September 1, 2023 | FDD Tracker: August 3-September 1, 2023

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: September

September 1, 2023 | FDD Tracker: August 3-September 1, 2023

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: September

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.

Aiming to curtail Beijing’s ability to exploit American technology, the Biden administration moved to restrict U.S. investment in China. At the same time, President Joe Biden dispatched Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to China as part of his — so far unsuccessful — effort to establish a “floor” under ever-worsening relations between Washington and Beijing. Biden did, however, score a big win with a U.S.-Japan-South Korea summit at Camp David, where leaders from the three countries pledged to step up trilateral cooperation.

Meanwhile, Biden has asked Congress for another $24 billion in Ukraine-related funding. As debate heats up in Congress and among GOP presidential candidates, the White House is falling short in explaining to the American people why support for Ukraine serves U.S. interests. A spate of press leaks by administration officials expressing pessimism about Kyiv’s military prospects has only exacerbated skepticism regarding Ukraine aid.

In the Middle East, the administration continues to pursue a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia but has put the potential deal in jeopardy by demanding Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the White House struck a hostage-swap deal with Iran that will grant Tehran access to $6 billion.

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


President Biden diverged from established diplomatic protocol this month when he referred to China as “a ticking time bomb” whose economy is in “trouble.” Biden’s comments correspond with myriad indicators that China’s economic woes are indeed worsening. China’s economic conundrum was made worse by the Biden administration’s decision to issue a long-anticipated executive order targeting U.S. outbound investment in certain Chinese high-tech industries.

Specifically, the order directs the Treasury Department, in coordination with other U.S. agencies, to draft regulations that prohibit certain financial transactions involving “covered national security technologies and products,” including semiconductors, microelectronics, quantum information technology, and artificial intelligence. These sectors are deemed critical for China’s military, intelligence, surveillance, and cyber-related development. The order represents an important step in Washington’s efforts to counter China’s military-civil fusion, a Chinese strategy that aims to obtain the world’s cutting-edge technology, including through theft, to achieve military dominance.

Nevertheless, the Biden administration erred in dispatching Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to Beijing after Microsoft reported Chinese-based hackers illegally accessed her official email. To date, Raimondo has refused to acknowledge the full extent of China’s hacking activities, which appear aimed at uncovering information about Raimondo and other U.S. officials crafting China policy. Regardless, Raimondo’s trip is unlikely to significantly alter the downward trajectory of U.S.-China relations or result in any meaningful deliverables.

Still unclear is whether Chinese leader Xi Jinping will travel to San Francisco this fall for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which could set the stage for his first interaction with Biden in nearly a year.


Acting National Cyber Director Kemba Walden announced the release of the National Cyber Workforce and Education Strategy, which provides a roadmap to fill the hundreds of thousands of vacant cybersecurity jobs in the United States. The strategy is divided into four fundamental pillars: equipping Americans with cyber skills, transforming cyber education, expanding the workforce, and strengthening the federal cyber workforce. The strategy aims to grow both the federal and private-sector cyber workforces to meet growing challenges in cyberspace.

The Department of Homeland Security announced the availability of more resources in the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program, a fund that issues grants to state and local governments to increase cyber resilience against ransomware and other cyberattacks. Now entering its second year, the program made available almost $375 million out of the $1 billion that will be awarded over 4 years.

The Department of Justice indicted two founders of Tornado Cash, a cryptocurrency mixer that the Treasury Department previously sanctioned for assisting North Korean hackers in laundering stolen digital assets. Roman Storm, one of the founders, was arrested in Washington State. North Korea continues to function as a cybercriminal gang masquerading as a nation-state.

In another effort to combat cybercrime, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released the Remote Monitoring and Management Cyber Defense Plan. Under the plan, CISA will collaborate with the private sector to focus on vulnerability information sharing, industry coordination, end-user education, and amplification to overcome exploitable vulnerabilities in remote monitoring and management tools.


In a significant diplomatic achievement, President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol met at Camp David on August 18 to inaugurate what they called a “new era of trilateral partnership.” In the defense domain, the agreements reached included “committing to a multi-year trilateral framework that includes annual, multi-domain trilateral exercises” and “activating a data-sharing mechanism to exchange real-time missile warning data that will improve mutual detection and assessment of [North Korean] missile launches,” according to a statement by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. He said the three governments will also leverage “existing secure lines of communications while continuing to build and institutionalize our respective communication channels.” If fully implemented, these agreements can help strengthen deterrence, promote regional stability, and secure the interests of Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul. Predictably, Beijing and Pyongyang were not enthused by the summit.

