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Wake Up To Politics - September 1, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: The Biden Doctrine, explained
Wake Up To Politics - September 1, 2021

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, September 1, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 433 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,161 days away.

Happening tonight: I’ll be joining the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at 6 p.m. Eastern Time for a live conversation on the legacy of 9/11 for young Americans. Tune in here

The Biden Doctrine, explained

Ever since the days of James Monroe, presidents have been pressed to answer the same question soon after taking office: What is their “doctrine,” their fundamental approach to foreign affairs and policy regarding foreign intervention.

Harry Truman had one. Ronald Reagan had one. And so on.

In his decades of public life, many journalists have speculated (and speculated... and speculated... and speculated about the speculation) whether there is a “Biden Doctrine” to speak of.

On Tuesday, as he offered a forceful defense of his decision to end the war in Afghanistan, President Biden came as close as he ever has to articulating his own foreign policy doctrine.

“The Biden Doctrine,” it seems, has two main tenets — the two key lessons for foreign intervention Biden said he had learned after the two-decade-long American project in Afghanistan:

  1. “We must set missions with clear, achievable goals — not ones we’ll never reach.”
  2. “We must stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interest of the United States of America.”

These two guidelines set Biden apart from his post-9/11 predecessors. While Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump stayed in Afghanistan even after the most glaring threats to the United States had passed, Biden said Tuesday that he had decided to withdraw because the only reason the U.S. should have been in the country was “to make sure Afghanistan can never be used again to launch an attack on our homeland.”

(Interestingly, it is Trump, Biden’s campaign rival, whose own “America First” foreign policy comes closest to this stance.)

Photo by Gage Skidmore

But Biden made clear he was not only referring to the war he had just ended, continuing on to reject the larger ideology behind “forever wars” and nation-building: “This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan,” Biden said. “It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.”

What about the humanitarian arguments for staying in Afghanistan? The women and girls who face an uncertain future under Taliban rule, the schools set up by the U.S. that may now shutter, the U.S. allies there who could now face retribution?

“Human rights will be the center of our foreign policy,” Biden declared — but signaled that his administration would not deploy American troops solely to protect such aims, when American interests (in his view) are not at stake.

“The way to [protect human rights] is not through endless military deployments,” the president said, “but through diplomacy, economic tools, and rallying the rest of the world for support.”

More key points from Biden’s Tuesday address:

  • Biden said that he took “responsibility” for the Afghan withdrawal, but also pointed blame at the Afghan government (which he said was riddled with “corruption and malfeasance”) and at former President Trump (who signed a peace deal with the Taliban while in office).
  • Despite criticism from both parties that he mishandled the evacuation of American citizens and allies from Afghanistan, Biden described the exit as a success, pointing to the 120,000 people who have been airlifted out. Biden also promised to continue working to evacuate the remaining Americans.
  • He also said the evacuation process would have been messy no matter when it began, and that the only choices he had were “between leaving and escalating” — a view some experts have disputed. “I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit,” Biden said.
  • Finally, Biden promised to “maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries,” including against ISIS-K, the group responsible for killing 13 U.S. service members in a suicide bombing last week. “To ISIS-K: We are not done with you yet,” the president added.

What else you need to know

Two stories — both from the Lone Star State — driving the news this morning:

On abortion... “The Supreme Court did not take action early Wednesday on a request to block a Texas law prohibiting most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, allowing the most restrictive abortion law in the nation to go into effect.” New York Times

And on voting rights... “The GOP-controlled Texas Legislature passed a broad overhaul of the state’s election laws Tuesday, tightening already strict voting rules and dealing a bruising defeat to Democrats who waged a monthslong fight over what they argued was a brazen attempt to disenfranchise minorities and other Democratic-leaning voters.” Associated Press

Photo by Wally Gobetz

Policy Roundup: Global

The top international stories to know this week, by Wake Up To Politics contributor Miles Hession:

As the Taliban celebrated victory in Afghanistan, the international community has begun to adjust to the new reality of the Taliban-led country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, urged nations to open their borders for incoming waves of refugees that will long outlast the evacuations in Kabul seen in recent weeks. Though he made clear the threats the new government poses, he went as far as to say he was “cautiously optimistic” in the difference he saw in the Taliban today as compared to the group 25 years ago.

  • The U.K. has echoed Grandi’s calls as they begin to meet with senior members of the Taliban to ensure safe passage for those who are seeking to leave Afghanistan. The only place where people can safely gain passage out of the country currently is at Spin Boldak, on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. While much of the world remained focused on the impending refugee crisis, many governments have begun or maintained diplomatic ties with the Taliban-led government. India, which has long been suspicious of the Taliban’s close ties with Pakistan, held a meeting with senior Taliban officials following the troop withdrawal, a marked shift from their previous stance of supporting anti-Taliban rebel forces in the 90s.
  • In Kabul, as embassies from many countries shut and their staffers fled, China, Russia, and Pakistan maintained their offices and continued their presence in the country. Though many nations remain reluctant, the Taliban has stayed persistent on its quest for international recognition.
Photo by Pierre Prakash

Under new Israeli leadership, diplomacy between Israel and some neighboring countries has made modest improvements, while relations with Iran remain icy. Fresh off the heels of the first meeting between Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, and President Joe Biden, rare talks took place between the Israeli defense minister and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

  • During the talks, the first since 2014, Israel agreed to loan the Palestinian Authority money to bolster its economy so it can better challenge Hamas in the Gaza strip. Though Bennett is firmly on the right, and has maintained many right-wing policies from the previous administration, the move marked a distinct change of tone from his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, who was consistently more openly combative.
  • With other high-profile diplomatic moves, like a recent deal to secure water access with Jordan, Bennett has shown a willingness towards diplomacy with Israel’s neighbors that Netanyahu did not prioritize.

With Iran, however, Israel’s stance and tone have remained relatively unchanged, and Biden set out a tougher stance more in line with that of Bennett’s. Biden vowed that Iran would never acquire nuclear weapons and opened the door to other non-diplomatic routes to ensure this.

  • While Bennett was largely expected to press Biden further on the issue, and continued to oppose the restoration of the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, he was happy with Biden’s assurances. Talks between the U.S. and Iran have remained stalled as both sides wait for the other to move first.

More global headlines, via Miles:

After nationwide calls for protests against President Salva Kiir Mayardit in South Sudan, there was an internet blackout that many have blamed on the government.

Algeria has cut diplomatic ties with Morocco after accusations of Moroccan-backed terrorists intentionally starting wildfires in Algeria.

China has unveiled a new curriculum in schools to teach “Xi Jinping thought” as a part of a wider crackdown on youth culture in the country.


What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern)
Executive Branch
President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 10 a.m. At 2 p.m., he will participate in a bilateral meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine (remember him?). At 4:30 p.m., Biden will receive his weekly economic briefing.

According to the White House, the president will also receive briefings from his homeland security team on Hurricane Ida throughout the day.

Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for his 10 a.m. intelligence briefing and his 4:30 p.m. economic briefing.

First Lady Jill Biden will participate in the National Parent Teacher Association’s virtual “Back to Class” town hall at 1 p.m. In the afternoon, she will travel to Jacksonville, North Carolina, to hold a listening session with military families at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.  

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley will deliver remarks about the end of the war in Afghanistan at 1 p.m.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 1 p.m.
Legislative Branch
The Senate is on recess until September 13.  

The House is on recess until September 20.
Judicial Branch
The Supreme Court is on recess until October 4.

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