November 2, 2021 | FDD Tracker: October 7, 2021-November 2, 2021

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: October

November 2, 2021 | FDD Tracker: October 7, 2021-November 2, 2021

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: October

Trend Overview

Edited by David Adesnik and John Hardie

Welcome back to the Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker. Once a month, we ask FDD’s experts and scholars to assess the administration’s foreign policy. They provide trendlines of very positive, positive, neutral, negative, or very negative for the areas they watch. Testifying before the Senate, a top Pentagon official revealed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that the Islamic State in Afghanistan may be able to attack the United States in as little as six months, while al-Qaeda could do so within a year or two. On this and other fronts, the era of relentless war did not appear to give way to an era of relentless diplomacy, as President Joe Biden forecast in his first address to the UN General Assembly. Iran took further steps to limit UN inspectors’ oversight of its nuclear program and was likely behind a drone attack on an American base in eastern Syria. North Korea showed off its newest missiles while rebuffing a U.S. offer to negotiate without preconditions. Russia continued to block inquiries regarding its illicit chemical weapons program while escalating its harassment of independent journalists. Chinese leader Xi Jinping rejected an invitation to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, a sign that Beijing plans to withhold cooperation until the United States dials back criticism on human rights and other issues. Regardless, the White House continued to advocate for Taiwanese membership in multilateral organizations. The apparent lesson for Biden is that relentless diplomacy does not elicit cooperation from adversaries when Washington does not build the leverage necessary to put a price on intransigence.

Arms Control and Nonproliferation

By Anthony Ruggiero and Andrea Stricker

Previous Trend: Negative

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi met with Biden administration officials and members of Congress in Washington in mid-October. Grossi voiced concern that Iran’s recent steps to limit IAEA monitoring have weakened agency oversight over Tehran’s nuclear activities. The Biden administration has declined to pursue an IAEA Board of Governors resolution censuring Iran, but Grossi indicated the board should censure Tehran if the status quo continues.

The Financial Times reported that last summer, China tested what appears to be a fractional orbital bombardment system, designed to launch a projectile into low-Earth orbit and then drop it over a target. This development highlights that Washington must simultaneously deter China and Russia in the nuclear realm. The Biden administration has made no substantive progress on arms control since its early February decision to extend the New START Treaty with Russia.

At an early October meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Executive Council, the Biden administration and European allies submitted questions requesting clarification from Russia about the August 2020 poisoning of Alexei Navalny. Moscow rejected the effort and posed its own, mainly spurious questions. The United States is no closer to holding Russia accountable for its blatant use of chemical weapons.

North Korea tested a new submarine-launched ballistic missile, showcasing how Pyongyang continues to expand its weapons programs while its population suffers from malnutrition and COVID-19. Washington is attempting, so far unsuccessfully, to resume diplomatic talks. Washington last issued North Korea sanctions in December 2020.


By Craig Singleton

Previous Trend: Negative

The Biden administration is quickly learning the limits of its so-called competitive coexistence policy with China. Any hopes that Beijing would collaborate on climate change, a top priority for the Biden administration, were dashed this month when Beijing announced that Chinese leader Xi Jinping would not attend the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP26, in Glasgow. China, by far the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, appears set on withholding its support for meaningful climate change action until the United States dials down its criticism of China, including Beijing’s human rights abuses and incursions into Taiwan’s air defense zone. While National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan vowed the administration would not “trad[e] cooperation with China on climate change as a favor [to] Beijing,” President Biden will face pushback from fellow Democrats in Congress who view the climate issue as an existential threat.

The Biden administration also has yet to answer important questions about how it intends to navigate the United States and China’s complicated trade relationship. In a recent speech, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai explained that China was not living up to its trade commitments with Washington. However, Tai said little about what specific tools the administration will use to compel China to play fair.

Despite these setbacks, Biden remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects for improving U.S.-China relations. An upcoming virtual summit between Biden and Xi will serve as a referendum on the administration’s efforts to constructively engage Beijing, which have borne little fruit during Biden’s first year in office.


