Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 2 January 2022. © Richard Kemp
When US President Joe Biden took office, he removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. He should have replaced it with one of Neville Chamberlain. After Chamberlain’s infamous appeasement of Hitler at Munich in 1938, Churchill told him: ‘You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war.’
The first year of Biden’s presidency has been marked by appeasement upon appeasement. Appeasement of Russia, appeasement of Iran, appeasement of jihadists. China also — and we may now be witnessing his most dangerous appeasement so far: helping Beijing cover up the origins of the most consequential harm unleashed on the globe since the Second World War.
Biden inflicted untold damage on the free world by his catastrophic surrender in Afghanistan, demonstrating to America’s enemies and friends alike that, under his administration, the US was no longer willing to stand by its allies nor to protect its own vital national interests.
Biden’s decision to capitulate to the Taliban revealed a failure of one of two key elements of strategic deterrence: credible political will. Failure of the second element, military capability, was exposed by the shambolic and irrational manner of the withdrawal, in which crucial terrain and assets were abandoned first, American citizens and dependents left to their fate and US and allied forces placed at needless risk. Watchers were rightly shocked by such exposure of the most powerful military in the world.
There is no doubting the relish with which Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and lesser dictators such as Ali Khamanei and Kim Jong-Un witnessed this humiliation of the guarantor of Western security. It not only gratified them, it also emboldened them – as we have since seen graphically illustrated by Putin massing forces along Ukraine’s borders and Khamanei repudiating previous undertakings on Iran’s nuclear capabilities while abrogating recent agreements in the Vienna re-negotiations.
Afghanistan represented not only miscalculation and weakness but also appeasement. China wanted the strategically vital territory of Afghanistan to dominate and exploit its trillions in natural minerals including rare earths and to use as a land bridge to Pakistan and Iran, both already important allies for which President Xi has long-term plans. Biden handed it to him on a plate and he is now busy carving it up for lunch.
The withdrawal also appeased jihadists everywhere by awarding them the greatest victory since the 1979 Iranian revolution, meanwhile pusillanimously pretending the Taliban and Washington were on the same side against the Islamic State.
As Biden ceded Afghanistan to communist China and jihadist fanatics, he now seems ready to deliver Ukraine to Putin’s Russia. His waiver of US sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany undoubtedly encouraged the latest round of Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Russia’s gas supply to Europe — which is crucial to Moscow’s economy — currently passes through Ukraine, with critical infrastructure in the country. A major factor that deterred Putin from taking over more of Ukraine than it seized in 2014 while Biden was vice president has been the likelihood that Ukrainian forces defending against Russian invasion would destroy key elements of this infrastructure, cutting off the gas flow. Nord Stream 2 bypasses Ukraine and removes that obstacle to Putin’s ambitions. Attempting to deflect criticism of his green light for Nord Stream 2, Biden made an agreement with Germany. If Russia attempts to use energy as a weapon against Ukraine, Berlin will take “unspecified action” — likely to be none.
In his early December call with Putin, Biden made it clear that the US would not use military force to defend Ukraine, thereby helpfully confirming something Putin already guessed. Biden did lay out economic sanctions that would be imposed if Russia invaded Ukraine, but as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pointed out, ‘If they were applied after the conflict would happen, this would basically make them meaningless.’
Now Biden is planning discussions in early 2022 between Russia and selected NATO members to ‘defuse’ the situation. Can he really believe that any negotiations short of capitulation to Russian demands would satisfy Putin or achieve anything? So-called diplomacy down the barrel of 110,000 Russian guns looks a lot like even more appeasement.
“.Since he took office, Biden, in his desperation to restore the fundamentally flawed JCPOA nuclear deal negotiated when he was vice president, has been intent on appeasing Iran. This is as much about reversing President Donald Trump’s policies as it is about salvaging Obama’s legacy. It certainly is not about denying nuclear weapons to Iran. Instead of capitalising on the leverage of Trump’s maximum pressure sanctions which were undermining the terrorist regime in Tehran, Biden — with his European collaborators — is intent on reconstructing the deal that paved Iran’s path to nuclear weapons.
He will apparently stop at nothing to do it, meanwhile betraying Israel and the Arab states, the immediate targets of Iran’s nuclear and non-nuclear aggression. Even as Iran accelerated its nuclear programme throughout the first year of Biden’s presidency he has shown only desperation and impotence. Iran, smelling weakness, is demanding fewer nuclear concessions while insisting on more sanctions relief.
Biden has failed to respond to Iranian attacks on Saudi Arabia, Iranian aggression against Israel and even attacks on US forces in Syria and Iraq. Instead he revoked the US terrorist designations of Iran’s Houthi proxies, which encouraged them, and withdrew support for Saudi’s war against them. Iran’s contempt for Biden was further displayed last week in the launch of multiple ballistic missiles during manoeuvres that Iranian commanders explicitly said were intended to threaten Israel.
