A “complex, coordinated and deliberate attack,” commented John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, on Monday. describes a recent drone assault on a US military outpost in Syria that helps train local allies to fight ISIS. It was made with up to five Iranian drones, launched by Iranian proxies, and conducted with the help and blessing of Iran.
We’ll see if there’s some sort of American response. The Biden administration is still desperate to bring Iran back to the negotiating table to sign a nuclear deal that would free billions of dollars in funding that Tehran could use to carry out more such attacks.
Also on Monday, the Times’ David Sanger reported that a Russian intelligence agency, the SVR, was once again engaged in a campaign “to break through thousands of US government computer networks, businesses and think tanks,” according to Microsoft’s cybersecurity experts. It comes just months after President Biden personally warned Vladimir Putin against repeating such attacks – while also giving in to the sanctions imposed by the United States for previous intrusions.
Around the same time, Biden announcement that “the time has come to defuse”. Apparently his Russian counterpart disagrees.
Then there is the sharp and disturbing rise in Chinese military flights approaching Taiwanese airspace. The idea that Beijing could seek to seize island democracy by force has, in a matter of weeks, grown from a distant prospect to a distinct possibility.
Biden has repeatedly claimed that the United States has a treaty obligation to stand up for Taiwan in the event of an attack, most recently at its CNN town hall last week. Subsequent clarification of the White House have recognized that the United States is obligated by the Taiwan Relations Act only to provide sufficient Taiwan self-defense, without an explicit guarantee of American military intervention.
In other words, on one of the main foreign policy challenges of our time, the president fails to establish the facts. On the other hand, he can’t get his message across. On the third, it is not clear whether there is a coherent policy. America’s position in the world as a credible ally of besieged friends and a serious enemy of adventurous enemies is clearly falling apart.
The roots of this decline go back years, and the blame is almost endless. But Biden was elected on a promise of wisdom, experience and skill. Can anyone seriously say that we got it?
And it’s not just about Taiwan, Iran and Russia.
The administration took office with an idea of the direction of the world. The exit of Donald Trump would significantly improve relations with our allies and at least facilitate diplomacy with our adversaries. A more humane policy on the southern border would alleviate the humanitarian crisis. The burden of the pandemic would ease considerably by July 4. We would make a safe and popular exit from Afghanistan by September 11. The economy would prosper.
Now all expectations have shifted, with little indication that the administration has given thought to what could go wrong, let alone any planning in case it does.
Afghanistan? “There will be no circumstance where you will see people being lifted from the roof of an embassy,” the president said said in july, barely a month before the world saw thousands of Afghans begging to be airlifted from a country surrendered to the fanatics.
Relations with the allies? “President Biden says he hears no criticism from allies of the United States about the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the collapse of the government,” Steven Erlanger reported of The Times in August. “But the criticisms in Europe, at least, are strong and persistent.”
The border? In March, Biden assured the country that the wave of migration was only seasonal and that it “happens every lonely year. “Instead, the border patrol encounters migrants hit a record high in the last year.
The economy? In July, the president rejected the price increases as “expected and intended to be temporary”. Current Times Headline: “Price Rise Once Seen Temporary Threatens Biden’s Agenda.”
Even the administration’s only real strategic accomplishment – the US-British-Australian nuclear submarine deal, signed at France’s expense – has been botched. Expect Paris to coolly serve its diplomatic revenge the next time we need its help.
Not all of these errors are forced. And all ultimately find themselves at the President’s feet – a painful reminder, as a former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said with conviction in 2014, that Biden has a long history of being on the wrong side of major foreign policy and national security issues. But it is also true that the president is badly advised.
America desperately needs the Biden presidency to be successful. And the world is in desperate need of a prosperous America. The alternative to a failed Biden presidency is not a change of administration. It is a transformation of the world order that leaves us poorer, more vulnerable and more sensitive to the siren songs of illiberal populists, including those back home.
Substantive advice to the President: Assemble a new national security team now. Be the tallest and invite people like Bob Gates to join him.