National Security & Defense

Kerry Chaos a Metaphor for Biden’s First 100 Days on National Security

John Kerry, President-elect Joe Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate appointee, speaks as Biden announces his national security nominees and appointees at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Del., November 24, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
After a solid start, Team Biden commits four major blunders.

Biden administration global warming czar John Kerry is in boiling water, thanks to a controversy involving news accounts that the president’s old friend shared sensitive Israeli intelligence on strikes in Syria with his Iranian counterpart. Unfortunately, this scandal is an apt metaphor for President Joe Biden’s rocky start on national security in his first 100 days in office.

It did not have to be this way. In its first month in office, despite a few missteps, Biden’s national-security team actually preserved, and in some cases extended, several of President Donald J. Trump’s long list of foreign-affairs accomplishments.

Biden’s team committed to further strengthening Trump’s strong record of cooperation with the “Quad” countries of the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia in defending a free and open Indo-Pacific. They maintained Trump’s tough sanctions on Iran and China. After initial equivocation, they kept Trump’s signature Space Force, the first new U.S. service branch in more than 70 years. And they continued Trump’s pressure on NATO members to deliver on their commitments to spend an additional $400 billion on defense through 2024.

After this generally positive first month, however, Team Biden hit four significant — and mostly self-imposed — hurdles, generating genuine national-security uncertainty.

Facing a May 1 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan after nearly two decades of conflict, Biden announced earlier this month that he would miss that time frame and instead remove our forces by September 11, the 20th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s deadly attacks on our country. Biden deserves credit for agreeing to pull out this year. But, without question, he missed an important deadline to which Trump had committed us publicly a year ago. Furthermore, to have the last U.S. troops depart on September 11 almost invites an explosive kick out the door from the Taliban, al-Qaeda remnants, or killers from ISIS.

On Russia, Biden’s team made some positive moves earlier this month, such as sanctioning a number of Russian bad actors for election interference and cyber activities. Ten diplomats were expelled from the Russian mission in New York. Biden signed an executive order to allow additional future sanctions against a range of Russian destabilizing actions. This step has not deterred Vladimir Putin’s aggressive troop buildup on Ukraine’s eastern border. While Putin pulled back some forces from their positions last week, a Russian invasion of Ukraine remains a real possibility, and Biden’s team has few options to respond if that happened.

On China, Biden’s national-security team clearly suffered the worst performance in its first 100 days. In the first summit with its counterparts in Anchorage, Alaska, in March, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan let themselves be lectured for over 14 minutes by Chinese Communist Party officials over the U.S. record on human rights. America’s representatives mustered merely a tepid response, largely accepting China’s charges and parroting Biden-Harris’s divisive rhetoric on race.

Finally, Team Biden committed last week to lift many Trump-era sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program, to entice the ayatollahs to reenter the Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA. Sensing weakness, Iran demands more details on specific sanctions that Biden’s envoys would agree to eliminate before Tehran accepts any next steps. These radical Muslims even are asking to rescind Trump’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. Where will this end? Who knows? But none of this even would be on the table in a second Trump term.

This leads us back to Biden team member John Kerry. He denies the allegations of sharing Israeli secrets with Iran, but they have led to calls for his resignation as climate czar less than a month after his embarrassing visit to China to discuss “the most pressing issue” in our relationship with the Middle Kingdom — global warming.

Whether Kerry’s latest chaos ultimately pushes him off the Biden train is beside the point. Even if Kerry clings on, his rocky first 100 days are a solar-mirror-like reflection of Biden’s entire team when it comes to national-security weakness during the same period.

John Ullyot was Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and National Security Council spokesman from 2019 to 2021.

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