By RADM (Ret.) Mark Montgomery and Annie Fixler

Previous Trend: Positive

The Biden administration continued striving to combat ransomware and other malicious cyber activity through government initiatives and partnerships with allies and industry. At a 30-country virtual summit, participants pledged to enhance “efforts to disrupt the ransomware business model” and punish those responsible. The State Department is overhauling cyber diplomacy, pending discussions with Congress, by creating a new cyber policy bureau with a Senate-confirmed ambassador-at-large and a special envoy for critical and emerging technology. This proposal aligns with House legislation passed earlier this year and FDD’s own recommendations.

Meanwhile, building on last month’s designation of a cryptocurrency platform for facilitating ransomware payments, the Treasury Department issued sanctions compliance guidelines for the virtual currency industry. Treasury also released a report analyzing ransomware trends, designed to help financial institutions detect suspicious activity. The Department of Justice (DOJ) established a national cryptocurrency enforcement team to investigate money laundering and other crimes using virtual currencies, aiming to “dismantle the financial entities that enable criminal actors to flourish.”

The administration is also pushing industry to implement better cybersecurity. DOJ announced it will prosecute government contractors that fail to report cyber breaches or knowingly provide deficient cybersecurity products. The Transportation Security Administration is issuing mandatory cybersecurity directives to the aviation and rail industries — with mixed reception — after voluntary recommendations have failed to secure the industries.

Finally, the administration has reportedly achieved notable, if limited, operational successes with a multi-country takedown of ransomware group REvil’s infrastructure and by supporting a secret industry-led effort to give victims their data back.


By Bradley Bowman

Previous Trend: Negative

The Biden administration renewed and expanded the U.S.-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) on October 14. The agreement enables, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “U.S. forces in Greece to train and operate from additional locations.” That will provide the U.S. military strategic and operational benefits in the Black Sea region and Eastern Mediterranean amid growing great power competition in both regions.

The enhanced MDCA will run for at least five years and then will “remain in force indefinitely” unless either government terminates it. The agreement will enable the Pentagon to strengthen U.S. military agility, flexibility, and power projection through additional investments at new and existing bases in Greece. A new base at Alexandroupolis, a port city on the Thracian coast near the Turkish Straits connecting the Mediterranean with the Black Sea, provides a good example. That base and increased capacity at the port could reinforce NATO’s southeastern flank. The agreement also provides the U.S. military valuable long-term access to the naval port and air base at Souda Bay on the Greek Island of Crete. That access will incentivize Pentagon infrastructure investment at Souda Bay, which in turn could strengthen U.S. military power projection in the Eastern Mediterranean, where China and Russia are coordinating their activities and terrorists are increasingly targeting allied interests.

If implemented correctly, this agreement could simultaneously increase deterrence of Russia, raise the costs for Turkey’s drift from the NATO alliance, and build allied military capability in the Eastern Mediterranean to secure common interests.


By John Hardie

Previous Trend: Negative

At an October 14 meeting, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell agreed, inter alia, to launch high-level consultations on the Indo-Pacific and to boost cooperation in the Western Balkans. That same day, Washington and Athens held their third Strategic Dialogue, agreeing to expand their Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement, which can help hedge against Turkish and Russian aggression.

The next week, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, and Austria reached a compromise deal on digital services taxes. On Sunday, Washington and Brussels announced an agreement to resolve their dispute over Trump-era steel and aluminum tariffs and to negotiate a “global arrangement” to combat both carbon intensity and overproduction (mainly caused by China) in the sector.

At the October 21-22 NATO defense ministerial, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his counterparts approved NATO’s first-ever artificial intelligence strategy and a new plan for deterring and defending against a potential Russian attack. Austin also encouraged allies to focus more on China.

The Biden administration continued working to mend U.S.-France relations after the fallout over the recent Australia-UK-U.S. submarine deal. These efforts culminated in a Friday meeting between President Biden and his French counterpart. A subsequent joint statement outlined multiple cooperation initiatives, including increased U.S. support for French-led counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel and for European deployments in the Indo-Pacific. Biden also continued to signal guarded support for France’s push for EU military independence, while noting it should be “complementary to NATO” and calling for stronger NATO-EU cooperation.


By Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Previous Trend: Negative

Robert Malley, the U.S special envoy for Iran, visited three Gulf capitals during the third week of October and held discussions with “allies and partners.” The visits were designed to show unity among the allies but instead highlighted glaring differences in their priorities.

