December 5, 2023 | FDD Tracker: November 2, 2023-December 5, 2023

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: December

December 5, 2023 | FDD Tracker: November 2, 2023-December 5, 2023

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: December

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.

President Joe Biden initially offered emphatic support for Israel following the October 7 massacre. But, nearly two months into Israel’s war against Hamas, cracks in U.S. support have emerged. U.S. military assistance continues to flow to Israel, and administration officials say they are not pursuing conditions on that aid, despite calls from some Democrats. The administration is, however, publicly pressuring Jerusalem to curtail civilian casualties as Israeli forces shift their focus to southern Gaza. Israeli media say the Biden team is pushing Israel to bring the war to a close. Separately, the administration continues to provide sanctions relief to Iran and has not responded forcefully to ongoing attacks against U.S. forces by Tehran-backed militias.

On Ukraine, the administration continues to promise that the United States will support Kyiv “for as long as it takes.” But if Washington is to keep that promise, Congress must act. As lawmakers debate a potential Ukraine aid bill, the administration warned that it is “out of money—and nearly out of time.”

Biden met with China’s Xi Jinping when the latter attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. The administration, hoping to put a floor under deteriorating U.S.-China relations, came away with Chinese promises but few tangible commitments.

Check back next month to see how the administration deals with these and other challenges.


After not speaking to one another for nearly a year, President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. Overall, the Biden administration conceded more than it gained during the engagement, with Xi signaling plans to maintain a confrontational, zero-sum approach toward Washington. Ominously, Xi warned reunification with Taiwan must “move towards resolution.” Xi’s remarks denote growing Chinese dissatisfaction with the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, which could augur Chinese plans to pursue ever-bolder actions to thwart perceived Taiwanese separatism.

Meanwhile, in a bid to secure China’s cooperation in curbing fentanyl flows into the United States, the Biden administration removed sanctions on the Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s Institute of Forensic Science, which has been implicated in alleged abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in China. The administration granted this concession even though China has not demonstrated any serious commitment to curtailing illicit drug shipments, potentially leading Beijing to believe it can secure other meaningful concessions from Washington at little to no cost.

The two countries also announced a resumption of some military-to-military channels, although history suggests China will not employ these exchanges to mitigate accident risks. Indeed, mere days after the summit concluded, Chinese military vessels aggressively confronted the USS Hopper near the Paracel Islands, which China erroneously claims as its own. This latest incident, which coincided with Chinese defense officials’ refusal to meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Indonesia, suggests military tensions will escalate further in the lead-up to Taiwan’s presidential election in January 2024.


President Biden signed an executive order intended to ensure consumer safety regarding artificial intelligence (AI). The order requires that major AI developers share their algorithmic test results, prevent malicious uses of AI, bolster their cybersecurity, and ensure civil rights protection when using algorithms.

The Department of the Navy released its cyber strategy, a valuable contribution by outgoing Principal Cyber Advisor Chris Cleary. The strategy outlines the department’s defensive priorities and efforts to improve the Navy’s cyber capabilities. This strategy incorporates the core tenets of the Navy’s Information Superiority Vision and the Cyberspace Superiority Vision.

Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo established a consultative body to discuss cyber issues, namely combatting North Korea’s use of cybercrime to finance its weapons of mass destruction programs. This formation builds upon a trilateral agreement, signed in August, to enhance strategic cooperation.

Overshadowing these positive developments, Iranian-backed hackers breached a number of U.S. water utilities. While not directly related, this came after shortly after the Environmental Protection Agency was forced to rescind a memorandum requiring state agencies to conduct more stringent cybersecurity assessments of water utilities. The administration and Congress need to develop a more effective and sustainable cybersecurity framework that supports small and underfunded water facilities, which currently have no guidance and are vulnerable to cyberattacks like the Iranian hacks.

Washington also concluded the Counter Ransomware Initiative Summit. The summit participants focused on building partner capacity, and some members pledged not to pay extortion demands. However, the pledge grants many loopholes and exceptions, making it more rhetoric than hard policy.


In November, the Biden administration continued to provide Israel a range of weapons to support its efforts in Gaza to destroy Hamas, the terrorist organization that massacred approximately 1,200 Israelis on October 7. The United States has provided air defense interceptors, precision-guided munitions, and a wide range of ammunition, equipment, and vehicles to support ground combat in Gaza.

