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Biden's Foreign Policies

Mehdi Noorbakhsh

Professor of International Affairs and Business, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology

Translated by: Zahra Akbari

There is currently a plethora of debates in Iran about the foreign policy of the new US administration under Biden's presidency. In this short article, the argument is directed at Biden's principles of foreign policies and their similarities and differences with the three previous presidents, Trump, Bush, and Obama.

However, there is a mistake in analyzing Biden's foreign policy toward Iran and applying its principles to the doctrine and strategy he has adopted in his foreign policies in other parts of the world.  Some in our country believe and argue that he is following Trump's foreign policy toward Iran and has embraced some principles of realism. Although one can see overlaps between Realism and Liberalism in Biden's foreign policy, that has been the case in the past in the foreign policies of Democratic presidents in the United States. More than anything else, Biden's foreign policy toward our country emanates from the leadership's characteristics, behavior, and thought processes and the way his administration perceives and understands them. Then the United States' foreign policy under this administration toward Iran is mainly based on the framework of Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA), considering how leadership beliefs, personalities, and perception of the world have shaped toward Iran.  

During the election, the Biden administration talked about the past achievements of the previous administrations, especially the Obama administration, and when he was elected, he announced that "America is Back." He has said that in the future of US foreign policy, diplomacy will take precedence over US military power and will be used as a vital and effective tool in US foreign policy. In contrast to the Trump administration, Biden's foreign policy team is made up only of experienced diplomats from different times and from the Clinton era, among whom there is no Iran/Islamophobic. Robert Mali is a Jew, his views, especially on Palestine and the Palestinian people, are no stranger to scholars. When the Biden government selected him to be in charge of the US foreign policy desk to negotiate with Iran, the Zionist right-wing started the most extensive negative propaganda campaigns against him.

But the Biden administration and its foreign policy team have been successful in some areas and unsuccessful in others during the last few months. Immediately after taking office, the Biden government joined the Paris Climate Agreement, the World Health Organization. It made an international agreement to prevent illegal transfers of funds to hide capital in other countries for tax evasion. In July, Biden re-established US relations with NATO member states in Brussels and provided millions of free doses of the vaccine to fight COVID 19 internationally. The Biden administration has also stated that it is ready to return to JCPOA, but the United States has raised two crucial questions in this area. The first question is which JCPOA, 2015 or 2021 when Iran has currently enriched uranium and added new centrifuges. And the second question is related to JCPOA as the first step for subsequent negotiations between Europe, the United States, and Iran. Biden has also spent more time and energy on the pivot to Asia, a new foreign policy toward China, than in previous US administrations. Compared to nine months after the Bush administration came to power, the Biden administration at the same time had more and fundamental influences on US foreign policy, and to the nine months after Trump came to office when US foreign policy faced significant problems, he has been successful in parts of shaping a new foreign policy for the United States.

But there may be two problems with Biden's foreign policy: re-entering JCPOA and how to withdraw from Afghanistan. Biden has committed himself to the United States entering JCPOA when elected, but that has not yet taken place. However, one must acknowledge that if Iran had not fringed upon its commitment to JCPOA and if negotiations had taken place directly between Iran and the United States and other involved countries, it would have perhaps yielded different results. The Biden administration has agreed to negotiate over the JCPOA and Iran's nuclear program; but, this time considers these talks as the first step or part of the subsequent talks on other issues generating frictions between the two countries. One of the reasons the US government wants to continue negotiating with Iran beyond its nuclear program is the importance of regional stability as a goal in Washington's foreign policy. The US knows well that any security arrangement to create peace and stability in the region cannot be complete without the active participation of Iran.   

Establishing stability and a secure environment within the neighborhood of the Persian Gulf is not possible without solving the problems between the West with Iran. This time, unlike in Trump's time, European countries and the Biden administration are unanimous in their approach toward Iran in encouraging Tehran to come to the negotiating table for issues that concern the West and countries in our neighborhood.  Therefore, the Biden administration is pursuing an instrument of pressure on Iran to achieve such negotiation; but this pressure is very different from the maximum pressure of the Trump administration. The Trump administration was looking for another JCPOA, and in that JCPOA, it never sought to recognize Iran's right to enrichment. Under Biden's political pressure, the United States has stopped imposing the continuation of the past sanctions and has not sought further or new sanctions on Iran except in a few cases, such as sanctions on drone technology.