While Malley was overseas, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that Washington seeks an agreement with Iran for “a mutual return to compliance” with the 2015 nuclear deal.

In Riyadh, the official Saudi Press Agency reported that Malley and Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan discussed “the Iranian nuclear program” and “joint efforts to counter Iranian violations of international agreements.” The Saudi agency also said that “the two sides discussed the importance of joining efforts to stop Iranian support for terrorist militias that threaten the security and stability of the Middle East and the world.”

Back in Washington, Malley offered a different readout. He told reporters that America’s Gulf partners had a “strong preference for diplomacy, for an effort to revive the JCPOA and were that to happen, to find ways to engage Iran economically.”

While the Biden team has criticized the Trump administration for undermining global unity to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the Biden administration so far looks alone in pursuing the unrealistic goal of boosting the Iranian economy beyond what the nuclear deal offered, in return for Iranian commitments that are much smaller than what the deal demanded.


By Craig Singleton

Previous Trend: Negative

After 10 months in office, President Biden conducted his first personal engagement with Southeast Asian leaders during last week’s virtual ASEAN summit. While Southeast Asia figures prominently in the administration’s still-nascent counter-China strategy, Biden’s diplomatic absenteeism has not gone unnoticed in a region that has long valued leader-to-leader engagement. Further complicating Biden’s outreach is continued negative fallout from the recently announced Australia-UK-U.S. (AUKUS) agreement. Malaysia and Indonesia have publicly criticized AUKUS, fearing it could lead to an arms race. While Biden used the ASEAN summit to pledge $100 million for new healthcare aid, a climate change initiative, and economic recovery programs, this commitment pales in comparison to China’s robust development assistance over the years.

For its part, Beijing has sought to capitalize on the Biden administration’s policy void. Just days before the ASEAN gathering, Beijing called for an upcoming special summit between ASEAN leaders and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The goal: sign a “comprehensive strategic pact,” thereby elevating China’s regional influence. Already, Singapore has expressed support for the new initiative. Beijing’s latest move builds on last November’s decision by 15 Indo-Pacific countries to sign onto the China-anchored Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and China’s recent declaration of interest in joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Biden administration’s failure to put forward a competing trade vision, let alone a Southeast Asia strategy, only strengthens China’s hand.

International Organizations

By Richard Goldberg

Previous Trend: Very Negative

The Biden administration kicked off what appears to be a diplomatic campaign to support Taiwan’s membership or observer status in international organizations (IOs). In our January 2021 “From Trump to Biden” monograph, FDD recommended such an initiative as part of a comprehensive campaign to counter China’s influence within IOs. American and Taiwanese officials met in late October at the deputy assistant secretary level to coordinate bilateral diplomatic efforts in support of increased Taiwanese participation throughout the UN system, focusing especially on the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The following week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement pledging U.S. support for Taiwan’s participation throughout the UN system, specifically calling out the WHO and the International Civil Aviation Organization. This is a positive development, but the administration will be judged on its results, not on statements.

Separately, the United States won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for a term beginning in January. The fact that the administration opted to return to the council is itself a negative development. However, Blinken and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield issued statements alongside the election, pledging to change the council’s anti-Israel bias. The administration now should look to dissolve a recently established commission of inquiry seeking to label Israel an apartheid state. In addition, the administration should intervene to stop the United Nations from terminating the employment of a whistleblower who revealed that the council was turning over the identities of Chinese dissidents to Beijing.


By Behnam Ben Taleblu and Richard Goldberg

Previous Trend: Very Negative

President Biden has yet to respond militarily to what was likely a Tehran-directed drone strike targeting U.S. forces in southeastern Syria on October 20. The administration instead imposed sanctions against individuals and companies connected to Iran’s drone program, while simultaneously vowing to lift sanctions if Tehran returns to the 2015 nuclear deal. The administration’s response conveys a lack of resolve and erodes deterrence of Iran-backed aggression.

Meanwhile, Tehran claimed it has produced 120 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium while continuing to enrich uranium to 60 percent purity. Iran is also testing advanced centrifuges and producing uranium metal. Iran’s continuing enrichment output comes as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief said that the agency’s surveillance of Iran’s nuclear program is no longer fully “intact,” thanks to the regime’s obstruction at a centrifuge production facility.

