White House Foreign Policy Moves Defy Expectations

The Biden administration has weathered its first series of tests abroad and offered glimpses of an emerging foreign policy. Dismissing the temptations of immediate disengagement from the region, the administration has garnered tentative praise from the Right, even as skepticism mounts among certain quarters of the Left.

This week, in a move that gave pause to many veteran Washington observers, senior Middle East adviser to former President Trump, Jared Kushner took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to offer a surprisingly laudatory assessment of Biden’s emerging Middle Eastern posture. “While many were troubled by the Biden team’s opening offer to work with Europe and rejoin the Iran deal,” Kushner noted, “I saw it as a smart diplomatic move. The Biden administration called Iran’s bluff. It revealed to the Europeans that the JCPOA is dead and only a new framework can bring stability for the future.”

Kushner also celebrated the Biden administration’s steadfast refusal to accede to Iranian demands for preemptive concessions, and urged Biden to maintain a posture of strategic patience, noting, “Iran is feigning strength, but its economic situation is dire and it has no ability to sustain conflict or survive indefinitely under current sanctions. America should be patient and insist that any deal include real nuclear inspections and an end to Iran’s funding of foreign militias.”

From another segment of the Right, veteran foreign policy expert Kori Schake offered praise for Biden’s change of tone: “The America First xenophobia of President Donald Trump [has been] replaced by a humility that is appealing for the hegemon of the international order, and by a commitment that the values animating America’s domestic compact will return to its international conduct.”

Schake’s article adds the caveat that the administration’s rhetoric is at odds with some of its conduct, citing Biden’s abrupt cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline — favored by Canadian exporters — and his condemnation of the Nordstream II pipeline, ardently supported by many Germans. She concludes, “The administration’s strategy appears to rely fundamentally on alliance participation without committing to policies that will produce it.”

Discontent on the Left

California Democratic Representative Ro Khanna, a prominent figure among his party’s more progressive elements, has signaled his discontent with the early indications of Biden’s foreign policy. Biden’s centrist approach, Khanna contends, is like “conceding defeat of the aspiration” to win a Nobel Peace Prize. “Obama strove for greatness. He, at least, tried." Khanna was also fiercely critical of Biden’s recent airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to Iran-backed militia groups. He argues, “There is absolutely no justification for a president to authorize a military strike that is not in self-defense against an imminent threat without congressional authorization. We need to extricate from the Middle East, not escalate.”

Simmering discontent also manifests among progressive journalists. Katrina Vanden Heuvel, publisher and part-owner of The Nation, recently sounded a cautionary note: “Although the new president deserves kudos for his domestic policy, when it comes to foreign policy initiatives, the new era looks hauntingly like the old … Biden’s campaign pledge to revive the Iran nuclear deal has wavered thanks to a dispute about which country will take the first step.”