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Where Biden’s Foreign Policy Is Taking the U.S.


One day before the administration announced its decision on Saudi Arabia, Biden gave the first major indication of his presidency that he would be willing to use military force in the Middle East if he considered it justified. He ordered retaliatory airstrikes against Iranian-backed fighters in Syria, showing his willingness to maintain a tit-for-tat military presence in the Middle East as Iran continues to support a web of anti-U.S. militias across the region.

In response to the strikes — which reportedly killed at least one fighter in the Kataib Hezbollah militia group, an Iranian-backed group that is also part of the Iraqi government’s official security forces — Iran declined a third-party invitation to join the United States in diplomatic negotiations.

On the campaign trail, Biden committed to re-establishing the Iran nuclear deal signed by his former boss, President Barack Obama, and he highlighted his record as an opponent of Obama’s intervention in Libya and the troop surge in Afghanistan. (Biden also opposed the risky mission that took out Osama bin Laden, though he has been less quick to brag about that.)

When he arrived in office, one of Biden’s first moves was to announce that he would end “all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.” It was seen largely as a pre-emptive move, given that Congress was likely to reintroduce a bill that Trump had vetoed cutting off arms sales to support the war in Yemen. But it also reflected pressure from within his party — and from many Republicans supportive of Trump — to turn the page on American intervention.

Yet Biden has surrounded himself with veterans of the Democratic foreign-policy establishment in Washington, prompting concerns from some critics in his party that he will return to the kind of moderate-interventionist approach that defined Obama’s tenure.

Weeks before his inauguration, a number of progressive groups sent him a list of 100 staff recommendations, as they grew concerned about his picks on foreign policy. Critics have pointed to the prevalence of former Obama administration officials with ties to the weapons industry during their years out of public service.

Biden has said he wants to “end the forever wars,” and he often speaks of his experience as the parent of a service member deployed to Iraq (his son Beau, who died of cancer in 2015). But Biden is now seen as highly unlikely to follow through on a campaign promise to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1, in what will be a crucial test of his commitment to nonintervention — in a situation where the results may be ugly either way. This, too, can be explained by his desire to focus on domestic policy, Parsi said, calling it a path-of-least-resistance approach.

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