April 4, 2024 | FDD Tracker: March 5, 2024-April 4, 2024

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: April

April 4, 2024 | FDD Tracker: March 5, 2024-April 4, 2024

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: April

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.

The administration intensified pressure on Israel to reconsider plans to assault Hamas’s final stronghold in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the last refuge for the terror group but also for 1.4 million Palestinian civilians. Jerusalem says victory requires taking Rafah, while the Biden team insists Israel must produce a plan to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Despite this tension, U.S. weapons continue to flow to Israel.

With Ukraine aid funding still stuck in Congress, the White House announced a surprise military assistance package intended to help hold over Ukrainian troops. The relatively small package will not last long, however, and the administration has declined to transfer additional weapons until Congress provides more funding to replace them.

The administration took steps to protect Americans’ data, both through an executive order and by backing legislation that would force China’s ByteDance to divest from TikTok. Back in the physical world, though, the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2025 defense budget would fail to keep pace with inflation, let alone the rapidly growing threat from Beijing. In better news, Biden signed into law renewed compacts with the Pacific Ocean’s strategically vital Freely Associated States after months of delay by Congress.

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


The contentious U.S.-China relationship remains anchored in three areas: technology, trade, and Taiwan. This month, technology was in focus as the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill targeting the Chinese social media platform TikTok. The bipartisan legislation seeks to sever TikTok’s ties with its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, which maintains links to China’s military and government. By forcing ByteDance to sell TikTok to a U.S. company, legislators hope to limit the Chinese government’s control over TikTok’s content and blunt Beijing’s access to sensitive American user data.

Encouragingly, the Biden administration threw its support behind the bill, urging Senate leadership to put the legislation to a vote. That President Biden supported the legislation even though it could undermine his re-election outreach strategy, which includes using TikTok to reach young voters, underscores the administration’s concerns about the threat posed by Chinese tech infiltration.

Meanwhile, China appears to be ramping up its efforts to interfere in the upcoming U.S. election. U.S. intelligence officials warned this month that Beijing intends to sow societal discord and undermine public trust in democratic processes. By fostering chaos and undermining faith in America’s electoral system, China aims to portray authoritarianism as a more stable alternative and erode global confidence in democratic governance. Nevertheless, the Biden administration has yet to impose any consequences for Beijing’s electoral interference. Without a clear signal that such behavior will be met with significant consequences, China is unlikely to back off, posing an ongoing challenge to U.S. electoral integrity as well as democratic institutions around the world.


The Biden administration issued an executive order limiting the transfer of Americans’ personal genomic, health, and financial data to adversarial states, including Russia and China, to prevent those adversaries from exploiting Americans or using the data to train artificial intelligence algorithms. The president also urged Congress to pass data privacy legislation. A week later, the House unanimously passed a bill banning the sale of similar data to adversaries.

In other news, the Federal Communications Commission voted to formalize the “U.S. Cyber Trust Mark,” a cybersecurity labeling program that will provide consumers with an indication that a device was designed and built with cybersecurity in mind. This will help consumers make educated purchasing decisions. As the program rolls out, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and Justice Department will oversee its enforcement.

On March 25, the Treasury Department released multiple cyber-related sanctions, including designating 13 Russian financial services and technology firms engaged in sanctions evasion using cryptocurrencies. Treasury also sanctioned a front company for the Chinese Ministry of State Security and hackers responsible for cyberattacks on U.S. critical infrastructure. This latter set of sanctions coincided with a Department of Justice indictment and was part of a larger, coordinated effort with the FBI, State Department, and British government.

Finally, the administration announced its proposed FY 2025 budget, which included a steady increase in civilian cybersecurity funding, totaling $13 billion, a roughly 10 percent increase over last year’s request. This presents many great opportunities, but the budget still misses the mark on sufficient funding for all sector risk management agencies.


The Biden administration submitted its FY 2025 budget request to Congress on March 11, asking for $849.8 billion for the Department of Defense. That amount constitutes roughly a 1 percent nominal increase over the FY 2024 request but fails to keep pace with inflation, forcing the Pentagon to cut billions from the previous year’s plan.

Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized the administration for requesting an insufficient level of spending. He panned the budget request for “underfunding key enabling capabilities” needed in the Pacific, “failing to maximize production rates of more than a dozen key munitions,” and “slowing the development and purchase of crucial missile defense programs.”

