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Sino-US Ties: From Ping Pong Diplomacy to Tit-for-Tat Diplomacy

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In an unprecedented move and in the latest escalation of the on-going tensions between the US and China, the Donald Trump administration ordered China to shut down its Consulate in Houston. This unprecedented move in the steadily deteriorating ties between the world’s two largest economies drifts the world a bit closer to the precipice of a major crisis, the ramification of which could be perilous for the world.

The reasons for the Trump administration’s decision was for the alleged involvement of the consulate and other Chinese diplomatic missions in the country of economic espionage, visa fraud and attempted theft of scientific research. The US announced visa restrictions on students, imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over the new National Security Law passed recently on Hong Kong and considering a sweeping travel ban on the millions of members of China’s ruling Communist Party. China quickly denied the charges. Trump’s drastic measure to close the consulate also meant this was the first time a Chinese mission was ordered to be closed in the US since both countries normalised diplomatic relations in 1979. The US consulate is one of five in the US, not counting the embassy in Washington D.C.

China quickly reacted to the US decision as “political provocation”, rejecting the US justification that there was a need to protect American intellectual property and information from Chinese spying. The justification was premised that under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, nation states “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of the receiving state. Though no further details were issued, the US alleged that China has been engaging in massive spying and influence operations throughout the US for years and therefore justified its decision on ordering to shut down the Houston consulate.

The first indication to the Chinese retaliation was that it might order the US to close down its consulate in the city of Wuhan. While the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin attacked the US decision to order closing down the consulate in Houston as an “outrageous and unjustified move which will sabotage” China-US relations, he also warned of the proper and necessary response. This response came soon as a retaliatory measure when China ordered the closure of a US consulate in south-western China in Chengdu in Sichuan province, and ordered to cease all operations, a move that escalates tensions between the two countries to a new level. China was irked that it was given just 72 hours notice to shut down its Houston consulate office and therefore came up with commensurate “legitimate and necessary response”.

Though Beijing did not give a deadline for when the US must close the Chengdu consulate, the state-run Global Times noted that the consulate was also given 72 hours to close its operations, in a tit-for-tat countermeasure. Calling its measure “unprecedented” and “outrageous”, Beijing accused the US diplomats of “infiltration and interference activities”. This has taken bilateral ties to a new low. Defining diplomacy as about reciprocity, the mission in Chengdu was singled out because “some personnel were engaged in activities inconsistent with their status that interfered with China’s internal affairs and security interests”. Interestingly, the Chengdu mission is relatively small compared with other seven diplomatic missions that the US operates in China in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Wuhan, Shenyang, and Hong Kong and Macau. It is possible that Beijing resisted from raising the level of escalation high and therefore preferred to keep within manageable level.

This does not mean to suggest that the mission in Chengdu is seen to be less important. This mission oversees the Tibetan autonomous region where Chinese authorities have overseen a harsh crackdown on the Tibetan minority and banned diplomats and foreign journalists from entering the area. The US mission used to serve as key listening post for Tibet developments and ousting  the US diplomats from the capital of Sichuan province – a region with a population rivaling Germany –  could have a bigger impact than shutting  the US consulate in Wuhan, but less closing US missions in the key financial centres in Hong Kong and Shanghai. 

The closures of missions in Houston and Chengdu illustrate the alarming degree to which relations between the US and China have worsened in recent times, as China assumes a more assertive posture on the world stage and the US seeks to check its rise. Raising the temperature ahead of the presidential elections in November, Trump wants to consolidate his domestic constituency by deciding to pursue a robust response to Beijing’s brazen expansionist policies in many sectors – on Taiwan, South China Sea, and Hong Kong, with Japan over Senkaku islands and with India on border issue. The objective is to check the Chinese menace that has become a threat to not only the established global order but has challenged the institutional norms – regional and global – with a view to rewrite the rules on its own terms.

In short, China is being perceived as a new global bully that derives its new-found confidence from its accumulation of enormous economic strength and military muscle. That makes the world shaky and the US is the only power with the capability to address this new challenge. Trump and his aides, particularly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have stepped up attacks on China and accused Beijing of spying, cyber theft and causing the coronavirus pandemic. When former President Richard Nixon decided to establish diplomatic relations with China in 1979, he had hoped to induce China into a democratic fold but instead, as it has transpired now, created a “Frankenstein monster” he had once feared.

