16 November 2020

Imagination exercise – the Biden Administration and the post-Trump world

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

The title suggests the uncertainty of this moment, defined by some US media websites as “bizarre”, as the current Administration, ahead with president Trump, is refusing to accept a possible result of the elections, as ALL the previous administrations did before, even if the electoral process is not complete yet, however, the charts being already very clear. The most suggestive spokesperson of this tendency against nature within the US politics is the State Department, Mike Pompeo, who, when answering to a question on how the transition will be organized at the White House, he answered: “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration”. Thus, the discussion on how the rest of the world will see the new Biden Administration is already warped. We will shortly do that now, as an imagination exercise, and then, maybe, we will dig this topic deeper, getting to the January 20th 2020 moment.

Image source: Profimedia

Let’s start with the possible and expected priorities … and a short list

Most of the analyses conceptually analyzing the possible options of the new White House Administration, assuming that this would be Biden’s, depart from the idea that its priorities will be, first of all, to fix what the old administration damaged internally or related to the international world:

-fighting the health crisis (the appointment of Ron Klain, as future chief of staff at the White House, is part of this policy, as his experience in fighting the Ebola health crisis in the Obama administration was undisputable);

-fixing the economy, which is now meeting the most dramatic decrease since the Great Depression, in the 30’s;

- finding solutions for the internal political polarization is already a problem in the functioning of the US democracy and the respect on the US society’s institutions;

-restarting the dialogue with the military allies, but also with the economic partners, EU and NATO;

- reentering the international organizations and groups the US withdrew from during the current Trump administration;

-finding a balance between the cooperation and competition with China, this C2 of foreign policy which, in the relation with Beijing, is quickly reaching top positions in US priorities agenda;

Indeed, there are other things as well, like Russia, Middle East and the peace issue between Israel and the states in the region, there is also the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that the US withdrew from, losing the opportunity to create an Asian economic bloc to be more focused on Washington than on Beijing. There are also the options on the role and presence of the US on different operations theatres in the Middle East and Afghanistan. And the list is far from being complete.

Most likely, the first months of the new administration will be dedicated to solving or, at least, committing to finding solutions for the top priorities. These will set the tone for the other problems as well.

And let’s continue with some hopes and more expectations … the list of getting longer

There are, however, in the relation of the US with the world around it, expectations from the other actors of the international scene as well. Some of them will regret the current Trump Administration, wherewith they had privileged relations, others hope the new Biden Administration will have a different approach, for example, the economic sanctions regime, first of all, but not only, or the international cooperation on climate change or the cooperation with the European allies.

Hopes are here and they will probably stay higher than the realities.

The foreign American policy, excessively personalized during the Trump Administration is, however, a result of the US interests in general.

The general lines will be kept, the way these will be implemented will, however, change, as there will be more coherence, more systematization and decisions will be more predictable.

It does not mean that there will be some decisions less appreciated for states like China, Russia or Iran.

Maybe this is also the reason why the reactions in the capitals of these states, after the November elections, are still uncertain.

Most likely, the handiest clue on the hopes the new White House administration projects is the promptness the congratulations messages for president-elect Biden came with.

Europe, except for some states, hurried to welcome the president-elect Biden.

Russia, just like in a chess game, took some time to think, and China has waited some time before sending a message to the White House.

Maybe the Chinese saying which says “wait patiently so you can hit rapidly” is an explanation.

In Europe, the Trump Administration had and still has some supporters, at the geographical extremities, Great Britain, in the West, a series of former socialist states and former Soviet states, to the East.

But, the new Biden Administration is mostly positively seen in the Old Europe. It is regarded with hope. It is seen with a friendlier attitude in the economic field, for cooperation in the international political initiatives, for a new approach in the continental security field, less mercantile, more open to difference, sometimes even competing approaches the European partner states bring to the table.

The European leaders are waiting for the American example of internal political dialogue. Because the breach provoked by the current “Trumpist” tendency in America has affected also a series of European states, where nationalist manifestations have met an increase, as well as the isolationism, and the European right parties have suddenly become supporters of Trump.

For Great Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, the US has lost its main interlocutor, which was also the interface with this organization. Most likely, the new White House administration will approach the security problems more with France, and the economic ones with Germany. A more emphatic attitude from the US on its NATO European partners will also stop the tendencies to contour the European initiatives on creating military structures for EU.

Also due to the EU withdrawal, Great Britain has now a small-big problem with its transatlantic ally, which will be led by a president that has Irish roots. The hastened message of the prime-minister Boris Johnson, through a tweet, seems to suggest “Joes, we understood the issue, we immediately talk about the ceremony. I, shall I not forget, Congratulations, Mister President!”. Some bad people have analyzed the message and have found that, in the background, there was also a somehow fade message, for the current US president, his friend Trump.

