Over two months into Joe Biden’s presidency, his administration has met challenges on multiple fronts. The hurdle facing President Biden that has perhaps garnered the most attention is the troubling immigration crisis at the Southern border with Mexico, but Biden’s problems go far beyond his improper handling of the border crisis. Less discussed but equally concerning is the administration’s consistent foreign policy mishaps. If not corrected, these blunders threaten to undermine the United States’ relations with our allies as well as exacerbate tensions with adversaries.
The Biden administration’s foreign policy got off to a shaky start almost immediately after the president’s inauguration. By early February, only weeks into Biden’s term, newspapers reported the president had still not called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu despite phoning the leaders of numerous other nations like Britain and Japan.
Although Biden finally called Netanyahu in mid-February, the nearly one-month delay sparked concern — and for a good reason. The U.S.-Israel relationship is important for stability in the Middle East as well as across the world. While it is plausible to assume that Biden was holding off because of his differences with Netanyahu, as well as the prime minister’s poor relations with former President Barack Obama, he should have established relations with the Israeli leader far sooner in order to achieve both his personal goals and diplomatic stability. The president could have opened relations between Netanyahu and his administration while still disagreeing with him. This error may make it more difficult for Biden to accomplish his goals in the Middle East, including a potential two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
While Biden has left out some world leaders from his phone conversations at times, he himself has been completely left off other calls. Media reports confirm that instead of Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris has been on solo calls with certain world leaders. The fact that the elected president of the United States has not been on some of these calls, for whatever reason, warrants tremendous concern. Every past presidential administration has established that the president, in addition to being the commander in chief, is the chief diplomat. The president is the figure that represents the nation at all times and is expected to be at the forefront of all diplomatic relations and negotiations. If this trend in the Biden White House continues, it may erode confidence in Biden among our allies and other world leaders.
Unfortunately, the administration’s foreign policy blunders are not limited to these two concerning incidents. Perhaps the most glaring mishap has been Biden’s recent comments on Russian leader Vladimir Putin. In an interview with ABC News, the president accused Putin of being a killer. These unexpected remarks kicked off U.S.-Russian relations under Biden on a strikingly bad note, and Moscow quickly reacted with anger. A spokesperson for the Kremlin said “there hasn’t been anything like this in history,” charging that Biden had no interest in improving the U.S.-Russian relationship. Soon after the comments, Russia made the decision to recall its U.S. ambassador, and the true extent of the damage Biden caused began to emerge.
There is no doubt Putin is a figure that Biden shouldn’t praise. Russia is certainly not our ally and has recently taken a number of problematic actions, including likely interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Russia, according to charges from the U.S. and European Union, also poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny with a fatal nerve agent, an action that is clearly reprehensible. But Biden’s words threaten to stoke tensions further in our already-inflamed relationship with Moscow, and will only spell more trouble in the future. Rather than making these remarks, Biden should be acknowledging the wrongdoing of nations like Russia while still trying to foster productive conversations. These recent comments did the exact opposite.
While Russia is undoubtedly an American adversary, perhaps our greatest world adversary is China. With a population of over 1.4 billion people, our relations with China are critical for both political and economic purposes. The COVID-19 pandemic and questions surrounding the origins of the novel coronavirus are the latest signs of how vital it is that stable U.S.-Chinese relations are maintained. But rather than move our critical relationship with China in a promising direction, the Biden administration’s preliminary talks with Beijing are off to a concerning start. The White House held a recent summit with Chinese officials in Alaska, and while the two sides held conversations about numerous issues, the talks broke down as American and Chinese diplomats verbally attacked each other.
Luckily, the Biden administration is relatively young, and the president has many more opportunities to improve American relations with China. But the White House must learn from this summit and change its strategy. China has the potential to be a defining issue in Biden’s presidency, with some experts warning the U.S. is entering a Cold War with China. Moving forward, our negotiations with Beijing must be handled more thoughtfully.
As President Biden enters the final stretch of his first 100 days, his administration has plenty of time to correct these foreign policy mishaps. But the Biden White House has considerable work to do if it wants to truly “elevate diplomacy” and make America a leader on the world stage. That work must start immediately.
Evan Stern can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.