By The Hill•
Lebanon is facing a dangerous combination of accelerating crises — economic, political and societal. Although Lebanon is a small country, important issues for U.S. national interest and geo-strategy are at stake. Yet, currently, American Middle East foreign policy is devoted to the single obsession of the Iran negotiations, leaving little oxygen for other matters. This is a mistake. The Biden administration should develop a more nuanced engagement with the region and especially a robust response to Lebanon’s pending collapse.
The Lebanese currency has lost close to 90 percent of its value, pushing much of the country below the poverty line, with many families relying on remittances from relatives abroad. Yet even those lifelines cannot make up for the shortages in commodities: gasoline, medications and food are all in short supply. Add to this a crumbling infrastructure that can supply electricity for only a few hours every day.
Meanwhile, a political stalemate blocks the formation of an effective government that could institute reforms that might alleviate some of the problems. Instead, the political class, largely viewed as incorrigibly corrupt, is making no effort to meet the needs of the public. One bright light is the emergence of vibrant oppositional forces. But they remain fragmented, and elections will not take place until next year.
Leadership change may therefore be too far in the future to rescue the crumbling institutions that once enjoyed a strong international reputation, especially Lebanese universities and hospitals. Now the talented personnel on which those institutions depend are trying to leave for better paying jobs abroad. After the troubled decades of civil war and occupations, after the devastation of COVID-19 and the massive destruction of the explosion in the port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, this already fragile country faces even greater disorder.
Given the extent of the suffering, there is every reason to provide humanitarian assistance to Lebanon, as the United States is already doing. The U.S. also provides important training support to the Lebanese armed forces, although the scope of that mission has been shrinking. Otherwise, American engagement is quite limited. Washington should do more and put Lebanon higher on the list of foreign policy priorities for four reasons
1) Grand Strategy: Lebanon presents a clear case of the deleterious consequences of a pivot away from the region, given the reality of great power competition. If the U.S. does not provide leadership, it opens the door for other powers, notably Russia. Its naval repair facility in Tartus, Syria, is less than a 40-mile drive from the Lebanese port of Tripoli, which could be ripe for Moscow’s taking. Lebanon could become one more stepping-stone for Russia’s advance in the Middle East, unless the U.S. reasserts its role there.
2) Terrorism: The discrepancy between the degradation of living conditions in Lebanon and the immobility of the political class can lead to social unrest, a breeding ground for the sort of Islamist terrorism that has plagued the larger region. One should not discount the possibility of a resurgence of ISIS or intentional spillover effects from the Syrian civil war, which led to bombings in Beirut and Tripoli only eight years ago. The more such violence proliferates, the greater the chance that terror incubated in the region can spread beyond it, including to the U.S.
3) Refugees: Unless the Lebanese crises are addressed, the resulting social disorder is likely to produce a new wave of refugees, fleeing the ravages of a collapsed economy or, in a worst-case scenario, the resurgence of sectarian conflict. The Assad regime in Syria is not above provoking violence in Lebanon in order to achieve the sort of demographic reengineering it has undertaken at home, where it has forced targeted populations to flee, a cynical form of ethnic cleansing. The U.S. should be concerned about the destabilizing effects of renewed refugee flows into allies such as Jordan and Turkey, already hosting large refugee populations, or into the European Union, where the 2015 refugee wave continues to have disruptive political repercussions.
4) Iran: A collapse of the Lebanese state can only benefit Iran and its most anti-American political forces. Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, might see an opportunity to seize power directly or, more strategically, it might prefer to consolidate its control in its strongholds and let the rest of the country dissipate, precisely in order to demonstrate the weakness of western democracy. In either case, Tehran would win, unless the U.S. engages in strategic ways to address Lebanon’s dilemmas.
Arguments that it is in the U.S. national interest to engage more strongly in Lebanon run counter to current foreign policy predispositions in Washington. A prevailing orientation deprioritizes the Middle East in general in order to shift attention to the Indo-Pacific. But that viewpoint does not need to lead to a full-scale abandoning of the Middle East that hands the region over to America’s great power adversaries.
In addition, the Biden administration views the region primarily in terms of Iran and a renewed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Many Lebanese understand this and correctly fear that Hezbollah will benefit from a windfall when the U.S. lifts sanctions on Iran. There is no indication that the U.S. negotiation team is seriously demanding a termination of Iran’s regional destabilization campaigns, including its support for Hezbollah. Yet getting to a new deal with Tehran without such a constraint basically means appeasing Iran by trading away Lebanese sovereignty.
American national interest, including American values, requires a different path: Instead of misusing Lebanon as an accommodation to Tehran, the U.S. should make a stand in Lebanon, with policies designed to renew its democracy (and purge its corruption) and to protect its sovereignty by diminishing Hezbollah, as first steps toward pushing back against Iran’s broader expansionist ambitions.
Lebanon is a small country, but the current crisis has outsized geo-strategic implications for the U.S.
Engage Taiwan, boycott the 2022 Olympics, and impose a carbon tariff
The debate over the origins of the coronavirus—did it come from a wet market in Wuhan or from the virology lab nearby—has exposed the bias of media and technology companies and the potential danger of so-called gain of function research. But it also has led to something of an intellectual cul-de-sac. Barring a high-level defection from the Chinese Communist Party, we are unlikely ever to learn the answer. And even if we did have conclusive evidence one way or another, we still would have to decide what to do about it. The real question isn’t whether the pandemic is China’s fault. It’s whether China will pay a price for the catastrophic damage it caused the world.
Wherever the virus came from, we know that the Chinese government lied about it for weeks. Dr. Ai Fen shared information about a novel coronavirus with her colleagues on December 30, 2019. The next day, as Lawrence Wright recounts in The Plague Year, China removed social media posts that mentioned “unknown Wuhan pneumonia” or “Wuhan Seafood Market.” Dr. Li Wenliang, who warned the public that the virus could be transmitted from human to human, was arrested and forced to deliver a televised confession. He died of COVID-19 on February 6, 2020.
Beijing prevaricated for a month while the deadly pandemic spread. China did not allow the World Health Organization to visit Wuhan until January 20, 2020. The same day, one of China’s top doctors finally admitted the obvious: COVID-19 is a communicable disease. By the time the Communist leadership took action, it was too late. On January 21, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirmed the first case of coronavirus in America. China did not quarantine Wuhan until January 22. “By that time,” according to Wright, “nearly half the population of Wuhan had already left the city for Chinese New Year.”
The dishonesty and incompetence of the Chinese Communist Party turned a national crisis into a global one. A March 2020 study estimated that cases might have been reduced by anywhere from 66 percent to 95 percent if Chinese authorities had acted earlier. Why was Beijing slow to move? Because bureaucratic collectivist societies such as Communist China are especially prone to delays and coverups as underlings attempt to avoid punishment from above. The same powers of draconian coercion that China used to lock down its population inspired fear among the midlevel and regional officials who allowed the virus to leave China in the first place. The problem wasn’t scientific. It was political. And punishment is deserved.
What to do? Writing in the Washington Post, Mike Pompeo and Scooter Libby call on the “leading democracies” to “act together,” leveraging “their great economic power” to “persuade China to curb its dangerous viral research activities, cooperate with the investigation of the coronavirus’s origins, and, over time, pay some measure of the pandemic’s damages to other nations.” It’s a worthy strategy with a potentially fatal flaw: The other democracies might put economics ahead of accountability.
Another proposal in Congress would strip China of its sovereign immunity and make it liable for damages in U.S. courts. That plan would also leave American foreign policy dependent on outside actors—in this case, judges. And millions of potential claimants attempting to seize Chinese assets in the United States could make for a mess.
China never will volunteer to open its labs. Nor will it compensate either nations or individuals for the havoc it unleashed. Costs must be imposed that Beijing cannot avoid.
I have three suggestions. Each is more controversial than the last. But all of them would ensure that China paid some price for its lax hygiene and sanitation standards, loosey-goosey research protocols, and reckless attitude toward human freedom and human life.
Engage Taiwan. To its credit, the Biden administration has continued the stepped-up engagement with Taiwan that began under President Trump. In April, Biden sent an unofficial delegation to the island that included his close friend Chris Dodd. Most recently, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai raised the prospect of new trade talks in a conversation with her Taiwanese counterpart. This pattern of contacts bothers mainland China to no end.
Keep it up. But also do more to train and equip Taiwanese military forces, as my American Enterprise Institute colleagues Gary Schmitt and Michael Mazza suggested last year in The Dispatch. Taiwan is a reminder that Chinese people can be free and that open societies can deal effectively with pandemics. The very existence of Chinese democracy in Taiwan is a threat to the legitimacy of Communist rule in the mainland. It’s an obstacle to Beijing’s ambitions in the Pacific. Taiwan’s defense is imperative.
