Foreign affairs in the new US President era: Reviving traditional ideas
Many experts are questioning whether President Joe Biden's policy will be different from former President Barack Obama’s.
Finally, news agencies announced on Saturday, Nov 7, that Joe Biden had been elected the 46th President of the United States. As President of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Richard Haass recently tweeted: "Whatever the ultimate outcome of this election, this is a deeply divided country along political and cultural lines alike."
In that division, the foreign policy of the new US president will have a huge impact on the world, because America is still a superpower. Therefore, considering US foreign policy under Biden is an important issue.
Different from Trump
During his term, Donald Trump sought to reverse key principles of US foreign policy since World War II, including alliances, free trade and support for democracy and human rights.
Joe Biden served as a senator for 36 years and as Vice President for eight years. Photo: AP
Many experts are questioning whether President Joe Biden's policy is different from former President Barack Obama’s.
Mr. Biden is known for being a traditionalist when it comes to foreign policy. He served as a senator for 36 years and as Vice President for eight years. He was interested in world affairs from the very beginning of his career and he once served as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
His son, Beau, served in the military and Biden was deeply concerned with the policy issues related to wars after the 9/11 event, including having repeated visits to Iraq and Afghanistan. He has given countless speeches and articles on American strategy. He believes in American leadership, liberal international order, democracy, alliances, treaties and climate change...
In this year's elections, Biden has shown that he will return to traditional American foreign policy in the post-World War II era. He built a large enough faction of Republicans who opposed Trump, moderate Democrats (of which he is one), and forward-thinking figures.
He will seek to reverse what Trump did: Quickly rejoining the Paris accord on climate change response, seeking to restore the Iran nuclear deal, cooperating with other countries in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, and continuing US support for its allies.
The Chinese problem
The US approach to China under Biden will be the issue that catches the most attention.
In 2018, Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs in the Obama administration, and Ely Ratner, Biden's deputy national security adviser during Obama's second term, have posted articles in Foreign Affairs arguing that a number of key assumptions that underpin policy towards China over successive US governments had become wrong. For example, the assumption that engaging in trade with China would lead to liberalization and China would become a responsible stakeholder in the international order.
US President-elect Joe Biden and his wife.
A year later, Campbell co-authored another article, this time with Jake Sullivan, who held several senior positions in the Obama administration, which is about how the United States could take a more competitive approach with China while avoiding confrontation.
Progressives want the United States to adopt a much more competitive strategy than the one in the Obama administration, but they are preoccupied with the question of how to combine competition and diplomacy so that competition does not turn out to be confrontation and conflict, and thus, there is still possible to cooperate for some common interest.
Reformers are concerned that the United States is falling behind in technology and economics and argue that it needs major changes in policy to get back on top. They want to see competition with China at the heart of all American alliances, including the transatlantic coalition, and are generally willing to use the challenge of China to lobby for domestic policy changes.
They are willing to embrace the possibility of separating parts of the US and China, especially in terms of technology and supply chains for vital health supplies and other strategically important parts of the economy.
On the contrary, renaissance thinkers tend to be less pessimistic about changes in the division of power and oppose the use of the Chinese threat to mobilize political support for domestic changes. They are skeptical of any separation between the US and China. They don't think that because of his inexperience, Obama misinterpreted China - as they saw, he stood up and competed with China.
Foreign economic policy
In an early 2020 post, Jake Sullivan, former Biden's national security advisor and Jennifer Harris, former official of the Obama administration, introduced new ways of thinking about the global economy and trade. They said moderate-minded domestic economic theorists are mulling ideas that neoliberalism has been wrong over the past decade.
Foreign policy circles need to do the same thing. Sullivan and Harris argued in favor of reforming trade agreements to gain tax havens, prevent currency manipulation, improve wages, and create investment in America. Industrial policy should be used to compete with China, especially in terms of new technologies, and foreign policy should be part of the anti-monopoly debate about disrupting big technology companies.
The Sullivan-Harris agenda is generally in line with the progressive mindset of the Democrats, with experts such as Ganesh Sitaraman, an adviser to Elizabeth Warren, saying that US foreign policy should seriously consider more about geo-economics.
Progressive figures argue that authoritarianism thrives through corruption, oligarchy and dictatorship, and it poses a threat to democracy from inside as well as outside. To fight authoritarianism, the United States must eradicate corruption and reform the global economy, including removing tax havens, regulating global finance, and tackling inequality.
Reformers are also willing to use the Chinese challenge, which they believe is real and a tough one, to mobilize support for an ambitious domestic and international economic agenda. They see China as the binder that can mount a reform coalition, enabling the government to play a larger role in investment and economic cooperation, as well as coordination between democracies...
Renaissance-minded figures tend to favor re-joining free trade agreements, such as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). However, they do not want to use the response to China as the principle of organization and policy and are advocates of strengthening reform of international finance and the global economy.
In general, Biden's victory will be widely welcomed, if not by all, as America's democratic allies will see the United States in its traditional role again. However, they will also judge that Trumpism can return in the 2024 election if this President fails with an overwhelming majority.
The challenge for Biden will be whether he can make full use of his presidency to foster a foothold in America's more enduring leadership both domestically and internationally. If not, his victory may be aimed at only enforcing the order of the postwar order.
Any newly-elected US President will have to face two great challenges. The first is to deal with the problem between pandemic control and socio-economic development. The second is how to close the division and strengthen solidarity within America.
Many Americans went to the polls early to elect a new President and the results of the 2020 US presidential election will have great implications for the world geopolitical situation.