Other members of the party too saw the activities of the Houston consulate suspiciously. Senator Marco Rubio saw the consulate as the “central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies and influence operations in the United States”. China rejected the allegations as “malicious slander”.

Going further, Pompeo in a provocative speech urged the Chinese citizens to work with the US to change the direction of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Though he avoided mentioning regime change, he reminded the Chinese people that the Chinese leadership is authoritarian at home and aggressive in its hostility to freedom everywhere else. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman retaliated by comparing Pompeo’s remarks with an ant trying to shake a tree, similar to the words exchanged between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un not long ago that lacked civility and any semblance of diplomatic niceties.   

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin described Pompeo’s speech in which he highlighted the Chinese leadership of attempting to “tyrannize inside and outside China forever” in pursuit of global hegemony as a “malicious” and “groundless attack” on the Communist party and its domestic and foreign policies and that those were full of “ideological prejudice and a cold war mindset”.

For record, a total of roughly 700 diplomats are assigned to the US embassy and five consulates in China. The Chengdu mission opened in 1985 and covers Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan, as well as Sichuan, besides overseeing developments in Tibet, where Beijing is trying to impose restrictions. Cutting off the US in Chengdu also means shutting down America’s links to Tibet and therefore a political blow to Washington. 

This furious week of cold war-style diplomacy is going to do more harm to the world economy and geopolitical landscape than to US-China ties. The consulate closure issue is not the only one to be seen in isolation. There was a plethora of issues, including China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the efforts to squash a democracy movement in Hong Kong by announcing the new national security law. Both sides are unlikely to change their respective hard-line stances until at least the November elections. In the process, bilateral ties are likely to worsen further rather than inching towards any resolution. 

Though it is not difficult to decipher what triggered this unprecedented move by either side, the first time in their 41 years of diplomatic ties, it clearly amounted to a downgrading of the relationship that could cause lasting damage. It was also rumoured that the decision to order closure of the Houston consulate was linked to the dispute over the delay in American diplomats being allowed to return to their embassies and consulates in China as a result of the travel restrictions and quarantine rules introduced by Beijing to contain the spread of Covid-19.

There is also an opinion that Beijing did not honour the principle of reciprocity since it declined the US request to open a consulate in western China, which the US saw as a violation of the terms and conditions at the time of establishing diplomatic relations in 1979. The US lawmakers were keen to establish a consular in Lhasa (the Tibetan capital) and made a prerequisite for granting China’s request to open new missions in Atlanta and Boston. Here, interpretation on the issue of reciprocity comes as another bottleneck. While China sees reciprocity as both sides having the same number of diplomatic representations in each other’s country, for the US it means both numbers and locations. Since there seems to have been no prior communication on the closure issue, the logical conclusion one can deduce that ties were downgraded.

But things are not so simplistic. Bilateral ties have nosedived over a host of issues, ranging from the origins of Covid-19, China’s perceived influence over the WHO, human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, Taiwan, South China Sea, expulsion of journalists from each others’ countries, etc. and therefore the consulate closure issue was an explosion of these accumulation of differences and may not be read in isolation as a single event. Be that as it may, given that both sides have so many stakes economically and otherwise, bilateral ties may not be expected to head towards comprehensive collapse.   What is driving both sides seems to be both legal and political compulsions, which will be tested over time. There could be sudden turnaround should Trump loses the elections in November and yield space to Joe Biden. 

Like other wolf warriors, Chinese ambassador in the US Cui Tiankai remarked that it is up to Washington to decide if it is ready to accept China’s rise and if the two strategic rivals can live together having their own independent space.

While the downward spiral in Sino-US relations is bad news for the entire world, it is no longer only about differences over trade and technology issues but now has snowballed into a larger geopolitical contest between the two powers. Though one might find flaws in some of Trump’s impetuous decisions on global issues, his taking China head-on for defending established global order that has come under assault by China’s unilateral actions could have merit. The Hindu very objectively observed in an editorial thus: “This is a cyclical trap — measures and countermeasures keep taking ties to new lows with no possibility of an exit. If this deterioration is not arrested immediately, the U.S. and China risk a total breakdown in diplomatic relations. That is bad news for the whole world.” The world needs to wait for the outcome how far Sino-Us ties swing from Ping Pong diplomacy to Tit-for-Tat diplomacy. 

