The world’s headlines say it all: “Biden’s Taiwan vow creates confusion not clarity — and raises China tensions” (the Guardian); “Biden’s new stance of strategic confusion on Taiwan” (CNN), “When will Biden stop sowing confusion?” (the Telegraph); “Confused about President Biden’s policies? You’re not alone” (the Hill); “Biden’s Taiwan defense vow could cause missteps” (South China Morning Post).
A day after President Biden said that the United States would militarily defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, Biden says that American policy remains “strategic ambiguity.” As a senator and vice president, Biden was known to be flippant with his words, which, when he was in those offices, caused no real harm to the country. It’s different, however, when you are flippant and careless with words as president. I have lost count of the number of times administrative spokespersons have had to “walk back” the president’s statements. It is embarrassing politically and dangerous strategically.
Throughout history, foreign policy observers and theorists have framed the overall approaches of American presidents to global policy as doctrines. George Kennan called Truman’s approach “containment.” American nuclear policy under President Eisenhower was called “massive retaliation.” John Kennedy’s revision of that policy was known as “mutual assured destruction.” As the United States retrenched after Vietnam and relied more on regional allies, that policy came to be known as the “Nixon Doctrine.” The 1980s-era policy of undermining Soviet rule in Central America and elsewhere was called the “Reagan Doctrine.” George W. Bush’s approach to the global war on terror became known as “preemption.” And now Joe Biden’s approach to the struggle for power in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere can be called “confusion.” (READ MORE from Francis P. Sempa: Biden Rhetorically Comes to the Defense of Taiwan But Actions Speak Louder Than Words)
Biden’s confusion doctrine has been evident in his Ukraine policy. To this day, it is unclear whether the United States seeks victory for Ukraine, a negotiated resolution to the conflict, or regime change in Russia, complete with war crimes trials. The administration has said all three at different times. Confusion also marked our disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is also unclear whether this administration considers China’s geopolitical challenge, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, “domestic terrorists” (i.e., Trump supporters), or “climate change” as the greatest security threat we face. The administration says it seeks “energy security,” but it closes fossil fuel pipelines and refuses to permit drilling in energy-rich Alaskan lands, making the U.S. more dependent on energy supplies from foreign sources.
And nowhere is the policy of confusion more evident — and more dangerous — than in the South China Sea. Biden’s statements that we will militarily defend Taiwan but also maintain an approach of “strategic ambiguity” can lead to deadly miscalculations by Chinese leaders, Taipei politicians, and our regional allies.
Let’s hope that the world’s headlines do not soon speak of “Great Power War.” That, unfortunately, is where the confusion doctrine is taking us.