The past few years have been bad for American foreign policy. Biden administration officials sailed into office with the serene confidence that once the adults—that is to say, they themselves—were in charge, the ship of state would right itself. The administration had a four-point plan to restore American preeminence. First, American forces in Afghanistan would gracefully exit and the War on Terror would finally end. Next, once the 2015 nuclear deal that Donald Trump had exited (JCPOA) went back into force, Iran would be cajoled into détente and the Middle East would stabilize. Third, Russia would be parked to the side, and the administration would tinker at the margin on Indo-Pacific security arrangements. All of that would leave Beijing so overawed by America’s nifty maneuvers that it would give up its ambitions for global preeminence and get to work on issues of mutual concern such as countering pandemics and climate change.
None of that has happened. The Afghan government collapsed before Americans could withdraw from Kabul, inflicting a humiliation even more severe than our defeat in Vietnam. Iran’s rulers intuited correctly that they could get many of the concessions they wanted out of the administration without accepting even the gentle confines of the JCPOA. Vladimir Putin, who has always preferred to be in the driver’s seat, attacked Ukraine without provocation. Most recently, Iran’s proxy Hamas launched an attack on Israel, butchering and raping more than 1,200 innocent Israelis while broadcasting its savagery to the world. China has been too consumed by its own economic difficulties to take full advantage of the world crisis, but it is resolutely building up its military might and is poised to take advantage of any further American missteps.