– The withdrawal from Afghanistan exposed problems in Joe Biden’s foreign policy and showed how the national security team is inadequate.
– The Summit for Democracy, which divided the world into two philosophical camps of “democracy vs. authoritarianism,” had harmful effects.
– Not everything can be solved through compliance with the United States. Japan must speak up for its own national interests.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki is always able to readily answer even difficult questions. However, at the Dec. 14 press conference, there was a question that she could not answer: “What does the administration consider its biggest achievement in foreign policy in this first year?”
Psaki deflected the question by responding, “This is a great question. I want to be thoughtful about it. I want to talk to the president about it, and I’m happy to do that.”
At his inaugural address this past January, President Biden proudly proclaimed that “America is back.”* Since then, however, foreign policy in his administration has drifted off course.
First, there was the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Although the evacuation of U.S. troops after 20 years of attacks caused concern among European nations, the withdrawal was forcibly carried out and Ashraf Ghani’s administration quickly collapsed. As part of AUKUS (a trilateral security pact between the U.S., the U.K. and Australia), the U.S. will make nuclear submarine technology available to Australia. After reaching this agreement, Australia canceled a submarine deal with France. France is furious and Southeast Asian countries worry that this will “accelerate an arms race.”
The Biden administration was expected to depart from the Trump administration’s policy of prioritizing U.S. self-interest, and instead return to cooperating with friends and allies. How did we arrive at the present situation?
Among U.S. government officials, it is whispered that the national security team supporting the president is not up to the task. Unlike the previous administration, the Biden administration does have security specialists. The Biden administration was said to have “the best and brightest,” led by Jake Sullivan, who was appointed as national security advisor at the age of 44. However, Brett Bruen, who worked with Sullivan as a senior member of the White House during the Obama administration, said that Sullivan knows the theory but lacks practical experience. Of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Bruen points out that he is a yes man due to his time as an aide. “In a case like this, you absolutely have to find a way to manage up and explain the real risks to pursuing the preferred presidential path. Instead of just going along, the national security advisor needs to lay out safer options that could accomplish the same stated goals,”** he said.
Biden himself has been involved in foreign policy for many years, both as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as vice president of the United States. However, it does not seem like this experience is being put to good use.
Judging by his words and actions related to foreign policy, Biden is committed to the ideals of democracy and human rights. The Summit for Democracy was held as a result of this commitment. The summit provided an opportunity for publicity for authoritarian leaders such as President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. It is said that a diplomat from an invited country expressed doubts that there will be a second summit next year. The strategy behind the summit was to create a loose alliance in order to contain the influence of China and Russia. But because the idea of democracy was the justification for the summit, the majority of Middle Eastern nations were excluded, which had the effect of nudging them closer to China and Russia.
Unlike the Trump administration, which engaged in transactional diplomacy with authoritarian nations, the binary democracy vs. tyranny approach of the Biden administration runs the risk of dividing the world into two factions. After all, the only aim is to change the political systems of other countries. China is a major part of the world economy. Unlike the Soviet Union of the Cold War era, it is difficult to imagine the dominance of Communist Party-controlled China suddenly collapsing.
In the chaos of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, an image of Biden as a weak president has taken root and his approval rating continues to fall. According to the most recent polls, Biden’s approval rating has dropped to 38%. Compared to Japan’s Cabinet approval rating, the U.S. president’s approval is high. Biden’s low approval rating is similar to that of President Donald Trump, which remained around 40%. These low approval ratings are unusual for U.S. presidents.
Biden is 79 years old. The opinion that “it would be a joke to seek a second term”*** (from a Clinton-era government official) is widespread. The approval rating for Vice President Kamala Harris, who was expected to succeed Biden, is a dismal 28%. The unpopularity of the Biden administration adds to the sense of uncertainty regarding its continuation and creates a vicious cycle that makes allies apprehensive. A veteran U.S. diplomat said, “If the policies set by the administration continue in this way, its credibility is in tatters.”*** He says there is talk that likens Biden’s administration to that of the Carter administration, which promoted human rights issues but ended after the first term.
Ostensibly, the Biden administration is setting a course for international cooperation. Compared to the Trump administration, Biden’s should be easier for allies to work with. Bruen said, “Biden has the ability to be a leader for other countries and to build friendly relationships,”*** and expressed hope that changes to the current national security team could alter trends in foreign policy.
As the conflict between the U.S. and China intensifies, the Biden administration has positioned Japan as its most strategic ally. For Japan, there is no argument that the U.S. is the most important ally when it comes to our national security. However, the unipolar system in which the United States has exerted excessive international leadership is ending. We are no longer in a time in which all problems can be solved by following America’s lead. The U.S. is recognizing that it cannot maintain hegemony if it wants support from allies. It can be said that the position of those allies is becoming stronger.
Regarding the tense situation in Taiwan, U.S. military officials hypothesize that rather than Taiwan, the Japanese archipelago, which houses several U.S. military bases, will be the target of attack by China. For obvious reasons, this is directly related to Japan’s national interest. While Japan is closely cooperating with the U.S. about strategy regarding China, we should also calmly analyze the situation in the United States and speak up if we judge that the policies of the administration differ from Japan’s national interest.
*Editor’s note: This comment could not be independently verified as being part of Biden’s inaugural address.
**Editor’s note: This reference to and comments about Antony Blinken could not be independently verified.
***Editor’s note: This quote, accurately translated, could not be independently verified.