Some on the far left have called for the White House to curtail or condition security assistance to Israel and apply pressure to permanently halt combat operations in Gaza. Thus far, the administration has admirably resisted doing so. Ending the war in Gaza before Hamas is decimated would be a gift to Iran and invite future attacks.

Meanwhile, Iran and its proxies continued to target U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. The administration’s responses were few and weak. The White House sought to avoid a regional war, but the predictable effect was simply more attacks on U.S. troops. The Houthis, Iran’s terror proxy in Yemen, escalated attacks on Israel and on vessels in the Red Sea. Again, the administration was slow to respond, leaving the Houthis with little incentive to stop.

The Pentagon announced an additional security assistance package for Ukraine on November 20 valued at $100 million. The relatively modest package reflects the fact that the administration is running out of money for Ukraine due to congressional inaction. In hopes of building congressional support for additional Ukraine funding, the Pentagon released an infographic highlighting how U.S. support for Ukraine has benefited American industry across 37 states.

Europe and Russia

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Ukraine on November 20, seeking to “reassure” Kyiv that Washington “will continue to support Ukraine.” U.S. officials delivered similar messages at a Ukraine Defense Contact Group session, during meetings with a Ukrainian delegation to Washington, and at the NATO foreign ministerial in Belgium. The administration also announced it will host a conference in early December focused on U.S.-Ukraine defense-industrial cooperation.

Currently, however, it is up to Congress, not the executive branch, to determine whether U.S. support will continue. The administration has repeatedly implored Congress to pass another Ukraine aid bill, noting that much of this funding actually supports U.S. warfighters and America’s defense industry. The administration will run out of money to fund assistance for Kyiv by the year’s end, a U.S. official warned on Monday. Already, U.S. aid has slowed to a trickle. In October, Washington committed just $250 million in materiel drawn from U.S. stocks to meet Ukraine’s immediate battlefield needs. That figure dropped to $225 million in November — the lowest monthly total since Russia’s full-scale war began.

Meanwhile, Treasury issued sanctions packages penalizing entities and vessels that used Western services while facilitating Russian oil exports sold above the Western-imposed price cap of $60 per barrel. The packages follow a similar enforcement action in October. While positive, these designations do not address the price cap regime’s fundamental problem: Russia is now exporting most of its crude without using Western services, allowing it to sell for well above the cap and at a narrower discount.


The Biden administration continued to show Qatar gratitude for its role in brokering an interim deal between Israel and Hamas. The deal saw a temporary ceasefire, coupled with Hamas’s release of dozens of hostages it had taken during its unprovoked attack on Israel on October 7, while Israel released Palestinian prisoners in return. Doha is not worthy of any praise.

President Biden declared Qatar a Major Non-NATO Ally in January 2022, but Doha has been playing a duplicitous role: On the one hand, it hosts America’s biggest airbase in the Gulf region at al-Udeid. On the other, Qatar has supported Hamas to the tune of $120 million to $480 million a year. Qatar also hosts Hamas’s two top leaders, Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyeh. Qatar had denied endorsing Hamas and argued that Israel signed off on whatever money it has funneled to the Gaza Strip or to Hamas.

Through its Al-Jazeera media network and other soft power arms, Doha has waged an information campaign demonizing Israel and the West and promoting Islamist groups around the region. For example, the channel was the first to amplify Hamas’s claim that Israel had struck Gaza’s al-Ahli Arab Hospital, killing 500 Palestinian civilians — an allegation that was later debunked. Al-Jazeera has also reported, without verification, Hamas’s unsubstantiated claims of losses inflicted on the Israeli military. In late October, Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked top Qatari officials to tone down Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the war. But its coverage has continued unchanged.


Amid escalating tensions, China issued warnings this month against “pro-independence” forces in Taiwan, even resorting to explicit threats of war should the ruling Democratic People’s Party prevail in January’s presidential election. Yet, in a supplemental funding request to Congress, the administration sought a mere $2 billion for Taiwan’s defense, raising concerns about the administration’s urgency and seriousness in addressing Taiwan’s security needs. This meager figure, if left unchanged, could leave Taiwan unprepared to deter looming threats from the mainland.

Meanwhile, the administration is struggling to advance the trade “pillar” of its Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, aimed at curbing China’s economic clout. The administration had hoped to complete key chapters of the trade agreement ahead of November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. But the agreement reportedly unraveled when the Biden administration yielded to eleventh-hour pressure from influential politicians, including Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who reportedly expressed concern that a new trade deal could hurt their electoral prospects in the upcoming year. This ordeal provides China with ample ammunition to assert that American politics are dysfunctional and that the United States lacks a coherent economic agenda for the Indo-Pacific.

