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Biden inherits a raft of global crises (including some unknowns)

Former State Department official Kori Schake and former UK Ambassador to the US Peter Westmacott discuss the foreign policy challenges facing President Biden.

Posted: Jan 22, 2021 12:20 PM
Updated: Jan 22, 2021 12:20 PM

US President Joe Biden's foreign policy to-do list is long, complicated, and may soon hit speed bumps left by his predecessor.

In the past four years, tensions with China and Iran have grown, Russia has gone rogue, North Korea has become a greater nuclear threat and relationships with allies have been damaged. But perhaps the biggest impediment to Biden is that much of the previous president's overseas dealings were shrouded in secrecy.

At his inauguration, Biden's message to allies -- and by implication to America's enemies too -- was simple: "to those beyond our borders: America has been tested and we've come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again."

But engagement won't be easy, as his picks for top administration jobs revealed during confirmation hearings the day before. Biden's predecessor was unorthodox in the extreme, meeting with enemies like Russia's Vladimir Putin and North Korea's Kim Jong Un one-on-one, leaving many in his administration and the world wondering what he'd agreed to.

Antony Blinken, Biden's choice for Secretary of State, told a Senate hearing several times that the new administration doesn't know the scale of the problems they are inheriting.

In Afghanistan, where a US troop drawdown continues, based on the previous administration's agreement with the Taliban, Biden's team has yet to be made aware of the full details concerning the deal.

Blinken told his Senate confirmation hearing, "we have to look carefully at what has actually been negotiated ... to understand fully what commitments were made, or not made by the Taliban."

Several Afghan officials, speaking in the past year on the basis of anonymity to protect their government's relationship with the previous administration, said they were opposed to the US-Taliban deal because it endangered Afghans, and want Biden to end it.

Saudi Arabia, another US ally, also presents Biden with challenges.

Blinken told senators the administration's priority would be discovering the extent of America's involvement in Saudi's war in Yemen "first and foremost, making sure we understand exactly what support we're actually currently providing."

Relations with Saudi, a particularly close ally of the last administration, could get rocky. Blinken told the hearing, "we will end our support for the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen," though he also hinted they might be prepared to find a degree of compromise, saying, "we need to do to help defend Saudi Arabia against aggression directed at Saudi Arabia, including from Yemen."

Perhaps where the bilateral relationship risks greatest damage is over the lingering fallout from the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 at the hands of a hit team sent from Riyadh.

Biden's new Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, said she would release an unclassified report into Khashoggi's murder to Congress, telling senators, "absolutely I will follow the law."

Relations with close ally Israel won't be straightforward either following the last administration's tight embrace. Biden will keep the US embassy in Jerusalem, but according to Blinken will reset to the traditional US policy of pushing for a "two-state solution" saying, "the challenge of course is how to move forward."

But it is America's enemies, according to Blinken, that will take priority, with Russia being "very high on the agenda."

In a break with many in the last administration, Blinken openly criticized Russia's President over the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny. "It is extraordinary how frightened Vladimir Putin seems to be of one man," he said, adding that the challenge posed by Russia "is urgent."

It is China, however, that poses the biggest test to US power, according to Blinken, who said "there is no doubt that it poses the most significant challenge of any nation state to the United States."

Biden's pick for Secretary of Defense, retired General Lloyd Austin, said the same during his hearing: "Asia must be the focus of our efforts and I see China in particular as a pacing challenge for the department."

Evidence of that came shortly after Biden was sworn in, with Beijing imposing sanctions on 28 former members of the previous US administration, accusing them of "a series of crazy moves which have gravely interfered in China's internal affairs."

The move followed a series of final moves by the outgoing White House targeting China, including sanctions aimed at officials and a declaration on its final day that the Chinese government had committed genocide against Uyghur Muslims and ethnic and religious minority groups in its western region of Xinjiang.

When Blinken was asked by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham if he agreed with his predecessor that the Chinese Communist Party had "engaged in genocide regarding the Uyghur Muslim population," Blinken said "yes."

However, Beijing has also appeared to indicate it is willing to cooperate with Biden's new administration. At a regular press briefing Wednesday, a spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry asked Biden to look at China rationally and objectively, meet China halfway and, in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, push China-US relations back towards the right track of healthy and stable development as soon as possible.

