Biden at the helm! What it means for the US and the World – Part 1

Joe Biden has criticised Trump’s temperamental approach towards long standing allies and has vowed to recommit the U.S. to global alliances and international accords that President Trump has quit or criticized. The major differences in the two rivals’ approaches to foreign policy is sure to have a telling effect on the world after the change of guard at the White House.

The suspense over who will enter the White House has ended, well almost. Though Trump promises to challenge the results and urge for re-counting at several states, the entire world along with the the citizens of USA are looking forward to the the new US President taking oath as if their future plans depended on the results. While the live coverage in media across the world is an indication of the importance of the results, it is also true that the path a US President sets for himself and the country decides the nature of relationship, international commerce, defence priorities and the foreign policies of countries of the world.

The Trump presidency was mired in one or the other controversy throughout which also impacted the image of the office of the POTUS and USA across the world. Early into his tenure, the Trump campaign was charged with taking undue favor from Russia to win the elections. Some even alleged that Russia was involved in rigging the elections in Trump’s favor. The debate over the external interference in US elections damaged the reputation of its electoral process and its ability to maintain fairness. The long drawn and acrimonious debate over external interference resulted in the Democrat efforts to impeach President Trump in late 2019 and early 2020. Though the Senate acquitted Trump of these charges on February 5, 2020 and their efforts did not eventually pay-off, Trump’s image and that of the US took a beating across the world.

Further, the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been criticized both within and outside the US. The haphazard way in which the subsequent lockdowns were imposed and the resultant economic crashes were harshly denounced by the opposition which left no stone unturned to beat Trump using it as a stick. The rising deaths and charges of mismanagement of the health-care sector, underpaid and overworked hospital staff, lack of direction by the US government in handling the pandemic, added to the woes of Trump. The pandemic coming in the election year did not help Trump one bit.

The death of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and hasty replacement by Trump was another controversy which Trump had to battle. Justice Ginsburg, 87, died in Spetember 2020, just weeks before the presidential election. Trump’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, insisted the decision on her replacement should wait until after the US elections. But Trump vowed to swear in Ginsburg’s successor “without delay”, a move that infuriated Democrats. This is as the ideological balance of the nine-member court is crucial to its rulings on the most important issues in US law. Hence the Democrats fear that the Republicans will vote to lock in a decades-long conservative majority on the country’s highest court.As expected, in late September Trump decided to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

The Democrats charged Trump with hypocrisy as the Republicans had blocked a similar move by previous president Obama in 2016. The Republicans had blocked the appointment of Barack Obama’s nominee in the Senate for almost a year. After Donald Trump won the election, he appointed Democrat leaning Neil Gorsuch with the Republican Senate’s support. The haste with which Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett was showcased by the US Media as Trump’s attempt to subvert the Supreme Court to his favor in case of a unfavorable verdict in the elections. The entire episode tarnished the image of the US judicial system in front of the entire world and Trump was blamed for the same.

Another major factor which resulted in waning of Trump’s hold on the country was the motivated Left-Liberal Black Lives Matter movement. The organised movement which was triggered by the killing of a Black American by a White Police officer was clearly hijacked by the Democrats and the Left-Liberal brigade in a move to target Trump and paint him as a ‘White supremacist’. Looking at the trends and the results, one would understand that the movement has been by and large successful in achieving its purpose.

These events of 2019 and 2020 which would usually provide enough fodder for the opposition for an entire 4-year term, haunted Trump in one year alone. The result is that we see Biden inching closer to the White House.

Trump and Biden on issues that matter to the world

Tackling an expansionist China, illegal immigration, Islamic terrorism, middle-east crisis, energy and climate change policy apart from general foreign policy that USA would adopt is what the world looks forward to in a Presidential nominee and his team. A famous quip says that immaterial of who the US President is, it is the CIA which will decide on issues that matter the most.

