Now would be a good opportunity for Trump’s aides and enablers to favor us with their silence as President Biden tries to clean up the messes he inherited. Instead, many of Trump’s supporters are trying to undermine the new president from the start.
Last week, the right-wing attack machine accused Biden of being an apologist for China’s horrific abuse of the Uighurs. “Biden dismisses Uighur genocide as part of China’s ‘different norms,’” blared the New York Post. Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo said Biden was echoing the “Chinese propaganda line.” Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster accused Biden of “bigotry masquerading as cultural sensitivity.”
This was a gross distortion of Biden’s remarks during a CNN town hall. Biden did explain Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rationale for his inhumane policies — “that there must be a united, tightly controlled China.” But he also said he told Xi that the norm in the United States was for the president to speak up about human rights abuses. Biden made clear that China would face “repercussions” for what Xi is “doing in Hong Kong, what he’s doing with the Uighurs.”
In short, Biden was not excusing Chinese human rights violations — as Trump himself did so often. Former national security adviser John Bolton wrote in his memoir that Trump even told Xi that building concentration camps for the Uighurs “was exactly the right thing to do.”
The Trumpist criticism is just as egregious when it comes to Biden’s approach to Iran — which involves trying to restart nuclear negotiations, not calling out Iran for a militia attack on a U.S.-led military base in Iraq last week, ending support for the Saudi war in Yemen and removing the Iranian-backed Houthi movement from the terrorism list.
Pompeo protests that “adopting the European Union model of accommodation ... will guarantee Iran a path to a nuclear arsenal.” “The Biden Administration is playing into the Ayatollah’s hands,” fumes former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley. “Biden is following Obama’s utterly erroneous notion that appeasing Iran will induce it to engage in more civilized behavior on nuclear and other issues,” writes Bolton.
You would think that Trump had ended, or at least decreased, the threat posed by Iran with his “maximum pressure” sanctions strategy. Wrong. Since Trump left the nuclear deal in 2018, the Iranian stockpile of enriched uranium has grown roughly 12-fold. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Iran could produce enough fissile material to make a nuclear bomb in a “few months.” This flies in the face of Pompeo’s blithe assurances that Iran would never restart its nuclear program — “We’re confident that Iranians will not make that decision,” he said on Nov. 4, 2018.
Pompeo also said in 2018 that Trump was “putting the world on notice” that the Iranian “terror regime” was “going to stop” funding Lebanese Hezbollah, carrying out terrorist attacks around the world and supplying the Houthis with missiles to hit Saudi Arabia. “That behavior must change,” Pompeo said. Except, oops, Iran’s behavior did not change — even after the Trump administration killed Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, last year.
Iranian-backed proxy forces in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen appear as strong as ever. The Houthis are advancing in Yemen and using drones and missiles to attack Saudi Arabia despite Saudi Arabia’s Trump-backed war effort in Yemen. A leading Lebanese critic of Hezbollah was just shot to death, and an Iranian front group rocketed a U.S.-led base in northern Iraq. Iranian fingerprints are all over plots uncovered last year to kill the U.S. ambassador to South Africa and to bomb the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Ethiopia.
Trump partisans may try to blame Iran’s most recent aggression on supposed Biden weakness, but the critique quickly breaks down. The Trumpists, for example, are irate about Biden removing the Houthis from the terrorism watch list. But the Trump administration added them to the list only on Jan. 19. If the terrorist designation was so important, why did Trump wait until the day before he left office to issue it? Like much of Trump’s foreign policy, this was incoherence masquerading as toughness. If Biden hadn’t taken the Houthis off the list, it likely would have made it harder to negotiate a peace settlement or deliver humanitarian aid to Yemen.
There is no guarantee that the Biden approach will work. But we know the Trump policies failed. Biden deserves a chance to chart a different course without being sniped at by Trump’s followers.