Why the Standard Tools of Foreign Policy Are Failing

It’s no secret that foreign policy challenges to President Joe Biden are piling up at an alarming rate. In the last week alone, Russia has edged toward a full-scale invasion of Ukraine (with some inept encouragement from Joe Biden), Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis have widened their war in the Persian Gulf with a drone attack on civilians in Abu Dhabi, and North Korea has conducted four missile tests. There should be no debate about the reasons these challenges are proliferating, nor why traditional solutions are not working. But until the administration understands the “why” behind its failures in national security, they will continue to grow. In a word: Afghanistan. 

The decision to scuttle out of Kabul in the dead of night, to ignore the clamors of allies in NATO and on the ground, to accept nothing less than ignominious defeat—at the hands of the Taliban no less—has devastated Biden’s global standing. 

And so it is unsurprising that neither diplomacy nor sanctions appear to be working to deliver Joe Biden’s chosen goals—a de-escalation of global tensions and a diminution of a set of threats as varied and dangerous as any since the end of the Cold War. The dictators behind those threats sense American weakness. On the non-proliferation front, both North Korea and Iran (which is accelerating both its nuclear and missile programs) have stubbornly proceeded apace, advancing weaponization and expanding delivery range for the most dangerous weapons the world knows. In the case of North Korea, after years of alternating peace talks, military threats, proffered bribes, escalating sanctions, and benign neglect, absolutely nothing appears to have moved the Hermit Kingdom from its chosen course.

Faced with this litany of failure, the Biden administration (egged on by the leftist, doggedly pro-unification government in Seoul) is thinking of ending the state of war that has existed on the Korean peninsula since the 1950s. It is unclear what either Washington or Seoul diplomatic poohbahs believe they will gain, as Pyongyang has made absolutely clear that all it really wants is an end to the U.S. military umbrella over the Republic of Korea.

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