Biden's answer has already begun, signing executive orders, including re-joining the Paris climate change accord his predecessor withdrew from, and in so doing, according to Blinken, mustering vital support from allies that will provide a "source of strength for us in dealing with China."

The early signs for Biden are good, and the outpouring of support from allies has been strong.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, speaking for almost half a billion European Union citizens, said Wednesday: "This new dawn in America is the moment we've been waiting for so long. Europe is ready for a new start with our oldest and most trusted partner."

Atop the EU's priorities is getting Biden to reverse the previous administration's course on Iran and rejoin the 2015 multinational nuclear deal. According to Blinken, that could be possible "if Iran comes back into compliance. We would too."

A question possibly emerging now is who jumps first. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that "the ball is in the US court now. If Washington returns to Iran's 2015 nuclear deal, we will also fully respect our commitments under the pact."

Jen Psaki, Biden's communications director, told reporters in the administration's first news briefing that Biden wants to "lengthen and strengthen the nuclear constraints on Iran and address other issues," all of which Iran has previously rejected.

Iran's foreign minister said Biden's predecessor had been "relegated to the dustbin of history in disgrace," adding, "Perhaps new folks in DC have learned."

In the meantime, Iran continues increasing its illegal stockpiles of low and medium enriched uranium, as well as making prohibited uranium metal shortening its path to a nuclear bomb.

At his hearing, General Austin testified, "If Iran were ever to get a nuclear capability, most every problem that we deal with in the region would be tougher to deal with because of that."

President Biden has indeed inherited a plate full of pressing foreign policy problems. If he plays them right, America's allies will help, and the world can get a little safer.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 319704

Reported Deaths: 7369
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22276267
Hinds20677421
Harrison18407317
Rankin13880282
Jackson13689248
Madison10249224
Lee10056176
Jones8464167
Forrest7827153
Lauderdale7260242
Lowndes6509150
Lamar634888
Lafayette6310121
Washington5420137
Bolivar4837133
Panola4669110
Oktibbeha466098
Pearl River4604147
Marshall4573105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425373
Union415777
Monroe4155135
Neshoba4061179
Lincoln4008112
Hancock386687
Leflore3515125
Tate342486
Sunflower339491
Pike3369111
Alcorn325972
Scott320174
Yazoo314171
Adams307486
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma298784
Simpson298189
Tippah291968
Prentiss283861
Leake271974
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264442
Grenada264087
George252051
Newton248663
Tishomingo231568
Winston229981
Jasper222148
Attala215073
Chickasaw210559
Holmes190374
Clay187854
Stone187833
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174132
Yalobusha167840
Smith164034
Walthall135347
Greene131833
Lawrence131024
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127138
Amite126342
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108033
Tunica108027
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96629
Franklin85023
Quitman82216
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69532
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 548323

Reported Deaths: 11288
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson809531565
Mobile42066826
Madison35663525
Tuscaloosa26162458
Shelby25595254
Montgomery25081612
Baldwin21839313
Lee16265176
Calhoun14718325
Morgan14626285
Etowah14171363
Marshall12449230
Houston10764288
Elmore10295213
Limestone10182157
St. Clair10160251
Cullman9941201
Lauderdale9596249
DeKalb8967189
Talladega8458184
Walker7335280
Autauga7230113
Blount6944139
Jackson6922113
Colbert6414140
Coffee5627127
Dale4929114
Russell454941
Chilton4472116
Franklin431083
Covington4273122
Tallapoosa4136155
Escambia401780
Chambers3726124
Dallas3607156
Clarke352961
Marion3242106
Pike314078
Lawrence3129100
Winston283572
Bibb268464
Geneva257581
Marengo250665
Pickens236862
Barbour234659
Hale226878
Butler224071
Fayette218162
Henry193843
Cherokee187245
Randolph187044
Monroe179341
Washington170439
Macon162951
Clay160159
Crenshaw155657
Cleburne153244
Lamar146537
Lowndes142054
Wilcox127030
Bullock124242
Conecuh113430
Coosa111429
Perry108626
Sumter105732
Greene93534
Choctaw62025
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