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Joe Biden’s Scarecrow Diplomacy

US President Joe Biden. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
US President Joe Biden. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

U.S. President Joe Biden is eroding the international credibility of the United States. His idle threats, policy about-faces, and empty pronouncements degrade the power and prestige of the presidency. America’s adversaries and allies alike realize that Biden’s public declarations are irresponsible, crass, and mindless.

Joe Biden

President Joe Biden, joined by First Lady Jill Biden, delivers remarks on the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

The American public deserves better from its president. Words matter in diplomacy, especially when they come from the chief executive. President Biden should know this — he arrived at the White House with the resume of a seasoned foreign-policy veteran. Eight years as vice president and 34 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have given Biden ample opportunity to deepen his knowledge of U.S. foreign policy and refine his diplomatic acumen.

But Biden’s conduct over the last 19 months suggests he is more like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz than bona fide statesmen from Washington D.C.  

Take for example Scarecrow Joe’s treatment of the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. The president put the crown prince on notice for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi following his campaign pledge “to make them [Saudi Arabia] in fact the pariah that they are.” What was the point of threatening the de facto monarch, and a popular one at that? Did Biden expect Salman to have an epiphany and resign?  

Joe Biden’s crass comments about a critical regional partner create distrust and undermine 77 years of cooperation with a partner vital to U.S. national security interests. Saudi Arabia plays a key role in global energy markets, counterterrorism efforts, resolving ongoing conflicts, and preventing the proliferation of nuclear capabilities in the Middle East.

The consequences of Joe Biden’s ill-advised remarks were entirely predictable. The President took an embarrassing and unproductive visit to the Kingdom in July, and Saudi relations with China and Russia deepened. Biden’s pleas to increase oil production to tame rising prices fell on deaf ears as Saudi-led OPEC+ announced a cut in production.  

The strawman re-emerged on March 26, this time to assert that Russian President Vladmir Putin “cannot remain in power.” The following week, Biden called for Putin to be put on trial for war crimes — a statement that is beyond risible. The president’s words heighten the chance of war with a nuclear power and the third-largest army in the world. Putin already feels threatened by NATO and Western encroachment. Calls for his removal and trial only elevate his paranoia. 

How do Biden’s threats benefit the United States? The administration does not want to go to war with Russia over Ukraine. Furthermore, Putin is no tinpot dictator — he leads a major nuclear power with significant natural resources that we cannot ignore.  

Joe Biden’s statements are both dangerous and ridiculous. Why would one seek regime change in a country with nuclear weapons? So the nuclear weapons can fall into the hands of terrorists and petty autocrats after Russia fragments? And how does Joe Biden expect to remove Putin from office and put him on trial for war crimes? Putin is popular among 144 million Russians. Does Biden forget that President Barack Obama failed to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — a leader of 20 million — or that it took 13 years to capture the Bosnian Serb war criminal, Radovan Karadzic?   

On May 23 and in his Sept. 18 60 Minutes interview, Scarecrow Joe capsized years of strategic ambiguity by stating that the U.S. will defend Taiwan if China attacks. The statement is harmful for two reasons. First, China no longer has to guess whether the U.S. will try to protect Taiwan. Second, it raises the prospect of an unattractive choice: either fighting China or engaging in a humiliating retreat. Such a retreat would mark a touchstone in the collapse of American influence in Asia.   

As the former vice president, Joe Biden is familiar with the dangers of making impromptu policy statements. In 2012, Obama made a seemingly innocuous statement about a red line in Syria concerning the use of chemical weapons. It created expectations among the Syrian opposition and the international community that Obama did not fulfill. The inaction tarnished Obama’s credibility.

Last but not least is President Biden’s Oct. 6 announcement of a possible nuclear Armageddon because of developments in Ukraine. It was a spectacularly nonsensical statement. What does Biden hope to accomplish with his doomsday comment? Create hysteria? Anticipate U.S. involvement in a nuclear war over Ukraine? Or simply scare Putin into coming to his senses and withdrawing from Ukraine?  

The man with 40-plus years of foreign policy experience has yet to arrive at the White House. The inane, foolish, and hollow public pronouncements of the previous 19 months suggest the strawman version of Joe Biden inhabits the Oval Office. Hopefully Scarecrow Joe can rediscover his diplomatic prowess before American power, interests, credibility and the presidency suffer further damage.

Expert Biography: Eric Bordenkircher, Ph.D., is a research fellow at UCLA’s Center for Middle East Development. His twitter handle is @UCLA_Eagle. The views represented in this piece are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of UCLA or the Center for Middle East Development. 

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Eric Bordenkircher, Ph.D., is a research fellow at UCLA’s Center for Middle East Development. His twitter handle is @UCLA_Eagle. The views represented in this piece are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of UCLA or the Center for Middle East Development.