Biden’s harsh foreign policy is a geopolitical novelty. His attack on Putin takes aim at China.*
At the beginning of their term, American presidents are always the subject of political speculation by their geopolitical rivals.
Democratic President Joe Biden, 78, who succeeded Donald Trump on Jan. 20, seems determined to show the world that he is not an old man with faltering tendencies, as he was maliciously branded by his predecessor.
China is rising on the American horizon. It is an ascending superpower seen as a contender to assume America’s position in the world, a position the United States has occupied without any great challenge since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.
To demonstrate vitality, Biden chose an old villain, Vladimir Putin. Still, his first foreign policy act was ambiguous.
While he criticized the poisoning of anti-government activist Alexei Navalny, and criticized Russian hackers, Biden accepted Putin’s terms for extending the latest remaining nuclear arms treaty.
Pleasantries for peace stopped there. Biden accused the Russian secret service of trying to kill Navalny and ordered new sanctions. To top it off, last week Biden agreed with an interviewer who had called the Russian president a murderer.
Leaders in the White House have called Russia the “Evil Empire,” as did Ronald Reagan with the former Soviet Union, but the aggressive epithet of “murderer” is new.
Putin is known for reacting incisively to pressure. The takeover of Crimea in 2014 was an example of his modus operandi.
With tension now running high in eastern Ukraine, a region controlled in part by pro-Moscow rebels, these events are a reminder that frozen conflicts do not stay frozen forever.
Putin has no economic muscle to use in confronting the United States, but he manages a close relationship with China and, lest we forget, has on hand a nuclear arsenal equivalent to the arsenal Biden has.
Pressuring the Russian leader for his autocratic excesses is the duty of the West; however, it also seems necessary to adjust the tone.
Beijing, the final target of Biden’s message, took note. The first diplomatic meeting of China and the U.S., hosted by Biden last week, was marked by an unusual public tension.
After Trump’s erratic policies, Biden’s course so far suggests there is more friction ahead.
*Editor’s Note: The original language version of this article is available with a paid subscription.
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