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Are Biden and Trump so different? At least in foreign policy, they are quite alike

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WASHINGTON — A fist shake and a meeting with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Tariffs and export controls for China. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The US Army leaves Afghanistan.

When more than a year and a half of the mandate of the president of the United States, Joe Biden , has elapsed, former officials and analysts affirm that the strategy of his government with the strategic priorities is surprising for its consistency with the policies of the administration of Donald Trump.

The controversial greeting of Joe Biden and Saudi Prince Mohammed ben Salman
The controversial greeting of Joe Biden and Saudi Prince Mohammed ben Salman

While campaigning, Biden promised to break with the decisions made by the previous administration and in some aspects of foreign policy he has done so. He has repaired alliances, especially with Western Europe, that Trump had weakened with his “America First” proclamations and his criticism of other nations. In recent months, Biden’s efforts have positioned Washington as the leader of a coalition that has imposed sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine.

And Biden condemns autocracies, promotes the importance of democracy and has called for global cooperation on issues including climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.But in critical areas, the Biden administration has not made any major changes, showing how difficult it is to chart new foreign policy directions in Washington.

That was on full display this month on Biden’s tour of Israel and Saudi Arabia , intended in part to further tighten ties between those states that Trump officials had promoted under the so-called Abraham Accords.

In Saudi Arabia, Biden met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman , despite his earlier promise to make that nation a “pariah” for human rights violations, notably the murder of a Washington columnist. Post in 2018. US intelligence agencies concluded that the prince ordered the brutal murder.Behind the scenes, the United States continues to provide significant support to the Saudi military in the Yemen war, even though Biden had promised to end that aid because of Saudi airstrikes that have killed civilians.

Trump administration and a National Security Council official under President George W. Bush. “Continuity is the norm, even between presidents as different as Trump and Biden.”

Some former officials and analysts praised the consistency, arguing that despite the deep flaws of the then-commander-in-chief, the Trump administration was correct in diagnosing significant challenges to US interests and trying to deal with those challenges. challenges.

Others are less optimistic. They say Biden’s decisions have compounded problems in US foreign policy and have sometimes deviated from the president’s stated principles. For example , some senior Democratic lawmakers have criticized his meeting with Salman and aiding the Saudi military , despite the fact that government officials have come out in favor of a United Nations-brokered ceasefire in Yemen.

“Over time, Biden has failed to deliver on many of his campaign promises and has maintained the status quo in the Middle East and Asia ,” said Emma Ashford, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Both the Trump and Biden administrations have grappled with the question of how to maintain US global dominance at a time when it appears to be in decline. China has risen as a counterweight and Russia has become bolder.

Trump’s national security strategy officially reoriented foreign policy toward “great power competition” with China and Russia and shifted its focus away from terrorist groups and other non-governmental actors. Biden has continued that momentum, in part due to events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Biden White House has delayed the release of its own national security strategy, which was expected earlier this year. Those responsible for the strategy are rewriting it because of the war in Ukraine. The final document is expected to continue to emphasize competition between powerful nations.

Biden has said that China is America’s biggest competitor — a claim Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated in a recent speech — while Russia is the biggest security threat to the United States and its allies.

Some scholars argue that the tradition of continuity between presidencies is a product of conventional wisdom and groupthink emerging from the dominant bipartisan foreign policy group in Washington, which Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to former President Barack Obama, derisively called “the Blob” (the stain).

But others argue that external circumstances — including the behavior of foreign governments, the sentiment of American voters and the influence of corporations — leave American leaders with little choice.

“There is a great force of gravity that brings the policies to the same place,” Biegun said. “Still the same problems. It’s still the same world. We still have very much the same tools to influence each other to get to the same results and it’s still the same America.”

By pledging to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Biden and Trump were responding to the wishes of most Americans, who had grown tired of two decades of war. For Biden, the move was also an opportunity to address unfinished business. As vice president, he advocated bringing troops home, in line with Obama’s desire to end “forever wars,” but US generals opposed them because they insisted on a presence in Afghanistan.

Despite the chaotic pullout last August when the Taliban took control of the country , polls have shown that most Americans supported an end to US military involvement there.

Trump and Biden have advocated for a smaller US military presence in conflict regions. But both have reached the limit of that thought. Biden has sent more US troops to Europe since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Somalia, reversing a Trump-era pullout. And US troops remain in Iraq and Syria.

“There is deep skepticism about the war on terror from senior officials in the Biden administration,” said Brian Finucane, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group who worked on military issues as a lawyer at the State Department. “However, they are still unwilling to undertake extensive structural reform to stop the war.”

Finucane said the reform would include revoking the 2001 war authorization that Congress gave the Executive Branch after the 9/11 attacks.

“Even if the Biden administration does not take affirmative action to further expand the scope of the 2001 measure, as long as it remains, it can be used by future administrations,” he said, referring to the authorization. “And other officials can extend the war on terror.”

On Iran and its nuclear program, the most pressing issue in the Middle East, Biden has taken a different tack than Trump. The administration has been negotiating with Tehran a return to an Obama-era nuclear deal that Trump dismantled, prompting Iran to speed up its uranium enrichment process. But talks have stalled. And Biden has said that he will uphold one of Trump’s main actions against the Iranian military, the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, even though that is an obstacle to the new deal.

The policies on China stand out as the most vivid example of continuity between the two presidencies. The State Department has upheld the Trump-era genocide designation on China for its crackdown on Muslim Uyghurs. Biden officials continue to send US naval ships through the Taiwan Strait and assist in arms sales to Taiwan to try to deter a possible invasion by China.

Most controversially, Biden has maintained the tariffs that were imposed on China in the Trump era , despite some economists and several top US officials, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, questioning their purpose and impact.

Biden and his political advisers are well aware of the growing sentiment against free trade in the United States, which Trump exploited to attract votes. That has caused Biden to avoid re-entering the Treaty of Trans-Pacific Partnership , a trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim nations that Obama helped organize to strengthen economic competition against China but that Trump and progressive Democrats rejected.

Analysts say Washington must offer Asian nations better trade deals and access to the US market if it wants to counter China’s economic influence.

“Neither Trump nor Biden’s efforts have delivered the trade and economic policy that America’s Asian friends have been calling for to help reduce their reliance on China,” said Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the AmericanEnterprise Institute. “Both the Biden and Trump administrations are to some extent overmilitarizing the China problem because they can’t figure out the economic part.”

But it is in Europe that Biden has distinguished himself from Trump. At times, the previous government was contradictory on Europe and Russia: while Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and withheld military aid for Ukraine for political gain internally, some officials under his command worked in the opposite direction. Instead, Biden and his advisers have consistently reaffirmed the importance of transatlantic alliances , which have helped them coordinate sanctions and arms shipments to Ukraine in order to confront Russia.

“I have no doubt that words and policies matter,” said Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis. “If allies don’t trust the United States to uphold NATO Article 5 and come to the defense of an ally, it doesn’t matter how much you invest,” she concluded.


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