The Pentagon points to caps in the Financial Responsibility Act of 2023, saying they required the department to make “tough” reductions to some programs. Regardless, the ball is clearly now in Congress’s court to correct the short-sighted strategic mismatch between growing threats and a defense budget failing to keep pace.

Meanwhile, Washington allowed the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution on March 25 that demanded a ceasefire in Gaza but did not condemn Hamas. The Biden administration seems eager to apply more pressure on a democratic ally trying to defend itself than on the brutal terrorist organization that started the war in the first place. The good news is that U.S. weapons continue to flow to Israel. But Washington’s escalating political rhetoric leaves many wondering whether those supplies will continue.

Europe and Russia

Amid the continued congressional delay on Ukraine aid funding, the White House on March 12 announced a $300 million stop-gap assistance package. It included much-needed artillery ammunition taken directly from existing U.S. stocks under presidential drawdown authority (PDA). This was the first such package since December, when the administration decided to forgo its remaining $4.2 billion in PDA because it ran out of funding to replace donated materiel. The administration funded the March 12 package using “unanticipated cost-savings” in Pentagon contracts for replacement equipment. It will likely be a one-off, enough to last Ukraine a few weeks at most. While U.S. officials have reportedly considered tapping the remaining PDA, the administration appears to have decided against it — even though there are important weapons Washington could send Ukraine now without jeopardizing U.S. readiness. Either way, congressional action is needed to sustain Ukraine over the long term. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has promised to move the aid bill after the House returns from recess on April 9.

In worse news, the Biden administration reportedly urged Ukraine to halt its ongoing strike campaign against Russian oil infrastructure. Such facilities are legitimate military targets and a critical revenue generator for Moscow. The White House likely worries that by reducing Russian output, the Ukrainian strike campaign will increase gas prices ahead of the November election. Kyiv has understandably brushed off the U.S. objections. It has every right to do so given that the strikes employ Ukrainian-made drones, not American weapons, and Russia continues to decimate Ukrainian energy infrastructure.


The Biden administration’s Middle East policy is going in circles. Domestic political concerns are trumping practicality, yielding a muddled and short-sighted policy.

On March 20, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the Saudi crown prince. The two leaders had also met on February 5. The State Department issued nearly identical readouts for both meetings. Washington seeks an “enduring end to the crisis in Gaza” and eventually “the establishment of a future Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel,” the department said. It lumped the situation in Gaza with regional “integration” and U.S.-Saudi “bilateral cooperation.”

Prior to the war, Washington, Riyadh, and Jerusalem were approaching a deal whereby Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel in exchange for stronger U.S.-Saudi ties. Now, Washington is inserting the Palestinians at the center of the normalization issue, as President Biden faces growing political pressure to distance himself from Israel ahead of the November election.

Washington has yet to articulate how its new formula will work. Will it insist on the establishment of a Palestinian state as a precondition for normalization, or will the administration simply use the normalization issue to push Jerusalem toward ending the conflict? If Israeli-Saudi normalization is incumbent on “the establishment of a future Palestinian state and security guarantees for Israel,” it would imply that Riyadh will underwrite the security guarantees.

Israeli-Saudi normalization would promote regional stability and prosperity. Linking it to the Palestinian cause might make political sense, but Washington would be foolish to hold normalization hostage to an Israeli-Palestinian peace process that may never yield results.


With Washington focused on conflicts in Ukraine and Israel, China continues to probe U.S. resolve around the Philippines. Chinese Coast Guard vessels again fired water cannons on Philippine ships resupplying a contested South China Sea outpost that Beijing erroneously claims as its own. These deliberate, short-of-war confrontations against a U.S. treaty ally serve as a litmus test for the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy. By casting doubt on Washington’s willingness to respond more forcefully to China’s illegal maritime incursions, Beijing aims to undermine U.S. credibility and deterrence in this volatile region.

Although U.S. Secretary of Defense Austin has reaffirmed Washington’s ironclad security commitment to the Philippines, the Biden administration has yet to impose any costs on China to prevent further escalation. Absent more robust pushback, China could conclude that its approach is paying dividends, potentially leading to overconfidence on Beijing’s part. Such overconfidence could escalate tensions and lead to a full-blown crisis between Beijing and Washington, the latter being bound by treaty to protect the Philippines from foreign attack.

