January 11, 2022 | FDD Tracker: December 4, 2021-January 11, 2022

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: January

January 11, 2022 | FDD Tracker: December 4, 2021-January 11, 2022

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: January

Trend Overview

Edited by David Adesnik

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. Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden set a “goal of building a stable and predictable relationship with Russia.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has not obliged. In December, Moscow put Europe on edge with persistent threats to launch a major military offensive against Ukraine. Meanwhile, nuclear negotiations with Iran continued even though Tehran’s proxies targeted U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria with armed drones. Belatedly, the White House announced a “diplomatic boycott” of next month’s Winter Games in Beijing, yet only a handful of allies will keep their diplomats home.

With hostility growing on almost every front despite the administration’s “relentless diplomacy,” Congress signaled the need for greater strength by authorizing $740 billion in defense spending, or $25 billion more than the president requested. There was overwhelming bipartisan support for this increase, with veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate. Congress lent similar support to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which Biden signed into law just before Christmas. The United Nations is expected to release its own findings on Beijing’s human rights violations in the coming days; in December, it approved plans to spend $4.2 million on an open-ended investigation of Israel. The Biden administration dismissed the inquiry as “inherently biased and an obstacle to the cause of peace,” but could not block the funding.

Arms Control and Nonproliferation

By Anthony Ruggiero and Andrea Stricker

Previous Trend: Negative

Due to COVID-19, parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) postponed a conference — normally held every five years — to review the treaty’s implementation. They moved the conference back from January until at least August. On January 3, the five NPT-recognized nuclear weapon states — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China — released a joint statement affirming their NPT Article VI obligation to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date.” Contrary to this pledge, Russia and China are expanding their nuclear arsenals while avoiding meaningful negotiations.

Indirect nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China) struggled on in Vienna. Some Western negotiators remain unconvinced of Iran’s interest in reviving the 2015 deal, suspecting Tehran’s strategy is to buy time for further nuclear advances. Relatedly, Washington and Jerusalem discussed steps to limit Iran’s advances, including preparations for a military strike should the Islamic Republic creep closer to the nuclear-weapon threshold.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general warned that Tehran’s steps to limit IAEA monitoring of its nuclear program have left the agency with a “very blurred image” of Iran’s program. In mid-December, Tehran and the IAEA reached a last-minute agreement to re-install video monitoring at Iran’s Karaj centrifuge manufacturing facility. Despite the inadequacy of the agreement, this averted a U.S. threat to convene a special IAEA Board of Governors meeting before the end of 2021 to consider a resolution censuring Iran. The IAEA reportedly replaced the cameras before the new year.


By Craig Singleton

Previous Trend: Neutral

Before Christmas, President Biden signed into law the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which bans imports from China’s Xinjiang region unless importers can prove the goods were not made with forced labor. The new law builds upon Trump-era import bans on cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang, although enforcement of those sanctions has proven challenging. The new law represents a significant setback for Beijing, which actively lobbied against its passage, as well as for certain U.S. business groups and companies, such as Apple and Nike, which reportedly spent months pressing Congress to water down the legislation. In a move that further infuriated China, the Commerce Department in December blacklisted dozens of Chinese government research institutes, and the Treasury Department sanctioned eight Chinese private-sector technology firms. The administration accused the targeted entities of weaponizing cutting-edge technologies against Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities.

With less than a month until the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, otherwise known as the “Genocide Games,” few other countries have joined the diplomatic boycott announced by the Biden administration last month. Soon, however, the UN High Commission for Human Rights is expected to publish a “deeply disturbing” report on unlawful detentions and forced labor in Xinjiang. The Biden administration has not yet announced whether or how it intends to leverage the report’s findings to further isolate China on the world stage. Nearly two years after the pandemic’s outset, it also remains unclear whether Washington and its European partners have abandoned plans to pressure Beijing to come clean about COVID-19’s origins.


