NOTE: Middle East Eye just published my election piece, US elections 2020: With Biden set for a narrow win, Democrats must do some soul-searching, analyzing the domestic political fall-out of the Biden victory. Please read it and promote it via social media.
As the dust settles on the 2020 election, Americans are turning (ever so slowly) from the drama of determining the winner, to what happens next. Tonight, Pres.-elect Biden offered a general outline of his vision for the transition. He will focus on fighting COVID and offering an economic plan to ease the suffering and transition from the pandemic. After those urgent problem are addressed, he said his other priorities would be “climate change” and addressing racial hatred.
This is not a bold vision. Though Biden claimed that America “chose change over more of the same,” he represents a Democratic Party offering more of the same half measures and compromise on major issues. He doesn’t portend radical change, which is what the country needs in the longer term. But the country is shell-shocked from four years of torment under Donald Trump. We need calm and healing at least during a transition.
That being said, the world will not give Biden a very long honeymoon. Though the country has settled into a weary stalemate with COVID, the long term effects will resonate for years. By the end, over 400,000 will die in this country alone. That is nearly double the number of American troops who died in WWII.
There is little hope a Republican-controlled Senate will show comity and collaborate with the new president or his proposals. Nor will the new, far-right Supreme Court offer him any support. This will be a tough battle for Biden.
Further, due to Trump’s mishandling of foreign policy, regional crises have proliferated. Our rivals have run circles around us in business and military affairs. Biden will quickly have to lay down markers to establish his mastery over U.S. foreign policy. He will meet a skeptical world which has grown used to ignoring or laughing at the previous White House occupant. Making up for such lost ground will not be easy. No one will come knocking on Biden’s door telling him the world welcomes the U.S. with open arms back into the international arena.
Biden’s policies will generally mark a continuity with those of Barack Obama. The former has already announced the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord on January 20th, the day he takes office. Though the Iran nuclear accord will be a much more complicated issue to address, the president-elect will surely want to either revive the JCPOA agreement and rejoin it; or begin negotiations on a more comprehensive agreement which would also encompass the testing of ballistic missiles. That has been a major criticism from Israel and the deal’s Republican opponents.
There is no guarantee that Iran will be receptive to this overture. Presidential elections will be held in the coming year and Pres. Rouhani and his moderate faction have been all but discredited politically. It appears likely the next leader will come from the camp of the hardliners. They may prove exceedingly skeptical of Biden. And who could blame them given how Trump-Pompeo treated them? It may take years, if not decades to get back to the place where Obama left things when he exited the Oval Office. This is yet another example of how badly Trump has decimated U.S. interests in the world.
I’ve written here and in Al Jazeera about my quarrel with Biden’s approach to Israel-Palestine. Everything he and Tony Blinken said during the campaign on the subject was designed to curry favor with the Israel Lobby, which they continue to believe is a bellweather for American Jewish opinion. Biden has no vision and no capability to see the real outline of reality there. Nor does he see the increasing diversity of American Jewish attitudes toward Israel. He mouths the same old two-state platitudes offered for decades in think tank circles. He refuses to grapple with what Israel has become, and continues to act as if it is now what it was once in the distant political past.
There is an opportunity for a Democratic president some time in the future to conceive of a comprehensive approach in the region which would de-escalate the Sunni-Shia divide, and lead to each set of allies standing down, agreeing not to interfere in the affairs of their rivals. But to attain this, America will have to exert massive pressure on all parties, including Israel, to compromise. Biden is not the man for this, to my sorrow. I’d hoped Obama was, but he wasn’t. The best we can hope is that they are transitional figures. Perhaps someday someone will have the guts, determination,, vision, and expertise to do it.