Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



Joe Biden's conduct of foreign policy in 2021 was notable for rebuilding political ties with NATO allies after Donald Trump denigrated Europe's contribution to the alliance. Despite the humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, the president and his team maintained U.S. security interests in East Asia and the Middle East and avoided war to date with Russia over Ukraine.

America's chaotic withdrawal from Kabul was intended by the Taliban as a repeat of its humiliating ouster from Saigon in 1975. It didn't succeed because of the remarkable Air Force evacuation of most Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan and thousands of Afghans who worked for the Americans during the war.

U.S. intelligence agencies should have anticipated that the Kabul government would collapse early and leave the capital open to a potentially disastrous outcome. Why ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan took twenty years is left for historians to answer. But three presidents, Obama, Trump, and Biden wanted withdrawal, and Biden showed courage in removing all troops, not leaving residual force as the Pentagon wished. Afghanistan, in my view, is not a vital interest for the U.S. and should not have consumed tens of thousands of casualties and cost a trillion dollars for operations.

On the positive side, one should appreciate events that didn't happen. Biden may take credit for avoiding new wars and preferring negotiations to military interventions. Still, in 2022 he will be confronted with dangerous situations in Ukraine, Taiwan, Persian Gulf, and the Caribbean.

Putin and Ukraine

At year's end, Vladimir Putin laid out demands for NATO to scale back its military involvement in Eastern Europe, including Poland and the Baltic States. Most of these were rejected by NATO earlier, but Putin clearly wants negotiations on Ukraine that will prevent its western orientation and NATO membership. The Russian leader also sees an opportunity to divide Europe and America on how tough NATO should be confronting Russia over Ukraine.

For President Biden, the crucial issue is not only Ukraine but how his negotiations affect other adversaries who hope to benefit from what they believe is a weakening of America's resolve to stay actively involved abroad. We should know in early 2022 whether Ukraine can be negotiated or whether Washington and NATO should prepare for Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Xi and Taiwan

Putin and China's Xi Jinping recently agreed to coordinate policies in order to counter America's power in Europe and East Asia. If Putin gets a deal on Ukraine that accommodates his demands, we may expect President Xi to increase his pressure to bring Taiwan into Greater China. Japan and Australia recently stated that Taiwan is a strategic interest for their countries.

But Taiwan may not be Xi's top priority. That's because control of Southeast Asia's vital waterways may be strategically more beneficial to his longer-term goals. Indonesia is strategically crucial because of its location and population of 274 million. The Malacca Strait between Indonesia and Malaysia is a major choke point for commercial trade. China hopes to extend its control there.

Iran's Khamenei and the Gulf

Like China's Xi Jinping, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei wants to control the politics and commerce of the Persian Gulf. Like Malacca Strait, the Hormuz Strait between Iran and Oman is a strategic choke point that Iran could use to force the U.S. and Gulf States to cede it control over shipping of oil to world markets. The US Navy based in Bahrain stands in the way of Khamenei's ambitions.

Iran's determination to produce nuclear weapons presents a major impediment to negotiations. Tough U.S. economic sanctions have not slowed Tehran's ambitions. But it knows that if it interferes with commerce in the Persian Gulf, it will produce US retaliation and potentially lead to open warfare.

Venezuela and the Caribbean

Most Americans, including the media, have not given the Caribbean, especially the strategic role of Venezuela, serious attention. It's especially dangerous for its spreading anti-US propaganda in impoverished Central American countries that send millions of migrants flocking to our southern border. The far-left government of Nicaragua foments anti-American turmoil among its neighbors. This is a major political and foreign policy problem for the Biden administration, especially if Russia or China attempts to establish a base for military operations. This could lead to war, as nearly occurred in 1962 when Russia secretly established missile bases in Cuba. Russia and China can still undermine U.S. influence in the Caribbean by expanding economic and clandestine operations in the region.

We will know early in 2022 whether any of these crises will confront the Biden administration with hard choices about America's role in the world.

File last modified on Sunday, 01-JAN-2022 07:25 PM EST

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