Don’t let the title fool you. ‘The Internationalists: The Fight to Restore American Foreign Policy After Trump,’ a new book by Alexander Ward, a national security reporter at Politico, may lead you to think ‘puff job.’ It’s not, even though the title fairly screams at a browser in one of the Beltway’s bookstores or passing by the kiosks of Reagan and Dulles airports that President Joe Biden and his two key aides, Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan are real-life Jedi Knights come together to rebuild not just one but many alliances from the ruins left behind by President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor Ambassador Robert O’Brien.
Whomever signed off on the vast access given Ward must surely have counted on at least a little bit of love in return for the sort of welcome usually reserved for Bob Woodward at 1600 when presidents and their inner circles want ‘their side of the story’ out there. This play rarely works out. It certainly didn’t here. For the picture that emerges of Team Biden is of would-be NBA All Stars of national security who have, through three years, steadily, relentlessly, almost purposefully proved themselves to be the Washington Generals of the post World War II era. Sharpshooters from beyond the line in their own mind, they turn out to be bricklayers of the most cringe-inducing sort.
Biden, et al. have confronted five crucial moments in his slightly more than first two years as captain of our national security ship: Three of them became major and deadly-beyond-imagining-in-2020 disasters, plus two smaller dramas that seemed like good ideas with good results at the time.
Biden wanted a summit in June of 2021 with Vladimir Putin and got one. Ward dutifully reports Biden’s account of the president leaning in close to the Russian dictator, Clint Eastwood-style, and stating ‘I looked in your eyes and I don’t believe you have a soul.’ Then, Ward recounts, a jubilant ‘Biden left the meeting telling his aides that he got his message through to Putin.’ A ‘senior staffer’ alerts Ward that ‘Biden had come to Geneva to do what he needed to do.’
‘Now he could put Putin aside and deal with other issues,’ the staffer purred, less than three months before Abbey Gate and eight months before Putin would roll his tanks into Ukraine. The president, it turns out, was clueless about Putin.
Just as the president had been a month before when Hamas began firing barrages of rockets from Gaza into Israel after street fighting broke out in Jerusalem between Arabs and Jews. Sullivan dove into the crisis on May 9. Meetings were held on the 11th. More meetings on the 12th. Joe calls Bibi, repeatedly. They are old acquaintances. He knows how to handle Bibi. The rockets keep coming and the Israeli Air Force pounds back. The left wing of the Democrats acts up. Senator Bernie Sanders writes an op-ed; Rashida Tlaib lectures Biden. Biden leans on Bibi to conclude a ceasefire, which occurs (and which Hamas will savagely destroy on 10/7.) ‘Something had clearly changed,’ Ward recounts on that week. ‘The White House could no longer count on Democrats supporting their [Israel] policy.’
These were the two warm up acts to the Afghanistan disaster which Ward rightly brands ‘The Humbling’ and what is now struggling as the left and right balk at the ‘too little, too late and now too long’ Ukraine policy.
In these two failures to foresee what would turn out to be inevitable, the Biden Administration’s vaunted ‘adults in the room’ couldn’t read the rooms in Kabul, Kyiv or Moscow. Then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley gets tossed under various buses in the accounts Biden loyalists give Ward. Milley and Secretary of Defense Austen wanted to abandon Bagram Air Force Base. The Intel said the Afghans could hold out two years or at least one, (and, later, the Ukrainians a week if lucky.) The late Beau Biden was heavy on the president’s mind: ‘The Iraq War may not have directly killed Beau but it may have contributed to his untimely passing in 2015,’ Ward tells us of the president’s view. Biden ‘never wanted a parent to suffer life he suffered’ and he wanted out of Afghanistan.
(Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden did in fact serve a year in Iraq from 2008 to 2009. He was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme in 2013. There are less than 200,000 of these deadly tumors every year and they spread rapidly. The president’s introduction of Beau at various points in his presidency has always struck most observers as, at best, a grieving parent’s overreach. But that sort of causation argument shouldn’t be a trigger for presidential decision-making.)
