U.S. International relations and foreign policy December 2020-

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

Cheer over Boeing, Airbus deal belies cracks in EU, U.S. trade relationship
(Reuters) – A deal for a five-year ceasefire in a U.S. and EU dispute over aircraft subsidies on Tuesday reflected progress, but the underlying trade relationship remains fragile with many unresolved disagreements, diplomats and trade experts said.
Tensions are also fraught because the Biden administration has moved slowly to review tariffs and other policies introduced by former President Donald Trump. Some European diplomats are frustrated. Many key roles at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office remain unfilled, complicating negotiations.

9-10 June
Biden lays out US vax donations, urges world leaders to join
(AP) — President Joe Biden called on global leaders Thursday to join him in sharing coronavirus vaccines with struggling nations around the world after he promised the U.S. would donate 500 million doses to help speed the pandemic’s end and bolster the strategic position of the world’s wealthiest democracies.
The U.S. commitment is to buy and donate 500 million Pfizer doses for distribution through the global COVAX alliance to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union, bringing the first steady supply of mRNA vaccine to the countries that need it most. A price tag for the 500 million doses was not released, but the U.S. is now set to be COVAX’s largest vaccine donor in addition to its single largest funder with a $4 billion commitment.
Biden Aims to Bolster U.S. Alliances in Europe, but Challenges Loom
(NYT) The good will President Biden brings on his first trip abroad papers over lingering doubts about U.S. reliability and the cost that Europe will be expected to pay.
Mr. Biden’s overarching task is to deliver the diplomatic serenity that eluded such gatherings during four years in which Mr. Trump scorched longstanding relationships with close allies, threatened to pull out of NATO and embraced Mr. Putin and other autocrats, admiring their strength.
But the good will Mr. Biden brings simply by not being Mr. Trump papers over lingering doubts about his durability, American reliability and the cost that Europe will be expected to pay.

7 June
Biden’s trip abroad: A show of force, then a showdown with Putin
(Politico Playbook) On Wednesday, President Joe Biden will depart for the U.K. on his first overseas trip in office. He’ll meet with PM BORIS JOHNSON on Thursday and then attend the three-day G-7 meeting over the weekend in Cornwall. On Sunday he’ll also meet the queen and then leave for Brussels, where he’ll attend the NATO Summit and the U.S.-EU Summit.
After this flurry of meetings meant to shore up the western alliance, on June 16 Biden will be in Geneva for a one-on-one with Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN, which is the most controversial part of the trip. The decision whether to meet with Putin divided top Biden foreign policy advisers and has drawn criticism from Republicans (yes, that’s a little rich). The argument that won out among Biden officials is that paying Putin a modicum of attention doesn’t really give much away and might forestall problems down the line because Putin, in this view, is more likely to act out against U.S. interests when he’s ignored by the American president.

3 June
(Project Syndicate) US President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to Europe will include G7 and NATO summits, as well as meetings with European Union leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Repairing the damage to the transatlantic alliance caused by former President Donald Trump is crucial for Biden, not least to devise an effective response to an increasingly assertive China.
In this Big Picture, Melvyn B. Krauss of New York University argues that the Biden administration’s recent acceptance of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline connecting Germany to Russia reflects its broader strategic goal of anchoring Germany firmly within a united Western front vis-à-vis China. But Charles A. Kupchan of Georgetown University worries that Biden’s framing of geopolitics as an ideological clash between democracy and autocracy could undercut America’s allies and block necessary cooperation with China and Russia on shared global challenges.

