In its first 100 days, the Biden administration has worked to “build back better” at home, abroad, and in its policy-making processes.
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 China and Russia as well as 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,” according to a senior administration official who spoke to reporters on Tuesday about the first 100 days of the Biden administration’s national security and foreign policy.
In his first call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden among other economic, human rights, and security concerns spoke of his priority to protect “the American people’s…way of life.”
It’s also not just foreign countries that pose a threat to the U.S.; the actions of the previous administration have fundamentally hindered America’s ability to address major challenges, according to the senior administration official.
Despite all this, Biden believes that the U.S. “has a tremendous opportunity to shape this world,” said the senior administration official.
“We will repair our alliances and engage with the world again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s,” Biden said in his inaugural address.
To enhance the U.S.’ capability to act as a global leader, Biden has put investing in the American people at the heart of his efforts.
Biden and Democrats in Congress have passed one plan and Biden has put forth two more; the three plans together amount to over $6 trillion in investments.
“The President approaches [national security and foreign policy] 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, signed into law in March, launched a nation-wide vaccination campaign and protected households from the impacts of economic collapse.
His proposed American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan are massive investments in the next generation of American infrastructure and people; the plans would also repair and expand infrastructure and support people in the near-term.
Priority investments include clean energy, science and technology, and strengthening cyber-security and supply chains for critical resources, as restated by the senior administration official on Tuesday.
As the Biden administration seeks to “rally the world to address shared challenges,” it has sought to reengage at the multilateral level: rejoining the WHO, Paris Agreement, and hosting the first-ever Climate Leaders Summit, among other initiatives.
It has also worked to repair partnerships and alliances, in particular with “like-minded democracies.”
“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 among other trade and security frictions between the U.S. and EU, the Biden administration views the transatlantic relationship as a “cornerstone” of U.S. foreign policy and has worked considerably to mend relations; for example, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III have met in-person with NATO officials in Brussels, Belgium.
“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 senior administration official said.
In June, Biden will make his first overseas travel to the UK and Belgium for the G7, NATO, and U.S.-EU summits. “This trip will highlight [Biden’s] commitment to restoring our alliances, revitalizing the Transatlantic partnership, and working in close cooperation with our allies and multilateral partners to address global challenges and better secure America’s interests,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki last week announcing the trip.
Although the U.S. is committed to strong transatlantic ties, none of its European relationships is its “most important alliance.” That title goes to Japan – another senior administration official had described the U.S.- Japan relationship this way before Biden’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the first foreign leader to visit the U.S.
The second country to visit the U.S. is expected to be South Korea, according to the senior administration official on Tuesday.
The U.S. has also worked to strengthen its partnership with India and Australia as a member of the Quad.
The U.S. has engaged with Asian allies and partners in part to respond to what the senior administration official described as an “increasingly assertive China.”
“[The U.S.’] core advantage vis-à-vis China in the world is our ability to leverage our network of partnerships and alliances,” the senior administration official said Tuesday.
Broader is Biden’s belief that restoring faith in democracy is crucial, especially in the context of rising authoritarianism of which China is exemplary.
“[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 and African countries and a ban on transgender people serving in the military.
Biden intends to hold a Summit for Democracies later this year, the senior administration official on Tuesday confirmed.
A crucial yet often overlooked aspect of U.S. foreign policy is the policy-making process itself. According to the senior administration official, because the Trump administration’s processes were “ad hoc” and lacked structure, Biden administration officials, in particular those at the National Security Council, have had to “build back the muscle memory” in the policy-making process.
“We had a [n]ear- total breakdown of process in the last administration,” the senior administration official said. “Expertise was pushed aside. Decisions were made on an ad hoc basis.”
The senior administration official continued: “We’ve put a ton of work into making sure our national security decision-making process is rigorous, inclusive and informed.”
The senior administration official pointed to Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan and to end U.S. support for the war in Yemen as prime examples of careful policy-making.
The U.S. is also seeking to balance holding Russia accountable for past “malign activities” and discourage future ones while it seeks “a more stable and predictable relationship consistent with U.S. interests,” said Secretary Blinken announcing sanctions on Russia over a week ago.
In the near term, a potential drawback of structured and inclusive policy-making is that actions aren’t taken as quickly as administration personnel or the public would like. But the idea is that better processes will eventually lead to better outcomes.
When Blinken was asked how the U.S. would prioritize distributing its stockpile of vaccines, he said the administration was paying attention to scientists and putting a plan in place.
“You’re right; we have 60 million vaccines, Astrazeneca vaccines. We want to make sure that the vaccines that we have in our possession or will soon have in our possession are safe, so the FDA are reviewing that,” said Blinken in an interview with CNN on Tuesday.
“We’re still a couple weeks away from that, but we’re putting in place a plan right now to do just that.”