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The Biden administration is juggling foreign policy challenges


The U.S. is up against a lot on the world stage right now. There's the face-off with Russia over the war in Ukraine. And the tensions with China - they just got much hotter. For a look at how the U.S. is juggling these foreign policy challenges, we turn now to Nola Haynes. She's a national security expert at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Good morning.

NOLA HAYNES: Good morning, Ayesha. Thank you so much for having me.

RASCOE: So a tweet of yours caught my eye last week, basically wondering, is the U.S. Superman as it tries to deal with Russia and China? What did you mean by that?

HAYNES: Well, it's quite simple. So, you know, Superman is Superman, meaning, can the U.S. be everywhere all at once? And that's was the thrust of the question. So by asking that question, I was responding to - having conversations with people who have anxieties about what's going on.

RASCOE: So - because these are separate challenges with Russia and China, but they impact one another and, I would think, complicate one another. Am I thinking about that correctly?

HAYNES: Yes. So they are separate situations in that they are different. So the way that I like to think about it is there's an ongoing situation, obviously, with Russia and Ukraine, with Russia illegally invading Ukraine. So that's one situation. That's not just about the U.S. and our help to Ukraine. It's a NATO - it's an allied situation. So there's a situation with Russia that a lot of people are worried about. What if Ukraine loses? Will we then go to war? In that isolated situation, there's a lot of coalition-building. There are a lot of allies involved in that. With the situation in China, like the president said in the State of the Union just recently, that is our competitor. We are not interested in conflict.

So the thing to keep in mind here is that they are of equal importance. I personally do not look at them as a threat assessment that says there's one acute threat and then the other is a pacing threat. I look at them as both pressing issues, but the circumstances around them are very different. And because of that, we are able - the United States is able to make sure that each situation is being handled with the same amount of attention and focus.

RASCOE: So how do you prioritize these challenges, then? I mean, if one - you know, the idea of China being a competitor, but now balloons are getting shot down and - at least one that we say is from China.

HAYNES: Right.

RASCOE: I mean, it seems like it's heating up.

HAYNES: Well, you know, the goal of national security is to make sure that the assessment is correct. So we definitely do not want to jump to conclusions regarding the other UFOs. UFOs and Super Bowl...

RASCOE: That's a good point, yes.

HAYNES: ...That's quite a mix on this Sunday morning. But we definitely want to make sure we're not jumping to conclusions regarding the other ones because that would be a little dangerous. And anxieties are already high. People are already nervous. So we're still waiting to hear more information about the other flying objects. But regardless, the surveillance balloon - that happened. There's no way around it. It was a surveillance balloon. It had nothing to do with weather. It had nothing to do with geo-mapping. It wasn't Google-related, that some people were, perhaps, you know, hypothesizing. It was a surveillance balloon.

So what that means is diplomacy's still first. No diplomacy door is closed, period. Meaningful diplomacy is still on the table. But at this point, it's about how Beijing wants to respond to those diplomatic efforts, because, like I said at the beginning, there's no appetite for conflict. So we are definitely looking at China as, you know, a fierce competitor, but for right now, that's pretty much it. Moving into the space of thinking about conflict is not on the table.

RASCOE: I mean, right now, you have this international response to the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. How are some of - all of these frictions on the world stage maybe affecting aid efforts, in just about the 30 seconds we have left?

HAYNES: In about 30 seconds, well, the one thing that I can say is this administration is very efficient at what it does, and there are a lot of people that care about what they do. And I do believe that these situations will be handled because there are people in place that care about what's happening around the world individually, and they are throwing their expertise towards the problem.

RASCOE: That's Nola Haynes of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Thank you so much for joining us.

HAYNES: Thank you so much, and have a wonderful Sunday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.