The Look-Alike Doctrines of 2 US Presidents

“As a candidate for president, I made clear that we needed a new approach to American foreign policy, one guided not by ideology, but by experience, history and a realistic understanding of the world. … When we commit American troops to battle, we must do so only when a vital national interest is at stake, and when we have a clear objective, a plan for victory and a path out of conflict.”

“First, we must set missions with clear, achievable goals — not ones we’ll never reach. And second, we must stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interest of the United States of America. … It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.”

The consistency in these statements makes them seem like parts of one continuous speech. But they are the words of two different presidents whose styles and policies are in stark contrast. The former is from former President Donald Trump’s announcement of his intention to push ahead with the withdrawal from Syria on Oct. 23, 2019. The latter is from President Joe Biden’s remarks on the end of the Afghanistan war on Aug. 31. It would be safe to assume that each of these statements is the embodiment of Trump and Biden’s diplomatic and military policy doctrine. What’s surprising is the astounding similarity between the two presidents’ doctrines, given that Trump’s foreign policy was often characterized as “America First” and “isolationist,” while Biden has taken the opposite stance represented by his declaration, “America is back.”

Biden argued that he chose the only available option after Trump signed a peace treaty with the Taliban in February 2020, which included a promise to withdraw U.S. troops by May 1. It is true that the Afghanistan withdrawal was a goal shared by Trump and Biden, just as the responsibility for the faults of the U.S. in the Afghanistan war is shared by Democrats and Republicans. Ever since its invasion of Afghanistan amid the shock and anger of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. has continued to pour its national resources into a war without fruition. Neither Democrats nor Republicans were able to devise a clear-cut solution. The Republicans are fiercely criticizing the Biden administration’s errors in judgment during the Afghan withdrawal, many of which coincided with the opinion of the general public. However, U.S. public opinion remained in support of ending the war as well.

Despite being seen as polar opposites, Trump and Biden appear to agree on a common policy regarding overseas military deployment and intervention. This sends the mesage that the U.S. is trying to adapt and respond to a new reality, breaking away from the paradigm brought about by the 9/11 attacks 20 years ago. Although not a smooth transition, it is evident that the U.S. grand strategy is converging in one direction.

Freed from Afghanistan, the U.S. can now redirect its national resources toward responding to emerging threats. Its new opponents will include China and Russia, which it identified as its largest competitors; Iran and North Korea, whose nuclear programs have posed consistent concern; and the ever-evolving problems of cybersecurity threats and terrorism. On the other hand, withdrawing from Afghanistan despite opposition from allies has created confusion and threats on an international scale that have undermined U.S. leadership and credibility. For the U.S., the Afghan withdrawal came with a set of both positive and negative effects. The success or failure of the Biden Doctrine and the international order will largely be dictated by how well the U.S. manages its newly gained capabilities from the end of the Afghan war.

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