The US reversal over Yemen marks the country’s welcome re-entry into world affairs
His intentions had been repeatedly trailed in advance. Yet Joe Biden’s first foreign policy speech as president, delivered appropriately at the state department, the home base of American diplomacy, was still a breath of fresh air. The main headlines were an end to US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen and a brisk warning to Russia that its easy ride under Donald Trump was over. But the speech also marked a broader policy shift.
Gone were Trump’s trademark “America First” slogans and the ugly isolationism, protectionism and xenophobia that frequently underpinned them. Biden said he was sending “a clear message to the world that America is back”. By this, he meant recommitment to multilateralism, to alliances such as Nato, to UN agencies such as the World Health Organization and to international agreements such as the Paris climate agreement and Iran nuclear deal.
It would be facile to apply terms such as the “Biden doctrine” to what was essentially a restatement, or reassertion, of longstanding American policy objectives after a four-year hiatus. Yet at the same time, the speech was more than a mere touch on the tiller. It signalled a significant change in the means the US will employ to achieve those objectives. Biden’s way is the diplomatic way, not the way of war, arms sales, punishment, tantrums, stunts and threats.