The tradition of assessing presidential administrations at the 100 day mark is homage to FDR and the power of the presidency to combat the Great Depression. It is totally arbitrary, of course, and in many ways has become a lazy hook for members of the pundit class. Nonetheless, this initial look at the early actions of a president and his team can provide some useful insights into the general trend of national security policy—a trend that might otherwise be obscured by the Biden team’s focus on the COVID vaccine rollout and attempts to pump up the economy and enlarge the role of government in American society.
In that spirit, one can say that the first 100 days or so of the Biden administration’s foreign policy have gone about as expected. The president and his national security team have been met with a sigh of relief both in U.S. agencies and (with some notable exceptions) in chanceries around the world.
Biden has demonstrated his commitment to liberal, multilateral internationalism by rejoining the Paris Accord on climate and the World Health Organization (although holding the organization to account for allowing China to obfuscate about COVID will remain an ongoing challenge). He has reinstated what appears to be a more normal, national security decision-making process and has recruited senior officials who are almost entirely in the mainstream of the Washington foreign policy elite (or “blob” if you prefer).
The administration ordered air strikes on Iranian-backed militias in Syria to make the point (as President Biden himself said) that Iran should act with caution and not “impunity” and to demonstrate it is willing to use military force when necessary. His administration also issued interim national security strategic guidance that was notable mostly for the continuity it expressed with many of the policies (if not the rhetoric and frequent impulsive policy shifts) of the previous administration—particularly on China. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held their own in an initial exchange of unpleasantries with their Chinese counterparts and followed that up with sanctions aimed at China’s repressive policies in Xinjiang and Hong Kong that were impressively coordinated with the EU. After some initial delay, the administration designated a number of Russian individuals and entities for sanctions in response to the Solar Winds hack and Russian interference in the 2020 election (as attested to in the declassified report of the director of national intelligence). The administration has also begun to try to deal with some of America’s more problematic allies like Saudi Arabia and Turkey without provoking a rupture. All of that is to the good.