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Joe Biden Has Big Plans to Take on China. Will He Succeed?

Joe Biden China
Image: US Navy Flickr.

The Biden administration has made clear that it wants to focus on competition with China and reduce the US footprint in theaters seen as less vital to US interests.

Allies and partners are already seeking reassurances about the US support for their security, even as US officials are still figuring out their approach to that competition.

The biggest moves have been in the Middle East, where the US has withdrawn from Afghanistan, announced plans to remove combat troops from Iraq, and scaled back elsewhere.

Those moves are part of a broader effort to ensure the US military’s global presence “is correctly sized and supports strategy,” informed by the Pentagon’s global force posture review.

That review is not complete — the Pentagon told Insider recently that it would be released “in the near future” — but it’s already caused concern overseas.

At a conference in Bahrain this weekend, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was pressed about the US’s plans for the region.

“There is some level of angst, as I just heard, that the United States is not really committed to this region,” Austin said. “There’s an anticipation that we’re going to turn and focus everything that we have on China.”

“I not only have heard that in this region,” Austin added. “I’ve also heard that in Europe and some other places.”

Proponents of less military involvement in the Middle East argue the US’s presence there is disproportionate to its interests. Current and former US officials, among others, have argued drawing down will allow bad actors to gain strength and rivals to expand.

In Bahrain, US officials promised continued work with “partners and allies” in the region.

“We still have tens of thousands of troops in this region. We have significant capability here,” Austin said. “Let me assure you that we’re not we’re not going to abandon those interests going forward.”

Brett McGurk, National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East, promised “humility” and “introspection” from the US based on “hard lessons learned” in the region, but McGurk also emphasized ongoing commitment.

“The US is not going anywhere. This region is too important, too volatile, too interwoven with American interests to contemplate otherwise,” he said.

Strategic discipline

Comments this month from other Biden officials show that the US experience in the Middle East is influencing not only their approach to that region but also how they approach competition with China.

Derek Chollet, counselor at the State Department, said this month that the US will remain “deeply engaged” in the Middle East but that it also has “core national-security interests” in Europe and the Indo-Pacific.

“In all of those regions — and I experience this every day here; in many ways, this has not changed over the last 10 years — there’s a desire for more of the United States, more of our time, more of our energy, more of our attention, more of our force posture,” Chollet said. “As we all know, more of everything is not a strategy.”

Written By

Christopher Woody writes and edits stories on military issues, defense policy, and foreign affairs. He is based in Washington, DC.