November 1, 2023 | FDD Tracker: October 5, 2023-November 1, 2023

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: November

November 1, 2023 | FDD Tracker: October 5, 2023-November 1, 2023

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: November

Trend Overview

By 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. 

Following the October 7 killing spree by Hamas, President Joe Biden delivered a powerful address decrying the attack as “sheer evil.” His administration swiftly provided Israel with military aid, including Iron Dome batteries and interceptors to defend against Hamas rockets. The Pentagon also deployed additional U.S. forces, including two carrier strike groups, to deter escalation by Iran and Hezbollah. Meanwhile, the United States counseled Israel on its war plans and worked to get humanitarian aid into Gaza. 

Missing from the administration’s response: consequences for Iran, which provided military and financial aid to Hamas and may have had a direct hand in orchestrating the October 7 attack. The Biden team has not recommitted to enforcing sanctions against Iran, enriched by U.S. ransom payments and non-enforcement of U.S. sanctions. After a spate of attacks against American forces by Iran-backed militias, the administration responded with airstrikes against two Iran-linked facilities in Syria. Still, the Iran-backed attacks have continued. 

Amid the Middle East crisis, the administration also pressed Congress to continue aid for Ukraine. Biden sent lawmakers a $106 billion request that includes funding for Ukraine and for the U.S. military and defense-industrial base. Unfortunately, Congress has yet to act. 

Check back next month to see how the Biden administration handles these and other challenges. 


President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping have not spoken since last November. In the intervening months, a series of diplomatic dust-ups have complicated Sino-American relations, including accusations that China hacked the official email accounts of senior U.S. government personnel.  

Beijing’s provocations continued this month, with Washington accusing Chinese fighter jet pilots of engaging in “coercive and risky” maneuvers against American aircraft operating in international airspace over the East and South China seas. All told, since 2021, the Pentagon has documented more than 180 dangerous aerial encounters involving U.S. and Chinese aircraft, including several near collisions. Making matters worse, China has rebuffed Washington’s attempts to revive bilateral military-to-military exchanges. One reason: Beijing likely views these latest provocations not as a problem to solve but as a tool to amplify uncertainty surrounding China’s intentions and hamstring U.S. decision-making.  

These incidents aside, the Biden administration welcomed Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Washington with the goal of securing Xi’s attendance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in San Francisco in November. While Xi’s possible attendance at APEC would be net-positive, China has demonstrated little interest in playing a constructive role in the Israel-Gaza conflict. To date, Beijing has refused to condemn Hamas’s atrocities. The White House’s attempts to convince China to play a mediating role are likely to fall on deaf ears. Instead, Beijing will likely use the conflict to curry favor with the Arab world and amplify the perceived failures of America’s global leadership. 


The Biden administration is “surging” cyber support to aid Israel in the ongoing conflict following Hamas’s terrorist attack, Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger said. To reduce Hamas’s ability to raise funds, the Treasury Department designated 10 key Hamas members who help finance the terrorist group, including a Gaza-based virtual currency exchange and its operator. Furthermore, Treasury announced a proposed rule that would identify cryptocurrency mixers — used to obscure crypto transactions — as a primary money laundering tool for cybercriminals, including Hamas. Aiming to reduce illicit money laundering, this rule would require financial institutions to report information about transactions they know or suspect to involve mixers. 

The Department of Commerce designated 31 regional tech hubs as part of an effort to increase U.S. innovation in several key technology areas, including semiconductor manufacturing and quantum computing. The tech hubs will receive $500 million in the program’s first year, as appropriated by the CHIPS and Science Act. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rescinded a March 2023 memorandum that would require states to include cybersecurity assessments in annual sanitary surveys following lawsuits against the agency. The requirement failed to utilize extensive public-private collaboration, and the memorandum’s rescission will hopefully lead the EPA to find more innovative solutions. 

This week, the administration will host the Counter Ransomware Initiative, to be attended by representatives from 50 foreign governments. Among other things, the White House is expected to urge these governments to pledge not to pay cyber ransoms. 


Following the horrific October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel, the administration moved quickly to send Israel weapons. The United States has delivered Tamir interceptors for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, Small Diameter Bombs, Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and 155mm artillery shells, among other things. “There are shipments arriving every single day for Israel,” a senior defense official said on October 30. In addition, the Pentagon is sending Jerusalem the U.S. Army’s two Iron Dome batteries to increase Israel’s air defense capacity. 