Boycott the Olympics. One day before he left office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Chinese Communist Party “has committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.” Here, too, the Biden administration has not deviated from its predecessor’s course. The United States openly accuses its arch-rival of crimes against humanity. This is a pretty big deal, is it not?
Well, start acting like it. Why the participation of U.S. officials in the Beijing Olympics next year is even up for debate is a mystery. The White House has said that it is not exploring a boycott. That needs to change. On June 7 a bipartisan resolution was introduced in Congress demanding that the International Olympic Committee explore other venues. A declaration that no U.S. government personnel will participate because of China’s actions at home and abroad would embarrass Beijing. It would encourage other democracies to do the same. China deserves neither the honor of nor the revenue from the participation of U.S. officials. Let the athletes compete. But cheer them on from home.
Impose a carbon tariff. President Biden has also maintained the tariffs that President Trump levied against Chinese goods. Economist Irwin Stelzer of the Hudson Institute has a better plan. He would replace these tariffs with a border tax on the carbon content of Chinese exports. The strategy has appeal for environmentalists and China hawks alike. Everyone knows that China is the world’s largest emitter. Everyone knows that China’s promise of greenhouse gas reduction is worthless. Beijing won’t do anything that jeopardizes the economic growth on which it bases its claim to rule.
“In effect,” writes Stelzer, “by selling us ‘dirty’ products, China is adding to the competitive advantage it has from selling us stuff made by slave and other laborers paid wages with which we cannot decently compete, around $2 per hour in Beijing.” The EU already is at work on what it calls a “Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism” on Chinese exports. By pushing for a carbon tariff of its own, the Biden administration would please not only hawks and greens, but also the European allies whose opinion it values so highly.
The problem with a “carbon border adjustment mechanism,” of course, is that the process of calculating a good’s carbon content might turn out to be overly complicated, bureaucratic, and subject to politicization. I’m not in the habit of taking economic advice from Brussels. But these problems must be weighed against the justice and potential benefits of such a tax. And the additional cost could be rebated to low-income U.S. consumers along the lines that Senator Tom Cotton proposed in a slightly different context in 2019.
In the end, whether or not the United States adopts a tax on Chinese carbon is less important than moving the debate from the pandemic’s origins to the pandemic’s endgame. The despotic regime whose malign indifference killed so many and cost so much cannot be allowed to pretend that nothing happened. We can hold China responsible. And we can make China pay.
Three recent events, two of them from the past week, haven’t gotten the news coverage they deserve as the Biden administration desperately pursues a rapprochement with Iran.
The first is the U.S. Navy’s seizure over the weekend of a significant weapons shipment. It contained “dozens of advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, and hundreds of PKM machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades launchers … [and] advanced optical sights,” the Fifth Fleet said in a statement.
The cache was destined for Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, whom the Biden administration recently delisted as a terrorist organization. No serious person believes the arms didn’t originate in Iran, though for obviously political reasons the United States Navy prefers not to state the obvious.
In neighboring Iraq, a prominent Iraqi political activist and critic of Iranian influence in his country, particularly the arming and funding of pro-Tehran militias, was gunned down—the latest in a series of Iran critics to turn up dead. The early reporting suggests an Iranian militia is to blame.
Finally, there is the escalating security situation in the Persian Gulf. After several years of tranquility along one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, Iran has returned to harassing American ships. In early April, one IRGC Navy boat harassed U.S. Navy and Coast Guard boats; weeks later, three IRGC boats got so close that the United States fired warning shots for the first time in years. Thirteen IRGC armed speedboats harassed U.S. ships on Monday again forcing them to fire warning shots.
In response, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said yesterday that “harassment by the IRGC Navy is not a new phenomenon.” That depends on the definition of the word “new”: This round of antagonistic behavior began a few weeks ago, after several years of comparative Iranian good behavior in the Gulf.
These events make clear that Tehran feels no pressure to demonstrate goodwill to the Biden administration, preferring confrontation and violence. It cannot be a coincidence that these events are unfolding in the midst of the administration’s campaign to reenter the nuclear deal.
No matter how many times the pattern repeats itself, JCPOA supporters refuse to learn that Iran repays engagement with contempt, not good behavior, and that the Iranians know a dupe when they see one. Looking at you, Rob Malley.
Elsewhere in the region, the Hamas terrorist organization is demonstrating the same astute appreciation for weakness. A month after Team Biden announced its intention to restore U.S. aid programs to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and resume funding for UNRWA, Hamas rockets are raining down on Israel. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is glorifying the behavior and encouraging the attacks.
The Biden administration pledged to revive aid to the Palestinians—and to jump back into the nuclear deal—to advance peace.
In both cases, the administration has been repaid with violence and humiliation.
Will the government of Afghanistan survive America's retreat?
It’s not just generals who are always prepared to fight the last war. President Biden’s April 14 announcement that U.S. forces will leave Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of 9/11 has a long and complicated backstory. Biden said his decision will allow America to put this violent and ambiguous past behind it, to retire the frameworks that conditioned its foreign policy for a generation, and to focus its energies on the competition with China.
Perhaps so. The risk, however, is that Biden’s fixation on settling old scores has blinded him to contemporary realities, has prevented him from answering the question that will determine the future of both Afghan and U.S. security: Will the democratically elected government of Afghanistan survive American withdrawal?
Behind the official statements of Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken is the assumption that our exit (and that of our NATO allies) won’t jeopardize the existence of the regime based in Kabul. “While we will not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily,” Biden said, “our diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue.” Blinken echoed this sentiment at a press availability during his surprise visit to Kabul, when he said that “Even when our troops come home, our partnership with Afghanistan will continue.”
The robust promotion of civil society, counterterrorism, education for women and girls—none of this, we are told, will be interrupted when our soldiers leave. Nor will the enemy of civilization, the Taliban militia whose safe harbor for al-Qaeda was the reason for our intervention in 2001, abandon peace negotiations and impose its theocratic will through military force. “We have an expectation that the Taliban is going to abide by their commitments that they are not going to allow Afghanistan to become a pariah state,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the other day. “That’s our view.”
And a remarkably foolish view it is. You know the Taliban—always looking out for its international reputation. Of course there is no evidence that the Taliban has changed its methods, moderated its ideology, or abandoned its ambition to impose the strictest possible interpretation of shariah law on as many Afghans as it can reach. There is no evidence that the Taliban has ceased its attacks against Afghan security forces or that it has repudiated al Qaeda. Indeed, the very “intelligence community” on which Biden places so much importance says the Taliban will escalate its war on Kabul as soon as the last American is out and that “the Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”
A big “if.” I do not doubt that—for a time—the aid will continue to flow to Afghan democrats, that weapons will continue to be supplied, and that some degree of overwatch from satellites and drones will continue to be provided. But I am equally certain that our attention will be redirected elsewhere, that neglect will lead to negligence, and that within a few years the Afghans may find themselves on their own. There is no substitute for the forward presence of U.S. forces, who are able to assess conditions on the ground, liaise with friends and neutrals, and deter bad actors of all sorts. On this point the Biden administration agrees with me—which is why, even as it announced the Afghanistan withdrawal, it deployed additional troops to Germany and conducted Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea.
Biden’s argument is that a U.S. military footprint is no longer required in Afghanistan, that we accomplished our main objectives years ago, that the costs of force protection for our remaining 2,500 soldiers outweigh the strategic and tactical benefits they provide, that “the threat has become more dispersed, metastasizing around the globe: al-Shabaab in Somalia; al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nusra in Syria; ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, and establishing affiliates in multiple countries in Africa and Asia.”
But Biden is unable to draw the causal connection between America’s involvement in Afghanistan and the “metastasizing” terrorist threat that emanates from places where religious fanatics operate more freely than they do in Afghanistan. Nor does he recognize that the terrorist groups he named in his address are based in exactly those locations where America has opted, for different reasons and to varying degrees, to pursue his policy of “offshore balance” rather than onshore residence. The existence of an allied host government is crucial to our ability to intercept, interrupt, interdict, and preempt terrorists before they strike. Biden’s decision to walk away from Afghanistan puts such a government at risk.
This danger is a fact Biden will not or cannot face. He is more interested in rectifying old errors than in preventing new ones. Both the location and the text of his address referenced the history of U.S. involvement in the Afghan theater. He delivered his remarks from the White House Treaty Room, where George W. Bush announced the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001, less than a month after al-Qaeda struck New York, Washington, and United Flight 93. He mentioned that he had called President Bush in advance of his directive. He recounted his visit to Afghanistan before becoming Barack Obama’s vice president and how it convinced him that the war was needless. “It has been well publicized and published that he opposed the surge back 10 years ago,” Psaki said. “And he was vocal about that in the appropriate manner at the time.”