The second major problem in the Biden administration's foreign policy has been the way Washington withdrew from Afghanistan. Although talks between the United States and the Taliban over America's withdrawal from Afghanistan were shaped during the Trump administration and decisions about the Washington departure from that country were made during the previous administration, the Biden administration cannot evade criticism for how it withdrew from that country. The problem with repeated US administrations since Bush's military intervention in Afghanistan has been the neglect and turning a blind eye to widespread corruption in various Afghan governments in this country, justifying that they did not seek state-building. Five years after the Bush administration's military intervention in Afghanistan, Obama was elected President of the United States. The Obama administration faced an Afghanistan in which corruption was rampant and institutionalized, and between political stability and the formation of corrupt governments that could ostensibly either create or guarantee such stability, Obama's and subsequent administrations in the United States chose the latter. The Karzai administration and he, as a Pashtun, have been in close contact with the Pashtun Taliban during his presidency and at various times. In the last election under Karzai, the Taliban threatened the people of this country not to go to the polls, and the Karzai government filled the empty ballot boxes returned from those areas under the control of the Taliban in Kabul with ballots favoring him. The United Nations has published a report in which indicated that all these ballots were cast in a ballot box filled with one color pen and in favor of Karzai. Government agents and liaisons in Afghanistan have pursued major foreign-funded economic projects surrounded by corruption. The Trump administration went into talks with the Taliban in Doha with Zalmai Khalilzad as its representative. In these negotiations, the Trump administration made concessions to a terrorist group, the Taliban, which was not usual. Trump wanted to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan at any cost because leaving the country was part of his campaign platform. Basically, leaving Afghanistan and discussions about withdrawal from this country started from the time of Obama, and since most Americans wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan, Biden was looking to leave this country.

In contrast to the majority opinion in the Republican Party, which in the foreign policy relied in the past more on military force in the international arena and did not want the United States to leave Afghanistan soon, Trump had included leaving Afghanistan in his election platform. But Biden's mistake was to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan before ensuring that the Taliban would work with other Afghan political leaders to establish an inclusive government. In this regard, the Biden government made a second mistake about Ashraf Ghani, whom it trusted that he had assured the US government that he would stay in Afghanistan and not flee the country. Ashraf Ghani's escape from Kabul shattered all the equations of transition to a new order in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, this US withdrawal from Afghanistan imposed the highest cost on the Afghan people.

The Biden administration's third challenge right now is how to create a new foreign policy centered on China but stay on course in keeping America's influence in other parts of the world. The Pivot to Asia plan has been debated since the time of Obama and to compete with China in the United States' foreign policies. US signed an agreement with Australia under the AUKUS to establish a security plan between the United States and the United Kingdom and was announced on September 15 of this year. Under the agreement, the United States and Britain will provide Australia with sufficient assistance and information to build a nuclear-capable submarine for Australia. The plan was initially designed to provide security in Indian waters and part of the Indo-Pacific Ocean. The AUKUS project is based on the efforts and cooperation of the three countries in cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, and quantum technology. The treaty will help Australia develop ballistic and long-range missiles and will benefit from the information provided by the Five Eyes plan, which connects the three countries' Intelligence Agencies to New Zealand and Canada. France opposed the treaty because it was challenging its agreement and contract with Australia to build a submarine. The governments of China and France opposed the treaty for two different reasons. First, China believes the treaty will contribute to military competition in Asia and between the two major powers. Second, the French government objected to this treaty because the agreement was not made in consultation with that country and challenged France's agreement to build a joint submarine with Australia. Following the agreement, the Australian government terminated its $ 37 billion contracts with a French company. Biden is currently in talks with Macron to resolve the dispute between the two countries, and Washington has acknowledged that France should have been included in the treaty.

But why is Indo-Pacific security is essential to the West and the United States? It is vital that this geographic area be defined and understood. This is the region that connects the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Sea areas together. It stretches from the east coast of Africa to the west coasts of the Americas. This water connection has become especially important during the rapid development of globalization, especially in the economic sphere. Due to the existence of crucial countries around the waters of these two oceans and the importance of political and economic conditions of this region, the West tried to expand its influence in this area. In this zone, China has increased its power, and the United States, under Biden's administration, is seeking to forge strategic alliances or new relationships with various countries along the waters of these two oceans. In these waters, China seeks both economic treaties and cooperation, and access to energy resources. In the South China Sea, Beijing aims to expand its sphere of influence, which would pose a security threat to various countries in that region. China is again trying to strengthen its geopolitical position through the Belts and Road Initiative.