16-18 May
U.S. Discourse Is Growing More Pro-Palestinian. U.S. Policy Isn’t.
(New York) The pattern of events is familiar: Some narrow instance of Palestinian dispossession awakens resistance against the broader reality of apartheid. Hamas asserts its centrality to that resistance through terroristic violence. Vile crimes beget reprisals. And then American-made, Israeli-piloted planes start dropping bombs on schools, hospitals, and apartment buildings in Gaza: an area more densely populated than Shanghai, and one that Israel’s blockade has helped to render “uninhabitable” by the standards of the U.N.
But how those events are being covered and interpreted in the U.S. media is less familiar. Apologetics for Israel’s right to defend itself (by dropping bombs on an overcrowded city while entrenching apartheid rule) are present but not pervasive. Palestinian voices appear more prominent on TV news. On social media, expressions of solidarity with Palestine seem predominant. Formerly mainstream liberal pundits are calling on Israel to recognize the Palestinian right of return in the pages of the New York Times.
Under pressure, Biden works for ceasefire in Israel-Gaza violence
(Reuters) President Joe Biden and aides worked behind the scenes on Monday pressing for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas amid what one source said was frustration over Israel’s bombing of a Gaza building that housed some news organizations.
Biden is facing growing pressure from lawmakers in his own Democratic Party to play a more vocal role, but U.S. officials say he and his team have opted for a quieter effort, talking with Israeli officials and U.S. allies in the Arab world.
Biden Supports Israel-Gaza Cease-Fire, as Fighting Rages Into Second Week
Mr. Biden’s language was carefully couched, reflecting continued reticence to criticize Israel despite rising international condemnation.
The U.S. conversation on Israel is changing, no matter Biden’s stance
President Biden is drawing fire from all fronts for his handling of the resurgent Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His administration appeared flat-footed and unprepared as violence flared. Critics pointed to the White House’s inattention as it focuses on foreign policy priorities away from the Middle East. Meanwhile, a burgeoning rift within the Democratic party is emerging, with lawmakers further to the left frustrated at Biden’s unwillingness to be both more openly critical of Israel’s policies and actions and more aware of the United States’ own role in bringing the crisis to this point.
…Biden has issued a number of statements urging deescalation and defending Israel’s right to defend itself, while equivocating over the wrongs of violence on both sides.  Appearing on both Israeli and American television on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled that his country was not ready to halt military operations no matter the mounting international outrage over its perceived excesses.
Joe Biden feels political ground shift as Israel-Gaza conflict rages on
Analysis: US president may find himself increasingly isolated in his resolute defence of Israel
American Jews have grown increasingly sceptical of Netanyahu and his policies. A Pew Research Center survey published last week found that only 40% thought the prime minister was providing good leadership, falling to 32% among younger Jews. Strikingly, only 34% strongly opposed sanctions or other punitive measures against Israel.
Israel-Palestine: US blocks UN statement for third time in a week
Washington, a close ally of Israel, has reportedly blocked UNSC statements that condemned Israel’s military response and called for a ceasefire.
(Al Jazeera) A third United Nations Security Council emergency meeting in a week – amid the deadly Israeli offensive in Gaza – has again ended with no concrete outcome after the United States blocked a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
The meeting on Sunday came after the US reportedly twice blocked over the last week resolutions that would have condemned Israel’s military response and called for a ceasefire.

14 May
Bernie Sanders: The U.S. Must Stop Being an Apologist for the Netanyahu Government
(NYT) In this moment of crisis, the United States should be urging an immediate cease-fire. We should also understand that, while Hamas firing rockets into Israeli communities is absolutely unacceptable, today’s conflict did not begin with those rockets.
With a new president, the United States now has the opportunity to develop a new approach to the world — one based on justice and democracy. Whether it is helping poor countries get the vaccines they need, leading the world to combat climate change or fighting for democracy and human rights around the globe, the United States must lead by promoting cooperation over conflict.
In the Middle East, where we provide nearly $4 billion a year in aid to Israel, we can no longer be apologists for the right-wing Netanyahu government and its undemocratic and racist behavior.

12 May
Analysis: Violence upends Biden’s Israel-Palestinian outlook

8 May
What Joe Biden’s Congress speech revealed about US plans for Asian foreign policy
Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar
• America’s abiding strategic objectives and concerns have been relatively consistent since the end of the Cold War
• While China remains a top priority, expect Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, Taiwan and the South China Sea to also feature prominently
(SCMP) Maritime Asia – now symbolised by the Indo-Pacific and the Quad grouping of the US, Japan, India and Australia – has already received top billing by the Biden team. Nato partners such as Britain
and France are also making their presence felt in the region.
Biden made one observation of considerable strategic import. In relation to how the US could best deal with its competitors, he said: “We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future
The “we” here refers to the US and its allies who share concern about Chinese assertiveness. The maritime domain specific to the South China Sea and Taiwan is a case in point. Ensuring the cyber and space domains are not similarly roiled could be the next challenge in Asian geopolitics.