By RADM (Ret.) Mark Montgomery and Trevor Logan

Previous Trend: Positive

A critical vulnerability in a ubiquitous open-source software tool known as Log4jb dominated the cyber news throughout the month of December. Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), called the problem “one of the most serious I’ve seen in my entire career, if not the most serious,” because the flaw is located in software widely used across cloud, business, infrastructure, and other applications. CISA, the FBI, and the National Security Agency, along with America’s Five Eyes allies, issued a joint alert to help potentially affected organizations remediate the vulnerability. CISA also hosted a call with nearly 5,000 critical infrastructure entities and issued an emergency directive giving federal agencies one week to evaluate their exposure and patch affected systems.

The Log4j discovery coincided with CISA’s virtual summit promoting the use of a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) to increase transparency of software components (a cybersecurity measure FDD’s Transformative Cyber Innovation Lab has advocated). The Log4j vulnerability adds urgency to the government’s efforts to encourage widespread use of SBOMs, as Easterly noted.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also sent a letter to major software companies discussing ways to improve digital security. The letter follows visits to Silicon Valley by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, National Cyber Director Chris Inglis, and Easterly to expand collaboration with major technology companies. December capped a challenging year of significant cyber breaches, primarily at the hands of Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies and criminal hackers, while the specter of cyberattacks accompanying Russian military action in Ukraine looms.


By Bradley Bowman

Previous Trend: Positive

President Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 into law on December 27. The NDAA, which Congress has passed each year for 61 years, authorizes funding and sets policies for the Pentagon. The Senate and House of Representatives passed the FY 2022 NDAA with overwhelmingly bipartisan votes of 88-11 and 363-70, respectively. That is significant because the law authorizes $740 billion for the Department of Defense, $25 billion more than the Biden administration requested. Bipartisan congressional support for that level of defense funding represents a resounding rejection of the administration’s insufficient FY 2022 defense budget proposal, which would have failed even to keep pace with inflation.

Despite the NDAA’s passage, the Pentagon still needs a defense appropriation for FY 2022. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a statement on December 6 warning of “enormous, if not irreparable, damage” if Congress resorts to a year-long continuing resolution. Yet even six-month continuing resolutions damage the Defense Department and delay modernization.

Meanwhile, “China’s military is on pace to become a peer competitor to the United States in Asia—and, eventually, around the world,” Austin warned in a December 4 speech. He trumpeted efforts to field improved defense capabilities, strengthen military posture in the Indo-Pacific, and develop new concepts of operations. Many of those efforts are laudable, but the administration needs to exhibit a greater sense of urgency, produce an effective National Defense Strategy, and request a FY 2023 defense budget commensurate with U.S. national security interests.


By John Hardie

Previous Trend: Positive

As it looked to prevent further Russian military aggression against Ukraine, the administration conducted extensive diplomatic outreach seeking unity with European allies and partners. U.S. intelligence-sharing has helped galvanize European support for tough sanctions if Russia re-invades Ukraine, though some allies remain reluctant. The administration has pushed Berlin to scrap Nord Stream 2 if Russia invades, but faces resistance from Germany’s new chancellor.

Meanwhile, the administration has sought to assuage European fears of exclusion from U.S.-Russia talks, while juggling European divisions over negotiations with Moscow. Biden and other senior administration officials have maintained frequent contact with European allies and Kyiv, including both before and after Biden’s two calls with Putin last month and ahead of Monday’s U.S.-Russia talks.

However, Biden’s inexplicable failure to nominate an ambassador to Ukraine risks undermining the administration’s efforts and conveying that Ukraine is not a priority. In another unforced error, Biden, following his December 7 videocall with Putin, initially suggested holding talks with Russia and “major NATO Allies,” sparking concerns of exclusion in Central and Eastern Europe and prompting a White House walk-back.

Biden’s subsequent calls with his Ukrainian and eastern-flank counterparts helped ease those concerns, as has the administration’s repeated pledges of “nothing about you without you.” While Moscow sought bilateral U.S.-Russia negotiations, the administration proposed including the NATO-Russia Council and OSCE. The administration promised to reserve Europe-related matters for those fora, which will convene later this week, and to make no commitments without prior consultation. Still, the fact remains that neither European allies nor Ukraine were at the table today in Geneva.


By Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Previous Trend: Neutral

The Biden administration suffered an embarrassment in December when the United Arab Emirates said it would suspend its purchase of $23 billion worth of American arms, including 50 F-35 fighter jets and 18 MQ-9 Reaper armed drones. The Emirati snub followed Abu Dhabi’s inking of a $19 billion arms deal with France, dispelling a Washington myth that America’s Gulf allies have no alternative defense suppliers to whom they can turn if America makes demands they refuse to accept.

Caught flat-footed and aware that losing a $23 billion contract would be bad for American factories and jobs, the Biden administration rushed to say that it remains “prepared to move forward if the UAE” is still interested. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken blamed Israel for the delay, saying that Washington had to guarantee Israel’s qualitative military edge, a statutory requirement that had already been fulfilled before Biden took office. Furthermore, Jerusalem supports the sale of U.S. weapons to Abu Dhabi.

Israel, however, was not the administration’s primary concern when it put a pause of its own on the UAE deal in January 2021. Back then, the State Department said the administration delayed the sale to ensure that U.S. arms would be “used in a manner that respects human rights and fully complies with the laws of armed conflict.” But the delay backfired. Abu Dhabi now says it is suspending the deal for “sovereignty reasons.” Biden’s policy of pressuring the Gulf monarchies on human rights while courting Tehran unconditionally is neither principled nor effective.


By Craig Singleton

Previous Trend: Negative

In a speech widely panned for lacking specifics, Secretary of State Antony Blinken finally outlined the broad contours of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy during a trip to Indonesia. The problem: Almost all of the strategy’s main points appear nearly identical to language the Obama administration prepared in anticipation of its so-called Asia Pivot in 2011. The Biden team’s still-nascent strategy does underscore the U.S. interest in delivering high-quality infrastructure and vaccines to the region and in improving cooperation on technological innovation. But missing almost entirely are concrete details about Washington’s efforts to deepen its economic and commercial ties throughout the region. Meanwhile, China joined U.S. allies Japan and Australia in launching a new Asia-Pacific trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The pact, which will eliminate more than 90 percent of tariffs on commerce among its 15 member states, also gives China a more prominent role in setting trade rules in the Asia-Pacific region, at the expense of the United States.

The Biden administration’s failure to produce a codified National Defense Strategy after nearly a year in office has also hampered its ability to respond effectively to new and emerging regional crises. The Pentagon has signaled plans to build up its bases in Guam and Australia, as well as possible efforts to establish a tactical radar facility in Palau. However, there does not appear to be any significant planning underway to meaningfully bolster U.S. force posture in the region, much to Beijing’s delight.

International Organizations

By Richard Goldberg

Previous Trend: Neutral

The Biden administration worked to defer any UN decision on Afghanistan’s credentials as a member state, blocking the Taliban from taking control of the country’s UN representation.

Separately, the United Nations approved a $4.2 million budget for a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Commission of Inquiry (COI) into Israel for alleged human rights abuses — an unprecedented COI set to exist in perpetuity with an implicit mandate to falsely label Israel an apartheid state. The Biden administration opposed COI funding in a UN advisory committee but could reduce the proposed budget by only 25 percent. The administration spoke and voted for an Israeli amendment to cut all COI funding, yet the amendment was overwhelmingly rejected by the UN Fifth Committee and General Assembly. This negative development demonstrates the limits of an engagement-only strategy within the United Nations. The administration vows it “will continue to oppose this COI and look for opportunities in Geneva to revisit its mandate” and “to persuade more Member States that it is inherently biased and an obstacle to the cause of peace.” On January 1, 2022, Washington began its three-year term as a member of the Geneva-based UNHRC. The administration’s top priority should be passing a resolution ending the COI — a fundamental test of its pledge to reform the UNHRC by rejoining it.

Finally, the World Trade Organization’s 12th Ministerial remains postponed due to COVID-19, further delaying any initiative by the administration to address China’s economic structure and non-market practices or to reform the WTO’s dispute resolution mechanism.