The current world has gone from being bipolar to multipolar. A multipolar world is much more complex than a unipolar or bipolar world. In a multipolar world, managing international relations is not an easy task, and in this world, the level of regular and strategic interactions or alliances must be increased drastically. In a multipolar world, efforts to balance the interests of the Great Powers increase, and it becomes more difficult to predict the behavior of the powers involved. If powers interacting with each other do not agree on all issues, they do not cooperate to achieve their shared interests. In that case, the establishment of any order becomes difficult or impossible. Ultimately, lack of crucial agreements among them does not lead toward cooperation, and possible frictions jeopardize the foundation of peace, friendly competition, and future cooperation. Germany, for example, has been a strategic ally of the United States in the past and present. However, Merkel and Biden are still at loggerheads at the moment on Russia, especially in energy. Germany does not fully agree with the United States on US foreign policy toward China and Russia. Germany strongly supports the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Europe, while the Biden government has vehemently opposed the pipeline. In terms of exports to China, especially in the field of technology, the US does not agree with Germany. In this regard, we see differences between the United States with Turkey and India. They both want to be close to the United States but at the same time want to have independence in their foreign policy, and, for example, they both want to buy arms from Russia. Today, the globalized world has allowed even friendly and very close countries to look for competitive products for quality and price in global markets.

The end of the Cold War marked the end of military rivalry between the great powers and the beginning of the new economic competition. The Eastern bloc did not have a competitive economy at the end of the Cold War, but the Western countries opened a new door to a competitive global economy by rebuilding Europe and Japan's political and economic order.  After the end of this war, the western countries created the United Nations; until now, more than 200 international inter-governmental organizations and more than 30,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been formed internationally for extensive cooperation between global citizens to solve various human problems. Therefore, the Western world, especially the United States, a leading and dominant force in the Western world, is well aware that it must pave the way for cooperation with the great powers in a multipolar world. For example, in climate change or global health, the Western bloc is mindful that it must work and cooperate with China and other countries to overcome the existing problems in these two areas and more.

Common concerns about security and solutions for shared problems brought European countries together in the 19th century after the French Revolution. The great powers of the continent created the Concert of Europe. At the end of 1815, when the French Revolution wars, especially Napoleon, ended, these countries enjoyed a period of peace. The European Concert was divided into two periods, the first after the Congress of Vienna between 1814-15, in which five European powers, including Austria, France, Britain, and Russia, cooperated in preventing civil wars in Europe.  Conservative countries such as Russia and Austria have joined a smaller coalition called the Holy Alliance to thwart nationalist and liberal movements seeking revolution in their own countries.

The European Concert in 1848 faced revolutionary actions in Europe. These revolutionary nationalist movements eventually paved the way for the unification of several regions of Europe, such as Italy and Germany, which in 1871 resulted in creating a new map for Europe. The nationalist revolutionary movements of the post-1848 years, also known as the Springtime of  Nations, contributed to another era of peace in Europe between 1870-1914. These revolutionary and nationalist movements also helped unite parts of Europe that were generally democratic and liberal to bring about significant changes in European politics.

Unlike his predecessors in foreign policy, such as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama, Biden has at least so far shown that he has intended to pursue much larger goals in American foreign policy. Biden considered the continuation of military intervention in Afghanistan was futile. He has decided not to solve the problems existing in the Middle East as long as relative regional stability and shipping freedom is secured. He intended to prevent the production of weapons of mass destruction or terrorism of jihadist groups in the region. He wants to rely more than ever on the Indo-China Oceans, strengthen NATO's military alliance, solve environmental problems, and ultimately unite democratic governments around the world against authoritarian regimes. His antagonism toward Putin in Russia is mostly generated from the Russian leader's style of authoritarianism in government. He also wishes to adopt policies in US domestic politics that make the US economy more closely linked to the world economy. Defending human rights in the world forms another part of Biden's foreign policy. It is necessary to mention that the Democratic Party within the United States has turned to the left, and this party is susceptible to these issues at the global level. "Human rights are at the heart of this administration's foreign policy," said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

It is not yet clear how the Biden government wants to manage its foreign policy. What is clear is that he does not hesitate to push for major changes in US foreign policy. Some of Biden's foreign policy goals are difficult to achieve, and some stay in contrast with his goals in other areas. Many friends of Washington criticized  Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan, and in principle, the way America exited from this country jeopardized the protection of the human rights of Afghan citizens. In AUKUS, US plan with Australia, Britain, and Canada, and New Zealand; although it helps the country create leverage against China in the Asia-Pacific and strengthens its friends, several Washington allies like France criticized Biden, and perhaps even this policy will not help non-proliferation. Adopting human rights in current US foreign policy may contribute to Biden's popularity in the United States and in democratic countries worldwide. Still, if this policy is pursued seriously, it will antagonize China against the United States. Therefore, Biden's foreign policy faces challenges that his government must contemplate in the future.