Notwithstanding the quip, the only consistency in US handling issues across the world is it’s self-interest in every region and every aspect of global dictates. US has intervened in countries in the name of ‘restoring democracy or ‘lack of religious freedom’’. US has subverted global mandates like the Paris Climate accord as it did not suit its interests. The US has also disregarded concerns of developing countries in terms of climate change goals, industrialisation, economic goals and has foisted its will on the world using world agencies. So would this change under Trump’s second term or Biden’s first term?

On Border Wall and Immigration – Illegal Immigration and immigration control was a major plank on which Trump campaign for his 2016 bid. After taking office, his administration has made many efforts to curb illegal immigration and has sought to reduce all forms of immigration to the US.

Construction of Border-wall with Mexico, bans on travel from a number of countries and a temporary closure of the southern border to asylum seekers for the duration of the COVID pandemic are some of the measure Trump took in the name of safeguarding American lives and jobs. He also attempted to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

On the contrary, Joe Biden has formulated his own immigration policy which he claims will reverse the adverse effects of Trump’s policies. Biden has promised to undo nearly all of the changes the Trump  administration has made. Charging Trump with ‘waging an unrelenting assault on our values and our history as a nation of immigrants’, Biden says ‘It is a moral failing and a national shame when a father and his baby daughter drown seeking our shores’.

Biden promises to undo Trump’s ‘damage’ and reclaim America’s values, Modernize America’s immigration system, Welcome immigrants in US communities and reassert America’s commitment to asylum-seekers and refugees.

On Islamic Terrorism and terror financing – While Trump has been a vocal critic of Islamic terrorism, Biden has been conspicuously silent and has avoided using the term. Trump recently lambasted Joe Biden’s approach to immigration at a campaign event in Georgia and said the Democrat will “open floodgates to radical Islamic terrorism.” Both have however maintained similar views about terror financing and have called for all efforts to cut off avenues to fund organisations listed as terror sponsors. However, the difference is that while Biden shies away from naming the Islamic terror groups, Trump has openly named and shamed all such groups throughout his tenure.

During his campaing, Trump claimed “I’m keeping the terrorist and jihadist and violent extremist the hell out of our country” and went on to criticize Biden for pledging to increase refugee admissions by a whopping 700 percent, despite the number bringing the ceiling back to the figure seen before the current administration’s cap.  

On the other hand Biden had said ‘I Wish We Taught More in Our Schools About the Islamic Faith’ at a Muslim Voters Summit. He had also vowed to Include Muslim-Americans in his Administration. Biden has also committed to ending the Trump administration’s “Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Program.” which he claims is discriminatory to Muslims.

While offering condolences to the victims of the recent terror attack in Austria, Trump wrote that the “U.S. stands with Austria, France, and all of Europe in the fight against terrorists, including radical Islamic terrorists”. Biden without naming the perpetrators just said ‘After tonight’s horrific terrorist attack in Vienna, Austria, Jill and I are keeping the victims and their families in our prayers. We must all stand united against hate and violence”. The contrast between Trump and Biden vis-a-vis Islamic terrorism and criticizing the same cannot be more clear.

On Middle East and Afghanistan – President Trump has been credited with normalising ties of major Muslim countries like Egypt, Jordan and UAE with Israel. He has been pressing more Arab countries to do the same. Except few countries like Oman and Bharain who congratulated the move, the prospects for further normalization of ties looks bleak irrespective of who wins the elections. Observers say that despite the closeness of Saudi King Salman with Trump administration, he is not very keen to give further legitimacy to the state of Israel and is infact dissuading other Muslim countries from establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel.

Trump has been critical of Iran which Biden does not approve of. Trump was forcing Iran for a nuclear deal while Biden views it as a move which would unsettle Israel and Arab states. 

Though President Trump and Joe Biden have major differences in key areas of U.S. foreign policy, including alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, both hold similar views over issues of limiting troop deployments to the Middle East and Afghanistan.

On China – While the previous Democrat administration under Obama sought to balance relations with China, President Trump has charted a more confrontational China policy during his tenure. Apart from the present trade war and imposing taxes on Chinese goods, Trump openly castigated China for unleashing ‘Chinese Virus’ a term he repeatedly used to refer to COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic. His administration has called out China for its interference in other countries, treatment of religious groups like the Uighurs and pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. But the US has shied away from taking any punitive action over any of those charges.

