The White House promised “no deliverables” on President Joe Biden’s first visit overseas, but his return has critics searching for meaning in his foreign policy agenda.
“It’s not clear to me what the argument is,” said Kiron Skinner, policy planning director at the State Department during the Trump administration, of Biden’s sweep from the G-7 meeting to the NATO ministerial and the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We’re reengaging multilateral forums that the Trump administration pulled out of, but it’s not giving us the argument behind all of these decisions,” Skinner said.
She added: “If we’re meeting for the purpose of meeting to say that the United States is back, I think that’s a complete waste of time. If we’re meeting to establish that American power is going to help make the world a better place, that we’re going to make some hard choices that defend American national interests above all, then I think there is a reason to meet.”
“I’m left wondering, after the president’s first trip abroad, what, in fact, his foreign policy will be,” Skinner said. “What is the Biden foreign policy? Is it, ‘Get along for the purpose of getting along?’ Where are American interests?”
The president has said he wants a “foreign policy for the middle class,” centering domestic concerns in America’s prerogatives overseas. It was a campaign slogan, routed to the State Department upon Biden taking office.
“I heard no such discussions during this European trip,” Skinner said.
On Monday, Biden swiped at what he called Donald Trump’s “phony populism,” using the platform of his first NATO summit to criticize the former president, breaching the notion that politics at home should be held at the “water’s edge.”
“I think this is passing,” Biden told reporters when asked about foreign leaders’ responses to the breach of the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters this year. “I don’t mean easily passing. That’s why it’s so important that I succeed in my agenda.”
The idea that partisanship should remain inside U.S. borders is not new, but it has been rocked in recent years.
“It’s a little unusual, but I think he needed to establish a degree of candor,” said John McLaughlin, a former acting director of the CIA and a distinguished practitioner in residence at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. “Biden, and to some degree, his generation of politicians, is nothing if not pragmatic. I think he was merely trying to say, and I’ll talk the way he does, ‘Come on, folks. We all know that America has been through a rough time.’”
McLaughlin added: “[Biden] is who he is. And he has a tendency to be open and transparent about his thinking.”
The remarks drew criticism back in Washington.
“The liberals believe that we’re the problem, not Russia,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said in an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity. “That if we were just more reasonable, if we work with them and we gave them the ability to build the [Nord Stream 2] pipeline, if we got back in the New START Treaty … everything would be just fine.”
Skinner said the partisanship could tarnish America’s image overseas.
“It lessens the seriousness with which our allies or our partners, and our adversaries, take us,” Skinner said.
More broadly, she said of the Biden team, “It doesn’t seem to me that they have a clear strategic doctrine for their hierarchy of concerns.”
Skinner added: “I endorse the idea of global meetings, but I am sometimes beginning to feel that this administration is meeting for the purpose of meeting.”
Former and current administration officials defended Biden’s agenda and his remarks.
“As somebody who believes in the norms of American foreign policy, I welcome the Republican Party to the defense. I’m just wondering where they’ve been,” said John Gans, author of White House Warriors: How the National Security Council Transformed the American Way of War and the chief speechwriter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter during the Obama administration.
Gans said: “Was everything achieved and could have been? There’s no way that’s ever true of a meeting. No president achieved every single thing.”
U.S. allies also defended Biden. “I think it’s great to have a U.S. president part of the club and very willing to cooperate,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.
Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan, citing Macron, said on Thursday that the president “returns from this trip as the clear and the consensus leader of the free world.”
“I really do not believe that it is hyperbole to say that,” he said.
Skinner pointed to differences among the partners meeting this week on broaching national security concerns for the U.S. and Europe.
“When you look just beneath the surface, there are a lot of political fissures and tensions among this group of nations,” Skinner said, notably on China.
While a G-7 communique cited forced labor in Xinjiang, pointing to solar panels and local agricultural products, it did not call out China by name.
A senior administration official said the leaders discussed “some of the ideas and efforts around both the cooperative elements, the competitive elements, the adversarial elements of the relationship with China, and [how to] turn those into something more than just words.”
Biden made “some forceful comments about kind of putting values and actions [and] call some of those things out publicly,” the official said. “That was some of the space where there were some interesting discussions and a little bit of a differentiation of opinion on not whether, kind of, the threat is there, but on how strong, from an action perspective, I think different G-7 members are willing to take things.”
“On rhetoric, they don’t like the American approach. But in terms of substance on policy, we’re on different sides of the pond,” Skinner said of Washington’s European allies. “Insofar as there’s an agreement, it seems to me that the Biden administration is basically turning over the keys of American power to allies.”
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Original Author: Katherine Doyle
Original Location: Biden returns from his first overseas trip