There is an awful lot going on in the State Capitol in these waning days of the elongated 2021 session – yes kids, we are just over three weeks away from a legislative hard stop – and much of it is horrifying to one degree or another, depending on your particular ox and how much of a priority has been made of goring it. Meanwhile, there is also an awful lot going on beyond our shores, and the new administration’s reactions to those could ultimately prove at least as consequential, and probably more so, as what transpires under the local dome.
The middle east is as good a place to start as anywhere, given that it cannot quite give up its hold over dominating the center of the world stage.
The primary concern, on the foreign policy front, of a Biden administration was that it adumbrated a return to the chronically feckless foreign policy meandering of the Obama administration. That fear is on the verge of being realized in the current conflict between Israel and Hamas. First, while it is unreasonable to suggest that Biden and his policies were in any way directly responsible for Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s attack of Israel, the concurrent circumstances cannot be ignored. The Iranian government is nothing if not opportunistic – well, brutal too – and is fully cognizant of how eager Biden is to resurrect the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Tehran sees the change in administrations as a chance to fray the Abraham Accords struck last year between Israel and several Arab states, gauge the commitment of the United States to Israeli security, and maximize their bargaining position when America comes running back to the table.
So far, the Biden administration hasn’t exactly shown the steadfastness of Roland’s defense of Roncevaux, but hasn’t caved to demands from the left to pressure Israel into an unwise cease-fire either. Those mistakes have come from Congress, where the fringier types have denounced Israel as an “undemocratic, apartheid state”, betraying a profound confusion over the meaning of both of those words – Israel is among the only functioning democracies in the region, one in which Arab-Israelis can and do fully participate; while Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian State, is 15 years into a four-year term – and are, among other things, demanding an end to arms sales to Israel and blocking sanctions against foreign supporters of Hamas. So the question is how long the Biden administration can hold off the pressure from the left to condemn Israel for defending herself? If I were living under the Iron Dome in Tel Aviv, I would not place an exorbitant amount of hope in the fortitude of Joe Biden.
Turning north, we see this week a hint of how the Biden administration will interact with Putin’s Russia. One of the bewildering ironies of the Trump years was the overnight flip-flop by both parties concerning Russia – before 2016, the Democrats were the party of Russian (decades earlier, Soviet) appeasement, the Republicans Cold War-nostalgic hardliners. After attempts by Russia to interfere with the 2016 election (which, incidentally, they had been doing since at least 1917), the narrative mysteriously flipped, and Biden tried sounding absolutely Nixonian in his jingoistic denunciations of Putin and Russia.
At least before the election. Now he is again looking as though he is prepared to pick up right where Obama left off. His decision to not levy sanctions against the company running the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will pour Russian natural gas into Europe, is riddled with ironies, not the least of which is that it demonstrates a greater commitment by this administration to a pipeline that would benefit Russia, than to one — the Keystone XL —that would benefit the U.S. But it also demonstrates a disconcerting weakness and a misunderstanding of the weight of geopolitics.
All of this is compounded by Biden’s earlier decision to suspend already weak intellectual property protections for U.S. vaccine makers, which sets a terrifying precedent — would the same administration be as willing to share details of, say, the Joint Strike Fighter, in the name of an international security emergency?
Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, the Chinese Communist Party has all but solidified its takeover of Hong Kong, this week seizing the equity assets of an owner in a publicly traded company under the aegis of the new national security law. One can safely assume that the Chinese rulers are closely watching how the new American administration responds to Iran and Russia as their gaze turns over the South China Sea towards Taiwan.