Biden to Deliver First Speech on Foreign Policy
Both the president and vice president will visit the State Department today as Biden seeks a break from the “America First” era.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden will deliver his first major foreign-policy speech at the State Department, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell begins Russia visit, and Aung San Suu Kyi is charged by police in Myanmar.
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Biden To Give First Foreign Policy Speech As President
U.S President Joe Biden visits the U.S. Department of State this afternoon to greet staff and lay out his foreign-policy vision in a speech expected at around 3 p.m. ET.
It will be Biden’s first visit to a government organization since becoming president. He’ll be joined by Vice President Kamala Harris in a signal of support for the organization derided by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump as the “Deep State” department (Trump’s first visit was to the CIA).
The outlines of Biden’s foreign policy goals are already well known: deepening ties with allies and partners, returning to international agreements like the Paris Accord and the Iran nuclear deal, and restoring U.S. “core values.”
As Barack Obama found out in Libya and Yemen, real world crises can destroy the best-laid plans. New challenges have already emerged to test Biden: the case of Alexei Navalny in Russia and the military coup in Myanmar.
So far, Obama’s stated (if not always followed) doctrine of “don’t do stupid shit” has prevailed. In both the Russian and Myanmar cases, U.S. officials have made their concerns known before turning to allies to discuss a further response.
Beyond the daily flare-ups around the world, the larger challenge for Biden will be in selling countries, both ally and adversary alike, on the idea that the United States can be trusted to keep its word after the erratic Trump years.
The war at home. That task will be made harder by the ongoing deterioration of American political life. As Emma Ashford wrote in Foreign Policy on Jan. 7, “How can anyone expect—as Joe Biden’s campaign promised—to ‘restore responsible American leadership on the world stage’ if Americans cannot even govern themselves at home? How can the United States spread democracy or act as an example for others if it barely has a functioning democracy at home?”
Refugee policy renewed. One way to claim back the high ground is in recasting the United States as an example to the world. Today, Biden plans to announce a dramatic increase in the number of refugees the country will accept, which had slowed to 15,000 per year by the end of Trump’s term. Biden plans to announce a new cap of 125,000 new admissions per year, 15,000 more than the limit during the Obama administration.
The first 100 days. White House press secretary Jen Psaki hinted that today’s speech would be short, and that the president wouldn’t give “his vision for every issue and every foreign policy issue.” At Foreign Policy, our reporters and contributors have already catalogued the key issues facing Biden in his first 100 days—you can dive in to that here.
What We’re Following Today
Senate committee votes on U.N. ambassador. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets today to vote on whether to approve Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination had previously been delayed by Sen. Ted Cruz, who had questioned comments the veteran diplomat had made during a 2019 Confucius Institute speech where she had said that both the United States and China could be positive influences on Africa. Assuming Thomas-Greenfield meets the committee’s approval, it’s not yet known when a full Senate vote will be held on Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination since the chamber is preparing for the second Trump impeachment trial.
Borrell heads to Moscow. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell begins a three-day visit to Russia today, just two days after Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny was sentenced to roughly two and a half years in prison. Borrell has defended the trip’s timing—which includes a meeting with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov—as essential for engaging Russian civil society. “We cannot say: ‘I don’t like you, I will stay in my corner’,” Borrell told an online event earlier this week. At the same event, Borrell downplayed the idea of any breakthrough being made in the Navalny case.
Aung San Suu Kyi charged. Myanmar police have filed charges against deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi after six walkie-talkies were found in her residence. The authorities say they were imported illegally and say she will be detained until Feb. 15 while an investigation takes place.
The police have been roundly criticized for the move. Charles Santiago, the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Parliamentarians for Human Rights, called the charges “an absurd move by the junta to try to legitimize their illegal power grab.” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the charges “just compound the undermining of the rule of law” taking place in the country.
Keep an Eye On
Turkish university protests. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has branded students and teachers protesting the appointment of a pro-Erdogan university rector as “terrorists” and vowed to stop the weeks of protests from becoming an anti-government movement. Protesters at Istanbul’s Bogazici University have been angered by the appointment of Melih Bulu, a former AKP district president and academic, which they say was undemocratic. Over 300 people in Ankara and Istanbul have been arrested during protests this week.
U.S. Afghanistan withdrawal. A new report commissioned by the U.S. Congress has called for U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan past the scheduled May deadline for withdrawal as outlined in the U.S.-Taliban Doha agreement signed last year. The report’s authors, which include retired Gen. Joseph Dunford and former Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, warned that the threat of civil war would increase if troops left on the current timeline.
Writing in Foreign Policy, Elise Labott cautions against keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan too long as it would likely discourage the Taliban and Afghan government from reaching a peace deal. Her logic: The Taliban can always wait the United States out—and President Ashraf Ghani can use U.S. troop involvement as a bargaining chip to prop up his weak government.
Modi vs. RiRi. The Indian government has hit back at criticism from singer Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg after both celebrities posted their support for farmer protests that have engulfed New Delhi in recent months. In a 334-word statement, India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman explained the protests “must be seen in the context of India’s democratic ethos and polity” and that only a “small section” of farmers have problems with the agricultural reforms.
The government statement has been somewhat belied by the actions of authorities in New Delhi, where barricades, along with metal spikes, have been placed along the routes to protest sites in a bid to deter further demonstrations. Farmers’ union leaders on Wednesday pledged to continue their protests in New Delhi as well as broaden the protest movement across the country.
Odds and Ends
Golf won’t be the only sport where those in attendance will be asked to remain quiet at next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. Under current guidelines distributed to international federations by the Tokyo Olympics organizers, expressions of support will be strictly monitored to ensure compliance with coronavirus regulations.
Athletes should be supported by clapping but “not singing or chanting” the guidelines said. “Unnecessary forms of physical contact such as hugs, high-fives and handshakes” should also be avoided. Those found breaking the rules face expulsion from the games.
If Japanese residents have their say, there will be no risk of athletes or fans breaking the rules at all. A recent survey found that 80 percent of respondents think the Olympics should be further postponed or cancelled.
That’s it for today.