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Biden vows a new era of ‘relentless diplomacy’ as the world contends with Covid, climate change and China

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, U.S., September 21, 2021.

Eduardo Munoz | Reuters

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden defended his decision to end America’s longest war in Afghanistan in his address to the United Nations on Tuesday, a move that he says will allow the U.S. to pivot to other global challenges like the Covid pandemic, climate change and an ambitious China.

Biden’s debut address to the 193-member body since taking office in January comes as the U.S. president strives to rebuild alliances that crumbled under the reign of his predecessor and reclaim a global leadership position. He addressed a scaled-down gathering at the 76th United Nations General Assembly because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the majority of leaders delivering pre-recorded remarks.

“As the United States turns our focus to the priorities and the regions like the Indo-Pacific that are most consequential today and tomorrow we’ll do so with our allies and partners through the cooperation of multilateral institutions like the United Nations to amplify our collective strength and speed,” Biden said from the green speakers’ rostrum.

“Instead of continuing to fight the wars of the past. We are fixing our eyes and devoting our resources to challenges that hold the keys to our collective future,” the president said.

That collective future is strained by a continuing pandemic, uncertainties of climate change, as well as rising tensions not only with China, but within the NATO alliance itself. Last week’s decision by the U.K. and the U.S. to strike a military deal with Australia left France on the sidelines, creating a diplomatic detente.

U.S. President Joe Biden in a virtual press conference with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sep. 15, 2021. The three leaders announced a new security partnership to strengthen stability in Indo-Pacific.

Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

Still, Biden tried to strike a positive tone. “As we close this period of relentless war. We’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy,” Biden said.

Biden explained that U.S. military power “must be our tool of last resort, not our first. It should not be used as an answer to every problem we see around the world.”

Under Biden’s eye, the U.S. withdrawal of approximately 3,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan ended in disaster as the Taliban carried out a succession of shocking battlefield gains. Despite being vastly outnumbered by the Afghan military, which has long been assisted by U.S. and NATO coalition forces, the Taliban seized the presidential palace in Kabul on Aug. 15.

Biden ordered the deployment of thousands of U.S. troops to Kabul to help evacuate U.S. Embassy staff and secure the perimeter of the airport. Meanwhile, thousands of Afghans swarmed the tarmac at the airport desperate to flee Taliban rule.

U.S. Airmen and U.S. Marines guide qualified evacuees aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), Afghanistan, August 21, 2021.

US Air Force | Reuters

The Biden administration has since placed blame on America’s rushed exit from the country on the Trump administration and rapid collapse of the Afghan national government.

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers: “We inherited a deadline; we did not inherit a plan,” referencing Trump’s 2020 deal with the Taliban to leave the country. “There had not been a single interview in the Special Immigrant Visa program in Kabul for nine months, going back to March of 2020. The program was basically in a stall,” Blinken said on Sept. 13.

“We made the right decision in ending America’s longest war, we made the right decision in not sending a third generation of Americans to fight and die in Afghanistan,” Blinken said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing examining the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 14, 2021.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

In another blunder, the Pentagon admitted last week that a U.S. drone strike in Kabul amid evacuation efforts killed as many as 10 civilians including up to seven children.

The strike came on the heels of a suicide bomb attack by the terrorist group ISIS-K that resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans near Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The Pentagon originally said the strike, which was launched Aug. 29, killed two ISIS-K fighters believed to be involved in planning attacks against U.S. forces in Kabul. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, describing the civilian deaths as a “horrible mistake,” ordered a review to determine whether “accountability measures” need to be taken and procedures changed.

Biden tried to turn attention to security measures of the future as he addressed the assembly, stating that the U.S. would focus on defeating terror with strategic precision while avoiding major combat initiatives.

“I stand here today for the first time in 20 years that the United States is not at war. We’ve returned the page,” Biden said.

“All the unmatched strength, energy, commitment, will and resources of our nation is now squarely focused on what’s ahead of us. Not what was behind.”

‘We stand, in my view, at an inflection point in history’

Biden called on global leaders to address the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 4.5 million people.

“We’ve lost so much to this devastating pandemic,” Biden said. “Our shared grief is a poignant reminder that our collective future will hinge on our ability to recognize our common humanity and to act together,” he said, urging leaders to rally their citizens into receiving the coronavirus vaccine.

“Will we work together to save lives, defeat COVID-19 everywhere and take the necessary steps to prepare ourselves for the next pandemic?” Biden asked. “Or will we fail to harness the tools at our disposal as the more virulent, dangerous variants take hold?”

The president reaffirmed to leaders of the U.S. commitment to ending the coronavirus pandemic, explaining that his administration has invested more than $15 billion toward the global Covid-19 response.

“We’ve shipped more than 160 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to other countries. This includes 130 million doses from our own supply,” he said.

Allies are ‘essential and central’ to America’s prosperity’

French President Emmanuel Macron gestures during a meeting as part of the “Great National Debate” on March 7, 2019, in Greoux-les-Bains, southeastern France.

Christophe Simon | AFP | Getty Images

A White House official said Monday that Biden has asked to speak with Macron, but Élysée has yet to agree to such a call.

“President Biden has asked to be able to speak with President Macron to talk about the way forward to talk about his deep commitment to the U.S. alliance with France an alliance that has fostered security, stability and prosperity around the world for decades,” the official said.

“We understand the French position we don’t share their view in terms of how this all developed but we understand their position. And we will continue to be engaged in the coming days on this,” the official added.

“The president feels very good about the path forward and about how American foreign policy can play a vital role in rallying the world, and especially rallying like-minded democracies, to solve the great challenges of our time,” the White House official added.

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