March 4, 2024 | FDD Tracker: February 3, 2024-March 4, 2024

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: March

March 4, 2024 | FDD Tracker: February 3, 2024-March 4, 2024

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: March

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.

While this publication focuses principally on the administration’s policies, successful U.S. foreign policy requires both the executive and legislative branches to play a constructive role. Congress is currently failing to hold up its end. The most acute issue is Ukraine aid, which remains stuck in the House despite Kyiv’s increasingly dire battlefield challenges. Congress also has yet to approve funding for an agreement to maintain the U.S. relationship with the strategically vital Freely Associated States in the Pacific. In addition, lawmakers are again forcing the Pentagon to rely on continuing resolutions rather than a timely budget, wasting precious time in America’s competition with China.

In other news, the United States conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in response to a drone attack by an Iranian-backed militia last month that killed three American service members. The administration has refrained from striking within Iran itself. So far, attacks against U.S. forces have subsided. Whether that will last remains unclear. Meanwhile, U.S.-Israel tensions are mounting as Jerusalem looks to knock Hamas out of the southern Gaza city of Rafah while the Biden team pushes for a truce.

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


Despite multiple high-level diplomatic engagements between the Biden administration and Beijing, China’s provocations continue unabated. Chinese forces continue to harass Taiwan and China’s other neighbors. Beijing also reaffirmed its “no limits partnership” with Russia and its plans to sustain “close personal interactions” with Russian officials, with Russian President Vladimir Putin expected to travel to China this year for meetings with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. This announcement came amid mounting evidence that Chinese entities continue to help Russia’s defense industry evade Western sanctions and export controls.

In addition, the U.S. government uncovered a sophisticated hacking campaign by a Chinese state-directed cyber group dubbed “Volt Typhoon.” The hackers are targeting U.S. critical infrastructure, such as U.S. naval ports, internet service providers, and utilities. In addition to helping Beijing intercept and manipulate vast quantities of American data, these cyber operations could allow China to impede the mobilization of American military forces and foment societal disarray during war and short-of-war scenarios involving Taiwan.

These latest incidents underscore the gravity of China’s aggressive behavior and its implications for U.S. national security. Despite well-intentioned U.S. diplomatic engagement, Beijing’s actions have only exacerbated tensions, raising doubts about the effectiveness of the Biden administration’s engagement strategy. Moreover, the lack of meaningful repercussions for China’s behavior risks emboldening further aggression. The White House has shown little willingness to hold China accountable or impose consequences. As Beijing ramps up its interference in the upcoming U.S. election, bilateral relations are set to deteriorate further.


The Biden administration took meaningful strides toward securing the nation’s maritime port cybersecurity in an executive order issued on February 21. The cybersecurity of the U.S. marine transportation system is critical to military mobility and economic productivity. The executive order seeks to ensure the system’s cybersecurity through four lines of effort: giving the U.S. Coast Guard the authority to address cyber threats; addressing risks associated with Chinese-made ship-to-shore cranes; establishing minimum cybersecurity requirements for ports; and investing over $20 billion in port infrastructure, specifically aimed at producing cranes from trusted manufacturers. The order is part of a larger effort to phase out certain Chinese-produced infrastructure because of the threat posed by possible backdoor vulnerabilities.

The Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation worked with international partners to disrupt LockBit, a ransomware-as-a-service group that has extracted more than $120 million in ransom payments. The law enforcement agencies seized public-facing websites and servers used by LockBit administrators, limiting the group’s ability to attack networks and extort its victims.

Similarly, the Justice Department neutralized hundreds of routers being used by Russia for espionage and data extraction against the United States and other governments. The routers were small office and home office routers infected with a botnet to give the Russian military unauthorized access.

General Timothy Haugh assumed command of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, replacing General Paul Nakasone. President Biden first nominated Haugh for the position in May 2023 but was delayed due to the broad block imposed by Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).


In response to the January 28 drone strike by an Iran-backed militia that killed three American servicemembers at a small base in Jordan, U.S. military forces struck seven facilities in Iraq and Syria on February 2, including more than 85 targets. A few days later, U.S. forces killed the Kataib Hezbollah commander responsible for planning and participating in attacks. Attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria subsided following that February 7 strike. That respite is likely temporary, however, as there are indications that militias are preparing for the next round of violence.

