• Biden Foreign Policy Update: Ukraine, China, and More

    September 14, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    What is Joe Biden’s foreign policy? It’s a trick question, because he has no actual policy, no plan, no careful set of chess moves a step ahead of his adversary. America suffers for it.

    Biden’s foreign policy initially began and ended in Afghanistan, and the disastrous withdrawal that left refugees strew around the globe, problem children still being sorted out. There were years, then months, then weeks, then days to plan the NEO — the noncombatant evacuation order — and plenty of planning books for one sitting on desks in places like Seoul.

    Still the basic mistakes were made, including reducing the evacuation from several well-guarded sites (particularly American military bases being closed down) to a single semi-open civilian site at Kabul airport to allow the mobs and the enemy to concentrate, failing to negotiate an end strategy with the adversary (as was done in Vietnam and Iraq; basically let us evacuate peacefully and the place is yours a day later), having no system to prioritize boarding, and not pre-negotiating landing rights in neighbor countries that were to be used as staging areas. Instead, Biden simply sat on his hands while troops on the ground did their best to ad hoc a strategy of evacuating those who Darwin got over the fenceline. Add in breaking the cardinal rule of all NEOs, leave no American citizens behind. Biden’s follow-up to the evacuation has been to pretend it never really happened and not talk about it. America’s reputation, meh.

    That leaves the multidimensional foreign policy mess in Ukraine, Biden’s other big foreign policy move. What is the Biden policy, what is it intended to achieve for U.S. interests, and what is its end game? No one can really answer those questions, a sign of real problems, particularly the lack of an end game other than childish “the other side goes home before we do.”

    Biden’s failure in Ukraine is based on several fallacies. Primarily was his belief “allies” in Western Europe would band together behind the leadership of the U.S. to, well, do something against Russia. Nobody wanted actual war between say Germany and Russia, so the idea was western European allies would send weapons and participate in sanctions and this would cause Russia to withdraw. In the early days, more than six month ago now, the goal was whispered to be the fall of Putin, regime change with possibly even a new pro-western leader in Moscow, another “end of history” moment since the west squandered the first one trying to make Russia into a capitalist franchise. How’s that McD’s in Red Square we worked so hard for doing anyway?

    Euro-enthusiasm was damp to begin with, perhaps for having seen a dozen American foreign policy adventures that required their urgent support turn to mud (Afghanistan was the freshest international effort to fail, preceeded by the famous Coalition of the Willing in Iraq War III of 2003) and so predictably within weeks the arms flow became mostly All-America after some token gifts of aircraft and armor from the Danes, et al. U.S. Special Forces were on the ground in Ukraine soon enough, the CIA active alongside them, and the escalation in both amount of material and sophistication of weaponry running full steam. Ukraine on the ground very quickly devolved from a NATO effort into an American one. Again.

    But the biggest failure of Biden foreign policy in Ukraine was with sanctions, those economic pressure points that were to make the price of continued war too high for Putin to bear. Fears Putin would “cut off” western Europe’s gas turned out to be a joke. European gas and oil were instead simply rerouted to Paris and Berlin via Chinese and Indian resellers, and at higher prices than prewar to boot. U.S. sanctions have actually aided Russia. Though Russia’s energy exports fell by volume, Russia’s export prices have been on average around 60 percent higher than last year. About the only people actually sanctioned so far were American consumers, who paid $5.00 a gallon for gas in the spring and early summer, some dumb enough to even believe they were helping Ukraine via their small sacrifice. Europe may get their chance to help defeat Putin as energy prices may rise by 400 percent mid-winter.

    France and Germany evolved the ability to talk tough and do little of substance, making quite an event out of the end of Russian energy exports via ship while quietly lapping at the pipelines like drunkards. And what demand does not fix supply steps in for. The EU reduced direct imports of Russian crude oil by 18 percent but thanks to Russian re-exporters  India and others, that has little-to-no net change in Russia’s overall oil export volumes. China, too, has helped make up for the EU shortfall, re-exporting into the global market as the largest single buyer of Russian energy. Japan holds that title for as yet unsanctioned Russia coal exports. Even the U.S. itself helps out, buying unsanctioned highly refined oil products from the Netherlands and India that most certainly were made at least in part from Russia crude. It turns out Biden was unaware how hard it is to simply turn off Russian energy exports.

