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Biden Steers Clear of Foreign Policy
The public deserves a more thorough accounting of what their government is doing in their name.
Even by the standards of past State of the Union addresses, Biden’s speech tonight was remarkably light on references to foreign policy. Stephen Wertheim commented on this during the speech:
It is understandable that most of the speech would be on domestic issues. A State of the Union address is principally a report on the conditions in the country and what the administration is doing about things at home. Even so, there is something amiss when the president has so little to say about foreign affairs. In a speech that lasts more than an hour, foreign policy should rate more than a tiny fraction of that time.
Foreign policy is one of the areas where the president has the greatest leeway, and foreign policy decisions that the president has made and will make can have serious consequences for the country as a whole. The public deserves a more thorough accounting of what their government is doing in their name, and Americans should expect the president to inform them of how he has been acting on their behalf over the previous year. If there is not much from the last year for Biden to boast about, that is itself something that the public needs to know.
What little Biden did have to say about international affairs was quite vague. At one point, he declared, “Our nation is working for more freedom, more dignity, and more peace, not just in Europe, but everywhere.” That assertion is debatable, but it would have been worth hearing what it is that the president thinks the U.S. is doing to work for “more freedom” and “more dignity” in the countries where it is waging economic war on ordinary people. How exactly is the U.S. working for “more freedom” and “more dignity” in Palestine? If the U.S. isn’t really working for these things “everywhere,” as we know it is not, why pretend that it is? Who does Biden think he’s kidding?
The only countries to be mentioned by name were Russia and China. This was an acknowledgment that U.S. foreign policy is now defined by “great power competition” to the exclusion of pretty much everything else, but Biden still had very little to tell the public about the shape or the costs of this “competition” beyond bromides. Americans are expected to believe that “winning the competition with China should unite all of us,” but Biden isn’t explaining why it should or what “winning” even means.
Biden said that he is “committed to work with China where it can advance American interests and benefit the world,” but this came across as a boilerplate line that means nothing. If he sees areas of common interest with China, this was the time to identify what they are and make the case for working together in spite of our disagreements. A speech like this is not only intended as a list of what an administration has done over the previous year, but it is also supposed to be laying out an agenda for the year ahead. Judging from the contents of this speech, what is the Biden foreign policy agenda for 2023? I have no idea, because he doesn’t tell us.