The administration has also bolstered the U.S. military posture in the region. The Pentagon repositioned the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit closer to Israel and ordered the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group to deploy to Central Command’s area of operations. The administration also augmented U.S. Air Force F-15, F-16, F-35, and A-10 fighter aircraft squadrons in the region and announced the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery and Patriot air and missile defense battalions. 

The administration aims to signal support for Israel, protect U.S. troops in the region, and dissuade Iran and its Hezbollah terror proxy in Lebanon from opening another front against Israel. It remains to be seen whether that will work. 

The Pentagon confirmed on October 30 that Iran-backed militias have attacked U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria 23 times since October 17. Indeed, after the United States finally conducted retaliatory airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria on October 26, attacks on U.S. forces continued. 

Europe and Russia

The Ukrainian military conducted its first strikes with the U.S.-provided Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), hitting a pair of helicopter bases in occupied Berdyansk and Luhansk. The strikes destroyed or damaged numerous Russian helicopters and will likely force Russian Army Aviation to operate from more distant bases, rendering it less effective. One only wishes the administration had given Kyiv ATACMS sooner rather than dragging its feet for well over a year. Russian Ka-52 attack helicopters operating from Berdyansk helped blunt Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which had largely stalled by the time ATACMS arrived. The United States will now need to deliver more ATACMS missiles, or Kyiv will likely run out soon if it has not already. The administration should also consider sending Ukraine the Block IA version of ATACMS. The Block IA has a longer range than the Block I missiles Kyiv received and would provide additional capacity. 

On October 20, President Biden delivered a powerful Oval Office address arguing that U.S. aid for Ukraine and Israel “is vital for America’s national security.” He sent Congress a request for $106 billion in emergency FY2024 funding for Ukraine, Israel, and other priorities. The lion’s share would go toward aid for Ukraine, replacing U.S. weapons donated to Kyiv, investing in U.S. defense-industrial production, and supporting U.S. forces in Europe. As the Pentagon has repeatedly warned, congressional inaction on Ukraine aid harms not only Ukraine but the U.S. military as well. Unfortunately, GOP leaders in the House and Senate remain divided on the issue. 


Following the October 7 attack by the Iran-backed Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, President Joe Biden sent a message to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warning Tehran against targeting U.S. personnel in the region. “My warning to the ayatollah [Khamenei] was that if they continue to move against [U.S.] troops, we will respond,” Biden told reporters. In recent weeks, the Pentagon has deployed two striker groups to the Middle East and Gulf regions and buttressed air defenses around bases. On October 27, the U.S. military conducted airstrikes in Syria against two facilities used by Iran-backed militias in retaliation for at least 16 attacks against U.S. forces in the preceding 10 days. 

On October 24, Biden had a phone call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, known as MBS. The president assured the kingdom’s de facto ruler that America “supports the defense of U.S. partners facing terrorist threats, whether from state or non-state actors,” according to a White House readout. Riyadh has long complained about destabilizing Iranian activities across the region, including attacks by the Tehran-backed Houthis across the Saudi-Yemen border and by Iran’s proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon. Biden and MBS also agreed to resume Israeli-Saudi peace talks where they left off before the October 7 attacks. 


China continued to fuel military tensions in the Indo-Pacific. Throughout October, Taiwan’s defense ministry reported massive Chinese aerial and naval incursions in and around Taiwan’s territorial waters, building on a sustained pattern of provocation since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to the United States earlier this year. Amidst Beijing’s growing military assertiveness, members of Congress expressed concern over “alarming delays” in U.S. arms deliveries to Taiwan. 

Meanwhile, the Philippines accused a Chinese ship of intentionally colliding with a Philippine coast guard vessel in disputed waters around the Second Thomas Shoal, an act Manila described as a blatant violation of international law. In response, President Biden asserted Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to defend the Philippines against Chinese aggression. Still unclear is just how the United States might respond should these maritime provocations continue, particularly amidst escalating tensions in the Middle East.  

On a brighter note, the Biden administration signed a new 20-year, $2.3 billion agreement with the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), having previously finalized similar deals with the other two Compact of Free Association states, Palau and Micronesia. Under this deal, Washington will provide grant assistance and trust-fund contributions to support vital areas such as education, healthcare, environment, and infrastructure in the RMI. This welcome development underscores Washington’s dedication to strengthening regional stability and fortifying its partnership with Pacific nations in the face of increased Chinese influence. 

