November 17, 2020

Foreign Policy Challenges

“President Donald Trump is expected to cut a significant number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and a smaller number in Iraq by the final days of his presidency, U.S. officials said Monday.” AP News

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From the Left

The left is critical of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and highlights the foreign policy challenges facing Biden.

“US military leaders have stressed that a withdrawal there would be contingent on certain conditions, including the Taliban breaking ties with al Qaeda and making progress in peace talks with the Afghan government. Both of these conditions have not yet been met, and prematurely withdrawing US troops would not only destroy the credibility of our country, but also remove any incentive to achieve these goals… A US troop withdrawal could pave the way for the Taliban to return promptly to power.”
David A. Andelman, CNN

Some note that “In September 2017, Trump wrote a letter to the president of South Korea ending the free trade agreement the United States had with that country… Worried about the consequences of Trump’s gambit, neither [Gary] Cohn nor [Rob] Porter tried to talk him out of it. Instead, Cohn simply pilfered the letter. ‘I stole it off his desk,’ Cohn explained… When other copies of the letter were produced, Porter stole those. The gambit was that Trump would eventually forget that he wrote the letter. This proved to be the case…

“According to Woodward, ‘It was no less than an administrative coup d’état, an undermining of the will of the president of the United States and his constitutional authority.’… The narrative Woodward constructed is of brave government officials protecting national security from Trump’s worst instincts. Woodward glosses over the inconvenient fact that Trump was elected while Cohn and Porter were not… Joe Biden is not likely to face similar coups… [But] Unless there is a reckoning with the national security establishment, American democracy will be at risk.”
Jeet Heer, The Nation

“Few US elections were watched quite as anxiously as this one around the world. Widespread relief at Joe Biden’s victory is evident. Much foreign policy, unlike domestic, can be enacted by executive order, without the backing of the Senate. At the most basic level, he will be a president who is patient enough to read a report and knowledgeable enough to understand it; who grasps that America cannot prosper alone; who does not lavish praise on dictators while humiliating democratic allies; who listens to his own intelligence services over Vladimir Putin; and who will entrust Middle East policy to seasoned officials rather than his son-in-law…

“Mr Biden has already vowed to undo many of Mr Trump’s decisions, rejoining the Paris climate change agreement and rescinding the order to withdraw from the World Health Organization. He plans to extend the soon-to-expire New Start treaty with Russia – the last arms control agreement standing. Tackling the pandemic is likely to be a priority for his international diplomacy: signing up to Covax – the global initiative to ensure that poorer nations also get a share of coronavirus vaccines – would send a powerful signal. More than 180 countries have already done so, including China.”
Editorial Board, The Guardian

“A massive free trade pact signed by 15 Asia-Pacific nations on Sunday is the most tangible sign yet of how the US retreat from global leadership under Trump has forced other countries to make their own arrangements… the pact makes one of Washington's biggest fears a reality — that China will have an outsize say in creating the region's trade rules…

“This all creates a dilemma for Biden. How can he show that the US is ‘back’ in Asia without seeking to become part of the region's trading infrastructure? But how can he reconcile such a move with a political climate in the US — including in the Midwestern swing states that won him the election — that sees any form of trade deal as tantamount to throwing away US jobs? The Asia trade question is just one of the thorny issues reflecting the fact that while Biden's election represents a return to a more traditional US role in the world, things have changed since he last spent time in the White House.”
Stephen Collison, CNN

“Recent weeks have seen the deadly reemergence of long-dormant conflicts in the Caucasus, Ethiopia, and Western Sahara. These otherwise unrelated events have one key trait in common: cease-fires or political compromises enacted in the early or mid-1990s that are now breaking down…

“Take Ethiopia, which is on the verge of a full-blown civil war after fighting that broke out between the central government and the separatist authorities in the northern Tigray region on Nov. 4. The conflict is now spilling over into neighboring Eritrea as well. Hundreds have been killed, at least 25,000 have fled… No administration [ever] really knows, before it comes into office, what challenges it will face on the international stage, but it’s looking more likely that the reemergence of conflicts the world thought it had left behind 30 years ago may be among the bigger surprises Biden’s team will face.
Joshua Keating, Slate

From the Right

The right is divided about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and skeptical of Biden’s foreign policy.

The right is divided about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and skeptical of Biden’s foreign policy.