Aside from changes in US foreign policy and the challenges facing the United States, Biden has campaigned to lead the country in domestic and foreign policy to its place in the pre-Trump era. He was elected the President of the United States from inside the political establishment in America and served in the US Senate for 36 years between 1973 and 2009. He served as Vice President of the United States for eight years, between 2009 and 2017. He is popular in the United States and worldwide as a longtime politician and mainly as an honest broker. When the US election was over, Biden announced that America was back. He defined the United States in the "glory" of his past, which meant he has intended to shape American politics to find its superior position politically and militarily in the world. Still, instead of war and military intervention, he has announced he would choose diplomacy in international relations. By ending the US military presence in Afghanistan, Biden negated Liberal Internationalism. One of the beliefs of liberal international ideology is that the creation of governments in the image of the United States with the democratic institution or the political culture of this country is essentially in the national interest of the United States. Although in International Relations, the theory of "Democratic Peace" means that democratic governments avoid war and tension, Biden emphasizes human rights instead of spreading democracy by the US in different parts of the world. As for Afghanistan, although many in the United States have criticized the way America left that country, it has been argued continually since the Obama administration that if the United States one day could eliminate inclinations toward terrorism in Afghanistan, it must leave that country. Although no one can pledge that the Taliban will not engage in terrorism outside the borders of Afghanistan in the future, especially considering the group that has reached ruling a  government through resorting to violence, Biden has said, "Only the people of Afghanistan can decide their future." To what extent this argument resonates with how the United States withdrew from Afghanistan is another matter deserving discussion and debate. After the last American soldier left Afghanistan, Biden said, "the end of US military intervention to rebuild another country."

Looking at Biden's political life, he took political stands that could have influenced or shaped his domestic and foreign policy doctrine. First, he opposed the policy of US regime change in another country, and second, he never supported US military intervention to impose his values ​​in another country. 

Twice during his political career, once in the Senate and another as Vice President, he was challenged by US military intervention in Iraq under Bush and by the bombing of Libya to oust Gaddafi under Obama. In the first case, Biden claims that when he supported Authorization for Using Force in Iraq against Saddam Hussein in the Senate in 2002, he did not mean sanctioning US military intervention in Iraq. But evidence shows that, if so, Biden never explicitly stated his opposition to US military intervention in Iraq during the Senate vote to deny such authorization to the Bush administration. He is right that permission to use military force does not mean ratification or permission for war. Still, everyone knew, and it was a known fact, that Neocons at the time of the Bush administration would have seen this permission as a license to start a war with Iraq. People like Sanders and Obama, as senators, strongly opposed giving such power to Bush. Biden was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time, and his position on providing such responsibility for the use of military force against Iraq is clear. But what happened after the US military intervention in Iraq indicates that Biden became a harsh critic of Bush for leading the war in Iraq. Biden opposed Bush for not using diplomacy or a diplomatic solution in Iraq. He also strongly opposed Bush's attempt to build a global consensus on military intervention in Iraq. One of his most outspoken objections to Bush was the cost of US military intervention in Iraq. He also believed that the Bush administration had failed miserably in winning the peace in Iraq.

The second Biden challenge started with the US military invasion of Libya. Although Biden considered Gaddafi a corrupt and incompetent leader, he strongly opposed the US military invasion of Libya as vice president of the Obama administration. His opposition was met with resistance from Obama and Hillary Clinton, who served as Secretary of State under the first term of the Obama administration. Of course, the attack was planned by NATO, and the Obama administration played a supporting role in that war, but in the end, it made no difference because the United States was a partner. Obama later disclosed the attack was without prior planning and the thinking for forming an alternative government and acknowledged his share of the mistake.

But perhaps it is worthwhile to go back in time in Biden's political life and see how he has appeared in various political arenas. He entered the US Senate in 1973. He has always been known as a moderate senator in this institution. He opposed the Vietnam War and, in 1975, strongly opposed sending weapons and aid to South Vietnam. He also opposed the escalation of tensions between the United States and the former Soviet Union in the 1980s and called for diplomacy to resolve intergovernmental and global problems. After the collapse of communism and the dominance of the Soviet Union over the Eastern block, he strongly supported NATO's development. Still, this time he wanted this development for purposes other than showing the teeth of the West. He sought NATO to be the guardian of change and emerging democracies. He also strongly defended US military intervention in support of the Muslims of Bosnia and the war against the Serbs and quietly joined European countries for this military intervention. He believed that ethnic and racial cleansing was condemned in the world and that no democratic government in the heart of Europe should accept it.

