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The Biden administration’s unforced errors in foreign affairs continue to pile up.
The first was the lethal and botched exit from Afghanistan and the ensuing humanitarian catastrophe. Then came the late revelation from the Pentagon that its August 29 drone strike in Kabul killing 10 civilians, including seven children, which the Defense Ministry misinterpreted for weeks, was, in fact, a mistake, or like the said a Pentagon spokesperson, a “horrible tragedy of war.”
Now there is the double crossing of France, America’s oldest ally.
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While candidate Biden pledged to restore the vital foreign alliances that Donald Trump had so severely damaged, President Biden succeeded in just eight months in raising widespread doubts at home and abroad both over the competence of the America only on the reliability of its security guarantees.
Calling the Biden administration’s deal to sell Australian nuclear submarines a “stab in the back,” France recalled its ambassadors in Washington and Canberra on Friday.
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The sale to the United States prompted Australia to cancel an earlier $ 66 billion deal to buy French diesel-powered submarines. In the long history of Franco-American relations, France has never yet withdrawn an ambassador from Washington for consultations.
Once again, the French fury was as much about the sale itself as about the secrecy in which Washington conducted its negotiations. After being approached by Australia months ago about the purchase, the Biden team has taken extraordinary steps to hide their negotiations in Paris. The French contract with Australia was one of the biggest defense contracts in its history, and French President Emmanuel Macron faces an election in seven months.
“For all those who still doubted it,” said Le Monde, France’s leading daily, “the Biden administration is no different from the Trump administration on this point: the United States comes first, be it in strategic, economic, financial or health matters. ‘America First’ is the White House’s foreign policy guideline. ”
Officials in the Biden administration have played down France’s fury as a “disagreement among good friends” while defending the sale as essential to bolstering Australia’s and the West’s ability to counter growing military assertion. China in the Indo-Pacific. Several officials noted that the French submarines would have been obsolete by the time they hit the water, and that Australia had assured the administration that it would deal with French anger over the cancellation of its sale.
However, France considers the American decision and the way in which it was taken as “brutal”, as the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian put it, as well as an estrangement from France and the Atlantic alliance in favor of increased focus on countering China’s rise to power.
French anger over the deal was also exacerbated by Britain’s partnership in the sale, given the historic rivalry between London and Paris and long-standing French suspicions of an alleged English-speaking cabal to marginalize Paris being insisted on an independent position within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. and Macron’s desire to forge a middle ground between Beijing and Washington.
France is not the only country to increasingly doubt America’s loyalty to its allies or security guarantees.
France is not the only country to increasingly doubt America’s loyalty to its allies or security guarantees. Concerns about Washington’s reliability were widespread last week at a conference in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, whose territory has been partially occupied and annexed by Russia since 2014, when Russian-backed forces invaded and occupied the Crimea.
Moscow has amassed more than 100,000 troops at its border and has taken other provocative measures; Russian President Vladimir Putin also claimed Ukraine as an integral part of Russia, denying Ukrainian sovereignty. Ukraine is increasingly concerned that it will be surrounded by Russia and its surrogates, by Russia itself, by Russian forces in Belarus to the north, and to the south by Russians in occupied Crimea and the breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova.
So far, more than 13,200 Ukrainians have died and two million people have been displaced in the low-intensity war. Although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has only become the second European leader to pay an official visit to Washington in early September, a visit he has been seeking since his election in 2019, he and other senior officials have been quietly disappointed with the outcome. .
While Washington agreed to a $ 60 million increase in military aid, including the sale of Javelin anti-armor missiles and other weapons, bringing Ukraine’s annual military aid to more than $ 400 million. dollars, several Ukrainian officials and US experts said last week that Zelensky didn’t get much of what he was looking for.
While Alexander Vershbow, former US ambassador to Russia, called the aid “good in terms of a strategic defense framework”, the dire security situation in Ukraine, “he said in an interview, called for “a greater American commitment”.
In his remarks at the opening of the 17-year Yalta European Strategy (YES) meeting in Kiev, Zelensky expressed his own disappointment.
As diplomats hailed his visit to Washington as a success, Zelensky told the assembly of 100 European officials, diplomats and foreign policy experts that the West’s reluctance, despite Russia’s aggression, to give to his country a clear path to NATO membership or inclusion in the European Union left him feeling isolated. Ukrainians regard both NATO and EU membership as vital for its integration in Europe and the West and for deterrence from further Russian aggression.
“Yalta [Crimeaâs capital] stay busy and there is no political will to change that, âZelensky complained. While Biden assured him that the United States would support Ukraine in its war with Russia, “actions speak louder than words,” he said.
Ukraine was particularly disappointed by Biden’s acquiescence to Germany’s demands that Russia be allowed to complete Nord Stream 2, an $ 11 billion gas pipeline that bypasses Ukraine. The pipeline, say its critics, not only denies vital revenues from gas transit to Ukraine, but also exposes it to Russian blackmail or power cuts.
The Trump administration has attempted to block the pipeline, to German fury, among other things, by sanctioning those involved in its construction. Administration officials say the pipeline was all but finished when Biden took office and that continued sanctions would do no more than alienate Berlin, a crucial NATO ally.
But several diplomats challenged Biden’s pipeline change at the meeting, saying Russia stopped working on parts of the pipeline after Trump’s defeat, waiting to see how Biden reacts. âWhether it’s the Taliban, Germany or Russia,â John Herbst, former Ambassador to Ukraine and seasoned diplomat, told me in an interview, âwe have seen a trend in this administration of premature concessions that lead to bad, if not disastrous, results. “
“This is not about gas or gas transit charges,” Kurt Volker, the former US special envoy to the Ukrainian peace talks, said in an interview. “This is about the security of Western Europe.”
Also speaking to YES, John Bolton, a former national security adviser who wrote a scathing book about his tenure under President Trump, warned that Russia and China would conclude America’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan and its failure to firmly support countries like Ukraine, that despite the country’s endemic corruption, “we do not have the will to defend our allies.”
When Trump was president, said Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister, “Europe was not happy with its consultations. Now it’s worse. There are no consultations.”
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Due to the chaotic withdrawal of the Biden administration from Afghanistan and the botched implementation of other decisions, he added in an interview, “Biden has undermined the central theme of his campaign, competence.” In a recent tweet, Bildt called Biden’s handling of the sale of submarines to Australia “incredibly inept.”
While few Europeans want Donald Trump to return to the White House, said a veteran European diplomat, “the fact that Biden is even compared to him speaks volumes about Biden’s missteps.”
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