Neither American public nor our allies know what president is doing
The prospects for President Biden’s success in pursuit of his foreign and national security policies in the coming year are bleak at best. His road to the hell that is war is paved with incomprehension, appeasement and incompetence. Those are strong words, but they are logical conclusions compelled by his actions and words regarding China, Iran and Russia.
Mr. Biden’s muddled approach to China is best reflected in his statements about Taiwan. Twice, in the past few months, he has said that the U.S. would defend Taiwan only to have his advisers deny we would do so, insisting that our policy toward China is unchanged. At this point, neither the American public nor our allies know what that policy is.
Mr. Biden is apparently disinclined to clarify our objectives on Taiwan or China. China continues its aggressions against us and our allies — through cyber espionage and more — as well as its efforts to build military bases abroad. As Bill Gertz reported in The Washington Times last week, China is building a network of military port facilities around the world as a means of projecting power.
Mr. Biden’s obsessive pursuit of renewing former President Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear weapons deal with Iran is reflected in a Dec. 28 State Department statement that the U.S. was prepared to lift sanctions “inconsistent” with the deal if Iran were to return to compliance with that deal. Iran’s conduct proves it will not do so. It has enriched uranium far beyond the deal’s limitations and has rejected inspection of some of its principal nuclear weapon development sites.
After nearly a year of negotiations, Tehran hasn’t budged an inch. Mr. Biden should walk away from the talks just like President Ronald Reagan did in a 1986 summit with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. That won’t happen because Mr. Biden desires a renewed agreement more than he cares about Iran’s obtaining nuclear weapons.
Mr. Biden apparently has no thought, except to appease Russian President Vladimir Putin, in response to Russia’s threat to invade Ukraine. In their last conversation, Mr. Biden conceded that the U.S. would not deploy troops to Ukraine or place missiles there. As he always does, Mr. Biden gave away something and got nothing in return.
Only hours after Mr. Biden’s latest conversation with Mr. Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov issued a statement accusing the U.S. and its allies of stoking war in eastern Ukraine. His statement said, “Unfortunately, we see the U.S. and other NATO nations supporting the militaristic intentions of Kyiv, provisioning Ukraine with weapons and sending military specialists.” He added that Ukraine’s government doesn’t intend to resolve the conflict through diplomacy.
In Russian, the word “Ukraine” means “borderland.” As Russian President Putin has often made clear, Russia regards Ukraine much like China regards Taiwan, a nation that is naturally and historically a part of Russia. He intends to unify Ukraine with Russia by diplomacy or war, just as China intends to swallow Taiwan.
Dmitry Kiselev is a prominent television personality and heads the huge state-controlled media Rossiya Segodnya. He is the Kremlin’s chief spin doctor and is probably on Mr. Putin’s speed dial. In late December, as the article recounts, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov released a draft security agreement that Mr. Putin wants Mr. Biden to sign. They comprise a set of guarantees that NATO will give up military activity in Eastern Europe, including the nations which joined NATO since the Soviet Union dissolved.
The BBC reporter asked Mr. Kiselev what would happen if Mr. Putin didn’t get the security agreement he wants. Mr. Kiselev threatened war. He answered, “We’ll deploy missiles. But this is your choice. We don’t want this. … It would be the Cuban missile crisis all over again, but with a shorter flight time for the missiles.”
Mr. Kiselev’s use of the analogy to the Cuban Missile Crisis was no accident. It may be an invitation to serious negotiations.
At the height of that crisis, ABC newsman John Scali received an urgent telephone call from a man he believed to be the head Russian intelligence agent in the U.S., Alexander Fomin. They met for lunch at the Occidental Grill at the Willard Hotel in Washington.
Their conversation proved to be an opening gambit by former Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev that led to back-channel negotiations, which avoided war and resolved the crisis when Khrushchev offered to remove Soviet ICBMs from Cuba in return for President John F. Kennedy’s promise not to invade Cuba.
Is Mr. Putin seeking a similar back-channel negotiation with Mr. Biden? Mr. Kiselev’s ploy — if that is what it was — will fall on uncomprehending ears in the Biden White House. That is probably for the best because Mr. Biden would, in any such negotiation, give too much and get nothing in return.
The outlook for Mr. Biden’s foreign and national security policies in 2022 is for failure across the world. Were he a strong leader, he and his cabinet would state America’s goals and intentions in clear terms that aim to enhance our national security and allies. That would require a radical change in his thinking, which is too much to hope for.
• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”