November 12, 2020 | The Dispatch

America’s Biggest Adversaries Have Been Mostly Silent on Biden’s Election

China and Russia are waiting and seeing, but the Taliban has acknowledged the president-elect.
November 12, 2020 | The Dispatch

America’s Biggest Adversaries Have Been Mostly Silent on Biden’s Election

China and Russia are waiting and seeing, but the Taliban has acknowledged the president-elect.

Like the rest of us, America’s foreign foes watched the 2020 U.S. presidential election closely. They know that many foreign policy issues hang in the balance. Some of the noisy reactions have been entirely predictable. Others have chosen silence while waiting patiently for events to play out.

Let’s begin with the heavy hitters: China and Russia.

Earlier this year, U.S. intelligence officials warned that both countries, as well as Iran, were seeking to interfere in the election process. William Evanina, the head of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), explained that all three actors could “use covert and overt influence measures in their attempts to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives” and to sow discord. “They may also seek to compromise our election infrastructure for a range of possible purposes, such as interfering with the voting process, stealing sensitive data, or calling into question the validity of the election results,” Evanina wrote. That assessment became the subject of some political controversy inside the U.S., because the Chinese and Iranians allegedly preferred a Biden victory (or at least to denigrate Trump), while the Kremlin purportedly wanted to undermine Biden. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that any of the worst-case scenarios came to pass. Why that is the case will require additional analysis. American politics remains bitterly divided, even without any foreign interference.

Post-election, Chinese and Russian officials have mostly stayed quiet. Thus far, neither government has recognized Biden as the victor or otherwise commented on the election in a formal capacity. The press has given the Chinese foreign ministry multiple opportunities to weigh in, but the Chinese Communist Party’s CCP “wolf warriors” have declined to offer any opinions.

Wang Wenbin, one of China’s foreign ministry spokespersons, adamantly refused to comment during several press conferences over the course of the past week. “We noticed that Mr. Biden has declared election victory,” Wang said in response to a question from a CNN reporter on November 9. “We understand the presidential election result will be determined following the U.S. laws and procedures,” he added. Wang also said he wouldn’t discuss the trade deal between the U.S. and China. Negotiating that accord has been central to the Trump administration’s economic agenda and is now even more open-ended with a transfer of power on the horizon.

Wang claimed that the CCP’s reticence to comment is due to its desire to preserve “national sovereignty” and for “non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.” Of course, the CCP interferes in American affairs all the time, even though it appears the party didn’t take any bold action during the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In his statement earlier this year, Evanina mentioned the CCP’s efforts to “pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China.” That was a passing reference to the CCP’s political machinations in Washington and elsewhere. Outside the political realm, the CCP continues to interfere in American commerce, stealing sensitive technologies and various trade secrets via a widespread espionage campaign.

The CCP’s rhetorical embrace of “non-interference” is calculated. Wang and other Chinese officials use it as part of their attempt to ward off criticism or other actions intended to disrupt their crackdown in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

While the governments of China and Russia haven’t officially commented on the election results, their media organs have obsessively reported on American democracy. I’ve been following China’s and Russia’s English-language, state-backed sites every day since the election. They are littered with commentary and reports that are intended to amplify political discord within the U.S. For instance, rt.com (a Kremlin outlet) and the Global Times (which is part of the CCP’s media apparatus) have posted a steady stream of stories focused on the presidential contest. The Global Times is especially pleased that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will no longer be America’s foreign policy frontman. The lead editorial on The Global Times website earlier today was titled, “Pompeo’s last-ditch efforts to bash China.” Pompeo has led the administration’s anti-CCP agenda, so it is no surprise that Beijing would delight in his pending departure.

The Twitter account for Iran’s supreme leader, Imam Sayyid Ali Khamenei, has spread anti-democratic sentiment. On Election Day, Khamenei, or someone posting in his name, cited the contents of Bob Woodward’s book, Fear: Trump in the White House, as evidence that America is in decline. On November 7, Khamenei tweeted that the scene in America was quite the “spectacle.” He added, “This is an example of the ugly face of liberal democracy in the US. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is absolutely clear, the definite political, civil, & moral decline of the US regime.”

Iran is at the center of vitriolic policy disagreements in Washington. But Khamenei’s tweets should remind all sides, regardless of their preferred policy course, that the supreme leader hates the entire American experiment in liberal democracy. President-elect Biden has said that he wants to rejoin the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran. President Trump exited that deal, which was spearheaded by the Obama administration and the Europeans, and re-imposed strict sanctions on the regime. But Biden’s efforts may be complicated by the latest revelations from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which indicate that the Iranian regime has moved advanced centrifuges underground since part of its Natanz nuclear facility was destroyed by fire in July.

Speaking of cantankerous foreign policy debates in Washington, Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on November 10.

AOC’s tweet is a good example of how some view foreign policy through a highly politicized, and grossly inaccurate, lens. Is any Republican politician seriously championing nation-building these days? I can’t think of any. And even if one could point to an individual who is making those arguments, he or she would be an outlier. Moreover, Trump’s base of support—including the Republicans who steadfastly refuse to recognize Biden’s victory—are generally opposed to democracy-spreading projects overseas. As is President Trump. Like AOC, these Republicans often don’t make logically sound arguments. Trump himself peddles erroneous caricatures. But one cannot say, as AOC does, that Trump and his diehards favor “bringing democracy” to any country.

Trump and his base have embraced the “endless wars” rhetoric—not nation-building. Now, the president hasn’t entirely ended America’s role in any of the post-9/11 conflicts. But it is possible that Trump is angling to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan before Inauguration Day in January.

If Trump fails to retreat from Afghanistan completely, then it will be left to the Biden administration to determine whether to complete the withdrawal or maintain a small counterterrorism presence. If Biden chooses the latter course, then he’ll have to nullify the Trump administration’s February 29, 2020, deal with the Taliban. As part of that deal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad agreed to a withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the spring of 2021 in exchange for the Taliban’s supposed counterterrorism assurances. (To date, there is still no evidence that the Taliban has decided to help America “destroy” al-Qaeda, as Pompeo claimed it would.)

Naturally, the Taliban wants Biden to honor the Trump administration’s deal—and get out of Afghanistan. In a November 10 statement, the Taliban addressed Biden as the president-elect, claiming that “implementation of the agreement is the most reasonable and effective tool for ending the conflict between both our countries.” It is no surprise that the Taliban would say that. In that same statement, the Taliban referred to itself as the “Islamic Emirate” multiple times. The group knows that the American withdrawal paves the way for the reestablishment of its authoritarian emirate.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal. Follow Tom on Twitter @thomasjoscelyn.

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