IO – President-elect Joe Biden is inheriting a wealth of thorny and complex challenges as he prepares to enter the White House. A raging pandemic, an economic recession, damaged relations with America’s traditional allies, as well as the need to figure out how to deal with nations hostile to Washington are just a few things on Biden’s agenda.
Biden will also need to address whether he should have America re-enter the international agreements, treaties and international organizations that Trump had pulled out of. The list is a long one: the Paris climate agreement, the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, the Intermediate-Range Nu- Critics argue that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has become a neocolonial power. Although it does not hold the kinds of colonies imperial powers used to lord over, it is said to conduct itself as one of them. Thus, for instance, according to Jean-Marc F. Blanchard, a China scholar, “the general features of China’s relations with many countries today bear close resemblance to the European colonial powers’ relations with African and Middle Eastern countries in the 19th and 20th century. Among other things, we witness countries exchanging their primary products for Chinese manufactured ones; China dominating the local economy; countries becoming heavily indebted to the PRC; China exerting greater weight on local political, cultural, and security dynamics; and Chinese abroad living in their own ‘expat enclaves.’” Beijing’s new transnational infrastructure, like pipelines and highways, are viewed as initiatives to send more resources to the PRC. These projects are reported to deplete national treasuries. Moreover, Chinese projects and investments draw on few local suppliers and partners and contribute little to job creation, partly because they employ many Chinese laborers. Finally, China is said to doing more harm than good to the host countries because its cheap goods destroy local manufacturing. Africa is depicted as the major victim of this new Chinese global abuse drive. China is said to propping up its clear Forces treaty, the Iran nuclear deal, the U.N. Human Rights Council, the United Nations’ cultural organization UNESCO, and the U.N. Relief and Works agency, which helps Palestinian refugees.
So far, Biden has made it clear his top priorities are getting the pandemic under control and bringing the economy back on track. Neither will be an easy task. As the number of Covid-19 infections continue to skyrocket across the country and state governments fail to come up with a coordinated and more effective response to contain the spread of the virus, Biden will find himself having to lead in what promises to be an extraordinarily dangerous time in modern American history.
Fighting the pandemic will be a major test for Biden’s first year in office. He will need to muster his decades-long experience as a senator and vice-president and use it to move the resources and build the political support he will need to be effective. He must be sure he surrounds himself with the country’s best and brightest minds to develop the strategies and policies that can bring the virus to its knees. Equally important, Biden should take advantage of the bully pulpit, primarily to lead an American public that is still, in part, dismissive of the dangers of Covid-19 and must be convinced otherwise.
To what extent Biden can show results in bringing infections down and ensuring a safe and effective vaccine is made available to the majority of Americans as soon as possible will leave an indelible mark on his presidency. If he is successful, his prestige and power will get a big boost. If he fails, he will be tarnished and find it difficult to be an effective president during his remaining days in office.
Conventional thinking suggests much will depend on whether or not the Republicans manage to retain their majority in the Senate. If the Republicans retain control, Biden could face a hostile Senate that opposes many of his nominees for the cabinet. A Republican-majority Senate can also make Biden’s life difficult by blocking and delaying legislation. Finally, Biden will need the Senate’s approval before his administration can enter into treaties with foreign powers.
But conventional thinking is not necessarily right. One can imagine a scenario where Biden succeeds in quickly bringing the pandemic under control and the economy starts to recover. Given the historic proportions of the health and economic crisis in play, if Biden can perform, then even far-right ideologues sitting in the Senate will find it lesstempting to undermine the president.
In foreign affairs, Biden will also learn that his ability to get America back on its feet again will have a huge impact on how its allies and foes alike view America. An American rebound would go far in enabling Biden to claim global leadership, something that was lost during the Trump years. Strength builds on strength, and a stronger America will give Biden the ability to restore the alliances he needs to push up against adversaries.
That Biden will attempt to reverse many of his predecessor’s foreign policies, there is no doubt. He will try his best to patch up relations with the World Health Organization and re-enter U.N. organizations such as the Human Rights Council. It is a given he will have America come back into the Paris climate agreement, try to revive the Iran nuclear deal and extend the new treaty with Russia for limiting nuclear arms. And, unlike Trump, Biden will be looking for America to retake its traditional role in championing democracy and human rights abroad.
It sounds all promising, yet we should not expect the entire world to applaud. Besides having to face the daunting challenges of Covid-19, a potentially hostile Senate and countries who will need lots of convincing that America is fit to lead again, America’s foes such as Russia and China will undoubtedly test Biden for his resolve. Kim Jong-un of North Korea is also probably thinking the same as Biden gets caught up in dealing with the pandemic. Biden must prepare himself for more Chinese intransigence in the South China Sea, or Russia challenging the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or more ballistic missile tests coming from North Korea, or even all of the above.
No, it’s not going to be an easy presidency. One can only wish him the best of luck.