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Joe Biden's presidency: biggest surprises, successes and mistakes so far

What surprised Jane Harman, former US Congresswoman (D-CA), most about Joe Biden's presidency? "Number one, he's much more hands-on as a leader than I fully understood. It's coming out now how he runs his meetings and what he does. But number two, and I love this, he's really enjoying the job." Harman, a nine-term member of Congress who served for decades on the major security committees in the House of Representatives, notes that Biden's stint as Vice President was no guarantee of how he would perform. "I think sitting behind that desk, and having the buck stop with him is very different. And I think he fills out the job very well."

In an interview with Ian Bremmer, Harman says Biden has a dimension that none of his four predecessors had, because of his experience in Congress and in foreign policy. She also shares her perspective on Biden's biggest successes as well as some mistakes he's made.

Biden’s foreign policy approach: “Take the foreign out of foreign policy”

Jane Harman, who served nine terms as a US Democratic Congresswoman from California, explains that the Biden administration's approach is "to take the foreign out of foreign policy." Biden's foreign policy strategy starts with restoring alliances, promoting democracy, and making the world safer, prioritizing issues that connect what the US does abroad to concerns at home, says Harman. That means finding a solution to the pandemic both in the US and globally; addressing terrorism abroad and domestically; and climate, which Harman notes, "is a huge part of our security at home and security in the world. Think about it. Half the refugees in the world are climate refugees. They're not terrorism refugees."

Harman, author of the new book, "Insanity Defense: Why Our Failure to Confront Hard National Security Problems Make Us Less Safe," spoke in an interview with Ian Bremmer.

US national security depends on domestic progress

Jane Harman, a nine-term member of Congress (D-CA) who served for decades on the major security committees in the House of Representatives, discusses the shortcomings of the US national security strategy for the last few decades, and assesses the Biden administration's plans to strengthen it. In an interview with Ian Bremmer, she discusses the priorities for addressing critical issues at home and abroad, from the COVID pandemic to the climate crisis and terrorism. But without a unified and functional Congress, Harman warns, the US is ineffective on matters of security. "Where is Congress? Congress can't get things done because of toxic partisanship, but the other reason it can't get anything done is members don't want to own the consequences. And that is chicken."

Harman, author of the new book, "Insanity Defense: Why Our Failure to Confront Hard National Security Problems Make Us Less Safe," discusses Joe Biden's presidency so far and gives him high marks on assembling an "A-team" for foreign policy. She adds, 'I'm just hopeful that because he has long term relationships and really a good compass for how to talk to members of Congress, he will be able to get somewhere."

What We’re Watching: Suu Kyi on trial, Blinken in Israel, Mali coup 2.0

Suu Kyi in the dock: Myanmar's former leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday made her first court appearance since the military coup that deposed her last February. Suu Kyi, 75, faces uncorroborated charges — ranging from illegally importing walkie-talkies to breaching COVID rules — that could put her behind bars for the rest of her life. The National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi's political party that defended her in court, is now also at risk as the military junta is trying to dissolve it — mainly because it trounced the pro-military party in the December parliamentary election. Myanmar's generals seem to think that they can go back in time to the days of complete dominance if they throw Suu Kyi in jail and ban the NLD. But they may be underestimating the popular appetite for democratic change in a country where the military is as powerful as it is unpopular. Whatever the junta decrees, expect the NLD to continue its political activities underground and in exile.

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Flight diversion in Belarus is a criminal act

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer, here. Happy Monday to you. And yeah, I'm not in New York. I'm in Nantucket for a few days, working as usual, but I'm willing, I'm trying will summer into being. And the shirt, if nothing else, is annoying and distracting people and making me feel more summery.

But not so summery in Belarus, my goodness. The Belarusian president, illegitimate ostensibly reelected through fake elections, President Alexander Lukashenko. You remember all of the demonstrations against him, the support for the opposition movement in Europe and the United States. Not so much in Russia and President Putin and kind of petered out and police repression and he gets to still run the country, Mr. Lukashenko. And now, has engaged in what European leaders are calling state terrorism. Certainly, a hijacking, a level of piracy, with a Ryanair plane, that's an Ireland flagged carrier, going from Athens to Vilnius, two NATO allies, two European union members, through Belarusian airspace. And the Belarusians force the plane down to Minsk because a passenger on the plane is a Belarusian opposition journalist, and they have wanted him in jail. He's been a thorn for the Belarusian government and the president.

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Navalny's health and US-Russia tensions

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

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Getting to ‘yes’ on a new Iran deal

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

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No, Joe Biden, America is not back. It will take time.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off the week as we head into spring. And I thought I'd talk a little bit about where US foreign policy is and is not heading.

We keep hearing from President Biden and the Biden administration that the United States is back. And certainly when you talk about the fact that the United States is rejoining and recommitting to a lot of institutions like the nuclear agreement on START, five-year extension, trying to get back into the Iranian nuclear deal, Paris Climate Accord, World Health Organization, where there's been a lot of criticism of late from Secretary of State Blinken saying the Chinese are all over that, and were writing basically the report that came out from the WHO, my God, that's a hit, but they're still engaging with WHO as they should. Internationally, that means that the level of diplomacy looks a little bit more normal than it did under the Trump administration, but that's not the United States is back.

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