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The president’s costly learning curve on foreign policy

Biden’s failures abroad follow the pattern of Clinton and Obama


People desperate to leave Afghanistan gather outside the perimeter of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Aug. 26, 2021. Associated Press/Photo by Wali Sabawoon, file

The president’s costly learning curve on foreign policy
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It has now been a year since President Biden gave the disastrous order to abandon our Afghan allies to the Taliban, causing a chaotic withdrawal of Western military and humanitarian organizations. By now it is clear that Biden’s Afghan policy is not an isolated instance explained by a of lack strategic foresight. Just like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Biden came to office determined to foist a social agenda on the American people, but has been blindsided by global power politics. This hurts America at home and abroad.

Biden’s calamitous missteps on foreign policy remind us of the early Clinton Administration. Clinton had been the young governor of a small, inland U.S. state, and he had little experience with foreign policy. He came to Washington, D.C., following foreign policy giants Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Their accomplishments were historic: they avoided World War III yet won the Cold War. Bush shepherded the UN through its first post-Cold War crisis, liberating Kuwait from Iraq.

In contrast, Bill Clinton first foisted a gay rights’ agenda on the Pentagon—the watered-down “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy—and his attention soon centered on a socialized healthcare scheme and other budget-busting social programs. It is no wonder that the untested Clinton seemed unable to cope with foreign policy challenges in his first two years in office. Those challenges included Saddam Hussein’s massacre of his own citizens, the UN’s corrupt Oil-for-Food program, increased Islamist violence and the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, failing states such as Afghanistan and Somalia, and ethnic cleansing in Darfur (Sudan), Rwanda, and Bosnia. The Republican victory in the 1994 midterm elections forced Clinton to the political center. Over time he grew into the role of commander-in-chief of the world’s greatest superpower.

Obama’s first two years were reminiscent of Bill Clinton. His administration focused on a dramatic expansion of the welfare state, particularly healthcare. When it came to foreign policy, Obama turned on Iranian democracy activists, instead offering an “open hand” to the ayatollahs to get a nuclear deal done. The Obama administration idealistically focused on climate change, to the detriment of U.S. energy security. The Obama administration’s lax border policies began a process of unraveling border security.

Obama’s destabilization of Libya caused a meltdown, as Libyan weapons spread across the Middle East and the Sahel and millions of refugees fled to Europe. Remember the Americans who tragically died at Benghazi? That was the Obama Administration. All of this, and more, started the downward spiraling perception of U.S. weakness by Moscow and Beijing, resulting in Putin’s invasions of Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere during the second Obama term—and Joe Biden, as Obama’s vice president, claimed to be at the center of the action.

Joe Biden came into office with an intention to mix social engineering and defense policy.

President Biden should not have needed a learning curve after decades serving in the U.S. Senate on the Foreign Relations Committee and eight years as vice-president. But, as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates rightly observed, Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Joe Biden came into office with an intention to mix social engineering and defense policy. He signed National Security Memorandum 4 just two weeks after his inauguration, and the document was not focused on any major international threats, such as North Korea or China. Instead, its title signaled his national security agenda: “Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World.”

President Biden’s foreign policy misssteps, gaffes, unwise actions, and ideological tantrums are too lengthy to list, but a few include his refusal to arm Ukraine throughout 2021, lowering restrictions on Communist Cuba and Venezuela, attacking the pro-life, pro-marriage president of Guatemala, and moving the United States from energy independence to an energy crisis—not to mention that our southern border is still in chaos.

The president's disaster in Afghanistan continues. The four-point security deal hammered out between Trump and the Taliban has never been taken seriously. Biden likes to trumpet that Americans aren’t dying in Afghanistan on his watch, but that just is not true. Thirteen Americans were killed in our embarrassing retreat. In the year before that, zero Americans were killed in Afghanistan.

The surrender of Afghanistan to extremism is a strategic failure. Previously, our limited presence helped stem the tide of Islamist violence, protected religious minorities, and was the keystone of a Central Asia security architecture promising generational change for all Afghans, not just a male-dominated Pashtun group.

Joe Biden bears responsibility for all of this. Would a resounding defeat for Democrats in the upcoming midterms, as happened to Clinton and Obama, push him toward the center? Time may tell.


Eric Patterson

Eric Patterson is executive vice president of the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C., and past dean of the School of Government at Regent University. He is the author or editor of 15 books, including Just American Wars, Politics in a Religious World, and Ending Wars Well.


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