leadership must have set some kind of new record in managing to personally
insult the leadership of the two other great powers of the world within 48
hours of each other in these early days of Biden administration foreign policy.
Almost as if they were graduates of “The Donald Trump Charm School.”
It is simply astonishing that in approaching a new course of
relations with Russia, President Biden should have called Vladimir Putin “a
killer” and lacking “a soul.”
It is similarly astonishing to have chosen an important
opening moment in our delicate relationship with China to employ derogatory
language. Did Blinken believe that flashing testosterone at the first
high-level meeting of Beijing’s foreign policy leadership would help achieve
the diplomatic goals Washington seeks? One wonders who the secretary of state
was trying to impress — Beijing or a U.S. domestic audience?
The United States undoubtedly has its own grievances towards
China, and China likewise possesses many grievances towards the United States.
But surely this name-calling and accusatory language are immature and
counterproductive in terms of future U.S.-China or, for that matter,
And what message do these events send to other world
leaders? It raises serious questions about the professionalism and vision of
the new administration’s leadership as to whether Washington is any longer
responsible or capable of the “global leadership” about which it talks so
When both the U.S. president and his secretary of state seem
to have chosen such ill-considered approaches to Russia and China, it certainly
will make many other countries quite hesitant to sign on to an American vision
and style of global leadership.
The degree of hypocrisy about “killing” or “foreign
interference” is likewise disturbing if not myopic. U.S. policies over the past
20 years or more have shown a great willingness to kill in great quantity in a
failing effort to achieve political goals that have stunningly failed in nearly
every case. Consider the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi, Syrian, Somali,
Libyan, Iranian, Afghan, and Pakistani civilians who are perceived as little
more than “collateral damage” in endless U.S. military interventions. Not to
mention American assassinations of high-level foreign officials such as Iranian
General Qassem Soleimani who also happened to be perhaps the most revered
public official in Iran.
Antony Blinken, seemingly without embarrassment, speaks of
the United States as upholding “the rule of law globally” in the self-deception
or the belief that such is the case. In fact, Washington has always expected
other countries to support the international rule of law — although exempting
good friends like Israel and Saudi Arabia. The United States invariably defends
its own “exceptionalism” in pointedly not signing onto International law when
it suits its interests. That includes foreign assassinations and the launching
of several wars without authorization at the international level, provoking
“Color Revolutions,” and refusing to ratify UN Conventions on the Law of the
Sea or the Rights of the Child, or honor adverse judgments by the
International Court of Justice. And It is difficult to understand how
Blinken feels comfortable at lecturing China on its domestic failings at a time
when U.S. democracy and social policy have never presented a more damaging face
to the world.
Surely such self-righteousness on the administration’s part
shows a lack of seriousness and honesty about U.S. history and positions. Or,
more disturbingly, it suggests that Washington lacks all capacity for
self-reflection and self-awareness.
In the end, this initial high-level diplomatic encounter is
perhaps most distressing given the high hopes that many Americans held that so
many of our problems would vanish with the departure of Donald Trump – rather
than undertaking a necessarily painful examination of the inherent deep-seated
flaws within the American system.
Perhaps I am wrong in making these harsh observations.
Maybe, coming on strong with all guns blazing — Hollywood cowboy style — at
these first public confrontations will cause Moscow and Beijing to reflect and
even retreat a bit. But I doubt it. I fear these two linked events simply hammer
a few more nails into the coffin of cherished American aspirations to global
leadership and dominance. In that case, we may be our own most dangerous enemy
if we continue to look with nostalgia at former American hegemony. That global
dominance, for better or for worse, is increasingly a thing of the past. It
represents a failure to recognize the unique circumstances by which America
happened to play a major positive global role immediately after the collapse of
Europe, Japan, and China after the brutal ordeal of World War II. Arguably,
those conditions will not return, which means that the United States will be
facing a very uncomfortable future reality for which it seems psychologically
This country indeed has some grounds for pride in its own –
imperfect — democratic order. No such democratic orders are perfect. Still, how
much reflection does it take to acknowledge what “the Chinese Communist Party”
has accomplished in the past thirty years? Is it more worthy to bring half a
billion people out of poverty and into middle-class life in a mere
generation? Or more worthy to maintain intact an American electoral
system in which mediocre or bad leaders emerge as readily as good ones? Trying
to define what constitutes good governance either in China or America is not
readily answerable and depends on one’s values. But at the least the question
should evoke some measure of humility before Washington engages in a dubious
public contest with a major foreign power over alternative forms of governance.
Ultimately, improvements in Chinese forms of governance are
less likely to evolve — as they have over thirty years — when insulting
comparisons and demands are made of a competitor’s performance — especially
when we are talking about Chinese domestic policies in so many cases — while
giving a free ride to our harshly autocratic friends.
The United States is a country possessing extraordinary
gifts of creativity and energy. At this point, however, its political,
socio-economic, and psychological order seems to be languishing on the cross of
a questionable and expensive search for total global military dominance.
Hopefully, some lessons learned will be drawn from this
early, singularly amateur and emotional first foray of the Biden administration
into high-level Russia and China diplomacy.
E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official and author of numerous books on
the Muslim World. His first novel is “Breaking Faith: A novel of
espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan,” followed by “BEAR
— a Novel of Eco-Violence in the Canadian Northwest.” – Responsible Statecraft is a publication of the Quincy Institute
for Responsible Statecraft. It provides analysis, opinion, and news to promote
a positive vision of U.S. foreign policy based on humility, diplomatic
engagement, and military restraint. RS also critiques the ideas — and the
ideologies and interests behind them — that have mired the United States in
counterproductive and endless wars and made the world less secure.