Biden halts Trump foreign policy from Yemen to Germany in first diplomatic speech

US President Joe Biden is ordering a full Pentagon review of the US military posture worldwide.
US President Joe Biden is ordering a full Pentagon review of the US military posture worldwide.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US President Joe Biden announced he is halting and reversing Trump administration foreign policy initiatives - including troop drawdowns in Germany and support for a Saudi-led offensive in Yemen that turned into a humanitarian disaster - as he sought to boost morale at the State Department.

Mr Biden said on Thursday (Feb 4) that he is ordering a full Pentagon review of the US military posture worldwide. That includes freezing former president Donald Trump's plan to withdraw about 9,500 soldiers from Germany - a move that stunned European allies and generated bipartisan protest in Congress.

Mr Biden's vision for foreign policy stands in stark contrast to Mr Trump's "America First" approach in which the former president often shunned alliances and resisted acting against adversarial moves taken by Russia and other countries.

"America is back," Mr Biden said in his first diplomatic speech at the State Department, flanked by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. "Diplomacy is back."

Mr Biden described US alliances as "our greatest asset", and said the United States will take a firm stand in dealing with China and Russia. He called on Russia to free democracy activist Alexei Navalny, whose arrest has sparked protests.

The President said that he will raise the cap on refugee admittance in the next fiscal year to 125,000 - more than eight times the 15,000-person limit Mr Trump implemented during his last year in office. Mr Biden's number is also an increase from the 110,000-person cap that former president Barack Obama implemented at the end of his administration.

Even with the administration's changes, would-be refugees will face a long road to resettlement. Mr Trump's move to substantially reduce admissions has created a years-long backlog of people seeking safe harbour. He had also implemented new, harsher vetting processes, narrower eligibility requirements, and budget cuts that increased the burden on federal agencies as they evaluate potential candidates to grant entry.

Yemen war

The President is also ending US support for offensive operations in Yemen, following up on an earlier move to pause the sale of smart-bomb technology to Saudi Arabia, which has been widely criticised for how it has conducted the war against Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels in the neighbouring country. The Biden administration is appointing a special envoy to Yemen charged with helping end the conflict.

Mr Biden said his foreign policy will be designed to benefit the US middle class. "Every action we take an our conduct abroad must take American working families in mind," he said.

Mr Biden emphasised bipartisan interest in the US in seeing the military in Myanmar step back after its coup, saying it was an issue he has discussed with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell as well as foreign leaders.

"The Burmese military should relinquish power they have seized," Mr Biden said. Earlier in the day, the US and China found common agreement on the Myanmar issue at the United Nations Security Council, which issued a statement calling for all detainees taken by the military to be released.

Also on Thursday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration is conducting a full review of the Trump administration's outreach to North Korea, declining to say if Mr Biden would seek to meet leader Kim Jong Un but adding that any diplomatic efforts would be coordinated with Japan and South Korea.

Mr Biden met career officials at the State Department after Mr Trump - whose supporters viewed the department as a bastion of liberal civil servants - slashed US contributions to international institutions and sidelined career diplomats during key foreign policy decisions. Mr Trump and his team viewed career diplomats as part of a "deep state" seeking to stymie his policies, and they tried to cut the department's budget.

Before his speech, Mr Biden told State Department employees that their work is essential and promised to "have your back". "You are at the centre of all that I intend to do," he added.

The global force posture review Mr Biden ordered the Pentagon to undertake could result in a return to other Obama-era policies, including possibly reinstating an administration policy that supports closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay and transparency measures surrounding civilian casualties during US military operations.

Mr Obama had advocated closing the military prison - which houses detainees from counter-terrorism operations - but the effort was repeatedly blocked by Congress. Mr Trump said he would keep the prison - which now houses 40 people - open during his presidency, calling Mr Obama's efforts to transfer terrorists from the facility "foolish".