That’s putting it mildly. Biden was furious. He was convinced that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commanding generals had set the terms of the debate to guarantee that Obama would maintain and expand the war. His current determination to remove American troops over the objections of military commanders, including the Joint Chiefs chairman, General Mark Milley, is evidence of his desire to prove retroactively the wisdom of his position in 2009. His rejection of a conditions-based withdrawal underscores his disagreement with the generals. He dismisses the potential adverse consequences of our departure while implicitly conceding that conditions in Afghanistan are about to become worse.
Potentially much worse. It all depends on whether the Afghan government can fight the Taliban without the guidance of American troops. If it can’t, then over time Afghanistan will revert to the pre-October 2001 status quo of civil war, tribalism, and Taliban dominion. The forces of global jihad will feel empowered. That is what happened after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, from the American withdrawal from Somalia in 1993, from the American withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. Terrorism followed each retreat.
“I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan: two Republicans, two Democrats,” Biden said. “I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”
No, he won’t. What Biden will pass on instead is the responsibility for cleaning up his mess.
And makes a mockery of his democracy agenda
That didn’t take long. One week after piously and erroneously repudiating the Commission on Unalienable Rights established by his predecessor Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed the hollow selectivity of this administration’s commitment to human rights and democratic reform.
On April 7, Blinken said he was “pleased to announce” the reinstatement of tens of millions of dollars in aid to the West Bank and Gaza and of some $150 million to support the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). “All assistance will be provided consistent with U.S. law,” Blinken added.
Easier said than done. The Taylor Force Act, signed into law in 2018, withholds aid from the Palestinian Authority until the State Department certifies that the ruling party of the West Bank has terminated payments to family members of terrorists. It hasn’t. That was one reason the Trump administration slashed the aid in the first place. Nor is there evidence that suddenly the Palestinians have curtailed the so-called pay-to-slay schemes that incentivize the murder of civilians and the perpetuation of conflict. On the contrary: They bristle at the idea of changing their corrupt and self-destructive ways.
A second law from 2018, the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, holds beneficiaries of foreign assistance legally and financially responsible for terrorism committed against U.S. citizens. This notion — that the Palestinian Authority might actually have to pay a price for its incitement to anti-Semitic violence — so terrified the leadership in the West Bank that it sent a letter to the Trump administration in February 2019 renouncing U.S. aid. I must have missed the make-up note postmarked Ramallah.
UNRWA long ago abandoned its original mission for anti-Israel activism. According to Pompeo, there are fewer than 200,000 Palestinian Arabs who remain displaced by the 1948 war. Rather than work to resettle this dwindling population, UNRWA devotes its resources to the delegitimization of Israel and to the perpetuation of a mythic “right of return” that obstructs peace. UNRWA also operates in the Gaza Strip, where its facilities were used by Hamas operatives and other terrorists during the 2014 war with Israel.
“Obviously, there are areas where we would like to see reform,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a recent briefing. That’s the understatement of the year. But what hope is there for reform of UNRWA when the Biden administration rewards it for doing nothing?
A conceit of President Joe Biden’s foreign policy is that involvement in corrupt multilateral institutions somehow gives the United States an opportunity to improve them. “By resuming this assistance today, not only do we have that dialogue, but we have a seat at the table,” Price said. “We can help drive UNRWA in the ways that we think it is in our interest and consistent with our values to do.” That was also his argument for rejoining the World Health Organization and the U.N. Human Rights Council. He has little to show for it. The results so far: A propagandistic and misleading investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, and four anti-Israel resolutions. Having a seat at the table doesn’t matter when everyone ignores you.
What was particularly galling about Blinken’s announcement was its disconnect from the nature of Palestinian governance. Here is an administration that says the conflict between democracy and authoritarianism will define the 21st century. Here is an administration that prides itself on its support for human rights. And here is an administration that says it will be able to prevent millions in taxpayer funds from directly benefiting the Palestinian Authority, and thereby breaking U.S. law, by taking into account
the intended primary beneficiary or end user of the assistance; whether the PA is the direct recipient of the assistance, of course; whether the assistance involves payments of Palestinian Authority creditors; the extent of ownership or control the PA exerts over an entity or an individual that is the primary beneficiary or end user of the assistance; and whether the assistance or, in some cases, the services provided directly replace assistance or services that the PA would otherwise provide.
Good luck. The renewed assistance, remember, will be circulated in a polity whose president is in the 16th year of a four-year term, whose official corruption is legendary, whose 2.7 million subjects are policed by no fewer than six internal security forces, and whose entry in the 2020 State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices reads as follows:
reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, torture, and arbitrary detention by authorities; holding political prisoners and detainees; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations; restrictions on political participation, as the Palestinian Authority has not held a national election since 2006; acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; violence and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; anti-Semitism in school textbooks; violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and reports of forced child labor.
The entry for Hamas is no better.
For all of his “transformative” ambitions at home, Biden’s Middle East policy is remarkably backward-looking and uninspired. By denying aid to the Palestinians and UNRWA, the Trump administration recognized that the Israeli–Palestinian peace process had become a counterproductive sideshow, and that U.S. aid wasn’t contributing to the resolution of conflict, but incentivizing it. The more urgent problem is Iran, which is why Trump was able to broker the Abraham Accords between Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Morocco.
Now Biden has pivoted away from the anti-Iran coalition and toward the pro-Iran deal European allies. He’s distanced himself from Israel and moved toward the Palestinians. He’s rebuked the Saudis and coaxed the Houthis. He is trying to reconstruct, ever so slowly, Barack Obama’s Middle East. But he hasn’t really explained why this time will be different. After all: When you reward bad behavior, you get more of it. And that is exactly what Biden is doing.
There will be no peace between Iran and its enemies
Elections have consequences, and one consequence of the 2020 election will be a return to the foreign policy of the Obama era that seeks to punish Israel, isolate the Arabs, elevate Iran as a regional power, and assure friend and foe alike that tough talk from American leaders is just that: talk.
Representatives of the United States will return to Vienna this week with the aim of lifting sanctions on an Iranian regime led by religious fanatics hellbent on acquiring nuclear weapons, dominating its neighbors, and eliminating the Jewish state.
Appeasement is never a slog, so it’s a mission they are all but certain to accomplish.
It also reveals the hollowness of the tough talk President Joe Biden offered up on the campaign trail, when he said he would not drop sanctions on Iran without first strengthening the Obama-era nuclear deal. His secretary of state, Tony Blinken, assured the Senate just weeks ago that he would not allow terrorism sanctions against Iran to be held hostage to any fresh nuclear talks. Of course these were lies and all sides knew it. Easy promises to make and easier to break.
Already, Iran envoy and friend of Hamas Rob Malley has lowered the bar: He told PBS News on Sunday that the United States would return to the deal if the Iranians agreed to do so. “Our goal is to see whether we can agree on a roadmap back to compliance on both sides,” Malley said, adding that the administration’s goal is to get on “the same page” as the mullahs.
The motivation for the coming realignment in American foreign policy appears to be a left-wing inverse of “owning the libs”—in this case, owning right-wing hawks, neoconservatives, pro-Israel Jews and their gentile allies. The Left cannot contain its glee and anticipation at the coming return to the flawed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Biden administration’s—and America’s—all-but-certain humiliation seems only to have heightened their excitement. That humiliation will be painful, but it will do no more damage to the cause of regime change than it will to Iran’s nuclear program.
The Obama-era deal was a tragedy. The repetition of that history is farce, and whatever deal the Biden administration strikes will disintegrate as surely as the last. The Iranians may be delusional and paranoid, but their pursuit of nuclear weapons is not irrational. Their enemies are powerful and the current leadership faces an existential threat from Israel.
A new deal can’t change any of that.
There are many possible outcomes. The vindication of Hussein Rouhani, Javad Zarif, Tony Blinken, and Rob Malley as peacemakers is not among them.
Like the French royals of the late 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries, Joe Biden, former Senator, Vice President, and presently the President of the United States of America, seems to have learned nothing during his long, yet unremarkable political career. Seventy eight years young when he ascended the highest elected office of the country, Joe Biden has been all over the political landscape, always following the fashionable ideological winds of his party. Without a clear vision of his own, pathetic and narrow-minded Joe has always put his frequently changing faith in plagiarizing other people’s ideas and in his convoluted religious-moral convictions.
A slim as well as a well-dressed widower in his late 20s and being a great charmer, the freshly minted Senator from Delaware believed that his folksy demeanor could be an effective replacement for his intellectual poverty. In this manner, throughout his long political career, he has surrounded himself with a cotery of yes men, whose intellectual qualities have always remained below his own. Yet, for all his pretentiousness, Joe Biden has remained a weak character with an unremarkable intelligence.
