Biden’s foreign policy chops haven’t prevented him from making major missteps in front of the world

Joe Biden sitting with his hands together and looking at the ground.
President Joe Biden meets with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the sidelines of the 76th UN General Assembly on September 21, 2021, in New York. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
  • Biden’s foreign policy chops were supposed to help him succeed in global affairs.
  • But his experience has not prevented him from making major mistakes.
  • Biden has struggled to deliver on his pledge to restore a sense of competency to the presidency.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

There are few people in Washington with more foreign policy experience than President Joe Biden. He was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for over a decade, and as vice president played a key role in shaping the Obama administration’s policies on global issues.

After four years of dysfunction under President Donald Trump, Biden pledged to restore a sense of competence to the presidency. “America is back,” Biden declared in one of his earliest speeches as president on foreign policy. But almost a year into his presidency, Biden’s foreign policy chops have not prevented him from making a series of major missteps before the world.

His administration’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal stands at the top of the list. The Taliban rapidly regained control of Afghanistan as the US finalized the withdrawal, prompting chaotic scenes at the Kabul airport as thousands desperately sought to flee the country.

Facing widespread criticism over how the pullout transpired, Biden and his advisors have repeatedly asserted that there was no indication that the US-backed government in Kabul would fall so quickly to the Taliban. But virtually every close observer of the conflict has been left baffled by this talking point.

The Taliban already controlled huge portions of the country – at least half of the country’s districts – by the time Biden in April announced all remaining troops would be pulled out. And it was no secret that the Afghan military, which has been plagued by corruption and a lack of discipline for years, would have a hard time holding off the militants without the US behind it.

“The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support,” the US intelligence community said in its annual threat assessment, which was released just days before Biden announced the withdrawal.

There’s plenty of blame to go around when it comes to how the war in Afghanistan was handled overall. Republican and Democratic administrations repeatedly misled the US public about how the conflict was going. But any way you shake it, the Afghanistan withdrawal was an utter catastrophe for Biden. It led to the deadliest day for US service members in a decade – an ISIS-K attack outside the Kabul airport during evacuations killed 13 US service members and 169 Afghans.

The Biden administration responded to the ISIS-K suicide bombing with separate drone strikes. One of those strikes killed 10 Afghan civilians in Kabul, including seven children.

Initially, the US military said the drone attack was a “righteous strike” that took out an imminent ISIS-K attack. But it wasn’t long before reporting undermined that narrative, and the Biden administration last week publicly admitted that the strike killed civilians. Top officials were forced to apologize and acknowledge that they’d gotten it completely wrong. The strike marked a tragic and embarrassing final act for the US in the longest conflict in its history.

Biden vowed to restore US alliances post-Trump, but the Afghanistan withdrawal has shaken the confidence of key NATO allies. The UK’s defense secretary in the wake of the pullout suggested the US is no longer a superpower.

Beyond Afghanistan, Biden in the past month also alienated France – one of America’s closest and most historic allies – in a massive way.

The US entered a nuclear submarine partnership with the UK and Australia that replaced a prior agreement between France and Australia. As a consequence, France recalled its ambassador to the US for the first time in history. The French were caught completely off guard by the new deal, and felt betrayed.

“This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr. Trump used to do,” French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Info radio of the move last Thursday, per Reuters. The French foreign minister decried the agreement as a “stab in the back.”

On Tuesday, Biden gave a speech to the United Nations General Assembly that was divorced from reality. The president sought to convince the audience that the Trump era is long gone, and the US has returned to the head of the table when it comes to global leadership.

“We’re back at the table in international forums, especially the United Nations, to focus attention and to spur global action on shared challenges,” Biden said. “And as the United States seeks to rally the world to action, we will lead not just with the example of our power but, God willing, with the power of our example.”

But the example the US has set lately is hardly one that any nation seems eager to follow.