5 May
Bloomberg Politics morning newsletter
Most of the chatter at this week’s Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting in London has been about China, with a U.S. push for a new cooperation mechanism for dealing with Beijing’s growing influence.
But that doesn’t mean Russia is off the agenda. If anything the discussions around Moscow are picking up steam ahead of a potential summit between President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin somewhere in Europe.
Biden told reporters at the White House yesterday a June meeting is “my hope and expectation,” adding “we’re working on it.”
That’s even as Secretary of State Antony Blinken used his G-7 sideline chats to pressure Berlin again to halt the Nord Stream II gas pipeline project from Russia into Germany — and before he travels on to Ukraine amid tensions over Moscow’s recent buildup of troops on the border.
The U.S., like others, is closely watching the health of imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, while Washington sanctioned Russian entities last month for hacking.
As with China, the Biden administration is operating on a double track: work against Russia on issues of contention, work with it where merited. That includes on Iran, where the two have a shared interest in resurrecting the 2015 nuclear deal.
Blinken is expected at an Arctic Council gathering two weeks from now in Iceland, as is his Russian counterpart. That could enable them to finalize the details to allow Biden and Putin to meet.
A lot could happen in the meantime, though. A summit is still far from guaranteed.

29-30 April
Richard N. Haass: Biden’s First Hundred Days
(Project Syndicate) He embraces multilateralism and has brought the US back into the World Health Organization and the Paris climate agreement. And his administration is working to reboot the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that Trump unilaterally exited.Biden has also restored traditional allies and alliances to a core position in US foreign policy. He has already hosted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in Washington and will make his first overseas trip to Europe in June for the G7 summit. No American troops will be withdrawn from Germany, something Trump had announced he would do. And the Biden administration has made human rights a centerpiece of its foreign policy, regularly criticizing Russia and China, sanctioning Myanmar, and publishing a report that holds Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
There is considerable continuity when it comes to policy toward China as well. One no longer hears calls for regime change, but the one high-level diplomatic contact between US and Chinese officials could hardly have been less diplomatic. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has kept tariffs and export controls in place, continued to send US warships to challenge China’s claims in the South China Sea, repeated the description of Chinese actions in Xinjiang as genocide, sanctioned Chinese officials, and maintained high-level contacts with Taiwan.
As for trade, what is consistent is the lack of initiative. Missing from an otherwise robust policy toward China is any sign that the US is reconsidering its unwillingness to join Asia-Pacific regional trade groupings. Instead, there is a continued commitment to “Buy American” along with talk about foreign policy for the middle class, an otherwise empty slogan that suggests trade will remain a low priority given how controversial it remains with many Americans.

Biden’s ‘stratagem’ is no grand strategy for a superpower
The Biden administration cannot afford to continue doing foreign policy without a clear direction.
Marwan Bishara, Senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.
United States President Joe Biden’s speech in Congress this week underlined the depth and detail of his transformative national agenda. But his hurried muttering about America’s powerful rivals also revealed the vagueness and inconsistency of his foreign policy.

28 April
Senate confirms Samantha Power to be U.S.A.I.D. administrator.
The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Samantha Power, a human-rights activist and President Barack Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development.
By a vote of 68-26, the Senate confirmed Ms. Power to lead an agency that is one of the world’s largest distributors of humanitarian aid. Ms. Power is expected to have a seat on the National Security Council, which she also held during the Obama administration.
Ms. Power arrives at a time when the agency will be focused on combating poverty and disease across the world in places that have been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In nominating Ms. Power, the Biden administration has signaled that U.S. foreign aid will serve as a pillar of soft-power diplomacy.
Biden’s Misstep in India
The president’s foreign-policy and domestic teams have a long-standing difference on pandemic diplomacy.
(The Atlantic) The administration should not wait until the G7 summit to take on an international leadership role. Italy is the chair of the G20. Biden should ask Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to convene an emergency virtual summit of the G20 to address the global COVID-19 crisis. The G20’s strength is that it includes non-Western countries, but its weakness is that it is full of geopolitical rivalries. Biden will find the G7 more amenable to bold action on the pandemic and much else throughout his term, but a G20 summit would be an opportunity to demonstrate solidarity with the developing world in particular.

