In 1947, President Harry Truman established what became his lasting and namesake foreign policy doctrine: America will always protect, from both internal and external threats, all who fight for democracy. Originally focused on protecting the sovereignty of nations from assimilation by the Soviet Union following World War II, and supplemented by the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine commits the United States to provide assistance to democratic nations under threat worldwide. Despite the unambiguous strength of this precedent, President Joe Biden is now disregarding the human rights abuses and campaign of suppression committed by the Islamic Republic in Iran against the freedom-seeking Iranian people in order to carry on nuclear negotiations in Vienna, effectively neutralizing the Truman Doctrine and empowering those who oppress Iranians. His statements have been weak and ineffective at best, and he has yet to take actual action to support even those assertions. This administration has shown the people of every nation fighting for basic human rights that they are fighting alone, while the United States passively supports the dictators who violently oppress millions of people every single day.
President Biden’s apathy towards the clash between authoritarian leaders and their democratic opposition is most evident in Iran, where ongoing unrest in the Khuzestan province that was sparked from demonstrations against severe water shortages turned into yet another full-blown protest movement calling for the end of the Islamic Republic. There is almost no clean drinking water in Khuzestan, and many people have contracted serious illnesses from drinking the polluted water to which they do have access. Secretary Blinken recommitted the United States to centralizing the promotion of human rights in American foreign policy, but while the regime was opening fire into crowds, killing at least eight people and arresting hundreds more, a spokesperson for the State Department said that the Administration will “continue to urge the Iranian government to support the Iranian people as they exercise their universal rights to freedom of expression as well as freedom of peaceful assembly.” This phrasing is nearly identical to the original statement released by the White House on the freedom protests in Cuba, which declared that the “United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs.” The State Department did eventually condemn the Islamic Republic’s behavior, two weeks after the fact, but these feeble statements do not “promote and defend” human rights; ‘calling on’ and ‘urging’ savage authoritarian dictators to respect supposedly unalienable rights accomplishes nothing except reinforce the oppressive regimes’ own propaganda about the fecklessness of the United States.
The international consequence of President Biden abandoning freedom and democracy movements across the globe is that the autocrats against whom they are fighting no longer have to fear repercussions from the United States and arguably will also be emboldened. President Biden’s decision to ignore Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s human rights abuses and crimes and publicly continue negotiations in Vienna dismantles the infrastructure of global accountability, a system America has traditionally espoused. Dictators learn by example, and the nomenklatura of every authoritarian regime from Cuba to North Korea is watching the United States turn a blind eye to the Islamic Republic’s countless crimes in the interest of building diplomatic relations with a regime that is incapable of governance without fatal oppression. By allowing the Islamic Republic to brutalize the Iranian people and develop weapons, all the while having a seat at the United Nations and negotiating with the United States, President Biden has effectively undermined America’s reputation as a global defender of democracy and human rights.
The United States’ own history stands as a shining example of fighting for freedom; America fought a long and bloody revolution for independence but could not do it alone. Little more than a poorly trained militia group, the Patriots needed the support of the French in their fight against a rich, powerful, and established British Empire. President Truman understood that legacy, and that supporting the aspirations for freedom of the peoples of the Soviet Bloc was not only the right thing to do, but also furthered the strategic interests of the United States—as is borne out by the strong allies and NATO members these nations have become. By only paying lip service, and scant lip service at that, to the wishes for freedom of the Iranian people, President Biden is betraying the convention of the Truman Doctrine. Instead of seizing the opportunity to robustly and unequivocally support a new generation of potential allies as they demand freedom, President Biden is passively providing only tepid and generic words. The Iranian people, and the citizens of many other countries, will thus continue to suffer alone as their leaders are emboldened by what is emerging as the dangerous Biden Doctrine of appeasement and concession.
Gardner Coates is a NUFDI Summer Fellow and Freshman at Occidental College.