As Republican presidential candidates debated the merits of assistance to Ukraine, the Pentagon announced the latest package of military assistance for Kyiv on August 29. This tranche, which is valued at $250 million and drawn from Department of Defense inventories, includes AIM-9M missiles for air defense, additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), 155mm and 105mm artillery rounds, mine-clearing equipment, anti-armor missiles, obstacle-clearing munitions, and more. Washington has committed more than $43 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia launched its February 24, 2022, invasion. That amount is equivalent to approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. spending on the Department of Defense over the same period.

Europe and Russia

Following up on the G7’s Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine in July, the Biden administration on August 3 announced that U.S. and Ukrainian officials met to “begin negotiations on long-term security commitments between the two countries.” The administration said it will focus on supporting Ukraine’s military in both the short and long term while also advancing governance and defense reforms in Ukraine. Washington hopes such commitments will convince Moscow it cannot outlast Western support for Ukraine.

In mid-August, the administration formally assured Denmark and the Netherlands that they will receive fast-tracked approval to transfer F-16 fighter aircraft to Kyiv once Ukrainian pilots have finished training. The Pentagon later announced that U.S. personnel “will soon begin training” at least “several” Ukrainian pilots and “dozens” of Ukrainian maintenance personnel on F-16s, complementing training already underway in Europe. Ukrainian pilots will begin English-language training in September and flight training in October.

To help meet Ukraine’s immediate needs, the administration announced a pair of security assistance packages collectively worth $450 million. On August 10, President Biden requested another $24 billion in Ukraine-related funding.

At the same time, administration officials exacerbated congressional skepticism regarding Ukraine aid with a series of press leaks blaming Kyiv for slow progress in its counteroffensive. The administration, beginning with President Biden, also continues to do a poor job of explaining to the American people why supporting Ukraine serves their interests. Rather than focusing on abstract ideas about defending democracy and the rules-based liberal order, Biden’s communications strategy should emphasize that aiding Ukraine makes Americans safer.


Washington has turned what could have been a straightforward normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel into a complicated mega-deal. This has made peace more elusive than existing plans, such as the Arab Peace Initiative (API), which the Arab League approved in Beirut in 2002 and re-endorsed in Jeddah in May.

Riyadh proposed bilateral peace with Jerusalem, independent of API and the Palestinian track with Israel, and tied its new peace proposal to commitments from Washington that would improve Riyadh’s regional position vis-à-vis Tehran. The Saudis demanded that Washington guarantee uninterrupted U.S. arms sales to the kingdom and formally codify the U.S.-Saudi military alliance. Riyadh also insists it should be allowed to achieve nuclear parity with Iran: Whatever concessions Tehran receives regarding enrichment of uranium, the Saudis want the same.

Washington, however, turned the Saudi proposal into a pork barrel. The administration attached its own demands for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. The United States also requested that Riyadh distance itself from Beijing, including by committing never to denominate its energy sales to China in the yuan. Other than promising China that it would consider the issue, Saudi Arabia had not signaled any intention to use the currency of a country whose banking system is restricted by capital controls.

Compared to the skewed API, which has been a non-starter for Israelis, Washington’s diplomacy now looks much worse — unacceptable to both parties, Israel and Saudi Arabia.


The Biden administration this month approved a new $500 million arms sale to Taipei despite fervent objections from Beijing. The deal includes the sale of infrared search tracking systems along with related equipment for advanced F-16 fighter jets. Although the deal is modest in comparison to previous weapons sales, the move is squarely aimed at bolstering the self-governed island nation’s defensive capabilities in light of China’s increasing belligerence in the Taiwan Strait.

The arms deal’s announcement coincided with Defense Secretary Austin’s ninth trip to the Indo-Pacific, where he met with leaders from Papua New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand to discuss strengthening defense cooperation. Austin’s productive trip contrasted sharply with news that a Chinese Coast Guard ship fired a water cannon at a Philippine military vessel resupplying an outpost inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. This latest Chinese provocation occurred as new satellite imagery revealed China is building a 600-meter air strip on a disputed island in the South China Sea claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

These counter-productive actions will likely strengthen the Biden administration’s hand as it seeks to enlist other world leaders, such as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, to make clear to China that the international community will not tolerate aggression in the region. Making matters worse for China, relations between one-time adversaries South Korea and Japan are warming, while President Biden plans to travel to Vietnam after next month’s G20 summit in India.