27 April
Biden losing friends and gaining enemies
Biden’s unforced errors are killing America in the grand geopolitical game of the 21st century
by Brandon J Weichert
(Asia Times) US President Joseph R Biden rose to power promising to restore America’s purportedly ailing alliances. Allies are needed to assist the United States in curbing the rise of China, Russian aggression, and Iranian revanchism. Yet in the last several weeks, the Biden administration has gone out of its way to alienate potential allies across the world.
NB Asia Times typically publishes articles that are well-sourced. However, opinion pieces have a strong anti-American sentiment

23 April
The first 100 days: What does President Biden’s approach to the world look like so far?
John R. Allen and Corey Broschak
(Brookings) In many ways, the early actions of the Biden-Harris White House resemble the forward-leaning, solution-focused optimism of the early Obama administration, but with a far greater emphasis on the connectivity between U.S. foreign affairs and American domestic politics. Indeed, President Biden’s central “Foreign Policy for the Middle Class” argument, which places domestic economic renewal as the top priority of America’s actions abroad.
An emerging “Biden doctrine” can be found in the release of its “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance (iNSS)”—a precursor document to the official National Security Strategy (NSS)—only two months after taking office. No document to date better encapsulates President Biden’s world view and the likely trajectory of U.S. foreign policy. Indeed, the document seeks to foretell the administration’s strategic vision, but two quotes stand out: 1) “In advancing America’s interests globally, we will make smart and disciplined choices regarding our national defense and the responsible use of our military, while elevating diplomacy as our tool of first resort,” and 2) “At a time of multiple, intersecting crises, we must recognize that our strength abroad requires the United States to build back better at home.”

13-14 April
Susan B. Glasser: Biden Finally Got to Say No to the Generals
(The New Yorker) In truth, the Afghan war will go on, just without the United States participating in it. The annual Global Threats Report, issued by the U.S. intelligence community this week, was both grim and clear on this point.
For several hours before Biden’s speech, his newly appointed intelligence leaders testified before Congress about that global-threats assessment.
The world of 2021 is just not the world of 2001. The list of more pressing concerns—recited by Avril Haines, the director of National Intelligence, and elaborated on in the report—began with an aggressive China and extended to Russia, Iran, North Korea, cyberattacks, climate change, global pandemics, financial crises, rising authoritarianism, international terrorist groups, and, in a striking acknowledgement for this annual national-security ritual, domestic violent extremists, such as the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol, on January 6th. No wonder that Mark Warner, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Haines’s testimony “a list of about as many awful things as I have heard in ten minutes as I may have heard in recent times.”
China Poses Biggest Threat to U.S., Intelligence Report Says
(NYT) The annual assessment does not predict a military confrontation with either Russia or China, but it suggests that intelligence operations, cyberattacks and global drives for influence will intensify.
The report does not predict a military confrontation with either Russia or China, but it suggests that so-called gray-zone battles for power, which are meant to fall short of inciting all-out war, will intensify with intelligence operations, cyberattacks and global drives for influence.
The assessment highlights the opportunities and challenges for the Biden administration. Iran, for instance, has not advanced its work on a nuclear weapon, potentially giving President Biden some room to maneuver. But it paints a grim prognosis for a peace deal in Afghanistan, a day before Mr. Biden is set to announce that he will withdraw American forces by September. Critics could use the report to suggest that the president is ignoring intelligence agencies’ predictions as he pushes forward with the drawdown.
While much of the report describes traditional national security challenges, it also gives far more attention to climate change and global health than previous threat assessments have done. That shift reflects a pledge by the Biden administration’s top intelligence officials to focus more on such nontraditional challenges.
U.S. Threat Assessment Report
Read the 2021 threat assessment report from the United States intelligence agencies.

12 April
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. … 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.

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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