Sunday, October 17

US Enemies Line Up To Test Biden (Analysis)

(CNN) — The world already seems more dangerous and complex than when Joe Biden took over as president less than three months ago. That’s partly because America’s adversaries are testing the new commander-in-chief.

The United States is being drawn into great-power clashes with China and Russia. Iran plans to enrich itself in uranium to higher levels than ever after an attack on one of its nuclear plants that is widely attributed to Israel. North Korea has again tested ballistic missiles. And Biden’s plan to end the “eternal war” in Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of September 11 this year has critics warning that the Taliban could crush the weak US allied government in Kabul. Meanwhile, the limits to a president’s power have been underscored by a violent coup in Myanmar that sanctions and US condemnation have failed to thwart.

The escalating crises will dominate two days of congressional hearings beginning Wednesday that will involve heads of intelligence agencies who opposed public testimony last year to avoid humiliating former President Donald Trump by contradicting his conspiratorial worldview.

In an Annual Threat Assessment before the hearings, the espionage community added another serving to Biden’s plate of challenges by predicting destabilizing cross-border migration waves and toppled governments in geopolitical aftershocks of the pandemic. And he said that Beijing and Moscow were exploiting discord to bolster their power.

It’s an overwhelming set of escalating problems for a president who has made no secret that his priority is defeating the virus, reviving the American economy, and forging a foreign policy designed around the needs of American workers.

Recent events show that Biden will not have the luxury of a primarily national focus. The speeches and diplomatic plans of the new administrations are great in theory. But America’s enemies rarely meet Washington’s foreign policy planners’ accurate assessments of how they will behave.

China and Russia are testing Biden’s limits

It is not unusual for there to be a sense that America’s adversaries are testing a new president. Moscow’s massive build-up of troops on Ukraine’s borders and China’s probing of Taiwan’s defenses may fit into this category, and isolated North Korea is always seeking the attention of a new commander-in-chief. Biden’s hopes of reviving a nuclear deal with Iran may already be on the rocks if radicals in Tehran spoil the dialogue. If an Israeli attack is to blame, the president may also have an early crisis to resolve with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This goes beyond America’s adversaries hazing a new president. Biden’s management of the situation will help define his legacy.

China is accelerating a years ascent and is now ready to assert its growing military might in Asia and its superpower influence in other parts of the world. Russia, with its territorial grabs and electoral interference, is intensifying its efforts to divide and weaken the West. Aiming to extend his two decades in power amid growing internal discontent, President Vladimir Putin has a political motive to act aggressively abroad to match his quest to restore the respect that the Kremlin lost in the fall of the Union. Soviet.

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The Biden administration has made clear that it understands that adversaries are groping the new White House. An extraordinary head-to-head showdown between US and Chinese officials in Alaska last month sent a clear message from Washington to Beijing that Biden would not be bossed around.

Since then, the US and Chinese carrier task forces have sailed through the South China Sea. In addition, China sent a record 25 fighter jets to Taiwan’s self-declared air defense zone, in a clear message to Washington to avoid what it sees as interference in its affairs.

Taiwan is seen as the most likely trigger for a conflict between the United States and China and presidents are required by law to provide the island with means of self-defense. After Washington sent the USS John McCain across the Taiwan Strait last week, Beijing said it should not “play with fire.”

The Biden administration has been more outspoken than its European allies about Russian pressure on Ukraine that has sparked fears of a full-scale invasion on Putin’s orders, or a more subtle attempt to destabilize the pro-Western government in Kiev.

A senior US defense official told CNN last week that the Pentagon was considering sending a couple of ships to the Black Sea to show its support for the integrity of Ukraine’s territory, in a move that would further increase the tensions.

Blinken’s firm voice

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who exchanged diplomatic blows with Chinese officials in Alaska, is unfazed by warnings to Russia and China that are likely to further exacerbate tensions.

“It would be a grave mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force,” Blinken said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, referring to China’s aggressive tactics toward Taiwan, which China considers a rogue province.

On Tuesday in Europe for NATO meetings in which the United States announced an increased military presence in Germany, Blinken met with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleb. He had set the stage by saying on NBC that if Russia continues to escalate “the president has been clear, there will be costs, there will be consequences.”

The strong voice may be designed to counter the belief that shines through in foreign policy pronouncements in both Russia and China that the United States is a power in inevitable decline and has been weakened by two decades of wars, financial crises, strife. internal policies and a poor pandemic response.

It should also be seen in the context of the former president’s approach to foreign policy. Trump frequently fawned over Putin and often undermined what was a comparatively tough administration approach to Russia, apparently often acting in the interests of a power that meddled in two US elections to help him. The former president was also susceptible to flattery from China’s aggressive and nationalist President Xi Jinping, whom he described as a dear friend, at least until the outbreak of the pandemic in Wuhan threatened his hopes of re-election.

But the rhetoric only goes so far.

Ultimately, China knows that a US president is unlikely to justify a war with the Asian giant over Taiwan as a vital national interest, especially a president who is more interested in exiting wars than starting new ones. And while the United States has provided Ukraine with offensive weapons, it is inconceivable that Biden would bring the United States to the brink of war with nuclear-armed Russia over Ukraine, which is not even a NATO ally.

The White House’s position on Russia and China is that it will seek cooperation with both states whenever possible, but that adverse relations are more likely to exist alongside intense economic competition with China.

For example, CNN has reported that Biden’s global environment envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry, will shortly travel to Beijing to seek common ground ahead of a UN climate summit in Scotland in November. And in an intriguing move, Biden called Putin on Tuesday and offered him a summit in a third country in the coming months, just weeks after agreeing in a television interview that the Russian leader was a “murderer.”

Biden’s offer apparently gives Putin what he wants: a place on a pedestal alongside the US president in an echo of the legendary Cold War summits between the world’s two great powers. The move sounds a lot like a carrot to pressure the Russian leader to avoid any action in Ukraine, or the jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny, which could cause Biden to withdraw an offer to meet.

Warnings on Afghanistan

Biden’s decision on Afghanistan looks like a foreign policy move driven by internal considerations.

Hardline Republicans accuse him of a dangerous retreat that could repeat Washington’s negligence in the 1980s after it helped the rebels drive Soviet troops out of Afghanistan. The ensuing vacuum led to years of civil war and a failed state that fostered the fundamentalist Taliban militia and a terrorist haven in which al Qaeda engineered attacks on New York and Washington.

“Hastily withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan is a serious mistake. It is a retreat in the face of an enemy that has not yet been defeated and the abdication of American leadership, ”said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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But the Kentucky Republican’s comments are not universally shared within his party, proof that foreign war fatigue harnessed by both Barack Obama and Trump en route to the White House remains a powerful political force. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, for example, an outspoken opponent of everything Biden does and a potential Republican presidential nominee in 2024, had no problem with Biden announcing an exit date for American soldiers.

“Bringing our troops home should not be taken as a sign that the United States will be less attentive to protecting American lives and those of our allies, but we can do so without a permanent military presence on hostile terrain,” he said.

If Biden sticks to his plan, he will accomplish what Obama and Trump tried and failed to do: end America’s involvement in a generation of post-9/11 foreign wars.

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