By Richard Goldberg and Behnam Ben Taleblu

Previous Trend: Very Negative

The Biden administration continued indirect nuclear talks with Tehran in Vienna despite increased expressions of pessimism by U.S. officials. Although the administration dispatched a delegation to the United Arab Emirates to signal willingness to enforce U.S. sanctions against Iran, no such enforcement materialized. Additionally, in exchange for Iran merely allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to service cameras at a centrifuge manufacturing facility, the United States abandoned its reported threat to convene an emergency meeting of the IAEA’s Board of Governors. Yet Tehran refuses to allow access to the camera footage and continues to rapidly expand its enrichment activities while denying the IAEA access to undeclared nuclear sites and materials in Iran.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps completed a military drill involving suicide and armed drones, rockets, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and other ground and naval assets. Tehran also attempted another space launch, which contributes to its development of longer-range ballistic missiles. While the United States, France, and others condemned the launch, Iran’s provocation did not alter the Biden administration’s strategy in Vienna.

As evidence of America’s eroded military deterrence toward Iran, Tehran-backed groups are increasing attacks against U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq. In December, the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State downed a drone likely operated by Iran’s proxy network as the drone approached a U.S. garrison in eastern Syria. U.S. and Iraqi defenses thwarted at least three such attacks — one in Syria and two in Iraq — in early January. There is no indication President Biden has ordered military responses to the ongoing attacks.


By David May

Previous Trend: Neutral

Tensions over divergent approaches to countering the Iranian nuclear threat continued to dominate U.S.-Israel relations in December. President Biden reportedly refused telephone calls from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for several weeks. Meanwhile, in a tense call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on December 10, Bennett unsuccessfully requested that the United States halt the Vienna talks on Iran’s nuclear program.

On December 22, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan visited Israel to convene the U.S.-Israel Strategic Consultative Group, where he and his Israeli counterpart, Eyal Hulata, discussed developments in the nuclear negotiations. Ahead of their meeting, Sullivan spoke about the need for a “common strategy.” Anonymous senior Israeli officials were satisfied that Biden would take a harder line and consider Israel’s perspective. However, Israeli experts expressed concern about the wide gap between the Israeli and U.S. positions. On December 30, Israel signed a deal to purchase American refueling jets, which are crucial to supporting potential air force operations against Iran.

On the Palestinian front, Israeli sources claim that Blinken put Israeli settler violence on par with the Iranian nuclear threat in his meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz in early December. Reportedly, Jerusalem is willing to ease Palestinian-American dual citizens’ travel to Israel, a change Washington has demanded in exchanged for granting a visa waiver to Israelis. Finally, on December 30, the United States pledged to send $99 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, whose activities reinforce maximalist Palestinian demands.


By David Maxwell

Previous Trend: Neutral

The 53rd Security Consultative Meeting between the ROK Minster of National Defense and the U.S. secretary of defense took place on December 2, 2021. Defense Minister Suh Wook and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin expressed their wish to “reaffirm the vision of the leaders of both nations,” including extended deterrence and a shared commitment to denuclearization and the establishment of a permanent peace through diplomacy. The two leaders issued revised strategic guidance to the alliance’s military commanders to develop a new defense plan for South Korea.

Meanwhile, President Moon Jae-in continued his quest for an end-of-war declaration, and there were unconfirmed reports of an ROK-U.S. agreement “in principle.” China also expressed support for an agreement. However, there has been no confirmation from the Biden administration, except to reiterate that it seeks peace and remains skeptical about the efficacy of such an agreement.

In the North, the Worker’s Party of Korea held the 4th Plenary Meeting of the party’s 8th Central Committee for an unusually long five days at the end of December. The meeting focused on the economy, food shortages, and ideological development, with only a single sentence in the plenary’s 18,400-word statement addressing national security and foreign policy. This is likely an indication of dire internal conditions.

Showing that actions speak louder than words, instead of delivering a New Year’s message, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un conducted a ballistic missile test on January 5th. The ROK and U.S. intelligence communities continue to assess the launch.

The South Korean presidential election in March remains the major focus of politics there.

Latin America

By Carrie Filipetti and Emanuele Ottolenghi

Previous Trend: Negative

Latin America saw the departure of 2021 in much the same way it saw its entry — with unexpected political violence, COVID-19 devastation, and a lack of American leadership.

