If there is one aspect which marks the foreign policy approach of the Joe Biden administration as it completes 100 days in office, it has to be the much spoken of ‘Foreign Policy for the Middle Class’ which the US President has argued for. It lays a far greater emphasis on the connectivity between US foreign affairs and American domestic politics than any other in recent memory. Making domestic economic renewal the top priority of America’s actions abroad speaks to this worldview directly and underlines the way in which domestic political considerations and opinions drive policy objectives for President Biden.
Though it may be too early to speak of a ‘Biden Doctrine’, the release of the US Administration’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance (iNSS) ~ which will be followed by the official National Security Strategy (NSS) in due course ~ just about 60 days after taking office has certainly got the policy establishment in Washington all excited as it maps the likely shape of US foreign policy in the years ahead. Two crucial highlights of the iNSS are causing strategic thinkers’ antennae to stand up. The first is a reference to “elevating diplomacy as our tool of first resort” in promoting US interests across the globe conjoined with a more responsible use of military power. Second is the clear recognition that America’s strength abroad requires “the United States to build better back at home.” These two points, experts point out, taken with the articulation in the document of the new administration’s desire to reinvigorate American leadership within international institutions, join allies in strengthening shared values, and confront the technology revolution “that poses both peril and promise”, do hint at the contours of an emerging Biden Doctrine. That the President has appointed to his Cabinet leaders who are not only aligned with his perspective but have the relevant foreign policy experience and expertise to implement the eponymous doctrine is significant as it signals his determination to carry through on his intent. US Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns, United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and likely USAID Administrator Samantha Power, are all heavy-hitters with domain knowledge and extensive global exposure. The ‘America First’ policy of President Donald Trump seems suddenly well in the past as the Biden Administration moves to strengthen multilateral relationships and international institutions, and reassure allies that US leadership on the world stage is back.
President Biden’s announcement that he intends to bring together the world’s democracies for a “Summit for Democracy” is a reflection of this priority, which includes a push back against the global rise of both authoritarianism and radicalism. But balancing these two phenomena, where the exigencies of geopolitics often result in a grudging support for the former to take on the latter as Washington well knows given its utilitarian foreign policy choices in the past, is tougher than it looks through the rose-tinted prism of the first 100 days.