Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Biden Needs Architects, Not Mechanics, to Fix U.S. Foreign Policy

| July 12, 2022

As the U.S. midterms near, Washington is plagued by groupthink and a lack of vision that prevents creative solutions to the problems of a new era.

I'm just back from vacation, and U.S. President Joe Biden is off to the Middle East. This struck me as an opportune time to assess the administration's foreign-policy performance. I voted for Biden in 2020 and was relieved when he was elected, but I worried that Biden and his team of nonrivals wouldn't be up to the task of designing a foreign policy and grand strategy for the 21st century. The obvious danger was that they'd fall back on the various nostrums, sound bites, and policies that may have worked well during the Cold War but have mostly failed ever since.

Remember what the administration said it would do? It was going to revitalize the United States' alliances and unite the democratic world against the rising tide of autocracy. It was going to focus laser-like on China and win that competition for primacy. Climate change was going to be a top priority. The United States would also rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran, make Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a "pariah," end the "forever wars," and give Americans a foreign (economic) policy for the "middle class"—whatever that means. And U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised that human rights would be "at the center" of the administration's foreign policy.

So how's all that worked out so far?

To be fair, Biden & Co. delivered on some of those early promises. He did end the war in Afghanistan, and the admittedly chaotic ending probably could not have been avoided. Biden has mollified allies alienated by his predecessor's shenanigans, and the war in Ukraine has given NATO a new lease on life for the moment. The United States has rejoined the Paris Agreement. And although the Biden team has scored a few goals since taking office (such as the amateurish rollout of the so-called AUKUS submarine deal with Britain and Australia as well as the repeated need to walk back the president's verbal slips), there have been fewer gaffes in 18 months under Biden than in any random two weeks of former U.S. President Donald Trump's show.

But overall, there is little sign that the administration has a clear, convincing, and successful strategy in place. If one looks at the range of initiatives and responses they've pursued over the past year and a half, the record is unimpressive....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“Biden Needs Architects, Not Mechanics, to Fix U.S. Foreign Policy.” Foreign Policy, July 12, 2022.

The Author

Stephen Walt