In positive news, after months of delay, the renewed Compacts of Free Association were signed into law as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2024. These important agreements grant the United States exclusive military access to the Freely Associated States (FAS) — Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Micronesia — until 2043 while providing economic assistance to FAS citizens. The passage of this landmark legislation underscores the Biden administration’s commitment to deepening Indo-Pacific partnerships, especially crucial as China tests regional boundaries.

International Organizations

The Biden administration abandoned its defense of Israel at the United Nations in March. Instead, the administration opted to use the UN Security Council to put pressure on America’s democratic ally.

On March 22, the United States proposed a Security Council resolution opposing an Israeli military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where Hamas is preparing to make its last stand. China and Russia vetoed the resolution because it still condemned Hamas as a terrorist organization, condemned Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, and urged a temporary ceasefire in Gaza in connection with the release of Israeli hostages.

On March 25, however, the United States abstained from a vote on an alternative draft that excluded any mention of Hamas or its October 7 massacre. The resolution also decoupled demands for a ceasefire and the release of hostages — a major shift in administration policy. The U.S. abstention allowed the resolution to pass with Russian and Chinese support, handing Moscow and Beijing a victory. Worse, the administration subjected its ally to mounting political pressure even as Israeli troops are fighting against a terrorist organization and Israeli negotiators are trying to secure the release of more hostages.

The following day, a special rapporteur from the UN Human Rights Council submitted a report alleging Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. The report effectively denies Israel’s right to self-defense and ignores the extensive measures Israel takes to avoid civilian casualties. Yet the Biden administration still refuses to acknowledge that rejoining the council was a mistake.


The Biden administration continued its policy of accommodation toward Iran despite Tehran’s increased threats to the United States. On March 13, just six weeks after Iran-backed militias had killed three American soldiers serving in Jordan, the State Department renewed a sanctions waiver giving Iran access to upwards of $10 billion held in Oman. This was the second extension of a 120-day waiver first issued last July as part of an unacknowledged nuclear deal with Iran.

On March 14, the Financial Times revealed that Washington and Tehran had held secret, indirect talks earlier this year regarding Iran’s nuclear program and attacks in the Red Sea by the Tehran-backed Houthis. Those attacks continued in earnest throughout March, with the Houthis conducting additional anti-ship ballistic missile and drone attacks targeting U.S. Navy forces and commercial vessels. According to the Financial Times, the United States lacks solid intelligence on the size and scope of Houthi capabilities.

Perhaps hoping to expand last year’s nuclear arrangement with Iran, the United States dissuaded its European allies from censuring Tehran at the March meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors. Washington refrained from taking this measure even though Iran continues to expand its stockpile of highly enriched uranium and is racing forward with the construction of a potentially impenetrable underground enrichment facility.

Finally, President Biden botched an opportunity to signal support for the Iranian people when he pivoted to discussing Gaza during his message celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year.


The Biden administration frantically pressured Israel to forgo an assault on Rafah in southern Gaza, Hamas’s last bastion. While Hamas itself rejected ceasefire proposals, President Biden faces mounting domestic political pressure to address Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and distance himself from Israel.

In early March, the White House hosted Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main challenger, in a visit not approved by Bibi. Biden later expressed support for a speech by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calling for Netanyahu’s ouster. Speaking from Tel Aviv on March 22, Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeated the administration’s position that a ground operation in Rafah is not the way to defeat Hamas.

On March 25, despite another ceasefire rejection by Hamas, Washington allowed the UN Security Council to pass a resolution that broke with prior U.S. policy by decoupling demands for an immediate ceasefire and the release of Hamas-held hostages. Netanyahu responded by canceling a visit to Washington by a high-level Israeli delegation, although Israel’s defense minister met with his U.S. counterpart the next day and tried to smooth over the tensions. U.S. and Israeli officials met virtually on April 1 and plan to meet in person later in April.

On the other hand, the State Department confirmed that Israel’s military is complying with international law and Jerusalem is not blocking humanitarian assistance to Gaza. And while an Israeli official accused Washington of slow-rolling military aid, the administration quietly authorized weapons transfers to Israel worth billions.


Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended a sanctions reporting mandate for the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea. China abstained from the vote. Moscow is protecting North Korea as Pyongyang continues to transfer weapons to Russia for use against Ukraine. The Kremlin also no doubt hopes to prevent accurate reporting about Moscow’s (and Beijing’s) violations of North Korea sanctions.

The panel’s final annual report found that Pyongyang last year stole $750 million in cryptocurrency and funded 40 percent of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs through illicit cyberattacks. The panel also found that Pyongyang likely imported more than three times the amount of petroleum permitted by UN sanctions, much of it provided by Russia.

