Anyone who expected a change in tone in foreign policy due to the transition from Trump to Biden has to be disappointed.
There are certainly a number of reasons why the United States government is now only viewed favorably by the Israelis, but totally tone deaf foreign and economic policies have to be right up there in how the world sees Washington. Rather than conform to how other nations are expected to behave, the U.S. has elevated “exceptionalism” and “leader of the free world” nonsense to a dogma where it believes itself allowed to behave without restraint in defense of what it claims to be its interests. As all countries act in support of interests, that would at least be understandable but the odd thing is that the various constituencies that make up the U.S. government do not even have any clear vision of what is and is not good for the country and American people as a whole.
President Joe Biden’s recent labeling of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “killer” combined with a threat to make Russia “pay a price” due to its alleged meddling in American elections is a perfect example of imperial over-reach by the clowns currently prowling the corridors of power in Washington. The not so thinly veiled threat was derived from an intelligence assessment that claimed that Russia had favored the candidacy of Donald Trump and had been circulating disinformation to damage Biden and his family. The assessment provided no evidence to back-up what was claimed, which was innocuous in any event, but it was enough to trigger a malaprop response from the U.S. president. The more canny Putin has responded by suggesting a live televised “debate” with Biden, who, refused to take up the offer, knowing that if he had he would have quite likely “gaffed” his way to incoherence.
Some other recent stories indicate both that Washington does not even know how to be nice to its friends and that the White House is hardly in control of what goes on its own doorstep. There is considerable discussion over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline which is planned to connect Russian gas with German customers. It would be good business for Russia and also for Germany since the gas is cheaper than other available supplies. The Trump Administration announced that it would oppose the project on “security grounds” and last week Secretary of State Tony Blinken stated that it was a bad deal because “this pipeline is a Russian geopolitical project intended to divide Europe and weaken European energy security.” He also warned that companies working on the pipeline must cease work immediately or face “harsh” U.S. sanctions. Most of the companies are Western European and nominally NATO allies of the U.S. and Nord Stream 2 will likely be completed for good economic reasons. Washington will throw a hissy fit, in part because it wants to sell the more expensive American gas to the Germans. Biden is, for what it’s worth, continuing and doubling down on the Trump policy towards the project. It is a totally unnecessary insult to America’s European allies, has nothing to do with national security, and if Washington kills the project, it will give fuel to anti-U.S. sentiment while also serving to increase tension with Russia.
Another story that keeps popping up in the British media concerns Washington’s unwillingness to deal with a driving incident in August 2019 that killed an English teenager. The driver of the car that struck motorbiker Harry Dunn was Anne Sacoolas, a U.S. citizen, whose husband worked in an unspecified job in intelligence at RAF Croughton, an airbase in central England. She was driving her husband’s SUV on the wrong side of the road and the British police initially charged her with “causing death by dangerous driving.” The U.S. Embassy quickly became involved, flying Sacoolas home on a military flight and reporting to the British authorities that she was protected by diplomatic immunity and would not be answerable for what had occurred. The British government and media did not agree and, in truth, Sacoolas was not necessarily covered by immunity because she was not a diplomat and was not performing any official function when the incident occurred. The British Foreign Office submitted a request for extradition so Sacoolas could face trial, but it was rejected by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Currently the parents of Harry Dunn are suing in a Virginia court for civil damages against Sacoolas and the U.S. judge has let the case proceed. Anne Sacoolas is reportedly in hiding and has offered to do community service in the U.S. while also making a cash donation to a suitable charity in Harry’s memory.
The tale has taken an interesting turn in that it has been suggested, though not confirmed, that Anne was an intelligence officer like her husband Jonathan, which may have been the motive for removing her from England in the first place. But the point is that Anne Sacoolas should have stayed in the UK, where she would have had a fair hearing over an incident that was ultimately an accident. Instead, the United States has chosen to play hard ball with a close ally and friend. The British public and media have not forgotten Anne Sacoolas and remain angry about how the U.S. responded to Harry’s death. It is reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has personally raised the issue of Sacoolas with both the Trump and Biden Administrations, stating that “We have always asked for extradition. The denial of that we have always seen as a denial of justice.” It would be the right thing to do from many perspectives to let the case be handled in British courts, but there is no sign that Washington will be accommodating.
So the beat goes on. Anyone who expected a change in tone in foreign policy due to the transition from Trump to Biden has to be disappointed. Insulting Russia’s leader, telling the Germans how to run their economy, and refusing a reasonable British extradition request are all in a day’s work for the White House, which appears to be oblivious to the damage that is being done to broad U.S. interests.