In the face of Iranian nuclear provocation, Biden’s officials have refrained from any threat of military action — taking off the table the only truly effective deterrent against a regime that respects strength alone.
Biden’s policies of appeasement towards Iran and Russia are bad enough. But the greatest threat to the free world today comes from China. Biden has a long record of appeasing Beijing. In 2000, when a US senator, he vigorously supported legislation to make China a normal trading partner, insisting this would make it a responsible member of the world community’.
In 2011, Biden admitted that since 1979 he had believed – as did many others – that a rising China was a positive development for the world and still did. He said that creating closer ties with China was a top priority for the administration in which he was vice president. His craven words at a speech in China must have been music to the ears of the Chinese Communist Party:
‘In order to cement this robust partnership, we have to go beyond close ties between Washington and Beijing, which we’re working on every day, go beyond it to include all levels of government, go beyond it to include classrooms and laboratories, athletic fields and boardrooms.’
We know how China answered his and others’ appeasement: with theft of intellectual property, espionage, subversion, anti-American propaganda, oppression of minorities, seizure of territory in the South China Sea and elsewhere, threats and punitive action against US allies, likely creating and certainly exacerbating a global pandemic and intensifying aggression against Taiwan.
Biden’s administration has projected only confusion over China’s ambitions against Taiwan. The president twice suggested the US might be willing to defend the country in the event of Chinese invasion, with his comments immediately walked back by officials. This kind of mixed messaging does not contribute to deterrence or conflict prevention but the diametric opposite. Similarly mixed messages coming from London led the Argentinian junta to believe Britain, despite its vast military superiority, would not fight to defend the Falkland Islands on the other side of the world, and actually encouraged the 1982 invasion.
Meanwhile we appear to be witnessing the most dangerous and far-reaching act of appeasement of Biden’s presidency so far, which will also play into Beijing’s calculations on Taiwan and its global strategic ambitions. In August the US Director of National Intelligence released an unclassified summary of a time-limited assessment conducted on Biden’s orders on the roots of Covid-19; and in October produced an ‘Updated Assessment’. Both documents — characterised by low confidence judgements — concluded that Covid-19 was most likely caused by natural exposure.
Yet the previous US Director of National Intelligence (from 2020-21), John Ratcliffe, describes the likelihood of the virus emanating from a lab leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) as ‘probably a certainty’. He says there is compelling intelligence that has not been declassified and has called on the Biden administration to do so.
Former FBI Assistant Director John Brock noted that the US intelligence community can get at the truth about the origins of Covid but questions whether there is the will to do so. He suggests concerns over US-China relations may have led the administration in the August report to ‘downplay’ intelligence which they have access to.
Two US congressional committees have formally questioned the credibility of the DNI’s assessment, with one of them describing it as ‘unacceptable’.
According to Dr David Asher, who spearheaded the State Department task force investigating the origins of Covid-19 and the role of the Chinese government:
‘One of [Biden’s] first acts on assuming the presidency was to shut down the investigations into the origins of Covid-19 — including the one I led at the State Department in 2020, which presented troubling scientific and circumstantial evidence on the secret activities of the WIV that bolster the lab-leak theory.’
In a December 2021 report analysing the US intelligence assessments for the Journal on Chemical and Biological Weapons, former senior Israeli intelligence officers Brigadier General Yossi Kupperwasser and Lieutenant Colonel Dr Dany Shoham, whose speciality was biological and chemical warfare, also suggested that the US assessments may have been constructed ‘to help avoid increasing tensions with China’.
Kupperwasser and Shoham highlight a WIV project planned around 18 months before the first Covid cases emerged. The intention was to genetically engineer coronaviruses that were more infectious to humans and then conduct experiments on live bats at Mojiang mine in southwest China. It is worth noting that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has close involvement with WIV. We do not yet known whether this project went ahead. The report observes that even though US authorities were aware of the plan, which is clearly consistent with the lab leak scenario, it is not even mentioned in the released US intelligence assessments.
We do not know the truth behind all of this. If, however, it does indeed amount to deliberate efforts to obfuscate the origins of Covid-19 in order to placate Beijing, it forms part of the dangerous pattern of appeasement perpetrated by the Biden administration. It clearly has deep implications for US policy decisions on prevention of future pandemics and countering PLA plans for using biological weapons that are even more deadly in future conflicts. The strategic consequences of Beijing’s recognition that the US is willing to cover up its own knowledge of the truth about Chinese culpability for a pandemic that has wracked the world could be incalculable.
None of Biden’s acts of appeasement are isolated to their targets”. alone; they are widely observed and cumulative in effect. They embolden America’s enemies and unnerve its friends, potentially fracturing alliances that are vital to defending democracy. So much damage has already been done in just one year that even were Biden to change course, his legacy might well be the dismantling of democracies and the free world.