by Arielle Del Turco
January 20, 2022
President Joe Biden assumed office exactly one year ago, and although he declared at a press conference yesterday that he “probably outperformed what anyone thought would happen” in his first year, Americans are frustrated—and rightfully so. When it comes to foreign policy alone, one can’t help but think that American interests are less secure and our allies more frustrated with us than last year.
No Biden-era disaster is more prominent or caused more human suffering than the mishandling of the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. The quick rise of the Taliban led to an economic collapse in a country where most people already lived below the poverty line. Now, desperate and mournful Afghan parents are selling their daughters into child marriages just to feed the rest of their family for a few more months and survive the winter.
Although the Taliban promised to respect human rights, women are feeling the brunt of that lie. Afghan women who served in the military or police are in hiding, as are female athletes. Afghan girls and female university students have been kept at home and out of school, maybe forever. The United States spent 20 years investing in women’s rights efforts in Afghanistan. After one year of Biden’s leadership, all of that progress is down the drain.
Vulnerable Afghan religious minorities might have the most to lose with the rise of the Taliban. This year’s World Watch List from Open Doors named Afghanistan the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. Yet, religious minorities were not included among the Afghan groups who received Priority 2 status from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
Meanwhile, our adversaries feel confident testing the president, and Biden’s weakness on the world stage has given them every reason to do so.
Certain Biden gaffes have left policy wonks wondering if the president even knows what he’s talking about. He seemed to abandon a long-term policy of strategic ambiguity about how the United States would respond if China invaded Taiwan, forcing the White House to backtrack and say the policy hadn’t changed. When a military conflict is at stake, Biden’s gaffes are not endearing—they’re potentially deadly. Biden should be taking practical steps to support Taiwan, including selling it necessary defense weapons and welcoming Taiwanese leaders in international forums as the island’s legitimate government.
Ukraine also has reason to feel uncertain of the United States’ support. Earlier this week, Biden indicated that “a minor incursion” of Russian forces into Ukraine might not be met with much pushback. It’s an abominable thing to say when Ukraine is vulnerable and Russian troops have amassed along its border. European allies were flustered that the president would make such a statement openly.
U.S. relations with some American allies are more strained than before. When the Biden administration negotiated a deal in secret to sell submarines to Australia, it effectively canceled an earlier agreement between France and Australia, one that was critical for France’s defense industry. To the French, it was a slap in the face. France responded by recalling its ambassador to the United States, a move reflecting heightened tensions between the two countries.
This month, the Biden administration withdrew its support for a proposed natural-gas pipeline from Israel to Europe, a decision with negative economic ramifications for Israel and Europe. This reversal from the Trump administration’s position is frustrating our friends and pleasing Russia and Turkey. Biden sold himself as someone who would “repair our alliances and engage with the world once again.” Sadly, some American allies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East might not think that goal is being achieved.
Of course, U.S. promotion of religious freedom abroad—championed by former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—is waning. Although Rashad Hussain took the reigns as the new ambassador-at-large this month, the momentum on international religious freedom has drastically diminished under Biden’s leadership.
In November, the Biden administration removed Nigeria from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) on religious freedom, despite increased violence against Christians in rural Nigerian communities throughout the year. The move gives Nigerian leaders who failed to protect religious communities from violence a free pass.
President Biden neglected to host a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, an annual gathering of foreign diplomats and world leaders to strategize promoting religious freedom around the world. The Trump administration held two such gatherings in Washington that were widely deemed successful. It’s time to bring the Ministerial back. The problem of religious persecution hasn’t subsided, and neither should U.S. government attention on the issue.
Biden’s first year in office has been full of foreign policy challenges, many of his own making. A clear “Biden Doctrine” might not yet have come into view, but a year of foreign policy marked with blunders, chaos, and human suffering is a shame—not merely for the American people who entrusted Biden with our foreign policy, but for people around the world. The Biden administration’s actions will have countless ramifications for years to come.