On January 2, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry survived an assassination attempt while participating in an event marking the country’s independence. Haiti has yet to hold an election following the July assassination of Prime Minister Jovenel Moise, and U.S. assistance seems to have done little to stem the violence.

Venezuela’s fraudulent elections last month also came and went with little fanfare. While the United States continues to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful president, there is no obvious plan for how to convince strongman Nicolás Maduro to negotiate a transition. Venezuela held a second municipal election in the state of Barinas on January 9 after retroactively disqualifying the winning opposition candidate. The election proved to be yet another fraudulent contest.

Most concerning, however, is China’s plan to deepen its investment in Latin America. This is not only a setback for U.S. policy in the region, but also a failure in Washington’s efforts to counter China’s rise. Finally, Honduras has indicated that it intends to switch from recognizing Taiwan to establishing diplomatic relations with Beijing once Xiomara Castro is inaugurated as president at the end of this month.


By Tony Badran

Previous Trend: Very Negative

Later this month, State Department Senior Advisor for Global Energy Security Amos Hochstein reportedly will head back to Lebanon — his second visit since October. Hochstein presumably will discuss two Biden administration energy initiatives in the Levant.

First, Hochstein presumably will provide an update on the administration’s plan to wheel Egyptian gas to Lebanon via Jordan and Syria. In late November, Hochstein expressed optimism that all obstacles would be ironed out and the gas would be flowing by March 2022. However, despite State Department assurances to Egypt that this deal would be exempt from U.S. sanctions on Syria, Egyptian officials remain concerned that they will be penalized, and continue to seek more than just Foggy Bottom’s comforting words. Rather, Cairo wants written assurances from the Treasury Department, which the Egyptians do not seem to have received yet. As things stand, it is unclear when, or if, they will.

Second, Hochstein probably will look to make progress on maritime border demarcation talks between Lebanon and Israel. Since his October visit, the Lebanese have launched a second round of licensing for their remaining offshore oil and gas blocks, some of which fall in waters over which Israel claims sovereignty. This move led the Israelis to file an official complaint with the United Nations. Just as when Lebanon enlarged its territorial claims after the Trump administration launched the demarcation talks in 2020, Beirut is buoyed by Washington’s obvious eagerness — and Hochstein’s expressed desire — to see American and European companies invest in south Lebanon.

For now at least, both problematic and ill-advised initiatives appear stalled.


By John Hardie

Previous Trend: Neutral

Russia continued its military buildup near Ukraine last month while demanding urgent security guarantees, including prohibitions against further NATO enlargement, against NATO deployments in countries that joined the alliance after May 1997, and against NATO missile deployments near Russia. President Biden hopes a combination of deterrence and diplomacy can forestall Russian escalation, which U.S. intelligence says could commence in early 2022.

During December 7 and 30 calls with Putin, Biden threatened that a Russian assault would trigger unprecedented sanctions, a stronger force posture on NATO’s eastern flank, and increased U.S. defense support for Ukraine. The sanctions reportedly would include designations against Russia’s largest financial institutions, plus export controls targeting key industries. Washington has also increased cybersecurity cooperation and intelligence-sharing with Kyiv and reportedly is considering providing “actionable” battlefield intelligence. The Pentagon has developed options to support a potential Ukrainian insurgency and reportedly is working with allies to deliver Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. After initially withholding a separate, $200 million aid package, the administration reportedly released it in late December. However, this assistance would likely have little impact during a large-scale Russian operation.

At the same time, the administration has expressed openness to talks on issues including arms control and mutual limitations on military exercises, while rejecting Moscow’s right to veto NATO enlargement and denying any intention to discuss withdrawing forces from Europe. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman repeated those messages during U.S.-Russia talks on Sunday and Monday. Her Russian interlocutor, however, suggests a diplomatic resolution is impossible unless Moscow’s core demands are met. We may soon learn whether Putin prefers war to compromise.