Lastly, an unsealed indictment alleged that an Indian intelligence official ordered the assassination of a Sikh separatist in New York City. The filing follows similar allegations made by Canadian authorities in September. While the Biden administration has sought closer ties with India to counterbalance China, these allegations raise serious concerns about India’s commitment to the rule of law and could strain bilateral relations.

International Organizations

November 2023 was the most damning month for the Biden administration’s UN strategy since taking office. In 2021, reversing Trump-era policies, the administration restored U.S. funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and rejoined the UN Human Rights Council without first demanding fundamental reforms to root out anti-Israel bias in each agency. More recently, the administration rejoined UNESCO without first stopping the agency’s delegitimization of Jewish ties to Israel. Since January 2021, the administration also ignored recommendations to prohibit aid to any UN agency that sponsors, supports, enables, or engages in acts of antisemitism. Declaring that “America is back” at the UN, the administration argued it could better effect positive change from the inside.

Yet this past month, the Biden administration did almost nothing in the face of the worst UN-sponsored antisemitism in history. The UN secretary-general refused to condemn Hamas sexual violence for seven weeks, and the UN Women agency still will not. UNRWA, the WHO and the International Committee of the Red Cross may have covered up Hamas’s use of the Al-Shifa hospital as a terror headquarters. An Israeli taken hostage by Hamas reported having been held prisoner inside an UNRWA employee’s home. All the while, the UN “Human Rights” apparatus accused Israel of genocide.

The results of nearly three years of a failed UN strategy are on display for every U.S. taxpayer who foots the bill.


Iran-directed militias have reportedly conducted 74 attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria since October 17. The Tehran-backed Houthis shot down a U.S. drone on November 8, and an Iranian drone later harassed a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Arabian Gulf. Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran is increasing production of highly enriched uranium while decreasing cooperation with the agency.

Nevertheless, the Biden administration continues to provide sanctions relief to the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hamas’s chief terror sponsor, in hopes of moderating the regime’s behavior. The State Department renewed a modified sanctions waiver that gives Iran access to over $10 billion in previously escrowed electricity payments. The waiver also allows the regime to convert Iraqi dinars to euros to subsidize Iranian imports. Although the administration later imposed sanctions on more than 20 people and entities tied to illicit Iranian revenue schemes, these designations provide little comfort given the broader sanctions relief policy.

After allowing the UN missile embargo to expire last month, the White House now fears Iran might transfer short-range ballistic missiles to Russia — a move that Tehran and Moscow could now claim as legitimate under UN Security Council Resolution 2231. The administration could work with the United Kingdom, France, or Germany to trigger the snapback of UN sanctions on Iran at any time. But the Biden team has declined to do so. Meanwhile, Iran continues to tighten military ties with Russia, claiming to have finalized a deal to buy Russian-made Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters, and Yak-130 trainer aircraft.


After nearly two months of steadfast support for Israel’s right to defend itself, the Biden administration has begun to signal the limits of its support for Israel’s war against Hamas. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered this disconcerting message to Israeli officials on November 30 during his third visit to Israel since Hamas’s October 7 massacre.

At a press conference, Blinken warned Jerusalem that “the massive loss of civilian life and displacement of the scale that we saw in northern Gaza” must “not be repeated in the south.” The secretary implored Israel to avoid actions at hospitals despite Hamas’s documented use of these facilities for warfighting purposes. He also reportedly warned that Israel has weeks, not months, to achieve its objectives. These restrictions will hamper Israel’s efforts as fighting resumes following Hamas’s violation of the ceasefire brokered in part by Washington. Israel secured the release of over 100 hostages during the pause.

Blinken’s warnings follow what seemed to be a presidential endorsement of a permanent ceasefire. On November 28, President Biden said, “To continue down the path of terror, violence, killing, and war is to give Hamas what they seek.” Such a ceasefire would allow Hamas to remain a threat. Meanwhile, some Democrats in Congress are pressuring the administration to attach conditions to U.S. aid for Israel. Biden initially appeared to express openness to the idea, but administration officials later said the White House is not currently pursuing such conditions.


