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Biden’s bluster: Strategy, vanity or gamble

Biden’s bluster: Strategy, vanity or gamble

What’s the matter with Joe? Even though, as a good Catholic, he knows that vainglory is the greatest of the seven sins, he’s all bluster and swagger these days!

President Biden is upping the stakes against both world nuclear powers, China and Russia, only months after his humiliating exit from Afghanistan while bragging of America’s unrivaled military supremacy as if nuclear conflicts are winnable. He appears to bluff his way out of key foreign policy agreements, only for the White House to backtrack.

In a significant shift from the US’s decades-long “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan, Biden announced this week from Japan that the US will defend the island if it is attacked by China. The White House, on the other hand, has stated that “no policy change” has occurred.

That wasn’t the first time he’d done it. Biden campaigned for regime change in Russia a few weeks ago, claiming in Poland that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” only for the White House to backtrack, insisting that no policy shift had occurred. However, Biden refused to retract his “moral indignation” statement, accusing Putin of war crimes, genocide, and attempting to wipe Ukraine out.

All of this begs the question: Is this just Biden being Biden, loose-tongued, and lacking in self-control, especially as a jet-lagged 79-year-old man speaking to an international audience? Or, after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, has the US accepted “strategic clarity” with Beijing on Taiwan and committed to “regime change” in Moscow? The significance of this distinction cannot be emphasized, as the ramifications of a global clash might result in widespread death and destruction.

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The fact that Biden made a similar statement on Taiwan during a televised town hall meeting in Baltimore last October; that he has taken a combative tone with China and Russia since taking office; and that he has long held hawkish views on foreign policy, including during President Barack Obama’s administration, indicate that he meant or at least considered what he was saying. And, as commander-in-chief of the United States, it is his opinions that matter in Washington when it comes to military concerns, and which might lead to more escalation with both Moscow and Beijing.

Biden has basically shifted from a Cold War liberal who advocated standing up to the Soviet Union after the union’s demise, advocating military interventions on behalf of, or under the premise of, humanitarian and democratic reasons, especially when it suited him. For example, he voted against the Gulf War in 1991 because he was afraid of a backlash, but then voted in favor of the Gulf War in 2003, which sparked even greater outrage.

But, after the numerous US disasters in the Middle East, Obama appears to have changed his mind about sending US soldiers in to remake countries or replace governments. Nonetheless, rather than retreating into isolationism or withdrawing from the globe, Biden is now aiming higher. He wants to move away from high-cost, low-yield military interventions like those in Iraq and Afghanistan in favor of lower-cost, higher-yield global containment, which provides prestige abroad and domestic appeal without sacrificing American blood and wealth in hot spots throughout the world.

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“Our true strategic competitors – China and Russia – would love nothing more than for the United States to continue to siphon billions of dollars in resources and attention into stabilizing Afghanistan indefinitely,” Biden stated in a critical speech on the US exit from Afghanistan last year.

Putin gave Biden the justification to escalate the ante by invading Ukraine just months after leaving Afghanistan, allowing him to renew, consolidate, and expand the fading NATO alliance under US leadership. Biden has been able to bolster US-Asian ties in the face of a possible Chinese intervention in Taiwan as a result of China’s apparent complicity with Putin’s belligerent campaign in Ukraine.

Regardless of the distinctions between Ukraine’s position as an independent state and Taiwan’s, Biden sees Russia and China as posing the same geopolitical threat.

Biden has presented the US struggle with Russia and China as a worldwide clash between democracy and autocracy, all while courting the support of various autocrats on America’s side, in order to revitalize US alliances with Europe and Asia. Not only is Biden reciting Cold War slogans, but he’s also stealing a few pages from President Ronald Reagan’s 1980s playbook — the same playbook that he blasted as a failure in 1987. Biden intends to regain the pride Americans lost in Afghanistan without future sacrifices in remote military entanglements, similar to Reagan, who understood that Americans needed to reclaim their pride without making further sacrifices after their humiliation in Vietnam. To that aim, Biden, like Reagan, is bolstering US allies in Europe and increasing military bases, while arming clients engaged in proxy wars in the Middle East and elsewhere.

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Biden, like Reagan, is projecting toughness by increasing the defense budget to a whopping $782 billion, all while avoiding any measures that could provoke a confrontation with Russia or Iran. Similar to Reagan’s backing for the mujahideen in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, Biden is assisting Ukraine in its struggle against Russian invaders, so that Americans do not have to. He also pledged to protect Americans from the war’s energy and economic impacts. But, unlike Reagan, who successfully pursued diplomacy and weapons control with Moscow despite its invasion of Afghanistan, intervention in Poland, and tremendous military and nuclear buildup, Biden appears to have all but abandoned diplomacy and arms control in his relations with Moscow. And, unlike Reagan, who only fought a single 36-hour battle against the tiny island of Grenada during his eight-year presidency, Biden appears to be seriously pondering war with China over a possible invasion of Taiwan.

It’s a perilous game of cat and mouse. It may have worked in the past for leaders like Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy, but when it comes to nuclear powers defending their national security, getting to the brink without going to war is a dangerous gamble. That is why, just as he must tame other cardinal American sins like wrath and avarice in favor of matching virtues like humility, temperance, and diligence, Biden must curb his vainglory before it spirals out of control.

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