Sunni Jihadism

By Thomas Joscelyn

Previous Trend: Negative

The State Department released its annual Country Reports on Terrorism, detailing how Sunni jihadist groups operated around the world in 2020. Even though the Islamic State “lost all the territory it had seized in Iraq and Syria, the organization and its branches continued to mount a worldwide terrorism campaign, carrying out deadly attacks globally.” In fact, Islamic State “affiliates outside Iraq and Syria caused more fatalities during 2020 than in any previous year.” Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s “networks continued to exploit undergoverned spaces, conflict zones, and security gaps in the Middle East to acquire terrorist resources and conduct terrorist attacks.” Indeed, al-Qaeda’s arms “remain among the most active and dangerous terrorist groups in the world.”

The report points out that many senior al-Qaeda personnel, including the group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have survived the post-9/11 wars. Some have received safe haven inside Iran. “Senior [al-Qaeda] leaders continued to reside in Iran and facilitate terrorist operations from there,” the report reads. These leaders continue to oversee the network’s global operations.

The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State announced the end of its combat role in Iraq on December 29. The Pakistani Taliban, an al-Qaeda-allied group, declared an end to its short-lived ceasefire with the government in Islamabad. Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban continued to crack down on its domestic opposition, arresting a popular university professor who has criticized the jihadists’ rule. Al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s East African branch, murdered six people and torched their homes in Kenya. Al-Shabaab also gained ground against the U.S.-backed Somali government in recent weeks. Local security forces continued to battle Islamic State- and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in West Africa, with both sides incurring casualties.


By David Adesnik

Previous Trend: Negative

Brett McGurk, the National Security Council’s coordinator for Middle East affairs, reported the completion of the Biden’s administration’s “intensive strategic review” of U.S. policy toward Syria. The first objective he identified for U.S. policy is to keep current ceasefires in place, a goal that amounts to preserving a fiction given the constant violation of those ceasefires, especially by the Assad regime. In mid-December, the UN secretary-general’s latest report on Syria began by observing that “[v]iolence continued in the Idlib de-escalation area in the north-west of the Syrian Arab Republic, including airstrikes, mutual shelling and limited clashes, amid continued high levels of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases.” McGurk and other officials observe correctly that the level of violence has fallen substantially over the past two years, yet neglect to mention the roles of COVID-19, the collapse of the Syrian lira, or asset freezes in limiting Damascus’s options. The regime launched its last major offensive just before the pandemic broke out.

The Syria policy does not appear to have identified human rights and accountability for war crimes as priorities. McGurk said the White House does not plan to “give up on accountability” or lift sanctions, yet the administration has watered down its predecessor’s campaign to exert economic pressure via human rights sanctions, especially those prescribed by the 2019 Caesar Act. In December, the Treasury Department did impose sanctions on five Syrian military officers responsible for atrocities against civilians, but declined to target regime financiers or others whose designation might deprive the regime of desperately needed income.


By Aykan Erdemir

Previous Trend: Negative

Although the Biden administration did the right thing by not inviting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to its “Summit for Democracy” in December, the administration remained silent on Turkey’s abysmal human rights record. When a journalist asked why Turkey was excluded from the summit, Secretary of State Antony Blinken prevaricated and made no mention of any human rights or rule-of-law issues in Turkey. Blinken did acknowledge strains in U.S.-Turkish relations by saying that “it’s not a secret that we also have differences.” But he swept them under the carpet by adding, “We have a very important relationship with Turkey. It’s a NATO Ally.”

Blinken paid lip service to human rights in the readout of his December 1 meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, stating that their discussion built on President Biden’s November conversation with Erdogan regarding “bilateral cooperation and other priorities, including democracy and human rights.” Yet the readout of Blinken’s January 3 phone call with Cavusoglu avoided any mention of the problems in U.S.-Turkish relations.

The Biden administration’s continued silence concerning Turkey’s four-year imprisonment of Osman Kavala — Turkey’s leading minority-rights advocate, incarcerated on fabricated charges — became even more conspicuous following the Council of Europe’s December 3 decision to begin infringement procedures against Turkey over Ankara’s refusal to release Kavala despite a binding ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. Joining European allies in pressuring Ankara would have offered the Biden administration a chance to put into action its promise of a human rights-centered foreign policy.


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