Professor (Dr.) Rajaram Panda, former Senior Fellow at IDSA and ICCR India Chair Professor at Reitaku University, Japan is currently Lok Sabha Research Fellow, Parliament of India, and Member of Governing Council, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.

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Was Trump better for the world than Biden, after all?

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Joe Biden and the State Department just approved a major deal with the Saudis for 500mln in choppers maintanance. Effectively, the US sold its soul to the Saudis again after the US intelligence services confirmed months ago that the Saudi Prince is responsible for the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Biden administration is already much more inhumane and much worse than Trump. Biden doesn’t care about the thousands of American citizens that he left behind at the mercy of the Taliban, the Biden administration kills innocent civilians in drone strikes, they are in bed with the worst of the worsts human right violators calling them friendly nations. 

Biden dropped and humiliated France managing to do what no US President has ever accomplished —  make France pull out its Ambassador to the US, and all this only to go bother China actively seeking the next big war. Trump’s blunders were never this big. And this is just the beginning. There is nothing good in store for America and the world with Biden. All the hope is quickly evaporating, as the world sees the actions behind the fake smile and what’s behind the seemingly right and restrained rhetoric on the surface. It’s the actions that matter. Trump talked tough talk for which he got a lot of criticism and rarely resorted to military action. Biden is the opposite: he says all the right things but the actions behind are inhumane and destructive. It makes you wonder if Trump wasn’t actually better for the world.

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Biden’s worrisome construct of security and self-defense in the first year of his term

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Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy is failing so far. He can’t get the Iran nuclear diplomacy on track. The Afghanistan withdrawal was a disaster seen by all, placing an unusually high number of weapons and armaments in the hands of the Taliban and leaving everyone behind, to the point that one wonders if it was intentional. The US military has been able to accomplish far more impressive and bigger logistics tasks in the past, so when they want to they can do it.

More worrisome, however – and because it is also oriented towards future impacts – is Biden’s construct of vital concepts such as security, international peace and self-defense which has already displayed a consistent pattern during the first year of his term. The signs are already there, so let me bring them out to the surface for you.

Treating a counter-attack in self-defense as an original, first-move strike

This is a pattern that can be noticed already in Biden’s reading of what constitutes defense. It first struck me in a place where you might not think of looking. It originated from the criticism of the previous Trump administration’s support for the destructive Saudi Arabia campaign on Yemen, leaving Yemen as the biggest famine and disaster on the planet. To avoid the same criticism, the Biden administration decided to do what it always does – play technocratic and legalistic, and hope that people won’t notice. On the face of it, it looked like Biden ended US participation by ending the “offensive” support for Saudi Arabia. Then in the months after the February decision, reports started surfacing that the US actually continues doing the same, and now most recently, some troops from Afghanistan were redirected towards Yemen. Biden didn’t end Yemen; he set up a task force to examine and limit US military action only to defensive capabilities, which sounds good to a general observer. It reminds me of that famous Einstein saying that all the big decisions were to be taken by him and all the small decisions were to be taken by his wife, but there hasn’t been one big decision so far. So see, it just turns out that everything falls under defense, ask the lawyers. Usually no one would object to the well-established right to defend yourself. The problem with that is that the US is actually in Yemen. Treating any counter-strike and any response to your presence as an original, first-move attack is not only problematic but it also simply doesn’t work in legal terms. It goes along the lines of “well, I am already here anyways, so your counter-response in self-defense is actually an attack and I get to defend myself”. If the issue was only with terrorist or rebel organizations (because let’s face it, who cares about the Houthies in Yemen?) I don’t think we would be discussing this. But as you guessed it, this approach can already be traced as a pattern in Biden’s thinking and the way he forges alliances, draws red lines and allows things to happen, and it stretches to areas that most people definitely care about such as a possible military conflict between the US and China.

Let’s take the newest development from today. The US just announced that it has entered into a trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, which is encirclement of China par excellence. Where it gets interesting is that the trilateral partnership is purported to be only for “advanced defense capabilities”. The equivalent of this is someone from another city squatting at the door step in your apartment, inviting two others to join, and then when in the morning you push them and step on them to go to work, the squatters claiming that you attacked them and calling the police on you in your own apartment. This is Biden’s concept of self-defense: since I am already here in your space, you are attacking me.

