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Talking Biden, War, and the Blob With Derek Davison

Today in What Now: Biden's foreign policy, three months in.

Joe Biden discussing his withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan

Hello everyone, I’m back after a week of vacation with a new interview with Derek Davison, writer of the left-wing foreign policy newsletter Foreign Exchanges. That’s right, we’re doing foreign policy, or as it’s referred to in Discourse slack: coup chat. (This is because a large part of U.S. foreign policy is coups.) Surprisingly though, Biden hasn’t attempted a major coup yet, so we’ve got some other topics to discuss. Derek and I chat about Afghanistan, Biden’s tweaks to the military budget, and whether or not we’ll ever stop going to war. 

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So let’s start with this: how does what Biden’s done so far measure up to what you were expecting from him when he took office? 

He was pretty explicit about it. He wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs [in March 2020] about what he planned to do. The expectation that he laid out in that piece was this return to “normal.” What he meant by that was a re-engagement of allies and going back to the pre-Trump days when the U.S. talked about things like human rights and democracy — in very self-serving ways, I’m not praising him for this — but getting away from some of the things Trump did in terms of pissing off our allies. 

I mean, I didn’t have high hopes that Biden was going to be a transformational president, or [that he would] identify what the actual threats are, which to my mind are things like pandemics and climate change, and not the new Cold War that everybody seems to want to gin up with or Iran or North Korea.

He hasn’t really done anything that suggests he’s going to change very much. He’s talked about getting the U.S. out of the Yemen war, but he hasn’t really done that as far as I can tell. He’s maintained a level of hostility with China that ultimately if you’re concerned with big global issues is very counterproductive. He’s increased defense spending amazingly — not over what Trump had planned for this year, but more than the military had last year. He hasn’t even followed through on some of the more shocking things he said, like turning Saudi Arabia into a pariah state. He hasn’t been really shown any interest in doing that.

One thing that’s been interesting recently is that his messaging and vision on Afghanistan represents the first time he’s pushed back on “the blob” (D.C.’s overwhelming, imperialist foreign policy consensus) in general. Conventional wisdom there was to just kind of keep troops in Afghanistan at a low boil –

Until the heat death of the universe, yeah. 

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