Biden Says US to Focus on ‘Diplomatic’ Approach, in First Major Foreign Policy Speech

February 4, 2021 Updated: February 4, 2021

President Joe Biden announced a slew of moves in his first major foreign policy speech, ranging from halting the withdrawal of U.S. troops stationed in Germany to ending support for Saudi Arabia’s military offensive in Yemen, as he sought to lay out his vision of global governance.

During his Feb. 4 speech—his first at the State Department—Biden signaled a different approach from former President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda. He said the United States has begun “rebuilding the muscles of democratic alliances that have atrophied from four years of neglect and abuse.”

Biden was accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his roughly 20-minute speech. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is launching a global force posture review, he announced.

“America is back,” Biden said. “Diplomacy is back, it is the center of our foreign policy. … We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again.”

To combat obstacles such as the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic and what he called the climate crisis, Biden said it all must start with diplomacy, which he dubbed “essential.” He also noted China and Russia in his remarks.

“American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States, and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy,” he said.

While Biden said his administration would “push back” when it comes to human rights issues in China, he added that the United States is “ready to work with Beijing if it’s in America’s interest to do so.”

On Russia, he said his administration “will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interests and our people.”

Biden said he would reverse the Trump administration’s plan to withdraw troops from Germany. Last year, Trump announced he would pull 9,500 U.S. troops from Germany after accusing the country of not paying its pledged amount for its own defense. Germany had failed to meet its obligation as a NATO member to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense.

On Feb. 3, the United States extended the New START treaty with Moscow, the last remaining nuclear weapons treaty, for five years. But the move also has drawn criticism, with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accusing the administration of losing its leverage to convince Russia to work on bringing the regime in Beijing into the nuclear pact.

Biden reversed course on a number of global issues. He noted the United States’ rejoining the Paris Climate Accords and his halting of its withdrawal from the World Health Organization.

Trump accused the WHO of refusing to act on reforms recommended by the United States, including providing proof of its independence from the CCP.

He also noted the military takeover situation in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

“The Burmese military should relinquish the power they have seized, release the advocates and activists and officials they have detained … and refrain from violence,” Biden said.

He also announced plans to increase the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the United States to more than eight times the level during the Trump administration. Trump had reduced the cap to 15,000.

Biden’s speech met with some criticism from national security circles.

“The United States isn’t back—it never left,” said Benjamin H. Friedman, the policy director at Defense Priorities and adjunct lecturer at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

“The U.S. did not abandon any alliances—in fact, alliances grew, with new forces sent to the Middle East in service of the foolish quasi-alliance with the Saudis, and to Eastern Europe,” Friedman continued. “NATO, and thus U.S. defense commitments, expanded. No new wars were started, but all of them continued, albeit with an overdue drawdown in Afghanistan.”

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