“Our policies must reflect a basic truth: in today’s world, economic security is national security,” the White House document said.
“Our trade and international economic policies must serve all Americans, not just the privileged few,” the report said, using language familiar to both the Trump administration and liberals such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
“We will make sure that the rules of the international economy are not tilted against the United States,” the report said. “We will enforce existing trade rules and create new ones that promote fairness.”
The “Interim Strategic Guidance” document is a placeholder for the Biden administration until a larger congressionally mandated framework report on U.S. security objectives is released this year. The last formal National Security Strategy report was released in 2017, under Trump.
Biden’s priorities share similarities with Trump’s, including identifying China as a strategic competitor in most realms.
“The most effective way for America to out-compete a more assertive and authoritarian China over the long-term is to invest in our people, our economy, and our democracy,” the report said. “By restoring U.S. credibility and reasserting forward-looking global leadership, we will ensure that America, not China, sets the international agenda, working alongside others to shape new global norms and agreements that advance our interests and reflect our values.”
The report does not mention Trump by name, though his rejection of traditional alliances and claims that the United States was being robbed by competitors is the backdrop for some of its conclusions.
In his speech, Blinken outlined where U.S. foreign policy has succeeded and failed in recent years, including a self-critical examination of his own actions.
“Those of us who conduct foreign policy haven’t always done a good job connecting it to the needs and aspirations of the American people,” Blinken said. “Americans have been asking tough but fair questions about what we’re doing, how we’re leading — indeed, whether we should be leading at all.”
Blinken’s speech, which went further than the report on the trade front, suggested that the new administration will do away with Trump’s aggressive style but keep some of his protectionist substance.
The Biden administration has made several quick pivots, including rejoining the Paris climate agreement, opening the door to renewed nuclear talks with Iran and ending the “Muslim ban.” But the administration has also kept Trump’s high tariffs on China, maintained U.S. sanctions on Iran and added its own buy-American rules that disappointed ally Canada.
Blinken conceded that trade policies promoted by Democrats and Republicans have sometimes hurt American workers, and said that the Biden administration would seek to make labor protections and job security a priority.
“Some of us previously argued for free-trade agreements because we believed that Americans would broadly share in the economic gains and that those deals would shape the global economy in ways that we wanted,” he said. “But we didn’t do enough to enforce agreements that were already on the books or help more workers and small businesses fully benefit from them.”
Blinken, who previously served as deputy secretary of state, promoted the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade pact that the United States negotiated but never joined amid bipartisan opposition in Congress. Without mentioning specifics, Blinken promised that Biden would chart a separate path from President Barack Obama.
“Our approach now will be different,” Blinken said. “We will fight for every American job and for the rights, protections and interests of all American workers.”
The Biden administration is aware of American war weariness in the Middle East and Afghanistan, Blinken said, and is mindful of how that has reduced trust in U.S. foreign policy leadership. Blinken, who supported U.S. military intervention in Libya and Iraq, said the Biden administration would not engage in democracy promotion through military adventurism and had learned from past mistakes.
“We will not promote democracy through costly military interventions or by attempting to overthrow authoritarian regimes by force,” he said. “We have tried these tactics in the past. . . . They haven’t worked.”
Still, the Biden administration has not been shy about using military force. Last week, the president authorized an airstrike on Iranian-backed military groups in Syria in response to rocket attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq.
Blinken defended the move, saying the administration “will never hesitate to use force when American lives and vital interests are stake” and will do so with the “informed consent of the American people.” However, the airstrikes irritated members of Congress who were not told in advance of the strike. The administration still hasn’t briefed senators on the operation, which has drawn criticism from allies, including Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has questioned whether the strikes were legal.
“I still need to be convinced that any president has the authorization required to take a retaliatory strike, especially outside of Iraq,” Murphy said Tuesday.