President Biden proed “America is Back” when he office in January 2021, but his actions have fallen short, and neither our allies nor our adversaries are buying it. Nicaragua’s recent approval for Russian forces to train within its borders and conduct military drills with its army is the latest example of America’s descent within its own hemisphere. The American public is losing confidence in Biden’s ability to lead the country and make sound decisions concerning national security.
Biden has created a permissive environment in which our adversaries perceive weakness, and our allies question our commitments. In many cases, Washington waits for others to take the lead and then reluctantly follows. Fear of “escalation” has constrained the US and now we cower to threats from countries with nuclear weapons, cede to their demands, and actively avoid direct confrontation. Russia is testing this administration — and China, North Korea and Iran have taken notice. Biden’s permissive environment has reawakened President Bush’s “axis of evil.”
Arguably, the state of the world today is the culmination of badly negotiated treaties, poorly thought-out policies and ill-advised decision-making. Some of this began early in the administration, when the Biden team announced its intention to renegotiate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal; issued executive orders that crippled domestic energy supplies, creating a dependence on foreign oil; and then accelerated the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, giving the Taliban control.
The collapse of Afghanistan signaled a “green light” to our adversaries. When asked about the impact of the US withdrawal, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus responded, “One can say with confidence that some potential American adversaries seized on that withdrawal to say … ‘See? We told you the US is not a dependent partner and ally, and we told you that the US is a great power in decline.’” Former Attorney General Bill Barr similarly said, “The Biden administration botched the Afghanistan withdrawal, and its repudiation of domestic energy supplies completed [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to view Biden as weak, and the policies of the administration prompted Russia to invade Ukraine.”
Under the permissive environment created by the Biden administration, our adversaries have learned from one another just how far they can push the US and NATO to get what they want. Some notable examples include:
China has warned against foreign interference in helping Taiwan to defend its independence. Putin similarly warned of “consequences that you have never experienced in your history” just days before invading Ukraine. China’s announcement of a security pact with the Solomon Islands in mid-April added another layer of security implications for the Pacific Rim to consider, as China continues to build island fortifications in the South China Sea, and now a naval base in Cambodia.
North Korea is executing Iran’s playbook of using provocations to gain concessions with missile launches. According to ABC News, “Some experts have said North Korea is trying to perfect its weapons technology and pressure the US into offering concessions like relief amid long-stalled disarmament talks. North Korea also might view the US preoccupation with the Ukraine conflict as a chance to accelerate testing activity without any serious response from Washington.”
Iran fired up to 12 missiles in March toward the direction of the US consulate in Erbil, Iraq. Coincidentally, negotiations had stalled in Vienna concerning the revival of the nuclear deal. Israel has opposed such a deal, saying it will do what is necessary to protect their country, prompting more threats from Iran.
Without established boundaries, our adversaries will continue to push the envelope. Diplomacy has its limits, and economic deterrence doesn’t have much impact when like-minded countries support one another or control resources upon which the West depends. The Biden administration’s policy of “strategic ambiguity,” a cousin of the Obama administration’s “strategic patience,” provides zero deterrence. What we need is “strategic clarity.”
Strong alliances and action provide the message that Russia, China, North Korea and Iran understand. Instead, our adversaries are hearing a loud and consistent message from this US administration: If you have a nuclear weapon, have access to natural resources or finished products in high demand, or have territorial aspirations, we won’t necessarily stand in your way.
Sadly, in fact, Biden’s permissive environment may actually accommodate our adversaries.
Jonathan Sweet, a retired Army colonel, served 30 years as a military intelligence officer. His background includes tours of duty with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and the Intelligence and Security Command. He led the US European Command Intelligence Engagement Division from 2012-14, working with NATO partners in the Black Sea and Baltics. Follow him on Twitter @Jessweet2022.
Michael Pregent, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, served as a US Army Intelligence officer with multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. After leaving the military, he was a subject matter expert for the Defense Intelligence Agency, with roles as an intelligence adviser to Gens. David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno in Iraq. Follow him on Twitter @MPPregent.