New administrations that differ in partisan orientation from their predecessors have a habit of reorienting American foreign policy. George W. Bush, until September 11, 2001, planned to shift America’s focus back to great-power competition, even dispatching Donald Rumsfeld, at that point the administration’s most prominent statesman, to Moscow to negotiate with Putin. This marked a distinct break from Mr. Clinton’s liberal interventionism.
Mr. Obama reversed virtually every substantive foreign-policy choice of the previous eight years, immediately pursuing a “reset” with Russia, a drawdown in Iraq, a grand tour of the Arab world, and soon after a détente with Iran.
Mr. Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords and the Iran nuclear agreement. He also made substantive changes to a four-decade-long U.S. effort to make China a “stakeholder” in the international order.
Even more striking at the partisan level has been the variation in commitment to “anti-war” causes. Democratic support for the anti-war movement virtually evaporated in 2009 despite, lest we forget, multiple attempts to impeach Mr. Bush over his conduct of the Iraq War. Republicans are equally guilty: Challenges to the constitutionality of Mr. Obama’s military actions in Syria and Iraq vanished on January 20, 2017. If Mr. Biden’s recent Syria strike demonstrates anything, it is that politics has remained remarkably normal. Apart from fringe progressives — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her vanguard cohort — there will be no opposition from Democrats to executive military action.
It is, however, encouraging to identify an emerging continuity between Mr. Biden and his predecessor. The Biden administration seems committed to maintaining “the Quad” — the Asian security forum that includes the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India. The Quad stemmed from efforts to coordinate relief after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Although a formal security relationship seemed imminent in 2007, American, Indian, and Australian policy shifts buried the idea for nearly a decade. The Trump administration resurrected the Quad in November 2017 through ASEAN, building off America’s joint naval exercises with the three potential members. The Quad’s high point came in October 2020, when its four members participated in Exercise MALABAR, traditionally a bilateral Indo-American affair.
Moreover, other American allies have begun to recognize the link between the Indo-Pacific balance and their own interests. In February, France deployed a nuclear-powered attack submarine to the South China Sea, and it plans to deploy an amphibious assault ship and frigate in preparation for U.S.-Japanese military exercises in May. Germany will deploy a frigate to the Indo-Pacific this fall. The Royal Navy’s Carrier Strike Group will deploy to the Indo-Pacific this year, marking the first British capital-ship deployment east of the Suez in a generation.