America’s foreign policy establishment just received a massive jolt of energy from the new Biden administration. Unlike his predecessor, who waged a bitter but largely ineffective campaign against America’s permanent bureaucracy, Biden’s statements and cabinet picks have sent a clear message. America is back – to a foreign policy dominated by the same Washington insiders who have enabled decades of bipartisan military adventurism and reckless nation-building.
As of now, Biden has no effective opponents. While the Trump presidency breathed new life into non-interventionist sentiments on the right, most Republicans still believe that fixing the world is America’s job. If conservatives want to restrain the Biden administration, they need to internalize two basic truths. First, America cannot successfully take on nations that pose a genuine threat without getting her own house in order. After all, the United States is losing its dominance on the world stage thanks to accelerating industrial and societal decline, as well as growing economic and military competition from China. Second, America should generally stay out of other nations’ affairs unless they directly affect the American people.
If Biden goes unopposed, nations that are on America’s bad side should expect the American foreign policy apparatus to continue lashing out at them. The new administration will likely move on Middle East policy first. Biden has opposed withdrawing troops from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and he called Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria a “complete failure.” Just one day after his inauguration, a large American convoy re-entered the war-torn nation. The GOP is largely unwilling to push back; prominent Republicans like Lindsey Graham, Nikki Haley, and Marco Rubio essentially agree with Biden, and only a few committed non-interventionists such as Rand Paul supported the withdrawal in 2019.
And pointless it is. After decades of shifting objectives and failure to understand the region, There is simply nothing left for the United States to do. Overthrow Assad and potentially cause another Libya-style disaster? Not with Russia backing the Syrian regime to secure a foothold in the Mediterranean. Protect the Kurds? An ex post facto justification for our presence in Syria that fails to account for internal conflict between Kurdish groups, some of which profess Marxist ideology and attract far-left extremists from America. Protect the interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of which see Assad as a threat? Not by sending American troops to get picked off an in endless low-intensity conflict.
The GOP should also consider the people it wishes to represent – and the American public doesn't want more Middle Eastern wars. Sixty-two percent of Americans think the Iraq War wasn’t worth it, and 58 percent view the intervention in Syria negatively. Conservatives must take a firm stand against continued nation-building in a region with conflicts that predate our own country’s existence. If Republicans are short on defense talking points, there are other issues that directly affect Americans’ safety: our still-unsecured border with Mexico, the proliferation of drug cartels into the United States, and growing Chinese influence in Canada. Failure to bring national security concerns home will allow Biden to cement the idea that defense is something we only do for foreign nations thousands of miles away.
President Biden won’t just double down on existing regional conflicts. He and his foreign policy advisors will also put diplomatic pressure on nations unfortunate enough to be strategically valuable to the United States. In particular, the nations that border Russia’s sphere of influence should expect aggressive outreach from the Biden administration, which simultaneously sees Eastern Europe as a valuable buffer against imminent Russian world domination and an unenlightened backwater in need of democracy promotion. Antony Blinken, the new Secretary of State, is a devout NATO expansionist. “Where would Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic be in their own ways?” he mused in a 2019 interview. “Where would the Baltic states be right now if they weren’t in NATO?” To Blinken and the diplomatic establishment he represents, you’re either with America or on the wrong side of history.
Eastern Europe actually has its own regional alliances. Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, and Hungary form the Visegrad Group, a political union with a defense agreement. They are also members of the Three Seas Initiative, a broader bloc including the Visegrad and Baltic nations. Both of these cooperation projects affirm their members’ independence. But Biden will likely take issue with such expressions of sovereignty. At a town hall last October, he labeled Poland and Hungary “totalitarian regimes,” listing them among the “thugs in the world.” The US government is notoriously selective in applying the “dictatorship” label, and if Biden turns his remarks into policy, these nations will be in the US government’s crosshairs.
These are uninformed and dangerous accusations. Both the Polish and Hungarian governments were democratically elected by voters who support conservative values and strong borders. Unfortunately, the American right is not equipped to protect these nations against Biden’s neoliberal imperialism. In 2017, Trump gave a powerful speech in Warsaw that praised Poland’s strong national identity. It was an encouraging sign – but then he appointed GOP insider Georgette Mosbacher as ambassador to Poland, who later attacked the 90-percent Christian nation last October for insufficient commitment to the LGBT agenda. That the bench of Republican diplomatic picks includes people who attack traditional values abroad is a bad sign. Conservatives who turn a blind eye to this only help normalize the idea that America should dictate other nations’ principles. They also risk alienating their own base: in a poll taken just days before Biden’s inauguration, more than 80 percent of Republican voters preferred a national-populist platform over Bush-era neoconservatism that seeks to remake the world in America’s image.
Since it appears that Biden will double down on cultural imperialism, the right must spend the next four years articulating a different vision. And conservative nations like Poland and Hungary aren’t the only ones who need protection. If Republicans want to nation-build, there are conservative institutions right here at home that desperately need support. After all, Biden just reinstated divisive racial training in federal agencies, blocked immigration enforcement measures, and normalized transgender ideology in schools and the military. Odes to national identity like Trump’s Warsaw address fall flat if the right can’t even protect its own values in its own country.
The conservative message to the Biden administration and the international community must be this: America is done trying to fix nations who didn’t invite our help. We have too many problems to solve at home. Perhaps one day we will return to an active role in global affairs after a sober re-assessment of what we can offer other nations. Until then, we will do our best to constrain the chaotic force that is the American foreign policy apparatus.