Leading From Behind Is Back in Vogue

State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha

Barack Obama’s infamous contribution to US foreign policy was the concept of “leading from behind.” Undoubtedly Obama glommed onto this leadership style from the Marxist Nelson Mandela, who was lauded by progressives the world over for having replaced the apartheid-supporting South African government with a neo-Marxist one. Here is how Mandela defined the phrase in his 1995 autobiography as he discussed the characteristics of a great leader:

“He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

How did everything work out for Obama by applying “leadership from behind”? Well, for starters, he set the Middle East and Maghreb on fire with his support for Arab Spring movements in Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Egypt. Didn’t work out too well for the Ukrainians when Vladimir Putin invaded eastern Ukraine and “annexed” the Crimea in 2014, either. And the Philippines certainly didn’t appreciate Obama’s kowtowing to Beijing during the Scarborough Shoal affair in 2012 (although disputed territory, the Philippines had had de facto control over the shoal for some time):

U.S. assistant secretary of state Kurt Campbell negotiated an immediate, mutual withdrawal [of Philippine and Chinese vessels from the Shoal] with [Chinese vice foreign minister] Fu Ying sometime in early June. China reportedly made “commitments to ‘de-escalate’ over Scarborough,” and the United States “put a lot of pressure on the [Philippines] to step back.” Manila followed through, but according to this view, Beijing reneged and kept its ships at the shoal.

[N]othing succeeded in restoring Philippine administration of the shoal. Manila chose not to revive the standoff once it became clear that Chinese ships were not leaving (or, perhaps, had come back). This amounted to a de facto transfer of control to Beijing.

No wonder Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is distrustful of the US these days! Note the name Kurt Campbell in the above fiasco. Campbell was one of the three hapless US diplomats sent to “negotiate” with ChiCom diplomats in Anchorage, AK, last week during which the ChiComs stridently made demands that were weakly countered by the US team of Wynken, Blinken and Nod. Nod being Kurt Campbell, of course, who was virtually a nonentity during the meeting (with Jake Sullivan and Tony Blinken doing the damage).

So shut your eyes while Mother sings
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three: —
Wynken,
Blynken,
And Nod.

That idyllic poem is symbolic of the foreign policy of leading from behind that the Hologram has reintroduced to the world scene: a naïve attempt to make the complex seem simple and “see the beautiful things.” And the ChiComs (and others) couldn’t be happier, as they dream of much larger territorial grabs than little Scarborough Shoal these days. Like Taiwan, for instance.

What are some indications that the Biden variety of leading from behind is well underway? Why, publicly expressing “concerns” about ChiCom, Iranian, Russian, and North Korean activities deemed “troubling.” Eloquent words to counter kinetic actions. Works every time (not!). Here are a few press reports that should begin to concern more than a few Americans about the competency of Biden foreign policy:

  • From Radio Free Asia: China continues to assert its presence in the South China Sea by deploying maritime militia around disputed islands and reefs in the Spratly island chain, according to vessel tracking data and satellite imagery. [No discernable US response]
  • From Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: [T]he U.S. reiterated its “unwavering commitment to the defense of Japan under Article V of our security treaty, which includes the Senkaku Islands.” [Sounds like the unwavering commitment to the Philippines during the Obama years]
  • From Bloomberg: Russian President Vladimir Putin fired back at American counterpart Joe Biden’s accusation that he’s a killer, saying “it takes one to know one” as he insisted the U.S. will have to take Russia’s interests into account despite insults. [Biden’s personal insult of Putin was childish and further damaged US-Russia relations – an act of personal pique, not experienced diplomacy (it is always wise to insult the leader of a country that has 6,500 nuclear warheads).]
  • Reported in The Conversation: [T]he US has launched reprisal strikes against Iranian targets in Syria and released damning intelligence overtly linking the crown prince of Saudi Arabia to the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. [Donald Trump left a relatively quiescent Middle East to Joe Biden, including historic – and unprecedented! – peace agreements between Israel and several Arab nations, and the pot-stirring has only just begun.]
  • More from Bloomberg: The U.S. expressed concerns over the presence of more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels near a disputed South China Sea reef, saying Beijing uses “maritime militia to intimidate, provoke and threaten other nations.” [Expressions of concern work wonders]
  • From World Oil: China is gorging Iranian oil even as other nations wait for U.S. President Joe Biden to remove sanctions on the Islamic Republic. [A reversion to Obama’s total support for the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world’s foremost state sponsor of terror, is already underway, and the ChiComs are already cashing in.]
  • From Asia Times: [T]he Philippines claimed as many as 183 suspected Chinese maritime militia vessels are now swarming the Philippine-claimed Whitsun Reef. … The US Embassy in Manila … declare[d], “We stand with the Philippines, our oldest treaty ally in Asia.” [Sounds good, but Biden’s new National Security Guidance doesn’t even mention the Philippines as an ally! Shades of Dean Acheson not mentioning in 1950 that South Korea was in the US “sphere of influence,” which precipitated the Korean War.]
  • From The Washington Post: North Korea fired off multiple short range missiles last weekend [20-21 Mar] after denouncing Washington for going forward with joint military exercises with South Korea. … State Department spokesman Ned Price has said the Biden administration wants to develop a “new approach” to North Korea, but he has offered few details. [“New approach”? Because the Trump administration was successful in getting the DPRK to refrain from intimidating their neighbors with missile firings? Not holding my breath on this one.]
  • From The Washington Times: “We’re going to make it clear that, in order to deal with these things, we are going to hold China accountable to follow the rules, whether it relates to the South China Sea or the North China Sea or the agreement made on Taiwan or a whole range of other things,” Mr. Biden said [during his first press conference on 25 Mar]. [More words. Where is the “accountability” for any of the above ChiCom aggression?]

The reprise of leading from behind is not looking good – at least from a US national security point of view. And we’re only two months into the Biden-Harris regime. Will Biden’s foreign policy record transcend Obama’s as the worst in the last 100 years? Almost certainly at this rate.

The end.