Despite warning that its patience is wearing thin, the Biden administration has yet to employ substantial diplomatic or economic pressure to hold Iran accountable for its nuclear advances. Tehran has said it will consider resuming nuclear negotiations in late November — potentially timed to induce the United States and Europe to refrain from censuring Iran at the IAEA’s November board meeting.

Separately, Iran reportedly is pursuing an arms deal with Russia, which could become the first test of U.S. sanctions prohibiting the transfer of arms to Iran. President Donald Trump issued an executive order threatening such sanctions last year before the UN arms embargo expired — the first “sunset” provision of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.


By David May

Previous Trend: Neutral

In October, the United States and Israel enjoyed high-level engagement but also clashed over several important issues.

On October 5, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with his Israeli counterpart to discuss efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal. On October 13, the American, Israeli, and Emirati foreign ministers held a trilateral meeting, focused on Iran and China. On October 18, India’s foreign minister joined the three foreign ministers for an online summit on economic cooperation.

At the October 13 meeting, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that the administration would press forward with plans to open a consulate for the Palestinians in Jerusalem, despite warnings from Israeli officials that this could cause Israel’s fragile ruling coalition to collapse. The administration and Israel have reportedly formed a joint team to discuss this process.

Meanwhile, the administration had been quietly pressuring Israel not to build West Bank settlements. But on October 26, State Department spokesperson Ned Price expressed the administration’s deep concern regarding Israel’s settlement plans. Israel advanced plans for around 3,000 West Bank housing units the following day.

On October 22, Price criticized Israel’s decision to declare six NGOs to be fronts for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist group. Price emphasized the importance of respecting “human rights, fundamental freedoms, and a strong civil society” and claimed that Israel did not provide Washington with advance warning, a charge Israel denies. An Israeli Foreign Ministry official said Israel will send an envoy to Washington to share the evidentiary basis for the move.


By David Maxwell

Previous Trend: Neutral

High-level ROK-U.S. engagement continued with talks between the two countries’ special envoys and national security advisors. The United States continued to offer talks without preconditions to North Korea, but Pyongyang demands an end to Washington’s hostile policy. The United States supports humanitarian assistance but has firmly stated that sanctions will not be lifted absent North Korean denuclearization.

Sanctions enforcement activities and human rights are putting pressure on the regime, demonstrated by its condemnation of French and Canadian efforts to thwart North Korean sanctions evasion. The regime has also pushed back on the latest UN human rights report calling it “malicious slander.”

ROK President Moon Jae-in stated that a strong defense is necessary for peace. But Seoul is also pressing for an end-of-war declaration, which the Moon administration mistakenly believes will bring North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table. The Biden administration supports a declaration in principle but argues it should not happen until negotiations with the North take place.

North and South Korea held “competing defense expositions.” The North displayed its hypersonic missile and new submarine-launched ballistic missile, while South Korea signed $128 million in international defense sales. South Korea also tested its own space launch vehicle. Although the launch was successful, it failed to deploy a dummy satellite into orbit.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a comprehensive report on “North Korean Military Power.” In Congress, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Otto Warmbier North Korea Censorship and Surveillance Act of 2021 to hold the regime accountable for human rights abuses and to promote information and influence activities.

Latin America

By Carrie Filipetti and Emanuele Ottolenghi

Previous Trend: Negative

The Biden administration extradited Alex Saab from Cabo Verde in mid-October. A loyalist of Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro, Saab could reveal its most guarded secrets if he turns state’s witness.

Unfortunately, that was the administration’s only win in October. The administration failed to respond adequately to the Maduro regime’s retaliation for Saab’s extradition. Maduro’s representatives abandoned negotiations with Venezuela’s opposition, while the regime’s security forces re-imprisoned six U.S. oil executives (the “CITGO 6”), likely holding them for ransom. In addition, regime-orchestrated municipal elections planned for November 21 seem likely to move forward, yet the Biden administration has remained silent on their illegitimacy. Cuba’s and Nicaragua’s authoritarian regimes have similarly faced no U.S. pressure.

