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Trump Aims to Box in Biden Abroad      11/23 06:11

   On its way out the door, the Trump administration is enacting new rules, 
regulations and orders that it hopes will box in President-elect Joe Biden's 
administration on numerous foreign policy matters and cement President Donald 
Trump's "America First" legacy in international affairs.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- On its way out the door, the Trump administration is 
enacting new rules, regulations and orders that it hopes will box in 
President-elect Joe Biden's administration on numerous foreign policy matters 
and cement President Donald Trump's "America First" legacy in international 

   Yet, the push may not work, as many of these decisions can be withdrawn or 
significantly amended by the incoming president when he takes office on Jan. 20.

   In recent weeks, the White House, State Department and other agencies have 
been working overtime to produce new policy pronouncements on Iran, Israel, 
China and elsewhere that aim to lock in Trump's vision for the world. Some have 
attracted significant attention while others have flown largely under the radar.

   And, while Biden could reverse many of them with a stroke of the pen, some 
will demand the time and attention of his administration when it comes into 
power with a host of other priorities that perhaps need more urgent attention.

   The most recent of these moves took place this past week as Secretary of 
State Mike Pompeo made what may be his last visit to Israel as secretary of 
state and delivered two announcements in support of Israel's claims to 
territory claimed by the Palestinians.

   Biden's team has remained silent about these announcements, but Biden has 
made clear he supports few, if any, of them and will reverse many as he intends 
to return to a more traditional policy toward Israel and the Palestinians.

   The Trump administration's determined efforts to thwart potential Biden 
policy reversals actually began months earlier, half a world away from the 
Jewish state, with China, even before the former vice president was formally 
declared the Democratic Party's presidential nominee.

   As opinion polls started to show Biden as a clear favorite to beat Trump in 
November, the administration began to move even as the president maintained a 
public face of defiance and absolute confidence in his reelection.

   Some officials point to a July 13 declaration from Pompeo that the United 
States would now reject virtually all of China's territorial claims in the 
South Chine Sea, a 180-degree shift from previous administrations' positions 
that all such claims should be handled by arbitration.

   While many of Trump's foreign policy decisions from early on have been 
designed to blow up the previous administration's foreign policy achievements 
--- withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Climate Accord and the 
Trans Pacific Partnership on trade --- the South China Sea decision was the 
first to be linked by administration officials to the possibility that Biden 
might be the next president.

   One administration official said at the time that decisions made after that 
would all be taken with an eye toward Biden becoming president. Thus, the fear 
that Trump might be a one-term president began to take hold in July and has 
been followed by an acceleration of pronouncements aimed mainly at thwarting 
any reversal by Biden.

   A look at some of those moves:


   On Thursday, before making an unprecedented trip to an Israeli settlement in 
the West Bank, Pompeo announced that the U.S, would henceforth consider 
"antisemitic" the groups that advocate for Palestinian rights by supporting the 
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

   He also announced a change in import labeling rules that will require 
products made in settlements to be identified as "Made in Israel." The product 
labeling will take some time to take effect and, as yet, no groups have been 
hit with the antisemitic designation. But, even if they are implemented, Biden 
could reverse them on Day One.

   Those moves followed numerous other Israel-friendly steps the administration 
has taken since it came to office. They include recognizing Jerusalem as the 
capital, moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv, and cutting off aid to 
the Palestinian Authority and the U.N. refugee agency that works with 
Palestinians. While Biden is unlikely to move the embassy back to Tel Aviv, the 
other measures can be reversed quickly.


   Pompeo and other officials have spoken of a new push for sanctions against 
Iran, but the fact is that the administration has been ramping up such 
penalties since Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal two years ago. New 
sanctions could potentially target supporters of Iranian-backed militia in Iraq 
and Afghanistan along with the Shiite Houthi movement in Yemen, which has been 
involved in a disastrous war with the country's internationally recognized 

   Biden has spoken of wanting to rejoin the nuclear accord, and Iranian 
officials have said they would be willing to come back into compliance with the 
accord if he does. Biden could eliminate many of the Trump administration's 
reimposed sanctions by executive order, but it remains unclear how high a 
priority it will be for him.


   While the withdrawal of significant numbers of U.S. forces from Afghanistan 
and Iraq --- bringing troop levels down to 2,500 in each country --- is a clear 
indication of Trump's intentions, Biden's approach remains less certain. The 
withdrawals could be delayed or slow-rolled by the Pentagon, and it remains 
unclear how the State Department will handle staffing at its embassies in 
Baghdad and Kabul, both of which are dependent on U.S. military support.

   Pompeo has threatened to close the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad unless rocket 
attacks by Iranian-backed militias against the area in which it's located are 
halted. However, despite the troop withdrawal determination last week, there 
has been no announcement about the embassy's status.


   Although the administration's most strident actions against China began more 
than a year ago, they have gained momentum since March, when Trump determined 
that he would at once blame China for the spread of the novel coronavirus and 
accuse Biden of being soft on Beijing.

   Since then, the administration has steadily ramped up sanctions against 
China over Taiwan, Tibet, trade, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. It has also 
moved against the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei and sought restrictions on 
Chinese social media applications like TikTok and WeChat.

   Last week, the State Department's policy planning office released a 70-page 
China policy strategy document. While it contains little in the way of 
immediate policy recommendations, it advocates for increased support and 
cooperation with Taiwan. Indeed, as the document was released, U.S. officials 
were meeting with Taiwanese counterparts in Washington to discuss economic 


   Sunday marked the formal withdrawal of the U.S. from the "Open Skies Treaty" 
with Russia, which allowed each country overflight rights to inspect military 
facilities. The withdrawal, six months after the U.S. notified the Russians of 
its intent, leaves only one arms-control pact still in force between the former 
Cold War foes --- the New START treaty, which limits the number of nuclear 
warheads each may have. That treaty will expire in February.

   The Trump administration had said it wasn't interested in extending the New 
START treaty unless China also joined, something Beijing has rejected. In 
recent weeks, however, the administration has eased its stance and said it's 
willing to consider an extension. As the transition to the Biden administration 
approaches, those negotiations remain a work in progress.

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