Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
October 28, 2023
It is not only Biden is still living in the 1990s, rather many more people in the US are still living in the 1990s. It has little to do with one’s age, it is the mindset that matters.
It is human nature that the good old days, even though they are long gone and never will come back again, were always the best days. As such, many indulge in living in the past. However, as the President of the United States, Biden has to be clear headed. He has to realize that age matters and he has to be realistic. At least, when mistakes are made, take the responsibility, and make corrections. However, Biden’s frequent gaffes in public have been mainly backtracked or watered down by his staff. He does not take anything back himself. This is a sign of stubbiness, his character rather than his age. As such, people doubt Biden’s sincerity and mental capacity.
Under Biden’s watch, we have two on-going regional wars with no end in sight, but Biden keeps promising that the US will support our allies, fellow democracies, all the way. It is Biden’s call for arms, but there are different shades of democracy. Ukraine politics are heavily corrupted with next election up in the air. Israel is on the verge of moving toward absolute rule by a single person, namely the current prime minister. Let local people determine how they wish to be governed. Biden should listen to people around the world, not the politicians.
Of course, it is another human nature that: “when push comes to shove, rules will be broken if the benefits outweigh the costs.” It is also a fact of life! For the US, with her unprecedent achievements would like to maintain her leadership as long as she can. But unprecedented past achievements do not equal to infinite bandwidth, US has her limits, like any big powers. The US has to be clear on how many real allies will stand by the US, rain or shine, vs how many wars around the world can the US fight at the same time.
Biden’s running for reelection next year, unfortunately his approval rating is rather low. His opponent, the former President Trump, convicted and being trialed, has a good chance against Biden. It is time for Biden to yield the candidacy to younger democrats, the US, and the world, will be ever grateful if Biden bows out now.
Sat, October 28, 2023 at 2:00 AM PDT·5 min read
Can the United States continue to arm Ukraine, even as it accelerates military support to Israel? Will Washington have to make a choice between the two conflicts? And if so, which one should be prioritised?
Right now, the US is full steam ahead on supporting Israel and ensuring its closest partner in the Middle East has what it needs to eradicate Hamas, a terrorist organisation that committed the worst attack on Israeli soil since the state’s founding 75 years ago. Ukraine, like Israel, is also in the fight of its life and is campaigning for long-term US military support, calls Biden is sympathetic too.
With aid to Ukraine becoming a divisive issue in the US and Europe’s security arguably more impacted by how the war proceeds, one would think the White House would devote as much time pushing its European allies into owning the Ukraine file as it does in lobbying Capitol Hill for more funds.
For President Joe Biden, the question of priorities is immaterial. “We’re the United States of America for God’s sake, the most powerful nation in the history – not in the world, in the history of the world,” he told CBS 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley on October 15. “We can take care of both of these and still maintain our overall international defense.”
Biden picked up on the theme days later during his prime-time address to the nation, linking the 20 month-long conflict in Ukraine to Israel’s ongoing military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In this reading, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hamas are practically twins separated at birth: both are committed to aggression against their neighbors.
This is vintage Biden, a man who was brought up on the idea that the US, the most exceptional nation on earth, had a responsibility to enforce the so-called rules-based international order. Scroll through the Biden administration’s foreign policy speeches and you will frequently run across a consistent theme: the rules of the road need to be respected and those who violate them need to be held accountable.
The emphasis is on maintaining the credibility of the system the US and its allies built after World War II. Failing to uphold the rules, the logic goes, means tyrants like Putin and terrorists like Hamas will run roughshod over common decency. If this argument sounds familiar, that’s because it is; Biden delivered a nearly identical case 30 years ago when he was a senior senator advocating for a US bombing campaign against Serbia.
This view is not typical to Biden. Who, after all, can argue with the notion that evil must be resisted? We teach our kids to be decent human beings; certainly everybody else should be operating on the same wave-length?
If only the world were that simple. As any policymaker in the foreign policy realm will tell you in private, international relations isn’t bean-bag. It’s a cut-throat, complicated and sometimes nasty business. Treaties are signed and discarded the moment they are deemed expendable. There is no such thing as trust, only trust with verification. Disputes over contested territory can turn violent in a hurry, as we witnessed last month when Azerbaijan’s assault in Nagorno-Karabakh forced more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians to flee the enclave.
Some states are worse than others, but all of them are inherently self-interested actors doing what they can to survive and gain advantage. While the UN Charter may forbid the use of military force to settle disputes, the reality is that the use of force is a common tool for states to realise their perceived objectives. The scale and scope of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have shocked politicians in the West, but the force of arms never left us to begin with.
According to one assessment, there have been more than 30 wars since the beginning of the century. Some of them, like Putin’s attempted conquest of Ukraine, do more damage than others, but all expose an innate characteristic of states and the human condition: when push comes to shove, rules will be broken if the benefits outweigh the costs. It’s a very Hobbesian way of looking at the world, but there’s some truth to it.
Biden and other liberal internationalists warn about the fragility of the rules-based international order at every opportunity. That fragility, however, is less a consequence of waning US power and more a result of what classical realists have prescribed as a clash of interests. Therein lies Biden’s second major fault: he assumes ideology, not interests, drives America’s adversaries and competitors to behave the way they do. China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Putin are categorised as fellow authoritarians teaming up in a quasi-alliance to undermine democracies worldwide. Biden even attributed Hamas’s October 7 assault to its hatred for Israeli democracy.
Back on planet earth, political philosophy likely has little to do with how Russia, China, or Hamas conduct themselves. Xi and Putin may be fellow autocrats who want to maintain their position at the top of their respective systems, but they are also two men who have similar perceptions of what the US and its Western allies represent: established powers trying to maintain their dominance by keeping others down. The sentiment is widely shared throughout Africa, Latin America and Asia, which look at the West and see a two-faced entity that often breaks the very principles it claims to defend.
Hamas, meanwhile, doesn’t care about how Israel is governed; it cares about destroying Israel and rolling the clock back to May 13, 1948, the day before Israel declared its independence. Seen in this context, all the democracy vs autocracy, freedom vs. tyranny stuff is beyond tone-deaf.
Why does all of this matter? Because just as a doctor can’t settle on a treatment plan without an accurate diagnosis, policymakers can’t settle on good policy if they are unwilling to appraise the world as it really is.