Some argue, “Not just Republicans, but also a majority of Democrats desire a U.S. troop pullout from Afghanistan… Taking U.S. troops out of the Middle East should have been done a while back, but is a politically prudent thing to do now anyway. That’s because, one, Trumpism is the future of conservatism. Whatever happens, the biggest long-term legacy of Trump is pushing neoconservatives to their former parent party, the Democrats. The future conservative party will be a party of realism and restraint. Meaningless wars will not be a vote winner…

“The global balance of power also means other great powers will have more influence in other regions, like the Middle East. Conversely, there will be places where nothing will be in the American interest. Post-Trump conservatives will do good to internalize that. Pulling out troops from Afghanistan and the Middle East is only the logical endgame for that.”
Sumantra Maitra, The Federalist

Others counter, “Mr. Trump says it’s time to go because we’ve been there 19 years, and that’s enough. But that’s a political notion put into his head by the loyalists he has placed in charge of the Pentagon in the last few days. The rushed reduction in forces will reinforce the Taliban’s view that they needn’t compromise in negotiations with the Afghan government because the Americans are desperate to depart

“A clear-eyed view of the stakes came Monday on the Senate floor from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. ‘A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us harm. Violence affecting Afghans is still rampant. The Taliban is not abiding by the conditions of the so-called peace deal,” Mr. McConnell said. “The consequences of a premature American exit would likely be even worse than President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, which fueled the rise of ISIS and a new round of global terrorism. It would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975.’”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“The Taliban share Islamist roots with terrorists who pursue murder on a global scale. A total U.S. withdrawal would lead to a resurgence of terror plots, no longer in danger of disruption. Instead, the U.S. should continue what it is doing: keep military presence low and lethality high, and tolerate a messy government in Kabul. With modest expense and low casualties, the benefits of withdrawal can’t justify the costs.”
Bing West, Wall Street Journal

Regarding China, “When Trump first threatened to impose tariffs on Chinese goods in the 2016 election campaign, the foreign policy establishment scoffed. They no longer scoff. Not only has American public sentiment toward China become markedly more hawkish since 2017. China is one of few subjects these days about which there is also a genuine bipartisan consensus within the country’s political elite… Beijing would like nothing more than an end to both the trade war and the tech war that the Trump administration has waged…

“Team Biden seems ready to make concessions. Some of the president-elect’s advisers want to offer wider exemptions for the foreign chipmakers who supply Huawei and to drop Trump’s executive actions against the Chinese internet companies TikTok and Tencent. But in return for what? Is China about to halt its dismantling of what remains of Hong Kong’s semi-autonomy? Clearly not. Is China going to suspend its policies of incarceration and re-education of Uighurs in Xinjiang? Not a chance. Will China stop exporting its surveillance technology to any authoritarian government that wants to buy it? Dream on.”
Niall Ferguson, Bloomberg

Similarly, “The [Iran deal] placed weak restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, paving a path to a nuclear weapon in as little as 10 years. If the US plans to re-join the agreement, it must address the deal’s most crucial flaws — its sunset clauses, which will automatically lift existing restrictions on Iran’s military and nuclear programs. The deal also allocated the Iranian regime $150 billion in sanctions relief. Rather than use the money to help their crippling economy, Tehran used the funding to enhance its regional aggression, bolstering its support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ inter-continental ballistic missile program. If that happens again, that will be bad news for everyone…

“[Furthermore] US partnerships in the Middle East have been invaluable… if a Biden administration hopes to keep US rivals China and Russia out of the Middle East (insofar as possible after Team Obama invited Russia in), Israel and the Sunni Arabs will be imperative allies. Should a new phase of the Iran deal afford Iran the latitude to attack its neighbors directly or via proxies, the odds of Israel and the Gulf embracing [Russia or China will increase].”
Allison Schwartz, American Enterprise Institute

A libertarian's take

Regarding the possible troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, “there are multiple reasons to believe this will end badly. The macro-problem is a simple one: There has been zero planning for this. The Trump White House refrained from significant contingency planning if the president lost in November, because of Trump’s superstitions. Since even Trump now (sort of) acknowledges that he lost, there are only 65 days left in his term of office to pull this off. A related problem is that because the Taliban knows this is [what] Trump wants, they will exploit the heck out of it… Finally, it is far from clear that Trump’s new political appointees are up to the task.”
Daniel W. Drezner, Washington Post

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