Two states in Eastern Europe, out of the democratic ones, are not that happy with the results. For Poland and Hungary the impact will, however, be imagology-related, as the EU has however written down the names of these two countries in the section including states which still have a lot to do to be completely democratic states.

The discussions on nationalism and populism will continue in Europe, because these are tendencies which did not develop thanks to the transoceanic example, as there are also the manifestations of local tendencies, separated from Trump being elected or not as the US president.

When it comes to the Eastern security threat (Poland’s case), the US support will not decrease during the Biden Administration.

As for Romania, we should remind you that a democratic administration (Clinton) has opened us the path towards the Partnership for Peace and another one, a republican one (Bush), towards NATO. And, during that time, the American presidents have visited Bucharest more. So… let there be wisdom. Our wisdom.

While I am writing this text, Russia is still waiting for a sign from Trump to congratulate Biden. In other words, Kremlin is prevailing over the current president’s refusal to admit his enemy’s victory to not congratulate the White House.

Trump is the one to have made the harshest decision in terms of economic sanctions on Russia – an example to that end is the tenacity he tried to stop the Nord Stream 2 project with, even when there were some challenges coming from European partners – and the refusal to extend the START II validity had, most likely, angered Moscow.

However, even considering the official position according to which “Russia has no preferences, it is ready to work with any American president” – Dmitry Peskov’s statement, the Kremlin’s spokesperson – Trump was the favorite one.

Even there are many explanations for this option, I will only name two:

 - through its isolationist policies, like giving up the traditional leader role the US had on the international level, there is now more space for other ambitious actors, the China-Russia tandem being one of them.

- through the personalized and, other times, chaotic ways or by antagonizing different segments of the US population , Trump has weakened the reaction of the US society to different challenged, and the health crisis management is one of the proofs to that end. His transactional business style has worked in politics as well, only when there were not major crises. The coronavirus has proved that such a leadership style is not a cure-all in a world where everything is not just about profit.

Russia knows that democratic administrations are more meticulous, more coherent in terms of implementing policies and more careful to things related to democracy, like following the human rights etc.

And, by the way, the pro-Ukrainian file of president Biden is not anymore an encouraging signal for Moscow.

As for China, the Biden Administration will promote, most likely, what is called “management of hostility”, a combination of policies which will not exclude the cooperation in certain fields, nor the economic cooperation in different domains, given that Beijing is the main ideological and most important enemy in the camp that could militarily fight for the US supremacy.

In the bilateral relations, a Biden Administration starts with a disadvantage which could, already, be extremely important in the competition between the two super-power: the democratic system led by Trump did not manage the health crisis, nor the economic one that followed, as good as the autocratic system led by Xi Jinping did.

China has and will continue to have an economic increase. The US has, and will continue to face in 2021 as well, one of the most serious recessions in its modern history.

This recession was not the fault of the democratic system. Democratic societies can also mobilize people and resources, and resilience is certainly more long-lasting when the common objectives is realized and assumed by the entire society.

The US withdrawal from Africa, South Asia and Middle East was an unexpected opportunity for Beijing. People expect from the Biden Administration to take some measures to change this phenomenon.  This is expected especially in South Asia, where a series of states would want to have from the US a lever to resist the pressure of the northern neighbor with.

And they also expect maybe more coordination from Washington with New Delhi, Tokyo and other capitals in the region.

Also in Asia, in the West, in Iran, the name of president Biden came with relief to the most sanctioned country in the world at this moment. The population welcomed the announcement, but the leadership used the end of the US electorate quite cynically, using the same catchphrases that presented the US elections as a failure of the American democracy.

The supreme leader, mostly likely alluding to the post-electoral moment, said: “America is on the brink of failure”.

The regime’s ideology, deeply anti-American, will hinder the return to the Obama period, even if the nuclear treaty and the US participation will again be on White House’s agenda.

The best friend of president Trump in the Middle East region, the Israeli prime-minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is already at peace with losing the biggest ally Israel ever had at the White House and reminded the president-elect, through a Twitter message (they got this habit from… they will go over it), quite frankly, that: “Joe, we’ve had a long & warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years, and I know you as a great friend of Israel”. And if Joe will forget that, again, they will remind him of it.

Other corners of the world also have huge expectations and hopes in the Biden Administration. Turkey, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Yemen and even North Korea are some of the places waiting for different approaches, maybe more advantageous, clearer and more coherent from the new White House leadership.

Only 10 days have passed from the 70 days of transition, but, for now, president Trump seems to be too tied to this place, where he spent the last four years, so it is not that easy for him to leave.

President elect Biden also knows pretty much about the place, he has been there before, so it will be easy for him to settle and to establish plans for the decisions made behind the “Resolute” office, the furniture made of solid oak, from the Oval Office.

These decisions will start with planning a first visit to Europe, the natural partner of the US. I am just saying it, like an imagination exercise.

Translated by Andreea Soare