Reason: How to Stop America’s ‘Endless Wars’

President-elect Joe Biden is promising a return to normalcy in U.S. foreign policy following the turbulent Trump years, calling for “America to restore dignified leadership at home and respected leadership on the world stage.” Be careful what you wish for. Biden backed the wars in Iraq and Syria and drone-bombing campaigns in countries like Pakistan, which were carried out under the “counterterrorism plus” strategy that he supported as vice president. In the 1990s, he co-sponsored a bill with John McCain to send troops into Yugoslavia. He advocated a troop surge in Afghanistan, though he later came to oppose it. He embodies the establishment view that the U.S. must take the lead in policing the world because, as the Biden campaign’s foreign policy adviser Antony J. Blinken put it, “the world simply does not organize itself.” A Biden presidency might entail a return to the Obama-era policies of aerial warfare, a heavy reliance on drone strikes, and maybe even a willingness to enter multinational military conflicts without seeking congressional approval, such as the Libya intervention that toppled Moammar Gadhafi and later launched a bloody civil war. There’s a saying in Washington: “Personnel is policy.” New administrations often draw from think tanks for both. The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, formed in December of 2019 with seed funding from the foundations of both progressive billionaire George Soros and libertarian billionaire Charles Koch, is attempting to promote a more restrained foreign policy from inside the Beltway. During his 2016 candidacy, Trump broke with the foreign policy establishment. As president, he spoke of ending America’s “endless wars,” and he installed a senior Pentagon adviser in the dwindling months of his presidency to accelerate a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan—although thousands of troops will likely remain. But Trump’s more establishment personnel fought to constrain his noninterventionist impulses. There were high-profile resignations, and one outgoing diplomat even admitted to lying about troop numbers in northern Syria after Trump had ordered a withdrawal. Biden is reportedly eyeing former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for secretary of state. For defense secretary, Biden is rumored to be considering Michelle Flournoy, an Obama administration alumna who co-founded the influential Center for a New American Security, which emphasizes the need for more military preparedness against China and Russia and a smaller but ongoing U.S. presence in the Middle East. “In terms of a Biden foreign policy, we know who Joe Biden is. He’s very much…ascribed to a kind of liberal interventionism, this notion that the U.S. needs to take a big role on the international stage for the good of the world,” says Annelle Sheline, a foreign policy analyst at the Quincy Institute. The think tank, which seeks to cultivate a roster of foreign policy experts who can guide future administrations toward military restraint, is named for the former U.S. President John Quincy Adams, who once said that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

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