With tensions rising in Iraq and Afghanistan, and especially the spread of takfiri groups in the two countries, Biden suggested that Iraq might be stabilized and organized based on splitting into three groups: Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. Of course, Biden did not repeat this wrong policy suggestion, and perhaps he realized that this was not a solution to the political condition in Iraq. He strongly opposed the US-led surge in Iraq in 2006, calling it a completely wrong strategy. In the Obama administration he opposed the increase in US troops in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2011. In the same years, he warned the US government in the National Security Council that full US support for the various governments in Afghanistan could not help to bring peace to the country. He sought to form a special military force as counterterrorism in that country. Richard Holbrooke, a prominent American diplomat who was able to build the Dayton Accords in bringing peace to Bosnia in 1995 and who represented the United States at the United Nations from 1999-2001, writes in his memoirs that Biden said at a meeting in the White House, "I am never willing to send my child to Afghanistan in order to create equal rights for women in this country. I am opposed to imposing America's liberal values ​​on anyone or any country by force of arms. This method does not work, and the US military has not gone to Afghanistan for this purpose." He even opposed the 2011 assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan before gathering accurate information and believing in its success.

Many of Biden's supporters claim that he has a long experience in the American political scene and has learned by experience. He has gone from being a moderate politician in the Cold War era to believing in a hegemonic liberal West and, ultimately, a staunch opponent of the nation and state-building in American foreign policy. He has always sought to design security mechanisms in American foreign policy, and at various times has aimed to preserve his country's national interests through diplomatic means. He believes that the expansion of US military bases in more than 80 countries, with more than 750 military bases, was formed during the Cold War and should be changed. Biden has called on US Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley to conduct extensive studies on downsizing and streamlining the military, after which Biden will make the necessary decisions.

Contrary to popular belief in Iran, Biden is not seeking to leave the Middle East. He mentions a concept called the Right Size for the military in this era to advance US foreign and security policy. He has withdrawn US anti-missile facilities from Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Maintaining these facilities requires more American troops. He does not currently support NATO enlargement and only wants countries like Ukraine to join. In opposition to Russian and Chinese influence in the present world, he seeks to prevent what he calls the future wave of autocracy (Autocracy is the Wave of the Future). He believes that this wave is not realistic, but the West has to oppose authoritarianism. The West and the United States' defense of Taiwan is in direction. In this regard, in Biden's foreign policy strategy, competition or confrontation with China is special and more important than Russia. China-based Pivot to Asia is exactly in line with this strategy of the Biden foreign policy. Biden believes that Russia is not such a threat to the United States and that political challenges of this country can be overcome by establishing relations and agreements with that country; still, the challenge with China is of particular importance to the US. In the case of China, Biden believes that the two countries have the potential to solve their problems together and pursue their interests through multilateral cooperation. He believes dialogue and resolution of problems with China is "exactly in the national interest of both nations." In this regard, he has openly rejected the foreign policy of the previous US administration, Trump, and especially considered his trade wars with China completely wrong. He also claimed that in his foreign policy, Trump supported tyrants and authoritarianism in the world. However, his criticism of authoritarian regimes does not mean that he will not seek to expand America's relations with countries such as Thailand and Vietnam and never seeks to reduce ties with illiberal democracies such as India and the Philippines.

Biden's life and presence in the American political scene in the last four decades make the study of changes or formation of possible new directions in American foreign policy possible. His political inclination and positions in different periods of American politics and what has happened over the past several months as President can help us understand his foreign policy doctrine and direction. In the Middle East, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan should not lead a group to believe that Washington has intended to withdraw from the region. With the exception of the four goals pursued by the United States around regional stability, freedom of shipping, the fight against weapons of mass destruction, and the fight against takfiri groups in the region, the Biden administration is designing policies to counter China in regional trade, and Russia in possible military competition.  Russia wants to challenge US military hegemony in the Persian Gulf, but China is most concerned about economic competition with the United States. Therefore, the United States may relies on its counterterrorism forces in the region to fight terrorism. Washington is closely watching over security gaps in the Persian Gulf so that no other country can fill them. The United States faced terrorism in 85 countries last year and still considers the threat of takfiri groups in the region serious. The American operation extended from the Middle East to Africa and Latin America. One of Biden's plans in foreign policy is to entrust and support regional stability to the countries involved in that region. Biden wants European countries to invest in NATO to maintain their security. In North and East Asia, and in the North and South Pacific, countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia are considering larger armies to support their security. The United States seeks to build a more robust air and naval forces by shrinking and making its ground forces smaller and more effective in every region of the world and moving out of parts of the world. The Biden administration's focus on these two forces will help the United States mobilize its air and naval forces as soon as possible to reduce its manpower in one place and move from one place to another to counter threats.

Editorial of Iranian Journal of International Relations

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