Biden builds back “muscle memory” in US foreign policy in first 100 days

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. sees “transnational threats” and “great power competition” as the two main categories of issues shaping U.S. foreign policy.

Confronting the U.S. are global challenges such as climate change and Covid-19, and a “technological revolution that’s reshaping nearly every aspect of our lives.”

Country specific challenges include an “increasingly assertive China” and a “disruptive Russia” and to some extent North Korea and Iran.

It’s not just the actions of countries themselves that pose a challenge to the U.S., but also their political systems: A “contest” between authoritarianism and democracy, Biden believes, is “essential to the moment we’re in.”

Biden also sees the actions of the previous administration as fundamentally hindering America’s ability to address global challenges.

He also believes that the U.S. “has a tremendous opportunity to shape this world,” according to a senior administration official.

To build American capability to act as a global leader, Biden has put the American people at the center of his efforts.

“The President approaches [the above] issues with a focus squarely on what will make life better, safer, and easier for working families,” the admin official said. “That is our primary metric.”

Biden’s American Rescue Plan launched a nation-wide vaccination campaign and protected households from the impacts of economic collapse.

His jobs plan and forthcoming families plan constitute massive investments in next-generation American infrastructure and people. Priority investments include clean energy, science and technology, and strengthening cyber-security and supply chains for critical resources, according to the admin official.

Abroad, as the Biden administration seeks to “rally the world to address shared challenges,” it has worked to repair partnerships and alliances – particularly with “like-minded democracies” – and reengage at the multilateral level.

“We don’t tout alliances because having an alliance or a close partnership with another country means you agree on every issue,” the senior administration official said. “But it [does] mean that you are…strategically aligned about the key challenges that you face.”

Despite tensions with Germany over the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Biden views the transatlantic relationship as a “cornerstone” of U.S. foreign policy and his administration has worked considerably to mend relations.

“Our relationship with Germany, our relationship with our key European and transatlantic partners, is a cornerstone of our approach to the rest of the world,” the admin official said.

Broader is Biden’s belief that restoring faith in democracy is crucial, especially in the context of rising authoritarianism.

“[Biden] sees this contest…between competing political systems – as essential to the moment we’re in,” said the senior administration official. “And…it’s going to be judged [on]….how each system can deliver for its own people.”

This has entailed reversing a number of the previous administration’s policies that didn’t align with American values and ideals including a travel ban from majority Muslim countries and a ban on transgender people serving in the military.

Biden intends to hold a Summit for Democracies later this year.

But in order for policies to reflect American values and ideals, the Biden administration has had to “build back the muscle memory” in its processes, particularly at the National Security Council.

“We had a [n]ear- total breakdown of process in the last administration,” the admin official said. “Expertise was pushed aside. Decisions were made on an ah hoc basis.”

“We’ve put a ton of work into making sure our national security decision-making process is rigorous, inclusive and informed,” the admin official added.

While this emphasis on process transcends all policy areas, U.S. policy towards Afghanistan, Russia, and Yemen are prime examples of careful policy-making, according to the admin official.

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