Myanmar, Russia pose early tests for Biden's foreign policy

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – A military coup in Myanmar and a mass crackdown on dissidents in Russia are presenting early tests for the Biden administration as it tries to reestablish American primacy as a worldwide pro-democracy leader.

Having taken office with a pledge to restore ironclad U.S. support for human rights, freedom of speech and political openness, President Joe Biden is being confronted with two serious challenges in two disparate parts of the world that had either been neglected or the subject of inconsistent messaging during the Trump era.

After investing decades of time, energy and money into promoting democracy in both Myanmar and Russia, the U.S. now faces challenges in each that could affect the global balance of power, with the Myanmar turmoil potentially strengthening China's hand.

And, while neither situation can be directly tied to domestic political uncertainty in the United States, experts believe foreign governments might be taking cues from the vestiges of America's perceived rudderlessness in the final months of President Donald Trump's term.

“It is not always about us,” said Dan Fried, a former senior U.S. diplomat for Europe. “Each has its own dynamic, but they certainly take cues from us. What links the two is that during the campaign, the Biden team talked about support for democracy being a North Star — a guiding point for democracy."

Biden's aides have rejected suggestions that the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol fueled by Trump will hurt U.S. influence in the long run. But they have acknowledged it as a factor as Biden tries to reassert American moral leadership after four years of Trump's perceived diffidence.

“The United States remains a country in the world that is looked to for ... leadership, and it’s going to take some time, but he’s certainly committed to doing that,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of Biden on Monday.

She spoke after Biden released a statement saying he would be looking at reimposing sanctions on Myanmar, also known as Burma, that had been lifted after the country's partial return to democracy during the Obama administration.