The problem with first impressions is that you only get to make one. With startling speed, President Joe Biden and his administration have demonstrated to the world that they will be a sequel to the Obama administration on foreign policy, just without the charismatic front man: weak, weak, weak.
The Trump administration had refused to extend the flawed New START nuclear treaty with Russia without significant improvements. Russian President Vladimir Putin was hoping instead for a one-year extension of the existing treaty. Biden gave him five years in exchange for nothing. Where are these people when you need to sell a used car?
It was the same story with Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris climate deal, which if it were ever implemented, would require little of countries like China, but much of the United States. Like other progressive moves to implement their secular religion of climate change alarmism, this one could raise the cost of energy, which in turns raises the cost of everything: transportation, food, housing, cars, and other products and services.
Biden ran as Democrats often do on foreign policy: as the people who understand diplomacy and the need to consult with “traditional allies,” meaning the left-leaning ones that are mostly irrelevant to today’s real threats and opportunities. None is more traditional by that measure than Canada, run by progressive Justin Trudeau. But Biden cancelled the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would have brought additional Canadian crude oil to U.S. refiners without any diplomacy at all. The White House spokeswoman promised Biden would eventually call Trudeau, but that the unliteral decision was final.
America’s other land border also saw unilateral action designed similarly to scratch a leftwing itch rather than attempt real diplomacy. Biden sought to halt virtually all deportations before this abridgement of U.S. immigration law was halted by a federal judge. That plus a promise of some sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants can only be a magnet for more. While Mexican leaders are politically obliged to support American weakness on immigration publicly, in private President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador could not have appreciated Biden’s likely summoning of another wave illegal immigrants from Central America into Mexico on its way here—potentially set in motion without even a courtesy call.
The biggest mistakes pertained to China. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin couldn’t bring himself to mention China by name in remarks after taking office, referring only obliquely to opposing “unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” and reverting to Obama-era globaloney about the “importance of maintaining the rules-based international order,” which is make-believe.
Biden officials also reverted to Obama-era language on Taiwan. Rather than siding unequivocally with a peaceful capitalist democracy that Beijing threatens brazenly with war, the administration fell back on calls for “a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues.” Beijing couldn’t agree more with this implied moral equivalence and proposed peaceful conquest.
The Washington Free Beacon reported that Kurt Campbell, the White House Asia czar, was until August 2020 “a top leader at a nonprofit group that was bankrolled by the head of a Chinese propaganda front group and partnered with a Chinese foreign mission.”
It also came to light that Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s nominee to be UN ambassador, spoke in 2019 at Chinese-funded Confucius Institute in Georgia and repeatedly complimented Beijing’s role in Africa. Referring to values the United States should advance in Africa, Thomas-Greenfield said, “I see no reason why China cannot share in those values.” Elsewhere she advised that, “a win-win situation is possible,” and that “China and the U.S. could learn a lot from each other.”
Deeper still in the deep state, Biden fired Michael Pack, who was less than a year into a statuary three-year term as CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media. Biden replaced Pack with Kelu Chao, a longtime bureaucrat at the pointless Voice of America. Chao has sought in the past to partner with Chinese mouthpiece Xinhua, killed a high-profile interview with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, and is close to disgraced former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who favored Taiwanese reunification with China. As her first act, Chao fired the heads of three supposedly independent radio networks who had sought to be tough on China, Iran, and Russia.
One wonders what the second ten days of the Biden administration will bring. Notably, the climate envoy, John Kerry, is only getting warmed up. On Wednesday, the former senator who married into a fortune, said oil and gas workers facing unemployment from Biden policies could go to work making solar panels. Officials in East Asia are braced for the likelihood that Kerry will concede much to get a climate deal from China. The Biden administration’s first impression won’t give them any comfort.
Christian Whiton is a former senior advisor in the Trump and George W. Bush administrations. He is a senior fellow at the Center for the National Interest.