WASHINGTON – In his first major foreign policy speech Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the Biden administration's priorities, promising to avoid "costly military interventions" and chart a new course on global trade.
Blinken repeatedly emphasized President Joe Biden's desire to link foreign policy to domestic policy.
"More than at any other time in my career – maybe in my lifetime – distinctions between domestic and foreign policy have simply fallen away," he said. "Our domestic renewal and our strength in the world are completely entwined."
Blinken laid out Biden's eight most urgent foreign policy priorities:
Ending the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reviving the economy at home and abroad.
Tackling climate change.
Securing U.S. leadership in technology.
When it comes to ending the pandemic, Blinken said, the U.S. must focus on vaccinating all Americans as well as funding global vaccination efforts.
"None of us will be fully safe until the majority of the world is immune," he said. "Because as long as the virus is replicating, it could mutate into new strains that find their way back to America."
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Blinken cast the U.S.-China relationship as the "biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century."
While other countries pose serious challenges, he said, "China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system – all the values and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to."
To confront China economically, he argued, the U.S. must invest in "American workers, companies and technologies."
According to a new Pew Research Center poll, 60% of Americans have confidence in Biden when it comes to handling foreign policy, compared with 46% for former President Donald Trump in his first year in office.
The poll, conducted in February, identified the issues Americans say should be the top long-term foreign policy goal:
Protecting U.S. jobs.
Reducing the spread of infectious diseases.
Guarding against terrorist attacks.
Preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Improving relationships with allies.
Maintaining U.S. military advantage.
Limiting China's power.
Dealing with climate change.
Acknowledging mistakes on trade
Blinken said trade is another area where previous American foreign policy has fallen short. He conceded that he and other members of Biden's national security team had embraced trade deals that ended up hurting America's middle class.
"Some of us previously argued for free trade agreements because we believed Americans would broadly share in the economic gains," he said. "But we didn't do enough to understand who would be negatively affected and what would be needed to adequately offset their pain.
"Our approach now will be different," he said.
It's not clear yet how far Biden will go in embracing Trump's hard line on global trade, including his predecessor's heavy reliance on tariffs to penalize countries he said were engaged in unfair practices.
Blinken said the Biden administration would "use every tool" to stop currency manipulation and intellectual property theft, among other tactics, but he did not spell out a detailed trade agenda.
Blinken responds on Syria
Blinken defended Biden's decision to launch a strike in Syria last week targeting an Iranian-backed militia, saying Biden's use of military force would be guided by the "hard lessons learned" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"When we look back at the past decades of our military involvement in the world, especially in Afghanistan and the Middle East, we must remember what we've learned about the limits of force to build a durable peace," he said.
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The Syria strikes, the first known military action authorized by Biden, hit multiple targets used by Iranian-linked militias, which the Pentagon blamed for launching rocket attacks on a base in northern Iraq that killed a contractor and wounded U.S. and allied troops Feb. 15.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is among those who have questioned whether Biden had the authority to launch that attack.
“The American people deserve to hear the administration’s rationale for these strikes and its legal justification for acting without coming to Congress," Kaine said in a statement Feb. 26. "Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances."
Blinken argued that American lives and "vital interests" were at stake in that situation and promised "regime change" would not be part of the Biden administration's agenda.
"We will not promote democracy through costly military interventions or by attempting to overthrow authoritarian regimes by force," Blinken said. "We have tried these tactics in the past. However well-intentioned, they haven’t worked."
Blinken said Biden would use force only "when the objectives and mission are clear and achievable, consistent with our values and laws, and with the informed consent of the American people."
"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."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sec. of State Blinken: China could 'seriously challenge' world order