High Marks for the Biden Administration’s Foreign Policy
By Cynthia Efird, Member, Foreign Policy & National Security Task Force
A September 29th German Marshall Fund survey of public opinion in 14 countries, showed that a majority in these nations now gives US foreign policy high marks. The approval rating in Poland for the US response to world events was 74%; in Lithuania, Romania, Portugal, Sweden, and Germany, more than 60%. The report for 2022 also showed overall agreement among the countries and the United States on all core issues, including the war in Ukraine, NATO, and the value of US involvement in European security.
US media, on the other hand, has been harder to please. It often rails against the limited successes of the Biden foreign policy, calling for larger gestures, sharper rhetoric, and more action. Considering this drumbeat of criticism in the United States, it is not surprising that the same survey found that only 47% of Americans approve of their own foreign policy, the lowest approval rating of any country surveyed, except for Italy and Turkey.
Biden Administration foreign policy has been characterized by mature restraint accompanied by measured actions, despite provocations by the authoritarian rulers of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran, whose fecklessness made them desperate in the face of the COVID pandemic and their inability to subdue internal democratic pressures. Meanwhile, the United States’ quiet leadership has won widespread praise in trans-Atlantic countries: 64% of those surveyed considered the United States the most influential actor on the world stage, while only 13% thought China was more influential, and only 10% described Russia as the key player.
The United States has acted proportionately to deter bad foreign actors. On October 4, President Biden in his UN General Assembly Speech condemned Russian aggression in Ukraine. He then underlined US determination by joining an EU call with Ukraine to announce an additional $625 million in military assistance, in response to Putin’s vitriolic announcement of its sham annexation of Ukrainian territory.
Turning to China, the President, in his UN speech, diplomatically ruled out a “Cold War,” but strenuously decried Chinese militarization of the seas around Taiwan and the South Pacific. Immediately after that speech, he convened the first-ever US Pacific Island Country Summit in Washington, offering a package of measures to create a new “strategic partnership” to counter China and to fight climate change. The United States responded to Chinese military exercises around Taiwan by leaking word that it planned to increase the stockpile of US armaments supplied to Taiwan.
North Korea has, likewise, been put on notice. Over the 24 hours after North Korea’s most recent missile test, the United States and South Korea engaged in a precision bombing exercise and launched four missiles off the Korean Peninsula. According to the National Security Council statement, the actions demonstrate that the United States and its allies have “the military capabilities at the ready to respond to provocations by the North.”
A similar pattern of forthright speech and carefully calibrated actions is also evident in the recent United States moves to counter Iran. In contrast to the Obama Administration’s hesitance to act in 2009 during a similar period of democratic protests and brutal governmental crackdowns, President Biden this time round spoke out immediately, saying clearly, “The United States stands with Iranian women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their bravery.” As in the instances above, he also took action. To help Iranians access the Internet, we are supplying Starlink and other communications systems to assist the protesters. We are also putting additional sanctions on Iranian oil and governmental officials.
The rapid-fire tweets of the previous administration and even the words of some politicians today, misleadingly suggest that quick successes in today’s complex and dangerous global environment are possible, if only we shout “USA USA USA” loudly enough, push democratic values aside, and join forces with macho strong-man leaders. This magical thinking has not worked and cannot be indulged. Instead, we must return to our true national character. We are the people that built the “arsenal of democracy” to defeat Hitler, who through patience won the Cold War and liberated the people of Eastern Europe. Now we are working on global strategies to combat climate change and decrease global poverty and hunger, the latter exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and Russian aggressive revanchism.
The Biden National Security Strategy calls us “to lean forward, not shrink back—to boldly engage the world to keep Americans safe, prosperous, and free.” We cannot avoid complexity, but we can speak clearly and act decisively, taking realistic steps that lead to a better world.