIECHMANN and MATTHEW LEE
(AP) — President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to scrap President Donald Trump’s vision of “America First” in favor of “diplomacy first” will depend on whether he’s able to regain the trust of allies and convince them that Trumpism is just a blip in the annals of U.S. foreign policy.
It could be a hard sell. From Europe to the Middle East and Asia, Trump’s brand of transactional diplomacy has alienated friends and foes alike, leaving Biden with a particularly contentious set of national security issues.
Trump has insisted that he’s not against multilateralism, only global institutions that are ineffective. He has pulled out of more than half a dozen international agreements, withdrawn from multiple U.N. groups and trash talked allies and partners.
Biden, on the other hand, says global alliances need to be rebuilt to combat climate change, address the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future epidemics and confront the growing threat posed by China. The national security and foreign policy staff that he has named so far are champions of multilateralism.
His choices for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and foreign aid chief Samantha Power — all veterans of the Obama administration — underscore his intent to return to a foreign policy space that they believe was abandoned by Trump.

Pompeo’s last-minute actions on foreign policy will complicate Biden’s plans for a new direction
(WaPo) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made near-daily announcements of major foreign policy actions, many of which appear designed to cement Trump priorities and create roadblocks to new directions already charted by the incoming Biden team.
Among the barriers put in place are  …  the recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the long-contested Western Sahara, the fast-track approval of controversial arms sales and a slew of new sanctions against Iran.
All of those changes can be undone. But each complicates the challenges Biden will face in putting his own stamp on policy. Biden officials express little doubt that most, if not all, of them are motivated by domestic politics. But they have not spoken out against them, in part because of the “one president at a time” tradition regarding U.S. national security interests overseas.
Under Burns, the CIA Gets a New Focus
Biden’s pick for the agency’s director shows that diplomacy is back.
(Foreign Policy) The announcement marked the last nomination to fill out Biden’s foreign policy and national security team, but it was perhaps the most emblematic of where Biden is headed when it comes to how he intends to conduct foreign policy. Burns…is the first career foreign service officer to be nominated to run the CIA in the agency’s 73-year history. Diplomats have been excluded, perhaps not surprisingly given the agency’s focus on clandestine operations—the antithesis of aboveground diplomacy—as well as its tightly bound clubby and insular culture, a version of which foreign service officers share.
Biden’s choice of Burns, among the finest diplomats of his generation—he was only the second career foreign service office to be appointed deputy secretary, and his government service has included ambassadorships and senior roles at the National Security Council over a 33-year period—certainly reflects the president-elect’s commitment to serious diplomacy, and it is a morale booster for diplomats. Not since the era of Joseph McCarthy have American diplomats been as mistreated, maligned, and ignored as they’ve been under the Trump administration. But the choice of Burns goes deeper than that.
Burns will be a useful complement to Biden’s picks for secretary of state and national security advisor as they reinvigorate diplomacy as a critical tool of national power. Under Burns, the intelligence community can be expected to devote more attention to its mission of “intelligence in the service of diplomacy,” which will help U.S. diplomats deal with problems before they become crises and help them manage crises that do arise.

15 January
Inside Joe Biden’s Foreign-Policy Worldview
The next U.S. president isn’t an intellectual—and that’s a good thing. (paywall)

14 January
Secretary of State Pompeo Leaves No Bridges Unburned
On the way out the door, the Trump administration is trying its utmost to make things difficult for Joe Biden.
(NYT Editorial Board) Over the past week, he unleashed a series of actions whose only real purpose appears to be to make life as difficult as possible for his successor at the State Department. He put Cuba back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, he plans to designate the Houthi rebels in Yemen as a foreign terrorist organization, he eased restrictions on contacts between American diplomats and Taiwan officials and he claimed that Iran is a “home base” for Al Qaeda.
Mr. Pompeo has been hyperactive on social media, issuing scores of tweets since the start of the year touting the administration’s “accomplishments” abroad. Most of these are regarded by American allies and many State Department professionals as terrible, like withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Paris agreement on climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.

