When Joe Biden took office as the 46th President of the United States, those of us who desired a more peaceful foreign policy had reasons for both hope and doubt.
The biggest issue for both was the 20-year US war in Afghanistan, for which Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, had negotiated a long-overdue US surrender.
Would Biden fulfill the US end of the Afghanistan peace agreement by completing the withdrawal of US troops? We hoped, but doubted, as he hemmed, hawed, and violated the agreed deadline despite ample time to meet it.
Credit where credit is due: Biden did finally bring the troops home from Afghanistan. He showed incredible backbone, refusing to extend deadlines and surge new forces into the conflict despite loud calls from the foreign policy establishment to remain knee deep in that Big Muddy forever.
If foreign policy was a game of golf, the Afghanistan withdrawal would sound like the driver making solid contact with the ball for a likely long drive off the tee.
But in foreign policy, as in golf, the initial swing is likely to go bad if the golfer doesn’t “follow through.” Unfortunately, Biden isn’t.
There was room for hope that he’d bring the US back into compliance with United Nations Security Council 2231, the “Iran nuclear deal,” which Trump had violated (he didn’t “withdraw from” it; UN Security Council resolutions are binding on all UN member states).
Instead, Biden gave in to the temptation (or perhaps the pressure) to insist on adding conditions he has no standing to add rather than taking “yes” for an answer (the Iranians were willing to reboot the deal as negotiated and agreed, but not to accept new terms).
Similarly, Biden is continuing Trump’s trade and technology war with China, even upping the tempo and timbre of US saber-rattling over Taiwan.
He’s continuing the Obama- and Trump-era policy of constant brinksmanship with Russia over Crimea and the Donbass region republics that used to be part of Ukraine until they seceded in the wake of a US-sponsored coup in 2014. The intent seems to be to creep NATO right up to Russia’s borders. What could possibly go wrong?
If Biden had followed through on the impulse that ended the war in Afghanistan, we could have had a “peace dividend.” Instead, on December 27, he signed a $768 billion National “Defense” Authorization Act. He ended a war — then ADDED $30 billion to military spending.
In the game of foreign policy golf, the hole is Thomas Jefferson’s “Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.”
Instead of following through for a solid drive onto the green and an easy putt, Biden let his ambitious swing become a slice into the rough.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.