International Organizations

The Biden administration gets higher marks this month for advancing a UN Security Council Resolution condemning Hamas and vetoing a resolution that would have undermined Israel’s right to defend itself. 

At the same time, however, the administration continues to support various UN organs that support Hamas, undermine Israel, and empower U.S. adversaries. The Biden administration pledged $100 million in humanitarian relief for Gaza to be delivered through the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which does not recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization. The agency does not submit its staff, contractors, or beneficiaries for U.S. counterterrorism vetting, so aid delivered via UNRWA will most certainly reach Hamas. 

Meanwhile, on October 10, just three days after the Hamas massacre on Israel kicked off, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) commission of inquiry into Israel announced it would investigate “war crimes committed by all sides” in both Israel and Gaza. Notably, the Biden administration has not once introduced a UNHRC resolution to terminate the commission’s mandate. 

Relatedly, the Biden administration failed another key test in its vow to drive reform at the council as China and Cuba, two of the world’s leading human rights abusers, won re-election to the body. China’s re-election comes one year after it defeated a U.S. attempt to debate Beijing’s genocide in Xinjiang and three months after winning an uncontested re-election to head the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.  


Despite press reports that Iran helped Hamas plan and train for its October 7 massacre, the Biden administration has downplayed links between Iran and Hamas in the hope of maintaining a nuclear understanding with Tehran once Israel’s war against Hamas ends. President Biden has avoided talking about Iran at times and has not detailed any consequences the regime will face for aiding Hamas. The administration remains silent about whether it will re-freeze the over $10 billion of Iranian assets unlocked this summer or whether it will resume enforcement of Iran oil sanctions. 

The administration’s desperation to hold on to its nuclear deal is eroding U.S. military deterrence. Across the Middle East, Iran-backed proxies have stepped up their strikes on U.S. forces in the region, leading to a reported 24 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria from October 17 to October 30. As a result of these drone and rocket strikes, U.S. personnel have suffered at least 21 injuries, including 19 traumatic brain injuries, and a U.S. contractor died after going into cardiac arrest during a false alarm. The U.S. military responded once with precision strikes against two unmanned munition depots in eastern Syria, but Iran-directed militias have since continued to attack U.S. forces. 

In yet another attempt to appease Tehran, the United States allowed UN prohibitions on Iran’s ballistic missile and drone programs to lapse on October 18. The administration did not work with European powers to trigger the snapback of UN sanctions. 


The administration has demonstrated strong support for Israel and repeatedly condemned Hamas since the terrorist group’s brutal October 7 attack. President Biden has spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at least four times since then. Biden also personally traveled to Israel, as did Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. 

Biden has publicly argued that “Israel has the right and … responsibility to respond to the slaughter of their people.” In an Oval Office address, the president pointed out that Hamas is using Palestinian civilians as human shields. He also rightly cast doubt on the veracity of the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry’s casualty statistics, intentionally inflated to sap international support for Israel’s defensive actions against Hamas. 

The United States began sending Israel key weapons within days of the attack, including two Iron Dome batteries. The administration has requested a further $14.3 billion in military assistance for Israel. The Pentagon also deployed two carrier strike groups and other U.S. forces to the region, aiming to deter Iran and its proxy Hezbollah from joining the fray.  

The administration convinced Israel to delay its ground invasion of Gaza to allow the United States time to put assets in place to better protect American troops in the region. The administration also announced a $100 million aid package for the Palestinians. 

Despite the administration’s steadfast support for Israel, the administration had already enriched Iran, Hamas’s main benefactor, via hostage payments and non-enforcement of U.S. sanctions. This may have emboldened Hamas to carry out its attack. 


Following Kim Jong Un’s meeting with Vladimir Putin last month, the White House confirmed that North Korea has shipped 1,000 containers of “equipment and munitions” to Russia “in recent weeks.” Russian-flagged vessels carry the cargo to Russia, where it is transported by railcar to Tikhoretsk, near the Russia-Ukraine border. 

