How did US President Joe Biden perform in the foreign policy domain during his first 100 days in office? The president of the CFR explores.
Since taking the reins from Donald Trump on 21 January, the United States’ 46th President, Joe Biden, swiftly set himself apart from his predecessor, reversing some of the former administration’s key foreign policy actions.
This, according to Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), has included re-embracing multilateralism, mending ties with the World Health Organisation, and re-signing the Paris climate agreement.
The Biden administration is also in the process of renegotiating an Iran nuclear deal, after the Obama-era arrangement was scrapped by former president Trump.
“Biden has also restored traditional allies and alliances to a core position in US foreign policy,” Haass writes in a piece published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).
“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“No American troops will be withdrawn from Germany, something Trump had announced he would do.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 centrepiece of its foreign policy, regularly criticising 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.”
But Haass observes that despite these key differences, there is “more foreign-policy continuity” between Biden and his predecessor than one would expect.
Haass references both Trump and Biden’s shared commitment to withdraw troops from the Middle East.
“Take Afghanistan, where the difference between them amounts to just over four months: Trump signed a pact with the Taliban that committed the US to withdraw all its military forces by 1 May; Biden has committed to do so by 11 September,” he notes.
“Just as important, Biden echoed Trump’s insistence that the calendar, not local conditions, would determine the timing of the US military withdrawal.”
The CFR president also points to “considerable continuity” on the China front, with Biden maintaining pressure first exerted by the Trump administration.
“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,” he adds.
“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.”
Haass also addresses Biden’s trade policy, claiming the 46th president has shown a “lack of initiative”.
“Missing from an otherwise robust policy towards China is any sign that the US is reconsidering its unwillingness to join Asia–Pacific regional trade groupings,” he writes.
“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.”
Haass asserts that continuity of the “America first” strategy has also been demonstrated through Biden’s response to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
“This is belatedly changing, with a commitment to share an untapped supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine with others,” he observes.
“But the shift is limited and the delay has provided strategic openings to China and Russia, slowed economic recovery around the world, increased hardship and given new variants of COVID-19 more opportunity to emerge and gain traction.”
According to Haass, while Trump is no longer in office, he still “looms large”.
“His attacks on free trade and immigration, promotion of a narrow ‘America first’ view of the world, and bias towards retrenchment are now and for the foreseeable future part of the political fabric. The country remains polarised; Congress is nearly evenly divided,” he claims.
“This leaves Biden limited room for manoeuvre as he seeks to promote democracy, conduct diplomacy and reinvigorate global institutions.”
Haass concludes: “Like all American presidents, Biden still enjoys considerable power and influence. But, as his first 100 days have shown, the one thing American presidents cannot control is the context in which they operate.”