Meanwhile, the Iranian-backed Houthis continued to attack international shipping in and near the Red Sea. On February 18, a Houthi attack on a commercial vessel resulted in an 18-mile oil slick, causing significant environmental damage. The next day, the Houthis attacked a U.S.-owned vessel attempting to deliver grain to hungry people in Yemen. Earlier in February, the Defense Intelligence Agency released a report confirming that Iran “enabled” the Houthi strike campaign by providing the terrorist group with missile and drone capabilities. Tehran has also provided planning and intelligence support for the Houthi strikes.

The Biden administration continued to work with allies and partners to defend international merchant vessels, with mixed success. Meanwhile, U.S. and UK forces, supported by half a dozen other countries, periodically conducted strikes in Yemen designed to degrade Houthi maritime strike capacity. That effort may fall short if more is not done to stop the flow of Iranian weapons to the Houthis.

Europe and Russia

Ukraine aid remains stuck in limbo. After months of delay, Congress still has yet to pass supplemental assistance funding. This inaction has exacerbated Kyiv’s “shell hunger,” fueling recent Russian gains. In mid-February, Russia took Avdiivka, a small city in eastern Ukraine. Russian forces are now pressing forward west of Avdiivka and elsewhere.

After President Biden sent Congress his aid funding request last October, some Republicans insisted it be paired with border security measures. A compromise bill emerged stillborn in early February after months of bipartisan negotiations, with House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) declaring the legislation “dead on arrival.” The Senate then passed standalone aid legislation, which Johnson again rejected. A majority of the House, including many Republicans, stands ready to vote for Ukraine aid. But it remains unclear when — and how — a bill will reach the floor. It could be months. Ukraine cannot afford to wait that long.

As Congress dithers, the Pentagon is reportedly considering a potential stopgap measure. Although the administration says it is “out of money” for Ukraine aid, it actually retains over $4 billion in presidential drawdown authority, or PDA. Until late December, Washington had used PDA to send Ukraine regular deliveries of materiel drawn directly from existing U.S. stocks. The PDA itself remains available, but the administration chose to forgo it because funding to replace the donated equipment ran out. While the administration is obviously right to prioritize American troops, there are important things Washington could send Ukraine now without compromising U.S. readiness. Ultimately, though, Congress will still need to act.


Qatar’s cozy ties with Hamas might help reach humanitarian pauses in the Gaza war. But Doha’s sponsorship of Hamas and other terror groups should also ring alarm bells in Washington. Unfortunately, the United States continues to ignore this reality. During a meeting with his Qatari counterpart on February 6, Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Qatar as “a partner” in keeping “diplomacy moving forward toward an integrated and more secure region.”

President Biden declared Qatar a Major Non-NATO Ally in March 2022. Qatar hosts America’s biggest military base in the Middle East and just extended the lease for another decade. But Qatar also hosts Hamas leaders and has supported various other terror groups around the region. Qatari sponsorship of Hamas has raised questions about what Doha knew about the October 7 massacre of 1,200 Israelis and when it knew it.

Qatar uses its muscular soft power, particularly the Al-Jazeera network, to thrash America and the West, promote antisemitism, and propagandize for terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Syria’s Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, and the Taliban. Other Qatari media outlets similarly instigate against the United States. This state-sponsored editorial policy has raised the ire of America and its Gulf allies. In October, Blinken asked Qatar to rein in Al-Jazeera, to no avail.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad, the emir of Qatar, openly received Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh in late February. According to the readout, Tamim told Haniyeh that “Qatari support for the Palestinian people is permanent.” Doha clearly does not differentiate between the Palestinian people and Hamas.


Congress still has yet to approve a key agreement between the United States and the three Freely Associated States — Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Marshall Islands. The agreement, concluded months ago, would renew key components of the Compacts of Free Association (COFA). Chief among them is a U.S. commitment to provide financial assistance and other services to these islands in exchange for exclusive military access, which provides the United States with important strategic benefits. However, despite bipartisan support for the COFA renewal, Congress continues to leave the future of this crucial partnership in limbo.

This delay not only jeopardizes the stability and security of the Indo-Pacific region but also plays directly into China’s hands. Beijing is already leveraging the situation to undermine these islands’ relationships with the United States. For instance, Palau’s President Surangel Whipps Jr. highlighted China’s offer to “fill every hotel room” in Palau and provide additional investment in Palau’s economy should it sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Still unclear is what, if anything, the White House is doing to convince Capitol Hill to move forward on this crucial issue.