    China imported more Russian gas in 2022 then any previous year. In the first six months of 2022, according to Chinese customs data, China bought a total of 2.35 million tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG), valued at $2.16 billion, from Russia, an increase of 28 percent year-on-year, with the value surging by 182 percent. This meant Russia surpassed Indonesia and the United States to become China’s fourth-largest supplier of LNG. Bad enough news if China was using the LNG itself to grow its economy but the LNG is being resold to Europe as a sanctions buster. As reported by the Financial Times, “Europe’s fears of gas shortages heading into winter may have been circumvented, thanks to an unexpected white knight: China.” They further note “the world’s largest buyer of liquefied natural gas is reselling some of its surplus LNG cargoes due to weak energy demand at home. This has provided the spot market with an ample supply that Europe has tapped, despite the higher prices.” Maybe no one has told Joe the bad news.

    So where are Biden’s allies? The EU (…China, India, Africa, and Japan) may at times talk a great game but are hamstrung by its own energy needs. Joe Biden’s foreign policy response? To travel to Saudi Arabia to bargain away any remaining American self-respect for oil. The UN meantime saw 35 key abstentions, including much of Africa, on a symbolic get-out-of-Ukraine resolution. The head of the African Union explicitly called for the lifting of sanctions on Russia. Brazil and Mexico refuse to condemn Russia. Biden stands nearly alone claiming the liberal world order is at risk. And, um, the G-7 announced they agreed on a plan to impose a set price on Russian oil, literally not that that matters since the resell market is where the action is.

    Meanwhile, as Biden makes plans to send additional sticks and stones to Ukraine, Beijing recently announced plans to waive debt owed by 17 African countries. China plans to invest a further $300 billion in the continent. China’s continues to make inroads into the “Lithium Triangle,” Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, which account for 56 percent of the world’s lithium supply. Over the years, China has acquired a number of mines in the three countries. In the space of two years, between 2018 and 2020, China invested $16 billion on mining projects there. In an effort to further capture a monopoly in the lithium market, China is also investing in Zimbabwe, home to Africa’s largest lithium reserves, injecting $300 million into its Arcadia Lithium Mine. Elsewhere, the Solomon Islands’ new security pact with Beijing could lead to a Chinese naval base being constructed off Australia.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Trump

    What If Biden Gave a War and Nobody Came?

    July 11, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    What if Joe Biden gave a war and no one came? Such is the case in Ukraine where slogging Russian progress is unmatched by Biden’s and Biden’s alone belief a struggle for global hegemony is at stake, and that he is fighting his war at little cost. Here’s the war at about four months in, as Joe announces a new aid package of $1.2 billion atop his previous $40 billion “lend-lease.”

    Given that core NATO raises a quiet glass every night that it does not have to be militarily involved in the fight for the Donbas and Crimea (the latter invoking 19th century memories of the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade, as the area was last seriously contested between east and west when the British fought the Russians there, the Charge over the disposal of abandoned Turkish cannon) Joe Biden stands nearly alone thinking he is leading the west in some sort of epic struggle. In that the west does not have troops in the field, the western war is being fought with arms supplies and sanctions, both of which are failing and leave Biden exposed, one day to awake to find himself the Emperor of Donbas without any clothes.

    Rumors of the death of the Russian military have been greatly exaggerated, literally: Ukraine has claimed kill rates for men and machines in weeks what are produced over months and years (two decades in the case of U.S.-Afghanistan) elsewhere. Despite the sexy time women snipers and Ghost of the Ukraine, it has been massive arms shipments primarily from the U.S. which have limited Russian gains largely to the eastern part of the country.

    The biggest problem with trying to win simply via outspending the other guy is artillery and anti-tank missiles do not hold ground, infantry does. A brave Ukrainian taking on a T-72 may stop the tank (until another comes along) but he cannot retake a village or hold ground against a combined arms offensive. In short the flow of U.S. defensive-style weapons has done its job, doing exactly what it was intended to, blunt an offensive. The problem is there seems little plan for after that and so in areas like Donbas where Russia enjoys local support, or areas like around Mariupol where is it willing to employ a scorched earth policy, the Ukrainians are predictably losing and will continue to do so.

    There are other problems with trying to win simply with arms sales. One is finding a way to train Ukrainians not familiar with modern weaponry in a way that is fast and effective enough to make a difference on the battlefield while not escalating the fighting overall. The usual method, either bringing foreign personnel to the U.S. or using American Special Forces trainers on the ground, both would dramatically escalate the war and give Russia the excuse to begin killing Americans. The American “volunteers” on the ground now are only going to fool some people for some time before it is obvious the U.S. has had to become deeply involved in the actual fight.