The administration noted that Pyongyang asked Moscow for help on ballistic missiles and other weapons, including aircraft. The Washington Post, based on satellite imagery analysis by the Royal United Services Institute, suggested that the North Korea-Russia “operation is more regular, extensive and ongoing than the White House revealed.” On October 25, the United States, South Korea, and Japan issued a joint statement urging Pyongyang and Moscow “to abide by relevant UN Security Council resolutions and immediately cease all activities that violate them.” 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the seizure of $1.5 million and 17 website domains that North Korean information technology (IT) workers used “to defraud U.S. and foreign businesses, evade sanctions and fund the development of the DPRK government’s weapons program.” The U.S. and South Korean governments published additional guidance to help the public and private sectors identify potential North Korean IT worker activity. As a May 2022 advisory explained, overseas laborers, including IT workers, generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually for the North Korean government. 

In general, though, the administration is doing a poor job of enforcing congressionally mandated sanctions laws that passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in 2016, 2017, and 2019. Washington did not issue any North Korea-related designations in October. 

Latin America

Mexico continues to be plagued by deadly violence. October witnessed major attacks against law enforcement officers by rival drug cartels. The Biden administration hopes that ongoing U.S.-Mexico talks on border security will help prevent guns from heading south and immigrants from heading north. But so far, they seem to have done little to stem flows in either direction.  

Mexico also experienced a deadly natural disaster as Hurricane Otis unexpectedly swept through the state of Guerrero, killing at least 45 people and destroying homes, buildings, and infrastructure.  

After Argentina’s October presidential election resulted in a 37-30 split between Peronist Sergio Massa and libertarian Javier Milei, the country is headed for a decisive runoff vote on November 19. A victory by Massa would likely see Argentina continue to expand its ties with China, while Milei has taken a more skeptical stance toward Beijing. 

On Venezuela, the Biden administration announced sweeping sanctions relief after the Maduro regime and Venezuela’s opposition signed an agreement laying out a roadmap toward a free and fair presidential election in 2024. The administration said it expects the regime to allow all opposition candidates to run as well as to release wrongfully detailed U.S. nationals and Venezuelan political prisoners. But while the U.S. sanctions relief likely convinced the regime to allow opposition-run primaries to take place, the regime still deems the leading opposition candidate, Maria Corina Machado, who received over 92 percent of the primary vote, ineligible for the general election. Ultimately, U.S. sanctions relief may only embolden and enrich the regime.


Following Hamas’s October 7 terrorist onslaught, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported that Iran, along with its Lebanese arm, Hezbollah, helped Hamas plan and train for the attack in Lebanon. Hamas paragliders reportedly trained in Lebanon, and senior officials from Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad met regularly in Lebanon to discuss the attack.  

The reports raise serious questions both about U.S. intelligence collection in Lebanon as well as about U.S. support for the Lebanese military and security organs. During the years leading up to the attack, U.S.-subsidized Lebanese government forces were running counterintelligence for Hezbollah and uncovering Israeli spy cells that were gathering intelligence on Hamas. The administration continues to provide aid for those Lebanese forces. 

The administration stance toward Lebanon after the October 7 attack is equally troubling. As Hezbollah struck Israeli targets along the Israel-Lebanon border and in the Golan Heights, pro-Hezbollah media reported that the Biden administration had relayed a message to Hezbollah through the Lebanese government and military, warning that the United States would support Israeli military retaliation in Lebanon if Hezbollah invades northern Israel. If that report is accurate, Washington effectively told Hezbollah that it will tolerate the group’s escalation below that threshold. A few days later, Israeli media reported that during his visit to Israel, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wanted “to ensure that Israel would not launch a preemptive attack against Hezbollah.” The New York Times subsequently confirmed that President Biden and his aides urged Israel “against carrying out any major strike against Hezbollah.” 

Nonproliferation and Biodefense

The Biden administration, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany allowed the UN embargoes on Iran’s missile and drone programs to expire despite Tehran’s role in the October 7 terrorist attack on Israel. The parties can enact the “snapback” mechanism embedded in UN Resolution 2231 to restore all prior UN sanctions against the Islamic Republic, including nuclear restrictions, the recently expired embargoes, and the conventional arms embargo that expired in 2020. The lapse of these international restrictions makes it easier for Tehran to obtain missile and drone equipment to arm Russia against Ukraine and Iran-backed proxies against Israel.  

