How is the Biden Doctrine Working after Two Years?Roundup
tags: foreign policy, climate change, Joe Biden, global health
Matthew Duss is a visiting scholar in the American Statecraft Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former foreign policy advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders.
Stephen Wertheim is a senior fellow in the American Statecraft Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a lecturer at Yale Law School and Catholic University. He is the author of Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy.
During his presidential run, Joe Biden was sometimes viewed as a creature of the foreign policy establishment. For progressives, “Biden appears to be a man of the past: an unapologetic champion of American exceptionalism,” Foreign Policy reported in June 2020. But by the time he took office, he had proposed a significant reorientation of how the United States should operate abroad. Beneath the surface of his “America is back” slogan, Biden and his advisers understood important realities—that a diminishing share of global power limited what the United States could accomplish; that decades of corporate-led trade policies have diminished the livelihoods of too many Americans; and that climate change, pandemic preparedness, and anti-corruption are central national security challenges. He was also responsive to a growing constituency in the Democratic Party calling for a less militaristic international posture, and broader dissatisfaction in the country with 20 years of the expensive and destabilizing global war on terrorism.
Rather than vowing to revert to the same old model of U.S. leadership that preceded Donald Trump, the Democrats’ 2020 party platform pledged to “reinvent it for a new era.” Indeed, the Biden team recognized that Trump had exploited a gap between D.C.’s foreign policy apparatus and the lives of most citizens. “We’ve reached a point where foreign policy is domestic policy, and domestic policy is foreign policy,” Jake Sullivan said shortly before becoming national security adviser. “The alliances we rebuild, the institutions we lead, the agreements we sign, all of them should be judged by a basic question: Will this make life better, easier, safer for families across this country?”
Halfway into his first term, Biden has often proved an adept manager of U.S. foreign policy in the face of major challenges. He made a necessary and difficult decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He responded shrewdly to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has moved U.S. policy in the right direction on climate change.
Yet progress under Biden has been incremental rather than fundamental. Unless his administration recovers its initial, reformist insights, Biden will miss his opportunity to put U.S. foreign policy on a more peaceful and strategic footing, and risk handing deepening problems to a potentially dangerous successor.
Following the 2020 primaries, Biden led Democrats in rewriting the party’s platform in an effort to reconcile the ethos of the Obama years with a growing left in the party’s base. That produced a document with bolder ideas than the typical platitudes and minor reworkings trotted out every four years—and the foreign policy section was no exception. Released during the party’s convention that August, the platform document promised to “end our forever wars,” highlighting America’s military involvement in Afghanistan and Yemen as well as its wider counterterrorism footprint.
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