International Organizations

As the Biden administration marked the two-year anniversary of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) confirmed that the U.S.-sanctioned Taliban is siphoning funds from the more than $2.35 billion in aid that Washington has sent to Afghanistan through various UN mechanisms. “[I]t is no longer a question of whether the Taliban are diverting assistance from our programs to help the Afghan people, but rather how much they are diverting,” the SIGAR said. The United Nations has reportedly tracked 173 Taliban directives related to humanitarian assistance since late 2021, along with 299 incidents of Taliban interference with aid distribution between February and May 2023 alone. Despite the abundant evidence that the United States is indirectly subsidizing the al-Qaeda-allied Taliban, around $1.7 billion in U.S. aid remains available for disbursement, with no controls in place to prevent diversion.

Meanwhile, leaked filings revealed that Canada and the United Kingdom joined with the United States and Israel in opposing an International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion on the legality of Israel’s presence in eastern Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. The Canadian and UK briefs reflect a concerted effort by the Biden administration to stop an ICJ advisory opinion that would be used by Israel’s detractors to justify Boycott, Sanctions, Divestment campaign activities.

Finally, Microsoft warned against a near-final UN cybercrime convention — heavily influenced by Russia and China — that may be used by Moscow, Beijing, and others as legal pretext for domestic surveillance. That the convention was negotiated with the world’s leading state sponsors of cybercrime is certain to make U.S. Senate ratification an uphill battle.


The Biden administration engaged in a ransom-for-hostage agreement with Tehran enabling the Islamic Republic to access — via accounts in Qatar — $6 billion in frozen oil funds previously held in South Korea. Washington will also release five Iranians imprisoned on various charges in exchange for five American-Iranian hostages, leaving at least one U.S. national behind. The agreement will free up revenue for Tehran to continue to support terrorism as well as advance its military and nuclear programs. Additionally, the deal will incentivize the Islamic Republic to take more Americans hostage.

The agreement is likely the latest phase of a larger unwritten nuclear agreement designed to create the perception of nuclear de-escalation by Tehran. Washington issued no designations to enforce oil or petrochemical sanctions against Iran in August. Iran’s oil exports reportedly ranged from 1.4 million to more than 2 million barrels per day.

In better news, the administration sent 3,000 troops to the Middle East in an effort to bolster maritime deterrence against Tehran. The administration is also reportedly considering a plan to place U.S. Marines on civilian vessels.

But Iran continued to expand military ties with Russia. Iranian officials participated in the Moscow Conference on International Security, and Iranian defense contractors exhibited weapons, including a close-range ballistic missile, at Russia’s Army-2023 military exposition. At an August 21 meeting, Russian and Iranian commanders struck agreements on bilateral military cooperation.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has been silent as Iran steps up its crackdown on activists ahead of the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s murder by Iran’s morality police.


The Biden administration issued denials in early and late August that an Israel-Saudi normalization deal was impending. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer discussed the issue during an August 17 meeting. The following week, reports indicated the administration is pressing Israel to offer significant concessions to the Palestinians as part of a potential agreement with the Saudis. This demand would effectively allow the Palestinians to serve as gatekeepers for Israel’s regional integration.

Separately, the White House is reportedly furious at Israel’s foreign minister for publicizing his late August meeting with his Libyan counterpart, who was subsequently fired amid public outrage in Libya. U.S. officials worry the incident will deter other countries from pursuing normalization with Israel.

Still, U.S.-Israel relations continue to flourish. A senior Pentagon delegation visited Israel in early August. The U.S.-Israel Strategic High-Level Dialogue on Technology held meetings on August 9-10. And U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley received a warm welcome during his August 22 visit to the Jewish state. Washington also approved two Israeli missile defense deals with European partners. Worth nearly $4 billion, the deals will be a major boon for Israel’s economy as well as European missile defenses.

Meanwhile, Israel has continued to take steps to secure visa-free travel to the United States as part of the Visa Waiver Program. Washington has acknowledged positive Israeli steps and will issue a final ruling on this matter on September 30.


