Saleem Qamar Butt
Impact of Biden’s Victory on Domestic and Global Scene
In topping Trump in a race that was both upended and largely defined by the corona virus pandemic, the Democratic nominee Joseph Biden has become the first challenger to defeat an incumbent first-term president in nearly 30 years gaining the highest number of votes by any president in the history of America. At 77, Biden became the oldest man ever elected president. (He'll be 78 by Inauguration Day.) He's also the first former vice president to win the White House since George H.W. Bush in 1988; the second Roman Catholic in U.S. history elected president; and he'll be the first president to call Delaware home as 46th US president. And with his victory, his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, will become the first female vice president. She'll also become the nation's second Black candidate, following former President Barack Obama, to serve as president or vice president. I had highlighted the prospects of Biden/ Harris victory in my analysis published in August 2020, “Two Birds with One Stone; Biden Picks Kamala Harris as Running VP Nominee”. Trump’s non-acceptance of results and resort to courts notwithstanding, Joe Biden seems all set to take the oath on 20th January 2021 and occupy White House with seemingly unlimited number of domestic and international challenges that call out for his attention. The question of what to do and in what sequence is inescapable, since presidents have only so much time and so many resources at their disposal. Therefore they have to set clear priorities that reflect their assessment of urgency, opportunity, and reality.
As always, a lot of speculation is taking place with regards to Joe Biden’s prioritization of domestic and foreign policy challenges. Having been Obama’s vice president for eight years, his thoughts and record of action is well known and he is not a stranger at home or abroad; and has a reputation of being an establishment’s man. Therefore, his foreign policy agenda for 2021 is expected to start at home—but then look beyond. A Biden administration can succeed if it makes domestic and foreign policies two sides of the same coin. During March/April 2020, Joe Biden expressed his thoughts: “By nearly every measure, the credibility and influence of the United States in the world have diminished since President Barack Obama and I left office on January 20, 2017. President Donald Trump has belittled, undermined, and in some cases abandoned U.S. allies and partners. He has turned on our own intelligence professionals, diplomats, and troops. He has emboldened our adversaries and squandered our leverage to contend with national security challenges from North Korea to Iran, from Syria to Afghanistan to Venezuela, with practically nothing to show for it. He has launched ill-advised trade wars, against the United States’ friends and foes alike, which are hurting the American middle class. He has abdicated American leadership in mobilizing collective action to meet new threats, especially those unique to this century. Most profoundly, he has turned away from the democratic values that give strength to our nation and unify us as a people. Meanwhile, the global challenges facing the United States—from climate change and mass migration to technological disruption and infectious diseases—have grown more complex and more urgent, while the rapid advance of authoritarianism, nationalism, and illiberalism has undermined our ability to collectively meet them,.…The next U.S. president will have to address the world as it is in January 2021, and picking up the pieces will be an enormous task. He or she will have to salvage our reputation, rebuild confidence in our leadership, and mobilize our country and our allies to rapidly meet new challenges. There will be no time to lose...as president, I will take immediate steps to renew U.S. democracy and alliances, protect the United States’ economic future, and once more have America lead the world. This is not a moment for fear. This is the time to tap the strength and audacity that took us to victory in two world wars and brought down the Iron Curtain”.