On October 19–21, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited allies in Colombia and Ecuador. He admonished their leaders to protect human rights but offered nothing to alleviate Ecuador’s increasing drug-fueled violence, address the region’s immigration crisis, or reassure the allies that Washington has their back. Meanwhile, America’s southern border remains in crisis. Customs and Border Patrol reportedly has made over 1.66 million arrests in 2021, the highest number ever recorded. This was still not enough to bring President Biden to visit the border.

Finally, the administration did not comment on Argentina’s judicial decision to dismiss a legal action against Argentine Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. She was accused of obstructing an investigation into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center as part of a deal she made with Iran that would allow Argentina to trade grain for Iranian oil.


By Tony Badran

Previous Trend: Very Negative

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland arrived in Beirut on October 14 and met with leaders, including Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri while his gunmen shot up a Beirut neighborhood. Even as the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) merely watched the mayhem, Nuland announced $67 million in additional U.S. aid for the LAF. In keeping with the administration’s declared intent to find “creative ways” to subsidize LAF salaries and benefits, the $67 million were reprogrammed from funds appropriated for fiscal year 2016.

A week later, Senior Advisor for Global Energy Security Amos Hochstein visited Beirut to brief on the administration’s initiative to wheel Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity to Lebanon through Syria, which entails circumventing sanctions on the Bashar al-Assad regime. Hochstein maintained, rather tentatively, that “this kind of a transaction could be, [but] likely is not, covered by the sanctions.”

Hochstein also seeks to revive stalled Lebanese-Israeli maritime border demarcation talks. He offered a highly optimistic assessment that the Lebanese, who have yet to extract any gas, could become exporters by 2025. Nor did Hochstein appear to factor in that Lebanon is run by a terrorist group. Reminded by his interviewer, Hochstein reiterated the administration’s fictional dichotomy: “I don’t think of … Hizballah as Lebanon.”

Lastly, the Treasury Department slapped sanctions, initially prepared under the Trump administration, on two Lebanese businessmen and a member of parliament. The designations, sold as promoting “accountability” and “rule of law,” are undercut by the administration’s broader policy of underwriting the Hezbollah-run order.


By John Hardie

Previous Trend: Neutral

In mid-October, Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland visited Moscow, looking to help stabilize U.S.-Russia relations. Discussions on mutual diplomatic restrictions yielded no headway, save for agreement to further talks. Moscow indicated that Nuland’s visit produced “certain understandings” on near-term presidential-level contacts in an undetermined format. If that refers to a possible summit, it would be premature given the scant progress since the last summit in June.

Nuland also met with Dmitry Kozak, the Kremlin point man on Ukraine. Nuland, who consulted with Kyiv before and after her visit, reaffirmed U.S. commitment to the moribund, Russia-favorable Minsk agreements. Kozak, clearly pleased, agreed to further consultations. Moscow hopes Washington will pressure its perceived Ukrainian “vassals” into implementing Russia’s interpretation of the Minsk agreements. The administration, however, continues to call Russia the obstacle to peace and is likely focused simply on preserving calm.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin toured the Black Sea region to convey U.S. support for regional allies. In Georgia, Austin extended and updated the U.S.-Georgia security cooperation agreement. In Ukraine, he discussed Ukrainian defense reforms and implementation of the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Defense Framework. Still missing, though, is a comprehensive transatlantic strategy for this vital region.

Last week, Washington and 17 allies condemned Russia’s ongoing media crackdown, building on other recent U.S. condemnations of Russian rights abuses. Allied efforts to hold Moscow accountable at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, however, fell short.

The administration rightly excluded Russia from its ransomware summit, insisting that Moscow first take action against Russia-based cybercriminals. The United States reportedly participated in a multi-country operation against Russia-based ransomware group REvil, delivering on previous U.S. threats.

Sunni Jihadism

By Bill Roggio

Previous Trend: Very Negative

The situation inside Afghanistan continues to deteriorate following the U.S. withdrawal from the country, where an estimated 450 American citizens remained trapped. The Taliban are forcefully evicting Shiite minority Hazaras from their homes in multiple provinces. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s deputy emir and interior minister, celebrated the Taliban’s suicide bombers and promised to care for their families. Haqqani has also begun issuing Afghan passports. The Islamic State conducted three major suicide attacks in recent weeks. In neighboring Pakistan, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is consolidating control over smaller Pakistani Taliban factions and attacking Pakistani troops.

