Here is today’s foreign policy mandate: US President Joe Biden will give his first major foreign policy speech at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell begins visiting Russia, and Aung San Suu Kyi is charged by the police.
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As president, Biden delivers the first foreign policy speech
President Joe Biden visits the State Department this afternoon to greet staff and set out his foreign policy vision in a speech expected around 3 p.m. ET.
It will be Biden’s first visit to a government organization since he took office. He is accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris to support the organization ridiculed by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump as the “Deep State” department (Trump’s first visit was to the CIA).
The outlines of Biden’s foreign policy goals are already known: deepening relations with allies and partners, returning to international agreements such as the Paris Agreement and the Iranian nuclear deal, and restoring US “fundamental values”.
As Barack Obama found in Libya and Yemen, crises in the real world can destroy the best plans. New challenges have already arisen for Biden: the Alexei Navalny case in Russia and the military coup in Myanmar.
So far, Obama’s declared (if not always followed) doctrine of “don’t do stupid shit” has prevailed. US officials in both Russia and Myanmar have voiced their concerns before reaching out to allies to discuss a further response.
Aside from the daily flare-ups around the world, the bigger challenge Biden faces is selling both allies and opponents, assuming the United States can be kept its word after the unpredictable Trump years.
The war at home. This task is made more difficult by the continuing deterioration in political life in the United States. As Emma Ashford wrote in Foreign Policy Jan. 7, “How can anyone, as Joe Biden’s campaign promised, expect to restore good American leadership to the world stage when Americans cannot even rule themselves at home? How can the United States spread democracy or serve as an example to others when it has little functioning democracy at home? “
Refugee policy renewed. One way to regain altitude is to rephrase the United States as a role model for the world. Today, Biden plans to announce a dramatic increase in the number of refugees the country will take in, which has slowed to 15,000 a year by the end of Trump’s tenure. Biden plans to announce a new cap of 125,000 admissions per year, 15,000 more than the limit during the Obama administration.
The first 100 days. White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated that today’s speech would be brief and that the president would not give “his vision on every issue and every foreign policy issue.” At Foreign Policy, our reporters and contributors cataloged the key issues Biden faced in the first 100 days. You can go into that here.
What we are following today
Senate committee votes on UN ambassadors. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets today to vote on whether to approve Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination as US Ambassador to the United Nations. Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination had previously been delayed by Senator Ted Cruz, who questioned comments the veteran diplomat had made during a Confucius Institute speech in 2019 saying that both the United States and China could have positive influences on Africa. Assuming Thomas-Greenfield meets the committee’s approval, it is not yet known when a full Senate vote will take place on Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination as the chamber prepares for the second impeachment trial against Trump.
Borrell goes to Moscow. EU foreign policy leader Josep Borrell begins a three-day visit to Russia today, just two days after Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny was sentenced to roughly two and a half years in prison. Borrell has defended the timing of the trip – which includes a meeting with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov – as essential to engaging Russian civil society. “We can’t say, ‘I don’t like you, I’ll stay in my corner,'” Borrell told an online event earlier this week. At the same time, Borrell downplayed the idea of a breakthrough in the Navalny case.
Aung San Suu Kyi attacked. Myanmar police have brought charges against deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi after six walkie-talkies were found in her home. Authorities say they have been illegally imported and that she will be detained until February 15 while an investigation is ongoing.
The police were sharply criticized for the move. Charles Santiago, chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for human rights, described the indictment as “an absurd move by the junta to try to legitimize its illegal takeover”. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the charge “only exacerbates the undermining of the rule of law” taking place in the country.
Turkish University protests. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has branded students and teachers who protested the appointment of a pro-Erdogan university rector as “terrorists” and vowed to prevent weeks of protests from becoming an anti-government movement. Protesters at Istanbul’s Bogazici University were angry at the appointment of Melih Bulu, a former AKP district president and academic who they believed was undemocratic. Over 300 people in Ankara and Istanbul were arrested during protests this week.
US withdrawal to Afghanistan. In a new report commissioned by the US Congress, US troops were asked to remain in Doha, Afghanistan, after the US-Taliban agreement signed in May expired. The report’s authors, which include retired General Joseph Dunford and former Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte, warned that if troops departed on the current timeline, the risk of civil war would increase.
Elise Labott writes on foreign policy and warns against keeping US troops in Afghanistan too long, as this would likely deter the Taliban and the Afghan government from reaching a peace deal. Their logic: The Taliban can always wait for the United States – and President Ashraf Ghani can use the participation of US troops as a basis for negotiations to prop up his weak government.
Modes vs. RiRi. The Indian government has resorted to criticism from singer Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg after both celebrities released their support for peasant protests that have engulfed New Delhi in recent months. In a 334-word statement, the Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that the protests “must be seen in the context of the democratic ethos and politics of India” and that only a “small fraction” of farmers have had problems with agricultural reforms.
The government’s statement was somewhat disproved by the actions of the authorities in New Delhi, where barricades along with metal spikes were erected along the paths to protest sites to hold further demonstrations. Farmers union leaders on Wednesday pledged to continue their protests in New Delhi and expand the protest movement across the country.
bits and pieces
Golf won’t be the only sport where participants will be asked to keep calm at the Tokyo Summer Olympics next summer. According to the current guidelines, which are being distributed to international associations by the organizers of the Tokyo Olympics, statements of support will be closely monitored to ensure compliance with coronavirus regulations.
Athletes should be assisted by clapping, but “don’t sing or sing,” the guidelines state. “Unnecessary forms of physical contact such as hugs, high fives and handshakes” should also be avoided. Those who break the rules will be banned from the games.
When Japanese residents have their say, there is no risk that athletes or fans break the rules at all. A recent survey found that 80 percent of respondents think the Olympics should be postponed further or canceled.
That’s it for today.
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Credit: MANDEL NGAN / AFP