Clearly, Joe Biden has never been a quintessential American. Throughout their history, the American people have been the people of great and novel ideas. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Reagan, the many Nobel Prize worthy inventions, are just some examples. However, with the election of Joe Biden America really underperformed itself.
Selected by former President Obama, a community organizer and a junior Senator from Illinois without any foreign policy experience, Joe Biden was hailed by the former as a highly valued expert in international relations. To add insult to injury, Joe Biden himself has pointed to his repeated chairmanships of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to prove his vast international credentials. Of course, a deeper analysis of his activities showed that his foreign policy decisions have unfailingly landed on the wrong side of history. As Vice President, Joe Biden was the prototype of a Don Quixote type fighter for narrow and greedy tactical ends. The wars he supported have not turned out as expected. The “reset” with Russia became the object of ridicule across the globe. Their “diplomacy first” commitment toward the Islamic Republic of Iran was an unmitigated disaster. Equally, their two states solution in the Middle East was a nonstarter. His and his former boss’s persistent refusal to face reality in Central and South America, Africa and Asia has brought American foreign policy to the brink of total irrelevance.
Domestically, the reign of reason was undone by the emerging Democrat campaign of ubiquitous charge of racism against their political opponents, the ruthless campaigning against the so-called enemies of minorities, the concomitant promotion of multiculturalism, the idiocy of open borders, enthusiastically headed by Barack and Michelle Obama and slavishly followed by the Bidens. No wonder that their administration did not pay any attention to the inherent conflicts rooted in the failed Democrat policies of the last seventy years. As a result, the Obama/Biden administration willfully and criminally failed to rally the nation around a vision which could have established a solid foundation for the United States of America to live up to the political principles of the Republic and to the moral imperatives of itself.
During the presidential campaign, his rhetoric was highly divisive, polarizing – and disgustingly stomach-churning. However, his garbage talk has not stopped. Calling the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, “soulless killer” and inventing a confidential conversation between him as Vice President and the latter as then Prime Minister, which is obviously the invention of his sick mind, are childish and idiotic. Domestically, blaming his predecessor for everything that went wrong between 2017 and 2021, while not addressing the relentless hate campaign laced with a constant flow of blatant misinformation and lies, are proof of the worst attributes politicians have to offer the citizens of the United Nations of America. Thus, while sanctimoniously preaching against divisions and calling for unity, Joe Biden accomplishes the exact opposite. He deepens the divisions in society. Yet, pathetic and narrow-minded Joe Biden thrives on division. He always did. It is what gave him and his party power. In this context, the word “politician” is becoming a curse rather than an honor. His and his family’s shadowy dealings across the globe have illustrated a complete lack of shame by him and the entire Democrat Party.
The elementary question at this point of inflection in American history is whether the two parties and the politicians on the federal and state levels are holding up their ends of a national consensus? Are they doing what they have promised? Are they working for the goals that they have espoused? Do they really care about their primary responsibilities of trying to at least mitigate the divisions in society? Are they striving to restore unity? These questions are still open to future developments. Yet, what pains most Americans is that presently the political discourse has nothing to do with ideas, vision, or policy. They are all about power and money. The American people will have another chance in 2022 to change the current misery of the country. By voting intelligently, they could decide the direction this exceptionally talented country can take in the future to come.
Democrats say Muslim terrorists aren’t terrorists, but their political opponents are.
The Biden administration responded to protests against its stolen election by embedding a domestic extremism office into the National Security Council. The man in charge of making it happen, Joshua Geltzer, had previously denied that Black Lives Matter was a terrorist threat and had attacked the Trump administration’s response to Antifa and BLM violence in Portland.
That means that the only domestic extremists the NSC will be fighting are Republicans.
Even while the Biden administration is preparing to double down on Obama’s abuse of the national security state to target his political opponents, it’s also giving real terrorists a pass.
Joe Biden, whose biggest bundlers included the Iran Lobby, announced he was ending support for American allies fighting the Houthis, and then went even further by preparing to remove the terrorist organization whose motto is, “Death to America”, which took American hostages and tried to kill American sailors, from the list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.
The motto of Iran’s Houthi Jihadis is, “Allahu Akbar, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory to Islam.” The Houthis took over parts of Yemen as a result of the chaos unleashed by Obama’s pro-Islamist Arab Spring. Since then they’ve been engaged in a protracted war while causing a local famine by confiscating food from the local population.
Last year, the Trump administration had finally secured the release of three American hostages, Sandra Loli, an American aid worker who had been held for 3 years, another American who had been held for a year, and the body of a third American, in exchange for 240 Houthis, including three dozen Islamic terrorists who had been trained in the use of missiles and drones by Iran.
Like those launched at the USS Mason.
The Houthis lived up to their “Death to America” slogan by repeatedly launching cruise missiles at the USS Mason which had been protecting shipping in the area. And they lived up to the second half of their slogan by ethnically cleansing the remaining local Jewish population, locking them up, and confiscating their homes and land. Local reports stated that the Houthis were “cutting off water & electricity to Jewish homes and preventing Jews from purchasing food.”
“No Jew would be allowed to stay here,” one of the Jewish refugees said.
The Iran-backed Islamic terrorists fight using 18,000 child soldiers. The soldiers, many abducted, some as young as 10, are taught to hate America and to kill enemies of Iran.
None of this stopped Biden’s State Department from taking the Houthis off the terror list.
“Secretary Blinken has been clear about undertaking an expeditious review of the designations of Ansarallah,” the State Department claimed. “After a comprehensive review, we can confirm that the Secretary intends to revoke the Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist designations of Ansarallah.”
‘Ansarallah’ or ‘Defenders of Allah’ is what the Houthis call themselves. Blinken had only been confirmed on Tuesday. By next Friday, he had already somehow completed the “comprehensive review”, amid all the other minor business like China, Russia, and a global pandemic, and decided that the Islamic terrorists whose motto is “Death to America” aren’t really terrorists.
How can the Biden administration deny that Islamic Jihadis backed by Iran who attacked Americans are terrorists? The State Department claimed that this, “has nothing to do with our view of the Houthis and their reprehensible conduct, including attacks against civilians and the kidnapping of American citizens.” Not to mention the attacks on the USS Mason.
But the Biden administration isn’t even going to pretend to care about attacks on our military.
The Bidenites are claiming that they’re taking the Houthis, whom they don’t deny are terrorists, off the list of designated terrorist groups because of the “humanitarian consequences”.
That’s a lie, no matter how often you hear it in the media, because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States would be providing licenses to “humanitarian activities conducted by non-governmental organizations in Yemen and to certain transactions and activities related to exports to Yemen of critical commodities like food and medicine.”
That’s despite the fact that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen was caused by the Houthis.
Nevertheless the media, echoing propaganda from the Iran Lobby and Qatar, a close terrorist ally of Iran, has falsely claimed that the Houthis are the victims of the Yemen famine. A number of politicians, mostly Democrats, but some Republicans, as well as various aid groups, have pushed this same disinformation campaign about the causes of the Yemen famine.
America and its allies have spent billions providing food, medicine, and other humanitarian aid to Yemen. That aid has been seized by the Houthis who have used it for their own troops or to resell on the black market. This is a familiar problem from Syria to Somalia, and aid groups have refused to honestly address their complicity in aiding the terrorists who caused the crisis.
There’s no money in admitting that the aid an organization is providing is being seized by the terrorists, prolonging the conflict and worsening the humanitarian crisis. Some aid organizations share the same goal as the Houthis of worsening the crisis because it boosts their donations.
That’s why international aid organizations don’t want to talk about the Houthis taking their food donations, or about their use of child soldiers. “It’s a taboo,” an anonymous aid official had said.
When Secretary Pompeo announced that the United States was finally designating the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization, the United Nations took the lead in claiming that it would cause a humanitarian crisis. But the UN’s World Food Program had already admittedthat its food shipments weren’t getting to the starving people because the Houthis were intercepting them.
The Middle East director for UNICEF also admitted that the Houthis were seizing food.
An Associated Press investigation found entire stores seling “cooking oil and flour displaying the U.N. food program’s WFP logo.” The former Houthi education minister said that 15,000 food baskets that were supposed to go to hungry families instead went to the Houthi terrorists whom the Biden administration is defending. Massive amounts of aid have been pumped into Yemen, and the famine has only grown worse because the Houthis have used starvation as a weapon.
The only way to end the famine is to end Iran’s grip on Yemen through its Houthi terrorists.
That’s obviously not what Biden or the Democrats have in mind. The loudest Democrat voices against designating the Houthis as a terrorist group have a troubling history with Iran.
“Reversing the designation is an important decision that will save lives and, combined with the appointment of a Special Envoy, offers hope that President Biden is committed to bringing the war to an end,” Senator Chris Murphy tweeted.