    A secondary problem with dropping so many arms higgledy-piggledy into a fluid situation like Ukraine is blowback, always a great fear during the CIA-Russian war in Afghanistan. What would terrorists in the Middle East pay for a shoulder fired anti-anticraft missile? How many sophisticated anti-tank weapons (the pop-up capability that allows the missiles to strike down on a tank’s weaker top armor is highly classified) are the Chinese interested in? “While the response to provide more weapons to Ukraine is understandable, it would be prudent to consider the immediate and long-term security implications,” said one think tank. “We’ve seen time and time again how arms aimed at aiding an ally in one conflict have found their way to the frontlines of unforeseen battlefields, often in the hands of groups at odds with U.S. interests or those of civilians.” Ukraine has a very poor record in this regards; in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union the country lost track of $32 billion in weapons and sold China its first aircraft carrier.

    Supply is also an issue. America has currently sent about one third of its entire Javelin anti-tank missile inventory to Ukraine along with 50 million rounds of conventional ammunition, extraordinary quantities which strain production capability. Lastly, there remains concern over Russian reaction should American-made artillery rounds begin falling inside the Russian border. The recently shipped 155mm howitzers are seen by many as the first truly offensive weapon the U.S. introduced into the conflict. For Joe Biden what seems like a risk-free no brainer — send more weapons — actually carries with it considerable risk no one seems to be thinking about.

    But it was sanctions which were to have won the battle, forcing Russia to withdraw at the risk of her economy collapsing, perhaps along with Putin’s own regime. The problem is that not only has that not happened, U.S. sanctions have actually aided Russia. Though Russia’s energy exports fell by volume in reaction to American sanctions, surging prices driven by supply shortages have more than canceled out the effects. Russia’s export prices have been on average around 60 percent higher than last year. Simple supply and demand.

    Demand remains the thing thwarting Biden’s charge into the guns. France and Germany in particular have evolved the ability to talk tough and do little of substance, making quite an event out of the end of Russian energy exports via ship while quietly lapping at the pipelines like drunkards. And what demand does not fix supply steps in for. The EU reduced natural gas imports from Russia 23 percent in the first  days of the invasion. Meanwhile Russia’s Gazprom has seen its income levels double year-over-year, thanks to higher prices. The EU also reduced its direct imports of Russian crude oil by 18 percent but thanks to Russian re-exporters  India and the United Arab Emirates, that has lead to no net change in Russia’s overall oil export volumes. China, too, has helped make up for the EU shortfall, albeit more for domestic use and not re-export into the global market, as the largest single buyer of Russian energy. Japan holds that title for unsanctioned Russia coal exports. Even the U.S. itself helps out, buying unsanctioned highly refined oil products from the Netherlands and India that most certainly were made at least in part from Russia crude.

    Russia has shown it can also play offense, cutting natural gas flow to western Europe by 60 percent blaming technical difficulties. Germany correctly understood the latest curtailment in its gas supply as a political move. “Russia’s reason for reducing gas supplies is just a pretext,” the German Vice-Chancellor said. “Their strategy is obviously to drive up prices.” Poor Joe can’t catch a break it seems. May be it is time to seize another megayacht to show Putin who is boss?

    So where are Biden’s allies? The EU and Japan talk a great game but are hamstrung by their own energy needs. Next month Joe Biden travels to Saudi Arabia to bargain away any remaining American self-respect for oil. The UN, such as it is, saw 35 key abstentions, including much of Africa, on a symbolic get-out-of-Ukraine resolution.  The head of the African Union explicitly called for the lifting of sanctions on Russia. India re-exports Russian oil. Brazil and Mexico refuse to condemn Russia. China won’t step in. Biden stands nearly alone claiming the liberal world order is at risk. Or could it be those other nations have seen so little benefit from that order they are not sorry if they see it pass?

    Bottom line: Russian energy exports, which make up some 45 percent of the country’s budget, are stronger than ever. Russia has more money than ever to finance its war in Ukraine, and Putin is as secure in his post as ever before. The irony is with gas hitting $5.00 a gallon across the U.S., the sanctions driving that may indeed bring about regime change, albeit in Biden’s next Congress.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Trump