The Taliban takeover has also increased the threat of international terrorism emanating from Afghanistan. The U.S. intelligence community believes al-Qaeda could launch external terror attacks from Afghanistan within one to two years, while the Islamic State could do so in six to 12 months. Al-Qaeda’s leader in Yemen praised the Taliban’s victory and threatened future attacks against the United States. Taliban-backed Central Asian terror groups may be plotting incursions into Tajikistan.

Meanwhile, Sunni jihadists remain a potent threat in other countries as well. The Islamic State killed 11 people in Iraq in late October, shortly after an Islamic State suicide bomber detonated his vest on a bus in Uganda. A U.S. military strike killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar in Syria. France killed Abu Walid al Sahrawi, the Islamic State’s leader in West Africa, and Saghid Ag Alkhoror, an al-Qaeda leader in Mali. Sudan cracked down on an Islamic State cell in Khartoum.


By David Adesnik

Previous Trend: Negative

Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed that the Biden administration will no longer seek to isolate the Bashar al-Assad regime by deterring regional governments from normalizing relations with Damascus. Blinken sought to downplay the reversal by stressing that America itself will not restore diplomatic relations with the Assad regime. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s third-ranking official, insisted the administration’s “policy toward Assad and his brutal regime has not changed.”

Arab governments began to restore ties with Syria after a low-profile announcement in mid-August that the White House would not employ sanctions to prevent Syrian participation in a regional agreement for trading natural gas and electric power. This led quickly to high-level contacts between Syrian Cabinet members and their counterparts in Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt.

In Beirut, Nuland asserted that the regional gas and power deal is humanitarian in nature and therefore automatically exempt from sanctions. This unusually broad definition of humanitarian action runs counter to precedents set by both the Obama and Trump administrations, which imposed sanctions on those who sold fuel to the Assad regime.

So far, there is no indication that Assad will reciprocate Biden’s concessions by tempering his human rights violations, defiance of the Chemical Weapons Convention, or expropriation of UN assistance. After rebels bombed a military vehicle in Damascus on October 20, government forces shelled a marketplace in northern Syria, killing 13 individuals, including children on their way to school. The administration should swiftly reconsider whether its Syria policy is consistent with either U.S. values or the national interest.


By Aykan Erdemir

Previous Trend: Very Negative

The Biden administration appears to be walking back the appeasement policy it has pursued in recent months, but still sent mixed signals about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s transgressions. On October 18, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara joined nine other Western embassies in demanding “a just and speedy resolution” to the court case of Osman Kavala, Turkey’s leading minority rights advocate, imprisoned on fabricated charges. Furious, Erdogan threatened to expel the 10 ambassadors. A week later, the U.S. Embassy issued an ambiguously worded statement that allowed Erdogan to claim victory and drop the threatened expulsions.

On October 18 a Turkish official threatened that Ankara would procure Russian warplanes unless Turkey received U.S. F-16s, doubling down on Erdogan’s September threat to purchase a second Russian S-400 air defense system. The Biden administration, however, failed to issue a strong warning. The Pentagon, meanwhile, announced on October 27 that Turkey’s “removal from the F-35 program … was finalized on September 23,” and that ongoing U.S.-Turkey meetings on the F-35 merely reflect the U.S. government’s commitment “to conclude respectfully Turkey’s prior involvement in the F-35 program.”

The Biden administration similarly failed to push back against Erdogan’s threats to launch a new military offensive into Syria to target Washington’s Syrian Kurdish-led partners in the fight against the Islamic State. Biden’s White House meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was an important gesture of support for human rights in Turkey, as was his emphasis on “democratic institutions” and “the rule of law” during his G20 meeting with Erdogan.


The analyses above do not necessarily represent the institutional views of FDD.


Afghanistan Arab Politics China Cyber Gulf States Indo-Pacific International Organizations Iran Israel Jihadism Lebanon Military and Political Power North Korea Russia Syria The Long War Turkey U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy