The Biden doctrine between Kissinger and Soros

In most cases, the US foreign policy process is a compromise between realism and liberalism

09:00 | 1 юли 2022

By Iskren Ivanov

The work of the American founding fathers is unique not only in that they created a Constitution guaranteeing human rights in a world of powerful colonial empires and slavery.

The American policy project represents a great compromise between the small and big states which reach to an agreement with USA to be led by sole executive power in the person of the President at the expense of the bicameral legislature in the person of the Congress. And if the political realities of 18th century had spread fear among the small states that the President will become a despot similar to the British monarch, then their older brethren sought to preserve the unity of the country so the Union not to face the fate of the Confederation. This compromise finds its highest expression in the mechanism for electing the president: indirectly, through an electoral college, which has repeatedly caused unexpected changes in the election results.

This is why when we talk about American policy system, we say that it is based on series of agreements between the federal units of USA. Far more invisible is the separation which exists in the American foreign policy which after the end of the World War II is based on the principles of the political (classical) realism, described in the book of the political scientist Hans Morgenthau Politics among nations which puts the beginning of the oldest school in the theory of the international relationships. Three decades later, the book Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition by Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane – the creators of the other theoretical wing which forms the modern aspects of the American policy – the liberalism, showed up. In other words, the foreign policy process in the United States is in most cases a compromise between realism and liberalism.

The paradox is that both theories have the same starting point – power. Realists and the liberals accept that to have power means to force other to act as you want them to. But while realism tends to detect power impulses in selfish human nature, the liberals equate the ability to force others to comply with you and to make them dependent on your goals. Hans Morgenthau, Kenneth Waltz, Robert Gervis, Richard Betts and John Mearsheimer present international system in which anarchy is the basic law, governing the relationships between states. Conflicts between countries are a direct consequence of the anarchic structure of the international relationships and the reason for them is people’s intention to have more power. While Joseph Nye, Robert Keohane, Francis Fukuyama and Andrew Moravcsik are more inclined to rely on curbing the human instinct for power through diplomacy, soft power, international organizations, international law, and the optimistic view that people are not hostile and selfish by nature. The theoretical developments of these authors leave a lasting imprint on the political thinking of Americans, which logically leads to the formation of lobbies that lead the debate on where America should go. After the fall of USSR, the geopolitical debate in USA took the direction of imposing the ideas of the liberal wing, displacing political realism. There are two clearly outlined lobbies with a key role in forming the American foreign policy. The first fraction included the veterans from the Cold War – Henry Kissinger, Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer. And although there are differences in the school of political realists about the specific political actions of the United States, its supporters have reached a compromise on several cases.

The first and most important example is in regard to America’s role and place in the world. The lobby of the Realpolitiks denies the universal value of the American model and supports the thesis that USA shouldn’t aim to be a role model, because sooner or later this will exhaust their power. Moreover, the Realpolitiks believe that Washington should concentrate on maintaining its influence in the Western hemisphere and not to succumb to the temptation to export valuables to regions whose political culture is incompatible with liberal democracy. Their attitude towards international organizations, which are perceived as an expression of the selfish interests of the countries that founded them, is similar. The institutional pessimism of the Realpolitiks is the reason why they doubt the effectiveness of NATO, the future of the EU and the ability of the UN to solve conflicts. Here it is important to underline that the realist school is by no means a departure from the idea America to keep its status as a superpower. The power is the main purpose for both the realists and the liberals. However, scientists as Mearsheimer and Wolt believe that it can happen even without America leading expensive wars and maintain 800 war bases in 70 countries around the world.

The strategy of the realists envisages supporting the American allies and creating buffer regions in order to curb the rise of regional hegemons such as Russia and China. The biggest nightmare of the old school remains nuclear war. It is no coincidence that in each of his speeches, Kissinger emphasizes particularly on the threat of a mutually guaranteed destruction which has to be avoided at any cost. Realists' fear that nuclear forces will face each other is also the result of psychological attitudes, inherited by the Cold War when USA and USSR are tangled in ruthless militarization race. Thus, the Realpolitik is always seeking the solution of a conflict in a compromise. Rational scenarios are important for political realism, not moral ones – as painful as they are for the countries in a conflict. The examples are countless: shifting regimes in a time of a Cold War, attempts to remove the nuclear umbrella over Europe, and in the current crisis – the idea of dividing Ukraine again. And if the strong point of realism is rationality, then its greatest temptation is the tendency to make a deal with the devil. Many describe the rapprochement between the United States and China as one of Henry Kissinger's greatest achievements. This is undoubtedly because the strategy of the doyen of American diplomacy ultimately contributed to the isolation and collapse of the communist bloc. But China's rise is unlikely to benefit the United States, and it would not have been possible without American production being exported to China. In short, the problem with such deals is that they ultimately turn against those who actually negotiated them.