On August 18, President Biden hosted his South Korean and Japanese counterparts at the Camp David presidential retreat. Yoon and Kishida have built their relationship by resolving historical disputes in favor of confronting common enemies: North Korea and China. The three leaders agreed to expand trilateral cooperation, including coordination on “regional challenges, provocations, and threats that affect our collective interests and security.” They also agreed to expand trilateral meetings beyond the defense and foreign ministries to include finance, commerce, and industry ministries. The leaders agreed to conduct trilateral military exercises, pursue the denuclearization of North Korea, and seek for a “unified Korean Peninsula that is free and at peace.” They launched an annual Trilateral Indo-Pacific Dialogue and expressed opposition to Beijing’s belligerence in the South China Sea.

Separately, the administration hosted the first open UN Security Council meeting on North Korean human rights since 2017. The UN special rapporteur on the issue explained that “some people are starving, and others have died due to a combination of malnutrition, diseases and lack of access to health care.” China and Russia blocked any Security Council response, but the administration joined 51 other countries in condemning the Kim regime’s human rights abuses.

The administration issued new North Korea sanctions on August 16, the first since June 15. The new sanctions targeted companies controlled by an individual sanctioned on March 30 for attempting to facilitate North Korea-Russia arms deals. It is unclear why Treasury waited more than four months to sanction the rest of this proliferation network.

Latin America

The Biden administration continues to fail on border security. Despite the implementation of new policies intended to curb illegal immigration, illegal crossings along the southern border increased to over 180,000 in July. Some Republican presidential candidates have suggested the United States should “militarize” the U.S.-Mexico border and authorize military force against Mexican cartels.

The administration is beginning to take a harder line on Mexico’s failures to adhere to agreements under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. This month, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the establishment of a dispute settlement panel regarding Mexico’s banning of biotech corn products. While it is heartening to see the administration taking action, it has failed to address Mexico’s violation of energy agreements.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the administration is considering easing sanctions on Venezuela so European partners can purchase Venezuelan crude. This would allow millions of dollars to flow to the Maduro regime, undercutting one of the most significant sources of U.S. leverage. In the last few months alone, the regime has appointed loyalists to its electoral commission, banned the most prominent opposition candidate from running in a general election, and pushed through a law that would criminalize non-governmental organizations.

While the United States shows weakness in the region, China shows strength. Guyana and China agreed to partner on the Belt and Road Initiative, and Chinese manufacturers of electric vehicle parts are flocking to Mexico. China’s growing role in the region has set off alarm bells for U.S. Southern Command, leading General Laura Richardson to warn that the United States risks getting “out-competed.”


The Biden administration delivered three Protector-class patrol boats to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) on August 21 even as the LAF intensified its collaboration with and support for Hezbollah. On Lebanese TV, the LAF showcased how it places its naval assets in the service of Hezbollah directives. As part of its support for the terror group’s border campaign against Israel, the LAF deployed naval vessels facing Israeli forces opposite the coastline at Ras al-Naqoura, where Lebanon claims the “B1” land border terminus point. A few days before receiving the U.S. boats, the LAF had helped Hezbollah remove an ammunition truck that had turned over on the road. The LAF secured the cargo and subsequently delivered it to Hezbollah.

Amos Hochstein, U.S. special presidential coordinator for global infrastructure and energy security, arrived in Beirut on August 30 to celebrate the beginning of Lebanese offshore drilling. In July, Hochstein had intervened with a mediation offer after Hezbollah launched a cross-border incursion and established an outpost on Israeli territory. According to a Lebanese official, Hochstein now wants to work on the disputed points on the land border, thereby fulfilling a stated objective of Hezbollah’s campaign.

The Lebanese official added that Hochstein will also help advance a deal to import Egyptian gas to Lebanon via Jordan and Syria. The official claimed that in early September, “the American administration will give its response to the World Bank regarding the loan [to finance the deal to transfer] the Egyptian gas to Lebanon.” The Biden administration has advocated this deal even though it would violate U.S. sanctions on the Assad regime.

Nonproliferation and Biodefense

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has reportedly threatened to pursue nuclear cooperation with China if Washington does not agree to accommodate Riyadh’s demand that America either support Saudi enrichment or enrich uranium for Saudi Arabia on Riyadh’s soil. The negotiation is also tied to Saudi normalization talks with Israel. Since the Saudi crown prince has said the kingdom will seek atomic weapons to match Iran, Riyadh is likely seeking enrichment capabilities to provide an option to pursue future nuclear proliferation. It remains to be seen whether the Biden administration will leverage a proposed increase in U.S. defense assistance to Riyadh and persuade Saudi Arabia to opt for U.S. or South Korean nuclear supplies. Such a package should rule out enrichment assistance and require the kingdom’s adherence to stronger nonproliferation commitments.

