Early results are mixed — predictable perhaps — but nevertheless a reality check on Biden’s diplomacy now it is out on the open road.
Since getting into office, Biden has been shifting up the foreign policy gears, pausing, analyzing before implementing campaign promises.
So it’s little surprise that the Russia policy is facing immediate unequivocal push back from the Kremlin already.
As former US President Donald Trump’s leadership wound down, leaving reams of uncoiled foreign policy in its wake, everyone knew Biden was bringing change — he had said so. But it’s only now as his policies have broken free of Washington DC’s beltway that they are getting their first real-world reality check.
From the chill corridors of the Kremlin to the scorching desert battle fields of Yemen, Biden has made himself topic number one.
Sheltering in the shade of a thorn tree a few miles from the fragile front line separating his forces from the Houthis, Yemen’s army Chief of Staff General Sagheer bin Aziz told CNN last week he was “saddened” by Biden’s decision. “We all thought [Biden] supported security and peace and stability,” he said.
In Riyadh and in Yemeni government strongholds, officials think Biden has got his policy wrong — far from helping an ally, he is enabling America’s enemy, Iran.
By revoking the Houthi designation as a foreign terrorist organization in his first raft of foreign policy reforms, Biden has left his actual allies wondering about his real intent — to help Yemenis or make his talks with Tehran easier.
In Yemen the real-world effect of dialing back pressure on the Houthis that Biden hoped would ease humanitarian suffering and speed up an end to the war is, according to Yemen’s information and culture minister Moammar al-Eryani, doing the opposite and helping Iran. “This was a gift for the Iranian Houthi militia, and a wrong message,” he told CNN last week.
It’s unlikely Biden was trying to leverage favor in Tehran, and if he was, it doesn’t seem to have done him any good.
In Tehran Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei redrew Iran’s line in the sand, demanding the US lift sanctions first, then Iran will come into compliance, warning protracted negotiations “would be detrimental” to Iran.
Where Biden’s foreign policy sounded consistently in sync with his allies is on Afghanistan, but even that hasn’t been without its blips.
Late March, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stood shoulder-to-shoulder with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, declaring: “We went in together, we have adjusted together, and we will leave together when the time is right.”
When Biden announced the time was right this week, not all allies were happy. The UK’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Nick Carter hinted at British reservations, telling the BBC on Friday the withdrawal of forces by September 11 this year was “not a decision that we’d hoped for.”
The Afghan government fears the implications. One senior official told CNN this week he regretted his countrymen had not used the 20 years of international help more wisely — with Afghan rival groups working together rather than for individual gain or ethnic advantage. The result could have led to potentially less corruption, less division and less factionalism, he said.
None of this will be shocking for Biden. Foreign policy has been his forte for decades. His challenge will be the erosion of American power in that time, managing adversaries who think a multipolar world order has already arrived.
From here on, his foreign policy journey will be less about following his own plan and increasingly about reacting to the response it gets.