Meanwhile, North Korea may be expanding its uranium enrichment site at Kangson, although the evidence is inconclusive. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un issued a directive last year to expand nuclear weapons production. Also, in mid-March, Kim supervised tests of nuclear-capable rocket launchers designed to hit South Korea. This came a day after North Korea tested short-range ballistic missiles off its eastern coast.

On March 27, Washington sanctioned eight individuals and entities that generate revenue for Pyongyang’s WMD programs. However, the Biden administration still has not issued many significant North Korea sanctions, such as penalties against Chinese banks that facilitate Pyongyang’s illicit activity. Thanks to this inaction, coupled with Russia and China’s refusal to enforce UN sanctions against Pyongyang, the North Korea sanctions regime continues to atrophy.

Latin America

Washington and Buenos Aires continue to bolster their bilateral relations. The Biden administration approved the transfer of F-16s from Denmark to Argentina’s air force. The U.S. Coast Guard is sending a destroyer to boost Argentina’s efforts to combat Chinese illegal fishing in the South Atlantic. And the two countries have signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on cybersecurity issues.

Nevertheless, the region remains fraught with crises requiring U.S. leadership. Haiti’s descent into chaos poses a unique challenge to the Biden administration, caught between the need to curb migration and its reluctance to deploy forces to restore order on the island. Ecuador is still grappling with unprecedented levels of violence, as underscored by the recent murder of the country’s youngest mayor, Brigitte Garcia. And Venezuela continues to defy Washington’s support for free and fair elections.

Despite Washington’s threat to reimpose sanctions on Venezuela after the Maduro regime refused to allow the country’s main opposition leader to run for president, the regime doubled down. Caracas barred Corina Yoris, an alternative candidate, from registering her candidacy. Venezuelan authorities also rounded up opposition figures on bogus charges of conspiracy against the government.

In a departure from his previous equivocation about Maduro’s authoritarian crackdown, Brazil’s president, Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, criticized Caracas’s exclusion of a credible opposition candidate from its upcoming elections. Mexico, however, remains unwilling to condemn Maduro’s brazen violation of the Barbados Agreement, which committed Venezuela to free and fair elections in 2024 in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions.


Even as Hezbollah’s attacks against Israel escalated throughout March, the Biden administration stuck to its efforts to appease the terror group in the hope of brokering a ceasefire.

Back in February, Axios reported that U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein aimed to broker a deal that would see Hezbollah forces freeze in place. Hezbollah troops currently near the Israel-Lebanon border would not have to withdraw, but the group could not redeploy the forces it had removed from the border area since October 7 due to Israeli airstrikes. This condition still would not satisfy UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which requires all Hezbollah forces to remain behind the Litani River.

But now, according to Lebanese newspaper Nidaa al-Watan, Hochstein has dropped even that demand. Instead, the U.S. envoy is merely aiming for guarantees from Israel and Hezbollah not to resume fighting. Meanwhile, Hochstein will seek to resolve Israel and Lebanon’s border demarcation dispute at a later stage and will work at some point to draw up a roadmap leading to the full implementation of Resolution 1701. Hochstein is reportedly trying to achieve these results both by loosening demands of Hezbollah and by offering Beirut financial incentives. These include the resumption of oil and gas exploration in Lebanon and U.S. sanctions exemptions allowing Beirut to import Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity through Syria.

In effect, the administration is capitulating to Hezbollah’s violence and to the Lebanese state’s exploitation of that violence, all in exchange for no durable or credible guarantees on Hezbollah’s part.

Nonproliferation and Biodefense

The U.S. energy secretary called on Congress to pass a ban on American imports of Russian-enriched uranium. This would unlock $2.75 billion in congressional funding for domestic production of a needed next-generation reactor fuel. The House passed legislation requiring a ban last December, but the Senate’s version remains stalled. The White House is reportedly also considering an executive ban on such imports, since U.S. nuclear utilities are increasingly prepared to replace Russian fuel supplies. Washington has yet to enact broad sanctions against Moscow’s nuclear energy sector or articulate a strategy to eliminate U.S. and allied dependence on Russian nuclear commodities and services, which provide an important source of revenue and international influence for the Kremlin.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general visited Iraq and Syria to discuss new nuclear cooperation with the two countries, which both have a history of proliferation. While Iraq has changed governance, Syria’s Assad regime remains in longstanding non-compliance with its nonproliferation obligations. In 2007, Israel destroyed a secret nuclear reactor Damascus built with North Korean help. Syria has yet to cooperate with the IAEA on outstanding issues or on IAEA questions about three related sites. Thus, the IAEA may be unwisely rewarding Damascus with technical assistance before the regime returns to compliance.