Murphy had been among the loudest voices against the designation.
And Murphy had met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last year. That same year, he had advocated lowering sanctions on Iran for “humanitarian reasons”. Biden had also joined the push to use the pandemic as a pretext for reducing sanctions on the terror state.
That same year, the Left succeeded in forcing out Rep. Elliot Engel, one of the few remaining pro-Israel Democrats, and replaced him with the militantly anti-Israel Rep. Jamaal Bowman, whose election was backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and her antisemitic ‘Squad’.
Engel, who had served as Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was replaced by Rep. Gregory Meeks, a strong backer of the Iran Deal. Meeks’ position was cheered by Iran Lobby groups. As far back as 2009, Meeks had declared at a hearing, “I have developed a tremendous appreciation for the work of the National Iranian American Council. I am pleased that we will hear the perspective of NIAC’s President, Mr. Trita Parsi.”
Emails released allegedly showed Parsi telling Iran’s Foreign Minister, “I am having a meeting with Gilchrest and Meeks, and they asked for our assistance in getting some communication going between the parliamentarians.”
Speaking to the Islamic Republic News Agency, the official state news agency of the Islamic terrorist state, Chairman Meeks allegedly stated that he was willing to travel to Iran and had been engaged in dialogue with Iranian legislators.
Meeks took the lead in attacking the designation of the Houthi Islamic terrorists as terrorists, arguing that, “No solution in Yemen will be sustainable unless the Houthis are involved.”
And that gets at the real reason why Biden and Democrats oppose the designation.
It’s not about humanitarian aid, which would have kept on going anyway, only to be stolen by the Houthis. It’s about supporting Iran’s bid to take over parts of Yemen in order to control shipping and tighten the grip of the Islamic terrorist regime over the entire region.
The ‘diplomatic’ solution advocated by Biden and the Democrats would finalize Iran’s grip over parts of Yemen. Designating the Houthis as terrorists would get in the way of another in a series of Islamist dirty deals with Iran that began with Obama and that will continue on under Biden.
Even while the Democrats insist loudly that the Houthis must be part of the solution in Yemen, they just as vocally cry that the Republicans must be isolated and eliminated in America.
The Democrats militarized D.C. with an armed occupation and are criminalizing political dissent. They have claimed that one riot, after a year full of them by their own activist wing, requires a permanent state of emergency that will be run through the National Security Council.
The Biden administration is not only taking the Houthis, and likely other Islamic terrorist groups, off the terror list, it’s putting the domestic political opposition on its terror list. This is an extension of the same Obama policy that illegally shipped foreign cash to Iran even while it was using the NSA to spy on pro-Israel members of Congress and on the Trump campaign.
The Democrats are happy to fight terrorism by designating their domestic political opponents as terrorists while removing the “Death to America” Houthis who have kidnapped and killed Americans, who fired on the USS Mason, and ethnically cleansed Jews, from the terror list.
And what do the Houthis plan to do with their newfound support from the Biden administration?
In addition to sanctioning the Houthis, the Trump administration sanctioned three of their leaders, beginning with Abdul Malik al-Houthi. The Houthi leader has made it clear that he intends to build up the same missile program that was used to attack the USS Mason.
“To have rockets that could reach far beyond Riyadh, this is a great achievement,” he said, referring to the Saudi capital.
He also promised to send terrorists to fight against Israel.
“Many of Yemen’s tribesmen are ambitious to fight against Israel, and they are looking for the day to participate along with the freemen of the Islamic nation against the Israeli enemy,”
This is the terrorist group that the Biden administration and the Democrats are bailing out even while they’re criminalizing the Republican political opposition as terrorists.
“Death to America” is something that the Houthis and their Democrat supporters can agree on.
White House doesn't list Israel as American ally
President Joe Biden is the first American leader in 40 years not to contact Israel’s leaders as one of his first actions in the White House, setting up what could be four years of chilly relations between America and its top Middle East ally.
Biden has already phoned multiple world leaders, including Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping, but during his 23 days in office has yet to speak with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu—making Biden the first president in modern history to punt on bolstering U.S.-Israel relations during his initial days in office. Every president going back to at least Ronald Reagan in 1981 made contact with their Israeli counterpart within a week of assuming office, according to a review of news reports.
Congressional foreign policy leaders slammed Biden’s Netanyahu snub, prompting a flurry of questions for White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who has declined to disclose when or if Biden will call the Israeli leader. Psaki also said on Friday the White House would not list Israel as a U.S. ally when asked about the relationship during her daily press briefing.
Modern presidents going back to Reagan made calls or overtures to Israel during their first days in office, sending a message the United States would continue to stand for the Jewish state’s security. Biden’s diplomatic slight comes as Israel faces encroaching terrorist threats and the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran. He also has hired several individuals with a background in anti-Israel activism, including Maher Bitar, a top White House National Security Council official who spent his youth organizing boycotts of the Jewish state. The State Department’s Iran envoy, Robert Malley, also has been a vocal critic of Israel.
Upon assuming office in January 1981, Reagan made overtures to Israel, vowing to protect its interests, and sent Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to meet with Israel’s leaders to build “Israeli confidence in the administration of President-elect Ronald Reagan,” according to an Associated Press report from the time.
President George H.W. Bush followed this trend. He called then-Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir on Jan. 25, 1989, five days after he entered the White House.
President Bill Clinton reached out to Israel even sooner. He called then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on Jan. 23, 1993, three days after being sworn in.
President George W. Bush phoned former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak on Jan. 27, 2001, a week after taking the White House, to express his support for the U.S.-Israel alliance.
President Barack Obama, who faced criticism from Republicans for policies they branded anti-Israel, called the Jewish state’s leaders on his first day in office. Obama also called Palestinian leaders that day, laying the groundwork for that administration’s failed bid to foster peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
President Donald Trump not only called Netanyahu but made the historic decision to invite him to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22, 2017, two days after he took the oath of office.
GOP leaders on the House Foreign Affairs Committee raised multiple concerns with Biden’s refusal to express support for Israel with a phone call.
“I’m not sure why President Biden has already called world leaders from 10 other nations, including China but hasn’t yet bothered to speak with Israel,” Rep. Mark Green (R., Tenn.) told the Washington Free Beacon on Thursday, adding that “Israel deserves to be treated with respect from every world leader—especially the president of the United States.”
Rep. Ronny Jackson (R., Texas), another HFAC member, asked, “What is President Biden avoiding?”
“The American-Israeli relationship is vital to our national security for a litany of reasons,” Jackson told the Free Beacon. “I urge President Biden to ignore the radical left in his party and make a strong show of support for our partnership with Israel by calling Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
President Donald Trump cut aid to China by 52 percent over the last year, the Spectator reported Friday.
The United States slashed $32 million in aid to China in fiscal year 2020, from $62 million in 2019 to $30 million, according to an Office of Management and Budget report.
The first government-wide China spending report comes as Trump enters the final days of his presidency. His administration implemented aggressive economic policies against China in an effort to thwart the Chinese Communist Party’s growing influence in the United States and the global market.
Trump campaigned in 2016 on combating Chinese economic policy, which he said “took advantage” of American citizens through trade imbalances and the manipulation of currency values.
The president’s efforts to curb Chinese influence in global politics and markets heated up last year after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic: In July, Trump moved to pull out of the World Health Organization for its failure to hold China accountable for its role in the deadly COVID-19 outbreak. He levied additional sanctions on companies that supported the Chinese military and fought Chinese influence at the United Nations. Additionally, the United States imposed $60 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports during fiscal year 2020.
Trump also cracked down on Confucius Institutes, which are tied to the Chinese Communist Party, for propagating Chinese disinformation at American universities.
Last week, Trump imposed sanctions on two Chinese apps over concerns that Chinese Communist Party officials could use them to collect data on Americans, including federal employees.
President-elect Joe Biden (D.) has criticized the president’s trade war with China. But he could face backlash from Congress if he softens the United States’ stance on Beijing, as politicians on both sides of the aisle support implementing economic measures to punish China for its human-rights abuses and combat the communist regime’s growing influence abroad.
In mid-November, the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff — I serve as the director — published “The Elements of the China Challenge.” The paper argues that the core of the challenge consists of the concerted efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to reconfigure world order to serve the CCP’s authoritarian interests and aims. It explains the errors that nourished the hope on both the right and the left that economic liberalization in China, coupled with Western engagement and incorporation of Beijing into international organizations, would bring about China’s political liberalization. It describes the characteristic practices of the communist dictatorship, traces China’s brazen programs of economic co-optation and coercion in every region of the world, examines the Marxist-Leninist dogma and hyper-nationalist beliefs that provide the intellectual sources of the CCP’s quest for global supremacy, and surveys China’s vulnerabilities — both those endemic to authoritarian regimes and those specific to the People’s Republic of China. In conclusion, the paper lays out a framework for securing freedom.
