Biden’s International Policy Troubles May Define His Administration

The COVID-19 outbreak seemed to look to define Biden’s presidency, but two years in, international policy issues loom large.

Now, as Russian President Vladimir Putin wages a violent war against Ukraine, Biden’s judgment towards international dilemmas is being questioned anew.

Putin’s assault on Ukraine has thrown a wrench into White House preparations, says historian David Greenberg. 

Domestic and International Issues

Aside from his delayed $2 trillion “Build Back Better” program for social welfare and climate expenditures, Biden was elected to restore post-pandemic normalcy.

Putin’s announcement of a “special military campaign” to demilitarize and “de-nazify” Ukraine is yet another test overseas that distracts Biden from his domestic issues.

Biden’s most pressing domestic political issue, the migrant influx, has a strong diplomatic and international element. Proposals to address the “root causes” of migration have been universally ridiculed.

Greenberg argues President Biden is “stuck with a lousy hand” with Putin and Ukraine.

According to Greenberg, past Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump helped foster an atmosphere in which Putin felt empowered to invade by capitulating to the neo-isolationism of the day. 

With Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement, Biden was regaining ground at home when Putin attacked Ukraine with an aircraft assault near Kyiv. 

Instead of concentrating on his failure to unite congressional Democrats around his legislative agenda, political analysts have been focusing on Biden’s choice of the Supreme Court’s first black female justice. 

Others point to Biden’s choice to stagger Russia’s economy and not directly target Putin’s coffers. They seized on his remarks in the East Room when he underestimated the measures’ negative effects and the timescale on which they’re expected to hurt the economy. 

Sanctions and Expectations

On Thursday, Biden stated, “No one anticipated the penalties to stop anything.” 

“There are severe sanctions,” he added. “Let’s talk in a month or so to see whether they work.”

Later, Biden’s views on Russia’s sanctions were backed by Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh. Singh foresaw “a deteriorating negative feedback loop in Russian markets.”

Singh also said that early Russian sanctions would have deterred Putin from engaging in diplomacy. They might have given him a reason to go to war.

Then there’s the sunk cost factor. Singh says Putin would feel he had already paid the price and think, “Who am I to refuse the gift of Ukraine’s freedom?”

As for Biden’s worldwide record, Republicans highlighted Obama-era Secretary of Defense Bob Gates criticizing the commander in chief’s years as Senate committee chairman.

He said Biden “has been wrong on practically every important foreign policy and domestic breach of security for nearly four decades.”

That Biden left unclear what precise Russian action against Ukraine would provoke a US response has not helped. “A little intrusion is one thing,” he said last month.

It wasn’t until this week that Biden called Putin’s recognition of two Russian-backed rebel territories as autonomous “the start” of an incursion.