The US is trying to start something with China but it doesn’t know how to, and China seems completely unconcerned with the US.  Chinese leader Jinping doesn’t even want to meet Biden, as became clear this week. China doesn’t care about the US and just wants to be left alone. They already said that in clear terms by reading it out loud to Wendy Sherman last month. Biden didn’t have to ask for a meeting in that phone call this week because he already knew the answer. Wendy Sherman got a clear signal on her China visit that the US president won’t be getting that coveted red carpet roll-out any time soon.

So the story says that the US is going all the way to the other side of the world and staging military presence there but only to defend itself. The US has no choice but to move in to defend all the US citizens at risk in the Indian Ocean — that’s the stand-up comedy line of the week. It is staging military presence right at China’s doorstep — if not in Chinese waters, and the idea is “yes, that’s your turf but now that I’m here, if you push me to leave, you are attacking me”. This is the strategy of narcissists and those that are looking to point the finger to their opponent when they just don’t have anything, so they stage something. China is in the long-term game, playing against itself. The US is that number 2 that’s trying to create provocation. In the Indo-Pacific, the US is biting more than it can chew. China is not a big mouth or one to throw around military threats. That’s the US style: “be very careful, we might bomb you if you don’t do what we say”. A dog that barks doesn’t bite. On the other hand, China is more like a Ferrari — it will go from 0 to 200 in seconds and then it will go back to its business. The US and Biden will be left whimpering but no one will jump to save the US from its own folly because self-defense in the US packaging is not even bought by the US government itself. Even they don’t buy their own packaging. So why should anyone else?

Treating embarrassing discoveries and things that don’t go my way as a threat to international peace

This one is a big one. With this one, Biden is playing with the queen, namely action under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter in the name of international peace and security. A threat to international peace and security is grounds for action under Chapter 7 which includes military action, and it’s never to be spoken lightly. Words have consequences. The UN Security Council rarely specifies grounds for action under chapter 7 for threats to international peace and security but it’s enough to take a look at the practice: resolutions were passed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, in response to 9/11, against Kaddafi who was marching toward Benghazi to wipe out the people in 2011, in relation to genocide, etc. Grounds for a threat to international peace can’t be “because I don’t like the way things are turning out for me”.

Peace and security are not like beauty – in the eye of the beholder. There has to be an actual or imminent attack and actual military action or violence. Loose interpretations of threats to peace and security are a sign of weak leadership.

Leaders who construct dissent and criticism as terrorism in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, as I have argued about the FBI previously in the left media, are weak leaders. In smearing Martin Luther King, the FBI argued national security. As director Oliver Stone said in Cannes this summer, when he was investigating the JFK assassination, every time he was getting close, he heard “national security”. 

You can see a lot about the character of a nation by the way it constructs security, and notice traits such as narcissism, weakness, cheating. The Biden Administration has to know that a threat to international peace and security can’t be “things that make my government look bad”. In 2001, the world followed the US in Afghanistan because there was an actual military attack. The world won’t follow the Biden administration on a bogus threat to international peace that can best be summed up as a major embarrassment for the US government. Suggesting a link is a threat to the fabric of international society. Not only is it a sign of national narcissism but also a sign of arbitrariness and authoritarianism. Treating criticism and the exposure of US government crimes as if it were a military attack is what horror movies are made of. What’s next? Droning journalists?

Treating issues which are a subject to treaties, rules and negotiations as a threat to international peace  

The Biden security construct stretches to various regions, including my own. This first struck me with Biden’s executive order regarding the Western Balkans when he tied blocking these countries from EU accession to a threat to international peace, which carries significant consequences. If a country, let’s say Bulgaria, is exercising its lawful right to veto EU processes, hypothetically, based on Biden’s understanding, the US could table a resolution for Chapter 7 action to punish an EU member-state for blocking the accession of an EU candidate because that’s a threat to international peace. That could hypothetically lead to military action against an EU country making use of its veto. Biden doesn’t have a veto in the EU. Do you know who does? Bulgaria. So until Biden becomes an EU country he doesn’t have a say.

Biden was visibly irritated that the process of EU accession has been stalling for quite some time, especially with N. Macedonia and Albania at the EU’s doorstep, so he decided to give it a go. Let’s not forget that the Balkans are a favorite Biden region and this goes back to the 1990s. I have written about it before: Biden is stuck in the 2000s when if you mentioned the Western Balkans the words international peace were a guaranteed association. Not anymore. Negotiations, rules and voting are the peaceful and reasonable way to resolve issues, agree or even not agree in some situations, and are the opposite of war and aggression. Treating these ways as a threat to peace is just the rhetoric of those who can’t get their way. But it’s also indicative of a worrisome trend with Biden that anything that the US government doesn’t like can be dressed as a threat to international peace, which carries the most significant of all consequences in the international arena.

Treating lawful counter-measures as a threat to national security

Perhaps the best and most fascinating example of lawful counter-measures I ever heard was brought by Andrew Clapham at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. Here is the story. The UK issued unlawful sanctions on a country. In response, lawful counter-measures by that country targeted jam exports because a jam factory in Scotland was the key to turning the elections. The targeted counter-measures worked, hit jam exports, discontent people in the region voted the other way and the government that put in place the sanctions to begin with was ousted. This was a brilliant example that you hit where it hurts and you do it lawfully. Counter-measures don’t have to be identical. The US likes to put tariffs on Louis Vuitton bags in retaliation when it deals with France, for example. In the Trump trade wars, Europe would hit bourbon and jeans exports as a counter-measure. You hit their signature product. Not all counter-measures are illegal and count as an attack. International law is full of examples.

Similarly, lawsuits against a government are a lawful counter-measure. This area reveals another part of Biden’s worrisome construct of national security. A threat to sue the US government cannot in and of itself be a threat to national security. Tortured reading of what is national security is a sign of weak leaders, narcissists, those on the losing end, or straight up losers – or all of the above. 

Treating lawful counter-measures as a cause for self-defense is not only a sign of a wrong understanding of self-defense, but is the ultimate sign of narcissism. Usually those who attack know better and brace for impact in anticipation of the counter-measures. Narcissists, on the other hand, cry that they are being attacked when they receive a counter-strike in response. Strategists know better.

Mistreatment of whistleblowers, critics and opponents as spies and as a threat to national security

This one is an easy one. Only losers treat whistleblowers and critics as spies and as an automatic threat to national security. Take the treatment that Gary Stahl has received at the hands of the Biden Administration and the FBI, for example. Again, the US government doesn’t get to construe a huge embarrassment (in what will soon be revealed to shows the true criminal nature of the US government) as a threat to international peace. This is a problem for America. Not only doesn’t China plan to attack militarily the US any time soon over what’s to come, but China is largely unconcerned with the US and would like to be left alone. Any talk about a risk of military conflict could only mean that it is the US that plans to attack because they are embarrassed they got caught red-handed and the world will see the US government’s true nature. Talk of threat to international peace has a very high threshold. No one cares about how America would feel – that’s your problem, not an issue of international peace. 

The Biden concept of security is that of an ugly, pretentious, old woman who is told she can’t enter because her ticket is not valid. She then throws a feat screaming she was attacked, beaten and insulted, expecting everyone to be on her side. But the world simply doesn’t care about the problems of this pain-in-the-ass anymore. The US government will have to try much harder if they want to present the issue as anything close to security and self-defense, let alone a threat to international peace. That tune is old and there are no buyers. 

The US surely thinks very highly of itself if they think that a scandal like that is worthy of a military conflict but literally no one else sees the US as this important anymore. This scandal will matter only to America in what it reveals about all the layers of the US government across rank, institutions and administrations. That’s it. It ends there. Any talk of Chapter 7 threshold is war mongering and no one will care. 

People talk about the Biden doctrine on Afghanistan but the Biden doctrine that will be sealed in history will be something along the lines of “Anytime I get caught, it’s a threat to international peace and security.” This is how Biden will be remembered in history: for creative writing endeavors in the security field and no substantial foreign policy achievements. 

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Biden’s credibility restoration plan

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Although damages of the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan cannot be easily undone, by taking a series of wise steps, Biden can send a strong signal that America is coming back.

Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan has shattered his reputation as a safe haven for allies. This is while, he pledged to restore U.S. leadership after Trump by confronting China’s and Russia’s growing totalitarian ambitions, restoring historic alliances with European allies, and ending the never-ending conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

But he is not the only President whose decision has eventually damaged the United States’ global reputation. Donald Trump’s capitulation deal with the Taliban, Barack Obama’s indolence in Syria, and George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq have all tarnished the United States’ credibility around the world. The question now; however, is no longer whether Biden and his predecessors should have acted differently. It’s how the United States can minimize the damage.

Biden should begin by speaking the truth. So far, the President has failed to admit the failure of his withdrawal plan. Biden ought to be straightforward with himself, the American people, and the whole world.

Biden’s policy should, of course, vary depending on the area and global conditions. To promote its interests in the Indo-Pacific area, the United States should station a few ambassadors, including a Navy or Coast Guard attaché, in the Pacific Island countries of Tonga, Tuvalu, and Kiribati. In addition, a considerable number of troops currently stationed in Afghanistan should be redeployed to the Pacific. Finally, Biden’s administration should engage with U.S. defense contractors to speed up the transfer of military equipment to Taiwan. Getting Taiwan its armaments swiftly would be a powerful show of support as a steadfast ally, as well as provide modern platforms to prevent a Chinese amphibious invasion.

The Biden administration should also do all in its power to rebuild relations with European partners. For the very first time, NATO invoked Article 5, which identifies an assault on one member as an assault on all. Since then, soldiers from a variety of countries have fought and died alongside US troops. Nonetheless, Biden decided to leave Afghanistan without consulting the governments of these countries, leaving them to plan emergency rescue efforts for their populations. Close allies of the United States are understandably enraged. America’s behavior is being chastised in Paris, Berlin, and the British House of Commons on both sides of the aisle.

Last month, at a meeting of regional leaders in Baghdad, Macron made it clear that, unlike the Americans, he was dedicated to remaining in the Middle East. “Whatever the American choice is,” he stated in public remarks in Baghdad, “we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight terrorism as long as terrorist groups function and the Iraqi government requests our assistance.” It was a clear example of Macron’s idea of “strategic autonomy,” which implies European independence from U.S. security policy, and an attempt to use the United States’ humiliation to underline that Europe and Washington were not always on the same page. At an emergency G7 summit, Mr. Biden is said to have turned down allied requests to extend the August 31 deadline for exit.

The Biden administration’s recent decision not to penalize Nord Stream 2 pipeline participants has enraged Europeans as well. Poland and Ukraine underlined their worries in a joint statement about the ramifications of choices taken on the pipeline without the participation of nations directly impacted, claiming that Nord Stream 2 poses both geological and ecological risks to Europe.

As a result, whether it’s diplomatic recognition of the Taliban regime, humanitarian aid for the Afghan people, or any other major issue, the US should not take any more action without engaging partners. Mr. Biden should also dispatch senior members of his national security team to Europe and other regions of the world to reinforce America’s commitment to their security.

As to the Middle East, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, in a Foreign Affairs article described “America’s opportunity in the Middle East,” suggesting that diplomacy may work where previous military interventions have failed. The United States’ involvement in the area is frequently portrayed in military or counter-terrorism terms, and as a binary option between going all-in or going all-out. Instead, Sullivan advocated for a strategy that relied more on “aggressive diplomacy to generate more long-term benefits.”

Accordingly, the President and his team in Vienna should get the new Iranian administration back to the negotiating tables and rejoin the JCPOA and ease the tensions in the Middle East. Also, the United States should do all possible in Afghanistan to secure the safe transit of Afghans who qualify for U.S. visas to the Kabul airport – and to keep flights flying until they are able to leave. This should apply to both Afghans who dealt closely with the United States’ military, and to those who engage with U.S. media and humanitarian organizations and must get visas from a third country. In addition to ensuring that the United Nations and humanitarian groups have the resources they need, the United States should cooperate with its Security Council allies to guarantee that the Taliban does not hinder the free flow of help.

Moreover, to follow any influx of jihadists to Afghanistan, intelligence agencies will have to rededicate resources and increase surveillance. They must be pushed to coordinate their efforts on the Taliban in order to keep the most threatening groups under control. The United States could set an example by agreeing to accept a fair share of any displaced Afghans. Neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan, which already have millions of Afghan refugees, are closing their borders.

Biden may not be able to prevent all of the disastrous repercussions of the Afghan catastrophe, but he must act now before the harm to U.S. interests and moral stature becomes irreversible. By taking these steps, he can send a strong statement to the world that he has learned his lessons and that America is coming back.

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