On the other hand, the lobby of the liberals, often involved in conspiracy theories about the global elites, which want to rule the world, is the successor to European optimism for a world of eternal peace. The most recent example in this regard are “the revelations” of Fox News in the end of April for a Secret group, supported with tens of millions dollars by the liberal billionaire George Soros, who works behind the curtains with the president Biden’s administration to form the White House policy. “Open society” is proud of supporting the efforts of the “Governing for Impact” in terms of protecting the American workers, customers, patients, students and environment through political reforms”, declared Tom Perrielo, an executive director of the Soros’ foundations “Open society” before Fox News Digital.

The liberals perceive the world as an enormous hierarchical structure, centered on the United States. This American-centric system is evolving under American law, and it is unthinkable for the orthodox liberal to formulate strategies for ceding territory, withdrawing troops, or compromising with dictators. After the end of the Cold War, this lobby has taken on an even more offensive form: neoconservative liberalism, which professes the goal of the United States becoming a global leader into a planetary hegemon or, more prosaically, a world policeman. The liberal wing is often defined  as a “hawk” because it is inclined to make compromises with the American interests in the name of human rights and democracy. The liberals are solid supporters of the international organizations and do not share the nuclear obsession of the Realpolitiks. A key for avoiding a nuclear war for this lobby is not containment, but disarmament or, according to the neoconservative scenario, preventing the illegal proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The liberalism has a habit of wanting results here and now and believes that the American military and strategical power is in condition to force any state to change its foreign policy. This persuasion is build on the liberal vision that there is no more attractive political formula for development than the liberal democracy. Thus, it should be the dominating one. Or as Joseph Nye puts it – the American national interest and maintenance of the American global leadership are both sides of a same coin.

The great argument in defense of this purpose is peace, which is the mighty value for the liberal school. Politicians who follow the liberal covenants are eager to reiterate that democracy and human rights are a prerequisite for world peace. The realists do not deny it, but pessimistically remind that the soft power, diplomacy and the valuables export policy cannot prevent wars. Thus, USA’s status of a superpower should not be tied with democracy export – something, which the liberal school firmly rejects.

The power of the liberals is in this that they never make compromises with the dictators’ regimes and see the loyalty to their allies as a means of achieving the national interest – elegantly formulated principle of the American foreign policy, which has justified not one presidential doctrine. The problem is that recently the liberals are looking back to the past more and more often, with nostalgia for the unipolar world and tend to believe that it can be restored with the help of soft power.

The problem of this approach is that the time of the ideological opposition has passed. Neither China, nor Russia has pretenses to export communism or to unite the world socialist proletariat. Russian’s aggression in Ukraine showed that the diplomacy is not always in condition to solve conflicts. The greatest weakness of the liberalism hides in its optimism for the “good” human nature, which at some point will drop off the memory of war and will start living in harmony. A vision, which is – to put it mildly – inapplicable to the political thinking of leaders like Vladimir Putin. A direct expression of this reality was the positions shared at the World Economic Forum in Davos by Kissinger and Soros, which logically found an absolutely ambiguous response in Moscow and Kyiv – and respectively among realists and liberals in the current crisis world.

In conclusion, we can say, that The Biden Doctrine is an attempt for a compromise between these two lobbies. In his essay for the American magazine Foreign Affairs in 2020, Biden clearly outlines the main points of his foreign policy, which are entirely in the spirit of the liberalism. The essay ends with the words: “America should be a leader, it should lead the free world, because only it can make it.”

The instruments of this doctrine do not match with the liberal vision of soft power, diplomacy and export of valuables at all. They are blatantly realistic because, as a representative of the older generation of politicians, Biden is well aware of the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence and the price America must pay if it comes into direct military conflict with Russia.

The American administration acts in the spirit of realism and for one more reason: the scope of “sacred duties” which America has taken to the American allies. Therefore, we can say that The Biden Doctrine heals those disadvantages of the liberal and realist school that for years were standing in the way of Washington to make rational decisions.

If the foreign policy of the American president Biden succeeds, it won’t put an end on the debate between the two lobbies, but in any case, it will reduce the polarization between them and create the golden environment in which the next US administrations will pursue their policies. But for that to happen, both lobbies must pass the historic test of the new Cold War.

THE BOTTOM LINE The Biden Doctrine heals those disadvantages of the realist and liberal school that for years were standing in the way of Washington to make rational decisions.