Joe Biden’s announcements of who he would place in key cabinet and White House positions represent a return to Obama-era policy. Biden’s choices for National Security Advisor, Secretary of Homeland Security, Director of National Intelligence, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change and Secretary of State all served to some capacity within the Obama administration.
Among the most critical roles of the executive branch is being the nation’s leader in foreign policy. Thus one should look at the personnel involved and Obama era foreign policy to understand what American foreign policy might look like in the upcoming years.
The choice for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, was Democratic Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee form 2002 to 2008 and Deputy Secretary of State from 2015 to 2017. Blinken revealed some of his policy positions in a 2019 Washington Post editorial co-written with Robert Kagan.
In the article, they state that America First and its “progessive cousin” retrenchment are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. He argues that America needs to be the leader of the world, shaping international institutions and secure democracy abroad. What America needs to do in order to lead the world is slightly unclear, but Blinken seems to argue for moderate levels of intervention.
“A responsible foreign policy seeks to prevent crises or contain them before they spiral out of control,” Blinken and Kagan write. “That requires a combination of active diplomacy and military deterrence.”
People will likely see in the Biden years a continuation of military intervention around the world using a tactic known as surrogate warfare and, at times, maybe even direct war. As a Senator serving on the Senate foreign relations committee, Biden played a large part in the 2002 Authorization of the Use of Military Force against Iraq.
In the peer-reviewed Academic Journal, International Affairs, Andreas Krieg wrote about how the Obama era foreign policy in the Middle East was to externalize the burden of warfare, placing the primary burden on U.S. allies and civilians rather than the U.S. itself. To lessen the burden of war on the U.S. itself, it depends upon regional partners and drone warfare.
“UCAVs [Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles] have been deployed in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, against the Gaddafi regime in Libya, against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, and against Al-Shabaab militias in Somalia,” Krieg wrote.
Other examples include the U.S. training and supporting non-U.S. troops on the ground. In Libya and Syria campaigns, the U.S. provided air support and training, and equipment to rebel forces. In Yemen, the U.S. provided logistical and intelligence support for the April 2015 Operation Decisive Storm. In 2014-15 the U.S. used Iranian ground forces to complement U.S. airstrikes against ISIS.
Joe Biden and his team are likely to represent the return of the foreign policy of surrogate warfare. If Biden intended to distance himself from Obama, his team would not be made up almost entirely of former Obama employees.