North Korea successfully placed a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit after two unsuccessful prior attempts. According to South Korean intelligence, Pyongyang received Russian technical assistance as part of a deal struck during Kim Jong Un’s September visit to Russia. North Korea claimed that Kim reviewed satellite imagery of the White House, Pentagon, and U.S. aircraft carriers at the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia. After the launch, Seoul partially suspended implementation of a 2018 agreement designed to reduce tensions with North Korea and restored aerial surveillance along the border. Pyongyang retaliated by withdrawing from the agreement altogether.

The White House condemned the launch and urged Pyongyang to return to negotiations but did not mention Russia or sanctions. The U.S. representative to the United Nations exclaimed that North Korea had launched three space launch vehicles and 29 ballistic missiles in 2023, including four intercontinental ballistic missiles. The statement highlighted the administration’s flawed diplomatic and economic pressure strategies. The Biden administration has resorted to trying to shame China and Russia into action, but Beijing and Moscow are major, serial violators of UN sanctions and know there are no consequences for supporting the Kim regime.

In its first North Korea sanctions since late August, the U.S. Treasury Department targeted a virtual currency mixer used by Pyongyang and then designated overseas North Korean representatives. Still, enforcement of sanctions against North Korea remains lackluster — even after North Korea reportedly shipped over 1 million artillery munitions and other materiel to Russia, significantly aiding Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Latin America

Javier Milei, a libertarian outsider candidate in the Argentine presidential election, soundly defeated Peronist contender Sergio Massa. After his victory, Milei met with a number of senior Biden administration officials. Whereas Massa was seen as pro-China, Milei criticized Beijing on the campaign trail.

As the United States remains distracted by the wars in Europe and the Middle East, China has continued to expand its influence and operations in Latin America. While members of Congress have proposed bipartisan legislation to address Beijing’s growing malign influence, the White House has been slow to broaden American economic engagement. At the inaugural meeting of the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, designed to increase U.S.-Latin American economic cooperation, the administration announced a new development platform and a joint accelerator for entrepreneurs in the region. But the summit did not result in any major trade deals.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration set November 30 as a soft deadline for the Maduro regime to allow leading opposition candidate Maria Corina Machado to run in Venezuela’s 2024 general election. The regime previously declared Machado ineligible, and the Biden administration rightly noted that blocking her candidacy would make the 2024 election unfree and unfair. The administration warned that if Machado is not allowed to run, it will re-impose sanctions lifted in October. Yet the November 30 deadline, like others before it, came and went with no sanctions snapback. On November 30, Venezuela’s government and opposition issued a joint statement saying barred opposition candidates may file appeals with the country’s top tribunal but must refrain from disrespecting the state.


Since the October 7 massacre by Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist factions, Hezbollah and Lebanon-based franchises of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have launched over 1,000 rockets, anti-tank missiles, and drones into the Jewish state, killing almost a dozen Israeli soldiers and civilians. These attacks have emanated from southern Lebanon, which, per UN Security Council Resolution 1701, should be “free of any armed personnel, assets, and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL,” the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. Yet Beirut has refrained from implementing the resolution’s terms and, in any case, has adopted an idiosyncratic interpretation that excludes Hezbollah from its scope, while UNIFIL has proven incapable of curtailing the group’s rearmament.

Amidst this flagrant violation of Israel’s sovereignty from Lebanese territory, the Biden administration has continued to allow Lebanon to avoid its responsibility to control its territory. President Biden has publicly warned Hezbollah against involvement in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, but the administration has not applied additional pressure on the group or Beirut following Hezbollah’s attacks. Rather, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has expressed concern that Israel’s actions in Lebanon — rather than Hezbollah’s — are exacerbating tensions. Credible reporting indicates the Biden administration pressured Israel to forgo a preemptive ground attack against Hezbollah. While the Biden administration’s energy security envoy traveled to Lebanon to ensure that the current war remains confined to the Israel-Gaza front, he did not press Beirut to live up to its obligations under Resolution 1701.

Nonproliferation and Biodefense

At a quarterly meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, Washington and its Western allies did not censure Iran for ejecting one-third of the IAEA’s enrichment inspectors last September. Nor did they demand that Tehran halt its nuclear advances or come into compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran will continue to refuse cooperation with the IAEA while steadily degrading IAEA oversight of its nuclear program. The IAEA’s latest data indicate that Tehran can make enough weapons-grade enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in as little as seven days.

