Biden’s foreign policy: For US to compete with China and Russia, it must get out of Middle East

U.S. President Joe Biden gestures as he answers questions about Hurricane Henri and the evacuation of Afghanistan during a news conference in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. August 22, 2021. Photo by REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.

Afghanistan is the biggest foreign policy challenge yet for the Biden administration. His strategy so far: Put American interests above all else. Biden has long been skeptical of U.S. intervention overseas, even though he voted in favor of going into both Afghanistan and Iraq. Now that he’s president, what is his foreign policy philosophy?

Biden is trying to do several things at once, says Brian Katulis, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

“One, he's trying to send the message to Americans that he's going to invest in America's ability to compete in the world. Second … we're going to try to engage in this competition in the world with China and Russia more effectively by getting out of places like Afghanistan and parts of the Middle East. But then third, he's also saying that we're going to try to advance human rights, freedom, and democracy to show that it works better than autocratic systems like China. And I would add the Taliban are pretty authoritarian as well.”

Katulis asks whether this formula really adds up, particularly when Afghans are facing “an ongoing backsliding of freedom.”

Biden is prioritizing other places where democracy already exists, like Europe and Asia, and saying Afghanistan is too complicated, says Katulis.

He notes that Biden is getting low ratings on how he’s executed the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. “I think you can lead Americans if you actually have a clear plan. His plan here was just to … get out as quickly as possible. But the haphazard way they're doing it, it's gonna have a negative cloud over what he's trying to do on his foreign policy.”

Katulis calls Biden’s stance as “America First Lite.” He explains, “If Donald Trump was ‘America First,’ this is trying to essentially do and say the same thing, but present it in kinder terms. But at its core, when you look at the toughest test cases, and I would say Afghanistan is one of them, Syria is another … if America is not willing to bear any burden, or share any cost in that fight, then it just raises questions about the true commitment to those values."

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