But the US policymakers irrespective of their political leanings, have struggled to respond to Beijing’s growing assertiveness. Under Trump, the US has called out China for its unfair trade practices and its maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere. The US has been unable to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure plan which aims to expand its influence across Asia, Europe and Africa. Except, raising the issue of national security risks posed by Chinese tech firms, statements over the future of Hong Kong and Taiwan, the US administration per se has not acted against China in order to dissuade it from following these policies.

Biden as President is expected to follow a similar policy given his stance over China during the campaign. Biden has expressed alarm over threats from China but has not been too harsh on the Communist country. With respect to Taiwan too, the Democrats are expected to support the cause of Taiwan. But the Democratic National Convention has already rejected a ‘Cold War’ mentality to tackle China. Biden has stated that he wants to go tougher on China as compared to Trump but through a less confrontational route. His administration would most probably take a different approach and give China a breather which Trump refused.

On Trade – Many experts opine that Donald Trump’s election in 2016 led to the biggest shift in U.S. trade policy since World War II, as he piled on tariffs and eschewed alliance-building. Trump as President set out to renegotiate long-standing deals and challenge a system that he says has been unfair to American workers.

The previous Obama administration had tried to operate withing the ambit of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and stepped up enforcement of trade rules and brought cases China at the WTO. But Trump drastically took a confrontational path and launched a trade war with China and imposed tariffs on U.S. allies. These measures brought a fundamental disruption of the global trading system by undermining the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism. The Trump administration infact threatened to withdraw from the body altogether.  

A win by Joe Biden could reverse this direction again. Biden has said that he will woo allies battered by Trump trade sanctions and will also rethink the use of tariffs and try to create a united front to confront China.

On Climate and Energy Policy – President Trump has been vocal against the doomsday predictions by the Climate change advocates. After threatening to pull out of the Paris climate accord in 2016, the Trump administration finally took US out of the accord earlier this month. Biden has however vowed to bring US back into the Paris climate accord.

Throughout his tenure, President Trump has publicly expressed doubts about human-caused climate change and champions fossil fuels. Apart from withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, Trump seeks to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations. In contrast, Joe Biden put forth ambitious goals to rapidly shift the economy away from fossil fuels.

In recent decades, U.S. policymakers irrespective of who’s in power have sought to balance reducing emissions with the economic costs of doing so. US has itself never committed to emission-cutting targets while it advocates the same to other developing countries. The US has been consistent in its quest to expand the domestic fossil fuel industry to create jobs, lower energy prices, and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign energy. 

The 2020 presidential election pits one candidate who believes in climate change as a clear and present danger with the incumbent who dismisses its importance and pledges to keep pushing a deregulatory agenda. The results are sure to influence how far the next administration will go to address climate change and what kinds of executive actions the next president will use to define energy policy. Developing countries, energy companies, auto makers and unions may see major changes if there is turnover at the White House.

On International Accords and Alliances – Whether one agrees with the it’s approach towards other countries or not, the US has been among the chief architects of the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as many other international institutions. The US has used these organisations for the claimed purposes of ‘establishing peace’ and ‘promoting prosperity’ along with furthering its own agenda.

Thought earlier Presidents too expressed concern over the raw deal US got from these organisations and accords, Trump took the criticism of the earlier accords and alliances to a new level. Advocating a ‘America First foreign policy’, Trump repeatedly complained that the traditional U.S. alliances are not worth the cost. He engaged in feuded with the European Union and other allies, and also threatened to withdraw from institutions, such as the WTO, claiming that such organisations have curtailed the US from getting its due. He has also pressed for deep cuts to foreign assistance programs, most of which were blocked by Congress.

Joe Biden on the other hand has criticised Trump’s temperamental approach towards long standing allies and has vowed to recommit the U.S. to global alliances and international accords that President Trump has quit or criticized. The major differences in the two rivals’ approaches to foreign policy is sure to have a telling effect on the world after the change of guard at the White House.

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