Ukraine won a seat on the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), defeating Russia, which lost its seat for the first time in the OPCW’s 26-year history. Still, OPCW member states have not yet held Moscow accountable for its continued stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. They should do so immediately by suspending Russia’s voting rights and ability to hold office. Meanwhile, the IAEA reported that fighting around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant continues to cause periodic power cuts, which could risk the facility’s safety and security.

China is experiencing an increase in respiratory illness, including pneumonia, which is largely affecting children. The World Health Organization (WHO) urged calm and noted that Beijing has put the pathogen’s spread “under effective control.” The outbreak highlights the administration’s flawed 2021 decision to support a second term for the WHO director-general, who turned a blind eye to Beijing’s obstruction at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sunni Jihadism

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) continues to aggressively target the Islamic State’s network inside Iraq and Syria. During the months of September and October, CENTCOM executed 79 operations against the Islamic State, 53 of them in Iraq and the other 26 in Syria. They resulted in 13 ISIS operatives killed and 78 detained. Among those captured were “prominent ISIS leaders and members to include: fighters, facilitators, and members of attack and sleeper cells.”

Al-Qaeda’s general command renewed calls for attacks against Americans, Israelis, and their military bases, embassies, institutions, and interests. The terror group made this threat in the context of the Israeli military’s battle against Hamas at Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital. “The missiles that are burning our proud brothers in Gaza come from American and European military bases that are sitting on our chests … it does no good for the people of Islam if we do not invade [them] and expel the killers of our people in Gaza,” al-Qaeda stated.

Pakistan has begun to detain Afghan citizens who fled the country after the Taliban takeover in August 2021 and is deporting them back to Afghanistan. Some of those who fled Afghanistan are seeking resettlement in the United States, as they served as interpreters for the U.S. military or were members of the former Afghan security forces or government and are at risk of being killed by the Taliban. Meanwhile, the Taliban appointed an ambassador to China and sent a diplomatic delegation to Iran to strengthen ties.


Responding to dozens of attacks on U.S. troops by Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq, President Biden ordered four rounds of airstrikes on militia targets during November. The strikes targeted scattered facilities and inflicted few casualties, and the attacks resumed after each round. With Iran and its proxies paying a minimal price for their aggression, it is likely to continue.

Meanwhile, the COP28 climate conference began in Dubai, with Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous leading the Damascus delegation. The United Arab Emirates had extended an invitation to Bashar al-Assad to participate in the conference, with a COP28 spokesperson citing the need for “an inclusive COP process.” The UAE has been at the forefront of sustained efforts by some Arab governments to rehabilitate Assad despite his ongoing war crimes. The Biden administration had quietly encouraged Arab engagement with Assad while publicly distancing itself from that effort.

In mid-November, French judges issued a global arrest warrant for the Syrian dictator and three of his lieutenants, citing their use of chemical weapons. Activists from the Syrian diaspora, including a broad coalition of Syrian-American groups, have called on Paris to request Assad’s extradition should he visit Dubai for COP28.

On Capitol Hill, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the Illicit Trafficking of Captagon Suppression Act in a unanimous vote of 44-0. The act would mandate sanctions on key figures in Assad’s multibillion-dollar narco-trafficking empire. The bill follows a law passed last year requiring the administration to produce a strategy to disrupt Assad’s trafficking of Captagon, an amphetamine-like drug.


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan, at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels, where he insisted that Ankara approve Sweden’s accession to the alliance “as soon as possible.” Fidan, however, remained noncommittal, saying the Turkish parliament could possibly ratify Sweden’s application before the end of 2023. To pass, the vote requires approval by a simple majority of the Turkish parliament, controlled by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party and its coalition allies. Before he instructs his party to approve Sweden’s bid, Erdogan wants assurances that the United States will approve the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. Speaking to reporters in September, Erdogan said, “If they [the United States] keep their promises, our parliament will keep its own promise as well. Turkish parliament will have the final say on Sweden’s NATO membership.”

Earlier in November, Blinken visited Ankara in an attempt to secure humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza. Although Blinken was able to meet with Fidan, he was snubbed by Erdogan due to Washington’s ongoing support for Israel’s war to eliminate Hamas. Erdogan has called Israel a “terror state” and threatened to refer it to the International Criminal Court for allegedly perpetrating crimes against humanity. Turkey does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, instead preferring to call it a group of “mujahadeen” freedom fighters.


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