No one needs to be reminded of August 2021 in Kabul though it would have been appropriate for the president to have at least spoken the names of the fallen at Abbey Gate. There never was any serious reckoning inside the administration,’ Ward writes about the Afghanistan fiasco. ‘Biden told his top aides, Sullivan included, that he stood by them and that they had done their best during a tough situation.’
The account of the run-up on the U.S. side to Putin’s order to invade Ukraine would be a comedy were it not so tragic. Everyone is surprised at first. Then paralyzed. More meetings. A ‘Tiger Team’ is organized.
But the surprise is complete. Biden doesn’t even mention Ukraine at his speech to the General Assembly. CIA Director Burns gets dispatched to Moscow to talk one-on-one with Putin to stop the madness. But Putin’s not there. He’s gone to his fortress in Sochi. Burns is granted a phone call from Moscow to Sochi. Long way to go to make a call. But that’s Team Biden. Next the Brain Trust dispatches State’s #2, Wendy Sherman, she of the Iran and North Korea nuclear deals, to a NATO-Russia last gambit to avert the invasion. The Russians first ignore her. She gets mad and insists they listen to her tale of Ukrainian roots. Then she cries. We can only guess what the Russians think.
The U.S. closes its embassy in Kyiv and Ukrainian President Zelensky is outraged (as he has been with Biden, Blinken and Milley throughout.) Milley predicts the Russians will roll into Zelenskyy’s capital city in two or three days. Zelenskyy won’t leave. He’s furious with the Americans. After the invasion Biden strides to the cameras. ‘Every asset they [the Russians] have in America will be frozen,’ Biden tells the U.S. on February 24. It’s a lie as it passes his lips for as Ward points out, Team Biden had already exempted to Russian energy sector from sanctions.
Ward wraps up his account before the terrorists of Hamas who were appeased in May of 2021 could conduct their massacre and launch their war on 10/7 of 2023. This book looks to have been intended by the Comms wizards around Biden to hit shelves just as Campaign 2024 was lifting off. Now they must be scurrying about trying to buy up all the copies. It’s a sad tale of incompetence after incompetence and the woes that follow in their wakes.
The most revealing passage in the book? When an unnamed aide tells Ward about the war in Ukraine, that the Administration’s fumbling there ‘wasn’t a do-over of Afghanistan.’
‘Nothing could be that,’ the aid continues. ‘But this does help ensure that it won’t be the only thing Jake and Tony are remembered for.’
Jake and Tony. Not Joe. The book was not doubt planned by Team Biden to build up President Biden to an FDR-like master of all the surveys, or at least a Reagan standing up to Gorbachev. Instead, we get a detailed portrait of the Peter Principle on full display inside the Beltway and the disastrous consequences that has meant for the world.
And it doesn’t even include 10/7 or Xi Jinping’s unimpeded buildup across the Taiwan straight, though North Korea’s return to missile launching is mentioned. As the president declines before our eyes, don’t expect his national security team to get stronger in response. It’s the same guys who brought us President Obama’s red line in Syria. With the same result. It’s deadly to be our friend when Democrats are in the White House, and there’s never been an easier time to be our enemy than in this age of ‘The Internationalists.’
Hugh Hewitt is one of the country’s leading journalists of the center-right. A son of Ohio and a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Michigan Law School, Hewitt has been a Professor of Law at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law since 1996 where he teaches Constitutional Law. Hewitt launched his eponymous radio show from Los Angeles in 1990, and it is today syndicated to hundreds of stations and outlets across the country every Monday through Friday morning. Hewitt has frequently appeared on every major national news television network, hosted television shows for PBS and MSNBC, written for every major American paper, has authored a dozen books and moderated a score of Republican candidate debates, most recently the November 2023 Republican presidential debate in Miami and four Republican presidential debates in the 2015-16 cycle. Hewitt focuses his radio show and this column on the Constitution, national security, American politics and the Cleveland Browns and Guardians. Hewitt has interviewed tens of thousands of guests from Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Kerry to Republican Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump over his forty years in broadcast, and this column previews the lead story that will drive his radio show today.