Co-written by Benjamin H. Friedman
As U.S. President-elect Joe Biden assembles a foreign-policy team of experts drawn from previous Democratic administrations—including former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Deputy National Security Advisor Antony Blinken—some of its members may be tempted to turn back the clock and return the United States to its course of four years ago, before Donald Trump ever set foot in the Oval Office. It is an appealing fantasy, for sure—and one to which Biden gestured in his campaign pledge to “restore” U.S. global leadership from its alleged Trumpian aberration.
During his campaign, however, Biden struck different notes as well, indicating a desire not just to restore but also to change. Biden promised to end the “forever wars” in Afghanistan and the Middle East launched and sustained by Trump’s predecessors. He vowed to terminate U.S. assistance for the Saudi-led war in Yemen and stand against Saudi Arabia’s broader misdeeds. And he repeatedly emphasized that he had opposed sending more troops to Afghanistan in the hopes of building up the Afghan state under the Obama administration, proposing instead a narrower approach of targeting terrorists.
In taking these positions, Biden practiced good politics. He recognized the unpopularity of military entanglements and made it difficult for Trump to cast him as a warmonger. Now, Biden and his team have the opportunity to implement good policy as well by actually restraining U.S. military power from the White House.
The Biden administration can draw on familiar insights to do so. Four years ago, as he left office, President Barack Obama criticized what he called “the Washington playbook” for reflexively prescribing “militarized responses” to world events. Obama was right then and is only more so today, after four years of President Trump—who has bragged about U.S. weaponry and casually eaten chocolate cake while launching missile strikes. Overextended abroad, the United States has urgent needs at home, starting with recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. But the old playbook will invariably reappear, given its popularity among foreign-policy hands and, more fundamentally, the temptation U.S. power creates to meddle and boss others around. When this happens, the Biden administration will need to be ready to say no—no to unnecessary wars and no to further U.S. military overstretch. In five areas in particular, the administration ought to vow restraint from the get-go.
Read the full article in Foreign Policy.