Now That 'America Is Back,' What Is Our Foreign Policy?

February 9, 2021

In President Joe Biden's first major foreign policy speech last week, he took pains to emphasize that "America is back." Back to what, exactly? For now, that remains unknown, but several aspects of the speech are sure to raise eyebrows -- to say the least.

Picking up where Obama left off, Biden is proud to focus his first foreign policy pushes not on addressing China's ongoing genocide against Uyghur Muslims or the recent dramatic assault on democracy in Burma, but on climate change. Biden started the process to rejoin the Paris Agreement on his first day in office. But, as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed out on "Washington Watch," that agreement has already failed to produce results. "Most of these countries have been in the Paris climate accords for the last four years... Well, what did the world get for that? They got a Chinese Communist Party that continues to emit more pollution than any other country in the world, not even coming close to its commitments. These commitments are ephemeral."

Meanwhile, President Biden let China off easy in his speech, describing China as a "competitor." But when the second most powerful country in the world is committing genocide, threatening its democratic neighbors, and harassing its dissidents even after they flee the country, that makes it more than a competitor. China's actions make it one of the foremost foreign policy challenges that the Biden administration will face, and how it is addressed will be a defining issue in Biden's legacy.

Though Biden promised to keep his foreign policy "grounded in facts and evidence," Pompeo notes that the Biden administration has already failed to grasp the reality on the ground in Yemen, choosing to lift the terrorist designation of Houthi rebels: "No one disputes that the Houthi rebels in Yemen are terrorists, that they threaten America, that they shout death to Israel, that their motto invokes the very idea that the United States should not exist, that they've launched missiles into Saudi Arabia, that they kill civilians. These are terrorists, and to lift the designation of them as such is just a fantasy and it is a wishing that something weren't so. And that presents a risk."

Noticeably lacking in President Biden's speech was any mention of international religious freedom, the promotion of which was a prevalent feature of the Trump administration's foreign policy. However, he did talk about the importance of economic growth in and reducing instability and violence in developing countries. It is vital to recognize that religious freedom actually serves these goals. The protection of religious freedom has been linked both to economic growth and to national security and stability. A well-rounded U.S. foreign policy, especially concerning developing and violence-prone countries, should include the promotion of religious freedom.

It is still early in the Biden administration, and much remains to be seen about what its foreign policy will entail. In describing his own foreign policy strategy as secretary of state, Pompeo said, "It was a foreign policy leadership that understood America first was the right approach. If we got it right here in America, good things would happen all across the world." For the sake of American citizens and freedom lovers around the world who look to America's example, the United States ought to continue to lead and be the "shining city upon a hill" President Ronald Reagan described.

President Biden has often spoken about the importance of maintaining our democratic alliances and cooperating with other countries to accomplish common goals. This is and always will be an important aspect of our foreign policy. However, the moral leadership that America has so often displayed on the world stage is not something that should be minimized. The persecuted and oppressed need our voice. Hostile and authoritarian regimes must know we will not back down. Especially now, with human rights crises occurring across the globe and moral confusion reigning at the United Nations, it is not the time for the U.S. to hide in the crowd.