All was not bad news for the president, a former chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee who bragged during the election campaign of his talents as a statesman. He displayed a certain diplomatic skill during his first year in office. Declaring “America is back,” Biden appeased his allies battered by crises and insults from former President Donald Trump. He has convinced Western governments to craft an intimidating sanctions package for Russia to deter it from crossing Ukraine’s borders – and is proposing security talks in Moscow in a long-term attempt to ease tensions. At the start of last year, he appeared to discourage Russian President Vladimir Putin after a previous build-up from Ukraine. And while Trump has reset America’s course by adopting a confrontational posture toward China, Biden has done better by getting U.S. allies in Europe and the Pacific to support U.S. strategy.
Immediate tests at the dawn of the new year
The credibility of Biden’s foreign policy will come under scrutiny in 2022.
His administration’s most intense diplomatic offensive to date seeks to convince Putin to withdraw tens of thousands of troops from near Ukraine. NATO’s integrity and the health of its own political position depend on Biden defusing the crisis without giving in to the security guarantees demanded by the Russian leader. Putin, for example, wants NATO to withdraw forces from former Warsaw Pact countries that have joined the alliance – a condition that could destroy Western credibility and further spur Russian adventurism.
In the latest development, the White House said on Tuesday that U.S. and Russian officials will meet on January 10. US, Russian and NATO officials will also be in touch over the next few days. Russia fought for another Biden-Putin summit in person, a diplomatic choreography that would evoke old Cold War meetings. But Biden has to walk a fine line – as he could be accused of appeasing Putin if he were to eventually move to Ukraine – while finding an exit ramp for the Russian leader that allows him to save face. The showdown has profound political implications for Biden and Putin. And the Russian leader, who sees a historic task of restoring Russian power at the expense of the United States, is a cunning opponent who has outsmarted the last three American presidents.
As their European counterparts try to prevent a war on the continent, U.S. nuclear negotiators are scrambling to revive the 2015 nuclear deal involving the United States and Iran, which was broken by Trump’s walkout.
Despite some optimism expressed by Russian negotiators during the last session of talks in Vienna since Monday, the United States is deeply skeptical of the diplomatic route. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday it was “too early to tell” whether Iran’s new radical government had returned to the table to negotiate. And any progress still falls short of “Iran’s accelerated nuclear milestones,” Price added.
New talks – in which the United States and Iran do not meet directly – are taking place after the main US negotiator Robert Malley issued a terrible warning days before Christmas. He told CNN’s Becky Anderson that Tehran’s growing uranium enrichment meant time was running out for a deal.
Iran demands that the United States lift all sanctions before canceling enrichment. The United States proposes a sequenced approach. His position is complicated by the inability of the Biden administration to promise that a future Republican administration would honor any deal. Iran has said it is now enriching uranium to up to 60% purity, its highest level ever and much closer to the 90% threshold needed to build a nuclear bomb. Its progress reveals the utter failure of Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, introduced when Iran complied with the Obama administration’s pact to cap its nuclear program.
If diplomacy fails now, Biden – or, more immediately, Israel – will be faced with the question of whether to launch a military strike against the Tehran facility that could set the Middle East on fire again.
Biden’s fate at home and abroad is linked
Much of Biden’s influence abroad in the coming days depends on how he is viewed by allies and enemies of the United States after a year in power.
The debacle shook Biden’s authority at home and abroad, despite claims by Democrats that Americans didn’t really care how American troops left the country’s longest war and that they just wanted them at home. The mess has also offered Republicans an opening to label the new president reckless – even if those GOP critics were silent when Trump bowed to global tyrants. In foreign capitals, the withdrawal which occurred with little warning to the allies raised new questions about the resistance of the United States. So is Biden’s cold view of American interests.
Presidents criticized at home often seek easy victories abroad, but Biden does not have such luxury as he serves as America’s world power is more contested than at any time since WWII. global. At the same time, the American political divisions raging in the United States offer openings for adversaries like Putin and Xi. It’s a vicious cycle that plays into the hands of Republicans determined to portray Biden as a weak failure. So, as tough as 2022 promises to be for Biden at home, he’s unlikely to get much relief abroad.
CNN’s Natasha Bertrand and Kyle Feldscher contributed to this report.