Foreign Policy & National Security

May 22, 2023: The Wisdom of Biden’s Foreign Policy… and Its Successes

Posted on May 22, 2023 at 12:00 AM

By Cynthia Efird, Member, Foreign Policy & National Security Task Force

Politico in its NatSecDaily of May 8, cited the British Foreign Secretary, John Cleverly, as lauding the Biden Administration for its support for Ukraine and also “for America’s wider role as a wise superpower.” This praise may seem surprising for those of us in the United States who read the constant stream of criticism of US foreign policy in our own media. How can anyone describe our actions in the world as those of a “wise superpower?” I believe that this apparent contradiction is the result of this Administration’s willingness to put actual successes on the ground above political grandstanding. Foreign policy achievements often require quiet behind-the-scenes negotiating, a willingness to forego credit or to give it to allies, and skillful persistence in the face of set-backs. We see this wisdom as we look at US actions in three of the most difficult foreign arenas today: Sudan, China, and Africa.

In Sudan, three convoys of American citizens, family members, and third country nationals reached Port Sudan and were evacuated by special US naval forces. This brings the total number evacuated by May 1 to more than 1,700, not including the previous evacuation of US diplomatic employees. The United States stationed drones above the convoys as protection and sent US consular officials to help the processing in Port Sudan. The United States provided advice and coordination through 25,000 emails and more than 1,000 phone calls. Of course, the evacuation only worked because the efforts were kept quiet. The warring forces on both sides were warned not to intervene. The United States carefully avoided providing any provocation as the operation proceeded.

We have also continued efforts to encourage a durable ceasefire, an end to hostilities, and a transition to stability. We are working with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to start pre-negotiation talks between representatives of the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces?in Jeddah on May 6. We have told them to take into account the interests of the Sudanese nation and the Sudanese people’s suffering and allow the access of humanitarian aid to affected areas. We have brought together a range of countries to support the peace efforts, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the League of Arab States, and partners from the Trilateral Mechanism (UNITAMS, the African Union, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development). Will these peace talks succeed? Probably not immediately. Setbacks will be greeted by critics as proof of ineffectiveness. Are the efforts wise? Of course, they are and will eventually lead to greater stability. The United States is essential to this process.

With regard to China, the Administration has been working on several fronts. First, we have encouraged our allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea, in an important rapprochement. At the end of April, a summit between the two countries took place that helped both countries move toward greater cooperation and friendship, despite the long shadow of Japan’s occupation of Korea. We lauded Prime Minister Kishida and President Yoon for their leadership, downplaying any US role in the positive development. In the lead-up to this summit, however, the South Korean President visited Washington and met with President Biden. During that visit a “Washington Declaration,” issued on April 26, stated that the allies would create a Nuclear Consultative Group and widen the Republic of Korea’s role in nuclear planning. Immediately following these actions, the US Ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, met with the Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang to reassure him that the United States was not saber-rattling. Ambassador Burns called for cabinet-level talks to be reopened between the two countries. Rescheduling the postponed visit of Secretary of State Blinken was also discussed. After the meeting, the State Department’s spokesperson emphasized the importance of open lines of communication. US foreign policy under Biden wisely calibrates the steps necessary to discourage aggression by China and North Korea, as it simultaneously works through diplomatic contacts to prevent misunderstandings. These nuanced policies do not make for dramatic tweets, just for responsible international actions.

In Africa, the Biden Administration is countering Russian attempts to take advantage of the food shortage and economic distress the Russian invasion of Ukraine has occasioned. The Russian paramilitary Wagner Group has been approaching several African leaders offering economic benefits and weapons, with specious promises of security and other support. The Biden Administration, however, has countered by sharing intelligence that the Wagner Group and Russia have, in fact, worked to assassinate the president of Chad and is trying to control key natural resource sites in the Central African Republic and elsewhere. This willingness to share intelligence is one of the new Administration’s approaches that has kept Russia off-balance, not only in Africa but also in Ukraine.

Recently, I lectured at Marquette University and told the students that foreign policy, when conducted responsibly, seldom results in quick victories or good sound bites. The Biden Administration through its actions is demonstrating a mature approach to US relations with allies and adversaries alike. It is wisely achieving successes on the ground, rather than trying to garner headlines.

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