In his speech last Tuesday, the day after last American troops left Afghanistan, U.S. President Joe Biden revealed what has changed and what has remained unchanged in U.S. foreign policy.
While labeling the disastrous pullout from Afghanistan as an "extraordinary success," Biden declared that the United States will no longer engage in military operations that involve large numbers of troops on the ground with the aim to rebuild other countries, like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Instead, Biden said, the United States would rely on "over-the-horizon capabilities," which means his country can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground.
Biden cited the death tolls and the massive fiscal expenditure to justify his change in troops deployment policy. "After 20,744 American servicemen and women injured, and the loss of 2,461 American personnel, including 13 lives lost just this week, I refuse to open another decade of warfare in Afghanistan," he told his countrymen. Biden did not mention the Afghans who were killed in the war. According to Brown University's Costs of War project, the 20-year war killed around 150,000 Afghan civilians and combatants through combat alone.
The war also incurred horrendous fiscal burden on American taxpayers. Brown University estimated that the United States spent more than US$2 trillion in Afghanistan — over US$300 million a day for 20 years.
While signaling a "new era" for the use of U.S. military power abroad, Biden used his speech to once again focus on China. This means the U.S. policy to contain China has not changed.
"And here is the critical thing to understand: The world is changing. We're engaged in a serious competition with China. We're dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia. We're confronted with cyberattacks and nuclear proliferation. We have to shore up American competitiveness to meet these new challenges and the competition for the 21st century," Biden said.
When Barack Obama launched his "pivot to Asia" in 2011, it indicated that the U.S. establishment started to view China as a threat. When Obama was sworn in as U.S. president in 2009, China had overtaken Germany to become the world's third-largest economy. In 2010, China unseated Japan as the world's second-largest economy.
In the face of a rising China, Obama's successor Donald Trump doubled down on containing China, unilaterally launching trade and technology wars in a desperate attempt to slow down the Asian giant.
Although ditching the bombastic, confrontational Trumpism, Biden continued to view China as a threat to his country's supremacy and cast the China-U.S. relationship as the "biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century." Biden used the words "compete with China" instead of "confront China" in his speech last week, however, that does not mean his administration has taken a friendly approach towards China.
Biden has maintained both the trade war and the tech war as part of the economic warfare component of U.S. national strategy. On the political front, the Biden administration continued to stoke tension, using Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan issues in an attempt to isolate China.
Biden has admitted that the world has changed. However, the United States has yet to come to terms with the reality of a multipolar world. For decades, it has sought to impose hegemony – which it calls global "leadership" – around the world, and tried to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries under the pretext of safeguarding human rights and freedom while ignoring various abuses at home.
Clifford Kiracofe, a former senior staff member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said in an article published Friday: "Five hundred years of Western domination began to end after World War II and today the international system has several great powers, as well as medium powers. A policy of hegemony under these circumstances is neither wise nor sustainable."
However, American superiority, or exceptionalism, remains deeply ingrained in the minds of U.S. politicians. "China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system – all the values and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in his first foreign policy speech in March. His remarks laid bare the U.S. determination to dictate how other countries work, and revealed that U.S. hegemonism remains unchanged.
Kiracofe urged the Biden administration to improve ties with China. "As a great power in relative decline externally and noticeable decline internally, Washington today does not have much room for strategic mistakes."
The strategic mistakes the United States has made over the years, like in Afghanistan and Iraq, all stemmed from its desire to reshape other countries according to its own will. This is where the United States should make a change in a changed world.
(The author is a deputy editor-in-chief of Shenzhen Daily.)