A Foreign Policy For The American People

Joe Biden’s foreign policy is evolving before our eyes. It’s refreshing to see a policy and an administration that has confidence enough to show us how they’re thinking.

While he was at the Carnegie Endowment, Jake Sullivan, now Biden’s National Security Advisor, led a study called “Making U.S. Foreign Policy Work Better for the Middle Class.” I summarized that report here. It was published in September 2020, before the election, but Sullivan would have discussed it with Biden.

Wednesday this week (March 3), Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave a speech “A Foreign Policy for the American People.” Comparing the report and this speech give insights into the administration’s policy development.

First is the title. When I was working through the report and discussing it with friends, the strongest and most frequent reaction I got was to the focus on the middle class. Clearly Blinken and others got the same reaction and changed that to “the American People.”

Second is the length. Where the report had 68 pages, Blinken’s speech has a little over 4000 words. It’s a short speech and seemed to me even shorter than my post on the report, although that’s not the case. I think it seems shorter because it’s sharpened up.

The overall structure of the speech is similar to that of the report – the order and priority of topics – but much clearer. Blinken begins with a short explanation that Biden’s policy is that foreign policy should serve ordinary Americans. Then he talks about change:

Yes, many of us serving in the Biden administration also proudly served President Obama – including President Biden.  And we did a great deal of good work to restore America’s leadership in the world; to achieve hard-won diplomatic breakthroughs, like the deal that stopped Iran from producing a nuclear weapon; and to bring the world together to tackle climate change.  Our foreign policy fit the moment, as any good strategy should.

But this is a different time, so our strategy and approach are different.  We’re not simply picking up where we left off, as if the past four years didn’t happen.  We’re looking at the world with fresh eyes.

He lays out four general principles:

  • American leadership and engagement matter.
  • We need countries to cooperate, now more than ever.
  • President Biden has pledged to lead with diplomacy because it’s the best way to deal with today’s challenges.
  • We’ll look not only to make progress on short-term problems, but also to address their root causes and lay the groundwork for our long-term strength.

He then enumerates eight points, all simultaneously international and domestic:

  • First, we will stop COVID-19 and strengthen global health security.
  • Second, we will turn around the economic crisis and build a more stable, inclusive global economy.
  • Third, we will renew democracy, because it’s under threat.
  • Fourth, we will work to create a humane and effective immigration system.
  • Fifth, we will revitalize our ties with our allies and partners.  
  • Sixth, we will tackle the climate crisis and drive a green energy revolution. 
  • Seventh, we will secure our leadership in technology.
  • And eighth, we will manage the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century: our relationship with China.

The speech has more detail. Most of the specifics are put similarly to the way they are addressed in the report. Immigration and the climate crisis are given more emphasis than in the report.

Under the second point, Blinken talks about change:

Some of us previously argued for free trade agreements because we believed Americans would broadly share in the economic gains that those – and that those deals would shape the global economy in ways that we wanted.  We had good reasons to think those things.  But we didn’t do enough to understand who would be negatively affected and what would be needed to adequately offset their pain, or to enforce agreements that were already on the books and help more workers and small businesses fully benefit from them.

Our approach now will be different.  We will fight for every American job and for the rights, protections, and interests of all American workers. 

Beating COVID-19 is clearly the first priority, as we’ve seen in Biden’s actions so far. Blinken mentions getting the world immunized so that it doesn’t fester elsewhere and come back to us. Biden’s announcements this week of increased vaccine production and more rapid immunization of Americans point to getting the vaccine out to others. I think that the administration will go slow on foreign policy initiatives until COVID-19 is much more under control.

A few more quotes worth highlighting:

The Biden administration’s foreign policy will reflect our values.

We will stand firm behind our commitments to human rights, democracy, the rule of law.  And we’ll stand up against injustice toward women and girls, LGBTQI people, religious minorities, and people of all races and ethnicities.  Because all human beings are equal in rights and dignity, no matter where they live or who they are.

We will respect science and data, and we will fight misinformation and disinformation, because the truth is the cornerstone of our democracy.

And, perhaps most important:

We will balance humility with confidence.

The whole speech is worth reading, and easy to read. This administration has some great speechwriters.

A small excerpt:

Cross-posted at Balloon Juice