The U.S. Department of Defense released its annual report on China’s military, warning that Beijing “will continue to rapidly modernize, diversify, and expand its nuclear forces.” The Pentagon estimates that as of May 2023, China possessed some 500 nuclear weapons, putting Beijing “on track to exceed previous projections.” The department predicts that Beijing will have over 1,000 operational nuclear warheads by 2030, up from the “low-200s” in 2020.  

A non-partisan congressional commission on America’s Strategic Posture released a report finding the United States is “ill-prepared” to meet the risks of conflict with two nuclear peers, China and Russia, particularly during the 2027-2035 threat environment. Among 81 recommendations, the commission urged Congress to “fund an overhaul and expansion of the capacity of the U.S. nuclear weapons defense industrial base and the [Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration] nuclear security enterprise, including weapons science, design, and production infrastructure.” 

Sunni Jihadism

The U.S. government officially declared the overthrow of Niger’s legitimate government to be a coup. This constrains U.S. activities at two bases used for counterterrorism purposes in the Sahel region. Currently, the bases are not being used for such purposes even as both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are expanding operations in neighboring countries.  

The U.S. Department of State offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the location or identification of Abukar Ali Adan, deputy leader of al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s branch in Somalia and East Africa. He has headed the group’s military wing and has ties to other al-Qaeda branches in Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula. Meanwhile, al-Shabaab launched 14 suicide attacks in the month of September, the highest monthly total since the group was formed in 2006. Al-Shabaab has benefited from the withdrawal of a number of African Union troops and from the failure of the Somali government’s offensive in southern and central Somalia. 

The Islamic State’s Central Africa Province launched two ambushes against civilians in western Uganda. One attack killed a newlywed couple from the United Kingdom and South Africa and their local Ugandan guide. 

A report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said the Taliban is taxing revenues from an education program funded by the U.S. government. The Taliban is also establishing fake nonprofits to collect funds as well as extorting and coopting established organizations. Earlier this year, the inspector general told Congress, “I cannot assure this committee or the American taxpayer we are not currently funding the Taliban.” 


In response to recurring attacks on U.S. bases in Syria and Iraq, President Biden ordered air strikes against two sites in eastern Syria associated with the Iran-backed militias responsible for the attacks, which injured 21 American troops. A Pentagon spokesman said one target was a weapons storage facility and the other an ammunition storage site. The U.S. military assessed that its strikes did not cause any casualties. In a letter to Congress, President Biden wrote, “The strikes were intended to establish deterrence and were conducted in a manner to limit the risk of escalation and avoid civilian casualties.” 

Biden’s decision is unlikely to cause escalation, since the cost inflicted on Iran and its proxies was so limited. For that same reason, the strikes are unlikely to re-establish deterrence. What is more, Tehran itself paid no price for its partners’ actions, demonstrating the value of working through proxies. The United States has roughly 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria, working with local forces to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State. The U.S. military could hit back much harder at Iranian proxies; the more pressing question is whether American troops on the ground would be safe if the militias sought to overrun U.S. bases by marshaling hundreds or thousands of fighters at once. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said of U.S. troops, “If they’re attacked again, we will respond again.” Despite Sullivan’s warning, there have already been five additional attacks on U.S. forces since the October 26 airstrikes, with no apparent response. 


Following Hamas’s terrorist attacks in Israel on October 7, Reps. Chris Pappas (D-NH) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) co-authored a bipartisan letter, signed by 45 lawmakers, demanding an immediate end to Ankara’s support of Hamas. “For over a decade,” the letter notes, “President Erdogan has made Turkey a sanctuary for Hamas, with experts describing it as ‘the second-largest Hamas base after Gaza.’” The letter, addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urges the State Department to press Turkey to designate Hamas a terrorist organization — something Ankara refuses to do. 

Indeed, the day before the letter’s delivery, Erdogan insisted that “Hamas is not a terrorist organization, but a liberation and mujahideen group that struggles to protects its lands and citizens.” On October 28, Erdogan publicly rebuked the Biden administration for supporting Israel and threatened military action against Jewish state if it does not cease its counterterrorism operations in Gaza. 

On October 18 and 27, the U.S. Treasury Department designated various Hamas operatives connected with the Turkey-based company Trend GYO, a key part of the terror group’s financial infrastructure. The sanctions aim to “dismantl[e] Hamas’s funding networks” and “deny Hamas the ability to exploit the international financial system,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said. 


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