Meanwhile, hopes of advancing a new U.S.-led trade pact with Indo-Pacific partners appear increasingly dim, as the Biden administration continues to prioritize domestic political considerations over regional alliances. America’s lack of leadership on Indo-Pacific trade undermines U.S. efforts to counter China’s economic influence in the region, likely sowing further doubts about Washington’s commitment to uphold its economic promises.

International Organizations

The Biden administration defended Israel within international organizations, albeit alongside moves that undercut Jerusalem over the long run. At the UN Security Council, Washington vetoed an Algerian draft resolution that called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza while ignoring Hamas’s crimes against humanity and Israel’s right to defend itself. The administration, however, also floated its own resolution, which opposed Israel’s seizing control of Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, where Hamas is preparing to make its last stand. In effect, Washington opposed Israeli victory against Hamas.

The United States urged the International Court of Justice not to issue an advisory opinion declaring Israeli presence in the West Bank to be a violation of international law. A U.S. envoy argued such an opinion would not help bring peace between Palestinians and Israelis. But two days later, the State Department, in a reversal of U.S. policy, declared Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration remains committed to U.S. participation in the UN Human Rights Council even as the body’s so-called experts issued a statement accusing Israel of violating women’s rights in the West Bank and Gaza. The council’s experts apparently seek to replace the reality of Hamas’s sexual crimes on October 7 (on which the experts remain silent) with unsubstantiated allegations of Israeli abuse of Palestinian women.

Finally, the Biden administration continued negotiating over a UN cybercrime treaty that China and Russia may use to legitimize internal censorship and population control — though the draft’s future is still in doubt.


The Biden administration kept in effect a sanctions waiver allowing Iran to access $10 billion in frozen funds. The administration also showed no signs of cracking down on Iranian oil exports to China. Washington is rewarding Tehran despite its continued uranium enrichment, expanded support for Russia, human rights abuses, and terror proxy escalation.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi warned that Iran continues to stockpile uranium enriched well beyond the level needed for civilian energy purposes. Tehran also continues to restrict IAEA access to its nuclear facilities, Grossi said. Meanwhile, the former chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization boasted that Tehran has all the components needed to create a nuclear weapon.

Reuters reported that Tehran had sent around 400 short-range ballistic missiles to Russia. Washington said it could not confirm the report but promised a tough response. The administration later designated Russian and Iranian sanctions busters aiding Russia’s war against Ukraine. However, the administration has not rescinded Tehran’s sanctions relief or discussed restoring a UN embargo banning Iranian missile transfers.

The regime continued to crack down on internet-surfing platforms, religious minorities, the families of previous political prisoners, and diaspora dissenters — all in the face of U.S. rhetoric condemning the Islamic Republic’s abuses. The Iran-backed Houthis, meanwhile, continued their missile and drone attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. In response to an attack by another Iran-backed militia that killed three American troops, Washington conducted airstrikes against Iran-allied militia groups in Iraq and Syria but refrained from striking inside Iran itself.


Cracks in the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s war against Hamas are expanding as President Biden faces political pressure to reduce assistance ahead of November’s presidential election.

The administration on February 1 sanctioned four Israelis over West Bank violence. The order could harm all West Bank Israelis financially and bolster the International Criminal Court’s claims to jurisdiction over Israel even though Israel is not a party to the treaty that established the court. Consequently, the United Kingdom and France issued their own sanctions. Washington is reportedly readying a second round of sanctions.

On February 23, Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Israeli plans to build new houses in the West Bank, saying it is “inconsistent with international law,” reversing a Trump-era pronouncement. Meanwhile, Biden called Israel’s war effort “over the top,” and Blinken implied that Israel was using Hamas’s October 7 attack as “a license to dehumanize” Palestinians.

At the International Court of Justice, the United States delivered a powerful defense of Israel. Washington also vetoed a biased United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, although the United States proposed another resolution calling for Israel not to enter Rafah. The White House has exerted considerable pressure on Israel not to operate in Rafah, where Hamas fighters remain among hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians.

Instead, Washington says a Ramadan ceasefire is near that would see Hamas release the remaining Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian terrorists. Israeli operations in Rafah during Ramadan could ignite regional tensions.