Reaction to the paper has been instructive. The Chinese Communist Party responded with ritual denunciation. In contrast, public intellectuals, scholars, and public officials from around the world have expressed appreciation for the Policy Planning Staff’s efforts to gather in one place the evidence of the CCP’s predatory policies, to distill the party’s governing ambitions, and to sketch a way forward for the United States and all nations dedicated to preserving the free, open, and rules-based international order. The best of the American responses to the paper have coupled praise, in some cases grudging, with strictures, sometimes angry, about the paper’s limitations. The domestic criticisms are especially revealing, both for the serious issues they raise and for the misconceptions that they promulgate.Recommended
“The Elements of the China Challenge” has its origins in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s reorientation of the State Department — consistent with the Trump administration’s 2017 National Security Strategy and a number of other administration documents — around the new round of great-power competition launched by the CCP. The administration’s attention to the China challenge does not entail — as many mistakenly suppose — that the United States must turn its back to the rest of the world. To the contrary, the Policy Planning Staff paper stresses that to counter China’s quest for global supremacy, the United States must renew its alliance system and must reform international organizations so that they serve America’s vital interest in preserving an international order that is composed of free and sovereign nation-states and that is grounded in respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Trump administration policy reflects this reorientation. For starters, the administration has led in exposing the CCP’s initial cover up of the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent disinformation campaign. The administration intensified efforts to combat China’s massive intellectual property theft. It placed the United States at the forefront of efforts to hold China accountable for gross human rights violations, especially the brutal imprisonment of more than a million Uyghurs in re-education camps in Xinjiang — the United States is the only nation to impose sanctions on CCP officials for these unconscionable abuses. It terminated Hong Kong’s special trading status in the spring, when the CCP crushed freedom in the city. It increased weapons sales to Taiwan, embarked on an inaugural U.S.-Taiwan economic dialogue, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Taiwan on health, science, and technology. It invigorated the Quad (Australia, India, Japan, and the United States) and, with its strategy for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, affirmed the region’s critical importance. It revamped the Development Finance Corporation and reformed the Export-Import Bank to improve the ability of United States and its allies and partners to invest in other nations’ physical and digital infrastructure. And, the Trump administration has convinced more than 50 countries and counting to join the Clean Network, which promises secure telecommunications — unlike the technology offered by Chinese “national champions” Huawei and ZTE, which are CCP extensions whose hardware and software threaten individual privacy and national security.
By stepping back, taking a broader view, and documenting the pattern and purpose of China’s actions, “The Elements of the China Challenge” explains why these policies are urgently needed, and why much more must be done. And by identifying 10 tasks that the United States must undertake — from restoring civic concord at home to, where possible, cooperating with Beijing based on norms of fairness and reciprocity, and to championing freedom abroad — the Policy Planning Staff paper lays the foundations for refashioning U.S. foreign policy to meet the China challenge.
A common theme of the critics, reputable as well as disreputable, is that the paper falls short of the work of George Kennan, a career foreign service officer who in 1947 founded the Policy Planning Staff and became its first director. At the dawn of the Cold War, Kennan’s 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow and his 1947 Foreign Affairs article “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” illuminated the threat to freedom posed by the Soviet Union. The most influential documents produced by a State Department official, they served as sources of inspiration for the Policy Planning Staff, but we did not seek to replicate them since, as Kennan well understood, different challenges and moments demand different undertakings and emphases. Above all, today’s Policy Planning Staff learned from Kennan’s insistence on the combination of “ideology and circumstances” that determines great-power conduct, and took to heart his counsel that “to avoid destruction the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation.”
As for the disreputable critics, they give no evidence of having read the paper. The Global Times, a daily tabloid and wholly owned subsidiary of the Chinese Communist Party, was first out of the gate. The CCP newspaper dismissed “The Elements of the China Challenge” the day after it appeared as an “insult to Kennan” amounting to little more than “a collection of malicious remarks from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other anti-China U.S. politicians and senators.” At his regular press conference the following day, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian denounced the Policy Planning Staff paper as “just another collection of lies piled up by the those ‘living fossils of the Cold War’ from the U.S. State Department.”
It would have been more accurate to refer to “the living victors of the Cold War,” but more telling still is the CCP’s failure to notice that the Policy Planning Staff distinguishes the China challenge from the Soviet challenge. While underscoring that, like the former Soviet Union after World War II, China today presents the foremost threat to freedom, the paper also stresses the distinct forms of power at work. “The Soviet Union,” the paper argues, “primarily enlarged its dominions and sought to impose its will through military coercion.” In contrast, and notwithstanding its development of a world-class military, China “primarily pursues the reconfiguration of world affairs through a kind and quantity of economic power of which the Soviets could only have dreamed.”
Of the reputable critics, Odd Arne Westad, a Yale history professor and China scholar, is among the most distinguished. In a Foreign Affairs essay titled “The U.S. Can’t Check China Alone,” he asserts that the “report correctly sees China as the greatest challenge to the United States since the end of the Cold War, showing how Beijing has grown more authoritarian at home and more aggressive abroad.” The paper also, according to Westad, “rightly recognizes how China has tried to gain an advantage by applying economic pressure and conducting espionage — as well as by exploiting the naiveté that causes many foreigners to miss the oppressive nature of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Nevertheless, Westad charges, “the report is limited by ideological and political constraints; given that it is a Trump administration document, it must echo President Donald Trump’s distaste for international organizations, even though they are key to dealing with China.” The professor also takes the paper to task on the grounds that it “almost completely ignores the most basic fact about the current situation, which is that the United States can compete effectively with China only through fundamental reform at home.”
A meticulous scholar of Chinese history, Westad imputes to the Policy Planning Staff paper opinions not found there and overlooks arguments it prominently features. It is not true that our paper, as Westad writes, “suggests that it is now in the United States’ interests to destroy and then selectively rebuild existing international institutions.” Rather, the Policy Planning Staff calls for a reassessment of international organizations to determine where they serve freedom and where they no longer advance the objective for which they were created, arguing for reform where possible and the establishment of new institutions where necessary.
Contrary to Westad, moreover, the Policy Planning Staff highlights the domestic foundations of effective foreign policy. Five of the 10 tasks we identify as crucial to securing freedom involve reform at home — from the renewal of American constitutional government and the promotion of prosperity and civic concord to restoring the U.S. educational system at all levels.
Hal Brands, another reputable critic and leading scholar, finds “valuable insights” in “The Elements of the China Challenge.” Despite the juvenile taunt in the title of his Bloomberg op-ed, “There’s No George Kennan in the Trump Administration,” Brands — a professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies as well as a Bloomberg columnist — writes that the paper “explains, more completely than any prior U.S. policy document, the sources of Chinese conduct — namely the mix of Marxist-Leninist ideology, extreme nationalism and quasi-imperialism that drives the Chinese Communist Party.” In addition, according to Brands, the paper “shows that China’s objectives are not limited to its immediate periphery, but include fundamental changes in the international system”; it “details the troubling aspects of Chinese behavior, from economic predation to Beijing’s menacing military buildup, as well as the deep vulnerabilities — endemic corruption, inescapable demographic problems, economic instability — that threaten its continued ascent”; and it “outlines reasonable steps America should take to strengthen its position.”
Will China’s negligence unleashing the coronavirus and mendacity exploiting it catalyze a reckoning with the PRC, comparable in significance to the Czech Coup of 1948? And will it crystallize long-term American determination to contest China’s scheme to supplant the United States as the world’s preeminent power? Or will China ultimately emerge as the winner from the devastation it has wrought because of a deficit of strategic and moral clarity within the United States and among our allies?
The answer to these questions depends considerably on the policies adopted by the next president. Start with the good news. Negative views of China have soared to a record high of 73 percent of Americans, according to a Pew Foundation Poll released in late July 20201. Chinese behavior during and since the coronavirus also has elicited strong negative reactions across the Indo-Pacific, especially in Japan, India, and Australia, where views of China’s ambitions and behavior already trended strongly in a negative direction. Even in Western Europe, long committed to engaging and conciliating rather than confronting China, COVID-19 has generated an anti-China backlash, more muted on the continent but stronger in Britain where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined President Trump in imposing a complete ban on Chinese 5G vendor Huawei.