12 January
Renewing US global engagement in a changed world
George Ingram
(Brookings) The world of 2021 that awaits the Biden-Harris administration is not the straight-forward frame of post-World War II U.S.-USSR competition, or of the dominant position the U.S. briefly held in the post-Cold War period of the 1990s. The economic, social, and political disruption wrought by the coronavirus, along with retrenchment from global leadership by the Trump administration, have unmasked and accelerated what has been an evolving alteration in the international order and the position of the United States in that system. The disruption to the international order is forcing a reassessment of the notion of “American exceptionalism” and what is meant by “U.S. global leadership”—maybe “leadership” in a multipolar/multi-actor world means listening and partnering rather than driving the train?
Along with restoring order and competence to domestic policies and politics, there are a number of components to its international playbook that will contribute to rebuilding U.S. global participation and partnership. It starts with elevating diplomacy and development, long insufficiently valued and resourced as tools central to advancing U.S. national security, but particularly hollowed out by the Trump administration. The Biden-Harris team has started the process admirably in announcing experienced and respected officials to handle international affairs. Among other steps that can be taken to further enhance development are to quickly nominate leaders of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Development Finance Corporation; place the USAID administrator in the Cabinet and on the National Security Council; and build out the number and diversity of career staff, place them in senior policy positions, and ensure respect and protection of their professionalism.
Further, following through on a return to a more active and collaborative engagement with international organizations, most immediately in rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization, the administration can propose to the Congress to make good on our growing arrears to international and multilateral organizations, help lead on a solution to the burgeoning debt problem of developing countries, and work to revise the governance of international institutions so they are better fit for purpose and more representative of the 21st century international order. The administration is expected to commit to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and will need to determine how to encompass the SDG frame in development policies and programs and how they connect to domestic priorities.

11 January
William Burns Is Biden’s Choice for C.I.A. Director
The president-elect has decided to place the agency in the hands of a career Foreign Service officer who is well regarded by the rank and file.
Mr. Biden is turning to an experienced diplomat with whom he has a long relationship. The two men have worked together on foreign policy issues, not just during the Obama administration, but also while Mr. Biden led the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr. Biden said Mr. Burns’s first task would be to make sure intelligence collection and analysis were not influenced by politics after years of President Trump’s attacks on the intelligence agencies.
John E. Trent: A Canadian’s advice for Joe Biden on foreign policy
(Ottawa Citizen) You say the United States will once again lead the world? The world has become somewhat dubious about the American capacity for leadership.
…the world is not ready for “American leadership.” What we do want is American partnership. In a world where China and Russia are seeking ways of building new hegemonies, and a whole slew of nationalist-populist leaders strides about the international scene, it is more necessary than ever for a coalition of large, middle and small liberal powers to rebuild an effective multilateral system focused on the UN.

This opinion piece published in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs became even more significant with the announcement of President Biden’s nomination of former career diplomat William J. Burns to head the CIA
The Transformation of Diplomacy How to Save the State Department
By William J. Burns and Linda Thomas-Greenfield
The wreckage at the State Department runs deep. Career diplomats have been systematically sidelined and excluded from senior Washington jobs on an unprecedented scale. The picture overseas is just as grim, with the record quantity of political appointees serving as ambassadors matched by their often dismal quality.
(Foreign Affairs November/December 2020) What is needed now is a great renewal of diplomatic capacity, an effort that balances ambition with the limits of the possible at a moment of growing difficulties at home and abroad. The aim should be not to restore the power and purpose of U.S. diplomacy as it once was but to reinvent it for a new era. Accomplishing that transformation demands a focused, disciplined reform effort—one that is rooted in the people who animate U.S. diplomacy.
The contours of a new agenda for diplomatic reform have to flow from a sensible reinvention of the United States’ role in the world. The restoration of American hegemony is not in the cards, given China’s rise and the diffusion of global power. Retrenchment is similarly illusory, since the United States cannot insulate itself from outside challenges that matter enormously to its domestic health and security.
Instead, U.S. diplomacy has to accept the country’s diminished, but still pivotal, role in global affairs. It has to apply greater restraint and discipline; it must develop a greater awareness of the United States’ position and more humility about the wilting power of the American example. It has to reflect the overriding priority of accelerating domestic renewal and strengthening the American middle class, at a time of heightened focus on racial injustice and economic inequality. And it has to take aim at other crucial priorities. One is to mobilize coalitions to deal with transnational challenges and ensure greater resilience in American society to the inevitable shocks of climate change, cyberthreats, and pandemics. Another is to organize wisely for geopolitical competition with China.
… A diplomatic surge will have to incorporate ideas that in the past have seemed heretical to the department and its career staff but that today are inescapable. These include bringing back select personnel with critical expertise who were forced out over the past four years; creating midcareer pathways into the Foreign Service, including lateral entry from the civil service; and offering opportunities for Americans with unique skills (in new technologies or global health, for example) to serve their country through fixed-term appointments. Another useful initiative would be to create a “diplomatic reserve corps” made up of former Foreign Service and civil service midlevel officers and spouses with professional experience who could take on shorter or fixed-term assignments abroad and in Washington. Still another idea would be to create an ROTC-like program for college students, an initiative that would broaden understanding of the diplomatic profession across society and provide financial support to those preparing for diplomatic careers.
… Another major priority is the need to treat the lack of diversity in the diplomatic corps as a national security crisis. It not only undermines the power of the United States’ example; it also suffocates the potential of the country’s diplomacy. Study after study has shown that more diverse organizations are more effective and innovative organizations. At the very moment when American diplomacy could benefit most from fresh perspectives and a closer connection to the American people, the diplomatic corps is becoming increasingly homogeneous and detached, undercutting the promotion of American interests and values.
… The State Department ought to invest much more in mentorship, coaching, and diversity and inclusion training. It has to make its career track more responsive to the expectations of today’s workforce for a work-life balance rather than perpetuate the imbalance that has prevented too many talented Americans—disproportionally those from underrepresented groups—from serving their country.
… Any effort to reform the State Department should start from within. It should focus in the first year of a new administration or a new term on what can be accomplished under existing authorities and without significant new appropriations. That is the moment of greatest opportunity to set a new direction—and the moment of greatest vulnerability to the habitual traps of bureaucratic inertia, overly elaborate and time-consuming restructuring plans, partisan bickering, and distracting forays into the capillaries of reform rather than its arteries.