February 17 marked the 10th anniversary of a landmark UN report on the human rights situation in North Korea. The report detailed the Kim regime’s crimes against humanity, cautioning that the atrocities at North Korea’s political prison camps “resemble the horrors of camps that totalitarian States established during the twentieth century.” North Korea holds an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people in these camps. In a press release marking the anniversary, the State Department noted that “the situation in the DPRK has only worsened.” The department called on Pyongyang to “initiate a reform process,” while urging the international community to take “immediate action.”

North Koreans also face abuses outside their home country. A New Yorker investigation published last month revealed that North Korean laborers work in deplorable conditions in seafood processing plants in Dandong, China. According to a 2023 State Department report, 20,000 to 100,000 North Koreans work in China, and the Kim regime keeps 90 percent of their earnings, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars annually. UN sanctions, which Beijing supported, required countries to expel all North Korean workers by December 2019.

Despite Pyongyang’s ongoing abuses, the Biden administration continued its ineffective North Korea sanctions policy. While the administration in February issued symbolic sanctions in response to North Korea’s transfer of munitions to Russia for use in Ukraine, these sanctions will not stop the transfers. Instead, the administration should target the Kim regime’s revenue and close loopholes that allow Pyongyang to acquire U.S. technology.

Latin America

Ecuador’s president, Daniel Noboa, ratified two military cooperation agreements with the United States to bolster Ecuador’s fight against organized crime. This comes after the Biden administration dispatched a senior delegation to Quito last month to explore how to expand U.S. assistance to Ecuador.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attended a G20 meeting in Brazil. He missed an opportunity to address stark foreign policy differences with Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, including Brazil’s expansion in trade with Russia.

During a Caribbean Community summit in Guyana, the United States pledged support for a Kenya-led international policing mission in Haiti. At the meeting, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who headed the U.S. delegation, reiterated U.S. support for Guyana in its ongoing territorial dispute with Venezuela while insisting that the United States does not seek a military base in Guyana. Despite U.S. support for Guyana, Venezuela has bolstered its military presence along their shared border.

Last month, the Biden administration rightly reimposed some sanctions on Venezuela after the Maduro regime refused to allow the country’s main opposition leader, Maria Corina Machado, to run for president. So far, however, the sanctions have not yielded any tangible results. Not only has the regime not reversed its decision to disqualify Machado, but it has also halted repatriation flights for migrants who illegally entered the United States. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s state-owned and U.S.-sanctioned airline, Conviasa, continues to transport migrants from Cuba to Nicaragua on their way to the Rio Grande, helping fuel America’s border crisis.


Over the past month, Hezbollah’s attacks against Israel have escalated, as has Israel’s response. On February 27 alone, the terror organization fired 60 rockets into Israeli territory.

Hoping to prevent a larger conflict, the Biden administration continued its efforts to appease Hezbollah. The administration is reportedly seeking a ceasefire agreement akin to Israel and Hezbollah’s so-called “April Understanding” in 1996. That deal ended Israel’s Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon but effectively legitimized Hezbollah’s attacks against Israeli forces in southern Lebanon and gave the group an international imprimatur as a “resistance organization.”

To sweeten the deal, the Biden administration, along with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy, reportedly plans to announce measures to boost Lebanon’s ailing economy. This assistance would alleviate pressure on Lebanon’s corrupt political class, which has stubbornly refused to enact economic or political reforms. But the aid would also ease the constraints Lebanon’s economic collapse has placed on Hezbollah’s ability to engage in destabilizing actions.

Per the envisioned agreement, Hezbollah will be required to withdraw just 8 to 10 kilometers from the Israeli border, far below even the minimal requirement imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1701. That resolution requires Hezbollah to remain north of the Litani River, or approximately 40 kilometers from the Lebanon-Israel border. Moreover, the potential agreement appears to contain no credible mechanism to guarantee that Hezbollah forces will not redeploy along the border within a relatively short period of time.

Nonproliferation and Biodefense

The U.S. government reportedly believes that Russia is working on a space-based anti-satellite weapon that could be nuclear-powered or contain a nuclear weapon. Moscow may launch it into orbit this year. The system could violate a 1967 treaty banning nuclear weapons in space. Russia would likely use the weapon to target U.S. or allied satellites, but the collateral damage could also affect additional nations’ satellites. Washington is reportedly trying to convince New Delhi and Beijing to dissuade Moscow from launching the weapon.