Even so, this contingent good news might prove ephemeral rather than enduring if the United States and our allies should waver in the reckoning with China that President Trump deserves credit for initiating. The reelection of President Trump would have offered the best practicable option for building and intensifying the Administration’s first term strategy of contesting China comprehensively and vigorously—a vital condition for bolstering deterrence, or defeating China at the lowest possible cost and risk should deterrence fail. Unlike his predecessor––who “welcomed China’s rise,” who significantly shrank American defense spending while China armed prodigiously, and whose national security statements of 2010 and 2015 omitted naming China or any other great power as an adversary––the Trump Administration designated China from the outset as our number one adversary. The President has not only increased the American defense budget substantially, but invested in threshold technologies such as strategic defense and created an independent Space Force. The President has pushed back hard against China’s implacable economic warfare against us on trade and intellectual property that his predecessors rationalized away. The President’s economic policies before COVID-19 intervened had generated prodigious economic growth on which American military preeminence depends. Trump began, too, the long overdue decoupling of the U.S. economy from China’s, the imperative of which our inordinate dependence on China for essentials such as antibiotics exposed in high relief during this pandemic. President Trump strengthened relationships with a decent democratic India and Japan, vital, value-based allies who share our strategic priorities and alarm about the trajectory of China’s policies at home and abroad—relationships his predecessor, with the support of Vice President Biden, allowed to languish while courting China and other adversaries.
Trump’s recalibration of our China policy that COVID-19 has broadened, deepened, and accelerated is a good start, but only the end of the beginning of what is necessary for the United States and our allies to prevail. For all the considerable merits of President Trump’s approach towards China, the President would enhance the effectiveness of his policies by doing some recalibrating as well. The President’s rhetoric has undervalued the importance of American ideals as well as self-interest in identifying friends, foes, threats, and opportunities. Many Americans who are increasingly alarmed by China rightly advocate calling out China with no pale pastels on human rights, stressing the tyrannical nature of the Chinese regime, while championing the importance of a value-based alliance system of fellow democracies in the Indo-Pacific, grounded firmly in geopolitics. The President’s spokesmen—particularly Secretary of State Pompeo and Vice President Pence—have done much better articulating this dimension of the contest with China than the President, whose actual policies on this and many other issues are often better than he makes them sound. A greater emphasis on human right also may elicit greater support for sterner policies towards China from our Western European allies, where resolve—especially in Germany—is fragile at best even now with disillusionment with China running much higher than usual.
A second term Trump presidency also would run the risk of undermining the significant progress the Administration achieved in the first term if the President decided to settle for a deal rather than staying the course. This temptation is not only organic to President Trump’s nature, but would loom large for whoever became president because of the huge budgetary deficits that COVID-19 has compounded. President Trump’s salutary hectoring our allies to do more—yielding impressive results in Europe his predecessor failed to match—also ran the risk of reaching a culminating point counterproductive to forging a muscular strategic consensus that actively counters China’s ambitions.
With President Trump’s defeat, the odds diminish that China loses more than it gains by unleashing and exploiting COVID-19. Granted, the most recent Pew Foundation Poll found that many Democrats as well as even more Republicans advocate tougher policies on toward China on human rights and trade. An increasing number of prominent Democrats have become rhetorically more willing to criticize rather than conciliate China. Even so, President-elect Biden has a long record of advocating engagement with China while downplaying the idea that the PRC has become a serious strategic rival. The leftward lurch of the current Democratic Party also does inspire confident that a Biden Administration will follow through on President Trump’s policy of robust resistance towards China’s predatory behavior. On the contrary, Senator Biden had moved steadily in a more dovish direction on national security even before becoming President Obama’s Vice President and cheerleading for Obama’s Dangerous Doctrine President Trump has repudiated in its entirety. Neither Biden nor his surrogates said much of anything about China at the Democratic convention despite the urgency of addressing the paramount national security threat of our time.
Will a Democratic Party reluctant to condemn the breakdown of law and order in a growing number of municipalities its leaders have governed for decades—a party seriously considering deep cuts in law enforcement amidst the mayhem—pursue the types of muscular national security strategies essential for credibly reassuring our terrified real and prospective allies in the Indo-Pacific that it is safer to stand up to China rather than to capitulate? Will a party committed to a vast expansion of government domestically—with deficits cascading, taxes poised steeply to increase if President Biden has his way—have the resources much less the inclination to spend enough on defense to counter China’s relentless military buildup aimed at driving the United States out of the Western Pacific? Will a Biden Administration also designate China’s grandiose ambitions and predatory behavior as danger number one? Or will the President-elect and his party revert instead to the default position of President Trump’s predecessor, who considered climate change the paramount gathering danger, envisaging China as a partner in fighting it?
Concluding with an optimistic plausible caveat about the consequences of a Biden victory for our struggle with China, history furnishes ample examples of policies confounding expectations. Recall the Truman Administration’s decision to resist North Korea’s June 1950 attack on South Korea just six months after Secretary of State Dean Acheson seemed to exclude South Korea as a vital interest in his speech to the Washington Press Club in January 1950. Recall, the strategic metamorphosis of heretofore isolationist Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan into a stalwart supporter of President Truman’s policy of vigilant containment. In the immortal words of the Beach Boys, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” if a Biden Presidency underwent a similar metamorphosis in this direction. It would be a triumph of hope over experience, however, to count on it. This version of the Democratic party has purged itself of all vestiges of the Truman/Scoop Jackson tradition of muscular Cold War liberalism congenial to the President’s hawkishness on China. The party’s political banishment of Former Senator Joseph Lieberman—the last of the Cold War Democrats—sadly attests to that.
May a Biden Presidency, too, be better than it sounds. Otherwise, the COVID-19 pandemic may turn out to be a strange and stinging defeat for the United States instead of a defeat for its perpetrator.
Sanctions relief didn't bring stability in 2015. And it won't now
Back in September, Joe Biden described his Iran policy in an op-ed for CNN. After several paragraphs criticizing President Trump, Biden made an “unshakable commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” Then he offered Tehran “a credible path back to diplomacy.” The terms were simple. “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal,” Biden wrote, “the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.” Sanctions would be lifted. And Biden is sticking with his plan. Recently Tom Friedman asked him if the offer stands. “It’s going to be hard,” Biden replied, “but yeah.”
Sure, Biden admitted, the agreement did not cover Iran’s missile programs, or support for terrorism, or human-rights violations, or malign behavior in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Absolutely, it contained a sunset clause that freed Iran of its obligations, and limited inspections to non-military installations. True, Iran maintained its archive of nuclear weapons research (until Israel revealed it to the world in 2018). And yes, the regional dynamic has changed. But these are secondary issues. “The best way to achieve getting some stability in the region,” Biden said, is “with the nuclear program.”
“Stability” is not how most people would describe the Middle East after 2015. Iran continued to launch missiles and send weapons and rockets to Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon, Shiite militias in Iraq, and Houthis in Yemen. Iran continued to hold captive U.S. citizens and harass and even detain U.S. naval personnel. Iran continued to harbor al-Qaeda’s number two, until he was killed earlier this year.
The economic benefits from sanctions relief went straight to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Its leader, General Qassem Soleimani, used this walking around money to sow murder and chaos before Trump ended his reign of terror last January. The nuclear deal did not bring order to a Greater Middle East where the Islamic State ruled large parts of Iraq and Syria, and where extremist ideologies inspired attacks in America, France, and the United Kingdom.
It is fantastic to think that the Iran deal stabilized anything. But the agreement has replaced the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as a kind of philosopher’s stone that, according to the liberal imagination, transmutes ethno-sectarian animosity into peace and toleration. In reality, the benefits of the nuclear deal were just as illusory as the promise of Oslo. Concessions did nothing but embolden the agents of terror.
That’s because negotiations were not conducted in good faith. One side, earnest and idealistic, was willing to pay a steep price to attain its aims. The other side wanted to pocket its gains while dissembling, diverting from, or otherwise undermining the spirit of diplomacy. This cynicism and double-talk isn’t a function of religion or ethnicity. It is a function of regime. Both the Palestinian Authority and the Islamic Republic of Iran are autocracies. Neither government respects the dignity and liberty of its own people. There is no reason to assume they would respect ours.
Recent weeks have provided remedial instruction for those unwilling or unable to acknowledge the reality of Iran’s outlaw government. On December 9, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif gave a Persian-language interview in which he said that “America is in no position to set conditions for its return” to the Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA. Then he used anti-Semitic slang to express his support for Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s “popular referendum” that would decide whether Israel should continue to exist. “We’re not talking about throwing the k—s into the sea, or about a military attack, or about suicide operations,” Zarif said. A simple up-or-down vote should do the trick.
No one in the English-speaking world would have known about Zarif’s comments were it not for the indefatigable translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Needless to say, when his despicable language was publicized, Zarif claimed in a tweet that, ha-ha-ha, he was just joking. “I was mocking the allegation that Iran seeks to ‘throw the Jews into the sea’ and reiterating our solution is a referendum with participation of ALL: Jews, Muslims, Christians,” he wrote. In a favorite trick of demagogues everywhere, Zarif cast himself as the victim, and said it was really his critics who were biased and beneath contempt. How could anyone accuse Minister Zarif or his government of anti-Semitism? It’s not like his supreme leader denies the Holocaust and says Israel won’t exist in 20 years. “MEMRI,” Zarif wrote, “has sunk to a new low.”