The Biden administration’s informal understanding with Iran, reached last spring, seems to be in effect. The understanding includes a pending prisoner swap that hinges on Tehran first fulfilling Washington’s demand that Iran slow its buildup of 60 percent enriched uranium. The Wall Street Journal reports that the regime has taken this step. However, absent reductions to Iran’s other enriched uranium stockpiles, this step likely will not have a major impact either on Iran’s timeline to produce a nuclear weapon or on the quantity of atomic bombs it could make. The International Atomic Energy Agency will soon report new information on Iran ahead of its September 11 Board of Governors meeting.

Sunni Jihadism

Two years after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the terror group has a firm grip on the country. Even as the Taliban permits al-Qaeda to run training camps and provides support and shelter to other terror groups, the Biden administration is still funneling money into Afghanistan while continuing to negotiate with the Taliban.

The military coup in Niger has put U.S. and French counterterrorism efforts in in the region in jeopardy. The military junta closed its airspace, preventing the U.S. military from flying drone missions from Airbase 201, which cost more than $100 million to build. More than 1,000 U.S. soldiers operate from two military bases in Niger. The junta has asked the French ambassador to leave the country, and Nigerians are pressuring the French military to exit as well.

Meanwhile, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) launched two “self-defense strikes” against al-Shabaab as Somali forces battled the terror group. AFRICOM continues to describe al-Shabaab as “the largest and most kinetically active al-Qaeda network in the world.”

The Islamic State confirmed that its last leader, Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Quraishi, was killed earlier this year. However, the group claimed he was not killed by Turkish intelligence, instead blaming rival Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. The Islamic State named Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Quraishi as its new emir.

On August 30, CNN reported that a human trafficking network with ties to the Islamic State had smuggled at least 12 Uzbeks and other foreign nationals through America’s porous southern border. The FBI is working to determine if the individuals pose a security threat.


The regime of Bashar al-Assad continued to reassert control over UN aid deliveries to northwest Syria, the rebel-controlled enclave where millions of displaced Syrians have sought refuge. For nine years, the UN Security Council authorized direct aid shipments into the enclave from across the Turkish border, which prevented regime interference. Last month, however, Russia finally acted on repeated threats to veto the cross-border mechanism. This forced the United Nations to negotiate with the Assad regime to allow further deliveries. On August 9, the United Nations announced it had reached an agreement with Damascus, but did not reveal what restrictions or conditions the regime had placed on the deliveries. On August 29, a spokesman for the UN secretary-general admitted that deliveries had still not resumed through the largest of three crossings on the Syrian-Turkish border, since the United Nations is “still trying to work out the operational details on how to put the agreement to work.”

Throughout the war, the Assad regime has diverted or stolen vast amounts of UN aid paid for by Washington and other donors, a problem the Biden administration has effectively ignored. The administration has worked to preserve cross-border deliveries and could not have blocked a Russian veto. Yet the Biden team failed to put in place an alternative aid-delivery mechanism, or “Plan B,” despite persistent warnings from humanitarian organizations and former State Department officials. Now Assad can employ the population of northwest Syria as humanitarian hostages, threatening to cut off aid unless the United Nations or United States grant him further concessions.


The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned two Turkey-backed Syrian militia groups with a proven track record of gross human rights violations, abduction, and sexual violence. The Suleiman Shah and Hamza Brigades are two examples of Turkey’s ongoing support for Syrian jihadist organizations under the banner of the “Syrian National Army” (SNA). After Syria’s civil war began, Ankara initially supported and organized SNA in an effort to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad. But when Assad managed to hold on to power, Ankara gave its militia groups a new task: fighting Syrian Kurdish forces who had established an autonomous enclave in northeastern Syria. These Syrian Kurdish forces are key U.S. partners against the Islamic State, but Turkey considers them to be terrorists.

The Treasury Department’s press release did not directly mention Turkey, but it signals the Biden administration’s growing frustration with Ankara’s attempts to undermine its Kurdish partners, who play a vital role in preventing the Islamic State’s resurfacing. The sanctions also come at a time when Ankara is attempting to normalize ties with the Assad regime. This is not the first time Washington has sanctioned jihadist entities close to the Turkish government. Two years ago, the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Ahrar al-Sharqiya, another Turkish proxy responsible for wide-ranging abuses. At the time, local human rights organizations, such as Syrians for Truth and Justice, called on Washington to designate other abusive militias and commanders.


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