The United States reportedly accused Niger of negotiating a secret uranium deal with Iran, which has jeopardized critical U.S.-Niger counterterrorism cooperation in Africa. Tehran has long faced a shortage of uranium to fuel its uranium enrichment program, which appears best suited for a nuclear weapons program.

Sunni Jihadism

A team of terrorists from Islamic State’s Khorasan Province, which is based in Central Asia, attacked a concert hall just outside Moscow. The gunmen killed more than 140 civilians and injured hundreds more. In the weeks prior, U.S. officials had publicly and privately warned Russian authorities that the Islamic State was planning to attack public gatherings. Vladimir Putin publicly brushed off the warnings prior to the attack, and Russian officials have since attempted to shift the blame to Ukraine and the West.

Meanwhile, Niger’s junta said it revoked a deal allowing U.S. personnel to operate in the country. The American military has used two bases in Niger to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions targeting the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Sahel. However, U.S. Defense Department officials have said they have not received a formal request to leave. The loss of the bases, combined with the ouster of French troops from Niger and Mali, will severely hamper Western efforts to prevent the expansion of terror groups in the region. The United States has not been able to use the bases since the junta launched a coup d’état in July 2023.

The Afghan Taliban and Pakistani military clashed along their shared border after Pakistani forces targeted elements of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan that are based in Afghanistan’s Paktika and Khost provinces. The fighting has since subsided. The Afghan Taliban denied that the Pakistani Taliban or any foreign terror group operates in Afghanistan, despite copious evidence to the contrary.


The Treasury Department announced sanctions on March 26 against 11 targets involved in the Syrian regime’s narco-trafficking and illicit financial networks. The narco-trafficking targets included Taher al-Kayali and his company, Neptunus LLC, whom investigative journalists identified in 2021 as key players in the shipment to Europe of Captagon, an amphetamine-like drug that is a major revenue generator for Damascus. The European Union imposed sanctions on Kayali and Neptunus last year, an indication that the Biden administration remains slow to act against Syrian regime networks. The latest sanctions represent a step forward nonetheless, building on March 2023 designations that came in response to growing bipartisan pressure from Congress to address Captagon trafficking more expeditiously.

Treasury’s March 26 sanctions package also targeted three entities that helped the Syrian regime make illicit payments to foreign partners, in addition to a trio involved in evading sanctions via the exportation of natural resources, especially phosphate. These designations represent a partial corrective to the Biden administration’s long-running refusal to designate any economically significant targets in Syria, consistent with its policy of quietly encouraging Arab governments to normalize relations with Damascus. A critical test of the administration’s intentions toward Syria will be its stance toward the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act, which the House approved by a vote of 389-29 in February. If the White House facilitates the passage of a companion bill in the Senate, it would mark a new readiness to hold the Syrian regime accountable for its crimes.


On March 7-8, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan visited Washington for talks as part of the so-called “U.S.-Turkey Strategic Mechanism.” Following Fidan’s meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the two countries released a joint statement affirming “their commitment to a results-oriented, forward-looking, positive bilateral agenda.” In other words, Washington and Ankara signaled they hope to put their differences behind them. They discussed the conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine, and Syria as well as enhancing counterterrorism, defense, and economic cooperation, among other issues.

Fidan used the visit to inform Washington of Turkey’s plans to expand its military operations in northern Syria and Iraq, where Ankara is keen to degrade Kurdish military forces. Ankara hopes to convince Washington to end its support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the United States considers to be a key partner in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State, whereas Ankara sees the SDF as a terrorist organization. Turkey has not announced a date for the operation but has struck the SDF hundreds of times, particularly since the beginning of the war in Gaza. A larger Turkish military offensive could upend ongoing counter-ISIS operations. During Fidan’s visit, Washington and Ankara announced that they had relaunched bilateral counterterrorism consultations, which the administration hopes will mollify Turkish concerns.

Additionally, Ankara and Washington hold divergent views on the war in Gaza. While the Biden administration does not recognize Hamas as the representative of the Palestinian people, Erdogan recently declared that “Turkey is a country that firmly stands behind Hamas.”


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