- - Saturday, February 27, 2021

In his memoir after serving as President Barack Obama’s secretary of Defense, Robert Gates’ assessment of Joe Biden’s foreign policy skills was succinct: “I think he’s been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” 

Mr. Gates was not a partisan hack. He served in both Republican and Democratic administrations with a reputation as a very clear-minded practitioner of realpolitik focused on the best interests of the United States. Having also served as director of the CIA under President George W. Bush, he possesses a very realistic view of the world and understands that one must see things as they are, not as one might wish them to be. His view of Mr. Biden’s skills to act in the best interest of the U.S. does not inspire confidence.  

A month into the Biden presidency, we already have a glimpse of his tendency to miscalculate the intentions of our adversaries and repeat the same mistakes the Obama administration made. This latter point is somewhat ironic since Mr. Obama has expressed his concern about Mr. Biden’s judgment in a rather crude way, warning people not to “underestimate Joe’s ability to [expletive] things up.” Here Mr. Gates’ and Mr. Obama’s view of the new president converge. President Biden, having made foreign policy misjudgments in the past, is more than capable of repeating them. The danger is profound.

Consider the new president’s conceptualization of climate change and racial equity as elements of his foreign policy. There is the distinct danger that such myopia will distract the president from the real nature of foreign policy and national security.

More worrisome yet is Mr. Biden’s inclusion of former secretary of State John Kerry as the new climate czar and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice as his domestic policy chief. Despite having chosen former NSC adviser to President Obama, Tony Blinken, to lead “Foggy Bottom,” Mr. Biden has all but guaranteed that the Kerry-Rice partnership will have an outsized influence on foreign policy decisions in the Biden White House.

A return to the (1) Paris Climate Agreement, (2) the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Iranian nuclear deal and (3) the misguided “strategic patience” approach that enabled Chinese and North Korean adventurism in Asia are all opportunities for the Kerry-Rice team to shape the Biden foreign policy well beyond their climate change and domestic policy portfolios. They will be there ready to serve up failed foreign policy recipes, albeit spiced with climate change and equity seasoning.  

Moreover, viewing the world through the lens of climate change and equity is precisely the strategy our enemies hope America will embrace, certainly not one of real proportions. Russia doesn’t care about Mr. Biden’s view on carbon emissions while they scheme against the Balkans. China isn’t worried about clean energy as they prepare to wage war against Taiwan or assert final control over the oil-rich Spratly Island Archipelago. Iran could not care less about Mr. Biden’s concerns on racial equity as they plot genocide against Israel.

Our enemies and some allies are delighted with the president’s political infatuation with climate change and equity wokeness. It blends very nicely with the misguided “Blame America First” agenda of the Obama administration, a view the Kerry-Rice collaboration espoused in policymaking.   

Former President Donald Trump saw our enemies for what they were, not as he wished they were. Our adversaries are delighted to see President Biden’s attention diverted from that cleareyed approach. They know that Mr. Biden’s proclivity to “Blame America First” translates to a policy of “Put America Last.” For our enemies, that represents a refreshing break from the “America First” approach Donald Trump employed that kept them in check. They knew that Mr. Trump would not take their aggression and misdeeds lightly.

But now they know this: While Mr. Biden is focused on equity and climate change, China, Russia, Iran and North Korea can be focused on hegemony and balance of power change.  

One need look no further than Mr. Biden’s actions vis-a-vis Iran in the first 30 days of his nascent administration. On Feb. 15, Iranian Shia militias in northern Iraq shelled a U.S. base, wounding one American service member and two civilians. Simultaneously Mr. Biden signaled his intention to reduce crippling economic sanctions on Iran and reenter negotiations with its terror-mullahs to reinstate the Iran nuclear deal.

Worse yet, Mr. Biden turned to European nations to initiate those negotiations, seeming to have forgotten how eager Europe is to secure lucrative economic deals with Tehran. Turning to Europe to set the table for a new nuclear deal with Iran is akin to asking China to set our trade policy. Mr. Obama was right. Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to foul things up. And John Kerry and Susan Rice are there to help.

• L. Scott Lingamfelter is a retired U.S. Army colonel, former member of the Virginia House of Delegates and author of “Desert Redleg: Artillery Warfare in the First Gulf War” (University Press of Kentucky).

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