Iranian sources told Reuters that Tehran has provided Russia with around 400 ballistic missiles. While there has been no public evidence Iran has actually delivered the missiles, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby indicated Washington expects the deal to go through. The potential missile sale follows a U.S. and European decision last October to allow the lapse of a UN embargo on Iranian missile and drone transfers.

A research group discovered that 75 percent of parts found in a North Korean missile — provided to Russia for use against Ukraine — were of U.S. origin. The finding is unsurprising since Washington does not stringently enforce North Korea sanctions.

The Department of Justice announced the arrest and indictment of Japanese crime syndicate leader Takeshi Ebisawa for attempting to sell uranium and weapons-grade plutonium to undercover U.S. agents in Thailand. Ebisawa allegedly told investigators the nuclear materials came from Burma, but the origin is unclear from the indictment. Ebisawa allegedly believed the nuclear materials were destined for Tehran’s nuclear weapons program.

Sunni Jihadism

Al-Qaeda opened eight new training camps in four provinces in Afghanistan, as well as five madrasas, a weapons depot, and safe houses in Afghanistan, according to the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team. The terror group is now operating training camps in 10 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Al-Qaeda is operating safe houses in three provinces that border Iran. These safe houses are used to facilitate the movement of al-Qaeda leaders and operatives to and from Iran. Al-Qaeda established the weapons depot in the central province of Panjshir, the former bastion of the anti-Taliban resistance. The UN team also reported that the “relationship between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remains close.” Meanwhile, China officially recognized a former Taliban spokesman as Afghanistan’s envoy in Beijing. The Taliban boycotted a United Nations conference because of the presence of “women’s rights groups, the European Union and representatives of Afghan civil society.”

In support of Somali government forces, the U.S. military conducted airstrikes on February 9 and February 15 against terrorists from al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s branch in East Africa. U.S. Africa Command describes al-Shabaab as “the largest and most deadly al-Qaeda network in the world,” with the “will and capability to attack U.S. forces and threaten U.S. security interests.”


February began with the retaliation President Biden had promised after a drone attack by an Iran-backed militia killed three American troops at a base on the Jordan-Syria border. On February 2, U.S. airstrikes hit over 85 targets at seven locations in Syria and Iraq. Days later, a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed Abu Baqir al-Saadi, a senior commander in Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Shiite terror group. Al-Saadi, who commanded Kataib Hezbollah operations in Syria, was “responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region,” the Pentagon said. Reportedly at Tehran’s insistence, Iran-backed militias have not responded with force to the American retaliation. Yet Tehran itself paid no price for the aggression it has sponsored against the United States, so the deterrence achieved may be fleeting.

On February 14, the House voted overwhelmingly, 389-29, to pass the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act, which tightens sanctions on the dictatorship of Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad. The bill extends through 2032 a set of sanctions that were set to expire this year and directs the president to sanction those responsible for the regime’s wholesale theft of humanitarian aid. The bill would also block the executive branch from supporting a proposed regional energy deal that could have netted tens of millions of dollars for Assad. Companion legislation in the Senate includes similar provisions, although its prospects for reaching the floor are uncertain. Both bills cut against the grain of Biden’s Syria policy, which has quietly encouraged Arab governments to engage with Assad.


Congress greenlit U.S. plans to sell Turkey 40 new F-16 fighter jets along with upgrades for 79 older F-16s, plus related equipment and munitions. The United States and Turkey reached the $23 billion deal in January following Ankara’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership, which Turkey had been holding up since 2022 in a bid to secure the F-16 sale. Days after Turkey formally ratified Sweden’s accession, the Biden administration in January formally notified Congress of its decision to proceed with the deal. Congress had 15 days to object to the sale. That deadline expired on February 11 with no objections, thus allowing the sale to proceed. U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Jeff Flake commended, “the U.S. Congress for approving this F-16 sale on a bipartisan basis. This is good for our security and for the security of our allies.”

Although Congress approved the sale, the conditions of the actual transfer of planes and equipment are unclear. Greek media reported that the administration gave assurances to Congress that the transfer could be jeopardized — even terminated — if Turkey were “to conduct repeated incursions against the internationally recognized borders of another NATO ally,” referring to Greece. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, denied the existence of any conditions attached to the sale. The timeline of when Turkey will begin to receive the new jets is also uncertain, with estimates suggesting that it will not take place until 2028 or 2029.


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