Anyone hoping that Joe Biden’s presidency might embrace new thinking on foreign policy and a greater receptivity to the concept of restraint needs to abandon such hopes at this point. Most of the president-elect’s personnel selections for defense and foreign policy posts were members of the Obama administration’s junior varsity. Their undeserved elevation to the varsity team reflects the pervasive attitude within the establishment wing of the Democratic Party that everything was just fine with U.S. foreign policy until the irresponsible, “isolationist” Donald Trump wrecked America’s position in the world. The proper goal, according to that view, is to restore the status quo ante.
But everything was not fine with U.S. foreign policy when Obama left office. Far from it. The administration had launched not one, not two, but three disastrous military interventions—in Libya, Syria, and Yemen—thereby sowing more destruction and chaos throughout the Middle East. Obama and his minions also had further damaged already frayed relations with Russia by supporting demonstrators who overthrew the duly elected, pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Too many of Biden’s announced appointees were proponents of those misadventures.
As I’ve written elsewhere, Biden himself was surprisingly cautious regarding the missions in the Muslim world. He strongly opposed the decision to overthrow Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi—for very good reason, as the subsequent tragic situation in that country confirmed. Biden also was extremely worried that radical Islamist elements were dominating the Syrian rebellion against Bashar al-Assad that Washington and its allies were supporting. His instincts proved to be correct in that case as well. According to Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, “the only senior official who consistently opposed sending more troops to Afghanistan was Joe Biden.”
Unfortunately, Biden exhibited no such worthwhile instincts regarding U.S. policy toward Ukraine and Russia. Indeed, as the transcript of the infamous leaked phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt showed, Biden was the designated point man to bless the successor regime in Kiev that Washington was helping to take power. Nuland was confident the vice president was ready and willing to play that role.