8 January
Pompeo met with Biden’s secretary of state pick for first time
Blinken and Pompeo were originally slated to meet in mid-December, but the meeting was canceled after Pompeo went into quarantine after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus.
“After four years, I think we’re leaving the world safer than when we came in,” [Pompeo] said.
“I hope that the policies that we put in place will have the capacity to continue and whoever the next secretary of state is will begin to follow down this path in a way that recognizes the threat from the Chinese Communist Party, that honors the work that we have done to push back against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the two states with the capacity to inflict real harm on the United States of America,” he added.
Biden’s team at the State Department is expected to seek a return to a more traditional foreign policy approach after four years of unpredictable, unorthodox and oftentimes isolating foreign policy moves.
Biden has promised to immediately rejoin the Paris climate accord and return the US to the World Health Organization. He is also expected to seek a return to the Iran nuclear deal.

2020

9 December
Biden faces a changed world and no end of foreign policy challenges from China to Iran
(WaPo) President-elect Joe Biden has received no shortage of advice on how to fill the yawning gap between his “America’s back!” mantra and the challenges facing a world that has undergone major changes since he last served in the White House.
Biden should concern himself less with human rights in China than with finding issues open to American-Chinese cooperation, foreign policy doyen Henry Kissinger counseled. Let Russia win in Syria, advised Aaron Stein, Middle East director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
Progressive groups have called on Biden to cancel major weapons programs and get rid of the Trump-era Space Force. Brazil’s environment minister suggested that if Biden wants to save the Amazon, he should pay for it by buying Brazilian carbon credits. NATO’s secretary general has warned against leaving Afghanistan without an allied agreement.
Biden has set out some big principles — pay close attention to the interplay between domestic and international priorities, consult with allies and participate in international institutions, elevate climate to the top of the agenda — along with plans for first-day reversals of some of President Trump’s more egregious departures from historical norms on issues such as immigration.
But on a host of matters in between, Biden faces competing priorities, congressional hurdles and wary, if welcoming, allies. In some cases, such as with North Korea and Venezuela, the most daunting obstacle to foreign policy success is the one that has bedeviled several presidents before him. There are no good options.

23 November
9 things to know about Antony Blinken, the next US secretary of state
1. Europeanist, multilateralist, internationalist
Tony Blinken’s ties to Europe are lifelong, deep and personal — and he is a fierce believer in the transatlantic alliance.
2. Francophone and -phile
Much to the delight of French policymakers, journalists and all other ardent torchbearers of “francophonie,” Blinken is no “Omelette du Fromage Man” but the Real Cassoulet. He has given multiple interviews in comfortable, eloquent French. Blinken attended École Jeannine Manuel, a bilingual school in Paris — the same one attended by another Obama administration alumnus, Robert Malley
… 7. Interventionist
In his roles in the NSC under Obama and as deputy secretary of state, Blinken advocated for more robust U.S. involvement in the Syria conflict, and notably broke with his boss, Biden, to support the armed intervention in Libya. He was also a close aide to Biden when the then-senator supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. He continues to believe that diplomacy needs to be “supplemented by deterrence” and “force can be a necessary adjunct to effective diplomacy. In Syria, we rightly sought to avoid another Iraq by not doing too much, but we made the opposite error of doing too little.”

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