It is Zarif who’s hit bottom. Around the time the foreign minister dropped the k-bomb, Iran executed the 47-year-old Ruhollah Zam, an Iranian journalist and dissident who had been living in France until Tehran’s agents lured him under false pretenses to Iraq, where they kidnapped and arrested him. Zam’s killing was intended to demonstrate that no Iranian who speaks out against the mullahs is safe. It also sparked an international outcry from the very people whose good opinion Iran needs the most. It’s “another horrifying human rights violation by the Iranian regime,” tweetedincoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan. “We will join our partners in calling out and standing up to Iran’s abuses.”
One way to stand up to “Iran’s abuses” would be resisting the temptation to reenter the nuclear deal. Using the sanctions leverage bequeathed to him by Trump, Biden might try linking not only missiles and terrorism but also human rights to a renewal of negotiations. Iranian refusal would not be a “failure of diplomacy.” It would be confirmation that Tehran has no interest in changing its ways. The mullahs understand that the second they relax their grip, or appear weak vis-à-vis America, their government will crumble. Paying them off to abide by an agreement whose terms they set is an evasion. Stability in the Middle East won’t come when America rejoins the JCPOA. It will arrive when the Iranian people put an end to the Islamic revolution.
During the presidential campaign, candidate Biden never spared his words criticizing the Trump administration’s Iran policy, in particular the decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This so-called “Iran Deal” was the signature foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama administration, which his successor revoked in May 2018. In its place, the U.S. has been pursuing a “maximum pressure campaign”–if not always consistently–through sanctions, with the goal of forcing Iran back to the negotiating table.
The prospect of a return to the JCPOA fit into the Biden campaign’s general political narrative of returning to the policies of the Obama era. Reestablishing the status quo ante Trump as far as Iran is concerned could additionally contribute to rebuilding trans-Atlantic ties, since the European allies are eager to see the U.S. back in the JCPOA. More broadly, a return would amplify Biden’s stated goal of reasserting an American commitment to multilateralism, by drawing a clean line separating him from the Trump-era unilateralism associated with the program of “America First.” Getting back into the Iran Deal is a likely priority of a Biden agenda.
However, instead of a straight-forward return to the JCPOA, there have been suggestions of the need for an alternative to the JCPOA. Biden has said as much, although sometimes in the form of a two-phase process: a return and then a more expansive agreement or a “better deal.” Many view the JCPOA in its current form as insufficient, failing to address a range of contentious points. Secretary of State Pompeo enumerated twelve terms for an improved agreement in May, 2018, including the return of all U.S. prisoners, ending Iran’s missiles program, and terminating Tehran’s destabilizing regional foreign policy.
Yet for the credibility of American foreign policy broadly–with Iran, in the Middle East and globally–it would be a grievous mistake to pursue any agreement that does not give significant attention to a file that the Obama-Biden administration largely disregarded: human rights. Iran is major violator of international human rights norms. This is no secret, certainly not to the U.S. government. On the contrary, the U.S. reports on human rights abuses regularly. Leaving human rights out of the prospective negotiations with Iran would be an indefensible betrayal of the Iranian people as well as American ideals.
Rights have been looming larger in American foreign policy recently. The Trump administration’s treatment of China has increasingly called out human rights abuses, while the Department of State under Secretary Pompeo has underscored the importance of human rights, including with its Report on Unalienable Rights. The Biden administration will have to decide if it will continue this emphasis on rights or whether it will revert to the ignoring of human rights, which Secretary Kerry excluded from the so-called “comprehensive” Iran negotiations.
It is important to highlight the egregiousness of Iran’s human rights violations, even if space here permits for only the shortest of summaries, drawing on U.S. government sources.
The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the State Department issues annual reports on human rights in all countries. The 2019 report on Iran gives prominent attention to the violent suppression of last year’s protest movement: “In response to widespread protests that began November 15 after a fuel price increase, the government blocked almost all international and local internet connections for most of a week, and security forces used lethal force to end the protests, killing approximately 1,500 persons and detaining 8,600, according to international media reports. There was no indication government entities were pursuing independent or impartial investigations into protester deaths.” Astonishingly, this is only the tip of the iceberg; the report also describes systematic abuse of human rights by the Iranian regime, including–but not limited to–the use of torture and other degrading punishments, arbitrary arrests, unfair trial procedures, inhuman conditions in prisons, politically motivated arrests and punishments, and a systematic abuse of migrants, refugees and stateless persons.
A separate report prepared by the Office of International Religious Freedom treats Iran’s parlous record in this arena. The Iranian Constitution defines the country as an “Islamic Republic,” with special privileges reserved for Islam; the only other faiths allowed are Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, but with strict limitations on their practice. There is no genuine religious freedom. Conversion by Muslims to other faiths is prohibited, and proselytism of Muslims is a capital crime. Non-Shia Muslims, especially Sunni, face discrimination as do members of the Baha’i community in particular. Non-Muslims are excluded from serving in parliament, except for five (out of 290) seats reserved for the permitted minorities. The mandatory prioritization of Islam plays out as well with regard to clothing rules for women: “The government continued to require women of all religious groups to adhere to ‘Islamic dress’ standards in public, including covering their hair and fully covering their bodies in loose clothing – an overcoat and a hijab or, alternatively, a chador (full body length semicircle of fabric worn over both the head and clothes). Although the government, at times, eased enforcement of rules for such dress, it also punished ‘un-Islamic dress’ with arrests, lashings, fines, and dismissal from employment. The government continued to crack down on public protests against the compulsory hijab and Islamic dress requirements for women. International media and various human rights NGOs reported the 24-year prison sentence on August 27 of women’s rights activist Saba Kord Afshari for her involvement in protests against the compulsory hijab.[…] In April authorities arrested three anti-forced-hijab activists, Mojgan Keshavarz, Monireh Arabshahi, and her daughter Yasaman Ariyani, for their widely shared video via various social media networks on March 8, International Women’s Day, depicting the women handing out flowers in the Tehran metro while suggesting to passengers that the hijab should be a choice. According to Human Rights Watch, on July 31, branch 31 of Tehran’s revolutionary court sentenced each of them to five years in prison for ‘assembly and collusion to act against national security,’ one year for ‘propaganda against the state,’ and 10 years for ‘encouraging and enabling [moral] corruption and prostitution.'”
In addition, the State Department’s annual report on Trafficking in Persons details Iran’s shameful record, at odds with international norms, involving human trafficking for labor, prostitution, and participation in Iran’s foreign military forays. It describes “a government policy or pattern of recruiting and using child soldiers, and a pattern of government officials perpetrating sex trafficking of adults and children with impunity. Government officials continued to perpetrate and condone trafficking crimes with impunity, both in Iran and overseas […] In addition, the government failed to identify and protect trafficking victims among vulnerable populations and continued to treat trafficking victims as criminals, including child sex trafficking victims. Victims continued to face severe punishment, including death, for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as prostitution and immigration violations.”
These three government reports provide more details, as do the accounts provided by NGOs, especially Human Rights Watchand Amnesty International. Trigger warning: some of the accounts are graphic and heart-wrenching, particularly with regard to the mistreatment of political prisoners and Iran’s use of torture.
There is no doubt that Iran is an egregious human rights violator, and it is equally certain that the U.S. government is well aware of this. Therefore, if the Biden administration insists on reopening negotiations with Teheran, it has an obligation to put human rights on the table: no sanctions relief without human rights reform. In addition to pursuing an end to Iran’s ambitions for nuclear weapons, the U.S. should insist that Iran comply with international human rights norms. If Washington does not do this, no one else will. A reasonable program could include points such as these:
In terms of internationally recognized norms, these are all reasonable policy goals; others could surely be added. In terms of the reality of Iran, achieving these goals would represent a profound amelioration of the lives of the Iranian people. In terms of decades of American policy and statute mandating the pursuit of human rights, these are exactly the sorts of goals the U.S. should pursue, especially in light of the leverage the existing sanctions program provides.
If Washington fails to raise human rights concerns in the pending negotiations with Iran, it will squander this leverage, and it will lose credibility to raise the question of rights toward any other regime, in the Middle East and beyond. Cynics, realists and pro-regime Iran lobbyists will dismiss these human rights concerns as fabricated, marginal to disarmament concerns, or matters of legitimate “cultural difference.” Yet an American administration intent on laying claim to global leadership should integrate them firmly into its foreign policy agenda.