The wrecking crew that is the Trump administration’s foreign policy team has spent its final days in office planting tripwires around the globe — making life as difficult as possible for the in-coming Biden administration and posing real security threats to the nation in the days ahead.
This sabotage of US foreign policy cries out for immediate triage by the Biden national security team — but that will only be possible if Senate confirmation of members of that team is treated with the urgency it deserves.
Presidential transitions are difficult enough as nations unfriendly to the United States look for advantage during those periods of potential vulnerability. Four years of ineptitude, four years of cutting back on this nation’s foreign policy apparatus, have already taken their toll. That was before the latest round of hard-line policies announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even as he prepared to turn out the lights and shut the door behind him at Foggy Bottom.
Just in the past week:
▪ Pompeo added Cuba to the list of state sponsors of terrorism Monday, doubling down on the economic sanctions and travel restrictions announced in the spring of 2019. The new restrictions will make it difficult if not impossible for other nations to trade with Cuba and will virtually demolish its tourism industry. Mostly it will make it more difficult for the Biden administration to build a trusting relationship with the country just 90 miles off the Florida coast.
▪ The previous day, the secretary announced his intention to label Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization and add three of its leaders to a list of “specially designated global terrorists.” The move not only worries humanitarian groups working to alleviate a crisis of immense proportions but also UN diplomats working to broker a peace agreement between the Iranian-supported Houthis and the Saudi-aligned government in Yemen.
▪ Pompeo also lifted restrictions on contacts between United States officials and their Taiwanese counterparts that had been in place for decades. The United States does not recognize Taiwan as a separate nation because China claims the democratically ruled island is Chinese territory. The secretary’s actions were clearly intended as a “take that” to the mainland’s rulers; but more than that, they seemed intended to box in the incoming administration.
In addition, Trump has ordered the withdrawal of all US forces from Somalia — about 700 troops — by Jan. 15, reversing the policy of his now-fired defense secretary, Mark Esper, and defying the advice of the Pentagon’s inspector general, who reported in November that “al-Shabaab retains freedom of movement in many parts of southern Somalia and has demonstrated an ability and intent to attack outside of the country, including targeting US interests.”
Yes, all of these actions are reversible by the Biden administration. Even the troop withdrawal is reportedly moving those forces simply to neighboring countries in East Africa.
But in the meantime, the Trump administration has succeeded in making the world a more dangerous place — especially in the even more obvious hot spots. And that dates back to its early days.
“Nothing worked out,” former secretary of state Rex Tillerson told Foreign Policy magazine recently. “We squandered the best opportunity we had on North Korea. It was just blown up when he [Trump] took the meeting with Kim. . . . With Putin, we didn’t get anything done. We’re nowhere with China on national security. We’re in a worse place today than we were before he came in, and I didn’t think that was possible.”
The world doesn’t get any less dangerous on Jan. 20 as Joe Biden is sworn into office. What Biden does bring to the job beyond his own vast experience on the world stage is a first-rate foreign policy team of seasoned veterans, many of them with years of experience in the trenches of the Obama administration.
But to do their jobs they will need to be confirmed by the Senate, which has been idling in neutral, paralyzed by Trump enablers who continued to deny Biden’s electoral victory, and is still awaiting the arrival of two new Democratic senators from Georgia.
Avril Haines, former deputy director of the CIA and nominated to be the director of national intelligence, overseeing all of the nation’s spy networks, had been granted a hearing this week, but it was postponed.
Hearings for Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken, who formerly served in the number two spot in that agency, and Defense Secretary-designate Lloyd Austin, a retired Army general, have been scheduled for Jan. 19, although there have also been reports the latter might be delayed.
By contrast, Tillerson’s confirmation hearing was Jan. 11, 2017, and that for Trump’s first defense secretary, Jim Mattis, on Jan. 12 that year.
The slow-rolling of the Senate confirmation process under Republican leader Mitch McConnell has thus far been shameful, and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer can’t take over as majority leader until those Georgia races are finalized. Surely after the trauma of the Capitol invasion on Jan. 6, the least Senate Republicans owe the nation is to cooperate in getting the Biden national security and foreign policy teams in place and help end the global games-playing that has been a hallmark of the Trump era.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.