WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised the Biden administration would avoid “costly military interventions” and chart a new course on global trade in his first major foreign policy speech on Wednesday.
“Americans have been asking tough but fair questions about what we’re doing, how we’re leading – indeed, whether we should be leading at all,” Blinken said.
Blinken’s remarks come amid unease among some in Democrats in Congress over President Joe Biden’s initial foreign policy moves, including his decision to launch a strike in Syria last week targeting an Iranian-backed militia.
Blinken defended that strike, even as he said Biden’s use of military force would be guided by the “hard lessons learned” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“When we look back at the past decades of our military involvement in the world, especially in Afghanistan and the Middle East, we must remember what we’ve learned about the limits of force to build a durable peace,” he said.
Blinken said Biden would only use force “when the objectives and mission are clear and achievable, consistent with our values and laws, and with the informed consent of the American people.”
The Syria strikes, the first authorized by Biden, hit multiple targets used by Iranian-linked militias, which the Pentagon blamed for launching rocket attacks on a base in northern Iraq that killed a contractor and wounded U.S. and allied troops Feb. 15.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is among those who have questioned whether Biden had the authority to launch that attack.
“The American people deserve to hear the Administration’s rationale for these strikes and its legal justification for acting without coming to Congress,” Kaine said in a Feb. 26 statement. “Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances.”
Blinken argued that American lives and “vital interests” were at stake in that situation and promised “regime change” would not be part of the Biden administration’s agenda.
“We will not promote democracy through costly military interventions or by attempting to overthrow authoritarian regimes by force,” Blinken said. “We have tried these tactics in the past. However well intentioned, they haven’t worked.”
Admitting mistakes on trade
Blinken said trade is another area where previous American foreign policy has fallen short. He conceded that he and other members of Biden’s national security team had embraced trade deals that ended up hurting America’s middle class.
“Some of us previously argued for free trade agreements because we believed Americans would broadly share in the economic gains,” he said. “But we didn’t do enough to understand who would be negatively affected and what would be needed to adequately offset their pain.”
“Our approach now will be different,” he promised.
Three out of four U.S. adults say protecting the jobs of American workers should be the No. 1 foreign policy priority, according to a February poll by Pew Research Center.
It’s not clear yet how far Biden will go in embracing former President Donald Trump’s hardline on global trade, including Trump’s heavy reliance on tariffs to penalize countries he said were engaged in unfair practices.
Blinken said the Biden administration would “use every tool” to stop currency manipulation and intellectual property theft, among other tactics, but he did not spell out a detailed trade agenda.