During his campaign Joe Biden frequently used the rhetoric that the United States was prepared to lead again, not just with the example of power but also with the power of example. However, keeping Obama/Biden’s 8 years legacy and above stated gist of views expressed, one can expect a lot of damage control measures on the one hand but potential fall back to policies instituted and followed in the last tenure on the other hand. If one is to learn a lesson from past experience, Biden would be well advised to immediately shed away unenviable past record like the excessive use of torture, armed drones and military muscles causing massive civilians casualties in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. In this regard, it was reassuring to hear Biden say that he would reaffirm the ban on torture and restore greater transparency in U.S. military operations, including policies instituted during the Obama-Biden administration to reduce civilian casualties. He also categorically promised during his campaign to address Islamophobia, treat Muslims in American on equality basis and to immediately reverse the Trump administration’s cruel and senseless anti-immigration policies, remove travel ban and order a review of Temporary Protected Status, for vulnerable populations; and set annual refugee admissions at 125,000, and seek to raise it over time. But besides COVID-19 challenge (Pfizer invention of 90% effective vaccine invention coinciding with Biden’s election), the most immediate step expected by Biden is to address the ever widening gulf between White Supremacists and non-white American population. The internal challenges facing the USA go well beyond its physical and economic health. The United States is a country divided. More than 70 million Americans voted for Donald Trump, and many of them will buy into his destructive narrative that the election was stolen and believe that Biden is an illegitimate president. American society will be split on matters of wealth inequality, race, and education. “I can’t breathe” phenomenon has shaken American constitutional foundations indeed.
In view of the domestic challenges, Biden is expected to follow a policy of facilitating Americans to succeed in the global economy—with a foreign policy for the middle class. For that, China will remain America’s number one economic challenge and to win the competition against China or anyone else, the United States will rely on sharpening its innovative edge and will try to unite the economic might of like minded democracies. For that we may see revival of the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement system to get back to work in addition to coordination with the EU, Japan, Canada, Australia, and others to address the WTO’s weaknesses. Besides, the North America of NAFTA is likely to make the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), NAFTA’s successor, and work; thus “Buy America” may become Biden’s “Buy North America.” Biden is also likely to reinforce his economic and security partnership with Europe by reinvigorating Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), giving away undue thinning out from Germany and strengthening NATO military alliance especially to take care of resurgent Russia. Nevertheless, Biden despite being tough with China is expected to follow Obama’s rational policy line i.e. ‘cooperate where we can and compete where we must’ (climate change, nonproliferation, and global health security are likely common interest points between USA and China). Biden is also prone to revive the Iran nuclear deal to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The state department is likely to get a lot of support to regain lost grounds and so will be Langley and Pentagon. Biden is all set to sustain American ironclad commitment to Israel’s security and to do more to integrate more friends in Latin America and Africa into the broader network of democracies and to seize opportunities for cooperation in those regions.
In the larger regional security domain, Obama/Biden Asia Pacific Rebalancing Policy that resulted in latest Quad Group alliance tipped to become Quad Plus or a mini NATO in the region is likely to be followed up being a bipartisan and establishment strategy to deal with both China and Russia. Thus, India is prone to remain American strategic ally and its consequent military muscles building will continue to bleed India economically, disturb regional stability and threaten Pakistan before it threatens any other country. It will also remain to be seen as to how will Biden and Harris fulfill their concerns and good wishes expressed during election campaign regarding people suffering under Indian occupation in illegally occupied Kashmir and what can America do to resolve the long pending UN Resolutions on IIOJ&K. American disdain for Chinese BRI/CPEC projects vis-à-vis Pakistan’s place in it is likely to keep Pakistan under duress by FATF and other IFIs. As Biden is likely to follow up Trump’s policy of disengagement from all unending wars like the ones in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen including support o KSA; instead emphasis will shift to use of small scale special forces, high tech weapons and pushing the regional stakeholders to take care of the details….a smart solution. Therefore, Pakistan is likely to stay relevant and little off the hook till American withdrawal and return of relative peace in Afghanistan. Besides, Pakistan is expected to remain subjected to political machination, internal mayhem, economic exploitation, covert and disinformation warfare and direct military threat from India. As a worst case scenario, the ever evolving narratives of terrorism with new and old names of groups and sub-groups will be flung around in order to cut and paste them on Pakistan to allow India and hostile agencies or forces to prey around to shift the battle ground from Afghanistan to Pakistan. To keen eyes, the scenario may seem familiar looking back at 2010-2017. For Pakistan, not much change or comfortable news; the only available safety zone is adjusting in the evolving regional and extra regional security and economic alliances without getting trapped once again in a conflict on any one’s behalf.
12 November 2020