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Boston Political Review

America under Joseph R. Biden: A World Restored?

Roar writer Alin C. Luca on Joe Biden, his foreign policy plans, and whether they can restore the US to its former status.

Moses’ Red Sea

The sea is at its calmness straight after a storm. That is how much of the world will expect to describe America under President-elect Joseph R. Biden. But everything depends on what type of sea Biden will inherit – a whole mass or a Red Sea – divided on one side for Democrats and Republicans on the other? Biden sees himself as the restorer “of the soul of the nation” – as one of his campaign slogans went – but will he be able to bridge the partisan divide?

The acute polarisation of the US is an old syndrome, but it was reinforced by Donald Trump. Many analysts conclude that his rhetoric “normalised hate speech”. A research paper from Harvard coined “The Trump Effect” after it identified a link between Trump’s rhetoric and the declining stance of America on the global stage.

However, a fair audit of his White House will reveal that, alongside problematic policies such as separating migrant kids from their parents, there were also some accomplishments, e.g. the tripartite agreement to diplomatically recognise Israel by UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. But even so, Trump accomplishments pale when placed in contrast with his general behaviour.

The polls tell the same story. Domestically, Trump’s approval ratings hovered around 45%, with an all-time high of just 49%. Internationally, the 45th President thought – according to his latest Twitter map – that the world is in love with Trumpism. That is far from reality. For example, in Britain, confidence in Trump fell from 67% in 2016 to 41% by the start of 2020. And that is no surprise, after all, Trump got impeached for his foreign conduct.

Soul of the Nation

Biden will want to restore the confidence that people, both at home and abroad, have in the US presidency. To do that, there is no hiding away from the facts that he is going to reverse almost all of Trump’s policies.

Biden is already planning an administration that will have the expertise to do just that. Speculations revolve around Lael Brainard, who worked in Obama’s and Clinton’s administrations, for Treasury Secretary, and William J. Burns, President of Carnegie International and a career diplomat, to be tapped as Secretary of State. This is reassuring, considering the fact that Trump did not even have a transition team ready by inauguration day.

Furthermore, in regards to his domestic restoration agenda, Biden will pay attention to three policy sectors in particular: climate, the economy, and healthcare. Firstly, he promised that on the very first day of his administration, he will bring America back into the Paris Accords. Secondly, he aims to expand Obamacare in order to – ambitiously – get at least 97% of Americans health insurance. Thirdly, he aims to raise the federal minimum wage to $15. Other initiatives will include the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, criminal justice reform and the creation of a “fairer” education system.

The Ship’s Captain

That is all very good, but how is he planning to repair the international fissures created by Trump? A country does not exist in isolation and Biden understands that. He does not look at the world through the same black-and-white, realist-tinted lenses of Trump. By acknowledging the role of co-operation, he will engage with competitors. Biden believes in the importance of “working with those with whom we do not see eye to eye.” That does not make him a “soft” president.

Joe Biden is an experimented statesman. His career started in 1973 when he won the senate seat for Delaware – which he held until 2009. After that, he served for 8 years as President Obama’s Vice-President. He knows the rules of the game and most of the players. A demonstration of this political span can be seen in the fact that current national leaders, from PM Trudeau of Canada to the Sheik of the UAE, when wanting to congratulate the 46th President, did not struggle to find a picture with them and Biden. That is why he will conduct a foreign policy buttressed on partnerships and institutions, using America to mobilise action.

President-elect Biden will re-join the Paris Climate Accords on his first day in office and he will restore America’s membership to the World Health Organisation. He will also have as a priority a return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership – even if he finds more benefit just in the geopolitics of it – while, regionally, devising a $4bn plan made to lift up the economies of America’s neighbours.

International Waters

In the Middle East, Biden will reverse the clock to 2015. He plans to re-join the Iran Deal, but also to continue Barack Obama’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq. This will have to be balanced with maintaining a military presence that is still necessary to keep the region stable. For he also wants to end the support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, although the region is still void of political control. Turkey is an emerging regional power, but the relations with Ankara will prove muddier this time around. There is also no reason in hiding the fact that  Egypt’s President, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi – another regional leader -  would have preferred another 4 years of Trump.

Authoritarian leaders all across the world should start changing their dye. For this, Europe will provide an example. In his engagement with Russia, there are not going to be summits in which the 46th US President receives footballs as gifts from Vladimir Putin. Facing the increasing assertiveness of Russia, Biden will speed up the New Start Treaty negotiations – started under Trump – and prepare for unconventional confrontations, such as in cyberspace, with what he sees as “the biggest threat to America”.

Regarding China, in the last days leading to the election, the Trump administration has been steadily locking America into a grid of security alliances in Asia. From India to Australia, this is with the purpose of making sure America will remain hawkish on China, even under a Biden Administration. However, Biden already knows that China is in the game of undermining the legitimacy of the current international order. For that, he is preparing “a united front of US allies” to constrain China’s ambitions. Here he will have to work closely with India – even if he criticised the country for its treatment of Kashmir – in order to strengthen his Indo-Pacific Strategy. Engagements with North Korea are the only spot on Biden’s map that will clearly be stormy.

The Storyteller-in-Chief

In 1630 Governor John Winthrop, while aboard a ship bound for Massachusetts, desired for what is now America, to be a “city upon a hill” and to inspire the world through its example. Since then, the United States of America has been the world’s storyteller. President-elect Biden will want to be the storyteller-in-chief. “America’s greatest strength is not the example of our power, but the power of our example”, he wrote in a recent article in Foreign Affairs.

Biden understands that military power is not the only source of American power. For him, democracy is “the wellspring” of that power. As such, Biden’s most ambitious program is the Global Summit for Democracy. This will be hosted in his first year as president. His plan is to change the way we imagine the world.

In his victory speech, President-Elect Biden defined this mission with the words: “Our nation is shaped by the constant battle between our better angels and our darkest impulses. And what a president says in this battle matters, it is time for our better angels to prevail.”

Now, he will have to use the faith that Americans placed in him to rally the better angels of the wider world, and restore confidence in America.

Further articles written in collaboration with the Boston Political Review can be found on our website.

I write, think, and comment on international political stuff



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